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.
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