Friday the 13th!

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(HOST) Today’s date – Friday the 13th – has inspired anxiety and superstition for generations. And commentator Dan Rockmore – professor of math and computer science at Dartmouth – wonders why.

(ROCKMORE) Did you wake up this morning afraid to open your eyes or get out of bed? Did you reschedule a trip or cancel some plans? Then perhaps you are suffering from – and get ready for this – paraskevideatriaphobia… or as it is more commonly known, a fear of Friday the 13th!

Now , it turns out that by the magic of calendar arithmetic and the fact that our calendar is both slightly out of sync with the seven day week and the 365 day year, every year has at least one Friday the 13th. And of all the days of the week, Friday is actually the most likely day on which the 13th will occur – albeit by just the tiniest of percentages – while Thursday is the least likely day.

Some estimates suggest that fear of Friday the 13th costs us over half a billion dollars! So what’s the source of all this?

Now, by most accounts Friday the 13th’s bad rap comes from the fact that the crucifiction was on a Friday, after having been set in motion by Judas – who was the thirteenth guest at the Last Supper.

For this reason 13 has now become a number to be avoided. In feats of architectural magic, some buildings leave out the 13th floor. And airlines sometimes skip row 13 in their airplanes – not that this gives the folks in row 14 any extra legroom. In fact, fear of the number 13 is so common that it even gets its own medical classification – "triskaidekaphobia."

Now, some historians trace the fear of thirteen back to a different source – and another dinner party. Thistime it was at the legendary home of the Norse gods, Valhalla – at which the God of mischief, Loki, arrived uninvited as the thirteenth guest, only to cause the death of Balder, the son of Odin, the king of the Norse gods.

Surprisingly, no numerological experts have paid any attention to what seems to me to be the most obvious source of a fear of thirteen, one that cuts across religous and cultural boundaries. It’s the number that marks the beginning of being a teenager.

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