In “Wake the Snake”, I looked at the digits of powers of 2 and mentioned a fascinating mathematical phenomenon known as Benford’s law, which governs — in a not-yet-fully-explained way — the leading digits of a wide variety of natural and human statistics, from the lengths of rivers to the votes cast in elections. Benford’s law also governs a lot of mathematical data. It states, for example, that the first digit, d, of a power of 2 in base b (except b = 2, 4, 8, 16…) will occur with the frequency log_{b}(1 + 1/d). In base 10, therefore, Benford’s law states that the digits 1..9 will occur with the following frequencies at the beginning of 2^p:

1: 30.102999%

2: 17.609125%

3: 12.493873%

4: 09.691001%

5: 07.918124%

6: 06.694678%

7: 05.799194%

8: 05.115252%

9: 04.575749%

Here’s a graph of the actual relative frequencies of 1..9 as the leading digit of 2^p (open images in a new window if they appear distorted):

And here’s a graph for the predicted frequencies of 1..9 as the leading digit of 2^p, as calculated by the log(1+1/d) of Benford’s law:

The two graphs agree very well. But Benford’s law applies to more than one leading digit. Here are actual and predicted graphs for the first two leading digits of 2^p, 10..99:

And actual and predicted graphs for the first three leading digits of 2^p, 100..999:

But you can represent the leading digit of 2^p in another way: using an adaptation of the famous Ulam spiral. Suppose powers of 2 are represented as a spiral of squares that begins like this, with 2^0 in the center, 2^1 to the right of center, 2^2 above 2^1, and so on:

←←←⮲

432↑

501↑

6789

If the digits of 2^p start with 1, fill the square in question; if the digits of 2^p don’t start with 1, leave the square empty. When you do this, you get this interesting pattern (the purple square at the very center represents 2^0):

Ulam-like power-spiral for 2^p where 1 is the leading digit

Here’s a higher-resolution power-spiral for 1 as the leading digit:

Power-spiral for 2^p, leading-digit = 1 (higher resolution)

And here, at higher resolution still, are power-spirals for all the possible leading digits of 2^p, 1..9 (some spirals look very similar, so you have to compare those ones carefully):

Power-spiral for 2^p, leading-digit = 1 (very high resolution)

Power-spiral for 2^p, leading-digit = 2

Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 3

Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 4

Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 5

Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 6

Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 7

Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 8

Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 9

Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 1..9 (animated)

Now try the power-spiral of 2^p, ld = 1, in some other bases:

Power-spiral for 2^p, leading-digit = 1, base = 9

Power-spiral for 2^p, ld = 1, b = 15

You can also try power-spirals for other n^p. Here’s 3^p:

Power-spiral for 3^p, ld = 1, b = 10

Power-spiral for 3^p, ld = 2, b = 10

Power-spiral for 3^p, ld = 1, b = 4

Power-spiral for 3^p, ld = 1, b = 7

Power-spiral for 3^p, ld = 1, b = 18

**Elsewhere Other-Accessible…**

• Wake the Snake — an earlier look at the digits of 2^p