Map challenge caught the community’s attention

Chad C. Knudson
Thursday, January 14, 2021
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There’s no doubt that more than one Montana map was brought out to assist in finding obscure Montana towns that might fit the clues in our Montana Map Mix-Up quiz. We all learned a little something new about our state in the process. Check out Page 6 for the complete list of answers and to see whose correct entry was drawn for our $50 prize.

When a neighbor yells at one from across the way, it is worth a moment to find out what he has to say, for such was the origin story of the Ranger-Review’s Montana Map Mix-Up contest.

With a piece of notebook paper and some scribbled clues, the neighbor suggested the newspaper might want to use the concept, but insisted his name not be attached. And while the Ranger-Review will not use anonymous sources in its news reporting, it is not above anonymous contest creators.

The list floated around the office for a few months and additions and deletions were made over time. Some clues seemed easier than others and it was important to get the right mix between the two.

So while every one of the many entrants correctly identified Circle as the “round town,” other clues drew a broader set of answers.

In those cases, the Ranger-Review staff did some independent research and made a judgment call as to whether an alternative answer should be accepted.

One clue which tripped up more than a few entrants was “drug water.” The intended answer was Medicine Lake, however a not-so-insignificant minority suggested White Sulphur Springs. Research suggests that white sulphur and hot springs may have health applications, but neither is a drug, and therefore it was not accepted as a correct answer.

The vast majority of people understood the clue “Aha!” as referring to Eureka, however one entrant said Surprise, and it is hard to argue with that, so the answer was also accepted.

The clue that drew the biggest divide was “prairie fire.”

The official answer key said the correct answer was Ashland. A significant minority said Grass Range. Others suggested Birney and even Charlo.

The sheer number of Grass Range enthusiasts caused a rethink. While prairie could clearly refer to grass or a grassy range, the answer seemed to miss the “fire” portion of the clue. That is until one staff member pointed out their kitchen appliance of that name has caused more than one fire! In the end Grass Range was accepted.

Another clue that inspired a lot of creative responses was “After April.” The best answer continues to be the most literal – Ismay. For those who missed Ismay, don’t slap your forehead too hard, you weren’t alone.

Many thought it could be Somers, Bloomfield, Rosebud, Springdale or even someplace called Floweree.

In the end, both Warm Springs and Hot Springs were accepted as alternatives. Since after April spring does warm. Flowers do often follow April, and fields can be found in bloom, but the judges ruled these too broad to be accepted.

New York City knowledge seems widespread among respondents. While the answer key always included both Manhattan and Harlem, many respondents realized that Manhattan is one of New York’s five boroughs, while Harlem is technically a neighborhood of Manhattan. Every respondent used one or both.

One clue that prompted a lot of questions – but also a lot of correct answers – was “Golden State magic.” To puzzle through the clue, respondents needed to realize that California is the Golden State and that “Cali” is a common nickname for the state. From there it wasn’t too hard to get to Kalispell. As specific as the clue was, that was the only answer accepted.

One clue proved that the creative answer is sometimes more interesting than the obvious one. Every single respondent thought “Pie maker” referred to nearby Baker, except one brave soul who dug deep and came up with Libby. As a pie filling brand, Libby was indeed acceptable.

As some entrants kick themselves over a missed answer or disagree with the judges’ rulings on alternatives, rest assured that fewer than half of all responses qualified as 100% correct. It was challenging and hopefully that was part of the fun.

And while frustration may rule for those who missed out, the Ranger-Review is grateful for the scores and scores of responses and the many nice notes that accompanied them. The positive feedback has been greatly uplifting in an otherwise difficult time. Thanks for playing.

Ideas for future contests are always welcome, and you don’t even have to yell down the street to submit them!

Reach Chad Knudson at