Susannah Batko-Yovino, a brown-haired 11-year-old girl from Altoona, Pa., with glitter on her sneakers, knew that Dalmatia is a coastal region of Yugoslavia, that the Natchez Trace stretches from Mississippi to Tennessee and that if someone sent her to Timbuktu, she would be in the present-day country of Mali.
But, in the moments after she was proclaimed winner of the second annual National Geography Bee, Susannah was asked a question by reporters that was harder to answer than any that carried her to the championship.
Is it significant that a girl won?
She paused a bit as she thought. "This is only the second year for the competition, so I don't think it is such a big deal," Susannah said.
Her answer left her questioners unsatisfied, so she tried again.
"It doesn't matter to me. It seems to matter more to other people . . . but maybe if other girls see what I have done they will get more involved."
That kind of calm presence under fire served the sixth-grader well as she sat on the stage of the National Geographic Society before a standing-room audience of more than 400 people. That and the small medal of her name saint, "St. Susannah," pressed tightly into her hand.
Of the 57 state-level winners, seven were girls.
There were no girls in last year's finals.
And Gilbert M. Grosvenor, president and chairman of the National Geographic Society, said Susannah's victory gives him a response when people ask "why girls don't do well in geography."
As first-place winner, Susannah receives $25,000 that will be placed in a savings account for her college education.
She wants to go to Princeton and she plans to be a scientist.
Her immediate plans are to appear today on "Good Morning, America."
She hopes her accomplishment might pique the interest of David Letterman. Her second choice is Johnny Carson.
"I feel like I am going to topple, I am so happy," Susannah said.
The 90-minute competition, sponsored by National Geographic World children's magazine, along with Amtrak and a snack named Kudos, had it all.
There was fame, in the person of "Jeopardy!" quiz show host Alex Trebek.
There was humor, in the response from 13-year-old Chris Duncan, who knew immediately when he gave the wrong answer. "Well, see you later," he said.
There was suspense.
New York's Timothy Forest kept everyone on the edge of their seats as he asked for questions to be repeated, hesitated and answered in a quizzical tone that belied his expertise.
He ended up first runner-up.
And there was sadness, a reminder that these were children trying to do their best under the toughest of circumstances.
Sacha Arnold, 13, couldn't name the hot wind that blows northward from the Sahara to the northern Mediterranean coasts (sirocco but also acceptable: gharbi, leveche, simoom).
Eliminated from the competition, the boy broke into tears as a contest aide moved to comfort him.
When it was all over and Susannah had claimed her prize, the families and teachers of the other students rushed to their sides to console and to celebrate. And to make plans, both for lunch and for the future.
"Oh yes, next year . . . I'll be back," said Gary Yngve, an 11-year-old from Georgia.