Beastly Numbers

Did you know that alcohol can be shown to emanate directly from Satan, who was previously blamed only for the hangovers? The chemical formula is C2H5OH. Cross out the O as equivalent to zero, and you're left with 6 atoms of hydrogen, which is element number 1, and two of carbon, element number 6. Six times one, and six, and six ... yes, 666, the Number of the Beast, leers at us from the alcohol molecule! This proves it.

Another famous Beast sighting implicates a certain US ex-president whose full name is Ronald Wilson Reagan. Six letters in each name: the Moral Majority rests its case. Back in the sixteenth century, it was the Pope and the Catholic Church whose beastliness was proved with similar irrefutable logic, from the papal title Vicarius Filii Dei. Add up all the Roman numerals in this phrase: I (1) appears 6 times, V (5) twice – remembering that U and V were identical in the old Latin alphabet – and each of L (50), C (100) and D (500) features once. It all tots up to ... but somehow I think you're ahead of me.

Different times, different beasts. A Freemason in Tolstoy's War and Peace writes out the phrase l'empereur Napoleon and triumphantly deciphers it as 666 by adapting the old Hebrew system of gematria (where every letter has an associated number) for the modern alphabet. When Gladstone was Prime Minister in the 19th century, some clever-clogs discovered that you could extract 666 from his full name by transliterating it into Greek. Martin Gardner's eccentric book The Magic Numbers of Dr Matrix shows how to nobble the 20th century's greatest beast by means of the deceptively simple code A=100, B=101, C=102 and so on. The six letters of HITLER then add up to you-know-what.

In fact, with a trace of imagination and a willingness to cheat, it's possible to fudge up a numerological connection with 666 for surprisingly many names. The key is to produce a mystic and ancient alphabet cipher which looks plausibly "natural" – like the Hitler cipher above – and just happens to give the right answer. Unfortunately it's hard to get results with the simplest table where A=1, B=2, C=3 etc, or its reversed version where Z=1, Y=2, X=3. Statistically, the average value for a letter either way is 13.5, and dividing that into the desired total of 666 indicates that our candidates for bestiality would need to be people with names about 50 letters long.

At this point, it seemed useful to write a computer program that could generate mystic and ancient cipher tables at the rate of several hundred per second....

I am now proud to announce that FT editor Bob Rickard can be identified as the Beast 666 by adding up the numbers corresponding to the letters of his name, in a simple table beginning with the magically significant number of weeks in the year: A=52, B=54, C=56 and so on. To detect the satanic horns of co-editor Paul Sieveking, use A=30, B=32, C=34 ... this particular cipher is the obvious choice because [insert any old numerological doubletalk here]. Associate editor Joe McNally is a tougher case, crackable by using the sequence A=60, B=63, C=66 and ignoring vowels. It's a "legitimate" fiddle, since this all harks back to Hebrew gematria, and ancient Hebrew was written without vowels.

My program's first bash at the name Fortean Times itself didn't look convincingly ancient and mystic, since the occult cipher began with a lot of negative numbers; but omitting vowels does the trick. The software has also successfully demonstrated that Tony Blair, William Hague, Paddy Ashdown and Bill Clinton all contain the ineluctable brand of Satan in their names. And it was with a sense of cosmic inevitability that (using A=1, B=5, C=9 etc, and omitting vowels) I penetrated to the inward 666-ness of the dread runes Margaret Hilda Thatcher.

All these monumental contributions to human knowledge were achieved without resorting to the further tricks considered OK by past numerologists. Taking a cue from classical inscriptions, I and J can be treated as the same letter, just like U and V. If "Michael Heseltine" isn't itself bestial enough, we try again with "Mike Heseltine" and indeed "M. Heseltine" – just as, long ago, a failure to hit the jackpot with Martin Luther could be saved by side bets on Martinus Luther or Martinus Lutherus. Similarly, Nero (quite possibly the originally intended Beast in Revelation) had to be Hebraized, with Nero Caesar becoming Nron Ksr or Nero Kesar. Failing all else, diligent seekers after truth can focus on the surname alone. I have four different cipher tables to establish with quadruple certainty that everybody called Smith is one of this devilish club.

Between us, if we play our cards right, we can all be utterly beastly. Isn't democracy wonderful?