The Mathematical Intelligencer

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 33–45 | Cite as

Mathematical Vanity Plates

Open Access
Mathematical Entertainments Michael Kleber and Ravi Vakil, Editors


Mathematical Intelligencer License Plate Digital Equipment Corporation Highway Patrol Mathematical Entertainment 



The networking skills of Eugene Miya were especially helpful in bringing many choice examples to my attention, and I’ve also been helped by dozens of other people in casual conversations about the subject. Andrew Turnbull provided important historical information. David Bailey, Dave Bayer, Carol Bohlin, Laurence Brevard, David Eisenbud, Michel Goemans, Ron Graham, Victor Miller, Bill Ragsdale, and Cathy Seeley contributed photos. Gay Dillin of NCTM sent details of the 2005 contest. The four-author π photograph was taken by Raul Mendez. I found the PROF SVD image on Wikimedia Commons, where it had been posted by Da Troll.

Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.


  1. [1]
    Anonymous, “First new California plates appear,” Los Angeles Times (6 December 1962), A1.Google Scholar
  2. [2]
    Anonymous, “Playful plates: Connecticut tags identify owners,” Life 31, 23 (3 December 1951), 133.Google Scholar
  3. [3]
    D. H. Bailey, J. M. Borwein, P. B. Borwein, and S. Plouffe, “The quest for pi,” The Mathematical Intelligencer 19, 1 (Winter 1997), 50–57.Google Scholar
  4. [4]
    David Bayer and Michael Stillman, “On the complexity of computing syzygies; computational aspects of commutative algebra,” J. Symbolic Comp. 6 (1988), 135–147.MathSciNetMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. [5]
    Fabrice Bellard, “Pi computation record,” [accessed January 2010].
  6. [6]
    G. Boccara, “Nombre de representations d’une permutation comme produit de deux cycles de longueurs donnees,” Discrete Mathematics 29 (1980), 105–134.MathSciNetMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. [7]
    Richard P. Brent, “Computation of the regular continued fraction for Euler’s constant,” Mathematics of Computation 31 (1977), 771–777.MathSciNetMATHGoogle Scholar
  8. [8]
    State of California, Department of Motor Vehicles, Environmental License Plate Numbers (21 July 1981).Google Scholar
  9. [9]
    F. R. K. Chung and R. L. Graham, “Quasi-random set systems,” Journal of the Amer. Math. Soc. 4 (1991), 151–196.MathSciNetMATHGoogle Scholar
  10. [10]
    R. F. Churchhouse, “Covering sets and systems of congruences,” in Computers in Mathematical Research, edited by R. F. Churchhouse and J.-C. Herz (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1968), 20–36.Google Scholar
  11. [11]
    Matt Cunningham, “A bumper crop of physics plates,” Symmetry 5, 3 (August 2008), 22–27.Google Scholar
  12. [12]
    Jean-Marie De Koninck, Those Fascinating Numbers (American Mathematical Society, 2009).Google Scholar
  13. [13]
    Faith W. Eckler, “Vanity of vanities,” Word Ways 19 (1986), 195–198; All is vanity,” Word Ways 20 (1987), 141–143.Google Scholar
  14. [14]
    Paul Erdös, “On integers of the form 2k +p and some related problems,” Summa Brasiliensis mathematicæ 2 (1950), 113–123.Google Scholar
  15. [15]
    Michel X. Goemans and David P. Williamson, “Improved approximation algorithms for maximum cut and satisfiability problems using semidefinite programming,” Journal of the ACM 42 (1995), 1115–1145.MathSciNetMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. [16]
    Solomon W. Golomb, “Run-length encodings,” IEEE Transactions on Information Theory IT-12 (1966), 399–401.MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. [17]
    Solomon W. Golomb, Robert E. Peile, and Robert A. Scholtz, Basic Concepts in Information Theory and Coding: The Adventures of Secret Agent 00111 (New York: Plenum, 1994).MATHGoogle Scholar
  18. [18]
    Gerry Griffin, “New Hampshire license plate museum,” panel 3, [accessed November 2009]
  19. [19]
    Walter Hansen, “Zum Scholz–Brauerschen Problem,” Journal für die reine und angewandte Mathematik 202 (1959), 129–136.MATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. [20]
    G. H. Hardy, Ramanujan: Twelve Lectures on Subjects Suggested by His Life and Work (Cambridge, England: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1940).Google Scholar
  21. [21]
    Donald E. Knuth, Seminumerical Algorithms, Volume 2 of The Art of Computer Programming (Reading, Mass.: Addison–Wesley, 1969).Google Scholar
  22. [22]
    Donald E. Knuth, Surreal Numbers: How Two Ex-Students Turned On to Pure Mathematics and Found Total Happiness (Reading, Mass.: Addison–Wesley, 1974).Google Scholar
  23. [23]
    Donald E. Knuth, \(\hbox{T}\kern-.1667em\lower.7ex\hbox{E}\kern-.125em\hbox{X}\): The Program, Volume B of Computers & Typesetting (Reading, Mass.: Addison–Wesley, 1986), 2. [Versions 3.14, 3.141, 3.1415, 3.14159, 3.141592, 3.1415926 were released respectively in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 2002, 2008.]Google Scholar
  24. [24]
    Donald E. Knuth, “Teach calculus with Big O,” Notices of the Amer. Math. Soc. 45 (1998), 687–688.Google Scholar
  25. [25]
    Donald E. Knuth, MMIX: A RISC Computer for the New Millennium, Volume 1, Fascicle 1 of new material for The Art of Computer Programming (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Addison–Wesley, 2005).Google Scholar
  26. [26]
    Donald E. Knuth, Combinatorial Algorithms, part 1: Volume 4A of The Art of Computer Programming (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Addison–Wesley, 2010).Google Scholar
  27. [27]
    David Larsen, “Words you can’t drive by,” Los Angeles Times (20 January 1970), B1, B8.Google Scholar
  28. [28]
    François Le Lionnais, Les Nombres Remarquables (Paris: Hermann, 1983).Google Scholar
  29. [29]
    Tien-Yien Li and James A. Yorke, “Period three implies chaos,” Amer. Math. Monthly 82 (1975), 985–992.MathSciNetMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. [30]
    Megan Luther, “A license to make a statement,” Argus Leader (25 October 2009), appendix, [accessed November 2009].
  31. [31]
    Andy Magid, “Mathematics and the public,” Notices of the Amer. Math. Soc. 51 (2004), 1181.Google Scholar
  32. [32]
    Colman McCarthy, “A PLATE 2 CALL YOUR OWN,” The Washington Post Times Herald (2 March 1969), Potomac magazine, 25–27.Google Scholar
  33. [33]
    Pace P. Nielsen, “A covering system whose smallest modulus is 40,” Journal of Number Theory 129 (2009), 640–666.MathSciNetMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. [34]
    Ontario Ministry of Transportation, “Personalized licence plates,” [accessed November 2009].
  35. [35]
    The Open Group, “The history of the \(\hbox{UNIX}^{\circledR}\) license plate,” [accessed November 2009].
  36. [36]
    Grisha Perelman, “The entropy formula for the Ricci flow and its geometric applications,”
  37. [37]
    Herbert E. Salzer, “Tables of coefficients for obtaining central differences from the derivatives,” Journal of Mathematics and Physics 42 (1963), insert facing page 163.Google Scholar
  38. [38]
    Neil J. A. Sloane, The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences, [accessed November 2009].
  39. [39]
    Gay Talese, “State unit urges car law changes,” The New York Times (16 January 1959), 12.Google Scholar
  40. [40]
    UTAH.GOV services, “Personalized license plates,” [Accessed November 2009].
  41. [41]
    David Wells, The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1986).Google Scholar
  42. [42]
    George Woltman, “Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search GIMPS,” [accessed November 2009].

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Computer Science Department, Gates Building 4BStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

Personalised recommendations