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Most of the standard number formats are fairly self-explanatory, but the Date and Time formats may require a bit of explanation.

To help you understand how they work, do the following:

- In cell A1, enter 01/01/1900.
- Select cell A1, and change its number format to Number. The number changes to 1.

Can you figure out why this happened?

Excel assigns a numeric value to each date you enter so that it can create formulas that use dates. For example, you could write a formula that determined what a certain date would be that was a certain number of days before or after the entered date. It starts with 1/1/1900 as its baseline, or 1. Every other date is stored as a number that represents the number of days between it and 1/1/1900. So, for example, 12/31/1900 would be 366. (It was a leap year.)

Now try converting your birthday to a general number format:

- In cell A2, enter your birthday (mm/dd/yyyy).
- Format cell A2 using the General number format.

In real-life usage, you seldom need to change between dates and general numbers, so this exercise is just to help you understand what's going on behind-the-scenes.

What about times? To answer this question, do the following:

- Make sure cell A1 is still formatted with the Number format.
- In cell A1, enter 1.55.
- Change cell A1 to the Time format. As you're doing this, select the bottom item from the Type list in the Format Cells dialog box, as shown in Figure 4-7.

Figure 4-7: Select a time format. The bottom two
choices show the date as well.

The number 1.55 changes to 1/1/00 13.12. As this experiment indicates, the numbers to the right of the decimal point represent time. The 1 to the left of the decimal still represents 1/1/1900, and the 55 represents 55 percent of the time between midnight and midnight: 1:12 PM, or 13:12 on a 24-hour clock.

This experiment is useful mainly so that you understand how Excel deals with dates and times as numbers; in reality, you'll nearly always be entering dates and times in their normal format, such as 12:30 PM or 13:30:05.

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