The 140-character spike

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Proportion of tweets (%) having a given number of characters

Most English words are short

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Number and frequency (%) of English words vs word length

Colonialism and the Four-Colour Theorem

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Who else has an Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number?

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A little while ago, I did some sleuthing to find out the Erdős number of Brian May, astrophysicist and guitarist from Queen. My travels led me to Timeblimp, who threw together three measures of professional collaboration to make a rather fun parlour game. Assuming that the people in your parlour are three kinds of nerds and enjoy long and complicated internet scavenger hunts. Which I am and I do.

The game is to find a well-known person who has published academically, released a song, and been involved in a movie or TV show. Then, you play three versions of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: find a series of movies to connect them to prolific actor Kevin Bacon, a series of coauthored papers to connect them to the eccentric mathematician Paul Erdős, and a series of musical collaborations to get to Black Sabbath. Add up all the links and you get the Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number.

To even have an Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number puts you in quite an exclusive club. Only four people — Richard Feynman, Natalie Portman, Stephen Hawking, and the aforementioned Brian May — are known to be on the list. Until now. In this post, I'm going to throw out a few more potential names and put in the legwork to add two of them to the list of People at the Center of the Universe.


How to Catch Legendary Pokémon

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The year was 2000, a few years after Nintendo made Pokémon Red and Blue. I was in grade 7, and had spent much of the last few years finding, capturing, training, and battling every Pokémon I could. Finally, I had caught all 150 available species and completed my Pokédex, and I desperately wanted Nintendo to make more.

Pokémon box-art mascots Charizard, Blastoise, Pikachu, Lugia, and Ho-Oh

Pokémon box-art mascots Charizard, Blastoise, Pikachu, Lugia, and Ho-Oh

That Christmas, I got my wish. My 12-year-old eyes lit up when I unwrapped Pokémon Silver at my grandparents house: Colour graphics! A whole new world to explore! And a hundred new Pokémon! As soon as I could escape from present-opening, I raced downstairs and started playing. By the time it was time to leave at the end of the week, I already had four badges — and then, on the car ride home, I encountered a new legendary Pokémon with a very unique quality.

Normally, each species of Pokémon can be found in a handful of fixed habitats; for example, Jigglypuff can always be found on Route 46. But this new encounter, the legendary beast Entei, didn't stay put. It ran away as soon as I stumbled across it, and moved to a different route every time I stepped into a new location. Catching this roaming Pokémon would be an interesting challenge.

Pokédex entry and habitat map for Jigglypuff

Jigglypuff can always be found on Route 46, but Entei moves from route to route

Months passed, and though I had long since beaten the rest of the game, I still hadn't succeeded in catching Entei. I had spent hours chasing it around the world map, only to have it run away each time I threw a Pokéball at it. Exasperated, I wondered: What strategy would catch the roaming Pokémon as quickly as possible?


Brian May has an Erdős number

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If you've heard of Erdős Numbers, Erdős-Bacon Numbers, and the fact that Queen lead guitarist Brian May has a PhD, you may have wondered whether Brian May has a well-defined Erdős-Bacon number. As a matter of fact, he does. Here's how the rock legend is connected to the centres of cinema and academia.