Which country has Lake Eyre as its lowest point and Mount Kosciuszko as its highest point?
What enclave of Russia is located on the Baltic Sea? Is it Chuvashiya, Kaliningrad or Tatarstan?
These are the sort of questions that have been occupying a good deal of Ty McDowell's time lately. Ty is a fifth-grader at Mount Pleasant Elementary School, and he will compete on Friday for the state championship in the National Geographic Bee at UNCCharlotte.
It's been a long time since a Cabarrus County student qualified to compete at the state level. The principal and AIG teacher at Ty's school have been asking around, and the best guess is that it's been at least 20 years.
It wasn't an easy path for Ty to qualify. The process began in his classroom at school when all fourth- and fifth-grade students took a written geography test. The top 32 students then competed in a bee-style competition in which each student advanced for correct answers and was eliminated for an incorrect one. It took seven rounds of competition to whittle the field to 10 students.
Those 10 students moved to the next round, which had a mixed format. Some questions were asked of an individual student, to be answered orally, and some were asked to all students for written answers. This time it took just a couple rounds for Ty to be declared the school winner.
As school champion, Ty then took another written test, which was sent away to be scored against school winners from all over the state. Ty placed in the top 100 in North Carolina, earning him a trip to the state championship. There he will compete against students up to the eighth grade.
I asked Ty how he was preparing for the state competition.
He's been studying an atlas and practice questions provided by the National Geographic Society, the bee's sponsor. Those questions about Russian enclaves and Mount Kosciuszko are sample questions from National Geographic's website.
Ty said it's tricky studying because the scope of the questions is so broad. Not only do bee participants have to know where things are, they also need a good knowledge of history, economics and science.
Here's another sample question: Which is the main reason deciduous trees do not grow in taiga or boreal forests?
According to Ty's mother, Connie Barrier, breadth of knowledge is his strength. She said her son reads constantly, retains everything with a photographic memory and is a good guesser. Ty agrees that, when it comes to multiple-choice questions, he can usually answer a question correctly by an informed process of elimination.
Ty also knows that some of his success will depend on luck, and that's OK with him. He's going to keep reading, keep studying and keep hoping he gets the right questions Friday.
No matter how well he does that day, he's already got a family and a school that are very proud.
And by the way, the answers are Australia, Kaliningrad and a short growing season.