diamond geezer

 Monday, February 12, 2024

My latest numberplate-spotting game is trying to spot all the pairs of letters at the start of a vehicle registration plate.

   CA CB...

There are a heck of a lot of them.

You might expect there to be 26×26 = 676 possible combinations, but the letters I, Q and Z are never used (for alphanumeric confusion reasons) which shrinks the list to 23×23 = 529.

n.b. My game is specifically about the first two letters at the start of modern numberplates - the 'memory tag' - not the subsequent two digits nor the three random letters on the end, so I won't be going into any of that.

The first letter in each pair represents the geographical area in which the plate was registered, so for example A is for vehicles originating in (East) Anglia, B for Birmingham and C for Cymru, i.e. Wales. This regional list was introduced in September 2001 when the current system of rationalising numberplates began. If you're not familiar with it after the best part of quarter of a century, here's my attempt at a map showing the approximate regions and their designated letters.

Some of the regional names are both obvious and appropriate. E for Essex, L for London, S for Scotland, Y for Yorkshire, perfect. M for Merseyside and Manchester, very clever. Using C for Cymru allowed them to use W for West of England, for which well done.

Other regions have less familiar names, for example the somewhat artificial 'Deeside to Shrewsbury' and the frankly weird 'Forest and Fens'. Preston might have been better as 'Lancashire and the Lakes', but London had of course already taken L.

The strangest omission is region K, the approximate M1 corridor from Herts to Northampton, which civil servants failed to give a name. Personally I'd have given K to Kent, specifically 'Kent and Sussex' rather than the twee 'Garden of England', but all this is water under the bridge because these letters were fixed at the start of the century and are now plastered across millions of numberplates.

n.b. You'll see that the letters J, T, U and X aren't used, regionally speaking. But the DVLA still issue them on personalised numberplates, should you be willing to stump up for the novelty, so all the pairs from JA to XY remain in the game.

The second letter in the pair may also be geographically based, relating to the specific DLVA Local Office issuing the plate. For example, in the Anglia region AA-AN was used for cars registered at Peterborough, AO-AU at Norwich and AV-AY at Ipswich. The most complex set-up was in Scotland with SA-SJ for Glasgow, SK-SO for Edinburgh, SP-ST for Dundee, SU-SW for Aberdeen and SX and SY for Inverness. But several regions weren't similarly subdivided, specifically B, E, M, O, R and V where the second letter offers no further clues.

You can see the official list on page 5 of this official guide issued by the DVLA, or if you don't like pdfs here's a jpeg and here's the relevant Wikipedia page. The BBC news website published the full list in an article as long ago as August 2001, so there really is no excuse for ignorance.

Also, if you look at these lists carefully you'll see that three pairs of letters haven't been issued. FO and FU are banned, for sweary reasons, so you won't see cars with that opening combination anywhere in Great Britain. The other blacklisted pair is NF, for fascist reasons, and rightly so. The only other totally-unused pair is MN, which has long been reserved for the Isle of Man but the IoM has never taken up the DVLA's kind offer.

Removing these four from the list of combinations means there are 529-4 = 525 possible numberplate starters. And yes, the game I've been playing is trying to spot them all.

It's a particularly silly game, indeed initially overwhelming because almost every car going past ticks another pair off the list. I took it gradually, starting out by just focusing on As and Bs, then introduced additional letters on subsequent days. Eventually you're only looking for a small number of missing pairs for each starting letter and things get more manageable, but it remains a ridiculously complex task of memory and observation.

Also it takes ages. I started at the beginning of December and I still haven't finished, ten weeks later.

By the end of December I'd seen 433 different pairs, i.e. I had 92 still to go. By the end of January I was up to 486, i.e. still 39 short. The game gets a lot slower the longer it continues because there are fewer remaining pairs to spot, plus by definition they're the rarest ones to see. I'm currently on 489, i.e. I've only seen three more since the start of the month because that's how rare some of these pairs are. At this rate I could be playing for some considerable time.

I'll come back tomorrow and tell you what I've learned about the distribution of letter pairs on GB numberplates, because playing the game has confirmed that some are considerably less common than others.

In the meantime if you'd like to play a much-simplified version of the game and experience what I'm talking about, have a go at this.

These are all the possible letter pairs at the start of a numberplate issued in London. While you're out and about in the capital today, see how many of them you can cross off.

It won't take you long to spot the majority of them, maybe ten minutes on a typical street with passing traffic. Numberplates starting with L are really commonplace in London, perhaps a quarter of all the vehicles you'll see, so you should make good progress really quickly. My experience suggests you'll have the entire third and fourth rows crossed off before too long.

But on the other rows some of the letter pairs are more infrequent so expect to retain some gaps for a while, and one or two are really stubborn so you'll likely not spot them at all. Have a go and you'll soon start to uncover the mysterious underlying world of numberplate letter pair distribution, and this'll be the subject of tomorrow's post.

n.b. If you don't live in or near London don't try using Ls, pick a letter more local to you, but in this case I can't guarantee how easy the game will be.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan24  Feb24  Mar24
Jan23  Feb23  Mar23  Apr23  May23  Jun23  Jul23  Aug23  Sep23  Oct23  Nov23  Dec23
Jan22  Feb22  Mar22  Apr22  May22  Jun22  Jul22  Aug22  Sep22  Oct22  Nov22  Dec22
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21  Jun21  Jul21  Aug21  Sep21  Oct21  Nov21  Dec21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
our bow
ian visits
broken tv
blue witch
on london
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
the greenwich wire
bus and train user
ruth's coastal walk
round the rails we go
london reconnections
from the murky depths

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
20 years of blog series
The DG Tour of Britain
London's most...

read the archive
Mar24  Feb24  Jan24
Dec23  Nov23  Oct23  Sep23
Aug23  Jul23  Jun23  May23
Apr23  Mar23  Feb23  Jan23
Dec22  Nov22  Oct22  Sep22
Aug22  Jul22  Jun22  May22
Apr22  Mar22  Feb22  Jan22
Dec21  Nov21  Oct21  Sep21
Aug21  Jul21  Jun21  May21
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2023 2022
2021 2020 2019 2018 2017
2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
2006 2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards