State your business!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

You've probably heard of the "Four Corners", a single point in the United States where four states meet. Some countries, like Bulgaria, do one better: five states in one place!

But could you go even further? The Founding Fathers worried that we might try, and that if we did, civil war would surely follow. So James Madison included a little note about it in Article III of the Constitution, stipulating that no more than fifteen states could share a single corner.

But it turns out they were all worked up over nothing! In 1948, mathematicians at MIT proved that the maximum number of states that can share a corner even in theory is only seven!

Don't believe me? Try it yourself. Grab a pen and a piece of paper, and try to draw a map with more than seven states meeting at a single point. You can't do it! No matter how hard you try, you'll always be a little bit off. You can get close, and if you use a very thick pen, you can "cheat" so that it looks like you've got it. But you'll never truly get those lines to cross at the same spot.

No matter how hard you try, you can't make the eighth state fit.

The bonkers thing is that it really looks like you should be able to do it. You can probably even picture it in your head. But brains aren't perfect, folks. And when you get down to brass tacks and put pen to paper, you'll always find that the eighth state just won't cooperate.

Some historians have even suggested that Madison knew this, and slipped the rule into the Constitution as a private joke. But the mainstream consensus is that while he may have suspected that fifteen states would have been impossible (even Archimedes doubted you could get past twelve), he included the rule just to play it safe.

I, for one, sure hope so. Our country's founding document isn't the place for horsing around.