213 points by fortran77
2 months ago
Wow seeing Tom (Geowizard) get this popular is crazy. Definitely deserving though because his content is very entertaining.
Part of what I think makes him so entertaining is that he's expanded beyond just playing the GeoGuessr game.
For the uninitiated he's currently planning to dribble a soccer ball across the UK from coast to coast and then later this summer he's going to attempt to hitchhike the length of the US east coast while completing various fan submitted challenges (part of his "how not to travel" series).
His "straight line missions" on YouTube are really entertaining. The concept (crossing some piece of land in a completely straight line) is simple, but leads to quite some interesting challenges in practice. His brillant story-telling makes the videos very compelling.
A lot of the fun comes from how unqualified he is for such journeys. He's just a regular dude who puts in some preparation. It would be a lot less interesting if he was some sort of trained survivalist or even just a hardcore outdoorsman.
Probably because he's English I think of his missions like Bilbo marching off to the Lonely Mountain. No idea what's he's in for, but he'll make it fun in the telling of it.
Those great 18th and 19th century stories of rambling into the unknown are definitively English. The ability to walk across land without worry of being attacked (by man or beast) is because of England's strong legal and social rules, and that every predator larger than a badger was killed off long ago. At most you could expect an angry farmer, but more likely you would be seen as just another rambler. Try that in 18th century Africa, Asia or even North America and it would not have ended well.
> The ability to walk across land without worry of being attacked (by man or beast) is because of England's strong legal and social rules, and that every predator larger than a badger was killed off long ago. At most you could expect an angry farmer, but more likely you would be seen as just another rambler. Try that in 18th century Africa, Asia or even North America and it would not have ended well.
Perhaps not in 18th century Asia, but this was a very commonly noted feature of the Pax Mongolica in 13th- and 14th-century Asia. People remarked at the time that even women traveling alone would remain unmolested.
Maybe for the rich people. Average people living under pax Mongolia were not free to move about without good reason. Similar statements have been made about Tokugawa Japan; all those stories about wandering samurai. The reality is that while crime was under control only those with social station or government permission were allowed to move about, and then only along prescribed paths/means. England overcame this with the demise of feudal systems. Only then could literally anyone be allowed to walk across the country.
Probably the travel ban for lower classes is part of how you create Pax Mongolia.
> Average people living under pax Mongolia were not free to move about without good reason.
The legal situation varied, but regardless of the legalities there was no structure in place to enforce this.
> England overcame this with the demise of feudal systems.
Note that at around this time, England started passing laws that prohibited serfs from leaving their ancestral lands, and the reason the laws were suddenly passed is that the serfs had suddenly begun to leave. The laws had no effect on whether the serfs could leave, though; feudalism fell apart because the general population structure stopped supporting it.
> all those stories about wandering samurai
I don't understand this reference; wandering samurai ("ronin") are bandits, the problem to be suppressed.
Ronin are masterless. A samurai with a master could also travel. Many of the stories are about perfectly legitimate samurai getting into adventures while wandering. Or they are about chasing down personal vendettas that involve lots of autonomous travel.
One of his videos had some don’t try this yourself disclaimer (it was a particular straight line video where they faced a lot of challenges), which confused me. Is he really some kind of professional (at something outdoorsey)? Because that’s what that kind of a disclaimer seems to imply, or the way I tend to interpret it.
He got into some hot water with the police at one point for crossing an active railway. Adding the disclaimer may have been part of his informal "plea deal," so to speak.
Trespass on the railway is a crime in the UK and attracts a significant fine. It is also dangerous especially in the middle of the green belt as train speeds increase (up to 100+mph on a track with gentle curves and trees both sides limiting forward visibility for driver). Suburban commuter tracks sometimes have third/fourth rail traction current (e.g. London Underground network which has extensive overground sections, Merseyrail). 630v/750v not to be trifled with. Most UK people know this and rail fences are well maintained.
Writers such as Iain Sinclair and similar who do performative walks actually build the detours round obstacles into the report of the walk as a kind of comment on land use. Entertaining and prudent.
As others have said, medical bills not an issue for UK people. Civil cases of the kind mentioned in this sub-thread don't seem to occur.
He's crossing a lot of people's fields and some gardens and jumping railway tracks. He probably cuts a lot of the sensitive stuff out more by now. I think his thing with this will be untenable or maybe even is as he gets more famous, it's just a legal boundary-line issue that doesn't work if it gets attention.
If you look at similar videos, there's a number of people who try to mimic what he does. Often kids, and with much less preparation than he does.
If he gets hurt in these videos he'll accrue some medical bills.
If some number of kids watch his videos and get hurt mimicking them, he'll accrue a bunch of lawsuits to cover their medical bills.
Putting the disclaimer implies nothing but a well-founded fear of frivolous lawsuits.
UK law says that he’s liable for that?
Now he did put a disclaimer on one of his videos. But in many other videos he’s been talking about this kind of mission as if it might be something that the viewer might wanna do herself. “If you’re planning a straight-line mission…” Stuff like that. So he might not have been encouraging it, but he has been talking as if his videos might inspire the viewer to do them themselves.
my wife’s family has a new year day tradition of doing a straight line walk. great fun and revealing re physical and human geography. Parts of Wales and the North can be physically difficult but are generally doable if you don’t mind crawling through a hedgerow whereas walks in much of the south east (even in what is ostensibly the countryside) are basically impossible.
It almost doesn’t matter what the subject matter of his straight line mission videos happens to be (although it’s fascinating subject matter in its own right). There is a stunningly high level of craft readily apparent in those videos. He and his team (if there’s a team) are clearly very talented storytellers and filmmakers.
His GeoGuesser videos are great not just for the guesses, but also for the witty commentary and random chit-chat.
But his other contents are even better. Great writing and narrative style.
The 5-video series "How not to Travel Europe"  is the best content that I've ever seen on YouTube. Highly recommended.
Just binge watched this today after I saw your comment and it is fantastic. Good banter along with a guided sense of direction towards their goal of completing their challenges and reaching their end city.
Holy cow! This was an amazing watch and I can't wait to see the rest of them. Thank you so much for the recommendation
GeoGuessr has really blown up with the "Duels" mode. You really should check some of Tom's latest videos on YouTube if you haven't already.
Surprisingly I have to give some credit to YouTube algorithm since I got recommended other entertaining videos from big creators, that I don't usually follow. For example this one where Ludwig plays with GeoRainBolt. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqwSQzlJozw
If you watch the top Geoguessers it looks like magic. They immediately know where in the world they are within seconds.
There are so many clues as to where you are and a far more limited area of coverage than you might think. It’s not uncommon to recognize a road or neighborhood from a previous game.
The ‘meta’ includes everything from the tape on the camera mount bars, the reflective patterns on bollards, to the quality of the image encoding.
That, plus a subconscious ‘feel’ you start to develop goes a very very long way in a relatively short amount of time. I sometimes feel like I could tell I was in Singapore or not even if I was only allowed to look at my feet.
I got very good at it, but I lost my appetite for the game when Ukraine was invaded. Before that, I’d be joking about stuff like how the wooden window frames in Russia were much fancier and that’s how you could tell them apart.
While yes, there’s the Geoguessr meta, Tom also does a thing where viewers send him a photo and he has to guess where they are and he usually manages which is pretty amazing.
I’ve played some free games on GeoGuessr and this is exactly it. After a while you just start to recognize things like the same Google car on the same wide desert highway, hello Dubai. Even the exact same spots come up often.
Then again, some places are so far off into the bush that it takes some routine just to figure out which continent you’re on.
Something to keep in mind is that they aren't playing random points on the map, they're playing fixed maps with say 20,000 locations in them. They play them to the point that they recognize many of them. Like magic, but a little less than if it really was just a random point on the globe they could recognize instantaneously.
>Something to keep in mind is that they aren't playing random points on the map, they're playing fixed maps with say 20,000 locations in them. They play them to the point that they recognize many of them.
This is only partly true. It's true of ADW, the most popular community map, though it has over 50k locations. But the top players have played this map so much that some people do have some locations memorized (which is insane). Then there are a few countries or territories where the Street View coverage is so limited that you can basically memorize it, like Madagascar and Greenland.
There are enough locations & maps out there that the game isn't really about memorizing exact locations, though. But if you play a lot you do get good at "vibes" which is essentially pattern matching against other times you've played.
This used to be a problem but nowadays there are algorithmically (“AI”) generated maps with so many points that repeats are rare. A new map with 50000 locations can be generated in an afternoon.
Yeah, it was actually kind of disappointing to understand that after buying the subscription. I mean, Google Maps coverage is far from being complete as it is (and obviously is not going to be in the observable future even for places where it technically could be, like most of the China), and if you are playing the game to learn something, being just more playable in duels is not what you want. New places appear from time to time, so I'm not completely sure if they do that on purpose to make game easier, or there are some real reasons to do so. And if it's ever going to be better.
I dono, that was pretty obvious but I didn't know how he could tell the difference between France and Belgium... He has videos listing off all the clues though... Apparently Belgium's telephone poles don't have blue things that French ones do.
Try clicking on a few countries in
This is the kind of stuff that Geoguessr players call "meta" (or "metas").
I personally feel like it's more sporting to learn things like bollards, roadway markings, utility pole styles, and so on, which feel like they're about geography (observable differences in infrastructure or culture that persistently exist in different places), compared to things about Google Maps cars, imagery generations, glitches, redaction patterns, and so on, which feel more like they're about Google Maps itself (historical accidents of how and when the company mapped particular regions).
But if you play a lot or watch streamers talking about this stuff, there will be some kinds of metas that you can't unsee because they may just become obvious to you with time! I felt kind of bad about winning a Geoguessr duel earlier this week because I remembered a glitch meta that I had seen someone talking about on a stream... (you can see it instantly on Geotips if you click on Montenegro!).
Fully agreed, I tried to stick to the same meta. My rule of thumb was, if I was standing there what could I see? So domain and phone numbers on billboards are fine, camera quality isn't.
Though it is hard to avoid accidentally learning some meta like the Kenya or Ghana cars.
The unsung hero of the story is YouTube. I'm really blown away by how much cool niches have sprung up. It's awesome to watch people nerd out to stuff like this. We assume social media is destined to degrade over time. YouTube somehow got much better since its initial "cat video repository" days.
Same, to an extent, with Twitch.
I assumed people filming themselves (mostly) playing video games was the DUMBEST idea for a business but now I tune in all the time for a bit to watch the top players of the games I love do their thing.
I think so too. Another one is Foresty Forest:
Guy in a van with a pressure cooker, scaling mountains solo. Doesn't succeed because he's the best looking, best videographer, best presenter, but because he gets out there and films it.
Awesome channel! I don't think anyone mentioned yet that he composes music for his videos too: https://amynedd.bandcamp.com/album/16-bit-adventure
Direct link to his channel:
> The charming bloke that dominates GeoGuessr
Not really. He is a good player, but not in the same league as the top players, which is something he readily admits. He isn’t interested in learning the minutiae (bollard styles in different countries etc.) necessary to get to that level.
People watch him because of his personality and sense of humour. His most popular videos aren’t even GeoGuessr related at all!
Right, he doesn't actually dominate Geoguessr as a game, there are hundreds or maybe even thousands of people who could beat him in the competitive mode or in eg some no moving competition. Personally I'm in the top few hundred in the world and I do think I could beat him handily--I just have memorized enough bullshit about utility poles and the Google car in different countries and so on that he hasn't.
But he does dominate Geoguessr social media content (along with rainbolt who has really blown up on TikTok). And I think Tom is pretty widely liked in the community. He's honest about his skills, his videos are fun, and he brought a bunch of today's top players into the game in the first place.
… which is exactly what the article explains, if only you'd have bothered to read it before commenting.
The headline is lazy and wrong regardless of the subsequent content
Honestly, one of the last people I'd have thought would have been profiled by the New Yorker. And Geoguessr is only one part of his channels charm. His channel reminds me of early Youtube, authentic & entertaining.
If you havent watched his "How to not travel through Europe" series, its what all travel shows should aspire to be. Truly unique
His videos where he tries to find the location where a photo was taken are my absolute favorite. It's a cool mix of history and geography. https://youtu.be/Yt_STtlRhB0
I'd recommend watching them! It's really fun to follow along and join in the detective work. I didn't have any success, but it gave me a good excuse to explore some new places with Google Maps that I never would've thought to look at.
So.. used to love GeoGuessr and this made me finally sign up and pay for a month. Definitely the best $3 I ever spent - it went from 1am to 6:45am and I'm basically tearing myself off it. I travel a lot and I think I'm pretty good at nailing places. One minor quibble though. In the last 4 hours I think I only had two or three locations in the continental US. Granted I only had a few inside Russia and maybe ten in Bulgaria, but considering the coverage weights I think they're being a little extreme on under-weighting places in America. I also suppose it's boring if you can just walk along and find a street sign and google it, so maybe they're trying hard to bias against that. But after seeing a hundred nondescript farm roads in either a Malaysian jungle or some part of the northern European plain, and realizing everyone else competing was just running as fast as they could for signs to look up, I thought maybe the skill in this only exists if you don't have access to any other information. And in that case, they shouldn't weight out America because there's enough variety to make it a good case for figuring out which part you're in. /ramble
I have to admit that Tom Davies is quite fun to watch actually. His guesses are really extraordinary
Such a good a channel. With enough travel (or geoguessr it seems) you start to subconsciously notice themes that connect regions; the height of gutters, colour of soil, patterns of street pavers. It gets stored away without us noticing it, until one day something triggers it. I think it's innate, serving an important, though often under-utilised function. The game taps into that so well that his content was bound to be interesting, even without his easy charm.
I found him on YouTube originally because I was looking for content of my home country (feeling very homesick during the pandemic, I live in another country than where I was raised).
I kept coming back to his channel because it feels fresh, authentic and he is very good at talking though how he’s thinking. Meaning you go on a little detective journey with him.
It helps that he’s also quite genial, so it feels extremely wholesome.
He’s very deserving of his popularity, but he still feels like a bloke you could drink with.
I just discovered this entire world from reading this New Yorker article. Having a great time trying some of the easier ones (world cities, etc.)
Are we recording?
UK: I have lived in Birmingham for 40+ years. You need reasonably good geolocation skills just to find your way into the city centre - there is always construction work with traffic diversions. A little bit of an exaggeration but it feels like that, especially now with the HS2 work and half a dozen new high-rise buildings, and the metro extension. I was recently asked for directions to New Street station from a location in Digbeth and I had to think through the currently viable route.
Mr Davies' straight line walks remind me of 1970s art projects brought up to date and made more accessible perhaps. I'll have to watch some of his 'tubes. I like the idea of a documented walk.
If you haven't come across the series where he geolocates people's old historical photos with great effort (like a WW2 soldier in the alps) it's also a very interesting watch.
I discovered his channel about a month ago via the Geo Detective series.
It's always a fun ride to see him work out his thought process, examining architecture, flora, and the smallest detail. He scours the map tirelessly and Googles dozens of relevant phrases, looking for any possible leads. You never know know which direction the search will go. Who knew 19th century Welsh steeple design could ever be interesting?
Even when he fails, the journey is fun and memorable.
The man is such a treasure. Very entertaining and with a great sense of humour.
I've learned so much about different countries from him.
He's hilarious. Great content creator.
There are better Geoguessrs on YouTube but you might like certain personalities better.
Funny to see this downvoted. I have watched Davies for a long time now, and I really like both the style of the videos and his ability, but "being better in a game" is kind of an objective metric, and the fact that these "writers" at newyorker tend to use such titles as "X who DOMINATES Y" (naturally, because it sells better) doesn't take away from the fact that Tom is far from "dominating" the game.
The absurd google street view race from SF -> NYC comes to mind as well.
Tom is one of my favourite creators. Such an entertaining dude.
Finally some good news for Everton fans.