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Google Maps has become a game with Geoguessr — and Trevor Rainbolt has mastered it

SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

You're probably pretty familiar with Google Maps. That little GPS app in your pocket can show you the world, tell you how to get there and help you find the best food in that city. But have you ever thought about playing it as a game? Enter GeoGuessr.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

TREVOR RAINBOLT: Guessing where I am on Google Maps but only using the dirt. OK, round one here, we have light gray soil, very arid climate. I'm going to go with north Botswana here.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYPING)

RAINBOLT: Slight more east, but was north Bots (ph). Round two looks like New Zealand immediately with the soil color. I'm just going to go New Zealand here, South Island.

(SOUNDBITE OF HITTING SPACE BAR)

RAINBOLT: It was. Nice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANTONIO VIVALDI'S "L'INVERNO")

DAVIS: That's 23-year-old Trevor Rainbolt playing GeoGuessr. It's a game that pulls random images from Google Street View and makes the player guess the location anywhere on the planet. Rainbolt posts videos of himself playing the game on TikTok. He's become a sensation for identifying the locations correctly and incredibly fast.

RAINBOLT: You know, a lot of it is just memorizing different things in different countries, including knowing what countries have what road lines, what countries use triple white road lines, what country has dash road lines, what country has green signs, what font they use on their sign, how many pedestrian crossing walks they have on their pedestrian signs. You're learning languages. You're learning road conditions, road length, license plates, car types, vegetation.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

RAINBOLT: Guessing where I am on Google Maps in 0.1 second but only using half of the image. That's Austria.

(SOUNDBITE OF HITTING SPACE BAR)

RAINBOLT: Nice. Well.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMPUTER MOUSE CLICKING)

RAINBOLT: Switzerland.

(SOUNDBITE OF HITTING SPACE BAR)

RAINBOLT: Nice.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMPUTER MOUSE CLICKING)

RAINBOLT: Taiwan.

(SOUNDBITE OF HITTING SPACE BAR)

DAVIS: Rainbolt is so good at the game, he can also identify where random music videos are shot.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

RAINBOLT: Finding the street from this music video...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GOT U")

DUKE DUMONT: (Singing) As long as I got you.

RAINBOLT: ...On Google Maps. Immediately with left-hand driving, black painted pole bottoms and this telephone pole, I knew we were going to be in Thailand. From there, I identified these islands shown earlier as the Phi Phi Islands in south Thailand, where I...

The music videos were just kind of a way to diversify my content at first because I was just doing it organically in my free time. I mean, I just watched music videos, be like, oh, I can't consume content without trying to find the road or, like, trying to find, like, what country it's in.

DAVIS: Rainbolt, who works for a publisher on Snapchat and has experience making viral digital content, says that mastering Google Maps has changed the way he views the world.

RAINBOLT: I look at the world completely different because of this game - in a good way. Like, it's such a privilege to be able to play this game and learn and see the cultures. The privilege about Google Street View is that you get to see how these countries are in the day-to-day, like how they normally would be. And that completely gives you a different lens on a lot of different countries and the world as a whole.

DAVIS: And if you're interested in testing out your own geographical knowledge, Rainbolt has a few tips.

RAINBOLT: The first thing I would learn would be bollards and telephone poles. Each country has a pretty distinct design, so it helps you really distinguish what country, and it's like, oh, I know Denmark has the yellow top on the bollard, then - and not only in Denmark.

DAVIS: And what does Rainbolt want to do with all these images of the world stored in his head? He says he eventually wants to see it all in person.

RAINBOLT: As many times as I've seen Indonesia's telephone poles, I would love to go see them in person. You know, just getting out there and experiencing these cultures, you know, with my feet in the soil.

DAVIS: That was Trevor Rainbolt. You can find him and his incredible image identification skills on TikTok as georainbolt.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANTONIO VIVALDI'S "L'INVERNO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.