10 readers' favourite numbers


On Friday, the Magazine marked the death of Jerry Nelson, the puppeteer behind Sesame Street's Count von Count, by revisiting a BBC radio interview in which the Count said his favourite number was 34,969 (187 squared).

In response to that piece, some readers here share their own favourite numbers while, further down the page, others debate why the Count picked 34,969.

Magazine feature

1. My favorite number? I love oddities, so my favourite number is two. It's the only even prime. That makes it odd. My second favorite number is either 37,818 or 5,318,008 depending on my mood. You turn the first one upside down, it spells "bible". You turn the other one upside down, it spells "boobies." Dai Ichi, San Diego, CA, USA

2. Of course 17 is a very special number, being the smallest number greater than one that is the sum of a square and a cube in two distinct ways. It is also one of the few known Fermat primes. It is also the number of different possible symmetries of wallpaper patterns (ie. biperiodic tessellations of the plane). George Chauvet, Keynsham, Bristol

3. Although 26 seems a dull insignificant run-of-the-mill number but in fact it is pretty cool. It is the only number that lies immediately between a perfect square (25) and a perfect cube (27). Rupert Higgins, Bristol

4. The number 88 is my favourite, but not for mathematical reasons... While living in the Netherlands and learning the language, "achtentachtig" just rolls out like a frog in your throat. Wonder how the Count would say that one !! Haha. Dave Bowers, Allentown, USA

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5. Most people who have met me know my favourite number, 211. This is "simply" my birthday - 2nd Nov, but has the exciting property of being something I describe as "primetastic": 2 is prime, 11 is prime, 211 is prime. As a mathematician I have a general affinity for prime numbers. Sadly it is not unique, other primetastic birthdays are 317 (31st July) and 233 (23rd March). 211 itself seems to crop up all over the place, today I saw 02/11/ as part of a Tesco receipt. (I'm not so much a counter as an observer of numbers). I should stress this is my favourite rational number. Clearly pi is the only choice for favourite number. Rachel, Congleton, UK

6. My favourite number's 237. Whilst a student in Newcastle, I moved into a house with that as the door number which had a huge Union Jack painted on the living room wall by the previous student tenants. My flat mates and I didn't particularly appreciate it, so the most practical one pulled out a tapestry that more than covered it adequately. Then I found 237 appeared as the door number where "Johnny" went nuts in The Shining. And then it appeared in one of the Saw films. Years later, whilst researching to write my memoirs, I discovered a YouTube clip showing its relevance in nearly as many films as the shorter number, 23. I have considered it my "lucky number" ever since. Neil Lynch, Rochdale, Greater Manchester

7. My favourite number is 12,407. This is because it is the smallest "un-interesting" number (ie one that does not appear in the Online Encyclopaedia of Integer Sequences). However, this itself creates a paradox because, being the smallest un-interesting number, it automatically becomes interesting. I find this absolutely fascinating! Victoria N, Oxford

A number disliked

I can tell you my least favourite number is 32,767 - the length of a short integer in most programming languages, and the source of most of the crashes of software I've written.

Chris, Newbury

8. My favourite number is 11,235,813. It [consists of a sequence of Fibonacci numbers] in which successive numbers are the sum of the preceding two numbers and is, therefore, a number that you will never forget. David Starmer, Wolverhampton, UK

9. I think 142,857 is pretty cool as numbers go. Multiplying by three gives 428,571. Multiplying by two gives 285,714. Multiplying by six gives 857,142. Multiplying by four gives 571,428. Multiplying by five gives 714,285. You will notice that the number has rotated all the way round. Now multiply it by seven. Wow! John Fewings, Beverley, East Yorkshire

10. My favourite number is 10 to the power of 25 which is the approximate number of molecules in a glass of wine. Alan Holden, Accrington, Lancs

And why did the Count pick 34,969?

1. The Count has an excellent memory for numbers. He originally stated that 34,969 "used to be" his favourite number to Grover in 1978 (episode 1156). Why 187? Here is my theory: Sesame Street episode 0187 is one where Kermit the Frog sings It's Not Easy Being Green - perhaps, the Count's favorite Sesame Street moment? He also sang it in an earlier episode (just to be complete here)... but I still like this explanation. Jim Turnure, Potomac, US

Count von Count and the number 187

2. It's a long shot, but if you rotate 187 by 90 degrees clockwise, it sort of resembles the Count's hair, eyes, and nose. Andrew Manktelow, Chicago

3. In Genesis chapter five 187 is the age at which Methuselah begets Lamech. This Lamech is associated with another Lamech in the previous chapter and in Masonic legend the children of this other Lamech are considered founders of both Freemasonry and Geometry. Freemasons are interested in Geometry and square numbers. I suspect that Count von Count was either a Freemason, or simply, as I do, had an interest in the subject. EP Lockstone, Moscow/London

4. 187 is full of things that make the Count happy. It has one, and as we know when he's alone he counts himself. One count! Eight is great and makes him shout hooray and he's madly in love with seven. Well, it's just so beautiful and seven-y! Honestly, the only thing better than 187, would be 187 squared. And there you have it. Mala Chakraborti, Stockholm, Sweden

5. 187 happens to be the name of a character who becomes a vampire in the 2004 movie, Dracula 3000. Although the movie received dismal reviews, it is probably (I have yet to verify this claim) the only version of the Dracula story, in any medium, which features a vampire with a number for its name. If this is so, it would be of great appeal to the Count. Brian Davies, Fremantle, Australia

6. I understand that on a Qwerty keyboard, there are 1,447 words in the English language that can be typed using only your left hand, but only 187 words that are typed using only your right hand. Billy Beetroot, Belfast

7. When squared, 34,969 becomes 1,222,830,961. If you break that number up into groups of 2 and add them, you get 12 + 22 + 83 + 09 + 61 = 187. Square 187, of course, and you get back to 34,969! Scott C, Las Vegas

8. I believe part of W 187th Street in Manhattan is known as Sesame Street. Megan, New York

9. Unoctseptium is the temporary name of the undiscovered element with the atomic number 187. Unoctseptium anagrams to "count up items". Steve Bachman, St Paul, Minnesota

10. The answer is that the Count only wants to trip up the adults and make them over-analyse the problem in a way that is amusing to the children. The Count was meant to relate to children, and perhaps he knew that the children would laugh when adults tried to fumble around with digit mining. The Count is clever and knows the innocent, and intuitive nature of child humour. The children know that the Count's favourite number is in fact EVERY number (he is the Count after all) and that any old number would have the same effect. Jarrod Money, Pineville, Kentucky, US


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