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Calculator Spelling

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LCD digits look like letters when turned upside-down.

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
SonicLover on Aug 4th 2011 at 7:39:01 AM
Last Edited By:
AHI-3000 on Mar 19th 2018 at 2:11:28 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

Seen It a Million Times. Needs a Better Name (maybe). Needs a Better Description. Rolling Updates. Could seriously use some discussion; I'm sick of making irrelevant edits just to bump.


http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/Calculator_101011_2161-small_7622.jpg
Hello to you too, calculator. How are you today?

It's a classic trick known by anyone who's ever been bored with a calculator: enter a number, turn the display upside-down, and read it like it's a set of letters. 0.7734 becomes "HELLO", 5318008 becomes "BOOBIES", 312217 becomes "LIZZIE"... the possibilities go on and on.

This trick of turning numbers upside-down to form letters (or vice-versa) has been incorporated in many ways, in many different forms of media. Apparently a lot of people have been bored while in possession of calculators (and if you've ever taken a high school or college math class you can't really blame them).

This trope is closely related to L33t L1ng0 and Letters 2 Numbers, where words and symbols are also swapped around.


Examples:

Literature

  • Used without an actual calculator in the Warhammer novel Beasts In Velvet. One of the characters gets fatally stabbed but sees the killer. When he is found, his body is stuck in a barrel, with his dying message scrawled on the inside of the lid. It looks like a string of numbers which don't make sense until the climax, where the heroes realize they have read it upside down.

Music

Video Games

  • Telltale's Sam & Max: Freelance Police series, Episode 204 (Chariots of the Dogs): When Sam inspects the keypad for the door, Max tells him to "make it say BOOBIES". The code turns out to be 5318008, "BOOBIES" upside-down. Strange Minds Think Alike, apparently.
  • In Riddle School 3, Phil has to find the combination for Richy's locker. When he finds it it says "BLOBBLES". Of course, it's actually 53788078.
  • At least one puzzle in the Professor Layton series has made good use of this trope. - Zero-Context Example

Web Original

  • Homestar Runner
    • "Look! I can make mine say 'OBOE SHOES'!" - Zero-Context Example
    • Another SBEmail, "what i want," has a homemade Decemberween gift consisting of a seashell with office supplies glued to it, including a calculator with "040404" displayed.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • When Karen got turned into a calculator in one episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, she displayed the "HELLO" trick across her screen.

Index: Number Tropes

Feedback: 84 replies

Aug 4th 2011 at 7:48:08 AM

  • Homestar Runner:
    Strong Bad: Look! I can make mine say, "OBOE SHOES"!

    • Also, they somehow manage to do this trick with "BUTT X 2"

I think the name is fine.

Aug 4th 2011 at 8:13:35 AM

Pretty sure Progressive Flo does this in one ad, and Bart or Lisa Simpson do it at one point.

Aug 4th 2011 at 8:20:20 AM

I think there's a The Big Bang Theory episode where they discuss their favourite numbers, and Raj's is 58,008 for this reason.

Aug 4th 2011 at 8:24:26 AM

  • One episode of Extras had Darren Lamb being rather amused that he could spell out the word "BOOBS" (IE: 50080 upside-down) on a calculator.

Aug 4th 2011 at 8:32:11 AM

In one episode of Family Guy, Quagmire is staying with the Griffins for a while and he teaches Chris the "8008" number.

Chris: What if we get another calculator and put them together?
Quagmire: Yes. Yes! Find one! Yes!

Aug 4th 2011 at 9:24:17 AM

  • When Karen got turned into a calculator in one episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, she displayed the "HELLO" trick across her screen.

Aug 4th 2011 at 10:54:59 AM

I don't remember the (extremely contrived) joke, maybe someone else can jog my memory, but the idea was that you add some arbitrary string of numbers related to some story and you wind up with "55318008"; that is, "BOOBLESS." (Edited the number, which was mistyped.)

Aug 4th 2011 at 2:18:11 PM

On The Simpsons, Moe mentions that he moved to Springfield because the zip code spells "BOOBS". Just one more clue for figuring out Where The Hell Is Springfield.

Aug 4th 2011 at 2:43:43 PM

In Detective Conan, one case is solved by the victim leaving a message in a Calculator.

Aug 4th 2011 at 5:23:51 PM

In Superman comics, this is how Lois figures out her father is still alive and running a top secret government agency that is trying to kill Superman, because its called Project 7734. Which was a trick Sam Lane taught Lois and Lucy at a young age.

Aug 5th 2011 at 1:33:22 AM

Could use some title suggestions, as it's always about the upside-down LCD spelling out messages. The Progressive ad called it "calculator humor", but that wouldn't make a good title. LCD LOL? Calculator Speak? I'm short on ideas.

Aug 5th 2011 at 1:55:07 PM

Music: the album 5317704 by The Hollies. Spoilered for those who want to work it out for themselves.

Aug 5th 2011 at 9:33:28 PM

Truth In Television because this was the only way to make math class bearable.

Jun 4th 2017 at 12:03:46 PM

Another SB Email, "what i want," has a homemade Decemberween gift consisting of a seashell with office supplies glued to it, including a calculator with "040404" displayed.

No9
Aug 6th 2011 at 6:01:33 AM

Anime and Manga

  • Rave Master A girl with amnesia finds the numbers 3173 tattooed to her arm which she initially reads upside-down and comes to the conclusion it was her name ELIE.

Aug 6th 2011 at 1:41:08 PM

@Tony G's example: it comes up with Moe again - or earlier, since this ep was first - when Homer is Guest Hosting the Krusty the Clown show while Krusty is studying for his Bar Mitzvah. Moe's topic of discussion on the show is "words you can spell on a calculater" including BOOBS.

Aug 6th 2011 at 1:43:06 PM

The Rave Master example is a partial subversion, as it's eventually revealed it was meant to be read both ways: ELIE-3173 is the coordinates she was found at. (IIRC. It's been a while since I read that part.)

Aug 6th 2011 at 1:55:23 PM

In the video game Trespasser a keycode is written on a wall: The words Big LIE, if flipped upside down give you the numbers 317618.

Aug 6th 2011 at 2:36:23 PM

@katiek: Yea, Flo does the "hello" bit in a Progressive commercial.

Aug 6th 2011 at 5:50:52 PM

A German Language example: 7353 --> ESEL (donkey).

Aug 9th 2011 at 11:12:29 AM

Would cases where someone reads a display upside-down and sees a different number rather than a word apply to this trope? It seems to happen most often with people seeing a bizarre time on a digital clock.

Aug 9th 2011 at 3:19:35 PM

^ No, I don't think so...

Aug 11th 2011 at 3:59:38 PM

Used without an actual calculator in the Warhammer novel Beasts In Velvet. One of the characters gets fatally stabbed but sees the killer. When he is found, his body is stuck in a barrel, with his dying message scrawled on the inside of the lid. It looks like a string of numbers which don't make sense until the climax, where the heroes realise they have read it upside down.

Aug 11th 2011 at 11:51:00 PM

In the Round Robin comic DC Challenge a Cliff Hanger clue - a series of numbers - in the first issue was never properly resolved until the penultimate issue: add them all up and turn the caluclator upside down, it spells out the name ELI ELLIS, a minor character in the first issue. If the Letter Column is to be believed, several readers figured it out; but some of those didn't notice the character named Eli Ellis in issue #1 so they still didn't know who he was.

Aug 23rd 2011 at 10:15:50 AM

Music The MC Frontalot song "80085" is a nostalgic retelling of his high-school algebra days.

Aug 23rd 2011 at 2:26:40 PM

^ Technically that's not upside-down.

Aug 23rd 2011 at 8:23:05 PM

Too bad, but this is limited by language:

10 years ago (type 10), when I was 14 years old (type 14) in 1970 (type 1970), my girlfriend and I broke up (divide by 2) because of (turn around the calc) SELOS (Tagalog word for jealousy.

Aug 1st 2014 at 10:20:13 AM

Bumping, it could be a fun page. Up For Grabs.

TV

  • In episode "Blood" The X Files, the guy who suffers from blood phobia is already freaked out, but slips even more when a small calculator drops onto the floor and he then reads "blood". In this episode, more machines seem to communicate with him and other victims.

web

  • SF Debris: In his review of "Blood" from The X-Files, Chuck jokes that the guy is freked because his culculators spells "BLOOD". Normally it only spells "BOOBIES".

Aug 1st 2014 at 10:25:50 AM

I'm not so sure this is a trope. If it is, it's no more of a trope than rubber pencils, or if you fold a twenty dollar bill a certain way you get the WTC on 9-11.

But...

Webcomics

  • IDGet. In one strip, Kevin says he wishes he could appear on Jeopardy just so he can wager $0.7734 in the final round; when IDGet asks why, we're then treated to an Imagine Spot, where Kevin looks down at his screen and says, "Why, hello to you too!"

Aug 1st 2014 at 10:54:34 AM

Well, we have lots of pages on comedy bits. But it's someting we need to consider, so I'll add "tropeworthy?" tag.

Aug 1st 2014 at 7:24:45 PM

Tis a comedy trope, Y not?

Aug 1st 2014 at 10:44:45 PM

Live Action Television : In an episode of Matlock a guy murdered at a TV station cues up a tape to a place that shows Matlock's client. Matlock eventually realizes that the LED counter reads 337, reading upside down as 'Lee', the name of the real killer. Edited to add. Some of the stuff in Dying Clue is similar to this.

Aug 1st 2014 at 11:15:13 PM

Maybe add "gag" to the title.

Aug 2nd 2014 at 3:48:01 AM

There is an old joke on the subject; 337 Israelis are fighting 337 Arabs on an area of 8,424 square kilometers. Who wins? Answer: 337*337+8424^2=71,077,345=Shell Oil.

Aug 2nd 2014 at 5:23:26 AM

Comic Book

  • Played For Drama in the "World Against S" storyline in Superman when Jimmy is trying to learn the significance of the military's Area 7734, and Steve Lombard points out it's "hELL" upside down.

Webcomic

Aug 2nd 2014 at 6:30:30 AM

Many displays have been enhanced by adding additional line segments, allowing for freeform text.

Electrical engineers have gotten creative when they have direct access to individual line segments, especially with the enhanced displays. See Pinball machines for examples of animations done this way.

Aug 2nd 2014 at 8:21:15 AM

  • In Batman The Animated Series episode "Riddler's Reform", the supposedly reformed titular villain shows an advertisement on TV with the digits "31753701". At first, Batman believes these are map coordinates (for the First National Bank), but then realizes Riddler flipped over the blackboard, and it actually means "10 Leslie" - an address of a jewelry store.

Aug 2nd 2014 at 8:49:01 AM

A reverse (sorry) example in one of the Lord Darcy stories. The victim leaves a dying clue by carving three letters into an earthen bluff. No one realizes until later that he was hanging over the edge of the bluff — flipped around to his viewpoint, the message is the code number of the dangerous Polish spy who killed him.

Aug 2nd 2014 at 9:01:14 AM

the usual term for this is Calculator spelling

Aug 11th 2014 at 9:18:47 AM

  • Shutterbug Follies: Bee is trapped in the apartment of a killer, and he can override the voice on her cellphone. So she sends a numberical message to a cabbie's pager...338 505. It takes him dropping the pager and picking it up upside down to get the idea.

Aug 26th 2014 at 8:39:42 PM

Aug 27th 2014 at 12:07:10 AM

I'm the fourth person for Calculator Spelling!

Aug 27th 2014 at 5:55:29 AM

Does this count? It's about numbers looking like other numbers rather than letters:

  • In one episode of Futurama, Professor Farnsworth constructs a bomb for the purpose of destroying a meteor made of trash that's on a collision course with earth. He intends to program it with a 25 minute (25:00) timer, but attaches the LCD screen upside down and accidently sets the timer to 52 seconds (00:52) instead.

Aug 27th 2014 at 6:30:41 AM

Used by the Progressive Insurance girl in one ad. I can't find it, could someone?

May 3rd 2017 at 5:35:25 PM

Music:

May 4th 2017 at 2:49:34 AM

Zero Context Examples have been marked as such. They need more information to show how they fit the trope. Please don't remove the marking unless you add enough context.

Weblinks Are Not Examples have been marked as such. They need more information about how they fit the trope. Please don't remove the marking unless you add enough context.

May 4th 2017 at 6:24:47 AM

An old joke: 8424 Arabs are fighting 8424 Israelis on a territory of 337 square km. Who comes out the winner? Answer: 8424*8424+337^2= 71077344

May 4th 2017 at 8:28:53 AM

Video Games

  • The piece of evidence that irrevocably incriminates the murderer in the first trial of Dangan Ronpa is the victim's dying message: the digits " 11037" written in their blood. If you turn them upside down, it spells out L E O I I, implicating fellow student LEON Kuwata - the victim died before they could add the crossbar on the N.

Dec 30th 2017 at 7:49:29 PM

  • The short "The Adventures of Compuhorse and Calcupony" from Spliced: Calcupony is only able to speak in words that the numbers on calculators make upside down.
    Calcupony: HELLO!
    Calcupony: IGLOO!
    Calcupony: GOGGLES!

Dec 28th 2017 at 9:13:17 PM

Yu Gi Oh The Abridged Series Season 0 Episode 3: According to Yugi, Tristan learned how to type "BOOBIE" in a calculator and later "BOOB".

Tristan: "I am a sorcerer!"

Dec 29th 2017 at 2:17:17 AM

Dec 29th 2017 at 3:15:02 AM

Does this actually mean anything? It seems like just a thing that happens.

Dec 29th 2017 at 9:17:22 AM

^Stock Jokes.

Music:

  • Sabaton's Heavy Meta song "7734" spells "hell" in calculator spelling. This, along with various other instances of numerology in the lyrics, is meant as a parody of those who equate metal to Satanism.

Dec 29th 2017 at 9:40:30 PM

A Played For Drama example occurs in one Encyclopedia Brown story. A boy who was always playing around with his calculator has been kidnapped and his calculator has the number 577345 on the display. Encyclopedia realizes that this spells "shells" when looked at upside down, which leads them to the kidnapper, who had a booth selling shells.

Dec 29th 2017 at 9:47:19 PM

2x ^ It's a type of code. The fact that sometimes numbers look like letters upside down might many times be People Sit On Chairs, but this is about someone trying to "write" something (many times a secret message) using that fact. It seems like at least some examples are tropable.

Dec 30th 2017 at 4:55:03 AM

Shows up in Look Around You when presenting a modern snowman (batteries for eyes, radio antenna for a nose, calcultor reading "HELLO" for a mouth).

Dec 30th 2017 at 9:33:39 AM

^Cheap chuckles. It's kinda like Clucking Funny: it's not a trope with a whole lot of deep meaning behind it.

Dec 30th 2017 at 9:43:28 AM

Hey, just comedy is a good reason, but the description currently says "if you turn a calculator, it spells words", so I guess Needs A Better Description.

Dec 30th 2017 at 10:53:14 AM

I would suggest the Laconic should probably say something like "a character uses certain numbers because upside down, they spell a particular word."

Jan 2nd 2018 at 9:42:43 PM

Adding context to the first Homestar Runner example: In the Strong Bad E-mail "technology", Strong Bad uses solar calculators as an example of "wireless" technology that is the wave of the future, and demonstrates by making a calculator say "OBOE SHOES" when he turns it upside down.

Jan 9th 2018 at 4:34:11 PM

You might also look at whether this could fit into Language Tropes when/if it gets launched.

Feb 13th 2018 at 11:50:26 AM

Examples? Votes on the name?

Feb 13th 2018 at 12:51:33 PM

I vote for the name Calculator Spelling.

Feb 13th 2018 at 1:00:07 PM

I second Calculator Spelling. It's the clearest of the suggested names.

Feb 13th 2018 at 2:02:10 PM

Huh. Yeah. I wonder if this trope is even needed.

Feb 13th 2018 at 2:05:57 PM

Hmm, on second thought perhaps related but not necessarily the same. The page for that says that the replacement should not be "consistent" whereas this is consistent.

Feb 13th 2018 at 3:02:05 PM

Leet Lingo is just a Sister Trope because it uses different replacements.

Feb 13th 2018 at 7:42:55 PM

Definitely related, though.

Feb 14th 2018 at 3:18:06 AM

  • In Super Mario 64 Last Impact, the desk version of the Gloomy Ambience level has an Easter Egg in that typing out "5318008" (BOOBIES) on the functional calculator produces a Boo laugh.
  • Professor Layton And The Unwound Future has a puzzle where the only clues are a calculator and a note that says "101 X 5". The solution is that the result of the calculation, 505, looks like SOS. The trope is downplayed, as you don't even have to turn the calculator upside-down to see it.

Also, I seriously believe this trope needs a better name. The name "Upside-Down Digits" in unclear, as it suggests "someone accidentally reads a number upside-down" (kind of like Six Is Nine).

Feb 14th 2018 at 3:15:24 PM

  • One episode of the 1999 miniseries The Timekeepers Of The Millennium, (which featured a pair of muppets named Cogs and Sprinx trying to recover crystals to reactivate the "great clock" in time for the new millenium) had them accidentally displace a scientist, who built a Humungous Mecha capable of calculating huge numbers, which Cogs tries to outwit with ever larger calculations. Sphrinx challenges him to come up with a calculation which results in the number 5318008, then has him turn it upside down to spell "boobies". Lacking a sense of humour, this causes it to self destruct.

Feb 27th 2018 at 4:16:00 AM

Western Animation:

  • 0.7734 makes an appearance in Whatever Happened To Robot Jones, when Jones is trying to tutor classmate Shannon in math.
  • The Simpsons: Springfield's zip code is 80085. Moe chose to live there because the numbers spelled "boobs" on a calculator.

Television — Live Action:

  • White Rabbit Project: 80085 ("boobs") appears in the Six Million Dollar Man spoof from "Where's My Hoverboard?"

Mar 17th 2018 at 4:19:54 PM

"Could seriously use some discussion; I'm sick of making irrelevant edits just to bump."

You could try, you know, adding the examples that have been posted, like the Sabaton example I've posted twice.

Mar 19th 2018 at 2:13:11 AM

^ That comment was added back in 2011. The OP Sonic Lover abandoned this proposal shortly thereafter.

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