Brain Candy

A Rhyme To Remember Your Roman Numerals

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The Super Bowl is probably the one time of year when any of us bother to pay attention to roman numerals. This year it's 46, otherwise written as XLVI. Just can't keep your numerals straight? Ian Chillag and Michael Danforth of NPR's podcast How Do You Do That explain the subtleties of Roman Numerals for the watchers of Super Bowl XLVI.


The Super Bowl may be the one time of year when any of us bother to pay attention to Roman numerals. This year it's 46 - that's X-L-V-I. But what if you just can't keep your numerals straight? Here to help are Ian Chillag and Mike Danforth of NPR's podcast How to Do Everything.

IAN CHILLAG, BYLINE: Just so you can keep us straight, I'm Ian.


CHILLAG: And this is Blake Harrison. He is from Flocabulary.

DANFORTH: He writes educational rhymes for kids.

BLAKE HARRISON: Right. So, this one was a little bit tricky to do, but hopefully it'll help people remember Roman numerals.

CHILLAG: All right. Let's hear it.


HARRISON: (Singing) I is one; think of a Cyclops, a one-eyed dude with one bottle of eye drops. V is five, so it must be five geese flying way up in the sky in the V. X is ten, that's like two Vs, one sitting on the top, one flipped underneath. L is 50, as you know well you'll never see 50 Cent on the cover Elle. C is a hundred, like years in a century. See a hundred legs on the bug, that's a centipede. D five hundred, that's a heavy weight. I listen to Heavy D 500 days straight. M is a thousand, and y'all better run. My falcon's so fly, I swear it's millennium. So, Roman numerals is something you should know if you're reading prologues or watching the Super Bowl.

DANFORTH: So, everybody probably knows the I, V and X in Super Bowl X-L-V-I.

CHILLAG: Yeah. The L is where it starts to get tricky. So, Blake, what was the rhyme for L?

HARRISON: OK. L is fifty, but you know well you'll never see 50 Cent on the cover of Elle. I didn't go through all the Elle covers and check that this was factually accurate, so I'm hoping someone at NPR could do that for me.

CHILLAG: Here's Key Malesky, NPR's librarian.

KEY MALESKY: 50 Cent has not been on the cover, but I did find him doing an interview with Elle magazine in January 2007.

CHILLAG: Good enough. But what about, say, my parents, who would have no idea who the rapper 50 Cent is?

HARRISON: Well, how about this as an alternate then: Samuel L. Jackson - listen to this from the movie "Snakes on a Plane."


SAMUEL L. JACKSON: (as Neville) I have had it with...

HARRISON: ...50 snakes...


JACKSON: ...on this...

HARRISON: ...exactly 50...


JACKSON: ...plane.

CHILLAG: Well, that'll certainly help people remember. But in 2016, we get to Super Bowl 50, which in Roman numerals is Super Bowl L. Now, L, you may know, is the universal symbol for loser. The NFL is so concerned about this, they're already having internal meetings about what to do.

DANFORTH: Here's sports reporter Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal.

BEN COHEN: How do you put a big fat L on all types of championship attire for the winner of the Super Bowl?

CHILLAG: All right. Rachel, are you there?

MARTIN: I'm here.

CHILLAG: OK. We've got a quiz for you.

MARTIN: OK. I'm ready.

CHILLAG: Super Bowl XLVI. The X is...

MARTIN: X is 10.


MARTIN: Because there are two Vs, something about geese.

CHILLAG: Yes. OK. Now, the tricky one here is the L.

MARTIN: Fifty, got it. XLV.

CHILLAG: You have V?

MARTIN: V is five.


DANFORTH: Like five geese flying in a formation.

MARTIN: Five geese, yeah.

CHILLAG: And then the easiest one, I.

MARTIN: I is one.

CHILLAG: Like a Cyclops.

MARTIN: I is one like a Cyclops.

CHILLAG: Which gives you, by some kind of magic, Super Bowl 46.

MARTIN: Super Bowl 46, I will never forget.

CHILLAG: Good luck, Rachel.

MARTIN: Thanks so much, guys. Ian Chillag and Mike Danforth of NPR's podcast, How to Do Everything.


MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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