People have been trying to crack the 6-digit code in a Joyce Carol Oates story since 1966

Last night Carla and I rewatched Smooth Talk, a 1985 movie directed by Joyce Chopra and starring Laura Dern as Connie. It's an excellent movie, marred only by the anachronistic inclusion of James Taylor as the music director, which meant he put his own drippy songs in it. (They should have hired Repo Man's (1984) music director if you ask me.)

Smooth Talk is based on Joyce Carol Oates 1966 short story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" The villain in both the story and the movie is a handsome psychopath named Arnold Friend. His name is painted on the side of his gold convertible muscle car. The car also has 3 2-digit numbers painted on it. From the story:

"Now, these numbers are a secret code, honey," Arnold Friend explained. He read off the numbers 33, 19, 17 and raised his eyebrows at her to see what she thought of that, but she didn't think much of it."

In the movie, Friend says pretty much the same thing to 15-year-old Connie. Neither the short story nor the movie explains what the numbers mean, and people have been speculating and hazarding guesses ever since.

L.C. David, writing in Owlcation offers two explanations:

The code, 33, 19, 17 has at least two meanings.

First, the reader can discover the title of the story.

By counting backwards in the Old Testament of the Bible, 33 books, you will arrive at the book of Judges. Go to chapter 19, verse 17.

Although it depends on your translation, the verse reads:

"And when he raised his eyes, he saw the traveler in the open square of the city; and the old man said, "Where are you going, and where do you come from?"

And here you have your title.

Why count backwards? Ask yourself this: Would the devil use the Bible in the proper way?

The other meaning may come from Arnold's intentions toward Connie. Simply add the numbers together to understand the reference.