By the numbers

Today is Jen’s birthday. I hope she won’t be annoyed if I mention her actual age, but since she announced it herself a year ago, I think the risk is minimal. She’s 31, which is cool, because it’s a prime number. Jen may not think this is a big deal, because it’s only been two years since the last time her age was a prime (29). But this will only happen once more in the next decade, when she’s 37. (As it happens, my age is also a prime at the moment: 43. Just thought I would mention that.)
This is a game that I always play on my own birthday: what’s the mathematical significance of my new age, and how rare is it? Prime-number ages are interesting, but relatively frequent; if you look at this list, you’ll see that your age will be prime twenty times if you live to 71, and thirty times if you make all the way to 113. But there are other distinctions. Next year, Jen’s age will be 32, which is a power of two. That’s really rare — now that I’ve passed 32, this will only happen to me one more time, when I’m 64. (Medical science will have to make some impressive advances if I’m going to live to be 128. I’m not betting on it.)
And then there are perfect squares. Jen’s last one was 25, but she’ll be square again in five years, when she turns 36. And the year after that, she can use her age as an excuse to quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “I’m 37! I’m not old!” Well, she can if she’s as much of geek as I was. Of course, that means that when you turn 42, you have to point out to everyone that your age is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.
Actually, I suppose you have to be a geek to play this game at all, don’t you?

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