NYC by the Numbers

Andrew Rosenberg

There’s all kinds of ways to look at New York City: cricking your neck up at skyscrapers, watching from a ferry in the harbor or taking in the street-life kaleidoscope on a walk in the Village among them. But those who are mathematically inclined know you can also see things in terms of numbers, shapes, measurements and miscellanea—a fun exercise that will appeal to both kids and algebra majors (and, naturally, fans of Harper’s Index). Here’s a quick glance at a few of NYC’s numerical curiosities.

Grand Army Plaza (Brooklyn) Menorah. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Some heights and weights

New York City does big well.

During Hanukkah, the tallest menorahs in the world get lit each night in New York City. How tall? Thirty-two feet. Why that number? Twenty cubits (the cubit, an ancient linear measurement, is equal to roughly 19 inches) is the maximum allowed by Jewish law.

That’s the number of inches you have to be to ride Coney Island’s wooden Cyclone roller coaster. (It converts to 4'6"—just in case we’ve inspired you to measure yourself.)

66 to 70½
That’s the height, in inches, it takes to be a Rockette. (In other words, 5'6" to 5'10"-ish.) If you’re at the top of that scale, you’ll be placed in the center of the line.

That’s how many years (including 2016) they’ve been lighting a tree in Rockefeller Center. The last 15 Norway spruces to be lit for the holidays have ranged between 71 and 88 feet in height. The tallest Christmas tree on display, in 1999, was 100 feet—and due to the narrowness of the streets in Rock Center, that’s close to the maximum it can be.

Feet below street level that you’ll find NYC’s deepest subway station.

Yes, it’s the year the Declaration of Independence was signed. It’s also the total height in feet, including spire, of One World Trade—the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The spire provides the final 408 feet of the height.

Approximate number of steps in the planned public project/artwork/spectacle called Vessel, to be designed by Thomas Heatherwick for the Hudson Yards development. Where do they lead? Well, let’s just say their main use will be for meeting your daily Fitbit requirements.

The weight, in pounds, of the giant blue whale model that hangs from the ceiling in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History. How does the ceiling withstand the weight? Let’s let the New York Times answer that one.

Flatiron Building. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Geometric structures

Spiral: Guggenheim Museum, Upper East Side

Cubes: Astor Place (Alamo, Bernard Rosenthal), East Village; Marine Midland Bank Plaza (Red Cube, Isamu Noguchi), Broadway; The Apple Store (glass cube designed by Steve Jobs), Fifth Avenue

Tetrahedron: Via 57 , Hell’s Kitchen

Right triangle: Flatiron Building, Flatiron District

Pentagon: Fort Schuyler, Bronx

And, of course, most of Manhattan operates on a grid pattern.

Washington Square Park. Photo: Alex Lopez

Hip to be square

What’s in a name? For these public spaces, perhaps something a bit misleading.

Athens Square Park
Chatham Square
Duffy Square
Greeley Square
Herald Square
Lincoln Square
Madison Square
Pershing Square
Stuyvesant Square*
Times Square
Tompkins Square Park
Union Square
Washington Square Park

*This public park, which spreads across both sides of Second Avenue, is the only one of these that is actually square.

SeaGlass Carousel. Photo: Julienne Schaer

The circle game

What comes around goes around.

The giant globe set into the lobby floor of the Daily News Building rotates once roughly every 10 minutes.

By our count, there are 13 permanent and/or seasonal carousels in the City, the newest of which is the SeaGlass Carousel in the Battery (Central Park’s has the most horses, at 57).

There are two unispheres in the City: the famous one built for the World’s Fair, in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, that stands 120 feet tall; and a much smaller replica in Manhattan at Columbus Circle, about one-quarter of the size.

By the way, Columbus Circle is a traffic circle, not a roundabout. There’s only one true roundabout in the five boroughs, at Intervale Avenue and Dawson Street, in the Bronx.

Addressing some oddities

Navigation can take a few twists and turns.

Easy as 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. That’s how to remember the address of the Perfect Pint: 123 W. 45th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.

Crazy eights! On Roosevelt Island, an 1834 octagonal building that was once an entrance to an insane asylum is now part of a residential block known as—what else?—the Octagon. The address: 888 Main Street.

There is a 6½ Avenue, running for six blocks in Midtown Manhattan.

West 4th Street, in Greenwich and East Villages, is parallel to other numbered streets; in the West Village, it actually intersects with West 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th Streets—and has a tendency to confuse even longtime New Yorkers (who aren’t familiar with the area).

If you drive down Flatbush Avenue, where it divides Marine Park and Flatlands, the alphabetized streets take a slightly odd turn. You’ll pass Avenues J, K, L, M, P . . . then N.

Museum of Mathematics. Photo: Kate Glicksberg

National Museum of Mathematics

Finally, a place that numbers and patterns can call home.

The door handle is in the shape of pi.
The main level is known as “Floor 0,” the downstairs is -1.
The sinks are pentagonal.
The wheels on the trikes go round and round, but their shape is square.

A tale of two parks

Let’s see how a pair of heavyweights measure up.

Green spaceCentral ParkProspect Park
Borough Manhattan Brooklyn
Designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux Olmsted and Vaux (they were very busy)
Year opened 1876 1867
Acres 843 545
Wildest area The Ramble (Central Park’s “wild garden”; 36 acres) The Ravine (Brooklyn’s only forest; 150 acres)
Carousels 1 1
Zoos 1 1
Trees (approximately) 23,000 30,000
Bird species (approximately) 230 250
Skating rinks 2 (SE and NE corners of the park) 2 (in same complex)
Playgrounds 21 7
Playgrounds named for Diana Ross 1 0