LOOKING FOR WALDO 

A data genius computes the ultimate American road trip

March 10, 2015

Who needs an atlas when you have an algorithm? Data tinkerer Randy Olson, who previously developed the optimal search path for finding the bespectacled main character of the “Where’s Waldo?” books, has used this same algorithm to compute the ultimate American road trip.

At the urging of Tracy Staedter from Discovery News, Olson set out to find the quickest driving route that would stop at a national natural landmark, national historic site, national park or national monument in all of the lower 48 states. He also included Washington, D.C. and added another stop in California to get to a total of 50 stops. The route is below:

Calculating the fastest way to drive between all 50 landmarks – 2,500 individual routes – could theoretically take forever by hand, but Olson used the same genetic algorithm he used to find a search pattern for Where’s Waldo. This algorithm starts with a handful of solutions, takes the best one, and then compares that to other solutions until it can’t find a better one. Here’s that algorithm at work for “Where’s Waldo?”:

The result is the route pictured above, which includes stops at the Grand Canyon, the Alamo, Mount Vernon, Graceland, the White House, the Statue of Liberty, and much more. You can start in any state and follow the path in either direction.

If you didn’t sleep, stop or hit traffic, Olson calculates that this would take roughly 9.33 days of driving. In reality, you probably need a good two to three months to do justice to this epic American road trip.

Olson also created a bonus map for U.S. cities. The route below travels through every Trip Advisor-rated “Best City to Visit” in the lower 48 states, plus (for convenience sake) Cleveland.

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