22 September 2018

The continental divide in my knowledge

Once I finished memorizing all the African countries, I asked myself if I could extend that to learn all the country names in the world. Naturally, I started by Googling “How many countries are there in the world?”

You would think it should be a straight forward answer. Far from it. The definition of a “country” is not as clear cut as I had thought it would be. There are countries that the UN recognizes. Then there are are completely autonomous areas with their own government and no control from outside – but they do not go for UN membership (e.g. Cook Islands). Kosovo is not a recognized country by UN, but it competes in the Olympics as a nation.

In fact, if I have this right, there are 195 sovereign states recognized by the UN, 201 partially recognized states, 204-207 de facto sovereign states, 206 Olympic nations, 211 FIFA countries and get this – 249 countries that have their own ISD (country code for telephone numbers) codes!

Anyways, finally memorized the names of all the nations recognized by the UN. Trying to understand the definition of continents was a trifle more tricky. Learnt some really interesting tidbits about continents. See how many of these you knew:

1. Which continent is Greenland in?
2. Which is the continent with the most number of countries?
3. Which is the continent with the least number of countries?
4. How many countries have contiguous area that straddles over two different continents?
5. This one is specially for my friends who live in the USA like me. How many countries in our continent?

Posted September 22, 2018 by Rajib Roy in category "Puzzles


  1. By rajibroy (Post author) on

    The answers:
    1. As Mrs. Bhowmic pointed out, Greenland is a territory of Denmark. That would lead one to believe (it did to me) that it is part of Europe. Actually, as Amit and Indranath pointed out, Greenland is part of North America. If you see the map, it is literally a hop, skip and jump from the north east part of Canada.

    2. Africa is indeed the continent with the most countries (54). But as Indranath points out again, it is a very close call between Europe (50) and Asia (51) if you count the countries they share in their individual count.

    3. Continent with least number of countries. I am going to throw away the answer Antarctica – since that does not count (from countries in UN point of view anyways). The temptation is to think that Australia has the least number of countries. Actually South America with 12 countries has that distinction. That is because there are 14 countries in Australia/Oceania* (see further notes on this at the end).

    4. I always thought USSR and Turkey were the two countries that had contiguous land in two continents. And if I thought about it harder, I might have gotten Egypt (because of the Sinai peninsula – like Amit pointed out – although I am not sure how he missed Russia).

    In reality there are many more countries that are shared between Europe and Asia.

    Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazhakstan are both in Europe and Asia (I guess if you have territories on either side of Ural River or mountain then it counts).

    But what was even more surprising is that Cyprus is also considered a transcontinental country. The only reason given is that it is geographically closer to Asia but politically closer to Europe.

    5. North America, surprisingly, has 23 countries. That is because the 7 Central American countries and the 13 Caribbean island countries are all considered to be North America.

    *Further Notes:
    While the definition of country can be murky, the definition of a continent is even murkier. At least there is something like a political entity that somewhat governs the concept of sovereignty and thus a country. A continent really has no political existence.

    What was very interesting for me to find out was that different areas of the world teach continents differently. For example, in Russia and many East European school, I am told, Europe and Asia is taught to be one continent – Eurasia.

    In France and Spain, I am told, North America and South America is taught as one continent – Americas.

    In India, I am not even sure we were taught much about the Polynesian countries. We knew Australia continent was Australia and New Zealand. But then, where does Tuvalu go?

    My memory might be fading me but I think we grew up with the understanding that Central American countries and West Indian countries were part of South America (actually they are North America).

    For the above data, I have gone with UN data and Wikipedia definitions.

    Hope you had as much fun as I did.

    Now I have to learn all the capitals of the 195 countries 🙁


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.