The story of the Monkey Shakespeare Simulator Project

There once was a noble project meant to recreate a famous hypothetical. Find out how many pages of Shakespeare monkeys actually could come up with in 10^35 pages.

At this point an infinite number of monkeys, with their typewriters, have shown up in many different hypothetical situations. These brave, repetitive-stress-resistant simians were first called to serve in the early 1900s, in France, where a mathematician suggested that, given enough time, they would peck out every book in the library. They then hopped across the channel, where instead of the Bibliotheque Nationale they got started, at the request of an author, typing out all the books in the British Museum.

At some point, people realized that this was too high a burden to place on the shoulders of these poor beleaguered monkeys, and so their assignment was shortened to include only the complete works of Shakespeare. Yes, even Timon of Athens, which nobody likes. Monkeys died in the attempt, their little fingers callused and swollen. And at last, they found relief the same place everyone else does; the internet. In 2003, The Monkey Shakespeare Simulator Project started up. Sadly, not even the computers could take the monotony, and the site only lasted a few years - but it did provide some interesting results.

Starting with 100 virtual monkeys typing, and doubling the population every few days, it put together random strings of characters. It then checked them against the archived works of Shakespeare. Before it was scrapped, the site came up with 10^35 number of pages, all typed up. Any matches?

Not many. It matched two words, "now faire," and a partial name from A Midsummer Night's Dream, and three words and a comma, "Let fame, that," from Love's Labour's Lost. The record, achieved suitably randomly at the beginning of the site's run in 2004, was 23 characters long, including breaks and spaces. The universe was pouring on the irony that day. The line was from Timon of Athens.

The monkeys typed this:

Poet. Good day Sir Fhl OiX5a]

The writer wrote this:

Poet. Good day Sir

Pain. I am glad y'are well

The difference is subtle, but in the context of the greater play, the writer's line does work better. Perhaps, if a similar website starts up again, the monkeys will best the Bard one day. It's only a matter of time.

Via One Hunded Essential Things You Didn't Know You Didn't Know.