In the 15 years since it was founded in a San Francisco suburb, Google, Inc.'s universe of products has grown to include everything from smartphones to mass transit to fiber optics. At its core, however, the company is all about answering questions. A lot of them.
According to company statistics, Google processes about 1 billion search queries a day from users in 181 countries. After improving the user experience, "solving search problems" is Google's top priority, according to its mission statement: "Ten Things We Know to Be True."
Despite its deceptively austere design, Google's engine has hidden tools built in to help savvy users find what they need directly from the search bar.
Generally speaking, Google understands queries written as actual questions -- "How do I find ..." or "How much is ..." -- and will intelligently focus on only the relevant words in a query. If a search doesn't bring back the desired results, try simplifying. For example, try searching for "Weather St. Louis" instead of "How warm is it in St. Louis?"
Here are 10 ways Google can get the information you need with a minimum of fuss.
* What Google can do: Show a miniature map with the distance and travel time between locations without navigating to Google Maps, Mapquest or another travel site.
* How to ask: Type "directions" followed by "[starting address] to [destination address]."
* Example: "Directions 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., to 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey, England."
* Need more? Click the turn arrow next to the map to bring up a Google Maps page with detailed, turn-by-turn navigation, real-time traffic data and alternative directions for pedestrians or mass transit.
* What Google can do: Filter searches to display information from a specific type of site, such as commercial (.com), educational institutions (.edu) or government agencies (.gov).
* How to ask: Enter "search topic" followed by "site:.gov," "site:.edu," etc.
* Example: "UFO site:*.gov"
* Need more? If you want to be even more specific and search within only a single site, such as limiting returns to Washington Post articles, type: "Topic site:www.washingtonpost.com."
* What Google can do: Display current weather conditions, local time and a seven-day forecast for any city in the world using returns from The Weather Channel, Weather Underground and AccuWeather.
* How to ask: Type "weather" followed by the city name.
* Example(s): "Weather Death Valley California" or "weather Miami Florida."
* Need more? Weather returns default to temperature but additional data, including precipitation forecasts and wind speed, also can be accessed from within the search return box.
* What Google can do: Solve simple and complex equations entered directly in the search bar.
* How to ask: Google interprets mathematical symbols and words the same way, so type your question however feels natural, and the search engine will figure out what you mean.
* Example(s): "Square root of eighty six," "pi times 8" or "98 / 4."
* Need more? If one computation isn't enough, the results are displayed above a full-fledged calculator to take care of any follow-up equations you need solved.
* What Google can do: Tell you if a flight is on time and departure/arrival schedules and gates.
* How to ask: Enter the flight number on your boarding pass into the search bar.
* Example: "Delta Flight 1286" or "DL 1286."
* Need more? If you want to comparison shop for flights, type "flights from [departure city] to [destination city]" to bring up a list of carriers, flight times and price ranges with adjustable dates.
* What Google can do: Display a real-time ticker of stock prices for any publicly traded company using information from Yahoo Finance, Google Finance and MSN Money.
* How to ask: Type "[company name] stock" or simply search for the stock's ticker symbol.
* Example: "GOOG," "AAPL," "Ford stock," or "Coca-Cola stock."
* Need more? A stock's search return defaults to showing its growth or depreciation over a single day of trading, but the result box can show changes in value for up to five years.
* What Google can do: Convert any amount of one country's currency into the equivalent amount for another country.
* How to ask: Type the amount of the first currency followed by "in" and the currency to convert it to.
* Example: "1,500 Euros in zloty" or "8 million pesos in rupees."
* Need more? Google can convert many things, including weight, time, digital storage capacity, temperature, fuel efficiency and more. Just type the amount and units of measurement into the search bar.
* What Google can do: Tell you who your favorite team is playing next, if it's a home or away game, your team's record for the season and a recap of its last game.
* How to ask: Type either the team name by itself or -- for upcoming games -- "next game [team name]." No results will show for sports that are not in season.
* Example: "Gryffindor House," "New York Yankees" or "next game Tennessee Titans."
* Need more? At the bottom of the search results, click the down arrow to display a detailed schedule with the results of played games and the times and dates of games for the next week.
* What Google can do: Eliminate embarrassing linguistic faux pas or aid in navigating a foreign city by translating words or phrases into and out of dozens of languages. Words from languages with nontraditional alphabets will display both native script and a phonetic spelling using Roman letters.
* How to ask: Type the phrase to be translated followed by "in" and the destination language.
* Example: "Your father smelled of elderberries in Swahili."
* Need more? Google Translate (translate.google.com) offers even more linguistic features, including automatic language detection and the ability to translate blocks of text or entire foreign language sites.
* What Google can do: Display current and historical governmental data on unemployment rates, physical area and population of any U.S. city.
* How to ask: Type [unemployment rate/population/area] followed by the city and state.
* Example: "Unemployment rate Dalton Georgia."
* Need more? Google's Public Data Explorer (www.google.com/publicdata) compiles and charts a wealth of data for cities and countries, including gross domestic product, national fertility rates, population and rates of infectious diseases.
Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.