Google 20th birthday: Googlewhacks, barrel rolls and the search engine's best Easter eggs

In-jokes and quirky sense of humour embedded in software's DNA

Joe Sommerlad
Wednesday 26 September 2018 21:06 BST
Google's 20th Birthday

Search giant Google is celebrating its own 20th birthday today with a trademark Doodle.

Replacing its logo with an occasional animation paying tribute to eminent figures from the worlds of science, the arts and history on their anniversaries is just one of the ways in which the site’s programmers can express themselves.

Their quirky sense of humour is actually embedded within the software's DNA.

If you type the word ”askew” into its search box, for instance, the results will appear tilted at an extreme angle.

If you tell Google to “do a barrel roll”, the whole page will spin clockwise at 90 degrees before juddering to a stop.

If you search for “the answer to life the universe and everything”, you’ll be presented with Google’s calculator displaying the number 42, an in-joke alluding to Douglas Adams’ cult science fiction series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1978).

Google is full of these neat little Easter eggs.

An entry for “zerg rush” will see little red circles swarm your screen and devour the search results, another reference, this time to the video game StarCraft (1998).

Searching “define anagram” will see you offered the alternative, “Did you mean: nerd fame again”, while entering the phrase “once in a blue moon” will give you a calculation explaining precisely how to work out how often the phenomenon occurs: 1.16699016 × 10-8 hertz.

A nice one embedded in Google Maps for JRR Tolkien fans appears if you ask for directions from “The Shire” to “Mordor” and choose walking as your preferred method of transport. Google’s reply? “Use caution – One does not simply walk into Mordor”.

In addition to these in-built gags, fans have made their own to manipulate Google.

Check out Mr Doob’s “Google Space” or “Google Gravity” or try this search for 1980s martial arts movie actor Chuck Norris.

More fun with Google can be had by playing the game “Googlewhack”.

Credited to Gary Stock, the game involves hunting for Google searches of no more than two words that yield a single result.

British comedian Dave Gorman popularised the concept with his 2003 stand-up comedy show, Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure!, in which recounted the true story of his being unable to finish the novel he was writing after becoming obsessed with the game.

The comic travelled the world meeting the owners of the businesses who rendered a single, solitary entry on Google and wrote about his experiences in a best-selling book.

Jason Zinoman of The New York Times hailed Gorman for turning “wasting time on the internet... into an art form”.

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