Skip to main content

Developing students' Web searching skills : Execise 5

Exercise 5:  I am told that:   

(a) by clapping my hands inches away from a sitting fly, I can kill it.

(b) If I break a sugar cube in half in a dark room I will see a flash of light

Find Web pages that support or deny these theories and find out how these tricks work.

These two tasks represented a more challenging search requiring the thoughtful use of Boolean terms.

In part (a) just entering the words taken from the question – kill, fly, clapping, hands will return far too many results as the words are too general.  Also ‘fly’ may refer to fling rather than the insect.  ‘Clap’ rather than ‘clapping returns sites on venereal disease..

In part (b) again the words ‘sugar’ will return cookery sites and ‘flash’ may return sites on photography or the popular Web animation programme of that name.

A good approach is again to try to anticipate the sort of site that might contain this information and armed with that knowledge, and therefore the language that might be used on such a site, to anticipate the ‘killer’ sentence.

A direct approach can sometimes prove successful although it is unclear here how much manual sifting of the results was performed.

‘.. Finding support for these theories proved to be less difficult than I had anticipated.  It was simply a matter of typing key words into a Google Search such as “clap fly inches kill” for the first theory and “light sugar cube” for the second theory.  This method immediately produced successful results.’

‘Attempts to search against “flies”, “clapping” and “kill” in various combinations appeared doomed to failure until, scrolling revealed…:’

Ask Jeeves has a large number of commonly asked for phrases but rare phrases are unlikely to be in its database:  A general search engine will fare better.

‘Originally I tried to use ‘Ask Jeeves’ for this exercise but found this unsuccessful, which possibly highlights the limits of this site. So instead I reverted to ‘Google’ and tried out Boolean operators to narrow the search. I typed ‘clap + fly + inches + kill’ and found many sites which contained this information! ‘

Most dismantled the phrases in the questions and tried variations and combinations until they hit on the target sites:  Some succeeded very quickly with this strategy. Trial and error alone, however, is no guarantee of success.

‘This exercise was the one that I found the most difficult. I used Implied Boolean logic because I felt that it was the only way of getting at the information.  Using Google again, I tried to enter a search with a combination of words contained in the ‘killing flies’ statement.  The words I used were ‘Hands+Clapping+Kill+Fly’.  I had to play around with these words quite a few times before I found the result.  The statement was contained within a book, so the theory can neither be supported nor denied.’

‘Used Boolean operators so that the search was inclusive of the key phrases.  I entered the term ‘clapping hands AND inches away AND killing sitting fly’.  This strategy surprisingly found 1890 relevant sites in its results.  However it was the first site titled, ‘The Poundstone Report’ that adequately supported the term.’

‘Searches under “fly+kill+clap” or any copmbination of these terms were to no avail.  Nor did I find the answer by looking up web-encyclopedias, nature sites or sites dealing with party tricks…’

This student did consider what sort of Website might contain the information and targeted it successfully.

Searches on Google using combinations of “sugar”, “sugar cube”, “light” and “dark room” failed to find anything of relevance. I then tried the Scientific American web site using “sugar” and “light” as the keywords which produced the…

Some struggled with these exercises:

‘I tried to do some searching on the net through the “” service by typing in scientific phenomenon and then adding “trivia” to it, but the only sites that looked promising in the entire search were Informal Learning Review which had an article on Virtual Science Museums as Learning Environments: Interactions for Education, and the other site was called ”Trash Science Fiction”. Which also turned out to be not very useful. Therefore I was not successful in searching for sites which have such phenomenon on their content.’

‘This is probably the most difficult exercise among all. My attempt by typing in the whole sentence was obviously a big failure. It was only until recently I knew how to do it after my classmate showed me…’

The hidden agenda here was to see if the students questioned the validity of the sites or assumed ‘if you read it on the Web then it must be true’.  Several did question

‘I thought this would be best approached in a round-about-way.  I tried such phrases as “how to kill a fly” and came up with nothing.  I tried things like “party tricks” and, again, nothing.  So I reverted to the direct approach and found the answer by searching ‘clap + fly + inches + kill’. 

‘This problem with validity was replicated in the next exercise, insofar as a website says that the sugar cube and fly phenomena are true, does this actually mean they are? ‘

And finally:

‘How cool is this!  The answer came up in a search using google under all the terms. The site is a particularly cool one (sometimes I wish I was 10 again!): ‘Despite my best efforts I still have no evidence that by ‘clapping my hands inches away from a sitting fly, I can kill it.’ Why not just hit it with a newspaper?’

Search terms
  • Flies+Kill+Clapping
  • clap + fly + inches + kill
  • clap +fly +inches +kill
  • ‘clap kill "sitting fly"’
  • clap fly inches kill
  • clap + fly + inches + kill
  • Hands+Clapping+Kill+Fly’
  • ‘clapping hands AND inches away AND killing sitting fly’
  • fly+kill+clap
  • scientific phenomenon and then adding “trivia”
  • ‘break sugar "dark room" flash light
  • sugar + flash + light
  • light sugar cube
  • sugar +cube +flash +light
  • sugar+cube+half+flash+light
  • “sugar”, “sugar cube”, “light” and “dark room”