Children have been learning how to count with the help of Sesame Street’s Count von Count for nearly fifty years. The purple-skinned vampire is well named, since he derives much more pleasure out of counting things than he does from drinking blood. This aspect of his personality is more than just a fun educational quirk. It is a bow to an ancient belief about how to defend oneself from vampires.
Psychologists have a name for a compulsion to count: arithmomania. Anyone suffering from this affliction is unable to function without first enumerating the items in view. While the condition is real and affects people today, it was widely held to also afflict all vampires.
Recognizing the arithmomaniac tendencies of the undead, a common defense used against them was to scatter things around areas where vampires might visit. People might sprinkle grains of rice or wheat on the floor of their homes or a bunch of poppy seeds around the graves of the recently deceased. Because of the vampire’s compulsion to count, the ghoulish creature would quickly become preoccupied, allowing the occupants of the home time to escape or causing the vampire to lose track of time, thus getting caught in the rays of the sunrise.
The writers of Sesame Street paid homage to the counting compulsion of vampires when creating Count von Count. The countless (a concept that would be abhorrent to the Count) children who have watched the show can be grateful that of all the traits of vampires, arithmomania was the one that guided their early education.