99 Bottles of Beer

"99 Bottles of Beer" is an anonymous United States folk song dating to the mid-20th century. It is a traditional song in both the United States and Canada. It is popular to sing on long trips, as it has a very repetitive format which is easy to memorize, and can take a long time to sing. In particular the song is frequently sung by children on long bus trips, such as class field trips, or on Scout and/or Girl Guide outings. The song is derived from the English "Ten Green Bottles".

The song's lyrics are as follows:[1][2]

99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer.
Take one down, pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall...

Alternate line:

If one of those bottles should happen to fall, 98 bottles of beer on the wall...

The same verse is repeated, each time with one bottle fewer. The song is completed when the singer or singers reach zero. Variations on the last verse following the last bottle going down include lines such as:

No more bottles of beer on the wall, no more bottles of beer
Go to the store and buy some more, 99 bottles of beer on the wall...

Alternate line:

If that one bottle should happen to fall, what a waste of alcohol!

It takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes to sing all 100 verses.

Sometimes, the word "beer" is replaced by the word "Coke" or "milk" when being sung by groups (such as religious groups) that consider the consumption of alcohol to be inappropriate.

Andy Kaufman routine

The highly repetitive and ultimately boring nature of "99 Bottles of Beer" means that only a small minority of renditions are actually carried to the final verse. Comedian Andy Kaufman exploited this fact in the routine early in his career when he would actually sing all 100 verses.[3] As was common in many of his sketches, Kaufman was deliberately provoking his audience in this routine once they realized that he actually intended to sing all of the verses. Catcalls, booing, and sullen silence were common responses. Toward the end of the sketch, Kaufman would feign recognition that the audience was not enjoying the material, and he would leave the stage with only 5 or 6 "bottles" to go. At that point, the audience would begin calling for him to return to finish the verses.

Mathematically inspired variants

Donald Byrd has collected dozens of variants inspired by mathematical concepts and written by himself and others.[4] (A subset of his collection has been published.[5]) Byrd argues that the collection has pedagogic as well as amusement value. Among his variants are:

• "Infinite bottles of beer on the wall". If one bottle is taken down, there are still infinite bottles of beer on the wall (thus creating an unending sequence much like "The Song That Never Ends").
• "Aleph-Null bottles of beer on the wall". Aleph-Null is the size of the set of all natural numbers, and is the smallest infinity and the only countable one.
• "Uncountable bottles of beer on the wall". An uncountably infinite set is larger than a countable one; therefore, if only a countable infinity of bottles fall, an uncountable number remains.

Other versions in Byrd's collection involve concepts including geometric progressions, differentials, Euler's identity, complex numbers, summation notation, the Cantor set, the Fibonacci series, and the Continuum Hypothesis, among others.

On an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, on the way to a mathematics competition, Malcolm's classmates – the Krelboynes – sing a variation of this song stating "the square root of (number of) bottles of beer". Malcolm states to the camera that they are only at the nineties.

References in science

The computer scientist Donald Knuth proved that the song has complexity $O(\log N)$ in his in-joke-article "The Complexity of Songs".

Numerous computer programs exist to output the lyrics to the song. This is analogous to "Hello World" programs, with the addition of loops. As with "Hello World", this can be a practice exercise for those studying computer programming, and a demonstration of the differences between programming languages.