The human mind is capable of tremendous achievements when under pressure. “I’ve watched everything on my TiVO box, I’ve sent back all of my Netflix DVDs, there are no unheard podcasts in iTunes, and both Mail and Google Reader tell me that I’ve read everything there is to read,” I realize. “Unless I come up with something and fast, I’ll have to settle down and do some actual work!

And that’s when the team digs deep and locates the searchable state database of vanity license plate availability. That’ll distract me until dinnertime at least.

I’ve always wanted “OBI WAN.” Is it available?





“May be available!” Cool. Hey, let’s open a new document here and keep track of the good ones that are available.



X WING, no; Y WING, yes.

JEEVES, no; PSMITH, yes.

IPHONE, yes; IPOD, no.

MOOF, no; RES EDT, yes.

SPOCK, no; KIRK, yes.

Holy ****! “JEDI” might be available? Seriously?!?

Well, well, well. Well.

I’ve played this game time and time again over the years and I’ve always come within just a keystroke or two of ordering a way (way WAY) cool vanity plate like that. “JEDI,” for God’s sake! What are the chances that this plate will remain unclaimed?!? Can we expect the populace to slumber indefinitely?!?

But my hand has always been stayed by a simple realization. It’d be an awesome thing to put on my car, but it’d soon become just a license plate. And every time I’d get that renewal in the mail and be hit with yet another $80 fee to keep it, the “it’s just a license plate” aspect would become more and more prominent.

The other disadvantage of having such a cool vanity plate is that it makes your car nightmarishly easy to identify. There are reasons why I managed to get away with stealing that life-sized fiberglass Mayor McCheese from the playland. Having an ordinary, hard-to-remember license plate on the getaway vehicle certainly was one of them.

So I’m willing to let JEDI and all of those other cool plates go. I’ve never come across a plate that was so superhypermegaginchy that I had, simply had, to own it.

But that’s changed. A certain specific plate became available to me recently and buying it was a complete no-brainer. It’s not movie, TV, Sci-Fi, or comic-book related. It’s just a single letter followed by three numbers, and it has absolutely no significance to anyone outside of my immediate family. It’s a family heirloom: it was originally issued to my grandfather some fifty years ago and it’s been passed along to family members ever since.

Thus, immensely cooler than BABFIVE or ARTOO or even (dare I say!) JEDI.

So now I’ve filed the paperwork and my new plate should turn up in a couple of weeks, after some helpful burglar or meth dealer stamps it out for me and collects his seven cents from the state.

We Humans are a weird species. When my grandfather got this plate, it was a randomly-assigned letter followed by three randomly-assigned digits. It never had any greater sense of meaning or logic than that. In its current form, it’s a baffed-up plate that’s been on my Mom’s car for just five or so years. The object has no physical connection to its original owner whatsoever.

But somehow, when you stamp those five symbols on a piece of metal and then screw it onto a car, it becomes something less than priceless but certainly worth more than $80.

35 thoughts on “Gold-Plated

  1. Mike

    I have sent this to our cryptography department, hoping to find the answer cleverly hidden as an easter egg, but so far no results. Perhaps we are missing something.

  2. Geo B

    Andy – I live in the Clear Lake, TX area (home of the Johnson Space Center) and there is a guy locally here that has JEDI as his Texas license place – bonus that he has the helmet stickers from Luke’s X-Wing helmet on the plate. Something for you to aspire to ;-)

  3. Doug

    Now that you mention it, this is a very good example of Crazy Crypto. Is this how you gonna run the game @ MacWorld Expo?

  4. Karen Anderson

    Andy, I think this is charming.

    It’s funny how license plate numbers stick in our minds. I remember my perpetually unemployed college friend whose impatient father got him a license plate that said “JOB 76” and our redneck neighbor whose rusting heap bore the plate “ARG 911.”

    My late father-in-law had “LAW PROF”; I think my mother-in-law has finally released that one back into the DMV wild.


  5. Mike

    I understand the desire for a plate. My plate was my father’s and his father’s. I thought it was just a Rhode Island thing.

  6. n[ate]vw

    Is the reason that “The object has no physical connection to its original owner whatsoever” because the of the discrepancy between “a single letter followed by three digits” and “five symbols”. Or is this object confined to an ethereal, disconnected existence because the plate which “should turn up in a couple of weeks” has its form as “a baffed-up plate that’s been on my Mom’s car for just five or so years”?

    I’m so confused, I’m feeling like a n00b. To balance this feeling, I think I’ll put my lot in with ryan’s guess. Though ELITE is really only 4 unique symbols, right?

  7. SilverMarc

    Just responding so I can get the email followups for comments. Gad, I need to know this meaningless plate number for some incomprehensible reason.

    January 7, 2008 @ 8:10 PM
    N40° 46.565′ W073° 58.756′

  8. Ihnatko Post author

    What I mean is that this isn’t the physical plate that was on my grandfather’s car. It was his plate number until the day he died, and because Humans tend to get sentimental about such things, you can fill in a form and send it to the Registry and they’ll transfer the same plate to another family member.

    It’s just the same numbers, but I think it’s cool that my car now sports my grandfather’s legacy license number.

    I won’t reveal the actual plate number but if I tell you that it’s “H 162” you’ve got the general gist. Just a random letter and a random three-digit number.

  9. Whit

    arrived via Twit. Love the site. Glad you are using WordPress. Great banner. Now to read the dam blog!

  10. Moeskido

    I used to hang with a guy who’d made his plate the name he went by in the SCA, with one vowel swapped out for a lookalike numeral. I thought this was very cool for a long time, until his alpha-aggressive highway driving hijinks made me wonder about the liability an easily-remembered plate might incur.

  11. WTL

    Are we going to have to wait until Google Maps ups the resolution some more so we can read your plate before you tell us? ;-)

  12. Roger D. Parish

    One of my wife’s favorite movies is “Contact” with Jodie Foster. Sally’s license plate is “OK TO GO”.

  13. MortSubite

    Here in Virginia there are a plethora of special plate styles available honoring any organization that can get 50+ members to pay up for it. My favorite plate sighting was on a Virginia “Children First” plate that has those words prominently featured on the bottom. The letters above it? “EAT THE”

  14. solak

    I was going to guess based on the tinyURL by which I arrived here from Twitter: but 2gcvjj has a numeral and five letters, a total of six symbols, way over the count clues in the blog entry. So unless I guess that the “jj” is filler introduced by the tinyurl process, that’s another red herring.

  15. Ihnatko Post author

    You know, that’d actually be a great idea for a vanity plate…the last six digits of a TinyURL. And the plate frame has the rest of it.

    Granted, someone would have to tailgate the hell out of you to write all that down, and then they’d need to remember to punch all of that in to a web browser, but eventually they’d be pretty damned impressed by your ability to fit the entire Project Gutenberg edition of “Oliver Twist” onto a license plate…

  16. Emily Grae

    1 number followed by 3 letters… man… dunno… well I think if I had just the right kind of car I’d pay for ECTO 1, which by the way, may be available… at least in MA.

  17. Jay

    Forgive the off-topic post here, Andy: Just saw your Twitter (“There’s nothing I love more than working for 20 hours straight to satisfy an editor’s demand, only to have him change his mind at the end.”) and @ replied with: ” @Ihnatko As an editor myself, I apologize on behalf of the profession.”

    But then I realized that you aren’t following me, and since I’m still a novice to Twitter I have no idea if you would ever see that.

    Anyway, carry on.

    “Anglican” on Twitter

  18. augmentedfourth

    re: Jay & @ihnatko,

    If it helps, you also have the apology of this former editor as well.

    (btw Jay, Twitterers can see things sent @ them by looking at the “Replies” tab on So it’s possible Andy saw yours; he’s responded to some of my @s in the past.)

  19. Tj

    I too have my grandfather’s tag number on my car. He acquired it in the early 1900’s when less than 100,000 cars were registered in the state. Yep, a 5-digit number. My mother acquired it when he passed away, and my parents transferred it to me a few years ago to make sure it stayed in the family.

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