ANNAPOLIS -- In the end, the Maryland Geography Bee came down to some ancient tunnels in Iran.
Qarats, to be precise, built by the Persians and still used by Iranians. But for what?
That was the question that clinched it yesterday in Annapolis as the two finalists competed for the honor of representing the state in the National Geographic Society's nationwide competition in May.
After 98 youngsters had been eliminated in 90 minutes of questions, only 11-year-old Patrick Jacobs of Mount Airy and 10-year-old Chris Saylor of Hagerstown were still in the ring.
And the moderator, Mac McGarry, the quizmaster of television's "It's Academic," had just posed a doozy. A qarat?
Fortunately for Patrick, he was already ahead 3-1 in the final round, so he could afford to miss this question. He did, answering incorrectly that the tunnels are used for burying the dead.
Chris, a fourth-grader at Paramount Elementary School in Hagerstown, needed the answer to stay alive. He said that the tunnels are used as places of worship.
Wrong, Mr. McGarry said. The qarats are used for irrigation.
That meant Patrick, a sixth-grader at McDonogh Middle School, a private school near Owings Mills, will carry the Maryland banner to the headquarters of the National Geographic Society in Washington on May 20 and 21. There he will face youngsters from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and sixterritories in the fourth annual National Geography Bee. He also won $100 and a National Geographic world atlas.
For finishing second, Chris won $75 and an atlas. Finishing third was Peter J. Anderer, a 13-year-old eighth-grader from Middletown Middle School in Frederick County, who walked away with $50 and an atlas.
The terrain was rugged for the 10 students who made the final round. They were asked to identify unlabeled countries on a map of South and Southeast Asia (Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, among others). They were asked to look at a landscape drawing and identify the delta, the isthmus, the mesa, peninsula and strait.
One student was eliminated from the final round when he could not name the type of map projection that makes land masses at high altitudes seem larger. That's a Mercator projection.
Another student fell by the wayside when he could not name a country other than Egypt that borders the west bank of the Red Sea. Sudan or Ethiopia would have done the trick.
Patrick Jacobs gained his 3-1 advantage when he identified the Yukon as the river that flows across Alaska to the Bering Sea, carrying water flowing south off the Brooks Range.
Nearly 6 million students in grades four through eight from about 20,000 U.S. schools took part in this year's competition, the Society said. Winners of individual school bees took written tests, and up to 100 were selected to compete in each state or territory.
The final 57 will face questions from Alex Trebek, host of "Jeopardy!" and will compete for three college scholarships: $25,000 for first place, $15,000 for second and $10,000 for third.
So it's back to the books now for Patrick, who said he's been studying geography intently since he won the school geography bee in fourth grade at Urbana Elementary School in Frederick County. He now rides the bus 25 miles each way to and from McDonogh in Baltimore County.
"I can't really explain it," he said, asked about his interest in geography. "It's just interesting to learn about other places."
In yesterday's competition, he said, "The hardest part is, like, thinking clearly. You get nervous and lose your concentration."
"He's always been interested in reading," said Patrick's father, Van Jacobs, a division manager for a northern Virginia developer. "He's always been an inquisitive kid."
Chris Saylor has always been a map freak, his father said.
"When he was 4 years old, he'd get up in the morning and read the Rand McNally Road Atlas," said Michael Saylor, a physician in Hagerstown. "By the time he was 5, he had memorized the interstate highway system. So we've never been lost. . . . He's an odd kid in that way."