My 666 Story - Mark of the Babies

by Bruce Stewart

I was amused to read this article in the Register recently about the big bucks generated in Qatar for an auction of the mobile phone number 666-6666 (over 2.5 million dollars!), and it seems only fitting that on 6/6/06 I share my own experiences with the prefix of the beast...

When I was first getting involved with telecom I worked for a good, upstanding Jesuit university in San Francisco in the early 90s. They were wisely replacing their ancient telephone system, one of the last large rotary dial key systems that was left in the city. Putting in a modern PBX meant new luxuries like direct incoming numbers for staff and faculty, and since the on-campus dorms were getting put on the new system too, a very large block of consecutive DID numbers were requested from the local phone company. There was only one existing prefix in the area with enough capacity, or so we were told. But I know I wasn't the only one who wondered if someone at Pacific Bell must have been having a good laugh as the Catholic university got assigned numbers in the 666 prefix.

I was just a technician at the time but I recall some of the executives at the university being very unhappy with that arrangement. If memory serves, PacBell would only create a new prefix for the university for some astronomical fee, which the school felt was gouging and wasn't willing to cough up. (I notice something has given way over the years though, as they do now have a less controversial prefix.)

As we got ready to turn on the new system we noticed that the 6000 number range was one of ours, and my boss, the telecom manager, decided to take the number 666-6666 for his own. I thought that was kind of a neat idea, and went for 666-6667 myself.

As you can likely imagine, there were many jokes and good times to be had with these numbers. And some weird lunatic prank calls, though not a lot. But what drove my boss crazy most of all about having that fateful number was the amazing number of "googoo gaagaa" calls he received. You know, those calls you get when an infant has gotten a phone off the hook and has inadvertently dialed you up and is cooing and babbling into the phone? Well, maybe you don't, but trust me, if you ever get a phone number with all of the same digits, you will. Apparently pounding repeatedly on the 6 button is a fairly easy thing for a baby to do.

That's my 666 story. More than anything devilish or scary, that ominous phone number was plagued by baby calls. In retrospect, I'm kind of surprised the university stood for getting that number assignment from the local phone company in the first place. And it sure never occurred to me that we had something on our hands that was potentially worth millions of dollars.

I dedicate this post to my old boss, Hawk, who was a mentor and inspiration to me. Next time I'll tell you about how the students hacked into the new voice mail system that we had installed and one VERY embarrassed department secretary...

19 Comments

codeman38
2006-06-06 11:45:27
Steve Wozniak once had the phone number 888-8888, according to this item on Wired News... and, perhaps not surprisingly, he got lots of unexpected calls from infants as well.
kimwim
2006-06-06 12:01:49
my cell phone ends with #6669
i love it.
you should see the looks on faces when i tell
people my number,
no one ever forgets it.
Steve Lott
2006-06-06 12:02:16
In college, I had a number that was one digit away from the time-and-temperature recording provided by a local bank.


We got a fair number of "heavy breathing" calls that unnerved us -- even though we were three 19-year old men sharing a room. A phone company rep filled us in on the one-digit-off situation. And no, there was nothing they could do, and no, it wasn't their fault, and it would cost us $45 to change the service, thank you.

For a while, we would tell the heavy breathers that we weren't the time and temp number, please dial more carefully.

But, we started to get calls at odd times of the day. Odd even for college kids. We took to shouting into the phone "Do you know what time it is?" when we picked up.

One time, my roommate hears weeping and hangs on the line for a bit, laughing that we'd finally caught the perpetrator -- a little kid.

Then the kid's mother comes on the line and rips into my roommate for abusing her kid. My roommate's reaction was a solid "WTF? Your kid is calling me!"

The mom -- of course -- denies that her baby would make such a mistake.

"THEN WHY ARE WE TALKING?" <click>


It didn't end, but that really cut down a lot on the odd-time-of-day calls.


One afternoon, my father called, and I picked up with a "Do You Know What Time It Is?" and he replied, "3:30, why?"


We switched numbers.

JohnT
2006-06-06 12:37:49
So I'm sure you can imagine how many of those calls the operator gets, all it takes is one "0".
Rhiannon
2006-06-06 12:51:38
AT&T miraculously bestowed upon me the phone number 777-5555 a couple of years ago. This seemed like a fantastic number to have because, seriously, who would forget it?


There were three problems that came with it though:
1. People DO forget it. Rather, they switch the numbers to 555-7777 in their head from all the 555 numbers you see on tv.
2. The Bradford, PA police department is 778-5555. I used to get loads of phone calls from old ladies whose homes were broken into. Since I got ringback tones, I only get about 4 or 5 of those calls a day, down from upwards of 15.
3. Peoples cell phones dial my number in their pockets at three in the morning.


Despite these drawbacks, those who do remember the number and don't prank call me in the middle of the night are always wowed by it, and I'll die before I give it up!

Tom
2006-06-06 13:06:09
At my local university, the police number is 422-2222. If you live on campus, that's just 2-2222.


My kids have called the police many, many times.

Dave
2006-06-06 13:07:03
That's a funny story, Bruce. Thanks for sharing. That reminds me of the time just a few years ago when my daughter (around a year old at the time) was playing with the phone. About 10 minutes later the local sheriff drove up and knocked on the door.


It turns out that my daughter had dialed 911. We were naturally very apologetic and the sheriff didn't cart us off to jail or anything.


I guess emergency number has to be easy to dial, but I bet they get quite a few accidental calls, too. Plus, my area code is 919, just a digit off of 911.

laurie
2006-06-06 13:11:13
mike royko, late lamented sun times (chicago) newspaper columnist, wrote once that he had a new number similar to the phone co's number and the thing rang all day with calls from people with problems; he asked them to change the number; they didn't; he told all callers just how much the phone co sux; they changed it not long after word got out
garrett
2006-06-06 13:13:13
I worked there in the ITS dept. I couldn't believe it either when I started working there and someone mentioned it! Great joke by SBC IMO.


cheers

Jeff
2006-06-06 13:35:45

My friends phone number was one digit off from Dominios pizza. He started recording the calls, and sells them as a CD now. Funny stuff! www.pizzacalls.com
Drew Thaler
2006-06-06 13:41:39
The emergency number in the UK is 999. I'm sure they must get a lot of "baby calls" as well. On balance 911 is probably better in that regard.

2006-06-06 13:48:58
I'm sure the Jesuits know their theology well enough to realize that number of the Beast is actually 616.
( http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4159/is_20050501/ai_n14607913 )
cru
2006-06-06 14:46:08
actually, "the number of the beast" is only 616 if it's translated into latin.


(http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/religion/story/02712C8B225FA89286257182005EA213?OpenDocument )

cru
2006-06-06 14:47:55
here's a link to the same story, but one that's actually legible: (sorry, guys)


http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/religion/story/
02712C8B225FA89286257182005EA213?OpenDocument

Ogre Lawless
2006-06-06 15:54:56
My girlfriend went to that University in San Francisco at about the same time and I'd been amazed when she told me her on-campus residence number. Interesting to hear some backstory behind it.
Ornith
2006-06-07 04:50:37
My college (Brown University) has the prefix 867. Yes, there is a dorm room somewhere on campus whose number is 867-5309. I'm pretty sure it's in a freshman dorm, and Reslife actually put a girl named Jennifer in it at least one of the years I was there.
Johan
2006-06-07 14:41:57
Actually, I believe Woz finally got the number 1 888 888 8888, which is the only legal 10 digit number consisting of the same digit (notice that the 666 number is just the 7 digit local number).
Claire
2006-06-28 09:15:26
I'm sure babies seem to have some sort of fixation with that number. When my sister was about 18 months old we were living in Chicago we got a phone bill that was about triple our normal bill. It turned out my sister had figured out how to speed-dial from the number 6, which connected her to my grandparents in the UK. I think we spent $200 for my sister to press '6' and say, "Hello... Hello... Hello..."
undertaker
2007-09-10 20:04:11
hey guys my number is 666-6666 and i have no problems at all guys since i heard about the auction iv been trying to sell my number and i have aloooooooooooooot of crazy offers