Friday, November 29, 2013

Numerical Mysteries

Two puzzles to contemplate for those not busy celebrating Black Friday:

1) What is the smallest number that can be trademarked?

The New York Times has a story about the Hells Angels, describing how vigorously the Angels defend their rights to the number 81 (as in, the ordinal positions of H and A in the Roman alphabet). Some (though not all) of the defending happens through recourse to the legal system. Is there a smallest number that an entity could lawfully claim as its own?

If zero isn't taken yet, can I have it?

2) What the correct rate at which to consume an extremely delightful commodity that is finite in supply but lasts forever?

Around forty years ago I bought several bottles of Boal Madeira from an 1897 solera. Now that is not an 1897 vintage, but there are certainly some molecules of the 1897 vintage mixed in. I think I've uncorked only two bottles. One was for a very large numbered birthday or wedding anniversary of some elderly friends, and the other was after Thanksgiving dinner last night with the whole family. It was incredibly good, rich and fragrant and warming. The cork was solid.

Now as I understand it, you could in theory keep an old solera going forever, because the system involves replacing part but not all of the barrel every year. But apparently the EU regulations now ban the marketing of solera wines. So what I have may literally be irreplaceable, and, unlike old Bordeaux, won't turn bad as far as I know. How precious does an occasion have to be before I open another bottle? Or do I leave it to my kids and let them figure that out?

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