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In the late 18th century, when American land surveyors were laying down the grid system —the network of perpendicularly intersecting streets that divide towns and cities into square-shaped parcels of land— they faced the same problems cartographers face when making maps. The grid design is two-dimensional and flat, while the earth is three-dimensional and spherical, which meant that wrapping a rectilinear planning scheme onto the surface of a spherical planet will always result in some distortions of angles, distance, direction and area. For instance, all north-south running streets will not be parallel but gradually taper resulting in land areas that continually decrease in width as one proceeds north. To prevent this from happening, the longitudinally running roads were reset every twenty-four miles to counter the diminishing widths. This resulted in roads that would make doglegs and abrupt zigzags in the middle of nowhere.


Image from "Grid Corrections" by Gerco de Ruijter.

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© Amusing Planet, 2015.

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