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Reference Question of the Week – 10/2/11

   October 8th, 2011

Map of New York StateI've been out most of this week at conferences and meetings, so haven't been in the library enough to get a really good reference question. But I did get one directly from someone who reads this website, which I thought would be fun for other people to try. His question:

Here is a nice reference question for you. I tried to answer it but couldn't. It's a question I got from a colleague (at the university I work for) who got it from his daughter (a junior high student).

In the state of New York there are several places that are also found in a number of other states. Name the New York places that match these descriptions.

Place 1
Is also located in 11 other states: Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania.

Place 2
Is also located in 15 other states: Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa,Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin.

Place 3
Is also located in 27 other states: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin.

Place 4
Is not only located in 9 other states: California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Oregon, Pennsylvania,Virginia, Wisconsin
But is also the name of a Canadian province.

I found a Wikipedia page (but not the right answers) and a page made by Dan Tilque which was about toponyms

I believe I found the Wikipedia page he referenced, as well as an About.com page, but they didn't answer the question. The reference to Dan Tilque ended up leading to a journal named Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics. He apparently was the author of an article in 2001 named Common Place Names, but when I tried finding that journal in our databases, the coverage only goes back to 2002 - that's frustrating.

The Most Common US Place Names Wikipedia article cites the Census Bureau's American FactFinder as the source, but I played with their interface and couldn't find any kind of listing that would help with this question (but did learn that they're releasing a new version of the FactFinder soon).

I tried searching online for things like toponym trivia "new york", but had no luck - does anyone know a resource to answer this type of question?

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12 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 10/2/11”

  1. Becca Says:

    Number 4 could be Ontario. I’m not sure about the other answers, but Googling the questions led me to this website: http://resource.vdnet.eu/

    Clicking on “Lessons” and then NYC leads to a worksheet called NYCQuizsheet with these questions. I did not see an answer sheet, but perhaps the owner of the website could help?

  2. Billy Hoya Says:

    If you have a list of New York places from something like an almanac, you could go through the list and search for each on a database like GeoNames (http://www.geonames.org/) You can use the advance search to limit to the US and just cities/towns. A bit of a pain, but I found number 4 that way.

  3. Andromeda Says:

    You could write a script that read in the various List_of_X_in_State pages in wikipedia, built up some lists, and compared. But I don’t feel like learning the wikipedia API today. I did copy-paste the list of common placenames page you linked and wrote a script to munch on it, but it didn’t yield any results consonant with that question.

    The fact that it’s “places”, not, say, “towns”, does complicate things…I mean, what scope do these places have to be on? Is “Union Station” too small?

    If the census people provide an API, they go out of their way to obscure it. Grr.

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Becca: that’s a great find – I bet we could track down an answer sheet by contacting them.

    @Billy: thanks for the link – I hadn’t heard of that website before, but I’ll definitely use it now.

    @Andromeda: wow, that might be a little over the top, but cool. And you’re right about “places” – I had found on the Census website a list of all the different designations they use, which is a lot.

  5. Jessica Says:

    Knowing that number is in fact Ontario lead me to a wikipedia page labled Ontario (disambiguation) [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontario_(disambiguation)] that has all the other states listed. I personally think the word “place” is a little confusing… cities, towns, counties what exactly is the teacher looking for? A combination of resources (like most common place names) and the word disambiguation might yield results for the other answers if only to cross check which cities are in which states.

  6. Meka Says:

    Number three seems like it could be Springfield. Using the common names site you linked to, noticing that Springfield occurs in 28 states and going to the subsequent wiki shows there is a springfield in NY.

  7. Julie Says:

    Have you tried a gazetteer?

  8. Brandy Stillman Says:

    I though that Google Maps (http://maps.google.com) might be a possible, but tougher, resource. The reason I say that is because I was looking for Central Park in a nearby town, and the drop-down presented me with MANY options, inducing the definitive Central Park in New York.

  9. Cezanne Says:

    I see someone has already suggested a gazetteer – that thought just occurred to me this evening. I have gone to the 2010 Census site and downloaded the 2010 census gazetteer files here: http://www.census.gov/geo/www/gazetteer/files/Gaz_places_national.txt

    I copied it into a spreadsheet and sorted it by name instead of by state. I am not sure if there is a quick way to look for duplicates (I am not very excel savvy). I decided to format any cell that contained NY to have a green background so it would be easier to spot while scanning for duplicates. My computer is caught up with this conditional formatting (been at it for about 30 minutes – it hasn’t crashed it does seem to actually be working slowly). Maybe someone can come up with a better way to proceed from here.
    But I love the question – reminds me of some of the questions you find on the Almaniac Competition where we often scan long lists of information looking for answers. It’s like reference questions just for the fun of it (and limited to using the World Almanac for answers)
    from the website:
    “The challenge will be to use the clues (there are clues) and avoid the tricks (not as easy as it sounds) in tracking down the answers in the World Almanac.

    Try these two questions from this spring.

    What is the original first name of both J. R. R. Tolkien and Ozzy Osbourne?

    Which American state’s motto is in French?”

  10. Danielle Says:

    I’m pretty sure #3 is not Springfield as Springfield is in many other states not listed and can’t find a Springfield for a few states like AK.

    I don’t have any good sources for all the items. But among my searches I happened to find this blog post: http://www.howderfamily.com/blog/county-with-state-name/

    I found that when looking for place #1. It’s not comprehensive, but it led me to Place #1 Delaware is the place #1. I’ll keep looking for the others.

  11. Danielle Says:

    Oh silly me! Here I go confusing AK for Arkansas instead of Alaska again. Ok so never mind Springfield works for that state, but still nothing for Kansas, not to mention that Springfield is found in many other states not listed like Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Texas, etc.

  12. In the state of New York there are several places that are also found in a number of other states. » Reference Question of the Week – 10/2/11 :: Brian Herzog | Library world, new trends, technologies | Scoop.it Says:

    […] In the state of New York there are several places that are also found in a number of other states. … Swiss Army Librarian is a blog by Brian Herzog mostly about library and technology issues relating to public libraries… Source: http://www.swissarmylibrarian.net […]