23 fascinating facts about the number twenty-three

To most, it's just what comes between 22 and 24. Yet to surprisingly many - including the makers of a new film - it means much more. Cahal Milmo and Tom Willetts explore a bizarre obsession

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The Independent Online

1: 23 is one of the most commonly cited prime numbers - a number that can only be divided by itself and one. Twenty three is the lowest prime that consists of consecutive digits. Primes have been described as the "atoms" of mathematics - the building blocks of the world of numbers. An American businessman has put up a US$1m (£500,000) prize for the first mathematician to find a pattern in primes - a problem known as the Riemann hypothesis.

2: The number has been the subject of not one but two films: the 1998 German movie, 23, and The Number 23, starring Jim Carrey, released (naturally) today. Each has a main character obsessed with the number.

3: John Forbes Nash, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who was the subject of the film, A Beautiful Mind, starring Russell Crowe, was obsessed with 23. It featured prominently in his battle with mental illness. His breakdown began when he claimed that a photograph of Pope John XXIII on the cover of Life magazine was in fact him, the proof being that 23 was his favourite number. Nash published 23 scientific articles.

4: More freaky numerical coincidences: Charles Darwin's Origin of Species was published in 1859 - 1+8+5+9 = 23. Two divided by three makes 0.666 recurring (allegedly - actually it makes 0.6666666667). The Hiroshima bomb was dropped at 8.15am - 8+15= 23.

5: 23rdians are a group of people who subscribe to the mystical power of 23 and see it in multiple combinations throughout daily life.

6: The Ancient Chinese believed numbers conveyed sexuality - evens for feminine and odds for masculine. They considered prime numbers to be the most masculine, conferring special status on 23 which is made up of two consecutive prime numbers and the only even prime number - two.

7: In the disaster movie, Airport, the bomber has seat 23. The number of crosses on Calvary at the end of the Monty Python film, The Life of Brian, is 23. In Die Hard With A Vengeance, a train derails in subway station 23. The lead characters in the Coen brothers' film The Big Lebowski always used Lane 23 at the bowling alley. In the television series Lost, one of the combination of six numbers that haunt the characters and they have to input to a computer to avoid an unknown fate is 23.

8: The terrorist attacks on America on 11 September 2001 have been held up as one of the most portentous examples of the disturbing power of 23. The figures in the date (9+11+2+0+0+1) add up to 23. The independent US commission which investigated the attacks found the date had been chosen randomly by the hijackers and had originally been planned for later in the year. Alternative explanations for the date included the taking over of Palestine by Britain in 1922 and the fact that 911 is the US emergency code.

9: Few hold 23 in more esteem than the followers of Discordianism, a self-declared religion based on the premise that discord and chaos are the building blocks of life. For Discordianists, 23 is the Holy Number and a tribute to the goddess Eris, who surveys a world of chaos. The mantra invoked by Discordianists for the Holy Number is "Invert The Pyramid". If you invert the sentence one letter at a time - eg "dinvert the pyramid", "id invert the pyram" etc - it takes 22 chants, finished by the line "The Pyramid Inverts" to make 23. The last line is called "the final energy releaser". Discordianism is described by some followers as "a joke disguised as a religion disguised as a joke".

10: Sport stars have developed a particular affinity (and aversion) to 23. Michael Jordan, the American basketball player, wore the number throughout his career and inspired many copy cat fans of wardrobe vigintitriplicity. Best known is former England captain David Beckham, who swapped his number seven Manchester United jersey for number 23 when he joined Real Madrid. Beckham, who said it was in deference to Jordan, is expected to continue wearing 23 when he joins LA Galaxy this summer. But the number is not always a harbinger of sporting good fortune. Manchester City have not assigned the squad number 23 to any player since 2003 after the last incumbent, Marc Vivien Foe, collapsed and died while playing for the Cameroon on 26 June 2003. Marcus Trescothick, the England cricket players, wears number 23 and was Australian bowler Shane Warne's 600th test wicket. Warne also wears 23.

11: The Bible does not let 23 pass without conferring upon it some significance, at least to students of the Book. Although the Old Testament is unspecific, it is widely held that Adam and Eve had 23 daughters. The 23rd verse of the first chapter of Genesis brings the act of creation to a close while the 23rd chapter of the book of Genesis deals entirely with death, namely that of Abraham's wife, Sarah. The most famous and most quoted of the Psalms is number 23: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters."

12: Each parent contributes 23 chromosomes to the start of human life. The nuclei of cells in human bodies have 46 chromosomes made out of 23 pairs. Egg and sperm cells in humans have 23 chromosomes which fuse and divide to create an embryo.

13: The most detailed account of the assassination of Julius Caesar, written by Nicolaus of Damascus, claims numerous enemies stabbed the Roman emperor 23 times. The wounds ranged from superficial to mortal.

14: William Shakespeare was born in Stratford Upon Avon on 23 April 1564. He died 52 years later on his birthday, 23 April 1616. Kurt Cobain, the god of grunge, was born in 1967 and died in 1994 - 1+9+6+7= 23, 1+9+9+4 = 23.

15: In the science fantasy saga, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca sneak into detention block AA23 to rescue Princess Leia. The rescue attempt is botched and Leia escapes only by dodging Stormtroopers' laserfire. A police robot called 23 is included in Star Wars director George Lucas' first film, THX 1138.

16: The Knights Templar, the order of soldier monks who eventually fell foul of the Vatican and have been the subject of conspiracy theories about the Holy Grail, had 23 Grand Masters.

17: The first morse code transmission - "What hath God wrought?" - was from the Bible passage Numbers 23:23. In telegraphers code 23 means "break the line".

18: The Birthday Paradox states that a group of 23 randomly-selected people is the smallest number where there will be a probability higher than 50 per cent that two people will share the same birthday.

19: The author William Burroughs was obsessed with 23. While living in Tangiers, he met a Captain Clark who ran a ferry between Spain and Morocco. One day, Clark told Burroughs that he had been doing the route for 23 years without incident. Later that day, the ferry sank, killing the captain. While Burroughs was thinking about the incident, a radio bulletin announced the crash of a Flight 23 on the New York-Miami route. The pilot was another Captain Clark. The events prompted an obsession which saw Burroughs record every occurrence of the number 23 for the rest of his life.

20: The disbanded pop act KLF are one of several musical sources of 23-related lore. The two men behind KLF - Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty - were once known as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, which has 23 letters and comes from the novels of Robert Anton Wilson, another 23 obsessive. A police car used for the video of the KLF's number one, "Doctorin' The Tardis", had 23 painted on the roof, their final performance lasted 23 minutes and they incinerated £1m on a remote Scottish island on 23 August 1994. Psychic TV, another cult act, released 23 live albums on the 23rd day of 23 consecutive months.

21: "W" is the 23rd letter of the Latin alphabet. It has two points down and three points up. White supremacists use 23 to represent "W" as a mark of racial superiority.

22: "23 skidoo" is an American catchphrase from the early 20th century meaning to make a sharp exit. It was used as the title of a poem by the occultist Aleister Crowley, another 23 aficionado. But some believe its origins lie in Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities, where the old woman counting the daily victims of the guillotine calls "23" as the hero is beheaded in the last chapter.

23: The average human physical biorhythm is 23 days.

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