Sunday, February 01, 2015

Super Post MMMXII

America is a strange place. Even after living here for over 25 years there are still lots of things I don't understand.

In many ways, Americans at first seem perfectly normal and rational and reasonable. For example they use Arabic numerals for almost everything, like most normal countries do. 

As in...

 the US population is 319,916,609
or the national debt is $18,084,817,920,826
or the 45th President of the United States might be...

"seriously interested in running"

But on the first Sunday in February they go crazy and start using Roman numerals to refer to how many times the Cup Final of the sport they call football has been played. Today, I believe that a team from Foxboro in Massachusetts and a team from Seattle in Washington are playing a game in Glendale Arizona. And it is Cup Final number XLIX.

Quick. Did you read that as "49" as fast as you could read it if it actually said "49"? If you say yes, you are American.

Oh sorry. They don't call it the Cup Final either. They call it the Super Bowl. Apparently it is named after the Wham-O Super Ball.  (You can google it if you don't believe me.)

It put the Super in Super Bowl

But that doesn't explain why it's also a bowl.

A bowl

Anyway, today's game is Super Bowl XLIX.

You see, the first Super Bowl was played in MCMLXVII and this year is MMXV so all you need to do is work out MMXV - MCMLXVII + I to know that today is Super Bowl XLIX.

Can you believe that the Romans built all those coliseums and aqueducts and stuff like that which are still standing MM years later, when they had to do all the arithmetic with numbers like MCMLXVII?

An aqueduct built with Roman arithmetic
Still there

I don't even know how they could work out the wages of the average aqueduct stonemason if they had to do sums like XLVII hours times XXIV denarii. That's no way to run a wages department

Anyway, American football fans can do the math.  Good for them.

That's why this post is Super Post MMMXII. I have now published MMMXII posts in this blog since I started it in MMV.

Did you see that I achieved a grand total of LXXI days on the water last year? It's XXIX days short of C and not as many as the XCIV I achieved in MMVIII but, hey, I'm not getting any younger. I'm LXVI you know.

So why do Americans use Roman numerals to number their Super Bowls? They didn't always. The first four Super Bowls were just numbered 1, 2, 3 and 4.

But then some bright spark decided that the fifth one should be called Super Bowl V. Apparently it was supposed to make the event sound more "important."

I guess it worked.  XLIV years later, it seems like Super Bowl Sunday is the most important day of the year for many Americans, rivaled only by Flag Day and Columbus Day. And American businesses pay a gazillion dollars for XXX seconds of TV ad time during the (many and frequent) commercial breaks in the Super Bowl. (Apparently the Romans didn't have a letter for a gazillion.)

So I hope all of my American friends have a wonderful time on Super Bowl Sunday whichever team they support.

But guess what. Next year's Super Bowl is not going to be Super Bowl L. It's going to be Super Bowl 50.

Go figure.

America is a strange place. Even after living here for over XXV years there are still lots of things I don't understand.


Tweezerman said...

So true. Maybe if we had done all the calculations in Roman Numerals we wouldn't have lost the Mars Climate Orbiter.

Baydog said...

It's because SuperB owl L looks silly.........

JP said...

Its not just the US - BBC also uses Roman numerals as does Mac OS X:

Doesn't make much sense to me in any of these cases.

Tillerman said...

The BBC article confirms the pattern that Roman numerals do seem to be somewhat conventional in numbering items in a sequence ordered in time - monarchs, Olympic games, versions of software, years in dates etc. I wonder why it has become accepted for such uses and not for some of the more ridiculous potential uses I highlighted in my post?

In fact if it is OK for the examples in the BBC article why does it not sound OK to refer to this post as MMMX11, which does send very pretentious.

I guess one reason it's OK for monarchs and Olympic games is that you don't usually want to do arithmetic on such numbers. But as I cited in my post, we do sometimes want to subtract years and we do sometimes use Roman numerals for them.

And then there's the problem of very large numbers. Various online sources say that you can make large Roman numbers with bars over the letters or 3 sided boxes around them to indicate multiples, but I have never seen such abominations in real life.

JP said...

Yay! Arsenal won, Romans, how about a letter for zero!!

Tillerman said...

Islam brought the zero to Europe. The Italians at first banned it. They even passed a law in 1259 banning bankers from using zero in their accounts (which might be appreciated by some folk today.) Well done Arsenal!!!

Doug / Pam said...

Speaking of the Romans, the picture of the aqueduct is Pont du Gard which I was able to visit when in Franc for the Hyeres Worlds.

To give you an idea of how ingenious the Romans were with math, the source of this 50 km aqueduct was as spring that was just 10 meters above the top of this bridge. The town at the end of the aqueduct was just 10 meters below the top of this bridge. So this town is still 40 meters above the level of the water that this bridge is crossing. Amazing!!

Tillerman said...

Oh, but the Romans measured distance using the mille passim which was 41⅔ actūs or 1472 meters in real money. So the Romans would have said the aqueduct was XXXIV milles passuum long.

R1 said...

Imagine if we had to use Roman numerals for our sail numbers.

Tillerman said...

I was thinking about that too R1. I was going to convert my 6 digit Laser sail number into Roman numerals for this post, but it can't be done sensibly without using some of those tricks with bars and boxes that I wrote about in a previous comment. And most of the web based roman numeral convertors that I looked at don't work for numbers above 4999.

But I did find one that would work for larger numbers. Here is what it came up with for my Roman Laser sail number…


Imagine the guy sighting the finish line calling out the sail numbers to the one writing the numbers down. Or the race officer on the start boat calling out numbers of boats OCS!

R1 said...

You'd need a Rooster 8.1 rig to give you enough space for all the letters. And the sticky letters would cost as much as the sail. As a computer nerd, I suggest we use hexadecimal.

Tillerman said...

Good idea R1. Strangely enough, in hexadecimal my sail number is 26874.

But my previous Lasers were 232B5, 20DE4 and 16EED.

I wish I had Laser 2989. Then I could really be BAD.

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