*How
can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human
thought…is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality?*

–Albert Einstein

###

For
over 2,500 years, at least since Pythagoras, folks with too much time
on their hands have wondered: Have numbers always been around, just
waiting for us to *discover* them, or: have we *invented*
them? The first view, sometimes called the Platonic approach, says
that, if the universe were to disappear, the mathematical truths
we’ve discovered—like pi being the circumference-to-diameter
ratio of all circles—would still exist. The second, “non-Platonic,”
view says that all math is a human construct, and that the answer to
Einstein’s question, above, is that we invented it to be “admirably
appropriate.”

Rather than wander into such a late-night weed-fuelled dorm room debate, let me instead pose the “interesting number” paradox. Divide all integers into “interesting” and “non-interesting” numbers. Then it’s easy to show that there are no non-interesting numbers, because, as you go up the number line, you’ll eventually reach the smallest non-interesting number…which obviously is interesting, being the smallest non-interesting number.

Here are a few genuinely interesting numbers:

**42**
is the answer to “the ultimate question of life, the universe, and
everything,” per Douglas Adam’s *The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the
Galaxy*. He may have glommed onto it because, in ASCII computer
code, 42 is an asterisk, that is a wildcard character in programming.

**666**
is the “Number of the Beast,” according to the *Book of
Revelations*. Except it isn’t. The oldest fragment of the Bible
containing this verse gives it as 616. I wrote about it __here__.

**1337**
has been doing the rounds on the Internet, being shorthand for using
numbers in lieu of letters. Thus 1337 is (if you squint) “leet”—aka
*eleet*, or *leetspeak*, referring to computer coders and
hackers who modestly consider themselves “elite” members of the
community.

**1729**.
The story goes that when the mathematician Godfrey (G.H.) Hardy
visited Indian math prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan in hospital, Hardy
commented that the taxi he’d taken there in had license number
1729, which he thought a rather ordinary number. Ramanujan replied
that actually it’s special, being the smallest number which can be
expressed as the sum of two different cubes in two different ways: 10
cubed plus 9 cubed; and 12 cubed and 1 cubed. (But surely Hardy would
have known that?)

**24601**
If you’ve been taking advantage of the many free musicals available
on YouTube these covid-days, you’ve probably watched “Les Miz,”
in which 24601 is protagonist Jean Valjean’s prisoner number. Why
that number? Because Victor Hugo, author of the novel *Les
Misérables*, believed that he was conceived on 24 June 1801, or
24-6-01.

**??**
The only two-digit number such that, when you add the sum of its
digits to the product of its digits, you get your original number.
For example, if you guessed 27, (2 + 7) + (2 * 7) = 23 (not 27, which
is what you want). Answer next week.

Got any special numbers you’d like to share?