Answering Paul Kelly’s “how many?” questions

I like this song by Paul Kelly, called “Careless.” It’s embedded below:

He asks a few questions in the song, and I’ve got the answers.

How many cabs in New York City?

There are 13,237 taxis regulated by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

How many angels on a pin?

I think the answer to this is pretty conclusively between one and 30 vigintillion.

How many notes in a saxophone?

This one’s a bit tougher. These days, the standard accepted range for saxophone is between a B♭ below the treble clef to an F♯ above it. That’s about two and a half octaves, or a total of 32 notes. 1The glib answer, of course, is that there are twelve notes, repeated in various octaves. It’s possible, if a bit convoluted, to play a low A and a high G, so we can add two for a total of 34 notes.

How many tears in a bottle of gin?

Assuming an average bottle size of 750 mL, and an average tear size of 6.2 µl (as per the research of S. Mishima, A. Gasset, S. D. Klyce, Jr., and J. L. Baum [pdf]), a bottle of gin could fit 121,000 tears. I don’t know why you’d want to do that, though.

1 The glib answer, of course, is that there are twelve notes, repeated in various octaves.

Published by Parker Higgins

I'm the Director of Special Projects at the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and previously led copyright activism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I live and work in Brooklyn, New York. more »

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  1. Thanks for the comment — I guess I just transposed those two digits because it was a little late. In any case, it’s correct now!

  2. I know this is from 2012 but I come back to to it every year or so. It’s Just Too Good! For many years after its release in 1989, I sometimes pondered the questions posed by Kelly in this beautiful song. But, not being a musicologist, a quantum engineer or an ophthalmological scientist, I was not able to answer 3 of them. As a former resident of NYC, however, I am able to say that the figure of 13,237 taxis is an underestimate because there are SO many “gypsy” cabs in operation (Paul Kelly did not ask how many “regulated” taxis there are in NYC). Just one year before the release of Careless, Tracey Chapman released the song “Why?” Just like Paul Kelly, she seemingly asks 4 rhetorical questions. But unlike Kelly, Chapman’s questions were purely in the sociopolitical realm. Having some background in this field, I thought I could have a try and answer them in a sentence or 2 each. Sadly, unlike Parker’s crisp answers to the “Careless” questions, I found that the questions posed in “Why?” had probably been the subject of hundreds of PhD theses each. Perhaps I should have studied “proper” science! :)

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