homeabout kottke.orgarchives + tags

Fun with the Google calculator

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2003

Instead of replying to my endless queue of unanswered email, I spent some time last night playing with Google’s newest toy, the Google Calculator. Maybe if people would email back solutions to arithmetic problems included in my email replies to them I would more readily respond to my backlog. But I digress.

After verifying that 2+2=4 (contrary to popular belief), I tried to figure out the largest difference between the smallest and largest units of measurement on a given scale, finally ending up with ~3.08 x 10^26 angstroms in a parsec (26 orders of magnitude difference). If you delve into the world of obscure metric prefixes, you can get up to 64 orders of magnitude difference….there are ~3.08 x 10^64 yoctometers in a yottaparsec. If you want to get really ridiculous, you can find out how many yoctometers there are in one vigintillion parsecs (~3.08 x 10^103 if you’re curious).

That got me thinking…what’s the limit of the Google Calculator’s computational ability? 170! (170! = 1*2*3*4* … *168*169*170) is equal to ~7.26 x 10^306, but 171! doesn’t work. 2^1023 = ~8.99 x 10^307, but 2^1024 doesn’t work. After some trial and error, the upper limit of the calculator is ~1.797 × 10^308…or basically anything less than 2^1024. My binary math is a little rusty, but that limit seems to correspond to 32-bit double precision real arithmetic. Which makes sense, but it would have been more fun if the limit would have been a googol (1.0 x 10^100). (Regarding other large numbers, neither googolplex nor infinity return calculator results.)

In addition to playing with big numbers, the calculator can help you finally figure out the number of drams in a pennyweight (~0.878 drams/pennyweight), rods in a fathom (~0.364 rods/fathom), or the speed of light in knots (582,749,918 knots)…but unfortunately not the mileage of your automobile in rods/hogshead.

Andy’s got some more calculator fun going.

Reader comments

Matt HaugheyAug 14, 2003 at 2:03PM

That’s a yottaparsecs!

souloniceAug 14, 2003 at 2:32PM

A bigger geek, I have not seen.

jazerAug 14, 2003 at 3:09PM

And isn’t it lovely?

eliotAug 14, 2003 at 3:14PM

Wow, thanks for the hint at the new feature. I love the way you can use words to do conversions (“two kilometers in miles”) or simply type in a little string of an equation. Google is now smarter than my Ti-92!

LarryAug 14, 2003 at 3:21PM

Darn, it won’t let me divide by zero … ;-)
but it does know a bit about imaginary numbers

ToddAug 14, 2003 at 3:49PM

But it doesn’t know how many licks to the center of a tootsie pop…

Brandon D. ValentineAug 14, 2003 at 4:05PM

You can’t go wrong with Arie’s Metricifier. Want to know how many stones are in a decajoule? How many kilopascals in a foot? Centipedes in a pound? This tool has your answer. The conversions are even consistent in both directions.

Jason WallAug 14, 2003 at 4:36PM

way high nerd quotient…

Jason R.Aug 14, 2003 at 4:53PM

Bonus points if people know why 2 + 2 = 5. I’m a little surprised Mr.Kottke didn’t bring it up. It is, of course, George Orwell’s 1984 that explains why 2 + 2 = 5. Put that through your google calculator ;) You have to love dystopian values.

mattAug 14, 2003 at 10:20PM

wait…explain the 2+2=4 thing again.

GWing_02Aug 15, 2003 at 1:25AM

Well, in George Orwell’s book 1984, when the protagonist meets the enemy, the enemy makes him believe that 2+2=5 through torture. Read the book, it’s really good.

GWing_02Aug 15, 2003 at 1:29AM

Heh, it further seems that Google isn’t very good at handling long queries…

As can be seen here.

jesseAug 15, 2003 at 3:10AM

i didn’t understand one word of that post.

MartinAug 15, 2003 at 4:18AM

I think for the first time in two years, The Copydesk posted about this before Jason.


11220Aug 15, 2003 at 4:30AM

In answer to your query:

“wood a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood”

Google’s new calculator may be no use but fear not, here’s your answer:

minimum velocity required to chuck a piece of wood 1m :

max efficiency at 45 degrees



so E=1/2mv2 …looking for m


roughly 1018 kg of wood could potentially be chucked by a woodchuck operating at maximum efficiency (this is only an approximate maximum limit).

More on this here via here.

NickAug 15, 2003 at 4:40AM

Fascinating. If you really want to go nuts with obscure units of measurement, this page will give you hours of fun: http://www.convert-me.com/en/

How many Monnnes in a Ku Ping? Answer - 9.95

M4thB0yAug 15, 2003 at 11:15AM

You’ll have a hard time figuring this out on your own.

pi*e pi e*pi e pi*e pi e*((
twenty three stone knots and
two billion smoot grains and
three thousand eight hundred
and seventy nine slug feet)
pi per carat yards)
per c*cubits per week

It’s the link on my name (for now).

M4thB0yAug 15, 2003 at 11:18AM

Two BILLION Smoot Grains!

That’s the link again, the one on my name got chopped off.

Brandon D. ValentineAug 15, 2003 at 11:19AM

If you enter 2318008 into the Google Calculator and then turn it upside down you get boobies. Also try 3704558 31104. This was the original text messaging, sucka.

Edward VielmettiAug 15, 2003 at 2:41PM

It does the classic engineering fortran problem, computing furlongs per fortnight, just fine.

AvitusAug 15, 2003 at 3:37PM

It can do e^((pi)*i)+1. So cool.

The ObservationistAug 15, 2003 at 3:53PM

I often wonder why some programs are written… and it is a post like this that makes me understand…

Scott BAug 15, 2003 at 5:10PM

Neat. It knows the answer to i^i not only exists, but it is even real. (That number is e^(-pi/2), BTW).

MicahAug 15, 2003 at 8:38PM

It doesn’t recognize Libraries of Congress as a unit of storage? Outrageous. Furlongs per fortnight is impressive, though, as is the complex math.

Natch HowdyAug 15, 2003 at 10:53PM

Hmm, calculator suddenly is no longer working for me at all.

Can anyone else report that it still works?

Maybe a temporary glitch.

Natch HowdyAug 15, 2003 at 10:58PM

Here’s a bug:

10^100 + 1 returns 10^100.

At first I thought, oh, they set a hard limit at one googol. But no:

10^100 - 1 also returns 10^100, while 10^100 + 10^100 gives the correct answer, 10^200.

Natch HowdyAug 15, 2003 at 11:00PM

And now it’s working again! It went away for a few minutes. That was strange.

Natch HowdyAug 15, 2003 at 11:01PM

Oops, I meant to say: 10^100 + 10^100 gives the correct answer, 2 * 10^100.

kaviAug 15, 2003 at 11:04PM

in light of the 2+2=5 comment, i’ve decided to reread my copy of 1984…for like the 5th time haha.

TimAug 16, 2003 at 12:33AM

It seems to have stopped working for me. I went to show someone and it just returned actual search results instead of the answer. Anyone else having trouble?

Jesse RudermanAug 16, 2003 at 5:31AM

Natch Howdy: Try 10^100 + 10^95, and try 10^100 + 10^50. Google Calculator has a limit on how many digits it computes with or how many digits it outputs (probably both), which is a reasonable thing to do. If you use floating-point or “real” arithmetic in most programming languages, you’ll get a similar result.

Natch HowdyAug 17, 2003 at 2:21PM

Yep Jesse Ruderman, I was just surprised that they handled one nicely (10^100 + 10^100) but not the others.

They could just bail on these and show search results, just as they do on other queries they can’t handle. They could use the perl BigNum module to get at higher values. They are a Python shop; there’s probably something similar for Python. Well I’m not complaining; it’s just fun to find quirks and bugs.

Try this one: how many femtoseconds in a millenium?

BTW for others who’ve posted their email address here, this site is getting scraped by spammers. I got spam on this kottke-specific address within 24 hours of posting: 1) nigerian scam; 2) domain names for sale; 3) africans looking for gold-related business partner scam. Just a plug from a happy user: use spamgourmet.com to prevent spam problems!

Natch HowdyAug 17, 2003 at 2:25PM

Hmm, attoseconds is an even smaller unit than femtoseconds.

Google will even answer: how many minutes in a sidereal day?

Nice. Not that I’ll ever need to know that, but nice to know it’s there :-).

Brad C TennantAug 21, 2003 at 5:37PM

Here’s another take on the 2 + 2 issue; http://www.thinkgeek.com/tshirts/coder/60f5/

markAug 21, 2003 at 8:35PM

not sure if anyone is really still interested, but a list of things google recognizes is being compiled here

KevinAug 22, 2003 at 3:09PM

I posted about this on the 13th, but what he doesn’t mention here are the Google boxers!

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.

We Work Remotely