Thursday, April 28, 2011

Answer: Where is that headstone in the runway?

I'm impressed that folks were able to solve this.  It thought it would be harder than that.  

What's more, Ross Nelson found an answer *I* didn't know about!  

Here's what I did.  

After futzing around for a few searches with various combinations of [ head stone runway ] and [ headstone in runway ] I decided to try alternate queries.  My first "second attempt" was to substitute gravestone for headstone and that pretty much solved the problem
 [  gravestone in runway ] 
leads to the Wikipedia article on the Savannah/Hilton Head Airport.  

About 2/3rds of the way down in that article is the comment about the grave markers and the identification that the two markers are "...Some 3,680 feet (1,120 m) from the west end of Runway 10..."  Once I knew that, I just used  Google Maps to find runway 10, and knowing that runway 10 is 9,351 feet long, I just zoomed in about 1/3rd of the way down the runway and voila, there they were.  

Now Ross took a slightly different tack.  He went with tombstone (rather than gravestone ) and found lots of collisions with Tombstone, AZ!  He then "minused-out" the Arizona hits (by using [ tombstone -AZ -Arizona ] and discovered the Mathis, GA airfield!  His first hit was the Flickr image, but a little more digging quickly leads you to the Mathis Field web page, which confirms that they also have gravestones embedded in the runway.  (Interestingly, from almost the same time as the Savannah runway graves!)  

And regular reader Hans did something even more clever than Ross or I... he used the rarely-used tilde  ( ~ )  operator, as in the query [ ~headstone runway ] 

If you've never seen this before, I'm not surprised.  I know about it, but use it about once per year.  It means  "explore synonyms of this word"!  The reason I use it rarely is that Google already automatically checks synonyms pretty aggressively.  But as you've seen from other examples, this is one area where Google (well, all search engines) are not great.  This is an example where explicitly saying "check the synonyms" is a good tactic.  

Search lesson:  In this case, there are three big lessons... 

1.  Just 'cuz you found one solution doesn't preclude another solution!  

2. When your first search query isn't working, try reformulating.... but look for a different way to phrase the synonym (e.g., "tombstone" for "head stone," or "grave marker" for "head stone").  

3.  If you're really exploring synonyms in your query reformulations, sometimes a tilde is just the right tool.  

Search on! 

1 comment:

  1. Another post that came out and made me think "I learned about this on SearReSearch!"