Increasingly, our lives are documented, categorized, and controlled by numbers, which are most often coded to impart more information than you may be aware of.
A driver’s license in New Jersey encodes name, gender, birth (month and year), and eye color. The first six digits of a credit card indicate the card type. Visa, for example, always starts with 4. (You can find out if a card is legitimate by doubling every other number and adding that line of individual digits. The total should end in zero.) The first three numbers of a Social Security card indicate the state in which it was applied for. ZIP stands for Zone Improvement Plan. Numbers begin in the northeast (Manhattan is 212) and after meandering around the lower states, end in Ketchikan, Alaska (99950). The CIA in Langley has the exclusive ZIP 20505.
Vertical Interstate highways are numbered from west (I-5 in CA) to east (I-95 from FL to ME) while horizontal Interstates start in the deep south (I-10 in TX) to north (I-90 through Chicago). Exit numbers start at a state’s southern or western edges generally. In some states an exit number is the distance from a border, rounded down. A Vehicle Identification Number encodes the vehicle description, model, engine size, country of origin, model year, and plant of manufacture. NFL jersey numbers indicate position (for example, 01-09 for quarterbacks and kickers, 60-69 and 90-99 for linemen, and so on). And no player wearing 50-79 can catch passes without declaring himself eligible.
Those mysterious bar codes you see everywhere impart much more info. Maybe one day they’ll just auto-tattoo one on each of our foreheads at birth and dispense with all the rest.