I just discovered a most productive way to waste time. Earlier this week, Julie mentioned that she didn’t have time to blog because she was rushing to I hadn’t heard of it before, but curious about Julie’s fun site, I checked it out and spent several hours this morning racing to pinpoint the location of the world’s cities on a projection map.

Playing games makes me feel guilty, but has a redeeming value: I was learning concrete knowledge. Before I started, Jakarta was the only city I knew in Indonesia, and I only had a vague idea that it was located on one of the western islands. Now I can pinpoint Jakarta in 1 second as well as several other Indonesian cities. Thanks to Geosense, there are many other cities I had never heard of, all over the world, that I can now locate on a map. And many cities that I was already familiar with I can now locate with precision. Sydney, New Dehli and Pretoria are further north, for example, and Lillehamer much closer to Oslo, than I had realized.

What surprised me most was the improvement I noticed within only a couple of hours. I have probably spent several hundred hours in my life looking at maps, so it would seem that an additional couple of hours would have a negligible effect on my knowledge of geography. But something about the game’s instant feedback, or the scoring, however, focused my attention on remembering where the cities were in a way my map reading hadn’t.

When I started, I was pleased when my score was over 4500, and within only a couple of hours, a score over 6000 was routine and below 5400 rare. (My top score was 6308, and my lowest ‘error rate’ — the average distance from the city — was 52 kilometers.) These scores show up in the High Scores under my login id of coldsquid.

If you are looking for a productive waste of time, check it out. Feel free to leave comments of your best Geosense scores, or links to other online games that teach real knowledge.

14 comments for “

  1. Julie in Austin
    September 11, 2004 at 2:16 pm

    I suppose I should be happy about spreading the geosense craze, but mostly I am humiliated that after countless hours of pregnancy insomnia, I’m still thrilled to break 4000.

  2. Kaimi
    September 11, 2004 at 2:44 pm

    Matt, I played a few games against Dan Richardson, a T & S reader and sometime commenter. You may want to try a game or two against him in the head-to-head. He beat me every game, I’m sorry to say. My current high score is a mere 5300.

  3. Kaimi
    September 11, 2004 at 5:19 pm


    While I’m envious of your accomplishment, the more I think about this, the more I’m dubious of the real value of this information. Yes, it’s useful to know where Germany is on a map. I’m happy that geosense exists. I suspect that at least some people who _didn’t_ know where Germany was on a map have learned through geosense, and that’s a gain for society.

    But I had a pretty good sens of geography before ever looking at geosense. In several dozen games, I’ve only once that I recall missed an actual country (Ivory Coast always gets me mixed up). I was starting in the 3400-3600 range. And Is it then more useful to be able to place ten cities on a map of Germany, within 40 kilometers (and in under 2 seconds)? I don’t see that that follows.

    Going up from that range — the increase from 3500 averages to 5000 averages — involves increasing from simply knowing country locations (and knowing the cities in them), to a new level of being able to place Winnipeg and Preatoria within 100 kilometers. And that’s not really a useful information set, unless perhaps I’m an airline pilot. It’s trivia, plain and simple. It may help the mind exercise, but so does all trivia memorization. In it’s usefulness for me (and for most of us), that trivia memorization is practically indistinguishable from memorizing hall-of-famers’ RBIs, or memorizing favorite lines from Seinfeld.

  4. Dan Richards
    September 11, 2004 at 5:36 pm

    I burned two hours on this game Thursday, alternating between solo play and opponent play. Like Matt, I improved quickly, but I question the true value of this improvement. I find much of my new knowledge to be entirely dependent on the pixels of the Geosense map. I’m totally familiar with Denver, for example, and I could probably nail its location on a detailed physical map of the western US (on the South Platte at the foot of the Rockies). On Geosense, though, I’m frequently hundreds of kilometers off. I’m getting better at pinpointing Denver, but I feel like this improvement is totally artificial–there’s no new knowledge, just a better sense of which pixel is the right one. A steady hand and a good mouse are also important if you want to hit the right pixel in one second. (Blame it on the mouse, Julie).

    Still, it is true that Geosense has improved my knowledge of world geography. My unfortunate unfamiliarity with West Africa is improving, and I’m also getting a better sense of where a bunch of Brazilian and Argentinian cities are. But when tiny countries like Armenia come up, the knowledge that Yerevan is the leftmost of the 5 pixels means very little to me ultimately. I’ve enjoyed doing the detailed European and American maps, and I’ve probably learned more from them. It would be nice if you could click the country, then get a zoomed in view of the country in which to select the city. I also had a very pleasant interaction playing against a French PhD student–we were well-matched worldwide, he had an edge on me on the European detail map, and I smoked him stateside. Kaimi had at least as much substantive knowledge as I–we were never more than a few hundred points apart. As for high scores, I haven’t kept track much, except for the European map, where 6000 has been a difficult, but sometimes reachable benchmark. I once scored 6700 there as a fluke.

    Like Matt, I’m a map junkie–my mother gave me National Geographic’s atlas of the world several Christmases ago, and I’ve spent hours acquainting myself with the contours of Chile and the counties of Ireland.

  5. Matt Evans
    September 11, 2004 at 9:46 pm

    I agree with Kaimi and Dan that after a certain level of proficiency, ‘mastering’ Geosense requires remembering Melbourne’s exact location relative to the small notch at the bottom of Australia, knowledge with no discernible value. That’s the nature of the game, since it doesn’t know when 100 kilometers matters (which side of Japan Tokyo is on) and when it doesn’t (placing Denver on an stark US map).

    What I’ve liked about the timer is it’s pressure to recall the information quickly, a gimmic that’s tricked me into learning the information more thoroughly. My knowledge of the countries of the world is not nearly as strong as my knowledge of the states, but trying to pinpoint Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana within a second has forced me to remember them in a way I hadn’t before, a way that allows me to recognize them on the fly, like I do Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

  6. Kaimi
    September 11, 2004 at 10:24 pm

    And tonight, I drop by for a few games, and see someone signed on as Jordan Fowles. Yikes. T & S-ers, taking over the geosense board. (Jordan and I split six games, I edged him on three world games, and he edged me on three U.S. games). By the way, Jordan, Dan and I have essentially identical game strategies. Strong state / country knowledge, limited city-placement knowledge, and smart defensive play (guess the middle) employed for cities we don’t know (which the other guy often also doesn’t know) makes for close games.

  7. Aaron C. Brown
    September 12, 2004 at 10:43 pm

    It’s a bit annoying to be asked where Accra, Ghana is like 50 times, when there’s hundreds of other cities that they don’t ask about.

    I’m a total geography nerd, and I typically score above 5000, unless there’s a lot of U.S. city questions; without the states drawn for me, I tend to underestimate the size of the Western states relative to the Eastern, and so I keep wanting to put Denver where Salt Lake City should be. Is it just me?

    I agree that so much of one’s score may turn on one’s dexterity with the mouse.

    Fun stuff.

    Aaron B

  8. Matt Evans
    September 13, 2004 at 8:59 am

    Aaron, you have, without question, the best grasp of political geography of anyone I know. If you don’t like that some countries, like Ghana, have only one city listed, you can try Advanced Mode, which adds a lot more cities I’ve never heard of.

  9. September 13, 2004 at 9:30 am

    Has anyone else wished this game was a purchaseable download or that a copy of the game could be purchased? As far as I can tell, the site doesn’t offer that option. This is the kind of game I’d like to play when at the off-hand off-line moment when I’m taking a ten-minute break from something.

    It’s still very cool. I’m just afraid to register and get toasted by you T&Sers who are one-week/two-week veterans of the game. :) Bawk, bawk!

  10. Bryce I
    September 13, 2004 at 10:55 am

    What this game really needs is overlays. Having only national boundaries as reference points is pretty useless. Geographic knowledge is linked to other features as well — internal political divisions and physical features come immediately to mind.

    I toyed with the idea of rewriting the game with selectable overlays — perhaps one for lakes and rivers, one for mountains, one for state/county/province lines.

    I like the scramble mode: much more game play, less mouse twitch. I’m dookeyhead/Bryce I.

  11. Bryce I
    September 13, 2004 at 10:56 am

    Note: when playing scramble on world or europe, the flag of the country gradually grows bigger, so knowing flags can help a lot.

  12. Last_lemming
    September 13, 2004 at 11:16 am

    I’m all for river overlays, especially in large jurisdictions like Russia (on the world map) or Texas (on the US map). County or provincial boundaries, however, would just add clutter.

    And since when was Fort Smith, Arkansas relocated to Yellowknife, NWT? Anybody else encountered errors?

  13. Kaimi
    September 13, 2004 at 11:05 pm

    Because it’s only Monday, and the weekly high scores are reset, you can currently find Kaimipono on the very bottom of the high scores chart, with a 529 average. Better look fast, with Matt-Evans-like mouse speed, because it won’t last long.


  14. Kaimi
    September 14, 2004 at 1:25 am

    I bumped myself off the chart, with a 578 / 120 error. That one might actually last till tomorrow.

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