Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Search challenge (9/3/14): Can you find the places Twain mentions in "Around the Equator"?

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm about to head out for a few days of SCUBA diving in an exotic, tropical (and undisclosed) location.  Who knows?  I might want to use some of things I pick up there as future Search Challenges! 

This week's Challenge is one that I've wanted to do for a while, but never quite had the time (or nerve) to post it as a Challenge.  

It's fairly tricky, and will require some new skills on the part of Search Researchers.  But I'm confident that you can do this.

Here's the Search Challenge for today: 

Background:  I remember reading Mark Twain's Following the Equator as a schoolboy and completely enjoying the story.  I was also amazed at all of the places he visited.  I know he made it to Hawai'i and Australia, but he also seemed to visit much of the world... and in 1895.  By ship.  Suppose I want to do his trip over again.  Where all would I have to go?  
Challenge 1:  Can you figure out all of the place names he mentions in the book?  The link above is to the Gutenberg Project's plain-text version of his book.  Can you figure out some way to determine ALL of the place names he mentions? 

Example: The first two paragraphs of the book are... 

"The starting point of this lecturing-trip around the world was Paris, where we had been living a year or two.
We sailed for America, and there made certain preparations.  This took but little time.  Two members of my family elected to go with me.  Also a carbuncle.  The dictionary says a carbuncle is a kind of jewel.  Humor is out of place in a dictionary." 

In these paragraphs he mentions "Paris" and "America."  Those should be the first two entries in your list of placenames.  

Now, can you figure out ALL of the OTHER places he mentions in the course of the text?  

(And yes, I know he mentions a lot of places he doesn't actually visit; that's okay, for our list let's include every place he writes about and not worry about whether or not he actually visited there.)  

Obviously, you don't want to do this by hand.  So the question really is, can you find a way to solve this problem using SearchResearch methods? 

Challenge 2:  In case anyone finishes this early... Can you then create a set of Placemarks on Google Earth to show all of the places mentioned in your list of placenames?  Ideally, you should give us a link to your KML file with all of the places Twain mentions in the book.  

This is probably the most sophisticated Challenge I've issued--which is why I'll write up my answer in about 2 weeks.  (Note that I haven't yet solved this myself; but I'm confident that I can.)  

As mentioned, I'll be out-of-town for the next 10 days, so we won't have a Challenge next week (Sept 10).  Instead, I'll write up my solution on Wednesday, Sept 17th.  

I'm also going to be off-the-grid (mostly), so I won't be able to approve your posts to the blog after Thursday.  (Well.. probably.  I will try to check in; but I'm not sure about Wifi coverage where I'm going.)  

So I set up a Google Group for everyone to discuss this Challenge.  For this problem, we can have our discussion in SRS Discusses Around The Equator.  (Click on that link to join the group.)  This way, I won't need to manually approve every comment to the blog (which is what I do now).  

As I said in the Welcome message for the group, this is a no-hold-barred Search Challenge.  If you want to work together, be my guest. You can set up Hangouts to meet and chat about possible solutions, you can swap ideas about how to solve it... Whatever works for you.  

It's a two week Challenge.  Are you up for it?  Can Team SearchResearch do it?  

Search on! 


  1. Amazing SearchResearch Challenge, Dr. Russell. Glad you shared it with us. I am sure we as a team can solve it without cheating "reading the book." Although, I will read the book just because looks great and I love reading.

    Have an amazing trip.

  2. I second what Ramón said & I look forward to a future challenge that shares your experience in whatever ocean you may choose to explore. Have an exciting trip.

    I like the idea that we can work on this together via Google Groups and/or Hangouts. By the words used by Dr. Dan this may be a "superchallenge". I'm game! If we do a hangout I assume we can let everyone know in Google Groups.

  3. Love it! Go for the group solution. You all have the skills to figure this one out (but it's a rare combination of skills to find all in one person). Working together is probably the key to solving this.