Here at Earn This, we love ridiculous arguments. Perhaps the most ridiculous argument we’ve ever had is: What numbers are best? (This was a particularly amusing outtake from our “Top 5” podcast.) In the spirit of our Year of 100 Lists, we decided to create a definitive ranking of the numbers from 1 to 10. Numbers can be “greater” than other numbers for any reason: aesthetic beauty, cultural significance, inherent badassery… we let each member of our team decide the criteria. And, boy, did the results vary: It turns out people value numbers (like any abstract idea) for a wide variety of reasons. Ten people created ten rankings of the numbers; the lists were aggregated and averaged; everyone contributed some thoughts. Here are the results: An authoritative rank of the numbers from 1 to 10, ranked from worst to best. (And don’t forget to read the counterpoints when you’re done with this article.) – Dan
Average rank: 8.6/10
Will says: Seriously, this should be obvious, there is nothing notable, unique, or favorable about the number six. I mean, can you think of any famous sextuplets? Any famous Sixth’s? Sure, its in the upper half of the numbers in question, but its by far the lamest of the 6-10 numbers. Six is easily the worst number between one and ten mathematically. In fact, six is the only number between one and ten that is not a perfect square, perfect cube, or prime number, excluding 10, which gets a clear boon because of it being the first double digit number. One of the more “hip with the now” usages of the numbers 1-10 is 1337 5P34K, and six even fails here. What is a 6 in 1337? a G? Maybe, but you’d never be able to tell on first glance. “But Will!” You say, “The Sixth month is June, that’s the start of summer!” I know! But, honestly, is the first month in any season the most notable month of that season (with the obvious exception of December and winter)? June is the deceptive month where it seems like it’s hot enough to go swimming right up until you dive into the pool and freeze your butt off. I mean… without a doubt, August is the quintessential summer month, with July as a runner up. Six is so lame, I use it as an expression of indifference over something. “How was that?” A friend/colleague might ask, “Six out of ten.” I’ll reply, And that’s it. Nothing to add. Sheer mediocrity.
Average rank: 7.5/10
Kevin says: Eight. Infinity on its side. The number of corners on a cube. Nature’s favorite way to organize its elementary particles. Eight. It’s always been the number I’ve struggled to write neatly on a consistent basis. Circles are hard enough to draw right as is. But two circles? It’s as if the math gods wanted to play a practical prank on us and have one of the fundamental numbers be something math students groan over at the thought of writing. Oh well, at least it’s a hell of a lot better than that tedious roman numeral system. When I think about the number eight, it reminds me of nature’s favoritism towards it. Why does eight valence electrons satisfy the octet rule? Why are baryons and mesons organized in an octet? And I’ve never understood why. Sure, it organizes itself nicely into a cube in 3D space, but in 2D? The most symmetrical shape you can make out of 8 non-redundant points is an octagon.. But an octagon is hardly as simple as it gets. It’s made up of two or more rhombuses, which are made out of triangles. Clearly there should be three fundamental particles! When science history stood at a place in time where the most elementary particles were the proton, neutron, and electron, people must’ve slept peacefully over its simplicity. Eight has just complicated things. And who likes it when anything plays favorites?
Average rank: 7.3/10
Daniel says: Absolute massive respect if you can name the top-scoring NBA player who wore number 9. Give it a minute… don’t know? The honor goes to hall-of-famer “Big Blue” Bob Pettit, of the Milualkee/St. Louis Hawks from 1955-1965, currently ranked 35th all-time in scoring. I think that sums up succinctly why 9 appears so low on our list: it represents the outdated nature of the number, better suited for our parents’ or even grandparents’ generation. Good riddance.
Average rank: 6.7/10
Brad says: Here’s where the numbers actually begin to get interesting. While 4 isn’t much to look at, it has some hidden surprises. It’s a perfect square. It’s 2+2, 2*2, and 2^2. Despite all of this, it’s still pretty stupid-looking and not even a prime number. Let’s call it slightly below average.
Average rank: 5.2/10
Katy says: There’s nothing inherently faulty about five. It’s the number of fingers on your hand, the clean break between zero and ten, deliciously prime. What explains our lukewarm reaction? Well, numerically, it lies in the middle of the pack. As for the aesthetic of the word, five does have the interest of the v sound, but doesn’t use it to the musical extent of seven — and neither can trump staccato eight or resonant three. The form, 5, is neither easy to write nor as visually pleasing as loopy 6 and 9. Five does have some things going for it: The five-second rule. Iambic pentameter. Quitting time for your average desk job. It’s certainly a solid pillar in the first decade of numbers, but we’ll leave the fireworks for the stars.
Average rank: 4.9/10
Brian says: WHOO DECIMAL!
Our standard counting system, using Arabic numerals, is base-10, meaning we “count up” using ten distinct symbols before we wrap around again and add another column. The choice of ten wasn’t arbitrary; it was likely influenced by the fact that humans have ten fingers and ten toes, useful tools for simple counting. Base-10 wasn’t an Arabic innovation: the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Chinese used it too. But other cultures have chosen different bases.
If we were ancient Babylonians, we might favor 60. If we were computers, we might choose 2, or 8, or 16. But ten is what we picked, and it’s deeply ingrained in our day-to-day life. The entire Metric system is based on powers of ten. Hundreds. Thousands. Sure, other bases have a 1 followed by 0s. But who would want to marry a binary millionaire?
Average rank: 4.7/10
Patrick says: Most good things come in pairs, and indeed 2 is a pretty good number. It is the only even prime, as well as an important part of the definition of both even and odd numbers. You have two eyes, two ears, two hands, and plenty of other pairs of things. I mean consider it – you don’t have 3 feet, do you? You don’t have 5 eyes? You don’t even have 1 hand! (Unless you’re a pirate).
Two does have its shortcomings though. If you eat two Lays, you’ve proven them right. A week with two days would be far too short, and a tripod with two legs would just fall over. Besides, you could hardly call it number one.
Average rank: 4.3/10
Dan says: Perched innocuously between six and eight is The Little Number That Could. It’s the largest single-digit prime, asymmetrical in a beautiful way. In western culture, few numbers are as meaningful as seven. There’s something mystical about it that attracts thinkers and storytellers: there are seven seas and sins; seven wonders of the world and days of the week; seven gates at Thebes and years at Hogwarts. But seven is also a joyful number: in Vegas, it’s a jackpot; on Astroturf, it’s a touchdown. Mathematically, seven is fascinating, and dividing by seven produces bizarre cyclical numbers. In other words, seven is a little bit of everything to everyone.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s no coincidence “seven” rhymes with “Heaven.”
Average rank: 3.5/10
Grant says: Inherent meaning, cultural significance, general badassery—3 has it all. No other number has enough range to form the bedrock foundation of everything from baseball rules to religious tenets to pop music conventions. The third line is the punch line, the third act where everything starts to matter, third down the money down. And so often, the third entry in a group means everything: A third aberrational event marks a trend. A third (consecutive) championship stamps a legend. 40 actors have won 2 Oscars; only 6 have won 3. All in all, whether we’re considering dimensions, trophies won, or number of participants in an intimate encounter, 3 is the dynamic game-changer, the alchemistic wild card that takes everything to the next level. When you hit 3, things start to get real.
Average rank: 2.4/10
Colton says: If it’s lonely at the top, then “one is the loneliest number.”
How could anything else be number one? This is literally the number, one. One is what we strive for. As an individual we want to be first place, one of a kind. As groups we seek unity, to be of one mind with one another and hold a single firm identity. You can get to all these other numbers just by adding up ones, making one the foundation in a way zero could never be. In the dichotomy of singular vs. plural, one stands alone against the world. They say everybody’s got one. The truth is, nobody’s ever had One: it stands undefeated, the champion for all time.