Steve, Cathy, and Nicholas -- Steve argues with the Car Talk guys (created 2010-05-25)

I disagreed with one of the Puzzler questions that are presented each week on the Car Talk radio program. This puzzler was an interesting geography question. "This was sent in by Norm Loveless. Imagine you’re at home in a city somewhere in the United States. You decide to travel along each of the four compass directions, north, south, east, and west. Day 1, you travel due north and you eventually cross a state line. Let's call this state X. You return home. The next day you decide to travel due south. Again you come to the border of your home state and its neighbor. It is also state X. You return home amazed. Day 3, you elect to proceed due east and you are shocked to find out that the first state you reach is, again, state X! On the fourth day you travel due west and soon are stupefied to find a sign saying, “Welcome to State X”! There is only one city in the United States whereby traveling along the four compass points, north, south, east and west, the first state you reach is identical no matter which direction you choose. Name the city and the state." Their answer was Stamford, Connecticut, but I think there are a couple of other cities much further west that also qualify.

If you look at the map of Wisconsin, there is a peninsula jutting off to into Lake Michigan. It is called the Door Peninsula, and it separates Green Bay (the body of water, not the city) from the rest of Lake Michigan. There are two cities on the Door Peninsula that fit the conditions in the Car Talk puzzler, Sister Bay and Washington Island.

If you travel due north, you cross the Green Bay and hit the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Traveling due west, you also cross the Green Bay and reach the Upper Peninsula, just north of Menominee. Traveling due east, you cross all of Lake Michigan to reach the lower peninsula of Michigan, at a spot a bit north of Traverse City. Traveling south is the tricky part. You're traveling through Lake Michigan, and if you went far enough south, you would hit land in Indiana. But before you hit land, you would cross the water boundary in Lake Michigan that separates Michigan and Wisconsin. So technically, you cross the border into Michigan (though not any dry part of Michigan) before you reach any other state.

So there you have it. Travel in any of the four compass directions from Sister Bay or Washington Island and you'll reach Michigan first. Now there is a technicality here. The wording of the puzzler said "On the fourth day you travel due west and soon are stupefied to find a sign saying, “Welcome to State X”! " Since you are traveling west across water and not land to reach Michigan, there is unlikely to be a sign on the beach saying "Welcome to Michigan." But my answer is so clever, relying on the fact that you are crossing a water boundary going south but never touch land in Michigan that I hope it still deserves partial credit.

For your reference, here is a map of Stamford Connecticut.

What now?

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Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. This page was written by Steve Simon and was last modified on 2010-05-25.