Can Anyone Find Egypt?

Statue of Alexander the Great, ancient Greek king, portrayed as a pharaoh (300 BC, Liebieghaus museum, Frankfurt).

Count us as fans of the UK quiz show, Richard Osman’s House of Games, which we enjoy in part because of the entertainingly insane answers sometimes given by the contestants, as we have written about before.

One of the games frequently played on the show requires contestants to locate places on an unlabeled map of a continent. The person geometrically closest to the answer wins the point, so players only have to be better than their competitors, not actually that accurate.

As one can imagine, when Africa is the continent, contestants struggle. We have written elsewhere about the surprisingly large size of the African continent, which leads to not only a lot of countries (54), but many of them being large themselves and thus containing several well-known landmarks and cities. Thus we wouldn’t expect many people to be able to pinpoint Togo or the Limpopo, and of course, everyone can simply have a bad day.

However, of all places in Africa anyone with even a moderate historical education should be able to locate, it seems to us that Egypt would be at the top of the list. However, the two times we’ve seen Egypt come up as the target, most answers have been breathtakingly wrong.

The clip below shows the Egypt portion of this round on two different episodes. The contestants in the first are Chizzy Akudolu, Charlie Higson, Kate Williams, and Tom Allen, and in the second they are Denise Lewis, Rhys James, Isy Suttie, and David James. Notice especially the answers by Williams and Suttie.

Kate Williams bills herself as a historian, and she’s a “Professor of Public Engagement with History” at the University of Reading. Host Richard Osman doesn’t make it any easier on her by starting with, “You should know this, Kate, right? … because you’re such an expert on antiquities and the like.” But she figures Egypt is a landlocked country, far from the Mediterranean and Red seas (making one wonder how they could have been associated with both a famous delta and a modern-day canal); far from the Greeks, Nubians, and Semitic peoples they, at various times, fought, enslaved, traded with, and succumb to; far from the French who colonized them; and far from the action chronicled in ancient texts, such as the Book of Exodus.

Isy Suttie is comedian, so no one expects her to have vast historical knowledge, but she doesn’t do herself any favors by saying she “knows” Egypt is elsewhere from Rhys James’s answer (which was actually right next door). She then, like Kate Williams, identifies it as a landlocked country. However, she’s even further away than Williams from other ancient civilizations. When it comes to large, organized, ancient societies, Botswana is about the exact opposite, having been populated primarily by hunter-gatherers until modern times. If Alexander the Great and Cleopatra were able to rule a Botswana-located Egypt over 4,000 miles away from Greece, how did they not also rule China, the British Isles, and parts of South America?


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