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Interesting miscellany from our events & elsewhere. Earlier Posts

September 27: Googol

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otdotd160927Ten Thousand Sexdecillion. It’s not just the name of the some huge monster army from a future episode of Game of Thrones, it’s one way to describe the number 10100. And although the reason you might know it comes from a site that officially went live 18 years ago today, the name “Googol” was first thought up in 1920, by a 9-year-old kid.

The mathematician Edward Kasner was looking for a number to describe something incredibly large, but not infinite. There’s nothing special about 10 to the hundredth power for mathematicians; it’s just a nice round big number. It’s supposedly the number of years we have left before the heat death of the universe, it’s the number of atoms that are estimated to exist, it’s a decent yardstick for the biggest practical numbers that most people (even most astrophysicists) will ever really need to use.


Milton Sirotta, Krasner’s 9-year-old nephew, came up with the word googol when asked for a nonsense word. It’s stuck ever since, especially among casual math nerds like yr host. Actual mathematical types might go with the abovementioned, or “ten duotrigintillion” or the oddly alluring “ten sexdecilliard,” but when Sergey Brin and Larry Page were looking for a name for their new search engine to indicate that you could find a near-infinite amount of information through their website, they chose a more-standardized version of Milton Sirotta’s nonsense word.


Edward Krasner, 1907. He was the first Jewish person to become a faculty member in the sciences at Columbia University. And I like the moustache.

And now, of course, the compound in Mountain View, California, where their empire has taken root, shares its name with the number that is 10 to the power of a googol, or 10^10^100, or a Googolplex. That wasn’t the original definition, though. According to Krasner’s notes:

It was suggested that a googolplex should be 1, followed by writing zeros until you get tired. This is a description of what would happen if one actually tried to write a googolplex, but different people get tired at different times and it would never do to have [then heavyweight boxing champion Primo] Carnera a better mathematician than [Albert] Einstein, simply because he had more endurance.

Sirotta died in 1981, so he never lived to see his most famous word reach its zenith of fame, but we’re all grateful for the fact that it’s such a great word. I mean, if Google (the name) never existed, then what would we call it instead?

QCNY Week 1 Recap

QCNY V6 Logo - Square (season)And we’re off. The 3rd Quiz Cup of New York is on, and after week one, there’s lots of great scores, which we frankly kind of expected. Seven teams have broken the magic 100 points this week, which, to quote one of the Snowdonia teams: Very questions. Wow.

You can view the whole table here. We’ll be updating that sheet as we get scores in, so feel free to bookmark & share that page.

(We used to screenshot the scoresheet and post the image here, but there were some cuss words that got us in trouble with search engines and stuff, and this year, well, we’ve done some slight bowdlerizing, but we understand that a willingness to quiz doesn’t always come with a thick linguistic skin, and we’re fine with that. So, well, just expect a few cusswords behind the link.)

Also: we have noticed that there are a few teams for whom we don’t have a score yet. If one of these is you, don’t worry. We’ve done our best to compile as we go, and scoresheets sometimes go a little awry. Send me an email with where & on what day you played, and we’ll sort it out.

Finally: spread the word about the QCNY Grand Final, Sunday, November 20th, at Le Poisson Rouge! Those of you who played or came to the last QCNY Grand Final know that everyone who comes, even just to watch, gets a chance to play for tons of prizes, while watching the best quizzers kick butt and chew gum*. Tickets are $12 in advance, and $18 at the door, but get them soon, as we sold out pretty quickly last time, and we don’t want you missing out.

*gum may not be provided.

September 26: Serena

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otdotd160926Nike’s current ad campaign centering around Serena Williams calls her the “Greatest Female Athlete Ever”, and right now, it looks like there’s a solid case for that.

I remember when we first started hearing about Venus Williams, when as a teenager she started winning major tournaments, and people were all delighted that a poor kid from the same neighborhood as NWA was taking apart the lily-white culture of professional tennis. (Well, some people were less than delighted, but history is proving those people to be horribly wrong, and I’ve resolved to stay positive this week, so we can safely ignore those whom history will leave behind.)

In interviews, people would ask Venus how she got to be so good, and how good she thought she could become, and she would often reply, “I expect to win a lot of majors, but my little sister is going to be better than I am.”

At that point, no one even knew that Serena Williams existed yet. We know now.

serena-greatest-athlete-ever-ad-2Her tennis exploits rank with the greatest of all time, and even if she decided to retire today (and there’s no sign that she’s done), she’d rank right up there with the titans of the sport, along with Billie Jean King, Bill Tilden, Martina Navratilova, Rod Laver, Roger Federer, Chris Evert, and Steffi Graf. “Best athlete ever” is close to unmeasurable, but it’s a hell of a fun conversation to have, and she gets to be a part of that discussion. (Who belongs in that list, anyway?)

Certainly, no one playing today can touch her, and she’s earned every plaudit she’s received, and then some. She’s going to be an icon for the rest of her life at this point, not just for what she’s accomplished, but for how she’s done it. She’s a multifaceted and versatile player, but she leads with her astonishing strength, and then her grace and touch follow close behind. That’s not the traditional definition of “ladylike,” but you know, that definition was never accurate to start with, and it sure as hell isn’t now.

As she enters the twilight of her playing days, she’s branched out. She’s doing a little acting, she’s been designing clothes through her Aneres line (that’s “Serena” backwards), she’s written a book, she & Venus both own a piece of the Miami Dolphins, and her list of charity work is as long and varied as anyone’s.

If being a great athlete is solely about winning matches, then Serena has few peers, and no superiors. If it’s about the sum of a person’s life, she only grows from there. Happy birthday, Serena.

September 23rd: Like A Boss


It’s Bruce Springsteen’s 67th birthday today, and at his age you should be so lucky as to be able to still move at all, let alone bang out 4-hour sets every night in front of millions of people a year. The man is a straight-up legend, and even if you can’t stand his music (which, well, you’re wrong), you have to respect his work ethic and his commitment to doing the thing he does.

One nickname Bruce always hated was “The Boss.” Given his original artistic influences, anti-authoritarians like Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, it makes sense that he’d resist taking on the role that those (and other agitators) fought against. But the nickname has stuck, and so he shares it with a mess of people, including George Steinbrenner, Diana Ross, Lance Armstrong, Rick Ross, the Sheriff of Hazzard County, Georgia… and the head of New York’s political machine in the late 19th century, William Magear “Boss” Tweed.

boss-tweedFrom his election to the 5th District of the New York State House of Representatives (the Fightin’ 5th!) in 1852, he built an iron grip on the purse strings of the state and the city of New York, and by 1869, he had placed his people in every meaningful office in the area, enforcing laws that catered to his interests and extracting millions in development contracts and graft for him and his cronies.

Boss Tweed wasn’t all bad, to be sure. Some of the money he siphoned off did go toward feeding the poor in New York City, and he did help secure financing for the Brooklyn Bridge and the New York Public Library, regardless of how the money appeared. But he’ll always be remembered as the archetypical crooked political operative, and when he died in prison in 1878, New York Mayor Samuel Ely insisted that the flags not be flown at half-staff, like they normally would.

So, you know, it’s all good to live your life like a boss, but be sure you pick the right boss to be like.

September 22 – On This Day

andrea-bocelliHappy birthday to the best-selling blind Italian tenor since, well, probably ever, Andrea Bocelli.

He wasn’t blind at birth; he was born with glaucoma, but he finally lost his eyesight for good during a soccer game, in which he got hit in the face and suffered a brain hemorrhage.

So instead of becoming the next Dino Zoff, he turned to his other great passion, music. He had already begun listening to the works of Franco Corelli and working on piano composition, and he started emulating the styles of the great tenors.

Although he’d won a couple of local music competitions in his teens, he was really discovered by Zucchero, an Italian pop singer who, if you’ve heard of him at all, is famous for his duet with Paul Young, Senza Una Donna, in 1991, in which Zucchero & Young take turns morphing into a dancing Italian model in an abandoned restaurant.

The story goes that Zucchero was about to do a record with Luciano Pavarotti, but after hearing Bocelli sing, he tossed all that out, and Bocelli was a sensation.

While not considered on the same level as Pavarotti, Placido Domingo or Jose Carreras (he’s a little flat, and the critics are often not crazy about him), Bocelli is as popular as any of them, especially among people for whom opera & classical music isn’t a life’s passion.

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