Do you know what the world’s most densely populated country is?
Sussex School eighth-grader Ian Williams does, and the correct answer of Monaco earned the 14-year-old from Missoula a trip to Washington, D.C., in May to represent Montana in the National Geographic Bee.
On Friday, Montana's National Geographic Bee was held at the University of Montana, with 95 fourth- through eighth-grade students from across Montana being winnowed down to a small group that entered the final round in the afternoon.
The last 10 students answered round after round of questions, correctly answering that Wiesbaden, a hot springs resort city on the Rhine River, is in Germany; and that Marathi, Gujarati and Tamil are languages in India.
The state bee has been held in Billings for decades, said UM geography professor Sarah Halvorson. When the previous organizer retired, Halvorson, who is also a member of the Montana Geographic Alliance – a partner of the foundation arm of National Geographic – was asked to help ensure it continued.
Despite the wide age difference in the participants, volunteer Ruth Harris, who has helped home-schooled students in Missoula get ready for the geography bee for years, said older kids aren’t necessarily guaranteed success.
“I’ve seen fifth-graders win it all,” she said.
One by one students were eliminated, whether because they didn’t remember that Lake Okeechobee was the largest freshwater lake in Florida, or they couldn’t recall that Panama is where the Rabbs' fringe-limbed treefrog was living before it went extinct last year, or that the pearl harvesting haven of the Sulu Archipelago could be found in the Philippines.
The question that stumped all but one of the group members – Williams answered correctly – was the location of Pyeongchang, which will host the 2018 Winter Olympics. (It’s in South Korea).
Anson Joyes of Westby and Noah Horning of Billings had a back-and-forth tiebreaker that ended with the former heading on to face Williams in the finals. It included questions as to the country where the Uyghur language is used (China) and the country that includes the city of Brno (Czech Republic).
In a best-of-three final, Joyes and Williams split one question each, with the former knowing where scientists found a preserved dinosaur tail covered in feathers (Myanmar) and the latter where the Altamira cave paintings were located (Spain).
The top three finalists said they study websites and smartphone apps specifically designed for geography bees. Williams also said he regularly reads the news, especially world news and scientific news.
“In the preliminary rounds, there’s usually a current events section, or questions about current events,” he said.
Horning, a seventh-grader from Billings, said he’s been interested in geography since he started school.
“By first grade I knew all my state capitals and I’ve just been interested in maps ever since,” he said.