As kids growing up, we often played license plate games. Usually it involved finding all 50 states. Some places were gold mines. I remember when Chuck had a job at Hancock Air Field in Syracuse mowing lawns. I was probably 13 or so. We had a maroon Ford Fairline 500. Chuck was too young to drive so Mom drove him and picked him up. Chuck would mow all day long. But I used to tag along just for the chance to drive through the parking lot to look for the obscure plates. Montana and both Dakota's were always the toughest. Later, when I played this game with my kids in Texas, Connecticut and Vermont were the toughest.

When I started working at Trinity Millennium Group in San Antonio, Daisy was still in Austin trying to sell the house. And I walked to work, to the pool hall. Even to the grocery store. I let Gino use my car for months on end. On January 1, 2010, I casually started looking at the David variation of the game. The numbers on the plates. I've always been numerically oriented. So, I saw a 1 through 9 fairly quickly because of the way Texas had their plates numbered. Only took a day or two, but I started to look for two digit numbers. This was a little tougher because Texas plates had either one digit or three digits. To find a number from 10 to 99 involved finding a three digit number with a leading zero. In February 2010 I went to Amsterdam for work. They use two digit numbers on most of their cars. So, I made it up to 100 in about two months.

Oh, I should mention the rules. A number is defined as a free standing number. It must not have adjacent digits. A large obvious gap counts as a separator. Part of the game was hoping for exceptions and wondering how to deal with them. Note that these never happened, but I always wondered about the resolution process. Suppose you saw a license in the rear view mirror, backwards of course, but never directly? What if some commercial truck had dozens of license plates? What if you saw the next number on a car at the movies or on TV? Etc. The point was not to try to solve these in advance so much as to decide on an arbitration process. As a computer guy, I am always concerned about edge cases, and these all would qualify. As a person, I could ignore them until they came up, if at all, and then deal with it. In the spirit of the game, I decided early on that any question at all would get a negative answer. If unsure, it doesn't count. If you think you saw the next number, but aren't quite sure, it doesn't count.

When does it all end? 1000 is the final number. But California plates never have four digit numbers (except vanity plates, motorcycles, trailers and out-of-state plates.) At about 800 I also started looking for 1000. Never saw it. So I changed the rules for California to find 000. And added a bonus of finding 1000. Which may happen in some other state, but unlikely to happen here in California.

And another unwritten rule: you cannot write anything down. Ever. You have to remember everything in your head.

Why cheat? This is a stupid, meaningless game. Hardly anybody ever knew I was playing it. No prizes.

Why was it interesting? I think it comes down to the Lottery syndrome. Put yourself in the shoes of the lottery addict. There are so many of them, it really makes me sad. The government makes gambling illegal, except for the their own gambling house. What an awful racket. Anyways, lottery players are always so so so close. Jeez I was only off by 1 and I would have won $500. Or I was so close to picking those numbers, why did I switch? Instead of 25 - 39 I should have picked 29 - 35. Etc. For me, it was far more involved than that. Suppose I need a three digit number, call it abc. I would see plates with three digits, call them xyz. And I would look for a transformation that I could apply to map xyz to abc. Perhaps z - y - x. Perhaps x+1 - y+1 - z+1. Perhaps x+0 - y+1 - z+2. Perhaps even x*x - y*y - z*z. Perhaps 10-x - 10-y - 10-z. Lots of available transformations. So many times, I could take a majority of plates and find a way to map from that number to the next number I needed in my sequence.

Why continue? No idea. I just found lots of times where I was bored with nothing to do so I would look at the license plates of cars. Searching for that next number. I found some in Africa even.

How long did it take? Total, a little under four years. Actually January 1, 2010 to today, September 26, 2013. Four years is exactly 1461 days (assuming years not near a century boundary with strange rules). I came in 3 months and 4 days short of that, which is 31+30+31+4 = 96. Since no leap days were in there, It took 1461 - 100 + 4 = 1365 days to find 1000 numbers. Which means I found a number on about 73% of the days. 1365 * 0.7 = 9555 and 1365 * 0.8 = 10920 and 445 is a little under 1/2 of 920, so about 1/3 of the way to .7 and 2/3 of the way to .8.

In the beginning, I was pretty lousy at the game. It took 13 months to get 101 to 200. I didn't stop, but I wasn't very successful. Then I got a little better. And I would deliberately walk more, and I would even take my walks in parking lots. Why not? So the 200's, 300's, 400's and 500's all were about the same. 7, 6, 6, and 7 months respectively. Not much difference. Took about 200 days to find 100 numbers, which is about one every other day. My eyes were able to quickly pick out numbers on plates. One interesting observation I made is that I could not recognize just some of the numbers on a plate, but I could completely ignore all the letters. If the numbers were 567, I was unable to see just the 7 and ignore the 5 and 6. They all popped into my vision at once. (Assuming of course they weren't blocked.)

Three in one spot: Austin walking from apartment to post office. 20 cars for kids playing soccer. That was too cool. Boom, boom, boom!

Three of a kind: At Google. two adjacent and the other across the little road. I forget the number, but it not the next number for me.

Favorite plates:

Another part of what made me go faster was Concentration. Remember the game? Robin destroyed me at the game when she was 5 or 6 years old. I would see a number that I would need soon and try to remember the car location and car color. I often wondered what effort I would put into going back to that number if needed. Remember, there are no rules. Ultimately, I decided I was able to remember up to about five numbers in advance, but only for a few days. And seeing duplicate future numbers only made it harder to remember. Of course, there was no point in remembering a vehicle in motion.

I also used this as a means for exercise. I walked a lot. But then I discovered Google bikes. This was a game changer. Driving a car through a parking lot doesn't work for license plate hunting. You cannot drive slow enough to see plates and still be safe, without annoying other drivers. And walking is slow. But bikes are perfect. For any given number, you have to look at at least 1000 plates. But you can easily spot the next five or ten numbers in that same 1000. And you can cover much more area. And be much more willing to go half a mile to get that number. This completely changed my velocity. I was able to get as many as 18 numbers in a single day. So, the 600's, 700's, 800's and 900's each took about a month. I'm sure you had already deduced that because 2+13+7+6+6+7 = 41 and I said 45 months for all 1000. With a bicycle, and near cars, I was able to get about five plates per half hour. Meaning I could probably do it all over again in about 200 hours, or about five work weeks. That's just not going to happen.

Most frustrating? 119 was really painful. It took weeks to find it. Later, my techniques got better. When Mom and I missed a flight at the Austin Airport [My fault totally, but we got a nice free hotel out of it, and $400 in travel vouchers on the next flight], I walked the airport parking lot. I was in training for Kilimanjaro so I walked for three hours and Mom stayed in the air conditioning. I was pretty upset with myself anyways. So I walked the entire parking lot. And only found one number in three hours. I saw the next ten numbers, but I was missing the first number. So I lost them all. [Funny story: a guy asked me if I had seen a motorcycle. He assumed I was lost, which I was not. And actually I did see a motorcycle and I knew exactly where it was. He smacked his forehead and finally remembered that he had parked in Lot D, not lot B.]

A peek into my strange mind.
-Steve, 9/26/2013

Postscript on 1/1/2014: I've seen 0001, 0111 (twice) and 6000. Still no 1000.

Postscript on 2/24/2014: I've seen another 0111, 1002, 2000, 6000 and 8000. Close, but no cigar.

Postscript on 6/10/2014: Finally found it!

Postscript on 7/15/2015: Saw 1001 soon after 1000. Then 1003-1002-1003 in quick succession a few months later. But I have not really been looking much. Then in May this year, on the way to the Regatta, I saw 1004. This month, there is a 1006 in the neighborhood, so I looked for 1005. Thought I saw one on the way back from pool; followed the car for two blocks and confirmed it! But 1006 was gone for a couple weeks. Maybe it was parked in the garage. Then it re-appeared! On a single day, I saw 2007, 5007 and 8007.

Postscript on 3/21/2016: Still no 1007. But I saw 1008 :(

So much depends on the state. Georgia uses 4 digit numbers a lot. California only on motorcycles. Texas has some.

Postscript on 6/7/2016: Finally saw 1007 on the way from San Antonio to Corpus Christi (5/20/2016). It was immediately following a 1017 and a stream of silent curses. On 6/5, I saw both 2008 and 0008 on a walk. Argh. The teaser from March 26th hasn't been seen since.

Postscript on 6/28/2016: Still no 1008. Although I did see a 1009 by the pool, a couple days ago. Always off by one.

Postscript on 7/24/2016: Saw 1008 on I-20 headed to Savannah River for a 13.5 mile hike. Different from the teaser.

#1009 on 1/5/2017

outside Armando's.
#1010 on 2/15/2017

on Fort Gordon.
#1011 on 9/23/2017

Silver Spring, Maryland.
#1012 on 9/25/2017

Silver Spring, Maryland.
#1013 on 10/19/2017

very blurry on
white car.
#1014 on 4/11/2018

on Fort Gordon.
#1015 on 5/12/2018

waiting for Kevin at
Fast Eddies Embassy.
#1016 on 5/14/2018

at HEB on Perrin Beitel
(actually saw it a
few days before
#1015 and went back).
#1017 on 5/23/2018

at Bill Miller's, 410 &
Nacogdoches (had a
premonition about it).
#1018 on 5/26/2018

Driving UHaul from GA
to TX. No way to catch
up for a better picture.
#1019 on 7/14/2018

Within 50' of #1011 in
Silver Spring, Maryland.