When you're too old for a single box of candles
July 28, 2010 2:55 PM   Subscribe

A friend recently had a birthday, but because of her age, they couldn't really fit enough candles on the cake without it becoming absurd, so they represented her age by using the number of candles in the digits of her age—a group of five on the left, three on the right for 53. Is there a name for that kind of representation of a number?
posted by Toekneesan to Grab Bag (11 answers total)
It's just regular old Base 10, with candles.
posted by theodolite at 2:57 PM on July 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

In elementary school, we learned base ten using a similar method. (I remember them as "unit blocks" but google seems to think they're "base ten blocks.")

Here, you can use them, too, with a nifty Flash thingie that has an anthropomorphized hand playing drums for some reason.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:03 PM on July 28, 2010

You could call it "decimal"
01010010 is binary.
x067231230 is octal
x16234AF is hex(idecimal)
posted by tintexas at 3:07 PM on July 28, 2010

If you do this with base 2 it's called BCD, so I suppose since you're doing it with base 1 you could call it unary-coded decimal.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:18 PM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Each digit was represented in a unary numeral system, so what Rhomboid said: unary-coded decimal.
posted by zsazsa at 3:22 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: What about the quantitative representation of the digit, not the actual quantity it represents. i.e. 50 candles and then 3 candles. Instead the digit is a represented by the quantity of the digit. 5=50 because it's on the left. 3=3 because it's on the right. Still base ten? Or is that why it's base ten? And if so, what do you call the quantitative representation of digits, or maybe it doesn't have a name?
posted by Toekneesan at 3:59 PM on July 28, 2010

Response by poster: Doh! Should have read the unary numeral system link. That answers a lot.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:02 PM on July 28, 2010

positional notation
posted by rdr at 4:09 PM on July 28, 2010

The ancient Babylonian number system worked something like this--it's a base 60 system and they just used tally marks for the numbers 1-59 (though they cheat a bit by using both 10 and 1 tally marks), then put groups of tally marks next to each other to represent larger numbers--much like the candles on the birthday cake.

For example, 123 in Bablyonian would have been something like


(2 x 60 + 3)

See this reference for explanation and examples.
posted by flug at 6:44 PM on July 28, 2010

Or even more similar to the cake they would have written something like this:


(5 x 60 + 3 or 303)
posted by flug at 6:46 PM on July 28, 2010

Similarly there's the Mayan number system which even uses three dots for the number three. But five is a bar rather than five dots.

I had a thought that it might be Braille but nope, 53 would apparently be ⠑⠉.
posted by XMLicious at 3:50 AM on July 29, 2010

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