*By Michael Hartley*

On the 20th of August 2008 this website turned 3 years old. To celebrate, I organized a competition. The competition was to think of the biggest number possible, and write it in a 4 inch by 2 inch box. The contest closed on October 27, and this page gives the results of the contest.

Well, it was fascinating judging the entries! A few students submitted entries that worked out as "infinity", even though this was against the rules. I guess they missed that part, or were hoping I'd forget it.

Sorry, but I have to disqualify infinity, for a couple of reasons...

- First of all, the competition would be rather dull if "infinity" was allowed, wouldn't it...
- Secondly, a mathematician called Cantor discovered, in the 19th century, that the word "infinity" doesn't properly identify a single number - there's more than one number that could be called "infinity". There's an infinite number of infinities, in fact, but the reasons why get rather technical, so I won't talk about them here.

Well, it's certainly a LARGE number in one sense! Unfortunately, not in the sense I meant for the competition.

I noticed that most people just packed as many digits into the box as they could. Almost nobody used powers, which makes me wonder - perhaps the contest would be better pitched to high school students?

- The first entry using powers came from a Year 9 student in New Zealand. Her number was truly enormous. It would have made her the easy winner, if the contest had been open to her grade. Thanks, anyway, Kelly, for entering! I've sent you something for your effort!
- The other entry that "used powers" read "1,000,000,000.... 303 zeroes" and is shown below.

The most astounding thing is that there was a tie for first place! That's right, the two highest numbers amongst all valid entries from grades 1 to 7 were exactly the same number!

A

*centrillion*, more usually spelled

*centillion*(no 'r'), is exactly 10

^{303}. To write this out, you write a 1, followed by 303 zeroes! Just imagine, either of these contestants could have pipped the other for first place, by writing something like "a centrillion and one" or "2,000,000... (303 zeroes)".... or "a centrillion times a centrillion" or "9,000,000,... (a centillion zeroes)"..... Any of these would easily fit into the 2-inch by 4-inch box. But that's the fun of the contest. Almost no matter what you write, it's possible to change it just a bit and get a number just that much larger!

So, congratulations to Lilian from Ohio, and QuaMekka from North Carolina! You are each the equal champion of the big numbers contest, and the overall champ in your respective grades!

Anyway, if you missed the competition, you can organise your own. See original contest entry page for more details.

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