Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Genius pastime for a 4-hour train ride...

While we were on vacation, Joe and I got to talking about geography, pretty natural given that on a single bike ride, he and his buddies went from Italy to Switzerland and back again. We wondered how many countries we could name, and how many there actually are in the world.

Given who and how we are, we turned this into a game and challenged our friends Alicia and Paul, as we were travelling by train from Milan to Rome (about 4 1/2 hours), to list as many countries as we could. And of course, since I never travel without a notebook and multiple writing implements, I was able to equip our little foursome with all requisite supplies. Pencils and pens in hand, we set to work, first individually, then by couple, compiling and de-duping our lists. This exercise was completely engrossing, probably much to the amusement of our fellow passengers, and genuinely kept us thinking, whispering, chattering and laughing for hours.

Finally we alternated reading a country from our lists, cancelled out the ones we had in common, and got points for countries that the other team neglected to list. Like so:

Completely low-tech, completely fun.

The final tally? Alicia and Paul came up with 19 that we didn't have on our list, and we had 36 they didn't have. We continued our fun by discussing our varying strategies for moving up, down, and across the globe. Alicia drew highly inaccurate maps, while I think I benefited from years of work in international development (former USSR and Southeast Asia), and from an obsession with diving (Caribbean, South Pacific).

But all 4 of us missed a lot and fell FAR short of the 193 or 245 countries/entities (depends) that Wiki lists. Our ignorance was generally pretty gaping when it came to Africa and the Middle East, but that's pretty easily remedied with an atlas and some time now that we know about it.

For a complete list of countries, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries. But if you want to take on the geeky challenge that we so enjoyed, you might want to wait to check it out. So much fun!

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