ATLANTA

Roger Andresen wants to make sure you know that Mount Everest is the world's tallest mountain, Minsk is the capital of Belarus and the hottest place on Earth is in Ethiopia.

You could say Andresen is trying to put geography awareness on everyone's map.

This airline executive's son, who visited more than 40 countries as a boy, was so disturbed by the United States' poor showing in an international geography competition that he quit his job two years ago and devoted his life to improving the nation's geography IQ.

Andresen, 31, left his job as a fiber optics engineer to follow a passion that now has him hawking his prize-winning geography puzzle in toy stores across the nation while promoting his online geography competition, which has drawn more than 350,000 participants from 179 countries.

Rolf Andresen said he wishes his son would have taken a more conventional job, but he knows it was only natural for Roger to have a fascination with geography.

After all, it was Rolf's job as a financial officer for Pan Am and Eastern that gave Roger the opportunity to jump onto jets as a teenager and take off for South America, Central America, Europe and Africa, sometimes alone.

"I went to Kenya by myself for about a week, flying two days each way," Roger said. "If there was an open seat, I could get on it."

World travel was in Andresen's blood. Rolf said his parents, who came to the United States from Norway in their youth, and his wife's parents, who were from England, worked as missionaries in countries such as Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia.

A young Roger Andresen assumed it was normal to have such intimate knowledge and appreciation of the world. He assumed most Americans were armed with a basic education in world geography until he learned late in 2002 that the United States had scored next to last in an international geography competition conducted by National Geographic magazine.

The revelation hit Andresen like a Mount Everest avalanche. He became obsessed with the notion of finding a way to spark a renewed interest in geography, but that goal didn't mix with his work in fiber optics.

"I was so involved in my career I had no chance to think about geography, and I think so many Americans are in a similar rut," he said. "I was upset I was in that situation and I was upset so many others are in that situation.

"So I made that crazy decision."

Even before his drastic career change in 2002, Roger already had an idea that he said was the result of a frustrating afternoon spent trying to find his way around Atlanta's extensive suburbs.

"I thought someone should make a puzzle, with each piece shaped like a suburb," he said. "Then I thought I should make a bigger puzzle, with each piece shaped like a country."

There are other world puzzles on the market, but he said he couldn't find another that used his concept. "I went to an international toy fair in New York and pretended I was a buyer," he said. "I went to all the companies, and no one had anything like it."

Andresen's research continued on the streets of Atlanta.

"I interviewed 500 people to see how much they knew and if they had an interest in learning more," he said. "I found out the average Atlantan was able to find 18 of 193 countries. I thought it would be better."

Andresen found a manufacturer in Wisconsin and now about 1,000 retailers across the nation sell his puzzle. Children's publisher Scholastic named Andresen's Global Puzzle as the top educational resource of 2004.

"It's a fun way to learn a fairly dry subject," said Kim Hoight of the Palm Beach (Fla.) Organization of Home Schoolers. "The difference is just the fact that the puzzle pieces are the shape of the countries. They'd much rather learn that way than just reading and looking at a map. When you actually place a country where it goes, it just sticks in your head better."

But Andresen wanted to reach a larger audience. So next came an idea designed for the Internet savvy -- the Geography Olympics. Participants representing 179 of the world's 193 countries have logged on to test their geography IQ.

Andresen said the idea "was to expose the fact of how lousy we are," but lately he has seen the United States move up to 36th on the leader board, based on the answers from about 35,000 Americans.

"Almost every developed nation is better than us," said Andresen, who contends that U.S. public schools don't place enough emphasis on geography.

"Maybe we just get too caught up in such a busy life," he said. "Most other countries have more vacations and travel more, and when they are in school they get taught more about the rest of the world."

Andresen says he hasn't quite matched the salary he made as an engineer, "but I feel like I'm helping people and making a difference and doing it on my own."

Besides, now he has a great excuse for more travel.

"I've got to get my products around the world," he said.

Andresen left his career in fiber optics to market his puzzle map. The pieces are in the shapes of individual countries.World travel fueled Roger Andre- sen's interest in geographic literacy.