The world of mathematics has been shattered by the discovery of a new number, a value that appears between the numbers 5 and 6. It first came to light in January when Katie O'Kelly a research statistician working for a small experimental accounting firm in southern England, found it by accident.
"I was working late one night," Katie explains, "trying out a radical new double entry procedure. Some of the numbers I was working on were quite hazardous, so my ledgers were confined to a fume cupboard. Anyway, after I had carried all the figures and balanced all the entries, I found I had an unexplained residue - a number that had never been seen before."
The new number was officially recognised by a special meeting of the United Nations last month. It is provisionally being referred to as '5a', although 'brooki', 'fartex' and 'spog' are amongst the names that have been suggested. The current favourite is 'fleegle', after one of the Banana Splits.
It has been predicted that this new number will have serious repercussions in three key areas, namely: gambling, the manufacture of diaries, and the fundamental mechanics of the physical universe as we know it. Of these, it is the second that is thought to be the most problematic. Korea, which produces 75% of the entire world's diaries and calendars, has accused leading figures in the UN of a conspiracy to cripple its economy.
However Andrew Wightman, a collector of rare and exotic numbers, and a keen backgammon juggler, is anxious to stress some of the other implications. "Our whole numerical system revolves around base ten," he points out. "This new number will throw all of that into confusion. In effect, the value we know as 'ten' will have to be completely redefined. Think how that might affect someone serving ten years in prison. Will he be required to serve an extra year? Or will he be released a year early? What about music? The musical scale will contain an extra note. Will this mean whole new forms of music will be possible? Or athletics - can we expect world records to be broken when the 100m hurdles is suddenly being run over a longer distance?"
These concerns may be largely academic. The new number means a longer year - an extra twelve days longer. In order to cope with this, an 'anti-leap year' has been suggested, but it has been decided that this is too complicated and unworkable. Instead, plans are afoot to push the Earth a few miles out into space using giant rocket motors strapped to the side of a mountain in Peru. This will lengthen the Earth's orbit to match the new year. The unfortunate consequence of this is that this will also destroy all life on the planet - but at least people won't have to keep resetting their videos.
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