What State U

On February 9, 2014 · 15 Comments

I mentioned the University of Idaho in a tangential comment on Résumé Bait and Switch. I focused on its location in Moscow, the city in Idaho not the one in Russia, although I noticed an additional feature I didn’t discuss at the time. The western edge of the university ran amazingly close to the state border between Idaho and Washington.

Western Edge of Univ. of Idaho, Moscow, ID

The distance from the farthest western extreme of the University of Idaho to the state of Washington measured 0.3 miles (0.5 kilometers). I walk farther than than that to get to the nearest subway station in the morning!

It wouldn’t take much effort to expand the university just a sliver and abut a neighboring state. It probably couldn’t go farther — the University of Idaho is a public state institution (i.e., not private or for profit). It’s likely confined within Idaho’s boundaries absent some sort of infinitely complicated sharing agreement with Washington involving taxpayer funding, accreditation, enrollment standards, and so on.

Was there an instance of a state university bordering directly on another state, I wondered? I set a few ground rules, and this is where the 12MC audience can participate too. I tried to limit the search to public universities and land borders; no private schools that were free of direct state control and no rivers intervening to block a leisurely stroll. Those criteria would also eliminate every minor office suite with a University of Phoenix "campus" and its ilk that happened to fall near a state border from consideration as well. True residential universities with dormitories and signs of on-campus student life would be a bonus. Examples from outside of the United States that featured international borders would be fine as well although I didn’t have time to explore them.

The search grew difficult even as I slowly relaxed my standards. In fact, I’m still searching for the elusive major state university on a land border. It may exist, and if so I know the eagle eyes of 12MC readers will discover it. Until then I offer my best imperfect discoveries.

University of Texas – El Paso

SW Side of UTEP, El Paso, Texas

Take a look at the University of Texas – El Paso. It came within a thousand feet (0.3 km) from an international border with México at its closest point according to my eyeball estimate, just across from Ciudad Juárez in the state of Chihuahua. It might as well have been located many more miles away though, with an intervening Interstate Highway, railroad track, border patrol agents (see Street View), concrete wall and river standing in the way. It might be easier to break out of a maximum security prison than to walk from UTEP into México following the most direct path.

University of Kansas School of Medicine

KU School of Medicine, Kansas City, Kansas

The University of Kansas — KU — in Lawrence, Kansas didn’t exactly hug the border. However the university placed its School of Medicine in Kansas City and that was a different story. State Line Road ran directly along the eastern edge of the medical center. That was great, however, I wanted to find where a main campus of a university matched the criteria, not just a single department.

Purchase College – State University of New York

NE Corner of Purchase-SUNY, New York

Like the University of Idaho, Purchase College – SUNY seemed to be about 0.3 mi (0.5 km) from the state border at its closest point. I’d call it a tie with credit to Univ. Idaho for being one of the state’s flagship university and also with credit to Purchase College for being located near a genuine geo-oddity, the road that New York stole from Connecticut.

Also, I don’t expect Purchase College to ever change its name to Purchase University because then it would be, well, PU.

John Brown University

Western Edge of John Brown University, Siloam Springs, Arkansas

The Oklahoma border fell about 0.2 mi (0.3 km) west of John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Also, West University Street seemed to imply future expansion, using that designation from the current campus all the way to the state line. A mostly-vacant lot separated the university from a potential Oklahoma abutment while residential areas and a cemetery constraining the campus from other directions (map). I could happen someday. The catch? John Brown was a private school.

An interesting aside about making assumptions: I figured the school must have been named for John Brown, the abolitionist. No, it was named for its founder, a different person of the same name, an early 20th Century evangelist. JBU is a private, interdenominational, Christian university with about 2,200 students, and its first three presidents were John Brown, John Brown Jr. and John Brown III. None of them, as far as I know, ever raided Harper’s Ferry.

Another Puzzle

When the 12MC audience tires of the previous task, may I suggest another? I also noticed that the University of Idaho was only 6.7 mi (10.7 km) from Washington State University. Can anyone find a shorter driving distance between flagship universities of two different states? I thought I’d cheat with the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia (yes, I know, not a state) and even then I fell short at 8.8 mi (14.3 km).

Universities selected should incorporate the name of the state either as "University of {whatever state}" or as "{whatever state} State" for this puzzle. I’d consider other suffixes for schools with sufficient stature, e.g., Texas A&M or Georgia Tech, although neither of those would score well because they’re too far from a state border. Directional modifiers and/or offshoot campus designations would be less impressive, e.g., "Central Northwest {whatever state} at Stumblebum."

Shaped Like it Sounds

On April 4, 2013 · 5 Comments

I enjoyed filling in newly captured counties in my county counting map as a result of the recent Dust Bowl trip. I was quite pleased with the result, a nice block of color added to a previously-empty quadrant. I left behind a couple of doughnut-hole counties that I’ll probably never capture. That’s fine. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m oddly at peace with the thought of never capturing every single one of the 3,143 counties and county-equivalents in the United States.

Lincoln County, Colorado stood-out as I shaded the blocks.

View Shaped Like they Sound in a larger map

I noticed that it was a mirror-image, or backwards, or perhaps a dyslexic letter "L" in appearance, and also the first letter in Lincoln. I’m not sure why I found that remarkable or amusing, and I’m not sure why anyone else should care either. Nonetheless it sparked an odd quest to see if I could find other places that were shaped like the first letters in their names.

Ohio License Plate
Ohio License Plate
via Wikipedia , Fair Use Image

There are several recognizable examples at the State level. The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles noted one such instance right on its license plate, the state’s resemblance to the letter "O." In addition lots of schoolchildren learn that Vermont resembles a "V" to distinguish it from New Hampshire when memorizing the states, and finally, Louisiana looks a lot like an "L."

I put all of my little discoveries, both at the state and county levels, on a single map.

View Shaped Like they Sound in a larger map

You should feel free to open the map in a new tab and explore my finds, or continue to read the article and I’ll provide a few more highlights with links directly to appropriate corners of the map.

It struck me that Louisiana + Ohio + Vermont = L-O-V. It’s too bad that the United States doesn’t have another state beginning with E to the east so we could get a little LOVE. The best I could imagine might be Prince Edward Island if we could convince Canada to give it up, drop the Prince part and start it with Edward, then bulldoze the island into a shape more reminiscent of an E. I wonder if Brent, 12MC’s self-anointed "obligatory Canadian" might arrange a swap? Maybe Canada could trade PEI for a very thin strip of equivalent acreage along the straight, extended border through the western half of the continent? I’m kidding of course. No offense implied or intended to the fine citizens of Canada.

The Letter L

View Shaped Like they Sound in a larger map

Actually another Lincoln formed a much better L than the one in Colorado. Lincoln County, Wyoming at least faced the proper direction. I also found lesser examples in Lafayette County, Florida (map) and Lake County, Oregon (map)

The Letter P

View Shaped Like they Sound in a larger map

You might have to bend the rules a little to see this one. Polk County, Arkansas doesn’t have a little cut-out circle but the average viewer should still be able to interpret this as the letter "P" without too much effort. A similar situation exists in Perry County, Alabama (map).

And the Rest of the Counties

View Shaped Like they Sound in a larger map

Setting aside that Rhode Island no longer has any functional counties — albeit they’re still used for U.S. census purposes — I think my favorite might be Newport. To me, it resembled a lower-case letter "n" written in a cursive script. Maybe? Just a little?

Other examples requiring a bit of creative imagination would include the "R" of Roberts County, South Dakota (map) and the sideways-"T" of Tulsa County, Oklahoma (map).

Thank goodness for the circular towns of Georgia

View Larger Map

Many 12MC readers are familiar with the numerous towns in Georgia with an unusual "O" shape found in few other places. I figured I could find at least one town beginning with the letter O that had retained its original boundaries through the last couple of centuries. It was harder than I imagined. Annexations have changed many of their borders to the point where arcs have softened or have been erased. Oliver, Georgia remained pretty faithful though.

Others mostly intact O-towns in Georgia included:

  • Ochlocknee (map)
  • Offerman (map), albeit with a nub
  • Omega (map) although it would have been infinitely more fascinating if it had been Ωmega shaped.

I wondered if any of the formerly circular towns had annexed pipestems to create b’s, d’s, p’s or q’s but I got bored and lost interest I decided to leave something behind for the 12MC audience to discover on its own.

Just Keep Turning

On February 10, 2013 · 16 Comments

I think it’s time for another participatory article. The 12MC audience seems to its like little puzzles and challenges. I had to drive to a local shopping center a couple of miles from my home yesterday afternoon to pick up my wife. An Interstate Highway stood between the two locations, acting as a natural barrier, with no direct straight-line route between them. This created a situation requiring the use of several roads both to find an underpass below the highway and then to snake my way back to the desired endpoint.

Once back home again, it occurred to me that I’d taken 9 completely different roads to move from Point A to Point B. The detours and turns increased the driving distance to 3.2 miles (5.1 kilometres). Thus, with some quick math, my little trip involved 2.8 roads per mile (1.7 roads/km). That’s a lot of roads and a lot of turns in a very short distance. Certainly I could find better, though.

Reston, Virginia

View Larger Map

I’m hamstrung by my own neighborhood because it’s built on a grid. Usually that’s a good thing. The most efficient path between two points rarely involves anything more than maybe three or four roads. Only an odd situation such as an inconveniently placed Interstate Highway could raise the count so I needed to look elsewhere.

There are large planned communities on the outer perimeter of my area, built in the style of the now largely discredited cul-de-sac model of urban sprawl. Those seemed ripe for better examples. Some residents have to take multiple roads to get anywhere, even to exit their housing developments. I picked a particularly remarkable occurrence on the metropolitan edge, Reston, Virginia, and quickly improved my result. That’s not intended to pick on the fine residents of Reston of course — I could have selected any of several other communities — it was the first one that came to mind.

The result: 7 roads in 1.2 miles = 5.8 roads/mile (3.6 roads/km).

Kissimmee, Florida

View Larger Map

What might confound the road network more than a planned community like Reston? How about a gated community combining the effect of two awful design elements: cul-de-sacs and limited access. I seemed to recall numerous gated communities in and around Orlando, Florida, and quickly found two such communities adjacent to each other in Kissimmee to wonderful effect.

The result: 9 roads in 1.2 miles = 7.5 roads/mile (4.7 roads/km).

Hot Springs Village, Arkansas

View Larger Map

Then I got greedy. If a gated community produced a great result then the largest gated community in the United States should score even better! That place is reputed to be Hot Springs Village, Arkansas (albeit without a citation). Sometimes assumptions aren’t scalable and this one may be an example. It’s one gargantuan gated community, that’s obvious, with an absolutely spellbinding spaghetti network of roads. The various water features and golf courses also increased road complexity and raised my hopes. However it was more grid-like than it appeared at first glance, using circular patterns rather than rectangles. I generated a decent score although I couldn’t raise it up to the level of Kissimmee or beyond.

Incidentally, when does a gated community grow so large that the alleged benefits of gates become meaningless? Hot Springs Village is 55.7 square miles with a population of nearly 13 thousand. I would have to assume that at some point along the continuum it reaches a semblance of equilibrium with the outside world.

The result: 8 roads in 1.1 miles = 7.3 roads/mile (4.5 roads/km). Good, not best.

Diamondhead, Mississippi

View Larger Map

I discarded size and seized upon the obstacle element introduced by Hot Springs Village. What about a planned, gated community with the addition of internal through-road barriers such as golf courses? I have family that live along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and some of them are located in a community called Diamondhead that seemed to match the criteria. It’s a nice community that happens to have particularly weird streets. I nearly get carsick driving through Diamondhead with all of its crazy turns and switchbacks that drill to the depths of the development. In addition the oddity of Hawaiian-themed names in Mississippi has always confounded me although that’s not particularly germane to the topic today. I’ll just note the dissonance and move along.

I produced my best score yet. Just as importantly, I can reasonably expect to replicate this route in person some day.

The result: 8 roads in 0.8 miles = 10.0 roads/mile (6.2 roads/km); and a variation with 7 roads in 0.5 miles (map) = 14 roads/mile (8.7 roads/km) (if only Malino Place changed names at the T!).

The Contest and the Rules

It’s pretty simple. Try to improve upon 10.0 roads/mile. Feel free to use any of the communities I’ve explored already. I didn’t mine them exhaustively so better examples may be lurking in there. Alternately, feel free to examine places more familiar to you.

  • As always, the default route on Google Maps is the final authority. No additional manipulations are allowed. You can specify only the two endpoints (using lat/long to shorten the distance on the beginning and ending roads is fine).
  • A given road can be counted only once even if Google Maps says "bear left to remain on road X" or "turn right to remain on road Y" or "do a U-turn on road Z" or whatever. You’ll notice that I tossed the second instance of Manoo Street in my Diamondhead example (even though it approximated a turn)
  • Let’s not get silly. We can all find better examples using only three roads. I won’t place a minimum on the number of roads, however, anything with fewer than 7-or-so roads begins to lose credibility. The goal is to produce an example of ridiculousness without becoming a ridiculous example.
  • What if an arrow-straight road changes names multiple times as it crosses town boundaries? I guess it would count although it does conflict with the spirit of the effort. That might be a good idea for a different contest, though.
  • You may conduct your examination using whatever measurement of distance makes you happy. Use chains, nautical miles or astronomical units for all I care, however, please convert your calculations both to miles and kilometres when presenting results. Google has easy converters (e.g., mi to km and km to mi).
  • The results need to be repeatable. Provide the map link or embed the map itself within your comment.
  • In the event of a roads/mile tie, the "better" result will be the one that involves more roads. In other words, 20 roads in 2 miles would be a lot more impressive than 10 roads in 1 mile.
  • Extra kudos will be bestowed upon anyone who has actually walked, biked or driven the submitted route in person.

I would say that any example meeting or exceeding double-digit mileage results (10.0+ roads/mi) or an equivalent (6.2+ roads/km) is pretty impressive. You should feel free to pat yourself on the back and call it a day. I know that my best score can be improved upon however, and I wonder by how much. I need to find a community shaped like a maze or the capital on an Ionic column.

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An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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