A 2002 survey co-conducted by the National Geographic Society polled more than 3,000 18- to 24-year-olds in nine countries. Americans scored second lowest, beating only their counterparts in Mexico.
But for the students participating in the Bee, geographic knowledge is a way of life.
Stephen Cunha, a geography professor at Humboldt State University in Arcata, served as the coordinator for the California competition.
In that state contest, he said, 19 students scored a perfect eight out of eight correct answers in the preliminary rounds.
"State finalists come in all shapes and sizes," Cunha said. "We see star athletes and musicians, computer wizards and artists, introverted kids and class clowns.
"They all love geography and share an insatiable curiosity about the world around them."
All states used the same questions, which are divided into core sub-categories, such as physical geography and commerce.
"The Bee may look like a giant Trivial Pursuit contest to the uninitiated, but really the kids who understand the patterns that order our world are the ones that prevail over 25 rounds," Cunha said.
Some of the state-level questions included:
Name the peninsula in the Middle East that separates the Gulf of Suez from the Gulf of Aqaba. (Sinai Peninsula)
A Mexican state that borders Arizona shares its name with a desert. Name this Mexican state. (Sonora)
Which capital city located on the Suriname River has distinctive Dutch colonial architecture? (Paramaribo)
The national championship round of the National Geographic Bee will be moderated for the 18th year by Jeopardy! quiz show host Alex Trebek.
The finals will air nationwide on May 24 on the National Geographic Channel and will be broadcast later on public television stations.
National Geographic Bee
2006 State Winners
Alabama: Lowell Van Ness, Bumpus Middle School, Hoover
Alaska: Andrew Lee, IDEA, Anchorage
Arizona: Kelsey Schilperoort, Heritage Christian Home Educators, Prescott
Arkansas: Devin Leigh Matthews, Lake Area Homeschool Association, Heber Springs
California: Ryland Lu, Pressman Academy, Los Angeles
Colorado: Autumn Hughes, Chec, Colorado Springs
Connecticut: Liam McCarthy, Middlesex Middle School, Darien
Delaware: Matthew Heitmann, Gunning Bedford Middle School, New Castle
Department of Defense Dependents Schools: Husain Mogri, Bahrain School, Bahrain
District of Columbia: Benjamin Geyer, British School of Washington
Florida: John Kim, Oslo Middle School, Vero Beach
Georgia: Yeshwanth Kandimalla, Simpson Middle School, Marietta
Hawaii: Guthrie Angeles, Kaleiopuu Elementary, Waipahu
Idaho: Ryan Bovard, Jenifer Junior High, Lewiston
Illinois: Bonny Jain, Woodrow Wilson Middle School, Moline
Indiana: Jonathan Hielkema, Highland Christian School, Highland
Iowa: Drew Coffin, Northwest Junior High, Coralville
Kansas: Suneil Iyer, Havencroft Elementary, Olathe
Kentucky: Matthew Hensley, Beaumont Middle School, Lexington
Louisiana: Lee Winkler, Kehoe-France, Metaire
Maine: Alexander Homer, Ellsworth Middle School, Ellsworth
Maryland: James Plamondon, St. John Regional Catholic School, Frederick
Massachusetts: Krishnan Chandra, West Middle School, Andover
Michigan: Matthew Vengalil, Parcells Middle School, Grosse Pointe Woods
Minnesota: Simon Smedberg, Jefferson Community School, Minneapolis
Mississippi: Taide Ding, Central Elementary, Oxford
Missouri: Christopher Winston, Crestview Middle School, Ellisville
Montana: Hannah Goodman, Helena Area Christian Home Education, Helena
Nebraska: Preston Bradley, Lux Middle School, Lincoln
Nevada: Paige dePolo, Little Flower School, Reno
New Hampshire: Neeraj Sirdeshmukh, Fairgrounds Middle School, Nashua
New Jersey: Evan Meltzer, Central Middle School, Stirling
New Mexico: Luis Baca, Albuquerque Academy, Albuquerque
New York: Jonathan Katz, Scarsdale Middle School, Scarsdale
North Carolina: Michael Narup, Myrtle Grove Middle School, Wilmington
North Dakota: Conrad Eggers, Horizon Middle School, Bismarck
Ohio: Nirbhay Jain, Ottawa Hills Junior High, Toledo
Oklahoma: Anthony Gonzalez, Centennial Middle School, Broken Arrow
Oregon: Michael Ling, Meadow Park Middle School, Beaverton
Pacific Territories: Ian Farley, South Pacific Academy, American Samoa
Pennsylvania: Michael Luo, Eagle View Middle School, Mechanicsburg
Puerto Rico: Francisco Vargas, Saint Johns School, San Juan
Rhode Island: Laura Kulm, Archie Cole Middle School, East Greenwich
South Carolina: Andrew Brill, Anderson Homeschool Association, Easley
South Dakota: Joey Knofczynski, Georgia Morse Middle School, Pierre
Tennessee: Mark Arildsen, University School Of Nashville, Nashville
Texas: Jiawei Li, Beck Junior High, Katy
Utah: Jeffrey Bennett, Midvale Middle School, Midvale
Vermont: Lucas Earl, Randolph Union High, Randolph
Virgin Islands: Sean Marin, St. Croix Country Day School, St. Croix
Virginia: Jose Antonia dela Pena, Families In Support Of Home Education, Oak Hill
Washington: Caitlin Snaring, Family Learning Center, Redmond
West Virginia: Joshua Hamrick, Webster Springs Middle School, Webster Springs
Wisconsin: Oliver Buchino, Marshall Middle School, Marshall
Wyoming: James Mothersbaugh, Park Elementary
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