Numbers

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Indy Lifestyle Online
There is an old mathematical proof that all numbers are interesting (where "number" is taken to mean "positive integer"). For suppose not (the proof by reductio ad absurdum goes), then there must be some uninteresting numbers, and consequently there must be a smallest uninteresting number. And that number would undeniably be interesting, simply because it is the smallest uninteresting number. QED. All numbers are interesting.

Leaving paradoxes aside, however, just what really is the smallest uninteresting number? For the past two years I have been compiling a list of interesting numbers (shameless book plug: shortly to appear as The Book of Numbers, published by Richard Cohen Books), from 1 (the number of elephants in Alaska) to 4,985,567,071,200 (the US National debt in 1995, in dollars). Apart from assembling an unparalleled amount of useless information in a single volume (did you know there are 25 helicopter pads in Antarctica, or that there are 26 species of goat?), I had hoped to reveal the identity of the lowest uninteresting number. For if I collected all the interesting numerical information, the first unrepresented number would be the answer.

And until this week, I thought it was 213. We all know that 212 is the boiling point of water in degrees Fahrenheit (though it would have been 215.4 had Mr Fahrenheit not had a slight fever when he set the temperature of human blood at 100), and that Valentin Lebedev spent 211 days in space aboard Salyut 7 in 1982-3, and that 210 Coca-Cola Bottles is a work by Andy Warhol. But I had nothing for 213.

Now, however, I know it is the combined age of the Rolling Stones on their 1997 world tour. Step up number 232 - the new smallest uninteresting number.

William Hartston

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