John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Sixty-four cities, 64 populations to rank by size.
Obsessive collectors of urban data and prospective Jeopardy! contestants can still drown their bracket-related sorrows elsewhere: The U.S. Census earlier this month released a bracket game of its own pitting 64 cities against each other by population size. Choose wrongly and the government will leave that city out of 2020 census (well, OK not really, but you might be uninvited to your friends' next pub-trivia night).
"Population Bracketology" really stretches the limits of what can be considered a computer game, falling in the thrill-giving department somewhere between The Oregon Trail and those tedious municipal-vehicle simulators that make you want to bang your head against a light pole with boredom. That said, it is an undeniably addictive pastime for anyone who thinks they know the relative size of every major American city. And before anybody points out what a terrible job I did on the above game, it was just a random selection for screenshot purposes, I swear!
Here's how it works, according to the Census Bureau:
Test your knowledge of population data! Start by choosing your geographic level: metro areas or states. Click on the name in each match-up that you think has the larger population. Green shows a correct answer, red indicates an incorrect answer. When you have opposing names picked for the next round, pick again. See how close you can come to a perfect score of 63. When you are finished, play again or mouse-over results to view the most current population estimates for each pair.
There's immense replay value here for folks who don't find "Bracketology" a horrible chore: Each time you load the game it generates new city match-ups. If you're curious, the data is coming from the government's 2012 population estimates. The cities selected represent the 64 most populous metropolitan areas in America as delineated this February by the Office of Management and Budget.
The numberheads at the U.S. Census have assembled a nice little collection of these visual-data treats. Look at this circle-fest showing how populations on the country's coastlines have exploded, for example. Then there's this wonderful map tracking the westward crawl of America's "mean center of population" since 1790 – that "center" is defined, of course, as where an "imaginary, flat, weightless, and rigid map of the United States would balance perfectly if all residents were of equal weight."