GEOGRAPHY is catching on. Consider the popularity of public television's geography quiz show, "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?" And the enthusiasm for the "National Geography Bee," organized by the National Geographic Society together with corporate sponsors. Some 5 million schoolchildren took part in this year's bee, the finals of which were held in Washington last May. This week, Dec. 1-7, is "National Geography Awareness Week."Questions put to the kids during the geography bee included such zingers as: "Cold ocean currents make it possible for penguins to live on a group of islands that straddle the Equator. Name the island group." And, "In which cardinal direction would you be traveling if you were to go from Baghdad, Iraq, to the Turkish border?" (Answers below.) In the spirit of the week, we couldn't help coming up with a couple zingers of our own, drawn from the past month's news coverage: Where are Slovakia, Slovenia, and Slavonia? Dili is the capital of which independence-minded region in the East Indies? (Again, answers below.) The breakup of the Soviet Union, by itself, has caused a profusion of places and names. Who, before, gave much thought to the Ossetian region of Georgia, much less to Chechen-Ingush? To have even an inkling of knowledge about such places is to appreciate, anew, humanity's diversity. Geography - a much broader subject than place names - will only become more important and more intriguing in the years ahead as economies intermesh and world politics evolve. The subject rightly has a place in the Bush administration's America 2000 plan for education reform in the United States. Now for those answers: The Galapagos; north; the eastern half of Czechoslovakia (which may press for independence), the northernmost Yugoslav republic (which has declared its independence), the eastern region of the embattled former Yugoslav republic of Croatia; East Timor.