Funbers 25, 26 and 27

Fun facts about numbers that you didn’t realise you’ve secretly always wanted to know…


You probably know 25 as five squared, 5 x 5 = 25, but I bet you didn’t realise that it’s also the sum of the first five odd numbers: 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 9 = 25. It also crops up a lot in Pythagoras’ Theorem (yes, him again — see Funbers root 2) because it’s the smallest square that’s also the sum of another two square numbers: 25 = 3² + 4². Since Pythagoras’ Theorem says that a² + b² = c², we have the exact result with whole numbers (integers) for a = 3, b = 4 and c = 5. A solution such as this, where all of the numbers are integers, is called a Pythagorean Triple.

Looking beyond the maths, most videos are recorded at a frame rate of 25 per second as the PAL video standard – other options are available, but twenty-five does an excellent job of tricking the human brain into seeing a moving picture where in fact only a series of still images are being shown. Less than 25 and we might start to notice the ‘jumps’ between frames, and for more than 25 we’ll need a lot more data to record and store the footage.


Twenty-five is also the average percentage of DNA overlap between yourself and your grandparent, grand-child, aunt, uncle, nephew, half-sibling, double cousin (when siblings from one family have children with siblings from another), or identical twin cousin (if one of your parents is an identical twin and their twin has a child). Oh, and apparently a ‘pony’ is British slang for £25 – news to me…


With twenty-five being a square number, and (spoiler alert) twenty-seven being a cube number, twenty-six is uniquely placed as the only whole number that’s exactly one greater than a square (5² + 1) and one less than a cube (3³ – 1). Talk about niche. And then there’s the fantastically named rhombicuboctahedron — a shape with 26 faces, made up of squares and triangles. Can you spot how many of each in the figure below?


Twenty-six also gives the number of complete miles in a marathon (26 miles and 385 yards to be exact), the number of letters in the Latin alphabet, and the age at which males can no longer be drafted in the United States. The draft has been used five times throughout history: the American Revolution, the American Civil War, World War 1, World War 2 and the Cold War (including Korea and Vietnam). Let’s hope it never has to be used again.


Now this one’s a real doozy: 27% of our universe is made up of “dark matter” – matter that has mass but is also completely invisible and doesn’t interact with itself or regular matter. The rest of the universe consists of 5% regular matter (the stuff we know about), and the other 68% is completely unknown. Something, something, dark energy…

Sticking with scary thoughts, in Stephen King’s novel ‘It’ (great film by the way) the creature returns to the town of Derry every 27 years, which also happens to be exactly the right amount of time for a new-born baby to join the 27 Club — a term used to refer to popular musicians who have died at the age of 27. Current members include Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse amongst many, many more. We also have 27 books in the New Testament and 27 bones in the human hand.


Ending with some maths — what else — twenty-seven is the only positive whole number that is exactly three times the sum of its digits: 2 + 7 = 9 and 9 x 3 = 27. It’s also a perfect cube, 33 = 3 x 3 x 3 = 27, and it’s equal to the sum of the digits from two to seven, 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 = 27. But, leaving the best until last, if you label the decimal places of the number pi, starting from 0, then the 27th and 28th digits read 27. It may seem like magic but it’s actually one of a few ‘self-locating strings’ in the number. The others being 6, 13598, 43611, 24643510, and no doubt many more yet to be discovered. That can be your homework…

π = 3.141592653589793238462643383279…


Image credit: Jonathan Kis-Lev

Funbers 20

From the number of children of composer Johann Sebastian Bach, to the number of championships won by Manchester United, its fair to say that 20 gets around. Then there’s the 1920’s, seen as a time of boom and bust with the creation of jazz music followed by the great depression. Not to mention the Mayan counting system which uses base 20…

You can find all of the episodes in the Funbers series with BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and BBC Radio Oxford here.

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