Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Unlucky for some

Did you know that Eleven plus Two is an anagram of Twelve plus One?

Think that's weird? How about this:

13 x 13 = 169 is an exact mirror of 961 = 31 x 31

Check it. It's true. But it gets weirder ...

If you write 13 x 13 as a square like this - 132 - you then get this mirror:

132 = 169 is the same as 961= 312

Okay so far? Now insert plus signs between all the digits and the equation looks like this:

(1 + 3)2 = 1 + 6 + 9 is the same as 9 + 6+ 1 = (3 + 1)2

It still works! How odd is that?

Finally, did you know that the sum of the first 13 Prime numbers is 238, whose sum of digits (2 + 3 + 8) is 13?

Thirteen is a number shrouded in mystery and superstition. Some people won't go to work on Friday the 13th. Some people won't eat in restaurants on Friday the 13th. Some people won't get married on Friday the 13th. Some people won't travel on Friday the 13th. A fear of the number 13, or Triskaidekaphobia to give it its medical name, can be very debilitating.

Many buildings don't have a 13th floor. Many hotels don't have a room with number 13 (often relabelled as 12A). It's far worse in America than in the UK where they really take this 13 thing seriously in urban planning and architectural design. Madness! All this fuss over a simple number. But why?

The most common theory concerns the Last Supper. Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus and who later committed suicide, was the 13th guest at the table. Another theory from Scandinavia claims that 13 is bad luck because the 13th demigod to join their pantheon was Loki the Evil One, who brought mischief and misfortune to Mankind. Yet another theory comes from ancient Egypt. To these people life was a quest for spiritual ascension that involved passing through 12 stages and a 13th beyond, thought to be the eternal afterlife. The number 13 therefore symbolised death.

My favourite concerns the eternal Battle of the Sexes. Thirteen was a special number for ancient Moon and Goddess-worshipping cultures because it corresponded to the number of lunar cycles in a year (13 x 28 = 364 days). There is a 27,000 year old carving that was found near the famous Lascaux cave paintings in France that depicts a female figure holding a crescent Moon-shaped horn that has 13 notches carved into it. The theory goes that the battle between Sun/Male and Moon/Female was won by the Sun. The Christian Solar Calendar triumphed over the older pagan version and 12 defeated 13.

Whatever the reason, 13 does, at first glance, appear to be a curious number. But it isn't of course. The thing is ... it's very easy to get caught up in this kind of thing. And people do. There are whole websites dedicated to 13-related weirdness and trivia. There are no sites about the weirdness of number 12. Odd that. Yet, I bet if someone spent some time gathering examples of mathematical oddity involving the number 12, there'd be just as many. Probably.

And people do bend the rules to make them fit their wild conspiracy theories. Take the idea that any one with 13 letters in their name is said to have 'Devil's luck'. The proof lies in the fact that many infamous murderers have 13 letters to their names: Charles Manson. Harold Shipman. Frederick West. Saddam Hussein. Jeffrey Dahmer. Theodore Bundy. Jack the Ripper.

Spooky, eh?

But what about Dr Crippen? Whichever way you slice it, his names never add up to 13 digits. Peter Hawley Harvey Crippen (24). Peter Crippen (12).

Myra Hindley has 11 and Ian Brady a measley 8. Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, has 14. Idi Amin has a pathetic 7 and the worst serial killer of time, Adolf Hitler, has only 11. I could go on. And, let's face it, Theodore Bundy and Frederick West are a bit dubious. No one ever referred to them as anything other than Ted and Fred. And, worst example of all, Jack the Ripper? I'm pretty sure that he wasn't christened Jack the Ripper.

"And what name have you chosen for the child?"
"Jack. Jack the Ripper."
"Right ... I ... I see ..."
"We think it suits him vicar. Don't it suit him Nancy?"
"Yeah. He looks like a Ripper don't he?"

I can't see the police pulling potential murder suspects in off the street just because they have 13 letters to their names. Although it would have spared us from The Spice Girls.

Interestingly, Prime Minister has 13 letters.

So does President Bush.

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