The ATC Report

Tips for Better Racing, Part 4

“How to Read a Map”

It makes no difference if you’ve watched The Amazing Race from episode number one or if you’ve only managed to watch a single episode in all of the six seasons, you have to be thinking that anybody can read a map better than the chuckleheads that are actually doing the racing, right? Wrong.

Steve and Dave once again run the risk of a non-disclosure lawsuit just to reveal to you that every clue, regardless of type, contains a map! That’s right – the thoughtful producers give each team a map to the destination specified in the clue.


Oh sure, some of the maps provided are pretty general, and some are pretty specific. For example, the map at left above was the one used in the (non-televised) “Pop A Bag Of Microwave Popcorn” Roadblock back in TAR season one. Just from looking at the map you can’t even be sure what country the Roadblock occurred in (Zimbabwe), let alone the city (K’mhana Whanna Laiya) or the exact location (across from the IKEA store at 3rd and Main). The map at the above right was used to locate the soccer fields for the soccer Roadblock in Lisbon during TAR3. As you can see, it is a little bit more detailed. If you remember, none of the racers had any trouble finding the location of the soccer fields. If the popcorn popping challenge had been shown, you would have seen teams spread all over Zimbabwe searching for a “lost shaker of salt.” Heck, Kenny and Gerard were over 150 miles away in Chinhoyi (strangely enough, pronounced “van-mun-ster”) for three solid hours before a local pointed them in the right direction.

So, are you still a little leery about believing Steve & Dave? Are you thinking that we might just be making this up? We can understand that. An actual map in each clue really does seem to be a bit much – but we assure you, it’s true. As further proof, we offer the picture below. Until now, the public has never before seen this picture. It is an actual publicity shot taken before TAR ever aired. At that time, the producers were still trying to decide just how much they should “let the viewers in on.” The person we obtained this picture from had no idea what it was. When he sold us a bunch of “insider” photos from TAR, he threw this one in claiming that it was just a test shot that had a piece of scrap paper holding the location for a proposed clue type that had never panned out.


Initially, we believed him because as you look at the picture, you can see the clue envelope with five clues spread out across it. Four of the five are obvious – the Route Info, the Roadblock, the Detour, and the Fast Forward. The fifth “clue” is the unrecognizable one – but for our purposes is the most important. Not only would very few racers be able to identify the mystery “clue,” neither would very few people, period. Only after we examined the photo a little closer did we realize what we had – the proof that each envelope contained a map, and that initially the producers were going to include that fact in the description of the show. The picture below is highly enlarged from the photo above, and can be found above if you look just to the right of the “R” on the clue envelope.


In the above enlargement you can see what appears to be a map depicting the intersection of two highways or roads near a town named “Duncan”. It is indeed a map, but you could search every highway map in the world, and we doubt you would ever find a road that is known as “J52” and “89”, as well as “253” – let alone a road like that near a town named Duncan. That’s because it isn’t a highway map, but is instead an airway map. The only people who would recognize it are those who are actually trained to read such a map – people like airline pilots and air traffic controllers.

There it was, our proof. The producers had once taken a photo of the five things you could find in a clue envelope – the four clue types and a map. However, they had inadvertently included the actual map that they would later use in a leg of The Amazing Race – leg one of TAR4 to be specific. And in that leg would be two people who actually knew what a High Altitude Airway map looked like, and could decipher it. Thus, those same two people would know which of the two maps they were given was the actual map to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan and which was the phony. They wouldn’t spend any time searching for Duncan or Halliburton Fld., and would gain a seat on the first bus out of Milan as a benefit.


One last thing about maps – even expert map readers (such as us) can sometimes err when basing their decision on a TAR-provided map. Take a look below at the map of Holland that we were provided.

Notice that some of the map seems to be in English, while some seems to be in Dutch. That fact was to prove our downfall, as we only noticed the English parts upon first surveying the map. So, when we checked this map to decide if we should tote cheese or dig through dung, we noticed that the cheese was reasonably close to Amsterdam (located in the town of “Heerdachese”). Using the map again, we mistakenly placed the location of the dung in the town of Souda Poo, when in actuality it was to be found in Pylo Poo. If we had noticed the fact that parts of the map were actually in Dutch, we probably would have realized our error before it was too late. You see, our Detour clue provided us with the fact that both the dung and the cheese were located in North Holland (“Noord Holland” on the map). “Souda Poo” is actually located in West Holland (“Laft-Ober Holland” on the map). One bad map read and our race was over.