Google’s search engine is one of those things that’s so very good at what it does, it’s become a verb – like Hoover or Rollerblade or Jet Ski. Or, um, Taser. If someone asks you a dumb question, you’d never tell them to ‘just Bing it’. You wouldn’t suggest they Ask Jeeves. It’s become such a ubiquitous thing that Microsoft Word even accepts ‘google’ as a word with a lower-case g. This doesn’t demonstrate itself fully here as you’re reading it, so you’ll just have to trust me. I’m drafting this in Word, and there’s no red squiggly line. It’s exactly as exciting as you think it is.
But I’ve got a revelation for you. Well, not just one, but a series of revelations. You see, Google is more than merely a one-dimensional search bar that helps you find stuff. It’s dynamic, it’s interesting, it’s full of secrets… and this is largely because the people who work there, herding all the ones and zeroes into their appropriate pens with their little digital sheepdogs, clearly feel there’s more to life than ad-ranked search results and massive tax avoidance. So they’ve started dicking about. Google is now riddled with secret little easter eggs that only reveal themselves when you search for the right things. Everyone knows that when you search for the word ‘anagram’ it comes back with ‘did you mean ‘nag a ram’?’, but there’s far more to it than that. Strap yourselves in as we investigate just how deep this rabbit-hole goes…
Search: flip a coin
Indecisive? Can’t deal with binary decision-making? Too much of a forward-thrusting millennial to carry cash? Google this phrase, and it’ll randomly bring up either heads or tails for you.
Search: roll a die
If you find yourself in the improbable situation of having to choose between six options, this is the next logical step on from the coin-flip. (Could also help with board games if you’ve lost the die.)
Obviously Google can’t be this literal with all search results (‘explode’ could lead to court cases), but searching for this will make the page… slightly askew.
Search: fun facts
There’s quite a lot of information on the internet. Searching for ‘fun facts’ allows just one grain of this infinite cosmos of data to filter into the fabric of your day, giving you a handy conversation starter if you’re off on a blind date or find yourself stuck in a lift with a tedious colleague.
(Cynicism aside, I’ve just been refreshing this one for a few minutes and have already learnt several useful things…)
[Oh, and a further point on this one – it also works with the search term ‘I’m feeling curious’, reviving a feature that the Google homepage used to have back when this was all fields]
Search: do a barrel roll
If you’re typing weird stuff into Google to see what happens, you’ve evidently got time to fritter away. So searching for ‘solitaire’ will help you to do that.
Search: [name of movie actor] bacon number
You’re probably familiar with the idea of ‘six degrees of separation’; i.e. that everyone on Earth is only six or fewer acquaintance links away from any other person. ‘Six degrees of Kevin Bacon’ is a parlour game in which players try to link any other Hollywood celeb to Kevin Bacon via six shared movies or fewer. And if you Google, say, ‘Brad Pitt bacon number’ or ‘Jerry Hall bacon number’, the search engine will happily oblige, listing all the connections in the chain.
Search: tic tac toe
Bored of solitaire? Here, play with Google’s noughts and crosses widget instead.
Search: what sound does a [name of animal] make?
If you’ve forgotten what ducks do, or need to demonstrate to a simpleton some of the key identifiers between pigs, dogs and cows, this is the search term for you.
Search: Google in 1998
Want to reminisce about how shit the internet was in the nineties? Here you go, let it all come flooding back.
Search: the answer to life, the universe, and everything
One for the Douglas Adams fans here.
Now, this one really is geeky. ‘Recursion’, to a programmer, is a term referring to a function that calls back to itself. So if you search for it, Google says ‘did you mean ‘recursion’?’ – and clicking on the link just gives you the same results again. NEEEEEEERD!
Search: zerg rush
This summons forth an army of Os that invade the screen and destroy everything. Apparently this has something to do with the video game StarCraft. I know nothing about StarCraft.
Search: Super Mario Bros
With many search terms, you’ll get a ‘Knowledge Graph’ box on the right hand side of the screen when the results come up, giving some key facts and images about the thing in question. Search for Super Mario Bros, and the Knowledge Graph will contain one of the ?-blocks like in the game… and if you click it, a coin will come out as it makes the correct Nintendo noise. Ah, nostalgia.
Search: Sonic the Hedgehog
…and if you search for Sonic the Hedgehog, the Knowledge Graph will give you a little clickable Sonic that spins around on demand.
Everyone loves Pac-Man. Pac-Man is a classic. And if you search for Pac-Man, then you can play Pac-Man. Pac-Man!
Search: Atari Breakout
In the mood for more games? Switch over to Google Images, then search for Atari Breakout.
(n.b. if you grew up with an Acorn Archimedes, like I did, you’ll know this game as ‘Fireball’.)
Search: once in a blue moon
Searching for this returns the result ‘1.16699016 × 10-8 hertz’. Why? Well, if you’re a maths dork, you could convert that number from seconds into years (1 hertz = 1 cycle per second) to get 2.7 years, the approximate time between blue moons – a blue moon being a month in which there are two full moons. There, I’ve explained that one in slightly too much detail so you don’t even need to Google it. But you do now know that when someone says ‘once in a blue moon’, they mean (perhaps unwittingly) ‘once every 2.7 years’.
There are probably loads more of these, but if you don’t mind I’m going to spend a little time Googling ‘fun facts’. I’ve already learned why Starbucks is called Starbucks, what the first product was to wear a barcode, which animals have four stomachs, what Spam is made of, how long cats remember things, the age of the oldest Galapagos tortoise, and when crayons were invented. Another couple of days of this and I could become the most knowledgeable man who ever lived. (Or an insufferable bore. Two sides of the same coin, really.)