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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

111 and 2011

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, February 6, 2011

The story going around the office was that if you take your current age in 2011, and add the last two numbers in the year you were born, the total will always be “111.”


Hmm.  That is interesting, and with the speed of light, everyone in the library was doing the math and yes, it worked!


As the week passed, I kept wondering why this math problem would always come up with the answer of “111” and I had a nagging feeling that there was more to the story – it’s a librarian thing.


I went to one of my favorite Internet sites, to see if they had any clues to the background of this math problem.


Snopes is one of the oldest sites on the Internet, and is a resource for verifying and debunking rumors, examining claims of all sorts, and generally dealing with “urban legends” of our world.


Yes, Snopes had an entry for the math formula combined with information about 2011 in general, and they said, yes the math problem is indeed true, with some extended information.


First, the formula does not work if you are ages 0-11, or over age 101.  It only works if you were born in the 20th century in a year beginning with “19.”


Secondly, the whole thing is based on the basic premise that your age this year, when added to your year of birth, will always equal the current year.


When you remove the “19” from the addition problem, you are shortchanging the answer by “1900” and therefore “111” should really be “2011.”


Either way, it is an interesting math problem, and a great party starter.


I look at Snopes periodically, just to see what is new in our society with urban legends.


With the Internet, it seems that folklore and stories speed quickly through our society, and the website is an information source to verify or debunking the stories.


It was founded in 1995 by David and Barbara Mikkelson, and operates out of their Los Angeles hillside home where they are bombarded with e-mails from people wanting them to research various stories from society.


And surprisingly, they do use books for research, as well as the Internet and phone calls.


“Snopes,” the name of their web site, comes from a family in a William Faulkner novel, and has now been added to many dictionaries.


I notice that urban legends seem to fall into categories in our society, from the latest virus that will attack our computers, to a sweet true story about someone with an ailment who is collecting this or that.


Sometimes it is an attempt to correct the fact that Andy Rooney, Paul Harvey, nor Ben Franklin wrote or said something, or that the Cindy Williams who wrote a Letter to the Editor was not the actress.


Those stories that distant relatives always forward to your e-mail may not be true, but may be a 7th grader’s essay from Oklahoma that was published in the school newspaper and then took off flying across the Internet.


Some are old tales that seem to never end, like the fact (not) that if you swallow your chewing gum it takes 7 years to digest.  Or that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was written by a father for his dying daughter; and no, it was produced by Montgomery Ward Department Store.


My mother always said that Life Savers candy were invented because someone died by choking on candy, and the hole would allow air to continue until the candy dissolved in your throat.


Sorry mom, but they were invented in 1912 by Clarence Crane in the Cleveland area, as a means to sell candy in the summer when chocolate would melt.


The candy was produced by a pharmaceutical maker who pressed a hole in the center, and the shape inspired a name for the name-less candy.


The information on Snopes is endless and growing each day.  6 million people visit the site every month.


Or is that an urban legend?