Thursday, February 2, 2012

Answer: Where are you?

Fast answer:  Our amnesiac friend is in the Google offices in the Warsaw Financial Center at Emilii Plater 53, Warsaw, Poland.  The phone number is +48 22 207 19 00 and this photo is taken from the 10th floor. 

Now, the details...
That’s a remarkable amount of information from just one picture.  How do you do it?

In a case like this, you have to start with what you have.  Look at the image (click on it to get the high-res version of the image). 

There are only a few things to really start with.  Two buildings have logos that might be useful, and there’s a flag in the lower left corner.  A quick check of the flags-of-the-world shows that this is an Egyptian flag, but surely isn’t Cairo or anywhere else in Egypt, so that’s just a false lead.

Let’s try searching for one of the two logos.  I searched first for the closest and most obvious logo atop the building labeled "TP."  (I ALSO chose this because the building is clearly pretty new and pretty much a trophy building… I figured there would be a good chance that someone would have put up a web page on it.)  I tried queries like [ tp logo ] but didn't have much luck until... 

I searched for [tp office building] and voila!  This is pretty clearly the Telekomunikacja Polska building in Warsaw, Poland.  A nice webpage is at:  (The first result on the search page was to a site that had all the skyscrapers of Warsaw labeled.  This is clearly that building.)  A quick Wikipedia search for confirmation, and you'll see all is lining up--this is the TP building.   Wikipedia page (w/ image)

You can also figure this out by doing an Image search for [ tp ] – yeah, it seems unlikely, but the TP logo shows up on the first page of Image results, and that leads you to the Telekomunikacja Polska website.

Knowing this, I could easily get the street address for the TP building: 14/16 Twarda Street, Warsaw. 

Now, how to find where the photo was taken FROM? 

I tried doing this with Google Maps, but I couldn’t quite get the angle I wanted to verify where the photo was taken from.  That’s when I realized this was really a Google Earth problem. 

Searching in Google Earth for the TP building at 14/16 Twarda Street, I was able to get to exactly the same view I see in Maps, but if you turn on the 3D buildings layer, you get a very different perspective.

I then just flew around in Google Earth until I pretty much matched the view.

Once I had the view matched with the photograph (which I did by lining up the buildings), I literally “turned around” in Earth to see the building, double-clicked on the building, and up pops the information:  Warsaw Financial Center. 

Now… how to figure out what office/floor you’re on?   You can estimate it by looking at the altitude of the view, something that Google Earth tells you in the lower right corner.  From that number (120 meters), we can guess we're somewhere around the 15th floor or so.  But to get the exact floor?  Ah... THIS takes a little detective work!  

When I opened the large image, I noticed an odd blue set of squiggles on the image. What's up with that?  I zoomed in a bit and... 
 It looked like backwards writing, so a quick copy/paste into my favorite image editor, a flip-horizontal so I can see what it is, and another AHA! It’s the Google logo!  (Surprise!) 

From there, it’s not hard to find the Google offices in the Warsaw Financial Center, which tell us the exact floor (10th) and phone number. 

Search [google offices warsaw] to find that the information is at:

   Google Warsaw
   Warsaw Financial Center
   Emilii Plater 53
   00-113 Warszawa
   Phone: +48 22 207 19 00
   Fax: +48 22 207 19 21

And once you have THAT information, it's pretty straightforward to figure out that the Google offices are on the 10th floor.  

Search Lessons:  There are a few here... 

(1) Sometimes clues can be misleading (the Egyptian flag).  It's important to NOT get bogged down in dead ends, but be willing to change your strategy on the fly.
(2) Google's Search By Image, while a great tool, will have difficulty on a cityscape like this unless it happens to be a well-known view (such as the view of Paris from standard photo spots).  So you probably have to use Maps or, as in this example, Google Earth.
(3) Google Earth is a valuable search tool when you're looking for objects that you can't identify otherwise.  In this case, we could align the photo with the 3D buildings and literally work backwards to identify the Warsaw Financial Tower.
(4) Sometimes clues are hidden in the details.   In the case of the Google logo appearing reflected in the glass, it becomes apparent once you isolate that part of the image, magnify it, and reflect it around the Y axis.  That one clue then lets you figure out the exact location. 

Above all, you just have to think like a detective.  

Search on!  


  1. nice one with the reflected logo :) i got to the right address by searching "westin near pzu" on google maps. After that, all my time was spent trying to align the view on google earth with the image.

  2. This actually happened to me once. But I asked the person beside me where I was and she told me.

    Search Lesson 5) People can be valuable sources of information ;)

  3. the building directory lists the google offices on both the 8th and 10th floors.
    i hope you didn't send your medicine to the wrong floor!

  4. seriously, how can you tell we're on the 10th floor and not the 8th?

  5. The extra credit asked for an office number. I am curious how to find that out. I had trouble with that. And did you just pick the 10th floor over the 8th just bacause it was closer to your google earth height estimate? Apparently office floors can vary greatly in height.

  6. I zoomed in to see the logo on the tall building in the background, and then did a Google image search for "pzu", because it seemed to be an easier term to search than "tp". I saw a likely looking building on the first page of results, and it came from a site called "Skyscrapers of Warsaw": Looking at the pulldown menu for existing skyscrapers, I saw a page for TPSA tower, with an address of ul. Twarda 14/16, which I plugged into Google Maps. After zooming in for a better view, which happened to be the same perspective as the mystery photo, I noticed a nearby building with the label "Google Poland". No extra credit for me, though, because I didn't figure out the floor; I'd have to take delivery in the lobby.

  7. Bizarre experience -- I have been battling and battling to find the TP building in the 3-D view. I have finally realized that it simply is not there. I can find surrounding buildings and landmarks, and I can even find a link the the TP Building, but the building itself is not present in the 3-D model I am currently looking at.

  8. It's a bit false though, isn't it? You chose the solution, the Google Building and worked backwards to create the problem. If that reflection of that logo had not been there and if the natural assumption that you'd chosen google didn't prompt (the "surprise" as you put it), then the task would be much harder. Pick an image of a genuinely random building and do it and I'd be convinced.

  9. Maybe he knows there are SpongeBob Squarepants stickers on the windows of the 8th floor.

  10. I am a commercial insurance underwriter and use this type of search functionality every day. I love Google, it keeps my agents and insureds honest.

  11. Okay and I thought I was a great stalker. I yield to the master!

  12. And I thought I was a great stalker. I yield to the master.

  13. I got it! Much the same way as described: TP Tower in Image to Google Maps. I didn't bother much with the rotation in the map, but noticed one building was labeled as Google Poland and thought, "You clever devils." Then it was a matter of looking up the details for Google Poland. Good fun!

  14. Lol I was shocked when I saw it cause I see this building almost everyday :)

  15. But again, that "surprise" (you clever devils) makes it a false problem. Pick a random building that isn't a Google HQ somewhere (giving you the key to know the floor and the number) and show me that you can pinpoint the window and the phone number.

  16. Hmmm... isn't it just possible that the photo was taken by a Google employee who visted a friend's office on the 9th floor to take the picutre-- since that blue Google logo messes up the 8th and 10 floor views?!

  17. It took me about 4 minutes. I looked at the logos on the towers--in this case PZU and TP--and searched on those. PZU brought up a Polish insurance company. I then did a Google Maps search of the PZU Tower in Warsaw (assuming the city I was looking at was probably Warsaw) and bingo--found it. Then navigated the city streets until I was at the base of TP Tower, the building in the foreground. Navigated a couple of blocks away to the tallest building in the southeasterly direction, and noted the address. Did a Google search of the address and found that Google Poland is in the building (of course!) From there, the rest was easy. :-) Fun challenge!

  18. I just wanted to say what the last comment said. I noticed PZU before the TP logo, and that was good because it helped to know at least which country I was, and then it was easier to google TP and Poland. I looked up the address and went immediately to Google Maps to try the new trick i just learned from you, the *. Unfortunately I couldn't open Google Earth, so I did what I could to find the right building from the angle, but then I gave up and came here to see the answer. Shame on me on not seeing the Google logo. I also googled the picture itself and thought that you took it, and I wondered if you had a flat in Warsaw...

  19. It would have been a lot more difficult if the picture was actually taken from the 9th or 11th...

  20. Instead of studying the picture as the first step, I just clicked on the photo and dragged it into my browser's Google Search box.

    Then I switched to the Google Images search and it showed "similar photos." The very top results showed that we were looking at the TP Tower in Warsaw, so within seconds I was able to search for that in Google maps. I think the drag-and-drop into Google Images search is a more reliable approach if you don't have a logo on a building.

    Like Abby, I found the * search trick in Google Maps to be very useful in this exercise. I always enjoy using Google Earth, too (when I'm on a good computer that doesn't freeze when I try to work too fast in it).

  21. I knew where it was just by looking at the picture. Hm! Looks like Warsaw. Hm! PZU building. Ah, that was close to the hotel I stayed in two years ago.


  22. What a brilliant example - thanks for sharing it!