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Richard Clark

Superlatives and Range Searching—The Best Answers within One Query

February 27, 2013 —
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Superlatives, like hyperbole, are my favorite thing. So it is with the greatest excitement that I am devoting this blog post to superlatives and range searching, as Wolfram|Alpha has again expanded its functionality in these areas.

I once heard from an actor pretending to be a scientist that the denser an element is, the better that element is for fighting terrible monsters. I cannot speak on the accuracy of that statement, as I am not an actor pretending to be a scientist, but if you wanted to apply superlatives to chemistry, Wolfram|Alpha can do that.

densest element

I rather like mountains, so when I moved to Illinois it was on the premise that it’s a great state to take in the majestic views of uneven terrain. In related news, I had never seen a map before. Luckily, I can ask Wolfram|Alpha where the tallest mountain within fifty miles of my location is. And since there aren’t any, I’ll instead ask: What is the tallest mountain within 250 miles of Champaign, IL?

tallest mountain within 250 miles of Champaign IL

I don’t presently have any children, but if everything goes my way, then eventually I will, and it’s probably pretty fair and reasonable that they would go to school so they can become productive members of society. Let’s specifically look for public schools with more than 500 female students within 10 miles of Saint Charles, MO.

public schools with more than 500 female students within 10 miles of St Charles MO

Children, especially teenagers, want nothing more than to spend as much time as possible with their parents. (Right?) I feel it goes without saying that any child of mine would be just as understandably enthused about tall buildings as I am. So suppose I suggested to my hypothetical teenager that we take a tour of buildings that are taller than 500 feat near the Space Needle in Seattle—that sounds like the greatest vacation ever!

buildings taller than 500 feet near the Space Needle

The best part about superlatives is how you can apply them to nearly any kind of query type imaginable. Here’s an enjoyable list of example queries:

So there you have it, my friend. (Anyone who reads the Wolfram|Alpha Blog is my friend, which includes you.) You too can use Wolfram|Alpha and superlatives to discover more about your world and your place in it.


Interesting article! Perhaps you have suggestions for me, as I’m struggling with similar queries.

Querying for “largest continent” only speaks about controlling urination etc..

And even for things I find, I’m not able to do calculations with. I would like the ratio of coastline and land area listed for all continents. So something like:

(coastline / area) of africa, north america, south america, eurasia, oceania, antarctica

What is the syntax I should use here?

Posted by Jonni Lehtiranta May 28, 2014 at 4:58 am

    Until we add a real continent paclet, we won’t be able to do reverse lookups (like searching for the “largest continent”). Queries such as coastline of “africa/area of africa”, “coastline of africa + asia”, and “area of africa + asia” work by using aggregated data from CountryData entity classes. So, for now asking direct properties (already present in CountryData) for entity classes will work fine, but won’t reflect actual continent data, just the aggregate of the countries belonging to the entity class.

    Posted by The Wolfram|Alpha Team June 5, 2014 at 11:32 am