## Nicaragua is the most triangular country in the world

### Underperforming, the U.S. comes in only 157th out of 196 in global triangularity ranking.

Credit: Cacahuate, CC BY-SA 4.0
• Sierra Leone is the world's roundest country and Egypt the squarest. But you knew that.
• Bet you didn't know which is the world's most triangle-shaped country.
• That is until now, because someone's figured out that it's... Nicaragua!

### Circles, squares and triangles

The flag of Nicaragua. Coincidentally or not, it features a... triangle.

Credit: Public Domain

So you like triangles. And you know how to hold a tune. Then, like Alt-J, you could write a song about how "triangles are (your) favorite shape". But what if you're left-brained rather than right-brained, and prefer maps and maths over notes and lyrics?

We feel we've hit upon a pretty good description of Tom Alps. With a name like that, he can't not be geographically inclined. And for proof that he knows his numbers and likes his triangles, look no further than the latest entry on Tom's Data Blog, titled "What is the Most Triangular Country?"

It's not the first question that we'd expect to see flowering in that weird and wild frontier zone between abstract mathematics and applied geography. Nor the second one. No, those would be, respectively: What is the Roundest Country? And What is the Squarest Country?

If we had to take a guess, the answers to those two would be: Lesotho, and Turkey. Turns out we would be wrong on both accounts – because those questions have already been answered. As we discussed some time ago, Sierra Leone is the roundest country in the world, and Egypt is the squarest one (see #926). And, weirdly, the Vatican is both the world's fourth roundest and second most rectangular country.

### Defining 'triangularity'

Ranked: the world's squarest (left) and roundest (right) countries.

Credit: G. Ciruelos, D. Barry.

As it turns out, Lesotho is only the 36th roundest out of a total of 206 countries and territories, and Turkey only the 15th boxiest. So we were off by quite a bit. But ask us which is the most triangular nation on earth, and we can't even picture a likely candidate.

This is where Mr Alps's mathematical skills kick in. Inspired as he was by the pioneering work by Gonzalo Ciruelos (on sovereign circularity) and David Barry (on state-based squareness), he decided to test the world's countries and territories for their conformity to the third-most-basic geometrical shape.

As he writes on his blog, "the first step is to define mathematically what 'triangularity' means." For the full methodology, check Mr Alps's blog. And let's skip to the juicy bits. Out of the 196 countries listed in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the most triangular country is...

(ripping open envelope)

… Nicaragua!

And yes, now that you mention it – we see it too.

### Triangles on flags

The five most triangular countries in the world: Nicaragua, Bosnia, Namibia, Mauritania and Bolivia.

Credit: Tom's Data Blog

On the 'triangularity' index devised by Mr Alps, which indicates maximum similarity between a country and a triangle, the Central American nation scores 0.918672. That is slightly better than the runner-up, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Although now that you mention it, that is a very triangular-looking country, too.

In fact, the Bosnians thought so themselves. The country's national flag features a triangle as an approximation of the nation's geographic shape. Weirdly, the Nicaraguan flag also features a triangle. By accident or design?

Mr Alps plotted the triangularity of each country. "This shows that there is a quite gentle decrease in triangularity over the first 150 countries, followed by a sharp drop-off, seemingly due to countries that have multiple parts."

The least triangular country? The Marshall Islands. "Hardly surprising, considering the country is a collection of tiny islands spread over a large area of ocean."

For the least triangular country that isn't a group of islands, we have to move up 16 places in the ranking to Vietnam at #180. The United States is also among the world's poorest performers when it comes to triangularity, stuck in 157th place between Laos and Mexico.

How well is your country performing in the global triangularity ranking? Check it here on Mr Alps's blog.

And rounding out the Triangularity Top 10: Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Barbados, Botswana and the Dominican Republic.

Credit: Tom's Data Blog

Triangularity ranking images reproduced with kind permission from Mr Alps.

Strange Maps #1058

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

## 3 experiments that prove the Earth is round

### Celebrate Science Day 2020 by proving the Earth is not flat.

• Flat-Earthers drive rational people nuts.
• A physicist offers three experiments to confirm it is those people who are crazy, not you.
• The experiments, however, do require a belief in mathematics.

Happy World Science Day! It's been a rough year for ol' science, which probably hasn't been under attack by so many people since the (last) Dark Ages. Conspiracy theorists at heart, anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers, and perhaps most unbelievably of all, flat-Earthers have been loudly calling into question the pretty-much unquestionable.

In any event, physicist Steven Wooding — the guy who brought us the contactable alien civilization calculator last spring — has offered up a lovely gift for science on its special day: the Flat vs. Round Earth Calculator. It consists of three experiments that can prove to anyone who believes in math that the Earth really is round. We can probably assume, of course, that there are now people arguing that 2+2=5. For these folks we'll point out simply that if the Earth really were flat, cats would have long ago pushed everything over its edge.

Be sure to scroll down the calculator page for Wooding's entertaining treatise on why the whole flat-Earth idea is so forehead-smackingly stupid.

### Experiment 1: Catch a sunset twice

Credit: Johannes Plenio/Unsplash

At the top of the calculator is the "Select an experiment" drop-down menu. Let's start with the "sunset twice" experiment.

Wooding notes that you can prove the Earth is round by standing up quickly right after the Sun goes down and getting ahead of the shadow cast by the horizon so you can see the sun set a second time. If the planet were flat, once it went over the edge from your first viewing position it would be gone.

You may want to find out the time of sunset before testing out the calculator. There are many places online to find this information. Here's one.

To use the calculator, begin by selecting a city in your time zone. Wooding has pre-entered the sunset duration for you, though you can look up the precise value online for your location.

There are three ways to increase your height, selected from the "Ideas" menu: standing up from a lying down position, taking the sky-lift elevator at the Burj Khalifa Hotel in Dubai, or sending up a drone with a camera on it. Most of us will select the first option.

Next, you enter your starting height (the default for lying down is .6562 feet), how long it will take you to stand up, and then the final standing elevation, presumably of your eyes.

What the calculator finds for you is the percentage of the second sunset you'll see. Note that for the sky-lift and drone tests, you see a lot more of that second sunset given the greater height and your accelerated ascent speed.

### Experiment 2: Disappearing object

Credit: Michael Olsen/Unsplash

Thanks to the curvature of the Earth, you can make an object on a distant lake shore seem to disappear with a change in viewing height.

You'll need binoculars for this one. And, um, a lake.

The calculator will tell you how much of the object will become unobservable after you fill in the three values.

(You may also need a boat to measure the distance.)

For this one you'll need a cooperative friend who lives at least some distance away, or a teleporter. Also two sticks and a day with enough sunlight to cast shadows in both locations.

This experiment involves measuring shadows cast at two different locations and calculating the angle between them to arrive at the Earth's circumference.

This experiment is a little advanced mathematically, and Wooding offers a help link if you're confused.

## Scientists discover why fish evolved limbs and left water

### Researchers find a key clue to the evolution of bony fish and tetrapods.

Credit: Karen Carr © The Field Museum
• A new study says solar and lunar tide impacts led to the evolution of bony fish and tetrapods.
• The scientists show that tides created tidal pools, stranding fish and forcing them to get out of the water.
• The researchers ran computer simulations to get their results.

Tides influenced by the sun and the moon were likely the reason why fish developed limbs and early tetrapods evolved, found new research.

The groundbreaking study took a look at tides during the Late Silurian—Devonian periods, which happened between 420 million years ago and 380 million years ago.

The scientists built their work on the theory that the Moon's mass and specific location along its orbit can greatly affect vast tidal ranges across Earth and can create tidal pools. Because they are isolated from each other, the pools provided the biological motivation for fish stranded by high tides to eventually grow limbs.

The study involved researchers from UK's Bangor University and Oxford University as well as Uppsala University in Sweden. They devised very detailed numerical simulations that proved the existence of large tides during the period they studied. They are first to tie tidal hydrodynamics to an evolutionary biological event, states the press release from the University of Oxford.

To come up with the simulations, the scientists employed paleogeography, the study of historical geography, to reconstruct the Earth's continents within the numerical model. The calculations showed tides over four meters happening around the South China block. That area holds the known origin site of the earliest bony fish we know and has been a treasure-trove of the earliest fossils of that nature. Geological evidence also supports changes in tides to be lined to these fossils.

### Neil deGrasse Tyson Explains the Tides

"Large tidal ranges could have fostered both the evolution of air-breathing organs in osteichthyans to facilitate breathing in oxygen-depleted tidal pools, and the development of weight-bearing tetrapod limbs to aid navigation within the intertidal zones," states the paper.

The researchers believe further tidal simulations from early Earth can be used to recreate that far past with greater detail. The findings can help us understand more what roles tides played in diversifying early vertebrates or in causing extinction events.

Check out the study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

## How to do archaeology with place names

### Mapping the frequency of common toponyms opens window on Britain's 'deep history'.

Image: Helen McKenzie, reproduced with kind permission
• A place name is more than a name – it's a historical record of the name-givers.
• By examining some of the most common toponyms, Britain's 'deep history' is revealed.
• See where Danes, Welsh, and Anglo-Saxons stamped their name on the land.

### Trans-generational communication

Washington DC is a place named after a person who was named after a place. This is Washington Old Hall, the ancestral home of George Washington, in the northern English town of Washington.

Image: Public domain

Giving a location a name is a possessive act. It transforms an 'anywhere', a random space, into a 'somewhere', a certain place. A place with meaning, not just for the name-givers, also for later generations. Because place names are sticky. They can survive for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. And even if today's toponym, worn with use, sounds different and lost its original meaning, it still remains a 'vector of trans-generational communication'.

In isolation, each toponym is like an archaeological dig – hiding multiple layers beneath a well-trodden exterior. In context, surprising toponymical patterns emerge. As in these maps by Helen McKenzie. She's disassembled British place names to examine the frequency of some of their most common constituents. They reveal deep history hiding in plain sight, on countless road signs across the UK.

### Denmark's footprint in England

The toponymic suffix -by is most prevalent in the area around the Humber.

Image: Helen McKenzie, reproduced with kind permission

Take -by (or -bie). It's one of the most common suffixes in place names throughout England, but also Scotland and Wales. Familiar examples include Grimsby and Whitby, on the North Sea coast; Derby inland, Formby on the Irish Sea coast and Lockerbie in Scotland.

There are hundreds of other examples, and they are among the most lasting relics of Scandinavian influence in Britain. By in Old Norse signified a farmstead or village. In modern Scandinavian languages, a 'by' still means village or city. In English, the word has also given rise to the terms 'by-election' and 'by-laws' – although pronounced differently than the suffix.

As the map shows, the suffix is most prevalent in the area around the Humber, and northern England in general. This is the core of what was once known as the Danelaw, a large swathe of northern and eastern England that was under Danish rule for about 80 years, until the expulsion of Eric Bloodaxe (*) from Northumbria in the year 954.

But 'by' also occurs in Wales, as far south as Cornwall and as high north as central Scotland – a testament to the scale of Scandinavian involvement in Britain.

### The valleys of Wales, and beyond

The green, green valleys of south Wales.

Image: Helen McKenzie, reproduced with kind permission

The anglicised version is 'coombe', which gives an indication of how to pronounce what looks like three consonants in a row. As the Welsh word for 'valley', it stands to reason that this toponym is most prevalent in the valley-rich south of Wales. Examples include Cwmbran, Cwmafan and Cwmfelinfach.

As for the comparative antiquity of British languages, Welsh is the much older rival of English. The post-Roman, pre-English inhabitants of Britain spoke a Celtic antecedent of Welsh. They were pushed west by the invading Anglo-Saxons. A telling – but disputed – piece of toponymic evidence is the Welsh word for England, Lloegr, which some say means 'lost lands'.

Better evidence are the many Celtic-influenced place names throughout England, including such well-known toponyms as Dover or Manchester. Focusing on Cwm and its anglicised variant, we find pockets throughout southern, central and northern England, as well as in Scotland.

### Tons of -tuns all over Britain

The area of central England around Merseyside has the heaviest concentration of -tons and -tuns in Britain.

Image: Helen McKenzie, reproduced with kind permission

'Tun' is an old English word for enclosure that is cognate with Dutch 'tuin' ('garden') and German 'Zaun' ('fence') – for more on that, see #615 – and by way of 'ton' gave rise to 'town'. Perhaps the world's most famous example is Washington: the U.S. capital's name derives from the country's first president, whose name comes from the eponymous town in northern England. Its name, in turn, probably originated as Hwæsingatūn, the estate (tūn) of the descendants (inga) of Hwæsa – an old English first name that means "wheat sheaf".

The Anglo-Saxons planted countless tuns/tons throughout England, with the second-highest concentration in the northeast, around Washington. The highest concentration, though, is centered on the part of central England towards Merseyside (Liverpool and environs), with Bolton, Everton, Preston and Warrington some of the best known examples.

But really, there are tuns and tons all over Britain, with distant areas of Scotland and Wales the only exceptions. Note the concentration in southwest Wales: southern Pembrokeshire, once known as Little-England-beyond-Wales.

Maps reproduced with kind permission of Helen McKenzie. For a few more maps on toponymy and a lot more on other subjects (including emploment density in Hackney and otter sightings in the UK), check out Ms McKenzie's Instagram, at helen.makes.maps.

Strange Maps #1037

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

(*) Update 1/4/21: Eric Bloodaxe was not Danish; in fact, he was the second king of Norway. (many thanks to Erlend Hov for pointing out the distinction). However, Anglo-Saxon sources often didn't make that distinction, calling all northmen 'Danes'.

## Does Tristan da Cunha have the world's weirdest place names?

### The world's most isolated inhabited island also has some of the world's strangest toponyms.

Image: NASA ASTER Volcano Archive, JPL
• Tristan da Cunha is the world's most isolated inhabited island.
• It also has some of the world's weirdest place names.
• Is there a link? Maybe, if we stretch Darwin's theory from biology to topography.

### Thriving in isolation

Bird's eye view on Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, the capital of Tristan da Cunha.

Image: The Official CTBTO Photostream, CC BY 2.0

As Darwin predicted, islands have more species. That's because isolation can help preserve biodiversity. Could it be that place names also thrive on islands, and for the same reason?

Tristan da Cunha certainly seems to offer excellent support for that theory. Located roughly halfway between South Africa and Uruguay, the tiny, volcanic island is the most isolated inhabited place on the planet. It's only reachable by ship, sailing about 10 times a year from Cape Town.

The British island in the South Atlantic also boasts some of the world's weirdest toponyms. Since there are only about 250 Tristanites on the island, that means the island must have the highest weird-place-name-per-capita ratio in the world.

### Almost blank

Almost-blank map of Tristan da Cunha.

But it's not easy to sample Tristan da Cunha's toponymic delights, at least not on Google Maps. All you'll find are a pin for Queen Mary's Peak, the usually dormant volcano rising at the island's center; and the label for the island's capital, and indeed only settlement, delightfully named 'Edinburgh of the Seven Seas'. (Although the locals just refer to it as 'the settlement').

Zooming in further will reveal two churches (St Mary's, Anglican; and St Joseph's, Catholic), one cemetery, one bar (The Albatross), one shop, and a small museum called the Thatched House. All of which is squeezed in between the harbor and a lava field, and connected by the island's only road, somewhat ambitiously called the M1. No street view. No other place names.

### Local weirdness

Coming across a more detailed map of the island, British historian Dan Snow was taken aback by some of the local weirdness. He poured his findings into a Twitter thread titled We need to talk about Tristan da Cunha's place names. Here's what you won't find on Google Maps.

### Mount Minor Royal

Mary and Olav, together forever on Tristan.

Conventional Mt minor royal. So far so good, Mr Snow starts. Queen Mary's Peak (2,062 m, 6,765 ft) was named after Mary of Teck (1867-1953), the wife of King George V (r. 1910-1936). Just south is Mount Olav (1,969 m, 6,460 ft), named after Olav V, king of Norway (r. 1957-1991). Intriguing though: both are fairly recent royals, so the mountains must have been named rather late. More on that in a minute.

### 'Flat' names

'Big Green Hill', really?

As remarkable as some toponyms on Tristan are, many others are remarkably 'flat' – merely descriptive, in the most generic way possible. Mr. Snow zooms in on Big Point, in between Little Beach and Big Beach, and shows Big Green Hill just to the south – although the place in between, Pig Bite, can't but stimulate the reader's curiosity.

### Best capital name in the world

The island's capital is its only settlement. Nothing much to do there. Pretty name, though.

That would have been enough mappery for most, but Mr. Snow is reeled in by the settlement's name. Best capital name in the world. By far, he proclaims.

### Trump level crazy

Tristan da Cunha's east coast is weird name central.

Looking further east, here are the two killer toponyms that cement Tristan's reputation as the capital of weird place names:

• Ridge-where-the-goat-jump-off, and
• Down-where-the-minister-land(ed)-his-things

These two ultra-descriptive place names are apparently used in full by the locals. They actually do roll off the tongue quite well.

So how, when and – most of all – why did those names come to be associated with places on Tristan? Incredibly, Mr. Snow's thread elicited a response from the grandson of the man who surveyed those names.

### "A meaningful chart"

Caption for this map from Allan Crawford's memoir: "Tristan da Cunha as surveyed by Allan Crawford in 1937-8. The place names were collected from islanders who helped with the survey; no deliberate names had ever been given to places; they were either natural descriptions such as Stony Beach, or they recalled events – Anchorstock was the spot where the wooden stock of an anchor was once washed ashore."

Blame my grandfather for using the real, day-to-day names the islanders used when he mapped it, wrote Bryant Crawford. Mr. Crawford (Jr.) published a few excerpts from 'North, South, East & West', his grandad Allan B. Crawford's memoirs, which reveal the special link between Tristan and Queen Mary, and why the heck the minister landed his things on that particular beach.

"When I landed on Tristan Island for the first time in 1937, as the Surveyor of the Norwegian Scientific Exhibition, I noticed that not many of the names on the Admiralty chart corresponded with the names used by the local islander population. It was at once evident that I should record the actual names used by the inhabitants for all topographical features in order to produce a meaningful chart."

### Loyal to the Royals

Tristan from the sea, with Queen Mary's head in the clouds.

Image: Michael Clarke, CC-BY 2.0

"I was impressed by the islanders' loyalty towards the Royal Family, for many of the island cottages displayed their photographs, especially King George V and his consort. In fact, Queen Mary had taken a great interest in the islanders' welfare and had presented the community with a harmonium for their Church."

"In 1906, when Rev. and Mrs. Barrow arrived for a three-year chaplaincy, the weather was too rough to land at the Settlement, so they chose a beach landing in the lee. To this day, the beach is still known as 'Down where the minister land his things'. It is because the name goes with a swing that it is still in general use."

"There is already a Goat Ridge on the west side of the village, so a ridge on the south of the island is known as the 'Ridge-where-the-goat-jump-off', the sentence being used ungrammatically in full (they seldom used the past tense in speech)."

In all, Mr. Crawford noted down about 80 new toponyms for the island. A few (Hottentot Point, East Jew's Point, West Jew's Point) would today be considered insensitive – showing how much time has elapsed since the 1930s.

### On and off the map

German research vessel Maria S. Merian, just off Edinburgh of the Seven Seas.

Image: Mison, CC BY-SA 3.0

Some of Tristan's other more notable place names:

• Not on this map: The Hill-with-a-cone-in-it-on-the-east-side-of-the-gulch-come-down-by-the-Ridge-where-the-goat-jump-off.
• Blineye: a crater where a bullock was injured in one eye ('Blideye'). and hid afterwards. The area was earlier called 'Ridge-where-the-Blindeye-stop'.
• Bugsby Hole: asteep mountain slope, possibly a reference to a Bugsby Hole in London's East End).
• Frank's Hill: a crater where Frank Monk, a Belgian castaway from the American bark Mabel Clark was overtaken by night in 1878.
• Nellie's Hump is a secondary crater of the main volcano. Its name commemorates a dog chasing a goat.
• Pigbite, finally, is a ridge where over a century ago a pig chased and bit one of the islanders.

### It's a long way to Fografiddle

The Shetland and Orkney Islands also have their fair share of topographic weirdness.

Image: Mapfodder

But Tristan is not the only island with weird place names. A few years ago, Strange Maps zoomed in on the strange place names of Scotland's Shetland and Orkney Islands.

On second thought, we may have overstepped the mark by handing the weird place name World Cup to Tristan da Cunha. Those two Scottish archipelagoes are quite far out too. But the same observation holds: strange place names seem to thrive in isolation. We're lucky to have Mr. Crawford's first-person account of their genesis on Tristan. How cool would it be to find a Viking scroll describing how the Orkney and Shetland Islands were named...

Strange Maps #1010

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.