Map #19: December 19, 2016

Difficulty Level: 7

This week’s map is split into four pieces. Here are links to larger versions of the pieces showing the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, and the world.

This map is the third map in a five-week series. During this series, we will keep track of both the usual week-to-week scores and your cumulative score over the five-week period.

This map is a proportional symbol map of the world. (Do you need a refresher on what a proportional symbol map is? Visit our “Basics” page for a quick primer.) For convenience, we have split this week’s map into four parts depicting the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, and the world. But while the map appears in four parts, you should think of it as a single map. The scale of the dots is the same across the pieces; in other words, an orange dot on the piece showing the United States denotes exactly the same thing as an orange dot on the piece showing the United Kingdom. The large red dot (there is only one) indicates that a particular place has the most of this week’s mystery statistic; the small purple dots (there are nineteen) indicate that a particular place has the least of that same statistic. Your job for this week: figure out what statistic is represented by this proportional symbol map.

Stumped? Check back Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for hints about where to focus your investigation. The answer will be posted on Monday, December 26. Good luck!

Note: Some aspects of this map have, for lack of a better word, evolved since it was originally posted on Monday. The data used to create it is neither entirely reliable nor easy to sort. A few guessers have recommended adding dots, and we have done so in three cities: Kyoto, Pittsburgh, and Edinburgh. We have also slightly enlarged the dot in Baltimore from dark blue to cyan. There has also been some debate over the dots in New York, though we’re convinced they’re accurate, at least by the somewhat arbitrary standard we have also applied in Germany. Our apologies if any of these things has thrown you off.

Tuesday’s hint: The first step toward figuring out this map is to understand what kinds of places are represented on it. Many of the dots are centered on big cities, including London, Paris, and New York. But there are also a lot of dots in less populated areas. You might want to check out the overlapping dots in central Germany, the northernmost cyan dot in Sweden, the overlapping orange and green dots in the United Kingdom, the yellow dot in the United Kingdom, the blue dot in eastern Illinois, the green dot in south central New York, the green dot in southern Connecticut, and the orange dot in central New Jersey. What do the places indicated by these dots have in common?

Wednesday’s hint: If you undertook the investigations suggested by yesterday’s hint, you will have noticed that many of the dots on this map are in university towns, and especially towns with prestigious universities. For example, that dot in southern Connecticut is in New Haven, home to Yale University. The dot in south central New York is in Ithaca, home to Cornell University. Sometimes, there are multiple dots in the same city, which is an indication that we are mapping the universities themselves, rather than the cities where they are located. For example, Cambridge, Massachusetts, is home to both a red dot and an orange dot; these refer to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, respectively. The northernmost dot in Sweden represents Uppsala University, the oldest university in Sweden. And that central blue dot in Germany represents the University of Göttingen, one of the most prestigious universities in Germany.

Now, all this talk of prestigious universities might make you think about university rankings (indeed, some of you have submitted guesses to this effect). The problem is that nearly every recently published list of rankings includes universities in Asia, including (depending which list you look at) the likes of the National University of Singapore, Hong Kong University, Peking University, and Tsinghua University. Yet none of those universities is represented on this map. So you’re going to need to find a measure in which American and European universities far outpace peer institutions in Asia. In order to do this, you will have to look to historical trends rather than worry about current rankings.

Thursday’s hint: Yesterday’s hint mentioned that many of the dots on this map indicate universities, but that isn’t the case for all the dots. Two of the dots actually refer to for-profit businesses: the green dot in Murray Hill, New Jersey, represents Bell Labs (formerly owned by Bell Telephone and then AT&T; now owned by Nokia), while one of the two dark blue dots in Zurich represents the lab there run by IBM.

Friday’s hint: Most of the countries marked with dots on this map are relatively populous countries. There is, however, one country with a fairly small population that nevertheless has some good-sized dots: Sweden. There are two cyan dots—one in Stockholm and one in Uppsala—as well as a small magenta dot in Stockholm. One reason Sweden does especially well in this week’s statistic is that the people who determine it are themselves Swedes.