The Best of States, the Worst of States
These maps show the best and worst qualities of all fifty states in the US, and all European countries.
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all: with advice like that, we'd only have two of the four maps below.
Using a wide range of statistics, the maps show what each state is best at, and worst at, for both the US and the EU.
It must be said that some of the best-in-class examples sound like backhanded compliments. Really, Cyprus? Best at handling euro coins & notes, that's your stand-out quality? And Hawaii, Least likely to collide with a deer? Well, duh. There are no native deer on Hawaii (1).
But there's plenty more to snicker about, or marvel at, on these maps.
What each US state is best at
Some qualities seem self-evident. Washington state, most bicycle-friendly? Oregon, most craft breweries per capita? Wisconsin, biggest cheese producer? I'll buy that.
Other best-in-class qualities of the but-of-course kind include: Alaska, most pilots per capita; Arizona, sunniest state; Georgia, top peanut producer; Michigan, most lighthouses; Colorado, least obese.
Many labels reflect the positive attitude of that state's citizens: South Carolina, most polite; Utah, most charitable; Iowa, lowest divorce rate; Kansas, most teenage volunteers; Ohio, most library visits per capita; Vermont, most frequent exercises.
But for quite a few states it seems like it was a struggle to come up with something genuinely nice: Wyoming, lowest rate of syphilis (despite the proximity of North Dakota, biggest penises); Montana, longest cat lifespans; Alabama, most concealed carry licenses; Virginia, most vanity license plates; Tennessee, largest walleye ever caught.
What each US state is worst at
Few things please us more than another person's flaws and failures - hence reality TV. This less than commendable tendency also explains why this map is much more eye-catching than the one above.
Just as a warm-up, some traffic horror: Illinois, most rail accidents; Pennsylvania, worst bridges; Idaho, worst drivers; Montana, most traffic fatalities per capita (how do those two categories not overlap?); Florida, most recreational boat accidents; Maine, fewest heliports (sounds like a one-percenter problem, though).
Other worst-in-class qualities reflect badly on the moral fibre of each state's citizens, although arguably not to the same degree. Alabama's most child smokers seems worse than Oklahoma's lowest produce consumption. Delaware's fewest regular exercisers sound less malign than next-door Maryland's worst at incarcerating the elderly. And Nevada's highest divorce rate is preferable over Wyoming's highest suicide rate.
Some labels sound like reverse-backhanded compliments. Utah, nerdiest state? Good for you. North Dakota, least visited? More of your state to yourself! Nebraska, least furniture manufacturing? If that's the worst thing you can come up with...
But some labels are genuinely disturbing. Visit Indiana, state with most meth incidents? Only if we have to. How about Missouri, home of the worst puppy mills in the land, or Kentucky, worst state to be an animal overall? Perhaps not. And definitely not Kansas, state with the ugliest scenery.
What each EU state is best at
France is the Colorado of Europe: both places have the lowest obesity rate within their respective Unions. And Iowa and Ireland have the lowest divorce rates in the US and EU, respectively. But most European best-ofs don't have an equivalent on the American map, leaving us to wonder: Which US state is the twin of Portugal, top cork producer in the EU? And where in America do they have the most work experience with robots, as in Slovakia?
Danes regularly top the lists of happiest people in the world; perhaps not unconnected to the fact that they're the dancingest, singingest people in Europe.
Many Europeans excel at being good to the environment, and their place in it: Belgians recycle most, Estonians waste least, the Dutch quit smoking the most, and the British kill each other the least.
The Germans are Europe's happiest workers, the Italians live the longest and the Austrians are the least likely to be unemployed. Bulgaria has the cheapest electricity, and Slovenia the fewest teen moms. And Greece, much maligned of late? At least it has the lowest rate of tuberculosis.
What Each EU state is worst at
The rosy picture painted by the statistics above has a Dorian Gray-like twin, bringing out Europe's ugly side.
Let's hope an apple a day keeps the doctor away: Poland produces most of the former, but has fewest of the latter. The Netherlands has the highest share of cyclist deaths among road fatalities. Perhaps it's all those ex-smokers trying to shape up.
The Czech Republic (or, newly, Czechia) is the best at drinking beer but, disconcertingly, also has more slavery than anywhere else in the EU. If Hungarians have the lowest illegal spend in Europe, perhaps it's because they have less to spend per se: nobody pays more in VAT.
Lithuania has more secondary school graduates than anywhere else in Europe, but also higher suicide rates. And those Danes? They're the Mainers of Europe, stuck with the continent's biggest first-world problem: fewest Zaras per capita.
(1) Axis deer, native to India, were introduced on Molokai and Oahu in 1868, Lanai in 1920 and Maui in 1959. But their numbers are kept in check through targeted hunting. There were no axis deer on the Big Island until four were illegally introduced in 2009. Their offspring is actively being eradicated under the aegis of the Big Island Invasive Species Committee. This Facebook page monitors axis deer sightings on Big Island.
Strange Map #781
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