Leading article: The magic number

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The woman who gave birth to octuplets yesterday will not need lessons on the significance of her achievement. But she might like to know why the interest of the world has been so piqued.

Eight is considered to be an auspicious number by numerologists (since the square of any odd number, less one, is always a multiple of eight). It is also one of the "magic numbers" in nuclear physics and the luckiest number in Chinese culture. It will be comforting, no doubt, for that anonymous new mother recovering in Bellflower hospital, Los Angeles, to know that she and her brood will get a warm welcome should they stumble upon a gathering of Chinese, number-worshipping nuclear physicists. But she should be aware that this is nothing compared with the welcome she can expect if she ever visits one of the boat clubs that line the river banks of some of Britain's university towns. After all, it is not every day that a ready-made rowing crew walks through the door. Stroke!

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