17 Is The Most Random Number

The Most Random Number Is 17.

Many people ask me why I frequently publish stuff on the 17th of the month. To those people I say, “How did you get this phone number?”

The short answer is that 17 is the most random number.

The long answer is long.

OK, here’s how I recall the story. When I entered MIT in 1984, one of my friends lived at a dorm called Random Hall (sometimes incorrectly called Random House). The residents of Random Hall tell the story of a survey that was conducted at MIT. As part of the survey, many things were counted at MIT: the number of departments in an organization, the number of halls in a building, the number of windows, etc. At the end of the survey, the number that appeared most frequently was 17, causing it to be dubbed “the most random number” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/17_(number)). If the numbers resulting from the survey were random (a huge assumption), then it would be correct to say that 17 is the most frequently occurring of those random numbers. But calling it the “most random number” is simultaneously inaccurate and silly. Which is why I like it.

Ever since 1984, I’ve been working the number 17 into publications, conversations, etc. Taking the joke one step further, my MIT friend Art Mellor (a photographer whose work has been (self-)described as “getting better”) even gave me a subscription to Seventeen magazine a couple of years ago! He also sent this link, with more on this legendary story:

http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily/2007/02/is_17_the_most_random_number.php

So now you know.


Erik J. Heels is a trademark and patent lawyer, Boston Red Sox fan, MIT engineer, and musician. He blogs about technology, law, baseball, and rock ‘n’ roll at ErikJHeels.com.

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