Zigguraticity, Pyramidality
March 11, 2011 9:07 PM   Subscribe

College Bowl was an American tradition for more than 50 years: two teams of four players each, who are read a toss-up question which anyone could answer alternating with a bonus question which only the team which got the toss-up question could answer. It was officially cancelled in 2008, due to a variety of factors. A strange new format dominates its successors: pyramidal quiz bowl.

I link to a lot of packet archives here: all the ftp-looking folders with numbered .doc or .pdf files are packets of questions, and are filled with same.

The term Quiz Bowl encompasses a variety of activities which have in common a lockout buzzer system which is used to answer questions about things: these things can be as narrow as the video games of the VAIN video game tournament and as broad as the generality of the Academic Competition Federation Regionals and Nationals. There are slightly frightening middle school tournaments and the frankly terrifying Chicago Open. Usually, a round is played for 20 questions or 30 minutes, depending on the format of the tournament: the tournament then goes on all day.

The successors of the College Bowl include the Academic Competition Federation and the National Academic Quiz Tournaments, LLC, which is notable for also hosting competitions at the pre-college level. Some random man named Ken Jennings occasionally edits literature and mythology questions and occasionally reads questions to high-schoolers for them. For high schoolers only are the High School Academic Pyramid Questions. A sea-change in philosophy occurred during the change to "good" quizbowl: in addition to making you look smart by answering the questions, some thought began to go into making questions answerable and edifying.

(Nearly) every toss-up question in every one of those tournaments is pyramidal, meaning that they are designed to be interrupted mid-question by an answer. In deference to the differing abilities and knowledge of the participants, the clues inside the questions go from hard to easy, hence the name pyramidal. For example:

There were eight British soldiers not a casualty in this battle, out of fourteen hundred and eight. One side in this conflict was led to believe that the other side was fortifying Dusseldorf. Oscar Koch, however, correctly predicted a vast new offensive. In Operation Greif, Otto Skorzeny would cause confusion in Allied lines, and the command would be shifted from the Wolf’s Head to the Eagle’s Nest, along with Hitler. The Wehrmacht’s name for it was Watch on the Rhine and it was named for the shape it made in Allied defenses. FTP, name this German counteroffensive involving a siege in Bastogne.
ANSWER: Battle of the Bulge, accept Ardennes-Alsace Offensive, or the Von Runstedt offensive

The intended effect is to satisfy the trivia nut and the self-esteem-lacking dilettante alike and yet to differentiate people based on skill: skill at learning and skill at the game of quizbowl itself, a canon learned from by reading the packets of questions themselves.

All fields of human knowledge goes in most tournaments, pop culture (lovingly called "trash") sometimes included. And sometimes, tournaments are just about trash. There's a wiki. There's specialized statistics software.

And if you do not care a whit about any of this, it may just be nice to know that such large amounts of information are stored so lovingly in question form.
posted by curuinor (61 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I loved doing college bowl.

Even when one of my team-mates showed up to a match tripping his balls off on shrooms.
posted by bardic at 9:15 PM on March 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yes, but can we field a team of four Watson computers for it?
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:16 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I remember writing all of my questions "Straight out of Benet's"
posted by akash at 9:19 PM on March 11, 2011

My favorite ones were when they would describe a famous work of art, starting with the most irrelevant detail and ending with "...this masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci."

except I never got the date right on that damn Goya thing
posted by theodolite at 9:24 PM on March 11, 2011

The Third of May 1808.

And it looks like the ACF people were pissed off about those questions, too, theodolite.
posted by curuinor at 9:26 PM on March 11, 2011

Quiz Bowl was easily my favorite thing about my college years. The pyramidal format is considerably better than the old single fact tossup style.

Another thing people don't realize is that it's a huge pool for Jeopardy. I know a good dozen people from my quiz bowl days who've been on over the years, and I'm waiting around for the call myself. Not everyone who's good at quiz bowl is good at Jeopardy due to the more general nature, but most truly successful Jeopardy players come out of a QB background.
posted by tau_ceti at 9:27 PM on March 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh God! I did this. This was my life. I have a memory of the last quiz bowl game I ever played, where I answered a pyramidal pop culture question really early because it began "The City of Townsville...". (It was about The Powerpuff Girls. I used to be a big fan.) People were always surprised when I did that, but I suppose you are supposed to. I guess I never knew there was a name for those kind of questions--although I noticed that structure when we got it.
posted by Tesseractive at 9:48 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

-1 for not linking to what the variety of factors were.
posted by jscott at 9:52 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

This too was my life, or at least I lurked at the periphery, lucky enough to have been born in a small state. Much of my travel outside Vermont in high school (all?) was for trivia competitions; I went to at least one NAQT event and did reasonably well; I was always prone to buzzing in early.

Now I just hustle bar trivia. Free beer is nice and all, but the standards aren't what they used to be.
posted by Earthtopus at 9:53 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jesus, I was a top player in a top team at a local Brooklyn pub quiz (which everyone thought was really difficult), but these questions are generally really tough. How often do questions get to the final sentence?
posted by Falconetti at 9:54 PM on March 11, 2011

Oh man, Quiz Bowl! I only played for two years and was never any damn good at it, but boy does it give you some stories to tell. The one that really sticks is a toss-up that started off describing this larger-than-life character: how he was carried eleven months in his mother's belly and how she craved tripe the whole time, how many thousands of cows were needed to furnish his milk once he was born, and so on. Just when the reader got to how many thousands of Parisians were drowned in a flood of his piss, the opposing team buzzed with---Chuck Norris!




The answer was Gargantua.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:57 PM on March 11, 2011 [8 favorites]

And to Falconetti, the questions are usually designed to fit a tournament's competition pool: so if it's limited to middle schoolers, like the linked Collaborative Middle School Tournament, then it should aim to have ~5 questions buzzed really quite early, ~10 buzzed in the middle somewhere, ~4 buzzed at the end and maybe 1 where neither team knows. The balance gets skewed sometimes in high level tournaments because you need to put more abstruse things in there, to avoid buzzer races where everybody buzzes in on the obvious clue (and to experienced quizbowlers, "Who wrote Bartleby the Scrivener" is an obvious clue)
posted by curuinor at 9:57 PM on March 11, 2011

Ah, quiz bowl. Had loads of fun with it in college. Was never great, but decent enough. Even got DII honors at my one and only NAQT ICT. Too often neglected real schoolwork to bone up on quiz bowl canon or travel to tournaments. Formed a lot of friendships that still exist to this day.

Sadly, one of my enduring memories is the huge number of assholes that permeated the top of the game. I remember occasionally hanging out in one of the IRC channels and all kinds of racist, sexist shit was flying around. Not to mention how many of them seemed to think skill at quiz bowl == worthiness as a human being. But from what I remember, the tip top players like Yaphe and Subash are actually pretty nice people.

I don't remember a lot of my buzzes, but I do remembering powering one at ICT on "Djikstra wrote a paper..." *buzz* "GOTO"

The bad buzzes/answers are more memorable. Like the time I buzzed in with "Chaka Khan" to "Shaka Zulu". Oops.

Quiz bowl definitely helped me get on Jeopardy, though the buzzer (as well as a strong opponent) stopped me from getting anywhere.

And oh, CBI sucks, forever and always.
posted by kmz at 9:58 PM on March 11, 2011

Never called it pyramidal when I played, but the format's fine.

The problem with College Bowl was also that they were stuck in the past, while the players grew more sophisticated and demanded more.

And lots of word to what kmz said. Lots of good people, lots of bad people, all joined in their love of well formatted and asked trivia.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:59 PM on March 11, 2011

and to experienced quizbowlers, "Who wrote Bartleby the Scrivener" is an obvious clue

Well, works to authors is pretty standard trivia stuff. My favorite random quiz bowl canon that I remember is Ratatosk, the squirrel that runs up and down Yggdrasil.
posted by kmz at 10:02 PM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I remember writing all of my questions "Straight out of Benet's"

Heh, I think quiz bowl is 95% responsible for the continued publication of Benet's.
posted by kmz at 10:04 PM on March 11, 2011

2010 GDS Ben Cooper Memorial - Ben Cooper 2010 Packet 12 [Finals 1] COMPLETE.docx (Question #1) [HS] {Uncategorized}

An especially old one of these entities states that the cup bearer of the king of Kish was Sargon the Great, while another notes that an individual tutored by Bairam Khan was named Akbar. Another of these entities concerns the apprenticeship of Michael Faraday to a bookbinder. Though the “invisible hand” is not one, the “pin factory” example may be one for The Wealth of Nations, and another opening with the words “Inscribed on a cocktail napkin” describes the Laffer curve. For zero points, identify this term for clues that have been used so often that they are reflex-buzzed by quizbowl players with no context for the clue's information.

ANSWER: Stock clues [Prompt on “clues”] [DB-N]

posted by curuinor at 10:08 PM on March 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

Speaking of Canon lead-ins... one of my favorites was "A drunken Glazunov ruined the premiere of his Symphony No 1"
posted by akash at 10:10 PM on March 11, 2011

Oh hi, I met my husband through quizbowl, and I see he's beaten me to this thread. Also I wrote for NAQT for a while in between grad school and jobs (it's good fun). But before that, I was a high school quizbowl player in the MD/DC/VA area, and an alternate to our It's Academic Team. That's my friends' record high score for the show in the Wikipedia article, with plenty of background on host Mac McGarry, a 1950s news announcer who's been doing the DC shows for the past fifty years.

Want a trip down memory lane? Here's a tv clip from the year I was born. Now here's the same show, but an episode from earlier this year. And yes, those are teams of high school cheerleaders rooting for us gawky young trivia geeks. Somewhere on an old archive video, you might even recognize one of them as Sandra Bullock.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:11 PM on March 11, 2011

Appreciated you got the factors together. +2.
posted by jscott at 10:15 PM on March 11, 2011

Whatever happened to TRASH by the way? Seems to have fallen off the face of the planet. I'd have been good at that.
posted by inturnaround at 10:17 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jesus, I was a top player in a top team at a local Brooklyn pub quiz (which everyone thought was really difficult), but these questions are generally really tough. How often do questions get to the final sentence?

Depends on the skill and experience of the players. Certainly there's study involved. The very best teams probably let no more than a few questions get to the last sentence, if that.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:20 PM on March 11, 2011

College Bowl!

My writing center decided to put together a team one year. We easily blew away the other teams at our school-wide competition, because we were nerds. They then sent us to regionals at some college in Maryland (and for some reason made us take along this kid we barely knew from another team, who we promptly renamed "Chuck." Because we were jerks). We spent the night before drinking in our hotel room and I somehow flirted the dude at the desk to letting me and my four male teammates in to use the hot tub where there was much more drinking. The actual competition was rubbish. We were ridiculous goofballs who went around wearing homemade headbands that said "Live it! Learn it!" and everyone else took it way too seriously, especially the team from Grinnell (I think?), all boys, who I heard muttering some sexist remarks about some girls on another team after they beat them. Then something magical happened. We finally got up against them and somehow something coalesced in my brain and I correctly answered about 8 questions in a row, soundly beating them. It was the only match we won, but it was enough to make us feel like the Mighty Ducks or the Bad News Bears. Cloud nine, I'm telling you. Score one for the hung over kids.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:25 PM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

inturnaround, Matt Weiner's forums suggest TRASH is on hiatus for at least this year. Furthermore, it appears that my alma mater's team, mentioned in Ken Jennings' book for possibly the most legendary buzz in the history of college bowl, is now defunct. Sad.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:25 PM on March 11, 2011

Ah, the Tom Waters buzz. I actually met Tom Waters once after helping read for the Chicago Open. A very nice guy. Though apparently his dominance isn't ranked highly by the more recent players because he played in a weaker era. *shrugs*
posted by kmz at 10:30 PM on March 11, 2011

I liked the mention of TJ's team in the book, since they're currently #8 in Mr. Morelan's high school rankings, and entering high school teams into college tournaments is pretty par for the course in the higher ranks. The canon's getting harder in the NAQT high school national championship, too, I swear.
posted by curuinor at 10:32 PM on March 11, 2011

Or was it this one?
posted by user92371 at 11:35 PM on March 11, 2011

Early in my College Bowl career, there was a question for which the answer was "Catherine de' Medici" (wife of Henry II of France). I answered "Queen Catherine" and it was determined to be wrong -- I wasn't asked for more information -- no, wrong, despite the fact that she was, indeed, a Queen. That still bugs me.

Besides this bad memory, this post brings back a host of good ones. Despite knowing that we would not have a chance in the regionals (against nearly-unbeatable University of Michigan, among others), it was a weekend at a hotel somewhere else paid for by the Student Union, with three friends and our awesome faculty adviser.

When I was flipping channels here in Belgium and came across University Challenge on BBC2, I had a new Monday night ritual...
posted by dhens at 12:10 AM on March 12, 2011

Who cares about this FPP? It's all just trivial shit.
posted by jng at 2:05 AM on March 12, 2011

(on a more "serious" note) I was always vaguely annoyed that "academic team" was the preferred term for a quiz bowl club back in HS (at least in our area). It reeked of nerdiness even more than say "math team" or "computer science club"--as if we were announcing to folks that we weren't just smart, but also pretentious assholes who needed to gloat in people's face about how we were the only ones doing any real learnin' in this POS high school. As if spending a weekend memorizing the periodic table of elements was real academics (oh poorly written chemistry clues, if only every real-life problem gave its answers away like you do). As a wannabe athlete, it always chagrined me to tell folks I was going to miss track practice for "academic team" because I always felt like in code, I was insinuating that they were brainless louts who ought to beat the shit out of me and not invite me to any of their parties.

Ah, high school, teen angst over nothing. Good times.
posted by jng at 2:23 AM on March 12, 2011

Hey, Quiz Bowl! I dabbled in that back in the day. Our team consisted of Genevieve (specialized in Arts & Humanities, later went on to compete on College Jeopardy), some dude I don't remember (specialized in science), some other dude (sports) and me (TRASH). I wrote one question, so if you find a pyramidal TRASH question where the answer is Akebono, the sumo wrestler, that might be mine.

My favorite question was a three-part bonus question, where for each part you'd get ten points if you answered on the first clue and five points on the second. It went something like this:

Moderator: [Asks about some obscure English nobleman]
My team: Pass.
Moderator: [Asks about meat between two slices of bread]
My team: The Earl of Sandwich!
Moderator: [Asks about a family of Russian nobility]
My team: Pass.
Moderator: [Asks about beef and noodles in a sour cream sauce]
My team: Stroganoff!

At that point, we had finally caught on, and so were able to get ten points on the last part:

Moderator: [Asks about a Chinese military leader]
My team: General Tso!

Good times.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:27 AM on March 12, 2011


I remember once at a quiz bowl tournament they asked about the bridge between the world and Asgard.

I said Bifrost and they said "Incorrect, the answer is the Rainbow Bridge" *sigh*

I think I took the rage from that and turned it into Jeopardy! victory. :)
posted by drewbage1847 at 2:56 AM on March 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

No Honda Campus All-Star Challenge? It's in its twenty-second year.

There was an African version, too-- does it still exist? Ah, Richard Reid's website has some clips.

Ugh, now I'm having flashbacks about tie games and "sudden death."
posted by tyro urge at 3:04 AM on March 12, 2011

I was drafted in by a friend to try and write some pyramidal quiz bowl questions. Maybe I just sucked, but it was shockingly hard to do off the top of your head.

My crowning quiz bowl accomplishment was getting a question about Jean-Claude Van Damme out of nowhere, having never seen one of his films. That memory perhaps makes up for that time I completely blew a question on the Pilgrim's Progress.
posted by hoyland at 3:31 AM on March 12, 2011

Still have a little 'College Bowl' pinback button. We (Temple University) went to Princeton and got crushed by Ivy Leaguers. Now it's Quizzo and a pint or two.
posted by fixedgear at 4:09 AM on March 12, 2011

Good to see all the other quizbowlers. The QB bonus that sticks in my head was naming the Nazi based on the IQ score in their Nuremberg trial record; team member nailed them all. His triangulation patter was the best after being given the IQ score.
posted by jadepearl at 4:11 AM on March 12, 2011

Hey jadepearl, funny, was about to tell you about this thread.

One of my all-time favorite buzz-ins was by Steve Lin, when we were on the Berkeley team together. We were at the NAQT sectionals playing against Stanford. The question starts out about some sports field at some university, and Steve buzzes in immediately and says "Stanford" to get the tossup.

There were so many fantastic characters in quiz bowl too. I've always wanted to write a story about all the oddballs and misfits we all were. Doc Meredith, who essentially founded the Georgia Tech team, had this habit of collecting the tungsten from dead light bulbs. He was utterly convinced that one day the market would move in favor of tungsten, and when it did, he would be there. His house was the amazing library I had ever seen. Every single wall was covered with books. The floors were filled with columns of books. Even that little space over the door in a stairwell was a bookshelf.

Julie Stalhaut was a wonderful individual too. She was (and still is) an entomologist. I remember she had perhaps one of the best quiz bowl team names of all time: Def Lepidoptera.

Albert Whited was easily the best reader, with a silky smooth voice. I'm sure he would have been happy to see the demise of College Bowl, Inc, for their poor questions and for deliberately screwing over the Georgia Tech team back in the 1980s. Bless you Albert, I wish you were still around.

And then there were just the clues so outrageous you weren't sure if they were really true or not. Did Michel Foucault really masturbate in his university office with his door open? The Brits really fed disinformation to the Nazis about giving their pilots lots of Vitamin A, to hide the invention of radar? The judge in the Alferd Packer cannibalism case (the only person convicted in the US for cannibalism), really exclaimed at the trial "you voracious man-eater, there were only seven Democrats in Hinsdale County, and you done et five of 'em."?

That Sputnik opened garage doors as it flew over the US? Or Saint Lawrence, who, according to legend, as he was being grilled to death exclaimed ""turn me over ... I'm done on this side"? Or even Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, who thought that the static in their satellite communication antenna was caused by pigeons, which was their first step in eventually winning the Nobel prize. And Kasey Kasem was the voice of Shaggy in Scooby Doo? My God, it all makes sense now!

Upthread, someone snarkily commented that it's all just trivia. To a weak extent he's right, but I think it misses the bigger picture. Quiz bowl was and still is a community that loves knowledge for knowledge's sake, from the mundane to the profound, from the trivial to the scholarly. If it weren't for Quiz Bowl and the cast of characters during my time in the game, I would never have learned so much about how we got to where we are now, about the struggles humanity has faced in different historical periods, about the thousands of ways to look at and understand the world we live in, and about the countless stories we humans have been telling since the dawn of time. For me, Quiz Bowl was my first step in seeing just how big the world was and how little I really knew. It has fueled my lifelong thirst for always learning more about everything and anything, and for that, I will always be grateful.
posted by jasonhong at 5:37 AM on March 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

I distinctly remember the bit of misinformation about pilots and vitamin A somewhere around here. But lots of the other stuff sounds apocryphal.
posted by curuinor at 6:53 AM on March 12, 2011

I played while attending USC. Good times. I got into trouble for "not playing in the spirit of the game."

The game is tied with ~45 seconds left. We answer the tossup, get 10 points on the bonus question. I see that time is running out, and get into "game breaker mode."

My team was now up by 20 with less than 10 seconds to go. Ten point toss up coming, if you buzz in interrupting and are wrong, you get -5. If you get the question right you get a bonus question -- but not if time has expired.

So, on the second or third word of the question I buzz in, wait a half second, then stammer an answer for another few seconds. I was called wrong -- which the host needed to say, "I'll finish the question for the other team..." BZZZZ. Time is up. The question is finished, the other team gets it right, and we win by 5.

I have no idea why USC put me on the traveling team after that stunt. It worked, but it wasn't awesome of me.
posted by andreaazure at 7:51 AM on March 12, 2011

Wow. I had no idea that CB/QB was so intense. I first ran into it at Michigan Tech, when a professor approached me and asked if I'd like to be on his departmental team for the university's CB tournament. We did a quick run-through of the rules/protocols, one mock game to see how it worked, and then we ran the tables at the Uni tournament, finally losing to the local HS team in an exhibition match. (They actually competed at the state level, and that year were the state runner-ups.) Then we went off to regionals, and came in fourth. (FWIW, we discovered that the best teams were the ones with STC (technical communication) majors -- the engineering/computerscience types were usually too focused to do well at CB queries.)

The team I was on the next year was nearly as good, but our Union Board assigned us an alternate for regionals (as ours was on a project assignment) and play him at least once, and he lost us more points with wrong answers than he gained, so we didn't make it out of the roundrobin. We were annoyed.
posted by jlkr at 8:22 AM on March 12, 2011

I never did College Bowl, but I did Quiz bowl high school. It was great. It was all the misfits from every category. The science geeks, sports trivia geeks, opera/literature geeks, and a kid who could do cube roots of 7 digit numbers in his head. Unfortunately by the time my junior year rolled around the team dwindled to three people due to attrition of graduation and guys getting girlfriends. Good times while it lasted.
posted by roguewraith at 10:26 AM on March 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

... and came across University Challenge on BBC2...

University Challenge is quite the institution in the UK. I remember an international special where the UK champions played the US champions. Can't find much information about the matches, although it appears that one was between University of Michigan and Imperial College, London. I'd love to see a video of it - if I remember rightly, the UK teams were trounced.
posted by rh at 11:09 AM on March 12, 2011

andreaazure: "So, on the second or third word of the question I buzz in, wait a half second, then stammer an answer for another few seconds. I was called wrong -- which the host needed to say, "I'll finish the question for the other team..." BZZZZ. Time is up. The question is finished, the other team gets it right, and we win by 5."

That sounds like a pretty standard tactic called a clock-killing neg, although generally the idea is for the clock to run out before the other team has any chance to buzz. I think both ACF and NAQT now require the moderator to finish the toss-up and offer a bonus no matter when the clock runs out.
posted by d. z. wang at 11:22 AM on March 12, 2011

rh: "I remember an international special where the UK champions played the US champions."

How would you compare the rigor between the two sides of the Atlantic? I remember playing with someone who did played undergrad "quiz" in Britain, and he claimed the standard of competition was actually a bit lower. Be interested to know if that's true.
posted by d. z. wang at 11:23 AM on March 12, 2011

CBI Nationals 1997: U. Chicago is ahead of us by 10; the legendary John Sheehan pulls a clock-killing neg on us, gets called on it before the clock runs out; I answer some bullshit thing about Will Smith's movie career with one second on clock; music swells; lights explode in slow motion; etc.
posted by ormondsacker at 11:30 AM on March 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

mykescipark: Sorry, but this is the greatest College Bowl that ever was.

Made even better by the fact that Stephen Fry competed in the real show too.
posted by rh at 11:31 AM on March 12, 2011

I played quiz bowl from sixth grade straight through library school, save for missing out on fall term of my freshman year at Carleton. It's too bad Ken Jennings didn't get to go with us on our road trips to tournaments in St. Louis or Ann Arbor for his book, when we'd read packets the entire twenty hours we spent in the car driving from Northfield and back.

It's a sanctioned varsity sport in high schools Illinois, along with chess. The best was going on stage to be honored for winning a varsity letter all three years at my nerd high school; out of the eleven of us up there, I think seven or eight were there for chess or scholastic bowl.
posted by jackflaps at 12:02 PM on March 12, 2011

An anecdote I posted yesterday to askme that I believe is relevant and amusing:
On a related note, when I did college bowl trivia, my favorite events were the "trash" tournaments, which featured primarily pop-culture content, but which also often featured silly or bizarre variants on the standard trivia question format. So one standard college bowl bonus question was the 30-20-10 bonus, where your team is given a sequence of clues to guess an answer, starting with a difficult clue for 30 points, moving to an easier clue for 20, and then to the easiest clue for 10 points. There's no penalty for guessing wrong, so you always would make some guess (often "Smith", if you have absolutely nothing to go on). In the trash tournaments, you would sometimes get a 40-30-20-10-5-1 bonus. The 5-point clue was usually very easy, and the 1-point clue would be utterly ridiculous like "The George Washington Bridge was named after him." Normally bonuses max out at 30 points, so the 40-point "clue" was usually impossible (e.g. "For 40 points, name this philosopher."), and just a chance to make a joke guess. I was not very good at trivia of any form, but I still pride myself that I once successfully guessed at a 40-point clue "Name this sport."

The correct answer, of course, was "jai alai".
I was never very good at college bowl, but I really enjoyed. I wasn't any better at the pop-culture questions than at the academia, but I loved the whimsical nature of the format. I remember that there was one bonus question where they read off the names of wrestling holds and we had to demonstrate them on our teammates to get the question right. Honestly, there's no reason that they couldn't insert some of that whimsy into the regular tournaments.

At one of the first tournaments I played in, I barely answered any toss-ups, with two notable exceptions. One began "The `gravity' version of these-", to which I buzzed in with "bong". The other one consisted primarily of a long list of product names. I think everybody had a pretty good idea what they were referring to, but I was the first one who was actually willing to buzz in and guess "dildo". Around the same time, I buzzed in with "Congo" and wasn't able to remember the full name of the nation. After that tournament, I spent a lot of time worrying what my teammates must think of my personal life.

Good times. Good times.
posted by ErWenn at 1:20 PM on March 12, 2011

This thread has brought back some wonderful memories of high school quiz bowl. Ah, the sea of dark hair and glasses. The 90% male crowd, and the novelty of being a girl. The high of buzzing in early with the right answer. Missing prom to do a TV show, and totally not caring.

Thank you, thinking about it made me smile. One of the few parts of high school that I'm nostalgic about.
posted by charmcityblues at 2:15 PM on March 12, 2011

College Bowl prepared me for a career in Pub Trivia.

posted by steambadger at 3:22 PM on March 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

I participated for four years in High School and one year during my second stint in college.

I didn't have any friends that still had eligibility left, so I just joined a pool from which a random team was made. We called ourselves "the Perfect Strangers." We made a run through the whole tourney, even defeating the defending champs that had gone to nationals the year before...and then got to represent our university at the regional tournament.

Quiz bowl was one of my favorite hobbies and I try to fill the void with pub trivia.
posted by schyler523 at 7:21 PM on March 12, 2011

I lettered in QB.
posted by k8t at 9:50 PM on March 12, 2011

I did highschool Quiz Bowl and a few other competitions with similarly structured questions around the midwest (somewhere I still have the tattered remnants of a Nebraska Science Bowl t-shirt I wore constantly for a good 8 or 9 years). It wasn't the only thing I competed in (one-act play contests were also a Thing, and I was the nerd running the tech crew the year we went to State), but it was the one I was good at. We never studied or practiced - it was just kind of a side project of the hapless-but-likable guidance counselor / golf coach - but we tended to place pretty well. Won some competitions and wound up on local TV at one point. The way I remember it, I almost didn't get to do that one because most of the time I was getting straight Fs and academically ineligible to participate in extracurriculars...

Our team was a handful of popular, good-looking jock types who lived in town plus scrawny, badly-dressed 90 pound hick nerd me. I took a really unhealthy amount of satisfaction in beating teams from big schools who cared deeply and had obviously been preparing for months. I remember making dudes break down crying and storm out of rooms in a rage. It was glorious.

Pub quizzes and such can be fun, but they're sure no substitute.
posted by brennen at 9:59 PM on March 12, 2011

On the opening in competition vs MIT at the College Bowl regionals, I was first to the buzzer and correct answer on a geometry question. TAKE THAT other NERDS!
posted by zippy at 4:13 PM on March 13, 2011

Son of a barrellmaker...
posted by frecklefaerie at 7:53 AM on March 14, 2011

Ah, man, high school Quiz Bowl. Those are some righteous memories. For whatever reason, a handful of friends and I made up a team that just kicked ass all over eastern Nebraska. We even worked some weird gamesmanship into it, too, running the clock down on bonus questions and being kind of obnoxious about it (someone actually hurt my feelings by accusing us of being "the Dallas Cowboys of Nebraska Quiz Bowl," which is hilarious now but at the time was like being told we fucked dogs in public).

I guess there was a valuable life lesson in all of this, too; at the end of my senior year, we traveled down to Houston for some national Quiz Bowl competition. We were used to cleaning house in Nebraska, and figured we'd do the same against the rest of the country.

We got smeared. I don't think we won a match. We certainly didn't win more than one.

...and actually, that's pretty cool. You need to learn somewhere that being the best in Nebraska doesn't translate to being the best everywhere, and that was as good a forum as any.

It took me years to stop reflexively trying to buzz in when I heard Trivial Pursuit questions.
posted by COBRA! at 8:11 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

COBRA!, when would that have been? I think I was involved ca. '98-2000...

...and actually, that's pretty cool. You need to learn somewhere that being the best in Nebraska doesn't translate to being the best everywhere, and that was as good a forum as any.

Ultimate Frisbee turns out to be a pretty good forum for this as well.
posted by brennen at 2:49 PM on March 14, 2011

My last year (and the Great Smearing) was '93. Too bad, it would be kind of awesome if a member of one of the smearing teams turned up as a MeFite.
posted by COBRA! at 9:33 AM on March 17, 2011

Great Smearing?

I was witness to a pie eating contest in Madison once. I think the winner got 50 points.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:18 PM on March 17, 2011

« Older The Price Rollback of the Comics   |   NOW WITH MORE WIL WHEATON Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments