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Quiz Bowl SCANDAL!
April 9, 2013 6:40 AM   Subscribe

Inside the biggest scandal in quiz bowl history. Probably attracting more media attention than quiz bowl has ever received, it was recently revealed that a Harvard player accessed questions prior to several recent national tournaments, leading NAQT to strip Harvard A of multiple national championships. Coverage has been extensive, ranging from Bloomberg to The Telegraph.
posted by kmz (43 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think my favorite part of the Slate story (the main link) is the completely inappropriate stock photo. Quiz bowl (especially at the collegiate level) very very very rarely involves anything written.
posted by kmz at 6:41 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Harvard later presented its quiz bowl team with a commendation for original thinking.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:45 AM on April 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think we need to have an International Cheating Body to promote, organize and spread cheating at professional and amateur levels. They can give out awards for outstanding accomplishments in Cheating, set up cheating tournaments, and help open cheating clubs around the globe.

That way, instead of being a disappointment and minor scandal, something like this could hit the papers as, "Exciting new Ivy League cheater makes his play for the regional title!"
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:48 AM on April 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


Well hey, look what happens when you push teenagers into a brutal competition for status and academic success so that they can fight for a piece of an ever-shrinking pie.
posted by downing street memo at 6:49 AM on April 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think we need to have an International Cheating Body...

I've got the perfect director in mind.
posted by griphus at 6:49 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


How could you prevent such a body from always awarding itself the top prize?
posted by Jode at 6:55 AM on April 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


Good ole Harvard, can't even go a year without a cheating scandal.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:55 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hey now, Harvard values tradition. Nothing wrong with that!
posted by rtha at 6:58 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Life imitates Venture Brothers.
posted by humanfont at 7:07 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the end, of course, he was only cheating himself.
posted by TedW at 7:08 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


As the Slate article mentions, MIT and Michigan also cheated.

Harvard is the target because they also won the tournaments, implying that MIT and Michigan could cheat and still not win?
posted by vacapinta at 7:09 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I played on and captained my university's quiz bowl team back in the day and have also written questions for college and HS tournaments. It was a fun activity and while we were competitive (and certainly performed well at most tournaments), it seems like it was a lot different then and way more high pressure now.
posted by pointystick at 7:15 AM on April 9, 2013


Well hey, look what happens when you push teenagers into a brutal competition for status and academic success so that they can fight for a piece of an ever-shrinking pie.


Graduate school?
posted by pseudonick at 7:28 AM on April 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


I played in college (late 90s, early 2000s) and it was always this strange fairly insular world with factions, villains, heroes, etc.
posted by kmz at 7:29 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Being about Harvard and cheating is getting this story a lot of traction. I can think of few other schools which could command attention like this.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:42 AM on April 9, 2013


> implying that MIT and Michigan could cheat and still not win?

Implying they didn't give cheating the old Harvard try. Better luck next year chaps.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:44 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I played on and captained my university's quiz bowl team back in the day and have also written questions for college and HS tournaments. It was a fun activity and while we were competitive (and certainly performed well at most tournaments), it seems like it was a lot different then and way more high pressure now.
Life in general is more high pressure now. As for the high pressure of doing well at NAQT, it should be remembered that NAQT was born from frustrations with the original College Bowl (too easy, unfair at times) and the first major amateur league, Academic Competition Federation (very, very wordy and advanced). Players in general seemed to demand more fair, competitive trivia play.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:46 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have to give a big shout of applause to that "extensive" link, which is, in fact, links to extensive coverage of the scandal.

I also have to not that Inappropriate Stock Photo would be an awesome username.
posted by eriko at 7:47 AM on April 9, 2013


I was co-captain of my high school team, but I didn't last long in my college's club. I guess it was the most fun my available options in high school, but least fun of my options as a college student. This all makes me both glad I got out, and weirdly nostalgic. "For ten points..." still gives me goosebumps involuntarily.
posted by Tesseractive at 7:47 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I played in college (late 90s, early 2000s) and it was always this strange fairly insular world with factions, villains, heroes, etc.

Me too. I was always facinated at how mundane some of the larger than life characters could be. Also, I was in Madison when they had a pie eating contest at halftime of one playoff round for points.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:50 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course a fair number of our best and brightest cheat. Has Wall Street taught you nothing?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:55 AM on April 9, 2013


Also, I was in Madison when they had a pie eating contest at halftime of one playoff round for points.

Ha, I can only assume that was a Trash/TRASH tournament. I remember one at A&M where you could get bonus points for going to Freebird's and finishing a monster burrito before the round was over.
posted by kmz at 7:57 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I played one tournament in college and could not stop answering in the form of a question.

I don't remember the question, but I distinctly remember answering, "What is a dragonfly?" at some point. Ever since that sentence randomly pops into my head sometimes.
posted by theuninvitedguest at 8:03 AM on April 9, 2013


There was a Stanford tournament where slugs of Jack Daniels were involved in one match. The BYU team were appalled. One of my team mates ended sleeping in some grass area on Stanford's campus.

Quizbowl has the makings for several tv shows from the mundane to the frankly, bizarre. Ah, I still remember how the rivalry for one female player lead to a shot up Maltese Falcon trophy being sent back to CalTech. The more bizarre stories, in my time, always seem to come from the midwest and southeast but that could have been embroidered legend. Good times.
posted by jadepearl at 8:04 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


A valid question. Is it a small dragon? A large fly? Can they love?
posted by gilrain at 8:08 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


He also described how a tournament loss drove Watkins to punch a concrete wall, leaving his hand bloody. After throwing the haymaker, Watkins reportedly shouted, “I deserve to bleed.”

Ay yi yi. All I can say is, between having this kind of tendency towards grandiose self-punishment, his new-found (international!) infamy, and starting a PhD program in what looks like organic chemistry, I really hope this guy has a good therapist.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:25 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wow, I remember doing the NAQT questions for high school and we rocked at it. I also tried my university's team for a few times and then ultimately ran away scared when they wanted me to get in a car with them to go to some random place in Illinois for a tournament....they also smelled worse than the high school quiz bowlers I knew.
posted by astapasta24 at 8:29 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's a tip to prevent cheating. If you have information and you don't want people to look at it, don't make it available on-line. Particularly if you know some of your contestants are also writing the questions you use in the contests. (But hey, I went to a cheap state college that didn't have its own cyclotron so what do I know.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:42 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


He also described how a tournament loss drove Watkins to punch a concrete wall, leaving his hand bloody.

I feel like every 'serious' quiz bowl team that my profoundly unserious high school team encountered had at least one guy like him on their side. I remember one (very good, very competitive team) had a fellow who stood up like he was going to leave the room every time he got a question wrong. On closer inspection, he was doing some minor self-punching, which struck as both funny and crazy.

As a counterpoint, my team showed up to tournaments in formal wear. We were also the only all-female team we ever saw in our state. Ball gowns for the (occasional and thrilling) win!
posted by palindromic at 8:46 AM on April 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


He also described how a tournament loss drove Watkins to punch a concrete wall, leaving his hand bloody. After throwing the haymaker, Watkins reportedly shouted, “I deserve to bleed.”

Huh, that's weird. In my experience (and if repeated viewings of "The Social Network" are true) the "Harvard Haymaker" is just a sternly worded letter.

Those Ivy kids, look at them wrong and they bleed.
posted by roquetuen at 8:49 AM on April 9, 2013


I had a fraternity brother who brought me to a couple quizbowl tournaments because they were short a warm body and I wanted to skip town for the weekend. (I managed to buzz in on the rare political science questions.)

It was the nerdiest collection of (almost totally) men I'd ever been surrounded by...and I was a high school debater.

Have you ever been in a cafeteria full of socially awkward high schoolers in suits that don't really fit, hiding behind tubs and boxes with thousands upon thousands of carefully curated pages of ephemera on politics and philosophy and totally failing to flirt with each other and thought, "Man, there is no way it can get nerdier than this group of people?" Because I did, and I was totally wrong.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 8:49 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ball gowns! I never even thought of that!
posted by Tesseractive at 8:50 AM on April 9, 2013


The limit does not exist!
posted by argonauta at 9:27 AM on April 9, 2013


I played College Bowl back in the day (waaaaaaay back) and there was one player at regionals, Princeton's team captain, who would throw fits and slam doors if things didn't go his way.

There were problem children playing then, but it was unusual, too.
posted by zippy at 9:43 AM on April 9, 2013


Wow, I just got lost in a wormhole of QBwiki and forum posts. Now I'm all nostalgic (and also kind of wondering if around a decade of substance abuse has dulled my buzzer skills into nothing... MeFi Quiz Bowl meetup?!).
posted by en forme de poire at 10:00 AM on April 9, 2013


Also, I was in Madison when they had a pie eating contest at halftime of one playoff round for points.
Ha, I can only assume that was a Trash/TRASH tournament. I remember one at A&M where you could get bonus points for going to Freebird's and finishing a monster burrito before the round was over.


Alas, no, it was an academic tournament, one of the old non-affiliated ones. Now that I think of it, the pie eating was during semifinals for points. They came from the Norske Nook. I should know - my team stopped there to pick up the pies.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:16 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Harvard is punishing them for bringing shame on the university, not for cheating, but for not picking up on the core Ivy curriculum, which is essentially "rules are for proles; success in the real world is measured only by what you get away with".
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:18 AM on April 9, 2013


Here's a tip to prevent cheating. If you have information and you don't want people to look at it, don't make it available on-line. Particularly if you know some of your contestants are also writing the questions you use in the contests.
This is the thing I don't get - was the person in question writing high school questions while competing in NAQT Collegiate tourneys?
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:18 AM on April 9, 2013


This is the thing I don't get - was the person in question writing high school questions while competing in NAQT Collegiate tourneys?

I believe that was the case, yes. I don't think NAQT does this but you can also set up a tournament where question writers also play, as long as the logistics are worked out correctly so that they never play on their submitted questions/packets. There's packet submission tournaments where in fact all the questions are supposed to come from players, though usually the tournament runner will write a few packets of their own to cover missing/bad packets.
posted by kmz at 10:35 AM on April 9, 2013


This is the thing I don't get - was the person in question writing high school questions while competing in NAQT Collegiate tourneys?

It's done frequently by the hardcore contingent of quizbowlers. I never wrote questions for NAQT but knew people who did (I think they made, like, 3 cents a question ...). The process of submitting questions involves tagging every question with an ID, presumably that also told you what institution the writer was affiliated with, etc., so that whoever is assembling the question packets can be assured that people/teams never end up playing on their own questions. In theory, anyway ...
posted by aperturescientist at 11:29 AM on April 9, 2013


I know that in some TRASH tournaments (Hi, fellow trash players!) many of the tournaments are *supposed* to be packet submission. You just have a bye on the round that your team writes. Your team usually pitches in and provides readers/scorers on your bye round as well. NAQT/ACF rules are stricter, though.
posted by zoetrope at 12:15 PM on April 9, 2013


Cheating isn't cool. But man, it would take an iron will to avoid accessing questions that were RIGHT THERE. They didn't even have to try. I'm not sure I could do it. I certainly would never have studied the questions (and we don't know whether they did or not), but I can definitely see myself clicking -- out of curiosity more than anything else.
posted by murfed13 at 3:36 PM on April 9, 2013


I loved, loved, loved quiz bowl in high school, but once I got to college I quickly realized that the pond got bigger and I, fish-wise, had not grown in size.

This article linked from the main article is the best explanation of why I left: college quiz bowl is populated by die-hards, and die-hards are the ones who actually enjoy reading study guides — lists of obscure works of famous authors, second stanzas of famous poems, Secretaries General of the UN and the order in which they served — for no other reason than because they might come up in questions. Whereas I was the sort of person who liked to watch Jeopardy, and liked knowing things, but was unwilling to binge on facts just for the sake of answering questions for points.

It's not that such skill is useless; someone who's good at flash-card-style memorization can do a lot of useful stuff. It's that you're having a different sort of competition. HORSE instead of basketball. Home Run Derby instead of baseball. To me it's always been a weird proxy for "smart" and it doesn't surprise me that someone talked himself into taking a shortcut.
posted by savetheclocktower at 3:45 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


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