17

January 2, 2012

When the kids developed a habit of prefacing a question with, “Can I ask you a question,” or, “I have a question,” we developed an initial response of, “The answer is 17.”  This had something to do with 17 as an interesting number in math in some ways I don’t quite remember, but I do remember that in a number theory class I took on Saturday mornings at a science honors program at Columbia University while I was in high school, that number loomed large (in fact, when my brother-in-law and I were trying, years later, to figure out if we had been in that same class at the same time, that was the identifying characteristic that cinched it — we did a lot of proofs involving demonstrating that there are infinitely many primes, and when the professor would ask the group, I think for a prime number to start off with, 17 was often the choice of this knot of students who sat near the windows — I think Michael turned out to have been one of them).

So, my dad begins a topic of conversation on Friday with, “I have a question for you.”  And I explain to him why my immediate reaction is to want to tell him “17,” and he says that actually in some ways is relevant to what he wants to ask me about, which turned out to be about how to obtain his paper tax forms for 2011, including Publication 17.

I was reminded of the clock that has stopped that still manages to give the correct time twice a day.

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