Funbers 22, 23 and 24

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

22 – TWENTY-TWO

Coming in hot, 22 happens to be one of my favourite numbers – if you divide it by 7 you get about 3.142, which is a handy way of getting close to pi without having to remember all the digits! Then of course there’s Joseph Heller’s famous novel Catch-22. In the book, Catch-22 is the Air Force policy which says that bomber pilots can only stop flying planes if they are declared insane. But like the name suggests, there’s a catch. Catch-22 says that asking for a mental evaluation to get declared insane is proof that you aren’t in fact insane. So technically, there’s a way to get out of flying more bombing runs… but if you try it, you get sent right back out in the next plane!

Catch22-plane

Twenty-two also pops up in the kitchen. Normally, if you are slicing a pizza using 6 cuts, you’d do it neatly and end up with 12 even slices – much like the numbers on a clock face. But if you were a lazy pizza chef and just sliced randomly, you could end up cutting slices in half and ending up with more pieces. And it turns out, the most pieces you can end up with after 6 cuts is, you guessed it, 22!

On a darker note, 22 was also the lucky number of the Haitian voodoo dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Papa Doc started studying voodoo folklore to spread rumours that he had supernatural powers, which let him rule through fear. But eventually, he started believing the rumours himself. He would only go outside his palace on the 22nd of the month, because he thought he was guarded by voodoo spirits on that lucky day. He even claimed to have killed JFK, whose assassination was on the 22nd of November 1963, supposedly by stabbing a voodoo doll of him 2222 times that morning…

1963haiti_duvalier

23 – TWENTY-THREE

For 23 we’re going back to maths, and specifically prime numbers. A prime number remember, is one that can only be divided by itself and one without giving any remainder. Twenty-three has the unique property of being the smallest prime number which is not a ‘twin prime’ – that is a prime number which does not have another one within two spaces of it on the number-line. For example, 3, 5 and 7 are all close friends, while 11 and 13 go together. 17 is next to 19, but the nearest prime number to 23 is either four places below at 19, or six places above at 29, making it the smallest prime number to not have the ‘twin’ property.

Twenty-three is also big for birthdays. Not because the age of 23 is particularly special (although being the age mentioned in my favourite song – Blink 182’s ‘what’s my age again?’ – I do have a soft spot for it), but because of its appearance in the ‘Birthday Paradox’. The complete explanation is a little too long for Funbers, but in short it says that if you choose 23 people at random and put them in a room together, there is a greater than 50% chance that 2 of them share the same birthday. If that sounds too crazy to believe, check out a full explanation here from one of my students who applied it to the 23-man England squad for the 2018 Football World Cup. Now to enjoy some classic pop punk: “Nobody likes you when you’re 23…”

24 – TWENTY-FOUR

Who remembers Avogadro’s constant for the number of atoms contained in one mole of a substance from high school Chemistry? No, me neither. But, a great way to approximate it is using 24 factorial – or 24! in mathematical notation. The factorial function (or exclamation mark) tells you to multiply all of the numbers less than 24 together. So, 24! is equal to 24 x 23 x 22 x 21 x 20 x 19 x … x 2 x 1, also known as an incredibly large number. It’s about 3% larger than Avogadro’s constant, but certainly easier than remembering 6.02214076 x 1023.

backgammon-789623_1920

Twenty-four also represents the number of carats in pure gold, the number of letters in the Greek alphabet (ancient and modern) and the number of points on a backgammon board. Mathematically, 24 is the smallest number with exactly 8 numbers that divide it – can you name them? And, it’s equal to exactly 4 factorial: 4! = 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 24. Last but not least, where would we be without the 24 hour day – or to be precise 24 hours plus or minus a few milliseconds to be completely exact…

Day length
Yesterday 24 hours -0.46 ms
Today 24 hours -0.39 ms
Tomorrow 24 hours -0.35 ms
Shortest 2019 24 hours -0.95 ms
Longest 2019 24 hours +1.67 ms
Last Year Average 24 hours +0.69 ms

 

What are the chances that two England teammates share a Birthday?

Cast your mind back to the summer of 2018… we saw the warmest ever weather in the UK, Brexit was not yet a complete and utter disaster, and seemingly against all the odds the England football team reached the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990. No doubt the team had a huge celebration together afterwards – but it wouldn’t be the first time that two of them have celebrated an occasion at the same time. As well as playing together at the heart of England’s defence, Manchester City duo Kyle Walker and John Stones also share the same birthday! Stones was born on 28th May 1994, making him 24 years old; Walker was born on the same day in 1990, meaning that he is exactly four years older than his teammate. How strange! Or is it…?

John_Stones_2018-06-13_1 Kyle_Walker

On the face of it, it seems quite surprising that in an England squad of just 23 players, two of them happen to share a birthday. However, as we’re about to see, this isn’t a freakish coincidence – maths says that it’s quite likely! What we’re talking about here is commonly known as the birthday problem: if there are a group of people of a certain size, what is the likelihood that at least two of them have the same birthday?

Let’s start by saying that we have a group of N people, and assume that birthdays are equally likely on every day of the year. (There is some evidence to suggest that this isn’t the case for top athletes; some say that they tend to be born early in the school year, such as around September in England. This is because they are slightly older than the other children in the year, and so they have a slight head-start in their physical development. However, we don’t want to make things too complicated, so we’ll ignore that for now.)

The easiest way to think about the problem is to first try to work out what the probability is that none of the N people share a birthday. Suppose our N people walk into a room, that is empty at first, one at a time. When the first person walks in, it’s obvious that they don’t share a birthday with anyone else in the room, because there isn’t anyone else. Therefore, they have the maximum probability of not sharing a birthday with anyone else in the room, which is 1.

Now think of the second person who walks in. The only way that they could share a birthday with someone in the room is if it happens to be exactly the same day as the first person. That means there is a 1 in 365 chance that they do share a birthday, so there is a 364 in 365 chance that they don’t.

Suppose that the first two birthdays don’t match, and then the third person walks in. They now have 2 days that they can’t share a birthday with, so there are 363 possible choices out of 365. Because we assumed that the first two didn’t match, we multiply the probabilities, so now the chance that none of them share a birthday is (364/365) * (363/365).

We can repeat this process until we get to our final person, number N. For example, the fourth person has 3 birthdays that they cannot share, so we multiply by a chance of 362/365; the fifth person has 4 days to avoid, so we include a probability of 361/365… By the time the Nth person walks in, there are N-1 people already in the room, so there are N-1 days that their birthday cannot fall on. This leaves them with 365-(N-1) possibilities out of 365.

To work out the total probability, we multiply all of these terms together which gives the likelihood that none of the N people share a birthday as

1 * (364/365) * (363/365) * (362/365) * … * ((365-(N-1))/365).

You might be thinking that this still looks like quite a big probability that none of them share a birthday, because all of the terms are very close to 1. But, if we try some values of N in a calculator, then it tells a very different story. (The percentages are calculated by finding the probability from the equation above and multiplying by 100.)

When N = 10, we get an 88% chance that none of them share a birthday. However, this drops down to 59% when there are N = 20 people. When we get to N = 23, the number of players in the England squad, the probability reaches just under 50%. That means that, incredibly, the likelihood that at least two of the 23 people share a birthday is just bigger than 50%!

So, in a random group of 23 people, it’s more likely than not that two of them share a birthday! This seems very strange at first; surely you’d need more than 23 people for a shared birthday to be more likely than not?! This is why the problem is commonly known as the birthday paradox – it might be very hard to get your head around, but the maths doesn’t lie!

Perhaps, in order to convince ourselves, we should look at some real-life examples. This is where the World Cup squads come into play: each team is restricted to bringing 23 players to the tournament. (We’ve seen that number before…) If our calculations above are correct, then if we picked any one of the World Cup squads, there would be roughly a 50:50 chance that at least two of the squad members share a birthday, which means that out of all of the squads that went to Russia, we would expect about half of them to have a birthday match. Well, let’s take a look…

Of the 32 teams, which were divided into 8 groups of 4, the following teams have at least one pair of players who share a birthday:

Group A Russia
Group B Iran, Morocco, Portugal, Spain
Group C Australia, France, Peru
Group D Croatia, Nigeria
Group E Brazil, Costa Rica
Group F Germany, South Korea
Group G England
Group H Poland

So, not only is there at least one team in every group with a birthday match, but if we count the total, there are 16 squads with a shared birthday pair – exactly half of the teams! The experimental results have matched up with the mathematical theory to perfection. Hopefully that’s enough to convince you that our calculations were indeed sound!

A slightly different question that you might ask is as follows: if I am in a group with a certain number of people, what are the chances that at least one of them shares my birthday? Is it the same idea? What we have worked out above is the probability that any two people in the room share a birthday (or rather, we worked out the opposite, but we can find the right answer from our working). Note that the pair doesn’t necessarily include you; it’s a lot more likely that it’s some other pair in the group.

In order to work out the answer to this similar sounding question, we work the other way around again, by calculating the probability that none of the N people share my birthday. For each of the N people, there is only one birthday that they cannot have, and that is mine (14th November, in case you were wondering), which means there are 364 out of 365 possibilities for each person. We no longer care whether their birthdays match up; we only care if they match with mine. So each person has a 364/365 chance of not sharing my birthday; and the overall probability is just 364/365 * 364/365 * … * 364/365, N times, which we write as (364/365)N.

Once again, we can plug some values of N into a calculator: N = 10 gives a 97% chance that no-one else has my birthday. For N = 50 the probability is still very high: there is an 87% chance that none of these 50 people have the same birthday as me. N = 100 gives 76%; N = 200 gives 58%; you have to go all the way to N = 253 before the probability dips below 50%, and it becomes more likely than not that at least one person will celebrate their birthday with me.

Applying this idea to all 736 players (32 squads of 23 players) involved in the World Cup, we should expect around 3 of them to have been born on the same day as me – 14th November. And I am very happy to confirm that France’s Samuel Umtiti, Switzerland’s Roman Burki, and Belgium’s Thomas Vermaelen all have what is undoubtedly the best birthday of the year… Two similar problems with two very different solutions!

Thomas_Vermaelen_2018 Samuel_Umtiti_2018AUT_vs._SUI_2015-11-17_(250)

You can check which footballers share a birthday with you at www.famousbirthdays.com/date/monthDD-soccerplayer.html, where you enter the month in words and the day in numbers (no preceding zero required).

Kai Laddiman 

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