As it turns out, the best way to find Waldo is also the best way to find Hanford.
A new map of the most efficient way to tour the nation, with a stop at a major national landmark in each state, picked Hanford for the stop in Washington state.
That’s raised some eyebrows on the west side of the state. After all, the map designers could have picked Mount Rainier, the San Juan Islands or Mount St. Helens to represent the state.
They can blame Waldo and science.
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Randy Olson is a doctoral student with a blog and a “data tinkering hobby,” who decided on a whim last month to come up with the optimal computer strategy to find Waldo, the guy in the red-and-white striped shirt that’s hidden among dozens of people in each scene in the children’s Where’s Waldo? picture book series.
He tried different search strategies, finding some could take computers “longer than the universe has existed” to look at the possible combinations of 68 characters in the pictures to pick out Waldo.
The best solution was an algorithm that continually tinkers with a solution until it cannot find a better one, he wrote. That created the shortest path that visited every character across the page to pick out Waldo in about five minutes.
Interesting, thought Tracy Staedter, a tech producer for Discovery News. She wondered if Olson could use the same strategy to create the optimal road trip across the United States.
Since 2011 a map has been circulating around social media purported to be a driving route across the United States that hits all the major landmarks, according to Snopes.com, a website that looks into the truth of urban legends.
In truth, it was the route of photographer Brian DeFrees who drove through 33 states in 53 days snapping photographs with a camera mounted in his car, Snopes reported. It shows no stop at Hanford, taking Interstate 90 from Spokane to Seattle.
Staedter challenged Olson to come up with a true all-American landmark map using the same data-tinkering that he used to for Waldo.
The road trip would include stops in each of the 48 contiguous states at a national natural landmark, national historic site, national park or national monument.
What she and Olson came up with, using his algorithm method, was the most efficient way to visit a mix of stops that Staedter says represent a mix of history and natural wonder in 13,699 miles of driving.
In the West, travelers would go from Glacier National Park in Montana to Hanford in Washington to the Columbia River Highway in Oregon.
Perhaps it is not surprising that Hanford was picked for Washington.
Olson and Staedter have a technology bent, and Hanford has been featured in many national publications since Congress passed a law including its historic areas in a new Manhattan Project National Park.
“I think this is a great indicator of how a national park literally puts us on the map,” said Kris Watkins, president of Visit Tri-Cities. It’s just the start of the increased interest in Hanford because of the national park status, she said.
The highlight of the national park at Hanford will be B Reactor, the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor, ushering in the atomic age. It produced the plutonium for the world’s first atomic bomb, set off in the New Mexico desert, and the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping end World War II.
Although Hanford is a secure site with the public turned away at its security gates, the Department of Energy does offer tours of either the environmental cleanup of the nuclear reservation or B Reactor with registration at www.hanford.gov. Actual park operations are awaiting a management plan.
In addition, Hanford’s security perimeter, left largely untouched since WWII, has been turned into the 196,000-acre Hanford Reach National Monument, much of it along the last free-flowing section of the Columbia River in the United States.
Not everyone agrees with Watkins that Hanford was the right choice.
MyNorthwest.com said the trip “leaves something to be desired in Washington.”
“When the trip includes the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park and the White House, Hanford feels like an afterthought,” said a blog post on the site.
For those who find Olson’s national landmark map not to their taste, he’s created a second road trip that visits a city in each state. Travelers would drive from Boise to Seattle to Portland, with no stop at Hanford.
Olson writes about the road trips for Business Insider at bit.ly/stateroadtrip and Staedter writes about the landmark road trip at bit.ly/hitlandmarks. To read Olson’s research on finding Waldo, go to bit.ly/waldostrategy.