A guess at knocking out the numbers

That someone wins Lotto every week justifies hope. PHOTO: THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD
That someone wins Lotto every week justifies hope. PHOTO: THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD
Think of a number between one and 100. Go on. Humour me.

And please write it down so you won’t forget it or be tempted to change it.

You are now expecting a trick. You think I will contrive a way of arriving at the number you have chosen in order to impress you and to suggest that I have paranormal powers. Well, let’s see.

First, let me tell you something about your number (and yes, it is too late to change it).

It is not a single digit. Given the allowance of a hundred numbers to choose from, you reasoned, subconsciously perhaps, that larger numbers are less common than single digits and they would therefore be harder for me to guess.

Am I right so far? I thought so. Any hint of paranormality yet? (No, you may not change the number.)

Your number is not in the 90s, either. Though the 90s are no easier to guess than any other numbers, they are too close to 100.

You preferred to dive into the central numbers area, the thicket of comparative obscurity.

Am I right again? Good. That’s knocked out one-fifth of the possible numbers.

Before we go on, examine your current state of mind. What are you hoping for? Do you want me to guess the number? I suspect so, because we all have a thirst for the abnormal, for the miraculous.

It is the imaginative and hopeful quality of the human mind to seek a higher power and a greater order than actually exists.

It is this quality that most scams and cons depend on, from the fortune teller at the fair to the Lotto counter in the supermarket.

That someone wins Lotto every week justifies hope, whereas the fact that everyone else loses is deemed irrelevant. We are incurable optimists and fantasists.

Let’s continue. Your number is not a repeated digit — 22, 33, 44 etc — because such numbers have an obviousness to them that renders them prominent. You chose a number that felt like it hid in the crowd.

So what will you do if I guess your number? Make the sign of the evil eye? Send me money? Tell your friends and neighbours that a wonder is come among us? Make a shrine and devise a service of worship, with hymns and prayers? It’s how such things begin.

For we can all think when we need to, but we much prefer to believe and to hope.

Consider the obvious truth that everyone dies. How much easier and nicer to believe in life after death. And that is no different to believing in the paranormal powers of a columnist, except that I may actually have those powers.

On we go. Your number is not an even number. Even numbers feel too obvious. Odd numbers feel a little off-centre, which is better for the purpose of obscurity.

So are we still together? Am I still in the hunt?

And are you now wondering whether I may actually be on to something if not paranormal, at least revelatory?

Not the miracle of the loaves and fishes perhaps — which we so much prefer to the reality of catering — but at the least some ability of deft psychological insight?

Well, it is time now to stick out my neck and perhaps lose a few of the congregation. It is a fact that when most people are asked to name a vegetable they say carrot, and when invited to choose a number from one to 10 they say seven.

Seven is a number drenched in positive superstition. I am predicting that the number you chose ends in seven.

If I’m wrong, all I can say is, I’m sorry. Hope dashed is always sad, though you can console yourself with having escaped the clutches of a false prophet.

But if I’m right, and your number ends in a seven, how are you feeling now? Are you hoping for me to clinch it, to get it right?

And would you like to know how many fellow readers are in the same position as you? (Feel free to conduct your own experiment with friends and family. You may prove to have the same paranormal powers as I have.)

Now to the crunch — have a bottle of smelling salts handy, in case you faint with astonishment at my ability to see beyond this world — the number you chose, out of the 100 that were available to you, was 37.

All together now, those of you who are left — and you may be surprised how many you are — "oh praise him, alleluia."

 - Joe Bennett is a Lyttelton writer.