Dig a Hole to China? Try a Sandwich Instead : Krulwich Wonders... Everyone has heard at one time or another about the old myth that if you dug a hole deep enough, you'd end up on the other side of the Earth, in China. As it turns out, the undertaking is much more complex than it might seem.
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Dig a Hole to China? Try a Sandwich Instead

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Dig a Hole to China? Try a Sandwich Instead

Dig a Hole to China? Try a Sandwich Instead

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Late last month, blogger Ze Frank walked onto a Brooklyn street, gently placed a piece of bread on the sidewalk and invited someone, anyone, to put another piece of bread on precisely the other side of the earth, the exact polar opposite. Two pieces of bread with the earth in the middle would make the world's first earth sandwich. Well, as it turns out, that wouldn't work very well. Our correspondent, Robert Krulwich, is here to tell us why.


Let's do a little experiment. What I'd like you to do is I'd like you to look down, straight down to your feet, and then I want you to imagine that you have a magic drill in your hand like I have in mine. So now I'm going to drill, since I'm in New York City, I'm going to drill first through the pavement and then down through some pipes and then through rock. I'm going to go through 2,200 miles of rock, down into earth's very hot mantle and then out through the other side, another 2,200 miles of rock until finally I've - wait, wait, wait, wait.

You know, a lot of people think that if you dig a hole all the way through the earth, you will come up - I mean, your mamma probably told you this - in China. Right? That's what the American pioneer Isaac Swan thought. In 1825 he founded a town.

Ms. KIMBERLY S BUNNER (Canton Librarian): The name of the town is Canton.

KRULWICH: Canton, Illinois.

Ms. BUNNER: Yes.

KRULWICH: And says Kim Bunner, the town librarian, it is named Canton because Mr. Swan thought that his patch of Illinois prairie was...

Ms. BUNNER: Straight across the earth. If you dug a whole you'll hit Canton, China.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KRULWICH: And so he literally thought that.

Ms. BUNNER: Yes.

KRULWICH: And there's another town close by, Pekin, Illinois, named Pekin because it was supposedly opposite Peking, or Beijing. At least that's what Pekin's Acting Mayor Frank Mackaman heard.

Mayor FRANK MACKAMAN (Pekin, Illinois): I remember growing with that same myth. I even remember digging a hole next to the foundation of my house in an effort to reach China.

KRULWICH: But if Mayor Mackaman had a drill like mine, and if he went from his house all the way through the earth, he, like me and like almost every one of you listening, we would all discover that on the other side of the earth from where we stand is not China, but...

(Soundbite of splashing water)

KRULWICH: ...water, open, empty ocean. New York City, for example, is opposite an ocean.

You're probably wondering about your town, Mr. Mayor Pekin.

Mayor MACKAMAN: Yes, I'd be curious to know.

KRULWICH: Well, you are opposite water, too; as, by the way are most people, because, remember, the planet is mostly water. But as it turns out, in the Lower 48 U.S. states, there are only three places, just three places where you can stand with dry land on the other side of the earth. Just three.

Mayor MACKAMAN: How interesting.

KRULWICH: And they are: first, a patch of land near Carvel, Colorado along Route 109. That patch is directly opposite an extinct volcano near Antarctica. And...

Unidentified Man #1: Welcome to the 2006 graduation ceremony here on the campus of Otero Junior College

KRULWICH: If you are on the Otero campus, near La Junta, Colorado, you are directly opposite a French island called Isle Amsterdam, mostly occupied by seals. And there is a part of Shelby, Montana opposite the Kerguelen Islands, islands so remote that an encyclopedia says that they are the best place on the earth to survive a nuclear war, because you are nowhere.

If, however, if you are not on the right patch of Route 109 in Colorado, or Otero Junior College, or Shelby, Montana, if you're any where else on the Lower 48, you can dig your hole, but you will come up...

(Soundbite of splashing water)

KRULWICH: ...in water.

Mayor MACKAMAN: I think my excavating career is over.

KRULWICH: Don't despair. Because for one thing, you should know that the entire State of Hawaii is opposite land.

Mayor MACKAMAN: Oh, all right.

KRULWICH: Yeah, opposite Botswana. It's not China. But still, I did ask myself, is there a place on earth where if I dug a hole, I would come up in China?

Mayor MACKAMAN: Oh, working backward...

KRULWICH: Yeah. So...

Mayor MACKAMAN: Did you find an answer to that?


Mayor MACKAMAN: And where would you end up?

KRULWICH: Well, Mr. Mayor, if you went to Concordia, Argentina, tango country, not far from Buenos Aires, and you dug from Concordia straight through the earth, you would end up in Shanghai.

Mayor MACKAMAN: Ahh.

(Soundbite of laughter and Chinese music)

KRULWICH: So while you couldn't do this anywhere in the USA, in fact there are large swaths of Argentina and Chile where if your mother says to you, Go out in the yard and dig a hole to China, you know what? You could.

Robert Krulwich, NPR News in New York.

YDSTIE: Now, remember that blogger Ze Frank we mentioned in the intro to this story? If you go to npr.org., you can find his blog, which includes a link to this little song he composed for the Earth Sandwich Project.

Mr. ZE FRANK (Performer, Satirist, Essayist, Composer, Dancer): (Singing) As I lay this bread on the ground I know my job ain't done. It leaves the earth open faced and over exposed to the sun. All right. If the earth were a sandwich, we'd get along so well. And we can feed everybody with a piece of ourselves. As I lay this bread on the ground, I know my job ain't done. But if the earth were a sandwich we would all be one - sandwich.

YDSTIE: Bon appetite. You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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