Thursday, April 05, 2007

About Those Darned Monkeys Typing Out Shakespeare ...

Lest you think the history of the typewriter would be a yawner, know this: the machine was invented on at least 52 separate occasions over two centuries. this isn't necessarily an argument for running out and buying such a history, but you might enjoy Joan Acocella's review of one in the current New Yorker. My favorite excerpt:

Wershler-Henry does not confine himself to human users of the typewriter. He also tells us about monkeys, as in the hypothetical question “If you put a bunch of monkeys in front of typewriters, how long would it take them to compose the works of Shakespeare?” This question originated as part of the theory of probability, and it has been tested. According to Wershler-Henry, the world record for Shakespeare-reinvention belongs to the virtual monkeys supervised by Dan Oliver, of Scottsdale, Arizona. On August 4, 2004, after the group had worked for 42,162,500,000 billion billion monkey years, one of Oliver’s monkeys typed, “VALENTINE. Cease toIdor:eFLP0FRjWK78aXzVOwm)-‘;8.t . . .,” the first nineteen characters of which can be found in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Runner-up teams have produced eighteen characters from “Timon of Athens,” seventeen from “Troilus and Cressida,” and sixteen from “Richard II.” Did these monkeys get federal funding?

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