We all depend on them, especially when we are new to a place, but how many subway users realize that their trusty transit maps are the subject of a tug-of-war between the forces of geographical accuracy and graphical distortion in the interests of ease of use?

Where you stand in this battle probably depends on where you live.

Londoners are sold on their highly distorted Tube map, in which miles of bendy train tracks are straightened into neat, schematic lines along which every curve is a uniform 60 degrees. To this day the map is based on designer Harry Beck's groundbreaking 1933 "Map of London Underground Railways," which was the first salvo fired by the forces of distortion in a world then dominated by geographical realists.