Monday, May 19, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Benjamin Hand has never stepped foot out of the country, but he knows more about the world than most.
Like, what’s the largest desert in the world?
Hand knows it’s not the Sahara, the Gobi or the Mojave.
“It’s Antarctica,” he says. “It’s a cold desert, not a hot desert.”
Hand, 14, has always liked geography. The Las Vegas eighth-grader grew up poring over atlases and Google Maps, looking up countries — near and far — that he hopes to visit one day.
But first, Hand is traveling to Washington, D.C., to represent Nevada in the National Geographic Bee, which starts today. The competition quizzes 54 of the nation’s brightest students on their geography knowledge for a chance to win $85,000 in college scholarships and a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
“It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s exciting to be able to go and represent my state,” Hand said. “I’m going to do my best to not let my state down.”
Hand is an unlikely competitor in this prestigious geography bee. He entered Hyde Park Middle School’s geography bee on a whim.
He didn’t study. He didn’t prepare. But he still won.
Hand went on to compete in the Nevada geography bee. He won there, too.
“I was pretty surprised,” Hand said of his performance. “I couldn't believe it. I hadn’t been taking it extremely seriously. I just wanted to see how I did.”
Now that he is in the finals, Hand is hitting the books. For the past month, Hand has been cramming geography trivia to prepare for this big day.
Hand has one major advantage over his competitors, however. He has a lot of experience competing in trivia bowls.
A few weeks ago, Hand was in Washington competing in the National Science Bowl for the second consecutive year. He’s also captain of the junior varsity Quiz Bowl team and a member of the National Junior Honor Society at his magnet school.
This time, Hand is traveling to the nation’s capital with his dad. His mom, Valerie Hand, will be cheering her son on from home.
“We’re very proud of him,” Valerie Hand, a Clark County schoolteacher, said. “It just shows when you’re passionate about something, you’re good at it.”
Las Vegans can watch Hand compete on Vegas PBS (KLVX Channel 10) at 11 a.m. Friday. Check back later to find out how Benjamin Hand does.