Saturday, May 26, 2007

Girl Wins Geographic Bee -- First in 17 Years

Scott Norris for National Geographic News
May 23, 2007

Caitlin Snaring of Redmond, Washington, is the new National Geographic Bee champion.

The home schooled eighth grader won by knowing which Vietnamese city, split by a river with the same name, was an imperial capital for more than a century. (Answer: Hue.) Snaring is only the second girl to win the national championship, and the first since 1990.

"I knew that I had the upper hand today," Snaring, who faced off with nine boys to claim the top spot, told National Geographic News.

"I saw every answer in my head."

(Video: Watch the final round.)

Following the competition, she was presented with the first place prize: a $25,000 U.S. college scholarship and lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society.

Suneil Iyer of Kansas battled Snaring through the final round, but finally had to settle for second place and a $15,000 scholarship award.

Mark Arildsen of Tennessee took third place with a $10,000 scholarship.

Sole Survivor

Snaring emerged as the sole survivor out of more than five million fourth to eighth graders who participated in National Geographic Bee competitions nationwide.

Moderated as always by Jeopardy game show host Alex Trebek, the bee finals were held yesterday and today at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Bee rules allow each contestant to get one wrong answer before being eliminated on their second miss. Snaring was the only contestant to not miss a single question either day.

"It [has] taken years, but there's a girl up here," Trebek said as he called Snaring to the stage to receive her award.

Experience Counts

Each of the top three finishers had competed in the national finals before.

Ten of the 55 contestants had been state champions in previous years, and 7 of those 10 survived elimination and made it into Wednesday's championship round.

The three first-time state champions to reach the finals were Solomon Mayer of Kentucky, Tyler Bowen of Oklahoma, and Benjamin Taylor of West Virginia.

All three were eliminated in the fifth round of questions, leaving only the more experienced contestants to vie for the championship.

Andrew Lee of Alaska stumbled in round seven.

Lee's question: Burushaski, a language isolate—meaning that it is not related to any other known languages—is spoken in the Gilgit District of what country containing part of the Karakoram Range? (Answer: Pakistan.)

In round nine, remaining finalists were given a series of five place names. Four were related in some way, and contestants had to name the one that did not belong and also state why.

Colorado's Antonio de la Peña failed to single out Adelaide as a city in South Australia, listed among four other cities in Queensland state.

Arildsen missed noting that the Nubian Desert is in Africa. The four other deserts listed are in Asia.

And Puerto Rico's Francisco Vargas was eliminated by not naming the Cook Strait as the only one of the five straits mentioned not located in the Northern Hemisphere.

That left only Snaring and Iyer in contention for the championship. But first, a tense elimination round for third place was held among de la Peña, Arildsen, and Vargas.

After de la Peña faltered early, Arildsen and Vargas each answered a series of questions correctly.

Finally, Vargas faltered on the following question: The Ogaden is a dry, sparsely populated region that was fought over by Ethiopia and what bordering country in the 1970s? (Answer: Somalia.)

Final Showdown

To claim the championship, Snaring finally wore down Iyer by answering all of her final questions correctly:

• What is the Arabic term for a valley in the hot desert areas of northern Africa and the Middle East that carries a stream occasionally? (Answer: wadi.)

• In late March 2007, Protestant and Catholic political leaders from Northern Ireland agreed to form a power-sharing government that took effect in early May 2007. The leaders met in what city that lies at the mouth of the Lagan River? (Answer: Belfast.)

• The second largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa is also the richest Portuguese-speaking country in Africa. Name this country. (Answer: Angola.)

• Lampedusa, an island whose geographical location has made it a target for illegal immigrants seeking to enter the European Union from Africa, is administered by which country? (Answer: Italy.)

• A city that is divided by a river of the same name was the imperial capital of Vietnam for more than a century. Name this city, which is still an important cultural center. (Answer: Hue.)

Traci Snaring, Caitlins mother, said that after last year's competition, she asked her daughter if she really wanted to go through the pressure of competing again. But Caitlin had made up her mind.

"She took one day off after the bee last year, and then she started studying," Traci Snaring said.

Asked if she could explain the lack of girls among the bee finalists, Caitlin Snaring said she thought many were more attracted by spelling bees.

"For all you girls out there who like spelling," the champion said, "you might want to try geography, too."

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