April 23 – Impossible Astronaut Day

Posted on April 23, 2014

If you see people with tally marks all over their arms and faces today, do not be alarmed. Instead, wish them a happy Impossible Astronaut Day!

On this date in 2011, the popular television show Doctor Who ran an episode called “The Impossible Astronaut.” This was the first episode in which the aliens called The Silence are actually seen.

Some Doctor Who fans (or Whovians) call the day “Silence Day” – but that's pretty confusing since the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network's “Day of Silence” is in April, too. I'm going to stick with calling it “Impossible Astronaut Day”!

Now, I know you're wondering why marking yourself with tally marks is a commemoration of a TV show about The Silence. What gives?

The Silence are the sorts of aliens who make suggestions. They are alien enough to be frightening to look at, but the moment someone looks away, he or she forgets about the encounter. Still, the person remembers the suggestion (while forgetting where the suggestion came from).

This power makes The Silence hard to locate, hard to fight against, hard, even, to know that they exist! But if you could write tally marks on your skin BEFORE looking away, it makes it harder to forget...

Last year on Impossible Astronaut Day, thousands of Whovians went to school and work with tally marks on their arms. Fans are hoping that even more people will wear tally marks today!

Doctor Who fans who cannot or don't
want to write on themselves might
choose to mark up an old t-shirt.

By the way, if you decide to tally your face and arms, do NOT use a Sharpie pen or any other permanent marker on your skin! Washable markers or, even better, an eyebrow pencil or eyeliner will make marks that can be washed off fairly easily!

Totally Tally

I bet you knew that “hash marks” is another name for tally marks, and that this counting system is often used in games and sports. After all, it's easier to mark down one more tally mark on a score sheet than it is to erase a number and write the next higher number...over and over and over again, as the game continues.

And for a sign like this grim sign, you couldn't possibly carve a number into the wood, then somehow erase it and carve another number into the wood. Tally marks make the task easier—although just as depressing!

But did you know that different cultures use different sorts of tally marks?

This familiar system is used in most of Europe and North America, Turkey, Zimbabwe, Australia, and New Zealand.

These tally marks are used in France, Spain, most of South America, and in French-speaking Africa.

This system is used within the field of forestry.

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