The Real Tri-State Area

I love cartoons. I was raised on Rocky and Bullwinkle, Bugs Bunny, with the occasional Simpsons or Beavis and Butthead in between. Since I didn’t watch cartoons often (only around once or twice a month), I can remember in detail the plots of the few I’ve watched and sometimes even my emotions as I first watched them. While most of the jokes made in the shows landed with me, one plot point that perplexed me was Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s goal to take over the “tri-state area” in the popular toon Phineas and Ferb. What even is a tri-state area? Where is it?


As a side note, if you haven’t seen an episode of Phineas and Ferb, it’s a show about two teenagers (Phineas and Ferb) who spend their seemingly infinite days of summer in creative ways, thwarting a mad scientist’s (Dr. Doofenshmirtz's) plans to overtake the “tri-state area” with his latest evil invention.


Oh, and they do it with the help of an undercover secret agent, Phineas and Ferb’s seemingly docile pet platypus named Perry. Trust me, it makes more sense in the context of the show.


Since I grew up in northern Virginia, close to Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., I automatically assumed that was the tri-state area Dr. Doofenshmirtz was talking about. But, since D.C. isn’t a state (at least not yet), it’s likely Dr. Doof was referring to someplace else. And so, my search began to find the real tri-state area in Phineas and Ferb.


A quick google search yielded only a single substantial result: a fan page suggesting the tri-state area was near Denver, Colorado. Wikipedia, however, defined a tri-state area as an area in the “eastern contiguous United States”, so the Colorado area was out of the running. Undeterred, I researched a full list of tri-state areas according to the Wikipedia definition and found 20 potential regions that could fit the criteria. After eliminating 6 solely metropolitan entries, the D.C. region, and one entry discussing a type of “tri-state gemstones”, I narrowed the search down to 14 possible regions. I was getting warmer.


Now, while I’m sure there are hidden clues to the tri-state area’s true location embedded in numerous Phineas and Ferb episodes, I’m not about to waste several hundred hours poring over tiny tidbits of information, so I turned to the official Phineas and Ferb wiki for help. The drawing of the tri-state area in the wiki depicts a wide river with a bend in it and several suspension bridges, so I filtered my results to include those criteria. Memphis had too few suspension bridges, Chicago had too many, La Crosse didn’t have a wide enough bend, and Litchfield didn’t even have a river.


After the previous round, there were only four candidates left: Pittsburgh, Chattanooga, Evansville, and Dubuque.


Pittsburgh is too noisy, and the large tower building where Doofenshmirtz lives would stick out like a sore thumb. Evansville doesn’t have the dark blue waters depicted in the image on the show wiki. Chattanooga lacks the architectural style that characterizes the quieter suburbs in the show.


That leaves the area around Dubuque, Iowa, a medium-sized town of around 57,000 which borders parts of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. While it’s not a perfect spot, it does fit the show’s description closely. Its diverse manufacturing-based economy would provide Dr. Doof with plenty of materials for his experiments, its large suburban population matches that in the show, and ― most importantly ― it has long, hot summers that never seem to end.

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