Thursday is a very special day, numerically speaking

Rare numerical sequence stirs curiosity

 

Thursday was a special day, numerically speaking: It's 10-11-12.

The date 10-11-12 has proven not nearly as popular as last year's 11-11-11, a day some considered to be lucky.

"People like a fluency in numbers," says Rajesh Bagchi, an associate professor of marketing at Virginia Tech who also studies numbers psychology. "The sequence of 10-11-12 is fluent, and it goes up, so it can have a pleasing effect. It can feel right. So someone might decide, for example, to buy a lottery ticket."

Certainly, there are special things happening on Thursday, and not just the U.S. vice-presidential debate. At the United Nations, the day has been declared the International Day Of The Girl Child, recognizing girls' rights and the challenges they face around the world. But there's no evidence the actual numbers of the date were taken into account. Also, the Jonas Brothers are returning to the stage after three years with a one-night show at Radio City Music Hall.

How rare is the day? After all, there will be a neat moment right around the time many alarm clocks ring at 07:08:09, on 10-11-12. But won't it be better later this year, on Dec. 12, when we will have 12:12:12 on 12-12-12?

In fact, the kind of sequence happening Thursday is one that's been occurring every year since 2003, when we had 01-02-03. It will end for a while in 2014, with 12-13-14. Then we'll need to wait until 2103. "It basically happens in the early years of a new century," says Geoff Chester, public affairs officer at the U.S. Naval Observatory, which, if you didn't know, is the official timekeeper for the Department of Defense.

"Really, this is just a numerological curiosity," says Chester. "People find it amusing. But there is no cosmic significance. It's an artifact of the calendar and time system that we use."

Eric Carlson, a physics professor at Wake Forest University, agrees. "No great significance," he says. "Just a curiosity. I like number patterns, like many of us. Our lives are dominated by numbers."

Carlson himself plans nothing special on Thursday, though he does allow that on the day several years ago that corresponded precisely to the seven digits of his phone number, he held a party.

"Tomorrow is too busy," he says. "But I will really celebrate next week, when my daughter turns in her college applications."

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