Some time ago, my oldest asked me what the biggest number was. Being something of a wonk, I answered him. “The biggest number with a name is a googolplex.”
Of course, he thought I was making things up. So did his mother.
I showed it to them online. The biggest named number is a googolplex. That will change as soon as someone names a bigger one, of course, but for now, that’s the biggest named number – and it’s really big.
Ever since then, everything has been a googolplex. How big is that building? A googolplex. How hungry are you? I could eat a googolplex. How tall are you? I’m a googolplex.
A week or so after this discussion, the big guy’s teacher tracked down his mother for a chat. This isn’t quite as bad as it sounds. She teaches at his school. It was bad enough, though.
The big guy, the teacher reported, had discovered a new word. The other kids were very upset, thinking it was a bad word and he was insulting them. The teacher didn’t know what the bad word was or where it came from, but the big guy refused to stop – or even to admit he was doing anything wrong.
Apparently, my son was there for this conversation, because his mom reports that he interrupted at that point. “But mom,” he wailed. “It’s not a bad word! It’s a googolplex!”
His mom explained to the teacher, who went home and Google’d it. To her credit, she came in the next day and explained what a googolplex was to all the kids. To those of you saying that the teacher should have known what a googolplex was, I disagree. It’s about as obscure a piece of math trivia as you’ll find. The fact that she came back and taught the kids, on the other hand, speaks volumes. That’s the kind of teacher you want.
I can only imagine all the other parents that evening looking at their kids saying “What? What did you say? Google-what?”
I just hope they didn’t get in trouble.