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Kansas is flatter than pancake

CNN (07/21/2003)
By Richard Stenger

— Kansas really is flatter than a pancake, U.S. geographers reported on Monday.

A scientific comparison of the topography of Kansas to a pancake shows the state, known for its vast, even fields, is in fact really, really flat, geographer Mark Fonstad of Southwest Texas State University and colleagues found.

“ While driving across the American Midwest, it is common to hear travelers remark, ‘This state is as flat as a pancake,’” they wrote in their report, published in the Annals of Improbable Research.

“ Simply put, our results show that Kansas is considerably flatter than a pancake.”

While the study, written for a humorous journal, is tongue-in-cheek, the researchers used serious methodology.

“ There are bigger questions that we ask even though we are doing this sort of thing for fun,” Fonstad said in a telephone interview.

“ The kind of question we ask is: how do you compare two things that aren’t the same size? We like to play games in our heads to try to answer these questions.”

A United States Geological Survey digital elevation model of Kansas provided one set of data for the comparison.

Photographs of the pancake were translated into digital data and scaled to enable a comparison with Kansas. Scaling is the process that map makers use when they represent an entire state, for instance, on a single page.

“ We used a comparison called a flattening ratio,” Fonstad said. “It is the same comparison as used for figuring out how spherical the Earth is.”

While Kansas has some hilly parts, on an overall average it is quite level, the analysis showed.