Thursday, April 17, 2014

Apple #670: Easter Candy Facts

A lot of people have a lot of opinions about Easter.  I have mine, you have yours.  But one thing we can all agree on is Easter candy.  So here are your fast Easter candy facts to have at the ready as you're sitting around with friends & family this weekend, gnawing the ears off some hapless chocolate bunny.

The bunny might be hopless too, since it's chocolate. Hahahaha!

Look at the ears on those chocolate bunnies.  Just asking for it.
(Photo and chocolate bunnies from Lake Champlain Chocolates. Each year, they make a 3-pound chocolate bunny they affectionately call Mr. Goodtime Bunny.)

  • After Halloween, Easter is the biggest candy holiday of the year.  Bigger than Christmas. 
  • 120 million pounds of Easter candy are sold each year in the United States.
  • The total amount of candy manufactured in anticipation of each Easter includes:
    • 90 million chocolate bunnies
    • 91.4 billion eggs of various sorts
    • 700 million marshmallow Peeps
    • 16 million jelly beans
  • Children's favorite color of jelly bean: red. 

There's one marshmallow Peep born every 6 seconds.
(Photo from Buzznet)

  • Altogether, we Americans spend $14.7 billion with a B on Easter stuff.  Not just candy, but decorations, clothes, Easter bonnets, etc.  That's about $131 per household. 
    • $2.1 billion with a B of that is candy.
    • 70% of the $2.1 billion is chocolate.
  • 76% of chocolate bunny-eaters say they eat the ears first. 
  • According to Guinness world records, the largest chocolate Easter egg was over 34 feet tall and weighed 15,873 pounds. I'd hate to be around when that thing hatched.
  • Cadbury starts making & selling their creme eggs on New Year's Day through Easter.  So get 'em now before they vanish for the rest of the year. 

What's the creme in those Cadbury eggs made of? Sugar & water. That's it.
(Photo from Buzznet)

Hoppy Easter!
(Photo from Healthline)

Do, 11 Facts About Easter
ABC15 Arizona, Easter candy: 9 facts that may surprise you
ABCNews, 90 Million Chocolate Bunnies and Other Fun Easter Facts
Chicago News Tween US, Hunting for Easter egg trivia? Find 11 fun facts here

Monday, April 14, 2014

Apple #669: La Brea Tar Pits

I've been meaning to do an entry on the La Brea Tar Pits for quite some time.  A recent news tidbit about bee fossils from the Tar Pits reminded me, so now seems as good a time as any.

To go along with that news, here are a few facts about the tar pits:
  • Since people are always talking about fossils and natural history discoveries and things they learned about animals found in the tar pits that lived a long time ago, I always assumed the Tar Pits were out in the boonies somewhere.  

Also, this is the kind of picture I've always seen of the La Brea Tar Pits.  Enormous animals duking it out in some ancient wildnerness, teetering on the edge of the tar pits and about to fall in and become fossils for us to discover centuries later.
(Image from Wikipedia)

  • Nope.  The La Brea Tar Pits are in downtown Los Angeles.
  • The park is just off Wilshire Boulevard, which is LA's "Miracle Mile" -- its high-class main street that goes right through downtown and extends all the way to Santa Monica.

One of the many modern-day structures on Wilshire Boulevard: the LA County Museum of Art
(Photo by Luis Sinco at the LA Times)

A popular tour route of Los Angeles and Hollywood, including stops such as Paramount Studios, Melrose Avenue shopping, the Chinese Theatre, Beverly Hills -- and the La Brea Tar Pits, (down at the bottom of this map).
(Map and tour from City Discovery)

Present-day pictures of the tar pits still look rather wilderness-y, with statues of giant now-extinct animals duking it out in the tar pits.  Oh, but there's a modern-day building tucked behind those bushes.
(Photo by Roger Weller from Cochise College)

  • Long, long ago, back before the tar pits even existed, Los Angeles used to be underwater.  The marine animals and fishes that lived in the water died and their skeletons along with all the other stuff that's in water settled at the bottom.  Over time, more stuff accumulated, pressing down on those dead fishes et cetera, until they got turned into the good old fossil fuels we all know and love.
  • Eventually, the crude oil that was formed seeped up through cracks in the ground to the surface.  Wouldn't oil barons of today love that -- a pool of oil just sitting there on the ground.
  • But the "lighter components" of the oil evaporate out, and what's left behind is what we call tar.  
  • Actually, it's asphalt. The black, hot, sticky stuff that road crews onto the street.  And did I mention it's sticky?
  • To recap, we've got a pool of marine animals which died and got turned into oil, which surfaced and now that's turned into a giant pool of asphalt, which is super sticky.  Animals that blunder into it get stuck, can't pull away, and since it's a deep pool of the stuff, they sink into it and die.  Then they get turned into fossils.  This happened right around the end of the last Ice Age.  These are the fossils that people today are excavating and examining.
  • Right in the middle of downtown Los Angeles.  I still can't get over that.
  • Before the pits were turned into a natural park, people did scoop out the tar and use it.  Early Native Americans used it as caulk for their canoes and baskets.  Later people used the tar for roofing material, just as we use asphalt to make shingles today.  It was when they started drilling for oil in the 1800s that they discovered the skeletons in the pits.
  • It just so happens that asphalt makes an excellent preservative.  Bird bones, exoskeletons of insects, even the unborn larvae of bees are kept so intact, researchers have been able to understand a whole lot of things about plants & animals that don't even exist anymore.
  • The asphalt does turn the bones brown, but otherwise, everything is really well-preserved. That's how scientists are able to study such tiny and specific things as the pupae of leafcutter bees.
  • As of 1992, people studying the tar pits had unearthed more than 3.5 million individual plants and animals that belong to over 600 species.  Of course studies are ongoing, so there are more likely many more specimens in the collection; they just haven't done a census recently.
  • Some of the types of animals that have been found in the tar pits include:
    • Squirrels
    • Rabbits
    • Skunks
    • Bats
    • Herons
    • Ducks
    • Vultures
    • Hawks
    • Falcons
    • Owls
    • Pigeons
    • Roadrunners
    • Pocket gophers
    • Raccoons
    • Ground sloths
    • Saber-toothed tigers
    • Horses
    • Cattle
    • Camels (I know; camels?!)
    • Mastodons 
    • Elephants
    • Bears
    • Humans (one person, a woman)
  • Can you imagine, being a bird and being all light and feathery and flying around, and then you get some of that dastardly asphalt on your wings.  You're a stuck bird and you ain't going no place.
  • This list represents only a fraction of the plants & animals & insects that have been found and identified, from 6 pits so far.  More research is underway at a new location, and they will also be looking at "microfossils."  So who knows what else they may discover.

Skull of the saber-toothed "tiger."
(Photo from the University of California Museum of Paleontology)

  • The saber-toothed tiger (Smilodon) is the second-most common mammal fossil that has been found in the tar pits.  More than 2,000 of them have been excavated.
  • It's not actually that closely related to today's tiger.  It was about a foot shorter than our lions today and instead of a long tail, it had a bobtail.  Which suggests it didn't run after prey in which case it would need a tail to help it navigate, but rather ambushed its food.
  • Their incisors were 8 inches long.  
  • Most likely, they ate bison and sloths and camels.  Yes, camels.
  • The saber-toothed tiger went extinct about 10,000 years ago.  Which, in paleontology terms, is pretty recent. 

This is what scientists at the La Brea museum think the sabertooth tiger might have looked like. This is a life-sized puppet, created with help from Jim Henson's Creature Shop.
(Photo from the La Brea Page Museum)

Camelops skull
(Drawing from the National Park Service)

  • The species of camel that has been found in the Tar Pits -- Camelops -- is now extinct.  But camels actually originated in North America, not the Middle East.
  • Southern California and Idaho were not desert-like back in that time, but were more likely grasslands or even wetlands.  
  • Since humps are not the sort of thing to get fossilized, scientists aren't sure whether the Camelops had a hump or not. 
  • It is thought that camels did not adapt to desert conditions until after they arrived in Asia and the Middle East.  It is thought that they traveled there over land, which was possible way back then when the geography was much, much different than it is today.
  • Camelops are more closely related to today's llamas.

Artist's rendering of what the Camelops may have looked like.
(Drawing from the La Brea Page Museum)

Skeleton of Harlan's Ground Sloth
(Photo from Fossil Treasures of Florida)

  • Skeletons of Harlan's Ground Sloth (Paramylodon harlani) and other types of ground sloths, all of which are extinct, have been found in all sorts of places, from La Brea to Antarctica, Florida to Patagonia.
  • The Harlan's Ground Sloth lived all across what is now the United States, but mostly in the West.
  • These dudes liked the grasslands best, too.
  • The Harlan's Ground Sloth was probably about 9 feet tall and weighed somewhere around 2,300 pounds -- "bison-sized" as one site puts it.
  • They were probably prey for the saber-toothed tiger (Smilodon).
  • They had bony knobs the size of pebbles (osteoderms or dermal ossicles) embedded in their skin which would have acted as a kind of armor. 
  • Their closest relatives today are anteaters, armadillos, and pangolins.  Armadillos & pangolins also have osteoderms, but of a much different shape and growing closer together in complex patterns.

Artist's reconstruction of a Harlan's Ground Sloth. This one looks quite friendly.
(Drawing from the La Brea Page Museum)

For a really good pictorial overview of the history of the Tar Pits from 40,000 years ago to today, check out the La Brea Page Museum's Timeline.

Wilshire Boulevard, a Main Street that stands apart, Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2013
University of California Museum of Paleontology, La Brea Tar Pits, What Is a Sabertooth? Timeline 
Howstuffworks, How the La Brea Tar Pits Work
Los Angeles County Natural History Museum Rancho La Brea Collections
La Brea Tar Pits Page Museum Collections
National Park Service, Camelops
San Diego Zoo Library, Extinct Ground Sloth, Tardigrada
Fossil Treasures of Florida, Harlans Ground Sloth

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Apple #668: Yellow Sac Spiders, Maza6s, and the Smell of Gas

All right, you lazy copycat reporters.  I'm calling you on your mindless repetition of other sources without doing any fact-checking of your own, right here and now.

There's a story getting repeated like mad by every major news source, minor news source, TV news page, web newsjunkie page, and car fan blog out there.  They're all saying the same thing over and over so it probably doesn't matter which source I quote, so I'll just pick one.

[EDIT: Since search engines are picking up the portion of this entry that repeats the untrue statement, I am going to amend the news article so that it is factually correct.]

The 2014 Mazda6 -- not included in the recall.  The recall only covers some 42,000 Mazda6s made in 2010-2012.  But all you reporters who are reporting repeating this story had BETTER look at things differently.
(Photo by Aaron Gold, from Cars)

Here is the story from the AP Newswire, picked up and reposted verbatim by ABCNews [and edited to be correct, by me]:
Mazda is recalling 42,000 Mazda6 cars in the U.S. because spiders can weave a web in a vent hose and cause the fuel tank to crack.

The recall involves cars from the 2010 through 2012 model years equipped with 2.5-liter engines.

The yellow sac spider, which is [NOT NECESSARILY] attracted to hydrocarbons, builds webs [SACS] that [MAY] cause pressure to build in the fuel tank. That increases the risk of fuel leaks and fire.

Mazda recalled cars in 2011 for the same problem. It put covers on the vent line, but has found spiders can get past them.

Mazda will update the cars' software for free beginning this month to ensure that the fuel tank pressure doesn't build up.

Mazda says no injuries or fires have been reported due to the issue.

SPOILER: I can find no evidence whatsoever that yellow sac spiders "are attracted to hydrocarbons" or "like the smell of gas" or any other such anthropomorphic explanation for their behavior.  So how many other elements of this story are untrue, and continuing to be repeated as if they are?

Of the innumerable sources reporting repeating this story, many have headlines such as 
    • (Some clarification: This particular model of car was recalled in 2011 for the spiders-in-the-fuel-line reason.  So there are two bouts of news stories on this topic, one batch from 2014 and another from 2011.  The fix that Mazda came up with in 2011 was insufficient to keep the spiders out.  They've figured out a different solution, so they've issued a new recall to get people to bring their cars in to get the new fix.  Both bouts of news stories did the same repetition thing, with the occasional clever headline meant to incite hilarity.) 
    • Some further clarification: It's not that the cars are infested with spiders, as some headlines suggest.  It's that sometimes a spider may build a nest in the fuel line. If that happens, damage to the fuel-related parts may result.  Mazda wants to recall the cars to put in a fix in order to prevent that damage.

    I thought, "This is interesting, a spider that likes the smell of gasoline.  I want to know more about that."  So I did some searching about the yellow sac spider.  Here are some of the basic, most salient facts:

    The yellow sac spider is very common.  You probably recognize it by its pale body and the dark tips at the end of its legs.
    (Photo from Jonesblog)

    • The yellow sac spider is very common throughout the United States.
    • It likes to hang out under leaves or in crevices or in hidden spots because it stalks and hunts its prey, usually at night.
    • Typical nesting spots include under leaves, in woodpiles, or under stones. In or around a house they may be found up in the corners, under eaves, or behind baseboards.
    • This spider is so-named because its body is yellow and it builds sacs, rather than webs.  (Let me repeat that: this spider does not build webs.)  In addition to being the spider's daily retreat, the sac is also the place where the female stores her eggs until they hatch.
    • The only reason people pay much attention to this type of spider is because its bite contains a mild venom that can be painful to people.  If you get a spider bite that hurts and maybe even swells a bit, it is probably from a yellow sac spider.
    • If you've gotten such a bite, clean it with iodine or other antiseptic and put ice on it. 

    One example of the kind of Photoshopped images showing the yellow sac spider in a gas tank. 
    (Image from Free Republic)

    None of the pages describing the yellow sac spider in & of itself said anything about the spider liking the smell of gasoline, or hydrocarbons, or hydrogen oxide.

    Let me repeat that but in a slightly different way: all of the entomology/spider/species resources I checked said NOTHING about this type of spider liking the smell of gasoline.

    Yellow sac spiders do have one unusual physical feature: they have 8 eyes, 2 more than most spiders have.
    (Photo by Joseph Berger, from Bugwood.ord, sourced from CNNMoney)

    • There are a couple types of spider that do utilize hydrocarbons: 
      • The males of certain very tiny dwarf spiders (linyphiids) emit a type of hydrocarbon that works sort of like a pheromone and tells females the male is fit and would make a suitable mate.
      • Another type of spider called corinnids mimic the ants that they live among so they can eat the ants with impunity.  These types of spiders look or walk like the ants. One species even has the mimicry down to such a science, they also emit a hydrocarbon, similar to one that the ants themselves use, which tells the ants "I am a colony-member, not an intruder."  Like the yellow sac spider, corinnids build sacs.  But corinnids are in the genus Castianeira, and yellow sac are in the Cheiracanthium genus.
    • These are the only two types of spiders I found that have anything to do with hydrocarbons.  But these are not yellow sac spiders.

    The only sources I found that said anything about the yellow sac spider in particular liking the smell of gasoline, or hydrocarbons, or hydrogen oxide, were all news articles or blog posts about the Mazda recall.

    Seemed pretty fishy to me. I wondered, did someone make a factually incorrect statement at some point, and everyone has just kept repeating that statement without checking it, for years?

    So I started looking into some of the supposedly factual statements in the news release.

    For example, you may have noticed that the AP story I quoted above (and all the others robotically following suit) says that the spiders in the Mazda gas tank are building webs and it's the webs that are causing problems.  But, as we've learned, yellow sac spiders do not build webs, they build sacs.

    Is it the news sources that are incorrectly describing what the spiders are doing?  Maybe the original information from Mazda was more specific and accurate.  So I found the recall notice.

    Diagram showing Mazda's evaporative canister and other parts of the fuel system where the spider may build its home. 
    (Diagram from

    • The text of the actual 2014 recall notice from Mazda says that a spider "may weave a web" in the evaporative canister vent line, causing a restriction.  It says that in November 2013, Mazda "found that there was a crack in the fuel tank and a spider web was present in the canister vent line," and they found 9 cases of similar situations.  Webs. 
    • In February 2014, they changed the way they wrote the software code that controls the fuel tank pressure to keep the tank from cracking "even under such a severe condition as the canister vent line is clogged by a spider web."  Again, web.

    Well, maybe Mazda are just trying to be general in their description, to use language everybody will understand, rather than to use something more specific like "spider sacs" or some such.  Or maybe the thing they were seeing in the fuel line was really a web, and not a sac.  So maybe this particular spider isn't really a yellow sac spider at all.

    This is the thing that a yellow sac spider builds: a sac.  Here, a female is tucking her eggs into it.
    (Photo from Forestry Images)

    So where did the assertion that this spider is a yellow sac spider come from?
    • According to an LA Times article published in 2011 when Mazda issued the first recall notice, it was Mazda that identified the spider as the yellow sac: 
      • "Mazda identified the culprit as the yellow sac spider, or Cheiracanthium inclusum. The pale, mildly venomous creatures lay their eggs in silk-wrapped bunches — usually in vegetation. But why they're choosing Mazdas instead of, say, Porsche Spyders, is a mystery. As is the fact that only the 4-cylinder Mazda6 cars are playing host."

    So it is definitely the yellow sac spider that is spinning its webs building its sacs inside Mazda6 cars.  I'm going to give Mazda the benefit of the doubt on this point, and say that they use the word "web" in their recall notice so as to be easily understood, when they more accurately should have said "sac."

    But we still have the question that got me started on all of this: where did this business of yellow sac spiders liking the smell of gas come from?  That, after all, is the reported reputed reason why they are building their webs sacs in the fuel lines of Mazada6s. 

    • In 2011, when the first recall notice was issued, USA Today actually talked to an entomologist -- not one, but two!  The first one said that the yellow sac spider is very common, you often see them running around in your kitchen or basement.  
    • The second entomologist said that yellow sac spiders
    "are found throughout the nation, and there is no particular reason why they would choose the inside of a car body to hang out, rather than some other crevice, says Rick Vetter, a researcher at the University of California-Riverside."
    • Nothing about liking the smell of gas.  Or hydrocarbons.  Or hydrogen oxide.  Only that inside a fuel tank is a nice, hidden little spot like any other hidden little spot that they like for sac-building.
    • This business of yellow spiders liking the smell of gas seems to come from news stories around the time of that first recall in 2011.  And the original source for that assertion seems to be here (I'm quoting from Reuters, but a whole bunch of sources picked this up and repeated this verbatim):
    "While it's very rare, this spider's distinguishing characteristic is that it likes the smell of gasoline, caused by the hydrogen oxide," said automotive journalist Mitsuhiro Kunisawa. "Once it smells the gasoline from outside, it will go inside."
    • First of all, I think the referent for the "it's very rare" is not the spider but the (supposed) preference for the smell of gasoline.  Because Kunisawa does say a few sentences later, "In the United States, it's a relatively common type of spider."
    • But what about "this spider's distinguishing characteristic is that it likes the smell of gasoline"?  Where does he get that?  He is an automotive journalist.  What does he know about particular spiders' distinguishing characteristics? 
    • Even if Kunisawa was correct about that (and he wasn't; the distinguishing characteristic of the yellow sac spider is that it has a venom which results in mild pain when people get bitten by it), why didn't any of these countless news sources check him on that?  

    Mitsuhiro Kunisawa.  A decent enough guy, I'm sure.  Loves reporting about cars.  But maybe not the most authoritative source on the habits of spiders.
    (Photo from SixStar-ism)

    • Why didn't anyone call up an entomologist and ask, hey, do yellow sac spiders like the smell of gasoline?  But they didn't.  They just quoted the automotive journalist about the reason for the behavior of a spider as if it were verified fact.

    Lazy.  Lazy, sloppy journalism. Perpetuated through an entire news cycle in 2011, and then picked up and perpetuated again in 2014.

    Now here are some actual facts:
    • The yellow sac spider may or may not like the smell of gasoline.  Probably it has no opinion one way or the other.  The reason it (does not spin its web but) builds its sac in the fuel line of Mazda6s is probably because that spot is a nice, hidden location.
    • Spiders of various species are known to occasionally build webs or nests in fuel lines of cars, regardless of make or model (See Car Talk; Hearth message board; and more Car Talk).  If you go to fill your gas tank and the nozzle shuts off after only about 1/4 of a tank for no apparent reason, and continues to do so after repeated unsuccessful attempts, it is possible a spider may have built a web in the works and that is causing fumes to accumulate and shut off the system.
    • Spiders may build a nest somewhere in your car, but a spider building a nest in the fuel line so that it causes a crack or other failure is not that common.  Only 9 cases -- or was it 20? -- were reported to Mazda since 2011.  That's out of thousands and thousands of cars.
    • Only some of the Mazda6s are being recalled -- only the ones built in the Flat Rock, Michigan plant from 2010 to 2012.
    • Why the yellow sac spiders prefer only the Mazda6s from Flat Rock, Michigan, and not Mazda6s built elsewhere, Mazda does not say. 
    • That, my friends, is probably where the real story lies: that it is only the fuel lines of cars built in Flat Rock, Michigan that are negatively affected by spiders.  Not some made-up anthropomorphic-mythological junk about spiders liking the smell of gasoline.

    The Flat Rock assembly plant is no longer owned by Mazda.  As of 2012, it now belongs to Ford. They switched to building new Mustangs and the 2013 Ford Fusion sedan.
    (Image from Mustangs Daily)

    Recall news articles - 2014
    Detroit News, Spiders prompt second Mazda recall for possible fuel tank problem, April 4, 2014
    ABCNews, Mazda Recalling Cars Due to Danger from Insect, April 4, 2014
    Reuters, Gasoline-loving spiders cause Mazda car recall for second time, April 4, 2014, Gasoline-loving spiders prompt another Mazda recall, April 5, 2014, For real? Mazda's latest recall due to a spider, man, April 4, 2014
    WPTV, Mazda6 recall: Yellow sac spider can weave webs in vent hose, causing fuel tank to crack, April 5, 2014, Mazda6 recalled for spider infestations, April 5, 2014
    CarScoops, Gasoline-Sniffing Spiders Strike Back, Mazda Recalls 42,000 Mazda6 Sedans in the U.S., April 4, 2014
    Autoblog, Mazda spiders return,42k Mazda6 sedans recalled for webby fuel tanks, April 5, 2014, 2010-'12 Mazda 6 Recalled for Fire Risk Traced to Spiders, April 4, 2014
    WebProNews, Spiders [sic] Gasoline Huffing Cause Mazda Recall, April 4, 2014

    Recall news articles - 2011
    USA Today, Experts: Spiders infesting recalled Mazdas are "common," March 4, 2011
    USA Today, Spider infestation leads to recall of 65,000 Mazdas, March 3, 2011
    Los Angeles Times, Mazda recalls 65,000 cars for spider problem, March 3, 2011
    CarScoops, A Gasoline-Addict Spider Gets 52,000 Mazda6 Cars Recalled in the US, March 4, 2011
    CNN, Spiders lead to Mazda recall, March 3, 2011
    Reuters, Gas-loving spider prompts Mazda to recall in U.S., March 4, 2011

    Yellow sac spider information
    University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County, Spider Bites? Look for a Sac Spider
    Michigan State University Diagnostic Services, Yellow sac spiders (Cheiracanthium inclusum and C. mildei)
    The Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet, Sac Spiders
    Penn State University Entomology, Agrarian Sac Spider
    Washington State University Department of Entomology, Yellow Sac Spider
    Encyclopedia of Life, Cheiracanthium inclusum / Yellow Sac Spider
    San Mateo County Mosquito and Vector Control District, Yellow Sac Spider brochure 

    Orkin, Yellow Sac Spiders
    PermaTreat, Yellow Sac Spider
    Hulett Environmental Services, Yellow (Golden) Sac Spiders

    Spiders who like hydrocarbons
    ASBMB Today, Q&A with Stefan Schulz
    Richard J. Adams, Field Guide to the Spiders of California and the Pacific Coast States

    Mazda6 recall documents
    NHTSA, Spiders may Block Fuel Tank Vent Line, Mazda North American Operations, March 11, 2014
    NHTSA Recall Acknowledgment letter, April 3, 2014
    Mazda letter to NHTSA submission of voluntary recall, March 11, 2014

    Spiders in cars or fuel lines in general
    Car Talk, Is the dealer spinning me a yarn about spiders in the fuel line?
    Car Talk forum, gas tank fueling problem, Filling the gas tank and spider eggs, October 22, 2009
    Hyundai Forum, Gas tank
    Daily and Sunday Express, Black widow spiders found in car, December 12, 2011
    Yahoo Answers, How can I repel yellow sac spiders from my car?

    Monday, March 24, 2014

    Apple #667: The No. 2 Pencil

    I thought, after my entry on 666, that I ought to do something at the opposite end of the spectrum.  What could be the opposite of fiery and dramatic and hysterical and murderous?  Hmm.  How about pencils.  So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Number 2 Pencil.

    The ever-present yellow #2 pencils.
    (Photo from the Iqra Foundation)

    Let's begin with the basics and then we'll progress to the more complicated questions.

    Why, if the writing stuff inside pencils is graphite, do we call it "lead"?

    • Partly because once upon a time, way way back in Roman times, the forerunner of the pencil, the stylus, was made of lead.  But of course there is more to the story than that.
    • In 1564, in Borrowdale, England, someone walked past a whole bunch of shiny black stuff stuck to the roots of a tree.  I suppose its shininess made it look like it ought to be good for something, and after people played with it a while, they discovered it made dark marks on paper -- good for writing things down, they decided.  Since it looked similar to lead, they called it "blacklead."  (Some people called it plumbago, which is Latin meaning "lead ore.)  Turned out, the stuff was graphite.
      • Sidenote: Borrowdale happens to be in the Lake District.  How fitting was it that graphite, a great tool for writing, was literally in the ground of the birthplace of some of Western literature's finest poetry?

    Graphite mixed in with tree roots, as it was discovered in Borrowdale, England.
    (Photo from the Museum of Everyday Life)

    • Holding blacklead by itself was messy and hard to use, so people thought it would be easier to use if they put it inside some sort of holder.  Hey, if you take a wooden stick, hollow it out, and fill it with blacklead, sort of like putting ink inside a quill, then you've really got something there!  (That was the first pencil.)
    • In 1796, a German mineralogist figured out that blacklead was a different substance than actual lead.  So he called this stuff graphite.  Which comes with the Greek graphein meaning "write."  He was, in effect, saying, Hey, you can write with this!
    • Thereafter, everybody knew that blacklead should be called graphite.  But for whatever reason, when it was inside a pencil, they still called it lead. You know, people. So resistant to change.
    • (By the way, Germany started mass-producing pencils in the 1600s.  Faber-Castell, a name many artists will recognize, was founded in 1761 as one of those very early pencil-making companies.)

    As the image says, this is the oldest known pencil encased in wood, from Faber-Castell.
    (Photo from

    Faber-Castell 250th edition limited edition wooden case of pencils in 120 colors, plus watercolor pencils, pastel pencils, black-lead pencils, woodless graphite, compressed charcoal, and more.  All this started in 1761, from lowly hunks of black stuff stuck in some tree roots.
    (Photo from Extravaganzi)

    Was Henry David Thoreau really a competitive pencil-making manufacturer in his day job?

    • The short answer to this question is yes.  
      • (Test-taking hint: if they ask a complicated yes/no question, the answer is usually "yes." They wouldn't have asked it otherwise.)
    • Now for the essay response.
    • So, in the early 1800s, people in New England discovered that there was a whole lot of graphite thereabouts. Thus, many pencil-making businesses were founded in New England.
      • One of those businesses, by the way, was the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company, founded in 1829 in Massachusetts.  One of its graphite mills was located in Ticonderoga, NY. Thus today we have the omnipresent Dixon Ticonderoga pencils.

    The Dixon Ticonderogas.  These days, probably the most prevalent brand of No. 2 pencils in the US.  This package is available from Amazon for about $10.  Pre-Sharpened Pencil, #2, Yellow Barrel, 30/Pack - DIX13830

    • Dixon's company was one of many pencil-makers in the early 1800s in New England.  Another such company was John Thoreau & Company.  John was Henry David's dad. 

    Broadside advertising J. Thoreau & Company Pencils, circa 1845.
    (Image from the University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries)

    • Thoreau's pencil company was in Concord, New Hampshire.  Another guy, David Munroe, had a pencil-making business of his own, also in Concord, New Hampshire. Munroe & Thoreau, being so geographically close and making the same product -- graphite pencils -- were therefore quite competitive.
    • Munroe hired a cabinet-maker, Ebenezer Wood (yes, seriously, he was a cabinet-maker named Wood), to help him cut the cedar wood necessary to hold the graphite.  Wood was also pretty inventive, and he figured out better and faster ways of producing the pencils.
    • The way Munroe was making pencils was faster than hollowing out sticks of wood and jamming solid graphite in the middle, but it was still pretty labor-intensive.  He basically made a graphite sandwich inside two slabs of cedar.  Munroe took the graphite, ground it to a powder, and mixed it with glue.  Meanwhile, he took the cedar wood, cut it into slabs to form a rectangular casing, hollowed out a trough in the casing, and then poured the graphite-glue mix into the trough.  Then he put another hunk of cedar on top of the first, and sealed the two with a veneer.  Once everything was dry, he cut the pencils out of the slab in a suitable size & shape. 
    • Wood made this whole process go faster.  He was the first one to use a circular saw to cut the pencils out of the slab, and he also invented a machine that could mold & trim the pencils 12 gross at a time. He was also the first one to cut pencils in the octagon shape -- the same shape most pencils have today.
    • All these innovations were a big deal.  Faster, cheaper, better -- everybody a hard time competing with that.  Thoreau and his dad were no exception.

    Ebenezer Wood, inventor of many pencil-making processes that sped up the works, and a gadfly to the Thoreaus.
    (Photo from Acton Conservation Lands)

    • Although Ebenezer Wood was working & inventing for Munroe, he was also grinding the graphite in his mill for the Thoreaus as well as for Munroe.  In an act of further competitiveness, Munroe tried to get Wood to stop grinding the Thoreaus' graphite.  But he continued grinding the Thoreaus' graphite because, as it turned out, the Thoreaus had more customers and a bigger business than Munroe did.
    • How did that happen?  Enter Henry David.
    • After graduating from Harvard, good old H.D.T. wanted to make a go of it as a writer & teacher, but it didn't go too well.  So he went back home to his dad's pencil business.  He worked part time, probably writing in his non-pencil-making off hours.  But while he was doing his part-time-pencil-making, he came up with some pretty major inventions.
    • He figured out how to inject the ground graphite goo directly into a hollowed-out pencil.  With his innovation, none of that cedar-slab-making-and-cutting business was necessary.  Sped up the process enormously, much faster than Wood's circular saw ever could.  Thoreau also invented a machine that would grind the graphite to an especially fine powder.
    • Not usually how you think of old "I went to the woods" Thoreau, is it?  As an inventor of early industrial machinery?  But that's what he was first.

    Henry David Thoreau, civil disobedient, woods-goer, and transcendentalist, was first a pencil-maker and a machine-inventor.
    (Daguerreotype by Benjamin D. Maxham from Wikipedia)
    • In fact, Thoreau continued to work in the pencil-making business off and on for most of the rest of his adult life.  A final nail in your coffin of innocence, I know.
    • By the way, a lot of people are a little fast & loose with the facts, and they say that Thoreau came up with the idea of mixing poor-quality graphite with clay to make the ground graphite easier to work with and yield a better result at a lower cost.  In fact, this process was first invented by a French guy named Nicholas-Jacque Conté in 1795.  Thoreau's contribution to this process was to improve upon it a bit and to make it part of how his father's company made their pencil leads.

    Are pencils rated on a scale of "hard" and "black"?

    • Answer: yes.  Porno-industry-like though that may seem.
    • The reason for this rating has to do with that process we just learned about, that graphite and clay are mixed together to make the pencil lead. 
      • Sidenote: see, I'm still using that phrase "pencil lead."  Because the core of the pencil, as we now know, is not entirely made of graphite.  So it would also be erroneous to call it the "pencil graphite," or the "pencil clay."  The easiest shorthand to refer to the entire inner core regardless of its mixture is to say "pencil lead."
    • As you cooks and chemists might guess, the ratio of clay to graphite makes a difference in the kind of mark the pencil lead will make on the paper.  Contrary to your expectations, the more clay, the harder the lead.  
    • It also makes a difference what kind of graphite you have.  If you've got graphite from the Lake District in England, which is much harder and higher quality, it actually makes a lighter mark on the page.  If you've got the New England Thoreau graphite which is softer and of poorer quality, it makes a darker mark.

    Pencils with different ratios of graphite & clay make marks of varying degrees of lightness & darkness
    (Image from Artmaker)

    • So British pencil-makers came up with a system of indicating the hardness of the lead in the pencil.  Hard was denoted with an H and soft was denoted with an S -- no, a B.  Huh?  Since when does Soft = B?
    • Since the softer leads produce a darker, or blacker mark.  So Soft = Black which = B.  Harder leads got HHs or HHHs, and the softest/darkest leads got BBs or BBBs.  
    • The midway point on this scale is M -- no, it's F.  Again, huh?  Some people say the F means the lead can be sharpened to a finer point, but that makes no sense because there's no reason that lead should sharpen to a finer point than any other lead.  Other people say there is no known logical reason for calling the midpoint F, and they leave it at that.  So I will leave it at that too.
    • Leave it to the British to complicate things.  But wait, there's more.
    • The British then decided they didn't like repeating all those Bs and Hs, so they put numbers in front of the Bs and Hs.  There was no number to put in front of the F since it's the midpoint.  Then, for reasons no one understands, they also added an HB (Hard-Black, apparently) which is just slightly darker than the F.  So in the end there is no actual midpoint.  And you get this:

    How pencil leads are graded according to the British scale
    (Image from The Almighty Guru)

    • Do you feel us closing in on where Number 2 business comes from?  We are, but wait, there's still more.
    • So, you'll remember that Americans were making pencils, too.  They decided they wanted a different scale for indicating the hardness/softness/blackness of their pencil leads.  They decided they wanted to use strictly numbers.  And their numbers would not exactly correspond with the numbers in the British scale.
    • The American scale goes like this: 1, 2, 2½, 3, 4.  It's like they were saying, "I'm going to count to five, young lady," and so they threw the 2½ in there.  No, really, I don't know why the 2½.
    • When you put the two scales together, you get this:

    As you can see, the American #2 matches up with the British HB.
    (Image from Jet Pens)

    • So the Number 2 pencil that you used to take all those standardized tests in school was really the Hard Black pencil.
    • You might be tempted to think that an HB pencil made by, say, Faber-Castell would be of the same darkness as a Number 2 pencil made by, say, Dixon.  It would be lovely if that were the case.  But it's not.  
    • This grading scale does not correspond to any kind of industry-wide manufacturing standard.  The relative hardness/blackness of a company's pencils applies only to the company's own pencils.  Thus an HB you get from Faber-Castell may not be of the same HB-ness as an HB from, say, Uni.  So, serious pencil-purchasers are advised to try the pencils of various manufacturers to find the hardness/blackness they prefer.

    So is the whole Everybody Must Have a Number 2 Pencil thing kind of a scam?

    • Sort of, yes! 
    • Not all Number 2 pencils are equal.  Since different manufacturers make their Number 2s to their own specifications, one company's Number 2 will be different than another's.
    • The differences might be slight, but they are real.  
    • The point of everybody having to get a Number 2 pencil was that was the closest approximation the test-makers could get to making sure everybody had the same writing instrument.  
    • I want you to think about that for a minute and let that expand in your mind, especially in this era of standardized school testing.  They can't even get everybody using the same kind of pencil lead.  The best they can do is settle on an approximation. 

    Those of us taking standardized tests are not the same.  Even down to our Number 2 pencils, we are different.
    (Photo from New Futuro)

    • Now seems like the right time to introduce the hotbed topic:

    Was a pencil ever used as a murder weapon?

    • (You know how to answer this) Yes.
    • Most famously, when Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by members of the Senate, he tried to defend himself with the only weapon he had -- his stylus (a.k.a. pencil).  He managed to stab Casca with it, but it wasn't enough of a blow, what with all those other guys with their knives, and he was killed.
    • More obscurely, a priest and teacher from the times of early Christianity/Roman rule, Cassian of Imola (a.k.a. Cassianus) was arrested for being a Christian.  He was told to renounce Christianity and he wouldn't do it, so his students "were invited to hack him to death."  The weapons they used were their styluses (pencils).  So it took a really long time for him to die.
    • Talk about a violent classroom.

    I guess the painter decided not to include the pencil in Caesar's other hand.  Probably thought it too undignified.
    (Image from History in the Headlines)

    Bonus Question: Why are number 2 pencils yellow?

    • When an Austro-Hungarian pencil-making company, the Hardtmuth Company introduced their fancy new pencils at the 1889 World's Fair in Paris, their pencils were painted yellow.  
    • The graphite in these pencils came from the Far East, and it was supposed to be the very best graphite in the world.  So to enhance the fanciness of their pencils, they named them after the Koh-i-Noor diamond, a famous diamond in India and the height of luxury, and they painted the outside of the pencils yellow.  Much fancier than the plain old bare cedar wood, these pencils were not only painted, but painted yellow, a color that was difficult to come by in paint in those days.
    • Naturally, everyone copied the Hardtmuth Company.  Soon everybody's pencils were painted yellow.
    • So, once upon a time, your yellow Number 2 pencils would have been considered luxurious by their very yellow-ness.

    Ah, a bouquet of yellow pencils!  How lovely -- and how erstwhile decadent!
    (Wallpaper of Bouquet of Pencils from IDMarching)

    • Congratulations!  You have reached the end of the test.  Please put down your pencil to signal you have finished.

    Mental Floss, What Makes #2 Pencils So Special?
    The Straight Dope, How come you see #2 pencils but no #1 pencils? 
    Online Etymology Dictionary, graphite
    Jennifer Schuessler, Thoreau's Pencil, The New York Times, May 1, 2009, Pencil History and Pencil Myths: The Unleaded Pencil
    Acton Conservation Land, Early American Pencils
    The Museum of Everyday Life, A Visual History of the Pencil
    Today in Science History, Joseph Dixon: The Story of a Lead Pencil
    Dixon Corporation, Joseph Dixon 1799-1869
    The Almighty Guru, Pencil Grades
    Jet Pens, Picking the Perfect Pencil Lead Hardness Grade 
    Catholic Online, St. Cassian of Imola
    New Advent, Classical Latin Literature in the Church
    CBS Money Watch, Why Are Pencils Yellow?

    Monday, March 17, 2014

    Apple #666: The Mark of the Beast

    I could not let Apple #666 go by without talking about the number itself: 666.

    (Image from The Daily Cannibal)

    I was going to change my template so it was all in red & black with fangs and snarling noises and the like.  But nothing was legible.  I mean, you couldn't read anything.  I had to squint to make out the words.  Very unpleasant.  So, since I was monkeying around with changing templates, I just, picked something I did like.  What do you think?  Keep it or go back to the outdoor picture thing?

    Anyway, back to the mark of the beast.  (I'm not half so threatening now, am I?  Rar.)

    • The whole mark of the beast/666 thing comes from the Bible.  Revelation, chapter 13.  (Hah, now there's another numerical coincidence.)
    • John, who is narrating all the things he saw in his vision, says he saw an awful beast.  It's got 10 horns and 7 heads and each head is marked with blasphemous names. It's like a leopard, but it's got paws as big as a bear's and a mouth of fangs like a lion.  This beast is, according to most readings, Satan.
    • The 7-headed beast is given charge of the world, and people are going around awestruck, doing whatever the beast says.  The beast does nothing but say blasphemous things against God, wage wars, conquer people, and generally cause all kinds of havoc and destruction.
    • The beast does have a wound in one head, which the footnotes say means that each head represents a Roman emperor, and the wounded one represents Nero.  More on him in a bit.

    One rendering of the 7-headed leopard beast, along with some explication.
    (Image from

    • So then John says he saw a second beast emerge from the ground.  This one had only 2 horns like a ram's.  It was in league with the first, 7-headed beast, and it got all the people of the world to worship the first beast, whose wounded head had been healed.
    • The second beast was given its power by the first beast, and it used all those powers to lead people astray, and forced people to worship 7-headed beast #1, and to kill anyone who wouldn't worship beast #1.
    • Now, here we come to the part about the number:
     (16) [The 2nd beast] forced all men, small and great, rich and poor, slave and freee, to accept a stamped image on their right hand or their forehead. (17) Moreover, it did not allow a man to buy or sell anything unless he was first marked with the name of the beast or with the number that stood for its name. (18) A certain wisdom is needed here; with a little ingenuity anyone can calculate the number of the beast, for it is a number that stands for a certain man.  The man's number is six hundred sixty-six.
    • So, 666 is the number of the beast who is going to force all people to worship his more evil and terrible master, Satan.
    • In verse 18, John all but comes right out and says, "Come on, people, it's obvious who this is.  I'll tell you, but in code."  
    • How to beak the code?  It was the custom of the day to assign numbers to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  If we were to do the same thing to our alphabet, it would go like this: A=1, B=2, C=3 and so on.  
    • In the Hebrew alphabet, once they got to 10, they counted by tens, and once they got to 100, they counted by 100s.  So it goes like this:
    alef = 1; bet = 2; gimel = 3; dalet = 4; hey = 5;
    waw = 6; zayin = 7; chet = 8; tet = 9; yod = 10;
    kaf = 20; lamed = 30; mem = 40; nun = 50;
    samek = 60; ayin = 70; pey = 80; tsadeh = 90;
    qof = 100; resh = 200; shin = 300; taw = 400

    Pictorial form of the same thing.
    (Image from Dial-the-Truth Ministries)

    • How you go from letters to numbers seems pretty clear.  But how you go backwards, from numbers to letters is less clear.  So you get lots and lots of theories.
    • Over the centuries, people have argued, depending on their religion or their politics, that the beast is the person who personifies some focus of their particular hatred.  Catholics have said the number works out to be Martin Luther.  Protestants have said it equates to the Pope, or the Pontiff.  Democrats have argued that it is George W. Bush.  Republicans have said it was John F. Kennedy, or Bill Clinton, or Hillary Clinton.  You see how it goes.
    • But most Biblical scholars think that 666 is code for the Emperor Nero.  In Hebrew, those two words translate to Nun-resh-waw-nun Qof-samek-resh. In numbers that is 50+200+6+50 (306) and 100+60+200 (360).  Add the two together and you get 666.

    Nero. The original 666 guy.
    (Image from Biography)

    • Revelations was written during the reign of Emperor Domitian.  So why would it be a big deal to say that Nero, who had been dead 13 years, was the handmaid of the devil?
    • Because Domitian had revived various persecutions of Christians and Jews (the Romans regarded Christians and some wacko Jewish cult) which had not been in force in the days of Nero.  So it is possible that, in pointing the devil-finger at Nero, John was thereby also pointing the devil-finger at Domitian.  Naturally, he wouldn't want to come right out and say it so directly or he might get all sorts of people executed for his trouble.
      • I really want to interject some little facts I learned about both those emperors.  They're just too good to let them lie quiet.
      • OK, so Nero was actually kind of normal and helpful at first.  It was his mother who was whacked.  She married her uncle, the then-emperor Claudius.  She talked him into naming her son by a previous marriage as his successor.  This was Nero.  Then she poisoned Claudius and Nero became emperor.  He was 17.
      • Nero fell in love with a slave, his mother didn't like her, they had a falling out, and he spurned his mother. She got pissed, then started telling everyone Claudius's son should have been emperor, not Nero.  Then, mysteriously, Claudius's son turns up dead. Hmm. Wonder how that happened.
      • Nero's mom still went around saying that Nero shouldn't be emperor, so he kicked her out.  Then he decided he was sick of being with the slave whom he had married, he wanted to marry someone else instead, but Nero's mom went around saying he couldn't do that because divorce was bad, so Nero had her killed.
      • That's right, Nero had his mother murdered.
      • After that, he went right off the wagon.  He got drunk all the time, went around performing his own poetry and music, he had wives he was sick of executed and married new ones, he turned tyrannical against all sorts of people, etc etc.

    Nero. With the thumbs down, saying someone ought to be killed for sport.
    (Image from Listverse)

      • Then came that business of Rome burning that you've heard so much about.  Nero did not stand around fiddling, but the fire did go on for 10 days.  75 percent of the city burned down.
    • Rumor had it that Nero started the fire to make way for the new villa he planned to build.  He couldn't have people saying he burned down the city, so he needed a scapegoat.  Who started the fire?  The Christians, of course!  Those people in that weird new cult, they're the ones responsible for 3/4 of Romans being burned out of their houses.  Thus began the emperor-sanctioned persecution of Christians.  He had them eaten by dogs, nailed to crosses, set on fire, or burned to serve as a light source after sunset.
      • Nero did all sorts of other nefarious things, such as selling political offices to raise money for his new villa, etc., etc.  That's when the Senators began conspiring against him.  Nero found out they were planning on having him beaten to death.  Rather than face that, he decided to kill himself.  He tried to stab himself in the neck but he couldn't finish the job, so he told his secretary to do it, which he did.
    • This is why people think the wounded head on the 7-headed monster is Nero. The wound was Nero's somewhat self-inflicted stab wound to his neck.
      • Domitian, several years & emperors later, came to power, but he was young and inexperienced, and people weren't really accepting of him as emperor.  So he started invoking the whole I'm an emperor and therefore I'm a god thing.  He made people introduce him as the god Domitian, and they had to say certain things in a certain way to indicate that they thought he was a god, etc. etc.
      • The Christians and the Jews, they didn't want to do that.  So Domitian saw them as undermining his efforts to establish his imperial authority.  So he ordered some of them to be put to death, and then after that, people started persecuting the Christians and the Jews in the way they had while Nero was running around getting drunk and shouting at people and setting them on fire and so on.  The John who wrote the book of Revelation lived during the time of Domitian.

    Domitian. Later in his rule, "in fits of paranoia, instructed several murderous 'terrors'" which seem to have originated in a deep sense of personal inadequacy in the eyes of his brother & father. Aw, gee.
    (Image from Roman Scotland)

    • So, historically, that's what the mark of the beast is most likely about.  Indicating the emperors who were running around killing people left and right.
    • But, since those verses don't come right out and say those emperors' names, and since there's that verse about people not being allowed to buy or sell anything without being marked with the name of the beast, people have read all kinds of things into the number 666.
    • They have claimed that 666 stands for this person and that person, or such and such an economic thing, and so on.  Here is some of the 666-insanity:
      • Barcodes are the mark of the beast

    How exactly these lines represent 6s is not clearly explained, but swiping these barcodes means someone is taking money from your bank account, and soon there will be a single bank in control of everyone's money, and then the end days will be upon us.
    (Image and extremely vague but exclamation-point-ridden theory from this site)

      • The Beatles bear the mark of the beast

    See how Paul is making the OK sign?  That doesn't mean OK.  That's the number 6 three times!  It's 666!  The Beatles are agents of the devil!
    (Image and theory from this site)

    See? This does not mean sex, but DEVIL!
    (Image and theory from 666 hand sign)

    From this moment, Michael Jackson's doom was sealed.
    (Image and theory from 666 hand sign)

      • The numbers on a roulette wheel add up to 666.  Therefore roulette, or maybe it's casinos, or maybe it's gambling that is the mark of the beast. 
    • The Hebrew letter Vav, or Waw, which might as well be W in English, correlates with the number 6.  So web precursor www = 666, so therefore the entire internet bears the mark of the beast.
      • The Washington Monument measures 55.5 ft on each side.  If you convert that to inches, each side measures 666.  Therefore the Washington Monument is an occult symbol, and a mark of the beast. (In fact, the Monument measures 555 ft. 5-1/8 in. tall.  That is 6,665-1/8 inches.  The base is 55 ft. 1-1/2 in. wide. That is 661-1/2 inches.  Not 666.)
      • The Louvre has 666 panes of glass, or if you converted the doors to glass, it would have 666 panes of glass, therefore it is a mark of the beast. (Actually, the Louvre has 673 panes of glass, excluding the doors.)

    VISA's name is the mark of the beast.
    (Image from DeusILUSÃO)

    Walt Disney's signature bears the mark of the beast.
    (Image and a whole other theory I could not even begin to describe from Tricked by the Light)

    • It just goes on and on and on. . . .
    • There are some rather interesting coincidences about the number 666, numerically.
      • The first six Roman numerals add up to 666: I+V+X+L+C+D=666
      • The smallest prime factor of 666 is 37. If you translate the letters IVXLCD in the English alphabet to numbers (like what we did with the Hebrew alphabet) and add them, the largest prime factor of that total is also 37.
      • Take the first 7 prime numbers, square them, and add them up: 22 + 32 + 52 + 72 + 112 + 132 + 172 = 666
    • And many more besides.  But, you know, look at any number long enough, and I'm sure you'll find all sorts of interesting coincidences about it.
    • In response to such extensive 666-fixation, some people have come up with a joke list of 666s, which includes the following:
      • 666 = number of the beast
      • 668 = neighbor of the beast
      • 660 = approximate number of the beast
      • 665 = older brother of the beast
      • 0.666 = number of the millibeast
      • 1010011010 = binary number of the beast
      • 00666 = zip code of the beast
      • $665.95 = retail price of the beast
      • $656.66 = Walmart price of the beast
      • $646.66 = next week's Walmart price of the beast
      • $333.00 = after-Christmas sale price of the beast
      • Phillips 666 = gasoline of the beast
      • Route 666 = way of the beast [actually there is a Highway 666. People keep stealing the road signs.]
      • 666k = retirement plan of the beast
      • 999 = Australian number of the beast
      • Chanel No. 666 = perfume of the beast
      • IAM 666 = license plate of the beast
    • and so on. 
    • Meanwhile, maybe the number of the beast isn't really 666.  Maybe it's actually 616.
    • No, really.  Some people think that the text originally said 616, not 666.  A few translations even say six hundred sixteen, not six hundred sixty-six.
    • In which case, all those people with their special, significant 666s need to do some quick recalculating.  And in which case, the area code for West Michigan is the area code of the beast. 

    West Michigan. Den of the beast?
    (Image from eachTown)

    Catholic Resources, 666: The Number of the Beast
    Biography, Nero synopsis, Nero
    Donald McFayden, The Occasion of the Domitianic Persecution, American Journal of Theology, Jan 1920
    I don't even want to give this site any credence, 666
    Rapture Ready, The Number of the Beast
    Enchanted Learning, Washington Monument
    Prime Curios, 666
    Math World, Beast Number