Earlier this month Oluseyi A. Fayanju ’05, the 1996 National Geography Bee champion, was crowned arm-wrestling champion in a brutal FM-sponsored competition among Harvard’s finest game show, spelling bee and geography bee contestants. One of the fringe benefits of Bee stardom (apart from national TV and FM appearances) is that Fayanju’s cartographic expertise makes for a mean party trick.
Freshman Week is a geography buff’s time to shine. And shine Fayanju did, especially with his legendary zip code divining-abilities. He knows so much geography that he is usually able to rattle off a new acquaintance’s zip code once he learns the hometown and street address.
“Now, I don’t know all the zip codes in America”, Fayanju says. Asked if he knows the majority of zip codes, he shrugs modestly. “I guess.”
Fayanju says his most memorable small-talk feat occurred when he met a student from Estonia and was able to ask specific questions about the status of small Estonian villages. “The guy said, ‘You know more about my country than anyone else in America,’” he says. “People remember me because I represent a bit of home to them.”
Fayanju started developing his talent at the age of three when he was given a world atlas. Not allowed to go out and play at such a young age, he always had his nose in the book, and though he wasn’t that precocious a reader, he remembers associating the colors of countries with names and capitals. As he grew up, his knowledge intensified: “Just like kids could rattle of baseball statistics I could remember geography facts—capitals, main exports, just really random facts.”
He now puts his geographical knowledge to good use. “My roommate is taking Gov 20 and needed some examples for an essay. I could offer details on ethnic conflicts around the world in a couple of minutes, from the residual info learned for the Bee,” he says. “Plus it really did help me during Freshman Week when I actually knew about the places people were from.”