top of page

Number 19: The beauty of Go

Go is the most simple but strategically complex board game of them all, a cheeseburger once cost 19 cents, and do you know the 19 criminal offences that landed convicts in Australia?

You GO grrrl!

The Chinese board game Go – also known as Igo (in Japanese), Weiqi (in Chinese) and Baduk (in Korean) – is thought to be one of the most strategically complex of all board games in spite of its very simple rules.

The Go board is a grid of 19 x 19 lines and pieces are placed on the intersection of the lines. A player must surround their opponent’s pieces (typically stones) to capture and claim that territory. The player who seizes the most territory wins.

For example (as shown above), if white places a piece at position A, they capture the two black pieces inside.

While a game of chess can lead to about 10^120 (10 to the power of 120) possible board configurations, Go has in the vicinity of 10^170 (10 to the power of 170). So even though these are both ridiculously large numbers, it could be argued that Go has 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 as many possible ways of being played as chess!

Brainbuster time

Time for a paradox, so take a deep breath.

The number 11 can be described as ‘e-lev-en’ or as ‘six plus five’ or ‘ten and one’, all of which use 3 syllables. But you cannot describe or name 11 in only 2 syllables.

If you think about the numbers 1 to 10, you’ll see that 11 is the smallest integer not nameable in fewer than 3 syllables.

It follows that there must be a number, larger than 11, that is the least integer (or whole number) not nameable in fewer than 4 syllables, and one for 5 syllables, and so on.

The British philosopher Bertrand Russell once wondered, ‘what’s the least integer not nameable in fewer than 19 syllables?’

Why did he pick 19? Because his statement has exactly 18 syllables.

So in fact the least integer that can’t be described in fewer than 19 syllables can actually be described using Russell’s 18-syllable phrase. This number both can and can’t be described this way!?

So is this number ‘the least integer not nameable in fewer than 19 syllables’? Or is it not? Or is it both that number and NOT that number at the same time?

Thanks Bertie boy - I need a lie down now.

Fascinating fast facts about 19!

Now that's hot!

The same AI deep reinforcement learning system that taught itself chess in just 4 hours to a level no human will ever match (!) has now controlled the 19 magnetic coils in a nuclear reactor so that the superhot plasma never touches the reactor’s walls. Using this AI is hoped to be cheaper and more accurate and applicable to large-scale reactors.

A criminal offence

The Aussie wine label '19 Crimes' is named after the 19 crimes that could get a convict sentenced to Australia and labels feature various convicts. Crimes included grand larceny, petty larceny, theft under 1 shilling, buying/receiving stolen goods. Most astounding? Impersonating an Egyptian, where ‘Egyptian’ referred to the gypsy people of Romani.

Jack attack!

Golf courses have 18 holes – though many of my friends claim they do their best work at the 19th. Speaking of golf and 19 – which is 91 backwards – my Uncle Jack shot a hole-in-one at his beloved Tuggerah Lakes Golf Course at the age of … you guessed it … 91. His name adorns an honour board above the club bar (or 19th hole!). #Legend!

Say cheese :)

The first McDonalds is often cited as being opened in San Bernardino, California, on 15 May 1940. But strictly speaking, the McDonald brothers Dick and Mac opened their first eatery next to the Monrovia Airport in 1937.

This tiny octagonal building was later moved to 1398 North E Street in San Bernardino, California, and reopened in 1940.

The production-line cooking method allowed the brothers to sell burgers for only 15 cents, when most competitors charged more like 30 cents. But if you were feeling flashy, they did offer what they named the ‘Tempting Cheeseburger’ for a whole ... 19 cents.

#18 winners

The number 18 quiz question was an absolute monster, garnering the most responses to any trivia I’ve ever posted.

Congratulations to Jason King and Regan Barker for winning signed copies of my Big Book of Numbers.

For those wondering how to ferry Anisha (A), Ben (B), Cassie (C) and Dong (D) back and forth in under 18 minutes, the solution is:

AB, A, CD, B, AB, which avoids an unnecessary 5-minute crossing and takes only 2 + 1 + 10 + 2 + 2 = 17 minutes.

That's it for now. If you'd like more geeky fun, please check out my other newsletters below.

Yours in numbers,



Recent Posts

See All


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page