Dr. Randy Olson is a Senior Data Scientist at the University of Pennsylvania and when he's not putting his skills to use furthering the progression of biomedical science he likes to use them for slightly more offbeat projects.
Not long ago, Randy used his knowledge of algorithms to create a guaranteed way of finding Waldo every time in the Where's Waldo books. Important stuff, we're sure you'll agree. And, now, he's used it to plan the perfect American road trip.
"Tracy Staedter from Discovery News proposed an interesting idea to me," Randy says on his website.
"Why not use the same algorithm from my Where's Waldo article to compute the optimal road trip across every state in the U.S.?
"Visiting every U.S. state has long been on my bucket list, so I jumped on the opportunity and opened up my machine learning tool box for another quick weekend project."
As far as road trips go, this is about as good as it gets.
Randy's mammoth route hits all of the 48 lower states (that's all of 'em bar Alaska and Hawaii) and takes in 50 famous landmarks, all figured out through hard data.
Credit: Randal S. Olson
When he set out, he decided that his route needed to fulfil three definite criteria:
1. The trip must make at least one stop in all 48 states in the contiguous U.S.
2. The trip would only make stops at National Natural Landmarks, National Historic Sites, National Parks, or National Monuments.
3. The trip must be taken by car and never leave the U.S.
Using those rules, Randy set about applying genetic algorithms to Google Maps and the result is a road trip itinerary brilliant enough to get even the most seasoned of travelers excited.
"With those objectives in mind, Tracy compiled a list of 50 major U.S. landmarks - one in each state excluding Alaska/Hawaii and including D.C., and two in California," Randy wrote on his website.
"The result was an epic itinerary with a mix of inner city exploration, must-see historical sites, and beautiful natural landscapes. All that was left was to figure out the path that would minimize our time spent driving and maximize our time spent enjoying the landmarks.
"Assuming no traffic, this road trip will take about 224 hours (9.33 days) of driving in total, so it's truly an epic undertaking that will take at least two to three months to complete. The best part is that this road trip is designed so that you can start anywhere on the route as long as you follow it from then on. You'll hit every major area in the U.S. on this trip, and as an added bonus, you won't spend too long driving through the endless corn fields of Nebraska."
Yellowstone National Park. Credit: Jim Bowen
If this road trip is a little bit on the lengthy side for you, never fear because Randy was even kind enough to release the code he used so that you can plan your own custom route. But, if you're feeling brave, here is a full list of all the spots you'll visit on the scientist's epic itinerary.
Grand Canyon, AZ
Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
Craters of the Moon National Monument, ID
Yellowstone National Park, WY
Pikes Peak, CO
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
The Alamo, TX
The Platt Historic District, OK
Toltec Mounds, AR
Elvis Presley's Graceland, TN
Vicksburg National Military Park, MS
French Quarter, New Orleans, LA
USS Alabama, AL
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL
Okefenokee Swamp Park, GA
Fort Sumter National Monument, SC
Lost World Caverns, WV
Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center, NC
Mount Vernon, VA
White House, Washington, DC
Colonial Annapolis Historic District, MD
New Castle Historic District, Delaware
Cape May Historic District, NJ
Liberty Bell, PA
Statue of Liberty, NY
The Mark Twain House & Museum, CT
The Breakers, RI
USS Constitution, MA
Acadia National Park, ME
Mount Washington Hotel, NH
Shelburne Farms, VT
Fox Theater, Detroit, MI
Spring Grove Cemetery, OH
Mammoth Cave National Park, KY
West Baden Springs Hotel, IN
Abraham Lincoln's Home, IL
Gateway Arch, MO
C. W. Parker Carousel Museum, KS
Terrace Hill Governor's Mansion, IA
Fort Snelling, MN
Ashfall Fossil Bed, NE
Mount Rushmore, SD
Fort Union Trading Post, ND
Glacier National Park, MT
Hanford Site, WA
Columbia River Highway, OR
San Francisco Cable Cars, CA
San Andreas Fault, CA
Hoover Dam, NV
Not bad at all.
Reflecting on his project, Randy wrote: "Of course, it may not be practical for you to take a road trip of epic proportions like the ones described here. But really, this algorithm works just as well when you're planning a smaller trip within your state as when you're planning a larger trip spanning the entire world.
"All the algorithm needs are the distances travelled between every stop so it can try to compute the optimal route. How you get between those stops is up to you."
Words: Paddy Maddison
Featured Image Credit: Randal S. Olson