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Parsing the memorable mathematics of movies

Hugh Jackman's 24601 in “Les Miserables” is just the latest in a string of numbers with a high movie profile
BY DENNIS KING Published: January 29, 2013
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If you've recently experienced the extravagant big-screen adaptation of the theatrical pop-opera “Les Miserables,” you're likely to be walking around with a nagging numerical nugget lodged in your head.

That would be 24601, the prison ID number of the saintly Jean Valjean, first evoked in song by the cruel guard Javert in the musical's “Overture/Work Song/Look Down” lyrics.

Movies, especially among the most suggestible fans, have a way of making pertinent numbers stick in our heads evermore.

For instance, what self-respecting film buff could ever check into a hotel or resort room numbered 237 without conjuring up the freaky image of an ax-wielding Jack Nicholson in “The Shining?”

And how many times have you chuckled knowingly when some movie employed a fictitious telephone number with the non-functioning prefix of 555? (There's a musical correlation to that in the memorable Tommy Tutone tune “867-5309/Jenny,” that forever put that randomly selected number on the pop-culture map.)

And certain movie-obsessed math dolts probably have Darren Aronofsky's indie thriller “Pi” to thank for planting the mathematical constant 3.14 in their noggins forevermore.

Any movie lover worth his salt will have a passing familiarity with the famed Fibonacci numbers (a sequence of integers, starting with 0, 1 and continuing 1,2,3,5, 8, 13 … with each new number being the sum of the previous two) from their appearance in the mysteries of “The da Vinci Code” and “Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium.”

Digits are key elements in the titles of literally hundreds of movies, among the most memorable that leap to mind being “The 39 Steps” (Hitchcock's classic spy chase), “54” (about New York's infamous disco club), “61” (charting Roger Maris' great homer odyssey), “101 Dalmatians” (Disney's animated doggie tale), “200 Cigarettes” (twentysomethings partying) and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (Captain Nemo and the Nautilus).

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