numbers the anaesthetist

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It has been a week of large numbers: a particle that weighs a trillion trillionth (that's one over ten to the twenty-fourth) of a grain of sand; a computer that analyses a billion chess positions a second. It is very difficult to have even a grasp of what such huge numbers mean. Once you get past a million or so, another couple of zeroes seems, to most of us, neither here nor there. So here's a quick guide to a billion:

A billion is 1,000,000,000.

There are a billion seconds in 32 years.

There are a billion people in India.

There are a billion letters of the alphabet in the average small bookshop.

There are a billion musical notes in 20 copies of the complete works of Mozart.


How good are you at estimating large numbers? Try these:

A: The number of minutes Mozart lived.

B: The number of different possible lottery tickets.

C: The population of France.

D: Spots drawn by Disney's animators for 101 Dalmations.

E: Cars made in Japan in 1991.

F: Bottles of champagne drunk in the UK last year.

Three Chambers Dictionary prizes for the readers who place these items in the order of magnitude (smallest first) closest to that of our expert panel. Entries, by 27 February to: Pastimes, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL.

The results of the 1 February competition are held over until next week.