I try to approach "-est" claims skeptically. Those are ones that purport to be the largest, tallest, longest, smallest, fastest, and so on. Often I’ll use qualifiers such as likely, possibly, or supposedly, to hedge my bets even when fact-checking seems to confirm an assertion. Predictably, someone in the 12MC audience will discover a more extreme example, and frankly, that type of interaction is one of the things I enjoy most about the site. I learn something new every day.
It’s easier to eat crow when I can respond to a reader comment and say legitimately, "well, I never claimed it was absolutely the quickest path between Mianus and Middelfart, just a very quick path" or whatever nonsense might be necessary to extricate myself from embarrassment. Bad things happen when I get too cocky and make bold assertions. Qualifiers allow me to save a little face even when I know I’m dead wrong. Start a sentence with an overworked cliché like "some say" and any crazy claim imaginable can be tossed out recklessly to the public without concern.
Some say… that the "Famous" Star Hotel in Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland is the world’s narrowest hotel. I discovered that happy declaration as I researched Little Miss Muffet the other evening. Anyone who has read Twelve Mile Circle for even a short time already understands that I’m a sucker for exactly that kind of oddity. I once went out of my way for a large shoe. I’d do the same for an ultra-skinny, record-shattering hotel. If I were in Scotland. Which I’m not.
Moffat Star Hotel by AndyRobertsPhotos, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.
I examined photographic evidence. It certainly looked sufficiently slender to grapple for the title.
The hotel proudly proclaimed that it "found its fame for being the world’s narrowest hotel AS MENTIONED IN THE GUINESS [sic.] BOOK OF RECORDS. At only 20ft wide and 162ft long. The Famous Star Hotel may be narrow but it has a BIG personality." That’s some bold capitalization. Various sources claimed (another "some say" alert) that the width may have had something to do with taxation in the late 1700′s when the hotel was constructed; taxation based on building frontage encouraged narrow structures.
It should be easy enough to confirm using the Search Records box at the Officially Amazing Guinness World Records website. That’s what it calls itself now — The Officially Amazing Guinness World Records. Officially. Amazing. We also need to take a logical leap that Guinness is infallible.
Maybe I need to loosen the criteria.
Armada Hotel, Istanbul, Turkey
- Narrowest: narrowest America’s Cup finishing margin… narrowest street… narrowest j-turn… narrowest optic fiber channels. Nope. No hotel.
- Hotel: A bunch of results including Farthest Milk Squirting Distance (because it took place at a hotel, "Ilker Yilmaz (Turkey) squirted milk from his eye a distance of 279.5 cm (9 ft 2 in) at the Armada Hotel, Istanbul, Turkey on 1 September 2004" just in case you were curious.) No mention of narrowest hotel either, or any term related to or implying narrowest.
The Star Hotel displays a certificate from Guinness to verify its claim so I don’t doubt its sincerity. A number of things could have happened.
- Guinness could have discontinued the category
- The record may have been set too recently to make it into the database
- The online database isn’t as comprehensive as the book so readers will want to purchase the publication
I’d bet on the third option. Getting my hands on a print version of Guinness World Records would entail effort though, and well, I’m not sufficiently interested in the topic.
SOURCE: Google Street View, Hotel Molinos in Granada, Spain; February 2009
The claim was further complicated by a similar assertion from the Hotel Molinos in Granada, Spain, which said, "Hotel awarded the Guinness record for being the world’s narrowest hotel, 5 meters at its narrowest and 5.20 meters at the widest, with a depth of 16.40 m." Their website also included a copy of the Guinness certificate in Spanish ("el hotel mas estrecho"). It’s maximum width, 5.20 metres (17.06 feet) shaved nearly a metre from the Scottish claim at the Star Hotel.
What’s going on? Some poking around the Intertubes demonstrated that the Star Hotel might be only the narrowest free-standing hotel. This post is not intended to pick on the Star Hotel. I’ll accept at face value that it obtained a Guinness certificate. I’ll also assume good faith. Rather, I’m using this confusing situation as an object lesson to illustrate the problem of -est. Would I stay at the Star Hotel if I happened to travel to Moffat? Sure, why not. It’s still extremely skinny, plus it has two bars and free WiFi. It doesn’t take much to make me happy.
However, it does call into question other claims made about Moffat, particularly those included on Scotland.com:
When you stand outside on the front steps of Star Hotel and look right and you can see across to Syme Street, the narrowest street in Scotland. Chapel Street, the shortest street in the country is just around the corner, hundred feet down Star Street.
Moffat seemed to have an overabundance of -est.
A map peculiarity reminded me of an old nursery rhyme, probably one of the most famous of them all, and likely familiar to each of us:
Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
I’ll get to the specific reason soon enough. Let me ramble and meander for a little while though, as I tend to like to do, before arriving at the final destination.
The "Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes" would seem like a proper place to search for an explanation, however it’s copyright protected on Google Books and I didn’t feel like traipsing down to a physical library to look it up. An amalgam of different online sources, seemingly all deriving from Oxford anyway, traced a possible explanation to one Dr. Thomas Muffet who allegedly wrote the rhyme about his stepdaughter Patience. That’s one theory, anyway.
Black Widow Spider by Smithsonian, on Flickr,
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Dr. Muffet was an entomologist, an insect scientist, so that could have parlayed into the latter part of the rhyme where the spider frightened the little girl. Yes, I understand that a spider is an arachnid not an insect, and a spider scientist is an arachnologist not an entomologist. I’m grasping at straws, here. Regardless, the passage first appeared in published form in 1805, in "Songs for the Nursery."
There might also be a little intrigue or alternate meanings written into the verse:
Is Little Miss Muffet a symbol of sexual harassment or feminine stereotypes? Is this a simply a verse about a young girl eating a meal and being frightened by a bug? Or could these characters represent real people prominent in 16th century England’s history?
Do any of these explanations have anything to do with geography, and does 12MC really care? No, not really. It was a fun tangent while it lasted and let’s get back to more pertinent business.
Muffet, as a surname, "usually originates from the town of Moffat in Annandale, in the former county of Dumfriesshire, Scotland. If so the derivation is from the Gaelic ‘magh’, meaning a field or plain, and ‘fada’, translating as ‘long’, – the long field."
Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland
It’s not a particularly common surname although the variant Moffatt (like the town) would probably sound more familiar. Geographically, I found a small handful of Muffets used as street names and that was about it.
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I decided to select Muffett Street, in Scone, New South Wales, Australia. I figured Miss Muffet might enjoy a nice scone once she tired of curds and whey. Scone is the horse capital of Australia, located in NSW’s Upper Hunter Shire of the Hunter Valley. The town is know primarily for the Scone Cup, "the biggest country racing carnival in Australia."
What, exactly is a tuffet? It’s a type of low-slung chair that most people would call a stool if it wasn’t covered with fabric. This is a tuffet:
Tuffet and Chair by triesquid, on Flickr,
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
I don’t understand why anyone would publish such an ugly, shaggy example of a tuffet on Flickr, much less share it with a Creative Commons license. Nonetheless someone did and I’m grateful because ultimately tuffet was easier to show than to explain. The word also had an interesting etymology that derived from the Old French touffel, meaning little tuft, and it has become "obsolete except in the nursery rhyme."
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It’s pretty obsolete as a place name, too. The only geographic feature in the United States, Canada the United Kingdom or Australia that I could discover was a single lonely little pond in the Arizona desert: Tuffet Tank. It didn’t look anything like a tuffet. What could have influenced someone to call it a tuffet? I could see elbow or boomerang or even a cheezy mustache, but I’m struggling with tuffet.
Curds and Whey
Curds and Whey are odd consumables derived from milk, or substances seemingly more appropriate for an episode of Bizarre Foods.
Curds are a dairy product obtained by curdling (coagulating) milk with rennet or an edible acidic substance such as lemon juice or vinegar, and then draining off the liquid portion. The increased acidity causes the milk proteins (casein) to tangle into solid masses, or curds. The remaining liquid, which contains only whey proteins, is the whey.
I can say from first-hand experience that curds can be quite tasty. I’ve had cheese curds many times when visiting the wife’s family in Wisconsin. Curds, as served to me, were either plain or breaded and deep-fried as a bar snack. We called them "squeaky cheese" when they were particularly fresh. Some of you will know exactly what I mean. The rest of you will have to take my word for it that curds make a peculiar, unmistakable squeak when chewed fresh.
I don’t know anything about whey. I’ve never tried it.
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Finally, 12MC arrives at the entire point of this article, the spectacular Curdsen Way in Las Vegas, Nevada. I am convinced that this street was named for curds and whey. Look at the other street names nearby — Better Way? Thata Way? and… Supreme Court?… which is how I discovered the neighborhood in the first place. I purposely avoided this specific Supreme Court in the earlier article because I didn’t want anyone to spot Curdsen Way and spoil the surprise. I was laughing too hard.
That was one seriously messed-up real estate developer.
And that was an awful lot of reading to get to a punchline.
All due credit for the article today goes to a reader using the pseudonym "Wangi." He sent me an email message offline noting an interesting situation, which by implication suggested the basis for another contest. I even stole the title of the current article from him. Thank you, Wangi!
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There’s nothing unusual going on here, right? This is a one mile (1.6 kilometre) stretch of motorway outside of Edinburgh, Scotland. Open that map in another tab though, reverse the directions (the little button with the up and down arrows next to the origin and destination information) and notice the result. A simple 1.0 mile trip from Point A to Point B becomes a 16.3 miles (26.2 km) odyssey when returning from Point B back to Point A. The lesson to be learned with this simple exercise: a motorist taking the wrong exit near Edinburgh will have a bad day.
Wangi wanted to know, "what’s the longest round trip for what should be a straightforward 1 mile?" I’ll take my shot at a roundabout answer and then turn the same question over to the 12MC audience playing at home. The key, I think, is embedded within the design of limited access highways. Find a roadway with the longest distance between exits and one stands a pretty good chance of solving the puzzle. There might be other situations causing lengthy reverse trips and I’ll get to some of those momentarily. I’ll concentrate on limited access highways first.
U.S. Interstate Highways
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I’ll stick with what I know and examine the Interstate highway system in the United States. That leaves the rest of the planet to 12MC readers worldwide to scour for better examples. I had a hazy recollection of the longest distance between exits somewhere in western Utah, an interesting situation brought to my attention by a reader after my drive through the Bonneville Salt Flats a couple of years ago. I also noted that I’d experienced a similar situation when I drove across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in Louisiana. Get on either of those roadways and it’s going to be a long time before one will be able to loop back to the start.
Notice the Bonneville example, above. This solution leverages a 37 mile (59.4 km) gap on Interstate 80 between Exit 41 at Knolls and Exit 4 at Bonneville Speedway. It’s one mile heading east-to-west and then 74.1 miles (119 km) to return to the original starting point. A fictional trip taking 48 seconds in one direction will take about 1 hour and 4 minutes when reversing Google Maps’ directions.
A one-mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway trip, by the way, would take 47.9 miles (77.1 km) when reversed. That’s a healthy distance (map) although it falls well short of Bonneville. It’s also not an Interstate highway segment, which leads to the next slice to be considered.
U.S. Limited Access (Non-Interstate) Highways
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Florida’s Turnpike includes an insanely long segment without exits between St. Cloud and Yeehaw Junction, formerly known as Jackass Junction. The 48.9 mile gap is reputed to be the longest in the United States of any road. Miss that exit and one will feel like a Jackass because reversing a one mile trip will take 104 miles (167 km) as Google Maps displays it.
In reality, the Canoe Creek Service Plaza (map) sits between the lanes and caters to traffic heading in either direction. One could flip sides there safely. No physical barrier seems to prevent it. It’s still going to be a humongous detour, just not as bad as it may appear at first glance. Nonetheless, Google Maps does not recognize it as an option which leads me to wonder if it’s legal. Toll roads sometimes have odd rules. Does anyone have first-hand experience with Florida’s Turnpike and know the answer?
Other Possibilities Worth Exploring
My stop at the Alpine Visitor Center several years ago
What’s the longest reverse direction that doesn’t involve a limited access highway? I’ve already mentioned an example that involved a bridge, and there may be longer ones. Another possibility might be one-way scenic loops. There are several in the National Park system. I’m personally familiar with Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park (my visit). It’s limited to uphill traffic because it’s narrow, gravel and full of switchbacks. Eventually it arrives at the Alpine Visitor Center at an elevation of 11,796 feet (3,594 metres) and connects there with the Trail Ridge Road. Google seems to think Old Fall River Road allows two-way traffic (map) — it does not — so I can’t calculate the the exact reverse distance easily. I’d estimate it to be about 25 miles give-or-take.
I’d be curious to find the most extreme distance reversal differences in a urban setting. The one-way roads that users offered in Just Keep Turning offered some interesting possibilities. Reader "Pfly" highlighted a good example in Rome with a fairly significant percentage difference when reversed (map).
I think this should be examined in categories: biggest differences for limited access motorways; for bridges; for loop roads; for urban environments and whatever else seems meaningful. It’s not fair to compare Florida’s Turnpike to Rome.