Munchausen Numbers and How to Find Them

There are those who would have you believe that every number is interesting. However, there are interesting numbers and then there are interesting numbers. Today I’m going to talk about numbers in the latter category.

Munchausen numbers are numbers with the property that the sum of their digits raised to themselves equals the number itself. I think this is best explained with an example:

33+44+33+55=3435\displaystyle 3^3 + 4^4 + 3^3 + 5^5 = 3435

I don’t know about you, but I find this extremely interesting! (Come on! You don’t think that’s interesting?) In any case, I decided to write a few different programs to find these numbers.

The basic algorithm I came up with is as follows:

That’s fairly self-explanatory, right? Let me show you a few different ways to do this.


Ruby was the first “real” programming language I learned. Before Ruby, I was writing simple programs on my TI-89, but that doesn’t really count. If you’re wondering, I first learned how to program by reading the excellent Learn to Program, by Chris Pine.

In Ruby, the easiest way to get the digits of a number is simply to convert the number into a string. Once that is established, one simply needs to apply the aforementioned algorithm to each number within a certain limit to find the Munchausen numbers within that limit:

#!/usr/bin/env ruby
# munchausen.rb - finds munchausen numbers

5000.times do |i|
    digits = i.to_s()
    sum = 0
    digits.each_char do |digit|
        digit = digit.to_i()
        sum += digit ** digit
    if sum == i
        puts i.to_s() + " (munchausen)"


C is great if you need to eke out every last drop of performance from your machine. I wouldn’t think of using it in any other case, though. That being said, it is much easier than assembly language, but come on people – this is the 21st century.

I took a slightly different approach here and used modular arithmetic to extract the digits from the number. To find the least significant digit, we take the remainder when the number is divided by 10. We do this until all digits have been extracted. Then we simply apply the algorithm as in the previous example.

// calculate munchausen numbers
#include <stdio.h>
#include <math.h>

int limit = 5000; // the upper bound of the search

int i;
int main() {
    for (i = 1; i < limit; i++) {
        // loop through each digit in i
        // e.g. for 1000 we get 0, 0, 0, 1.
        int number = i;
        int sum = 0;
        while (number > 0) {
            int digit = number % 10;
            number = number / 10;
            // find the sum of the digits 
            // raised to themselves 
            sum += pow(digit, digit);
        if (sum == i) {
            // the sum is equal to the number
            // itself; thus it is a 
            // munchausen number
            printf("%i (munchausen)\n", i);
    return 0;


Clojure is an interesting new language, conceived in 2008. It is a Lisp which targets the Java Virtual Machine, meaning it can make use of any existing Java code whilst being written in a functional style.

Functional programming is an intriguing concept. It seems more theoretical than the imperative style I am used to, but perhaps that is because I am learning the language by reading Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs.

One thing about Clojure that seems strange to me is the fact that it lacks a standard library. This means that you have to define your own exponentiation function. In this case, I just used a function from the Java standard library.

The other idiosyncrasy I noticed is that in Clojure, converting a char to an int returns the ASCII representation of that char, rather than performing a direct conversion. Thus, we must subtract 48 in order to receive the number itself.

#!/usr/bin/env clojure
(defn ** [x n]
  (. (. java.math.BigInteger (valueOf x)) (pow n)))

(defn raise-to-itself [number]
  (** number number))

(defn digits [number]
  ; convert the number to a string,
  ; and convert each char to an int.
  ; subtract 48 because casting a char
  ; to an int returns the ASCII
  ; representation of that char.
  (map #(- (int %) 48) (str number))) 

(defn munchausen? [number]
  ; if the sum of the digits raised to
  ; themselves is equal to the number 
  ; itself, then it is a munchausen number.
  (= (apply + (map raise-to-itself (digits number))) number))

(def munchausen (filter munchausen? (range 5000)))
(println munchausen)


Python is easily my favorite language. Everything about it just seems “right”. Of course, this is probably because it is the language I use the most – but then we have a chicken-or-egg scenario, don’t we?

Here’s the program written in Python. I used it to find every Munchausen number less than 500,000,000. After thirty minutes or so of intense computation, it turns out that the only Munchausen numbers are 1 and 3435. Others have posited that 438,579,088 is a Munchausen number, but this is false because 00=10^0 = 1, at least in most programming languages.

#!/usr/bin/env python3
# calculates munchausen numbers
# these are numbers with the property
# that the sum of its digits raised
# to themselves produces the original
# number.

for i in range(5000):
    digits = (int(digit) for digit in str(i))
    if sum(digit ** digit for digit in digits) == i:
        print(i, "(munchausen)")