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Literature / A Million Random Digits With 100,000 Normal Deviates

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"I can't really put my finger on it, but by about the halfway mark, I started to lose interest. Best I can come up with, is that the storyline, the plot, lacked cohesiveness. The narrative was a tad bit... random in spots. And maybe a bit over-long."

A Million Random Digits With 100,000 Normal Deviates is a book with 400 pages of 2500 random digits each followed by 200 pages of 500 deviates each.

Outside of a cover and a foreword, that is it. The book was first published in 1955 to be used whenever someone needed to pull out a random number. Despite a re-issue in 2001, the book has been rendered largely obsolete by computers that can run random number generators. Still, computers did allow people to order it from the Internet and even give it reviews, leading to a variety of sarcastically mathematical reviews on Amazon. The reviews were interesting enough to warrant a mention in two different New York Times articles, "The Reviewing Stand."

All that aside, how in the world does a list of random numbers demonstrate Tropes? If Tropes are "storytelling shorthand," how can they be demonstrated by something that is only a story by the most absurdly wide of definitions? The answer to that comes from the fact that even if something is a tale only by the widest of definitions, even that almost-tale falls under a law of Tropes: there is no such thing as The Tropeless Tale. Need proof?


A Million Random Digits With 100,000 Normal Deviates provides examples of:

  • Anachronic Order: The book doesn't follow any type of set structures, it just randomly switches focus from character to characters over and over. Did we mention it switches between ten different characters?
  • Anthropic Principle: Really, what are the odds of these one million digits appearing in this order on these pages? The whole thing is highly improbable, but hey, it needed to happen, or else the book couldn't exist to be improbably in the first place.
  • Averted Trope: This lacks nearly everything, even the Omnipresent Tropes. The Protagonist, The Climax, Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking, you name it and odds are it isn't in here. I mean, it has some tropes, but just enough to avert being The Tropeless Tale.
  • Beige Prose: An odd combination of this trope and Wall of Text; while the book has a lot of text, it does so without using any superfluous adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, verbs, nouns, or, well, words. It just cuts straight to the numbers with nothing flowery window-dressing.
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  • Dead Horse Trope: "Random number books" like this have been made completely obsolete by random number generators accessible on consumer-friendly computers.
  • Doorstopper: The digits alone make the book 600 pages, but with the wordy foreword, this book is far larger and heavier than its contents can justify.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The title of the book is as instructional as can be: the book's contents include a million random digits and 100,000 normal deviates.
  • In Medias Res: The first number to appear in the book is the second digit in sequence, "1," but immediately after 1, the book switches back to the first part of the sequence, the digit "0."
  • Long Title: There's nothing pithy about the eighteen-syllable long title, which is more of a sentence than a proper name for something.
  • Mind Screw: The title juxtaposes "Normal" and "Deviates," two terms that don't make a heck of a lot of sense together. How can something that is able to be plotted and ordered also be wholly random? This dichotomy was so strong that the book was put in the New York Public Library's Psychology section, according to this New York Times article.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: There isn't a story to follow, the readers are just expected to use the random numbers presented to them however they see fit.
  • No Punctuation Period: Channeling James Joyce's Ulysses, the Rand Society made a book in a single sentence, without any commas, periods, or even spaces between characters. The whole book is one long string of a single word or number.
  • Random Number God: Even three numbers into the book, zero has already been repeated twice. Wow, I'm sure it was totally random that this book gave out the lowest number possible when I needed a nine...
  • Trope Maker: Rand's book was the first in a genre called "random number books," which were massive books filled with numbers randomly generated by computers.
  • Wall of Text: Each page is made up of giant columns listing either 2500 random digits or 500 normal deviates.


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