All Lined Up

On February 7, 2012 · 5 Comments

Sometimes I feel like researching a topic and presenting it in exacting detail with supporting maps and illustrations. Other times I simply gaze at a map and draw a few lines. Today it’s about the lines. There’s nothing intellectual here, it’s more of a game. What is the maximum number of states I can cross if I draw a straight line? The best I could do was sixteen states plus the District of Columbia.

View All Lined Up in a larger map

I can already anticipate what some readers might be thinking. Are these supposedly "straight" lines truly accurate given the curvature of the earth? I’ve found before that the Google Maps site actually does a pretty good job of drawing Great Circles as straight lines. However I also imagine there’s a margin of error that might cause a line to miss some of the boundaries implied by Google, especially the ones that nip a small corner. Let’s understand that this is a possibility but set it aside for purposes of the game. We’re in it for the fun, not necessarily the accuracy.

Various flavors of west to east seemed to be the best opportunity. North to south isn’t nearly as attractive except along the eastern coast. My drafting method involved brute force. I didn’t use any kind of scientific algorithm. I drew lines across the continent in several places and adjusted them back-and-forth in an attempt to barely clip as many states as possible. I even used Hawaii and Alaska because they’re usually left out of these things and I wanted those readers to feel included. That demonstrates the minimalist approach to the reasoning behind my method.

I noticed that sometimes the lines seemed to cross a state at one zoom level but perhaps not at every zoom level. I guess Google had a tough time rendering them exactly. For purposes of the game, assume that if a line crosses a state boundary at the deeper zoom levels then it "counts." That’s another reason I consider this more of a game than a definitive answer.

I had no problem hitting thirteen states and I did that twice rather easily, moving from northwest to southeast (orange and red lines). States were larger in that direction so there were fewer to hit. Drafting the line southwest to northeast produced better results. I hit sixteen states twice. Thank goodness for all those small, highly concentrated states in the Mid-Atlantic and New England. That also helped me out with a great example completely in the east where I managed to rival the much-longer continental lines, recording a string of fifteen states.

Can anyone find something better than my blue line, sixteen plus DC? : CA-NV-AZ-UT-CO-KS-MO-IL-IN-KY-OH-WV-VA-DC-MD-DE-NJ. I’ll see if I can replicate any better solutions if you can describe it to me, or better yet, use the My Maps function in Google Maps and post the link in the comments. I’ll make sure any resulting embedded map display properly.

I’ve intentionally not created maps for other parts of the world in case you would like to take a stab at finding answers for things such as départements of France, counties of England, individual continents or the entire planet. Go ahead and post your result. Let’s see if anyone can beat it.

Totally Unrelated

It’s been a few weeks and I have 30 people in my Google+ 12MC Circle which I think is pretty good. I’ve tried hard to keep posts relevant without smothering readers with content. Hopefully I’ve struck that balance properly. Please consider joining the circle if you missed the original announcement or were waiting to see how it turned out. You can find my information at the G+ button in the column to the right.

On February 7, 2012 · 5 Comments

5 Responses to “All Lined Up”

  1. Pete says:

    Using Google Earth and its hopefully-accurate spherical version of the map, I’ve got seventeen U.S. territories going straight from Pago Pago, AS, to Nantucket, MA: AS-AZ-NM-TX-OK-KS-MO-IL-IN-OH-WV-PA-NJ-NY-CT-RI-MA. Thanks to Block island, RI, and a very southwestern tip of Connecticut.

    Seventeen states going from Hawai’i Island, HI, to Salem County, NJ: HI-CA-NV-UT-CO-KS-NE-MO-IA-IL-IN-OH-WV-PA-MD-DE-NJ.

  2. Jbapo says:

    I liked the idea of including Hawaii, but my first thought was that it would be helpful if it were a bit further north.,-101.048648&spn=22.173081,39.506836

    View State Lines – Northwest Hawaiian Islands in a larger map

    These are lines I made using the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, specifically Kure and French Frigate Shoals. Starting at French Frigate Shoals I got 19 states: HI (Tern Island), CA, AZ, NM, TX, OK, KS, MO, IL, IN, KY, OH, WV, PA, NJ, NY, CT, RI, MA (near East Falmouth). I do feel like I’m getting off on a technicality, but still, it was fun playing with the lines and, I think, it technically counts.

  3. Fredrik says:

    Ok, it sounds like Jbapo already got 19. I tried a slightly different route and got the same. Starting on another Hawaiian island (Lisianski Island), the line goes through CA, NV, AZ, NM, OK, CO, KS, MO, IL, IN, OH, WV, PA, NJ, NY, CT, RI, MA (between Welfleet and Eastham, Cape Cod). So basically these are the same states minus KY and TX, but pluss CO and NV.

  4. January First-of-May says:

    Tried Canadian provinces and territories as the most obvious expansion (on Google Earth of course).
    The results were, er, a little anticlimactic: out of the total 13, it’s fairly easy to hit 11 if you know what you’re doing, and just barely possible to hit 12 with a little fiddling around (but the line literally only hits a tiny corner in FIVE of them). It’s very obviously impossible to hit all 13, so the game is out for that, unfortunately. 🙁

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