Pomona College Magazine
Volume 41. No. 2.
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 Mystery of 47
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To boldly go

Where no number has gone before

The Star Trek-Pomona connection has been common knowledge around campus for years. A number of the show’s staff writers were once Sagehens. Patrick Stewart, the famous thespian and former captain of the Enterprise on Star Trek: The Next Generation, gave a commencement speech in 1995. And the Borg—an enemy race that inhabits a labyrinthine cube on the show—is, by some reports, named after Pomona’s slightly labyrinthine Oldenborg Hall.

But the most curious link between the College and the television series may be the frequent recurrence of the number 47 in the show’s episodes. Starting in the 1990–91 season, the number starts appearing everywhere—from computer screens to snippets of dialogue. The crew stops at Sub-space Relay Station 47. Data is unconscious for 47 seconds. Captain Picard drinks a ’47 vintage wine at dinner.

The man responsible for proliferating Pomona’s magic number on the show is Joe Menosky ’79. A long-time staff writer for series follow-ups The Next Generation, Voyager and Deep Space Nine, Menosky traces his fascination with 47 to his freshman year at Pomona: “I was a freshman in Wig Hall, and Eric Level ’76, our RA, was a 47-fascinated math major who passed it on to the rest of the dorm.”

As soon as Menosky started working at Star Trek, he began slipping the number into scripts. More importantly, he convinced his co-writers to do the same. Before long, the number became an “in-joke’ with the staff. Menosky admits that, at first, they had to write in 47 “surreptitiously,” so that their producers wouldn’t find out. The joke soon became habit.

“You’d be surprised how many times the number can appear and have nobody notice unless they’re looking for it,” Menosky says. After reflecting, he adds, “actually, we weren’t going out of our way to hide it ... [it was] more like hidden in plain view.”

When asked why he started including 47 in episodes, Menosky admits, “After Pomona, Eric and I maintained a correspondence and typically would mention in passing any new sightings. It seemed like placing 47s rather than just spotting them would be a way to continue the reference for any alumni who happened to watch the series.”

The ruse has obviously been quite successful, helping to further the Pomona community’s infatuation with its special number. Still, Menosky denies 47’s “magical” significance: “
I don’t think of 47 as magical, more like an exercise in consensual meaning. It could as well have been 29 or a certain shade of blue.”

Magical significance or not, 47 became enough of an establishment on Star Trek that other series have begun to incorporate the number in their own scripts. The most significant of these is Alias, which has made 47 a deliberate and recurrent theme. Suzanne Geiger ’91, second unit first assistant director on the series, was not able to confirm whether the trend was attributable to a Pomona connection, though she admits, “It’s normal [for shows like Alias and Star Trek] to have a recurring theme for the fans.”

A few years after Menosky began incorporating 47 into Star Trek scripts, someone clued in a producer. “Once that happened,” Menosky says, “he just kept seeing it everywhere and thought enough was enough.” The number was banned from all future episodes. “But by then,” Menosky adds, “the 47-Trek connection was already all over the Internet.”
—Noah Buhayar ’05
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