Thursday, January 10, 2008


Ever since I first heard about Tom Robbins' obsession with the number 23, I have every so often tried to pay attention to how often the number occurs in daily news headlines. Over the years a lot of very prominent news headlines have featured the number 23, most notably the Heaven's Gate suicides (which occurred on March 23, 1997), and the Columbine high school shootings (where 12 people were killed and 23 wounded, and, in a story reported six months later on October 23, 1999, the mother of one student severely injured in the shootings shot herself to death), both of which featured early mentions of 23 dead victims that were later amended to their actual numbers.

Interestingly, 23 seems to be the default estimate for dead bodies. For example, this morning the news of a suicide bombing in Pakistan on CNN said there were 23 dead; a few minutes later the same story on the BBC network announced "at least 22 dead"...odd, no? Of course there are many more than 23 dead, but this will not be reported until final counts are taken.

Try this yourself: watch the morning news on TV, listen to National Public radio, read the morning paper (The New York Times delivers on the 23 enigma rather nicely, I find), check out the headlines on the internet. You may find yourself shocked at how often the number 23 appears in headlines.

Oh, and several times I have observed how often the number 23 appears in winning lottery sequences. A lot. Almost once a week in fact. I have not measured its frequency against other numbers, however. I am sure someone, somewhere, has done this.

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