Not Even a Stinking Sonnet


Could an infinite number of monkeys given an infinite amount of time produce the complete works of Shakespeare? The BBC reports that some scholars at the University of Plymouth wanted to test the theory, so they put a computer in the monkeyhouse of a zoo. After a month, "the Sulawesi crested macaques had only succeeded in partially destroying the machine, using it as a lavatory, and mostly typing the letter 's.'"

This is being touted as a refutation of the Shakespeare theory, despite the fact that six monkeys and one month do not represent infinite primates or time. In addition, the project was shuttered just as it started to get interesting: "towards the end of the experiment, their output slightly improved, with the letters A, J, L and M also appearing." If you'd like to see the results yourself, they've been published in a limited-edition book called Notes Towards the Complete Works of Shakespeare.

When I was in college, we did a much more rigorous experiment, with uncountable monkeys allowed to type forever. After 300 years, we peeked at their work—and were aghast. In thousands of pages they'd created no Shakespeare at all: just reams and reams of Marlowe.

[Via Sara Ryan.]