Quaestio numeralis

(Title translation provided by Google Translate, so please don’t moan at me! It’s not my fault I didn’t have a Classical education ;-p)

I heard a nice little riddle while catching up on NPR’s Sunday Puzzle podcast this morning, and thought I’d share. I’ll moderate all comments until Saturday morning Vancouver time to make sure early correct answers don’t spoil the fun for everyone else – although I might let other spoiler-free comments through.

“What’s special about the Roman numeral for 38?”

Have fun!

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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11 Responses to Quaestio numeralis

  1. Steve Caplan says:

    Is it perhaps the highest Greek number that’s sorted reverse alphabetically?

  2. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    No, but you’re thinking along the right lines

    • Steve Caplan says:

      So says VWXY. And it I meant Roman, not Greek!

    • Steve Caplan says:

      Okay, then 38 is unique in that it hits a peak of having 7 letters; no lower numbers have 7 letters, and if I’m not mistaken, we don’t hit 7 again until 78. Or perhaps, its the only Roman number that’s perfectly balanced, with XXXVIII, whereas 78 would be: LXXVIII, not ‘balanced.’

  3. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Keep guessing :)

  4. cromercrox says:

    Is it the highest Roman numeral just to use the letters I, V and X?

    39 is XXXIX, and 40 is XL, and after the forties we’re into L’s…

  5. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    It is, but that’s not the answer I was going for :)

    Combining the thought processes behind this answer and Steve’s first answer will help you determine what else is special about 38…

  6. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    OK, here’s the answer:

    If all possible Roman Numerals were listed alphabetically, rather than in numerical order, 38 (XXXVIII) would be last on the list.

    • Steve Caplan says:

      Hey! That was my original answer! “Is it perhaps the highest Greek number that’s sorted reverse alphabetically?” Except for mixing in Greek instead of Roman (my son is obsessed with learning Greek), that’s exactly the same thing! Just semantics…

      I want my prize! What does Will Shortz give out? A puzzle book of some sort?

      • How, exactly, is “the individual letters within XXXVIII are in reverse alphabetical order” the same as “XXXVIII as a whole is alphabetically last on the list of all possible Roman (or Greek) numerals?

        Professor?

        ;D

        (Your answer wasn’t even correct, because MIC (1099) is a bigger number than XXXVIII, but is also in reverse alphabetical order. So there!)