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10 Amazing Uses for Wolfram Alpha

You may have heard of Wolfram Alpha, which is a “computational knowledge engine.” That makes it sound a bit scary, but it’s a great tool once you can wrap your head around it.

Apple’s Siri uses Wolfram Alpha for 25% of its searches. You can leverage that magic and put Wolfram Alpha to work for you — the empty search box on its homepage holds endless possibilities.

Comparisons

Enter two terms with a vs in between them and you’ll get a comparison. For example, you could compare websites to see the differences in traffic between them.

You can compare cities, books, foods and almost anything else you can think of.

Nutrition Information

Enter a type of food and Wolfram Alpha will provide you with its nutrition information. You don’t have to stop at one — enter multiple types of food and Wolfram Alpha will compare them for you.

Complicated Math

Wolfram Alpha is ideal for the sort of math that Google’s calculator and most other calculator websites will choke on. It even provides graphs.

Where Am I?

Ask where you are and Wolfram will use your IP address to track you down. You can also enter an IP address into the box and Wolfram will track that IP address down and tell you where it is.

Days Until Something

Want to know how many days are left until your birthday, favorite holiday or any other date? Just ask for the days until a certain date.

Generate a Password

Wolfram Alpha can come up with a random password and estimate how long it will take to crack. You can even tweak the rules used to generate the password.

Am I Drunk?

Have you been drinking? Wolfram Alpha can estimate whether you can legally drive home. Ask it if you’re drunk and you’ll get a form asking for more information.

Provide the information and Wolfram will estimate whether you should drive home, call a cab or wait. You can even consult the little graph to see when you’ll be within the legal blood-alcohol limit.

How Common is Your Name?

Enter a name and you can see how common it is, complete with a graph showing you how popular the name has been over time. Enter multiple names and Wolfram will compare how common they are.

Body Mass Index

Type body mass index and Wolfram will present you with another form. After you provide your weight and height, Wolfram Alpha will calculate your BMI and tell you whether you’re within the normal range.

Word Trivia

Want to find words that begin with a certain letter, end with a certain combination of letters — or both? Just ask Wolfram Alpha in plain English.


This is just scratching the surface of what Wolfram Alpha can do. Plug in anything you’re curious about and see what happens.

Do you have a favorite use for Wolfram Alpha? Leave a comment and let us know.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 02/29/12

Comments (65)

  1. StevenTorrey

    Enter Big Bang Theory–and you get the television sitcom on cbs. Did that just seconds ago with and without quotes: same thing–cbs sitcom. What I was looking for was the cosmological big bang theory. Entered that and still ended up with cbs sitcom. I’ll leave them to solve math problems.

  2. Usman

    Not many people know, Siri (the voice assistant in the iPhone 4S) works via Wolfram Alpha!

  3. Sambo

    Asking WA for “aircraft overhead” gives you the identity of what planes you can see right now…

    Asking WA “how much wood could a woodchuck chuck?” or “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” also give excellent responses…

  4. onedeafeye

    Tried it. Asked it to compare Honda Odyssey with Toyota Sienna – fail. Asked it where I was – wrong.

  5. &

    Further to the nutritional information, enter the amounts in a recipe with + signs in between (e.g., 4 oz. ground beef+1 tsp. chili powder+1 oz.. green pepper …) and divide by the number of servings to get nutritional info for the complete dish.

    Use with caution of course — I don’t think it takes into account nutritional changes due to cooking, say.

  6. LadyFitzgerald

    There is no way Wolfram’s body mass index calculations can be accurate using just height and weight only, even if sex is factored in. Back when I was in my best physical condition, the standard body mass index formulae showed me to be slightly overweight but when actually measured, I had an extremely favorable body mass index with a very low body fat content.

    The problem with the standard formulae is they assume people have the same bone structure and limb length. I have very short upper arms and thighs compared to my trunk length.

  7. ultimatepsv

    It won’t do implicit differentiation though.

  8. Brian M

    I use it for time conversion. If someone gives me a time from a different time zone, I just dump in “3:30 PM CST” or whatever, and it gives me how long until then, as well as what the local time will be. Simple.

  9. Geekishone

    @LadyFitzgerald
    Not sure if you know this, but BMI is height and weight. There is no other factors. BMI is not accurate for actual body fat content.

  10. claude

    @steven, after you search for big bang theory the following line will appear. Click as a word for the big bang theory that is not the tv show.

    Assuming “big bang theory” is a television series | Use as a word instead

  11. mightygoose

    I once asked Wolfram Alpha, “How many jars of Dolmio would it take to fuel me in a small capsule to alpha centauri at a maximum speed of 0.9c?”

    after messing around with syntax for a while… WA delivered….

    proof: http://www.majhost.com/gallery/mightygoose/stuff/bistromatics1.png

  12. Craig

    “What do women want?” gives a cautiously definitive answer.

  13. Brian

    Hey you all are right it screwed up every thing I tried to search. And that was when it wasn’t asking for me to pay for the service, yeah right.

  14. Callum Booth

    Try ‘skymap for current location’ or ‘1 cubic lightyear of fried chicken’ :)

  15. Colin

    @UltimatePSV, I hate how it doesn’t do implicit diferentiation (and a couple other advanced calculus functions I can’t remember at the moment), as being in IB Calculus & Beyond seeing the problems worked out is quite helpful.

  16. LadyFitzgerald

    @ Geekishone. BMI is still skewed by leg length and body build, which was the point I was making with the fat percentage example, which makes it worthless.

  17. victor wright

    I haven’t tried it yet, but I hope it can take a picture input and identify the item (or animal/plant)??? – I.e. I take a picture of a bug and it can tell me what it is, if it is poisonous or not etc… This may be a suggestion to the developers…

  18. Signifying

    @LadyFitzgerald

    No one said BMI was an ideal measure, your quote was “There is no way Wolfram’s body mass index calculations can be accurate using just height and weight only.” That is in fact *all* that goes into a BMI calculation.

    If you want to say it’s not necessarily reflective of body composition (though it is for most people), fine, but don’t spout ignorant things like “You can’t calculate BMI with just height and weight.”

  19. Faxon

    Try entering “yo dawg” and see what comes up :)

  20. Sam

    @LadyFitzgerald BMI is calculated simply by dividing your mass by your weight. If you find this measurement to be worthless, then your complaint should be with the usefulness of BMI, not with Wolfram Alpha. WA is simply calculating (accurately, I might add) a well-known and often used ratio.

  21. John

    I typed in my name, and it told me I was a colour…

  22. Dave

    WA isn’t at fault for the failings of the BMI system. It simply employs the formulae the BMI system employs. WA isn’t useless due to this, nor can the BMI calculations be considered, “Wolfram Alpha’s”.

  23. theman

    @LadyFitzgerald Its a common misconception that BMI is “wrong” because someone with larger bone structure is weighted the same as another person with smaller bone structure. However, the science is solid behind BMI. The higher your BMI the more likely you are to be susceptible to disease, regardless of your bone structure.

  24. Potato

    Another cool thing related to word trivia is you can input partial words (using underscore to denote a blank field), and it will return all possible results.

    input: h__ls
    output: hails, halls, hauls, etc …

  25. Paul

    “What planets are visible?”

  26. RyanP

    Very amused when I asked “what is the meaning of life?”

  27. Willdabeast

    @ ladyfitzgerald That is the most elaborate form of “I’m not fat, just big-boned” I’ve heard.

  28. khendar

    One cool thing I like about WA is the “relationship calculator” feature. If you type in “Mother’s father’s brother’s cousin’s father’s wife’s brother” and it will spit out a family tree, a relationship name and blood relation percentage.

  29. LadyFitzgerald

    @ Sam and Dave. According to this article, the BMI calculated by Wolfram is based on height and weight. Just because something has been popular or well used doesn’t make it accurate (medical professionals are moving away from BMIs derived from only height and weight because of the inaccuracies and are employing more direct measurements, such as water displacement). If Wolfram chooses to use a faulty formula, then I fault Wolfram.

    @ Signifying. My original statement stands. Even if many or most people fall into the ranges of BMI arrived at using only height and weight doesn’t make the formula accurate.

    @ theman. So two people who weigh the same and are the same height but one is slender and long legged and the other has a wide frame and is short legged are both going to have the same BMI? I’m not buying into that.

    @ Willdabeast. Your comment was ridiculous and ignorant. At no time did I refer to “big boned.” The size of one’s bones has little effect on one’s weight. Someone who has little fat on their body but has short legs will have a less favorable BMI using the formula Walfram uses.

  30. Jason

    On a standard basis, I use it to solve challenging integrals although for fun, I ask, “What is the meaning of life?”

  31. mkerr

    @ladyfitzgerald

    “Body mass index is defined as the individual’s body weight divided by the square of his or her height.”

    There no other factors that are considered in calculating BMI.

    You are referring to BVI (body volume index). WA accepted the correct inputs and gave the correct answer.

    WA 1
    Ladyfitzgerald 0

  32. S S

    I’m in Surrey and I freaked out when it answered “where am I”.

  33. Shawpelganger

    Can you guys shut the hell up about the bmi shit please? Ok, everybody is fat, we get it.

  34. imawqzz

    @LADYFITZGERALD Wolfram is not at fault here. If you ask for BMI, its going to give you BMI. The reason you aren’t satisfied with the BMI formula is because you don’t like the number the BMI formula gives you. Sounds like you are self-conscious because the generally accepted BMI formula is telling you that you’re fat. Math is telling you you’re fat. Science is telling you you’re fat. You’re just a short-limbed fatty (-:

  35. Mick

    @Theman.

    BMI is flawed becuase it only takes into account your height, weight and and sex. Did you know almost every heavy weight boxer is classified as obese?

    It would be like me asking you how many litres my drink bottle contains and only telling you the height… Without other parameters its impossible to know.

    Plus Fitness, health and weight are not directly related. I know plenty of “skinny” people who could barely walk 1km and “overweight” people who compete in marathons.

    BMI is a flawed system that gives people the wrong information

  36. yowza

    Wolfram Alpha can also hook you up with rhyming words! However, it totally failed to pick out the fact that “giraffe” rhymes with “carafe.” It doesn’t have any matches for “orange.” It does have plenty of matches for “love” and “you.”

  37. blah

    please stop with the BMI stuff.
    please seek attention elsewhere Lady.

  38. Bob99

    Apparently, the meaning of life is “42”

  39. Chris Hoffman

    BMI has actually been shown to be rather flawed, so don’t worry too much about that.

    @S S

    I’m actually in Delta, so it isn’t perfect.

  40. Eric Gallager

    Try doing “sudo rm -rf /”

  41. Jonathan

    “Flights currently overhead”

    Blows me away every time.

  42. Chris

    It cant answer: how many people are in the air at a given time, even just an estimate should be possible, x planes times y passengers etc oh and somethung about BMI …uhg

  43. Thrillhouse

    Well the BMI is flawed because it takes to little input data and returns a 1 dimensional value.
    That’s a great example of why it is stupid for a government to base it’s decisions on a credit-ranking. This stuff should be taught to every economics student… Return on interest, credit-rankings and all those big fancy numbers are just as flawed as the BMI. It’s pure bullshit!

  44. Simon

    StevenTorrey:
    Maybe if you’d entered “Big bang theorem” instead you’d get the result you were looking for? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory#Theories_vs._theorems)

  45. Declan

    According to their BMI, the following people are overweight:

    – Sylvester Stallone
    – Will Smith
    – Arnold Schwarzenegger (obese, actually)
    – Tom Cruise
    – Kobe Bryant
    – LeBron James
    – Pierce Brosnan
    – Matt Damon
    – Denzel Washington
    – Hugh Jackman

    BMI is a joke, based on a generalized metric, and not on differing body types. That it is used in any capacity by Wolfram/Alpha is troubling, and makes me question the veracity of any answers WA might provide.

  46. Josh

    @Declan; then stop asking it for BMI results, simple as that. If you want another type of comparison, ask for it and provide the required data.

  47. ainteks

    Where is everybody?

  48. Jon

    http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=how+to+lose+weight

    New feature. Also pretty awesome, in my opinion.

    Enjoy plugging in things for the next hour!

  49. flawless_cowboy

    The two main things I use WA for are firstly as a calculator/converter and secondly as a tool for helping to finish off crossword clues. If you type in the letters you know and replace the ‘blanks’ with underscores, WA gives you a list of words that fit.

  50. Sandi

    re Big Bang Theory – search & click “use a word” will return what you’re looking for

  51. bandbec

    Chiiiiiillll about the BMI thing.

    It is just a measure… the measurement may be flawed but WA’s calculation in itself isn’t.
    Chill oouuuuttt..

  52. Joel

    Are you from the Fraser Heights area of Surrey? (talking to the article writer)
    I typed in “Where am I” and Wolfram Alpha gave me the exact same coordinates :O

  53. Kelli

    http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=birth+control+

    http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=planned+parenthood

    http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=where+is+planned+parenthood+located%3F

    http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=Slavery+in+American+History

    Birth Control, Planned Parenthood, “Where is Planned Parenthood located,” all of which bring up useless results. “Slavery in American History” doesn’t even bring up anything relevant.

  54. Jason

    I entered ‘famous birthdays on june 21′ (my birthday). It interpreted this as ‘notable people born on June 20′.

    Don’t think I’ll be ditching Google just yet.

  55. Sherry

    @Jason The june 21 thing worked for me…
    Also– to whoever said it would be cool to upload images and have WA do its thing on them– WA is way ahead of you. The little orange camera on the bottom left side of the input bar lets you upload pictures.

  56. Zach

    “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” and “Does a bear defecate in the forest?” are fun to do.

  57. h

    Fancy title Great Expectations Poor results Stick to Google

  58. Brent

    @UltimatePSV yes it does, type in something like:
    deriv(x^4+2y^2=8,x) or
    deriv(y^5-y=x,x)
    and check out the results

  59. Brent

    @ultimatepsv and @Colin
    you should try any Mathematica commands
    https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/sorbello/www/classes/mathematica_commands.html

  60. robert

    IPv4 | nowhere
    IPv6 (short version) | ::ffff: Insert[{}, :, 2]
    (as seen by Wolfram|Alpha)

    Yup it really can’t work out where I am.

    It’s answer for (9^(9^9)) is good though.

  61. Henry

    But will it blend?

    That is the question.
    The answer; no it will not.

  62. Crewdog

    Question: What are the targets for Minuteman III?

    Response: This area is under investigation…

  63. Vidar

    @LadyFitzgerald You’re right that BMI is basically worthless, but your comments seem to indicate that you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the definition of BMI.

  64. Jake

    @LadyFitzgerald

    I think you’re confusing BMI with the more general term “body composition”. BMI itself is very specifically defined as a function of height and weight (BMI= [kilograms] / [height in meters]^2). A calculation based on other measurements may provide a much better picture of overall body composition, but it is no longer a measurement of one’s BMI.

    When you say ,”medical professionals are moving away from BMIs derived from only height and weight,” what is actually happening is that medical professionals are moving away from the use of BMI itself to other methods of measuring body composition.

    On separate note, I enjoy using WA for exercise related computations, it provides everything from estimated calories burned, to estimated oxygen consumption: http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=27+y%2Fo+male%2C+175+lbs%2C+5%27+10%22%2C+running+10+miles+in+1+hour+30+minutes

  65. Dale

    Technically, body mass index is a measure of the average density of your body. Done properly, it requires you to submerge in a tank of water and expell as much air as possible from your lungs, to allow the measurement of the volume your body occupies. Since fat is lighter than muscle or bone, the higher percentage of fat you have, the more volume your body will occupy for the same weight(mass).
    The simplistic calculation using height (as a proxy for volume) assumes an average build and bone density, and is “close enough” for most purposes. If your torso-to-limb ratio is unusual, it will be in error.
    Using calipers to measure how much skin can be “pinched” in specific locations is more accurate than the simple height/weight calculation but not quite as good as the “dunk tank”. But it’s much easier to perform.

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