What are some scary numbers?
October 5, 2013 8:13 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about setting up a tongue in cheek project for Halloween that involves showing numbers that are scary. What numbers (with the context of a description) make you anxious, or at least spook you a bit on first glance?

It could be numbers that are initially jolting on sight without any other numbers to back them up (hypothetically, someone gave you the accurate number of days you had left to live), or numbers that are scary in context of another number (IE, Bill McKibben's 350 PPB safe level of atmospheric CO2 figure, which makes the current level of about 390 PPB pretty scary).

If at all possible, I'd like to not end up using political ones like the national debt or unemployment (although any answer involving a scary number would be interesting).

Even silly numbers that seem scary but are actually benign might be good. (IE number of eyelash mites/bacteria on your body)

What would be really cool is numbers that are likely to change several times a minute, whether through accurate estimates (like how populations can be projected down to the second using the functions of the birthrate and deathrate) or real time data pulled from the web.

I'm not sure if I'll actually build this project, but I'm really curious to explore this idea.
posted by mccarty.tim to Grab Bag (46 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Seven's really scary! Why, you ask? Because 7 8 9.
posted by pont at 8:17 AM on October 5, 2013 [9 favorites]

posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:19 AM on October 5, 2013

40 below zero. I dunno why.
posted by patheral at 8:19 AM on October 5, 2013

Best answer: Doomsday Clock
posted by jabes at 8:20 AM on October 5, 2013

216 ft.

Just got the most recent National Geographic, and that's the expected rise in sea levels if all of the polar ice melts. If that doesn't sound too scary, consider that what this does to the coastline of, say, the southeastern US. Nearly the entire FL peninsula will be submerged, Cuba turns into a archipelago and the Mississippi delta turns into a body of water reaching inland like a giant Chesapeake Bay, reaching damn near into northern Arkansas. Granted, that's a worst-case scenario, but still.
posted by jquinby at 8:25 AM on October 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

666 is the obvious.
When I was a cashier years ago, I had several customers who if given $6.66 in change would leave a penny behind.
posted by pointystick at 8:30 AM on October 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

237! (The terrifying room in The Shining)
posted by Ms. Toad at 8:30 AM on October 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Slightly less facetiously: you'll find some inspiration in Ken Lum's Pi, an installation at the Vienna Karlsplatz underground station. It includes a number of continuously updating LED displays showing a mixture of frightening and heartening tallies. It provides figures for:

Malnourished Children in the World
Viennese in Love Today
People Killed in War since January 1
Paid Hours Worked by Austrians since January 1
HIV Infections Worldwide since January 1
Amount of Garbage Produced in Vienna since January 1 (in Tons)
People Dissatisfied with their Jobs in Austria
World Population
Growth in the Sahara Desert (in Hectares) since January 1
Books Borrowed in Vienna since January 1
People Killed or Maimed in Landmines since January 1
Schnitzels Eaten in Vienna since January 1
Days until Chernobyl is Considered Safe for Human Habitation
Amount of Money Spent on Military Armament since January 1 (in Euro)

More details here.
posted by pont at 8:31 AM on October 5, 2013

7. Because 7 ate 9! Get it?! HAHAHAHAHA*snort*.

Aw, darn, someone beat me to that one!

Seriously, though, the number 13 is almost universally thought to be unlucky in Western culture.

The number of days until Christmas is both a changing number and one that can scare the bejesus out of you if you are unprepared. Bugger sneaks right up on you.

People's ages, too. Lots of people dread their birthdays. If someone could input their birthdate and see how many seconds they have been alive, I could see that being scary in a "Why have I accomplished SO LITTLE?!" Kind of way.
posted by misha at 8:35 AM on October 5, 2013

187 (or other police codes)
posted by Rock Steady at 8:39 AM on October 5, 2013

Best answer: 404 Not Found
posted by deadcrow at 8:48 AM on October 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:50 AM on October 5, 2013

The square root of negative one. It's just unreal
posted by ook at 8:53 AM on October 5, 2013

4 is unlucky in Chinese culture, because in Mandarin it has the same pronunciation as 'death' (si)
posted by Fig at 8:55 AM on October 5, 2013

My bank manager's telephone number.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:59 AM on October 5, 2013

400 ppm is a pretty scary number - atmospheric CO2 levels reached this level in May this year.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:59 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Income after taxes for a week's worth of work at minimum wage.
posted by milarepa at 9:06 AM on October 5, 2013

Best answer: 1134. It is hell on a calculator!
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:07 AM on October 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Pi. It goes on forever.
posted by LonnieK at 9:10 AM on October 5, 2013

Then you have your tax forms. 1040, for one.

Chapter 7 and Chapter 9 bankruptcy.
posted by salvia at 9:30 AM on October 5, 2013

Best answer: 1,260 foot-pounds is the traditional amount of force to be applied to the neck for execution by hanging.

I can calculate your drop distance if you have a few seconds.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:47 AM on October 5, 2013

101, as in Room 101 from 1984.
posted by ActionPopulated at 10:01 AM on October 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

5150 is code for involuntary psych hold in CA
posted by ainsley at 10:04 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

616 may have been the original Number of the Beast.

36,070 feet below sea level: Challenger Deep, the deepest point in the ocean. No light penetrates after 700 feet - that's just 2% of the way down.
posted by nicodine at 10:13 AM on October 5, 2013

Best answer: 23
posted by jquinby at 10:18 AM on October 5, 2013

Number stations are super creepy. Depending on the nature of your project a recording could make a chilling soundtrack.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:38 AM on October 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:41 AM on October 5, 2013

Best answer: Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which book paper catches fire.
6,000,000, the number of Jews executed by the Third Reich and its allies during the Holocaust.
10,000 feet. It's about how high you can fly in an airplane before you need pressurisation or supplemental oxygen.
9 millimetres, 10 millimetres, .38 inches, .40 inches, .45 inches... the list goes on and on.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:44 AM on October 5, 2013

Graham's Number is just raw fucking terror in its purest form.

Bit hard to write it down for a project, though.
posted by Suddenly, elf ass at 11:23 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Edit: Just noticed you said no political numbers. Well, nevermind then. I'd go for a funny scary number though, like the number of people who actually bought Nickleback albums or something.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:41 PM on October 5, 2013

Best answer: 6 feet under is especially appropriate for Halloween.
posted by flug at 1:04 PM on October 5, 2013

1408, the short story by Stephen King, which was also made into a movie.

Some very mathy evil numbers

1, because it's the loneliest number. (caveat: 2 can be as bad as 1; it's the loneliest number since the number 1.)

"Seven's really scary! Why, you ask? Because 7 8 9."

But also Se7en, and the related seven deadly sins!
posted by Room 641-A at 1:39 PM on October 5, 2013

Best answer: 500 - Internal Server Error
(if you are displaying these scary numbers on a computer screen, that one should stay one just a liiiiiiiitle big longer)
posted by seawallrunner at 2:51 PM on October 5, 2013

The 1%
posted by wryly at 2:59 PM on October 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Some people are really into the number 23 and think it's Significant.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:05 PM on October 5, 2013

30+ BMI
posted by meeshell at 8:08 PM on October 5, 2013

I came in to say the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as well.

But I think there are other groups of scary people or things along those lines, that always come in groups of a certain number:
  • The Three Furies
  • The Two Sirens
  • Nine Circles of Hell
  • Seven Deadly Sins
I'm sure there are more.
posted by flug at 8:28 PM on October 5, 2013

Demonology produces some interesting and scary numbers. Here is just a sampling from the Wikipedia article on Christian Demonology:
In 1467, Alfonso de Spina asserted that the number of demons was 133,316,666. This idea that one third of the angels turned into demons seems to be due to an exegesis of the Book of Revelation 12:3-9.

Johann Weyer, in his Pseudomonarchia Daemonum (1583), after a complicated system of hierarchies and calculations, estimated the number of demons as 44,435,622, divided into 666 legions, each legion composed by 6,666 demons, and all of them ruled by 66 hellish dukes, princes, kings, etc. The Lesser Key of Solomon (17th century) copied the division in legions from Pseudomonarchia Daemonum but added more demons, and so more legions. It is suggestive that both Spina and Weyer used 666 and other numbers composed by more than one 6 to calculate the number of demons (133,316,666 demons, 666 legions, 6,666 demons in each legion, 66 rulers).
Also the inverted pentagram is an often-used and well known 'scary' or occult symbol with a clear number reference (5).

The Zoroastrian faith teaches that there are 3,333 Demons.

The Talmud declares that there are 7,405,926 demons, divided in 72 companies.
posted by flug at 8:41 PM on October 5, 2013

10-79 radio ten-code for D.O.A. in some systems (and apparently bomb-threat in others)

1347 the year bubonic plague reached Europe and became the Black Death

12 midnight

12/31/99 scared a LOT of people.

4/15 scares me every year.

3/15 the Ides of March
posted by wjm at 1:38 AM on October 6, 2013

It's 11:59 and I want to stay alive
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:29 AM on October 6, 2013

490 (or 491?)
Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
There is a controversial film named 491 in direct reference to this passage.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:44 AM on October 6, 2013

26.2, the number of miles in a marathon. (That would scare me.)

21 grams, the supposed weight of the soul. It'll scare some people for its association with death, and others for its association with bad science!
posted by daisyk at 7:07 AM on October 6, 2013

4 8 15 16 23 42
[May only be scary to Lost fans]
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:38 AM on October 7, 2013

posted by bink at 8:46 AM on October 7, 2013

20/200 - legal blindness.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:45 AM on November 27, 2013

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