Announcing ACRONYM 11

Play Quiz Bowl is thrilled to announce the production of ACRONYM 11, the latest in our annual easy pop culture set. More details are available on the quiz bowl forums.

ACRONYM 11 is the first of three tournaments that PQB is producing this year. Details on the others will be made available in the coming weeks!

PQB is Coming to the Minnesota State Fair!

Play Quiz Bowl is immensely excited to announce that it will be taking part in STEM Day at the Minnesota State Fair on Thursday, August 24th! Visitors from all over the state will have a unique opportunity to learn about quiz bowl, play a few sample questions, and get all the info they need to get a team started at their school. On last year’s STEM Day, the fair was visited by over 110,000 people, and we are thrilled at the chance to talk about this game with so many students, parents, and teachers! Further details are forthcoming as the date approaches.

The STEM-related events will be held in Dan Patch Park and run from 8am to 5pm. STEM Day is organized by the Minnesota STEM Network, which is itself a part of SciMath MN. We hope to see many of you there!

1st Birthday Tomorrow, and Info on PQB’s Upcoming Sets

Play Quiz Bowl is turning one year old tomorrow! To celebrate, we’ll be announcing some major news that should be of interest to any existing or aspiring Minnesota quiz bowl players! Additionally, here’s an update on what we’ve been up to. We have two questions sets still due before the end of the year:

Super ACRONYM will be available for mirrors starting in August, 2017. Like ACRONYM, this is an all-pop culture set. Unlike ACRONYM, its questions are not intended for high schoolers in terms of difficulty (or in terms of content). It is being written by Erik Nelson, Daniel Vopava, and Travis Vitello. For information on mirroring Super ACRONYM, contact Erik Nelson.

TOEJAMANDEARL will be ready for mirrors in late October or Early November 2017. It will consist of 8, 20-tossup packets with all content related to video games (especially classic ones).

2017 HSNCT Preview: Minnesota’s Teams

The 2017 NAQT High School National Championship Tournament is being held May 27-28 in Atlanta, Georgia. At 304 teams, it is poised to become the largest quiz bowl tournament ever held, and there will be 24 teams from Minnesota competing for hardware. Play Quiz Bowl is pleased to provide a preview of these teams (plus one honorable mention) heading into HSNCT weekend, with info on their performances over the season.

Burnsville

School: Burnsville High School
Coach: Les Moffitt
Number of teams: 2
Probable starters: Blake Andert (senior), Connor Van Dorpe (senior), Nick Schatz (junior), Matthew Fischer (junior)
2016-17 Highlights: South Suburban Conference champions, 4th place in MNHSQB League, 5th place at NAQT State Championship

Les Moffitt has turned Burnsville into one of the state’s top programs, with two straight top-5 finishes at the NAQT State Championship. Their “A” team will retain three of the four players that went 7-3 in the prelims of last year’s HSNCT. Senior Blake Andert is Burnsville’s highest scoring player ever (per NAQT per-game statistics) and is coming off an 80 PPG performance at the Wisconsin spring tournament, at which Burnsville went 10-0.

Chanhassen

School: Chanhassen High School
Coach: Kate Martens
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: Karsen Megrenes (junior), Mitchell Mollet (sophomore), Alex Gannon (freshman), Nick Berg (junior)
2016-17 Highlights: 9th place at Run for the Roses

Chanhassen’s core players have improved quickly, and none of its “A” team members are seniors. Their strong performance at this year’s Run for the Roses suggest they’re peaking at the right time, with ample time to continue to get better.

Chaska

School: Chaska High School
Coach: Chris Lenius
Number of teams: 2
Probable starters: Sean Zipse (senior), Coby Oertel (senior), William Saathoff (senior), Colton Juell (senior)
2016-17 Highlights: 4th place at NAQT State Championship, 5th place at Run for the Roses, 2nd place at Metro West Conference Championship

Chaska has a long history of strong teams on the Minnesota circuit, and this year was no exception. This will be the last hurrah for this team of seniors, which includes Coby Oertel and Sean Zipse, whose career PPG puts them in Chaska’s all-time top 10. Chaska also finished third in the state’s Knowledge Bowl meet, the highest finish of any team also competing at HSNCT.

Eden Prairie

School: Eden Prairie High School
Coach: Josh Axtman, Alyssa Jackson
Number of teams: 3
Probable starters: Nibir Sarma (junior), Carter Rislove (senior), Winston Chen (junior), Clay Crepps (senior)
2016-17 Highlights: NAQT State Champions, 2nd place at SNOW CAT, 2nd place at WIZARD, 4th place at GINVIT

Eden Prairie found itself in familiar territory this season, pulling off a win at the state championship over their own B team. Their showing at the MNHSQB playoffs was not as strong, in large part due to a somewhat shorthanded roster. Their ideal “A” team is very well balanced, with strong players in across the NAQT distribution. They finished 7-3 in last year’s HSNCT prelims; they return two players from that team and add Nibir Sarma, whose 40 PPG on EP’s “C” team last year was the second-highest of any Eden Prairie player.

Hopkins

School: Hopkins High School
Coach: John Sammler
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: John Vaaler (junior), Maxim Peng (senior), Jack Selinger (junior), Armand Martinez (junior)
2016-17 Highlights: 13th place in MNHSQB Leauge, 9th place at WIZARD

Hopkins has been anchored by John Vaaler and Maxim Peng for a couple of seasons now, and will have them both in tow at HSNCT. John finished in the top 5 in scoring at this season’s GINVIT, as was in the top 10 in the state in scoring during MNHSQB League. This is the school’s first appearance at HSNCT since 2012.

Minnetonka

School: Minnetonka High School
Coach: Judith Thomas
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: Parthiv Krishna (sophomore), Max Meyer (freshman), Isaac Schrof (senior), Drew Dutton (senior)
2016-17 Highlights: 9th place at Run for the Roses, 9th place at WIZARD

The future looks bright for Minnetonka, who counts two underclassmen (Max Meyer and Parthiv Krishan) among its strongest players. They have been formidable this year when at full strength, and will be looking to match or improve upon their performance at their last HSNCT appearance (2014, 5-5).

Mounds Park

School: Mounds Park Academy
Coach: Jay Noland
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: Sidney Carlson White (senior), Teja Upadhyaya (senior), Nick Samsel (senior), Ben George (senior)
2016-17 Highlights: 4th place at SSNCT (Charter/Private), 2nd place at GINVIT, 4th place at SNOW CAT, 4th place at Run for the Roses

It’s the end of an era for Mounds Park – this tournament will be the last high school meet for Sidney Carlson White, who was by far the state’s top scorer at MNHSQB League and finished with 100 or more PPG six times this season. He’ll be at Yale in the fall. MPA’s middle school team recorded a historic 2nd place finish at MSNCT this year, but none of those players (including star in the making Isak Dai) will be on the HSNCT squad.

Mounds View

School: Mounds View High School
Coach: Justin Benolkin
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: William Amendola Bye (junior), Justin Duffy (senior), Joey Floeder (senior), Aryan Sehgal (freshman)
2016-17 Highlights: 9th place at WIZARD, 13th place at MNHSQB League, 17th place at Run for the Roses

Mounds View’s William Amendola Bye and Justin Duffy are the two highest-scoring players in Mounds View history according to NAQT’s database. They ended with a 5-5 finish at last year’s HSNCT, and both will be back to compete again this year, as will senior Joey Floeder. Their “A” team was an impressive 10-2 in divisional play during the MNHSQB League, during which they handed Isak Dai’s Mounds Park C team its only loss.

Orono

School: Orono High School
Coach: Larry Williams
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: Gavin Mueller (freshman), Jeremy Skalla (junior), Owen Albrecht (junior), Ben Greiber (junior)
2016-17 Highlights: 9th place at MNHSQB League, 9th place at SOCIAL, 17th place at Run for the Roses

Freshman Gavin Mueller led Orono in points during the MNHSQB League season, where they eliminated a strong St. Louis Park team during the playoffs. The rest of the team is all juniors, who have all improved since their appearance at last year’s HSNCT, where they finished 4-6.

Providence

School: Providence Academy
Coach: Kevin Keiser
Number of teams: 2
Probable starters: Ryan Heaney (senior), Marty Partoll (senior), Natalie Heyda (senior), Derek Onserio (senior)
2016-17 Highlights: 6th place at MNHSQB League, 5th place at SOCIAL, 9th place at RATRACE

Providence Academy is relatively new to quiz bowl – their first season was 2013-14 – but they have already established themselves as a very strong presence in the local circuit. This year’s “A” team wen 11-1 in League play, losing only to Wayzata A. They did not play in many Saturday tournaments this season, but always finished strong when they did appear – senior Ryan Heaney was the 8th-highest scorer at RATRACE, and will likely lead the team in Atlanta.

Robbinsdale Armstrong

School: Robbinsdale Armstrong High School
Coach: Phil Wiese
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: Matthew Penick (junior), Julianne Brandes (junior), Felicia Peterson (junior), Daniel Anderson (junior)
2016-17 Highlights: 5th place at WIZARD, 17th place at Run for the Roses

Armstrong is in its first year since the departure of long-time coach Matt Quinn, though new coach Phil Wiese has led the team to several solid finishes. Matthew Penick has taken former standout Jack Brandes’s place as the team’s leader and was one of the state’s top juniors this year – his 81 PPG was good for 5th overall in League scoring.

St. Louis Park

School: St. Louis Park High School
Coach: Peter Dangerfield
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: Will Poulter (senior), Nick Kasic (senior), Jack Wheeler (senior), Danny Hunegs (sophomore)
2016-17 Highlights: Metro West Conference Champions, 9th place at NAQT State Championships, 13th place at MNHSQB League

Over the last few seasons, St. Louis Park has emerged as a serious contender on the state’s circuit, finishing in the top 10 at each of the last two state championships. They ran the table to win the Metro West Conference title; Will Poulter led that tournament in scoring with 78 PPG.

St. Paul Academy

School: St. Paul Academy and Summit School
Coach: Kate Lockwood
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: Peter Blanchfield (junior), Coleman Thompson (senior), Paul Watkins (senior), Phoebe Pannier (senior)
2016-17 Highlights: 6th in MNHSQB League, 2nd at Run for the Roses

At this season’s WIZARD, SPA’s Peter Blanchfield went undefeated during the morning session playing solo, and earned the tournament’s overall scoring title. With teammates, he and the rest of SPA reached the finals of Run for the Roses, beating both Burnsville and Mounds Park in the process.

Wayzata

School: Wayzata High School
Coach: Meaghan Decker, Brian Decker
Number of teams: 6
Probable starters: Tora Husar (junior), Joe Kammann (junior), Ashmita Sarma (senior), Kush Maheshwari (junior)
2016-17 Highlights: MNHSQB League Champions, 1st place at Run for the Roses, 1st place at GINVIT, 1st place at SNOW CAT, 3rd place at NAQT State Championships

Wayzata is bringing a preposterous six teams to HSNCT this year, but all eyes will be on their “A” team. While they faltered slightly at the state championship, it would be fair to say that Wayzata dominated the circuit this season. Typically anchored by Tora Husar and Joe Kammann (both juniors), Wayzata A’s record on the MN circuit this season was 93-2, with one of those losses coming against their own C team at RATRACE. At least year’s HSNCT, Wayzata finished tied for 13th – can they improve upon that this year?

Honorable Mention: Hudson

School: Hudson High School
Coach: Roberta Naujok
Number of teams: 1
Probable starters: Jaxon Renn (senior), Nick Janssen (junior), Nick Hanson (junior), Ryan Harper (senior)
2016-17 Highlights: 1st place at Holmen High Invitational, 17th place at Run for the Roses

While Hudson is across the border from Minnesota, it does compete on the Minnesota circuit, and will also be attending HSNCT this year. They narrowly missed the MNHSQB League playoffs despite a very strong 8-4 record, as this year’s south division was stacked. This team is no slouch, however – they won the Holmen High Invitational in April, against a field that included Burnsville and Stoughton, another of Wisconsin’s best teams.

PQB Interview: Wayzata’s RATRACE Champions

Over the last decade, Wayzata High School has become home to one of Minnesota’s strongest and deepest quiz bowl programs. Coached by Meaghan and Brian Decker, the program put multiple teams into the playoffs at the 2016 HSNCT and will bring six teams to this year’s tournament. In January 2017, Wayzata’s “A” team of Cara Fragomeni, Divya Goel, Tora Husar, and Alicia John won Minnesota’s annual RATRACE tournament. In doing so, they became the first all-female team in Minnesota’s NAQT era (and likely ever) to win a quiz bowl tournament. Play Quiz Bowl spoke with Cara and Tora about their success at the tournament, the Wayzata quiz bowl program, and their future ambitions.

Play Quiz Bowl – How were you introduced to quiz bowl, and what drew you to the game?

Tora Husar – I joined quiz bowl the summer before my sophomore year (last year) after I saw the team’s booth at Wayzata’s open house. I’ve always liked watching Jeopardy, so I thought it’d be fun to try. After coming to a couple of practices, I realized that I liked the idea of playing as both a team and as an individual, and I thought quiz bowl had a really welcoming atmosphere, which was especially fortunate because I had just transferred to Wayzata and was nervous about making friends.

Cara Fragomeni – All my friends were in quiz bowl during our freshman year, and they always talked about how fun the competitions were and how much “useless” knowledge they’ve picked up because of quiz bowl. I love trivia games and showing off my repertoire of random facts, so I joined the club sophomore year. I found amazing people, a challenging game, and tons of fun traditions and I haven’t looked back!

TH – Joining quiz bowl has probably been the best decision I’ve made in high school–I have made so many good friends and memories through quiz bowl, and I am very thankful for that. Right now some would say that I devote a little too much time to quiz bowl, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

PQB – What has been your favorite memory of your experiences with quiz bowl to date?

CFHSNCT in 2016 was probably the most fun tournament I’ve ever been to. My team was very supportive and we were really on top of our game, but it was even more amazing to watch Wayzata A finish up 13th overall and cheer them on along the way. The finals match that year was absolutely epic as well – I didn’t think there was any way that Hunter could come back after that first half, and it was super cool to watch them win that momentum back.

TH – It’s hard to pinpoint on just one day or experience that was the best, because going to practice and to tournaments almost never fails to be fun, and I think this is especially because a lot of people in quiz bowl aren’t afraid to be silly or funny. A really good example of this was at Run for the Roses earlier this year, where my friend and teammate Ashmita Sarma bought two dozen or so umbrella hats on Amazon and a bunch of players wore them around during and between rounds. The hats may have interfered a bit with circulation to the brain, but it was a lot of fun and I think it just brought our team together that much more. I also really enjoyed traveling to Boston to compete at the Harvard Fall Tournament last November.

PQB – The winning RATRACE team is the first all-girl team to win a tournament in Minnesota’s NAQT era, and quite possibly the first ever. What does that accomplishment mean to you and your teammates?

CF – When we went into RATRACE, I don’t think any of us were thinking about the fact that we had an all girls team. We knew we had the potential to do really well and everyone definitely came to play that day. Tora was absolutely on fire and we all worked really hard to keep our momentum and morale up. I know it’s been a dream of Ms. Decker’s to have an all girls team win a tournament, and I’m very proud to have been a part of that!

TH – Although there is a bit of a gender imbalance in quiz bowl as a whole, I don’t think that means that girls aren’t welcomed by the quiz bowl community or that girls aren’t motivated to work hard for quiz bowl, and I think our victory reflects that. I don’t think I’ve ever felt excluded or uncomfortable for being a girl who plays quiz bowl, and I think I speak for the whole team when I say that winning RATRACE as a team of girls didn’t feel out of place or out of the ordinary. I hope that our win will encourage more girls to give quiz bowl a try, because it might just turn out to be an amazing experience.

PQB – In general, how do you feel the opportunities quiz bowl provides to female players? What do you think it could do better?

TH – In terms of opportunities to have fun playing the game and playing competitively if one so chooses, I don’t think that quiz bowl has shunned girls, or any group for that matter. Quiz bowl has such a welcoming atmosphere and I don’t think that the gender imbalance in quiz bowl exists because girls are actively excluded or warded away from joining. My perspective on this might be a bit limited because I’ve only been a part of the quiz bowl world for about a year and a half, but I think that the sheer number of tournaments offered every weekend and the initiatives of outreach groups to get new schools involved in the game will lead to an increase in girls’ participation.

CF – I think quiz bowl in general does a really good job of providing a level playing field to every student, and I’ve never really felt like people treated me or my team differently because I’m a girl. Nobody ever assumes that the guy on the team is always the captain, which is very refreshing to see! Last year at Wayzata, three of our four captains were female, and I see the same trend reflected in other schools as well. Something that could be done better is to have a few more female moderators, but in general I think quiz bowl is a very non-gender specific sport, which is awesome!

PQB – After your victory at RATRACE, your team was featured on NAQT’s website, which noted that, among other things, Tora was fighting an illness. What kept you focused and motivated during the tournament?

TH – Since the tournament was set in the midst of flu season, I was a little under the weather and had a cold, but that didn’t stop me from loving every minute of the day, and I think a big part of that was being on a team with friends with whom I don’t usually get to play at tournaments. We really kept the energy going between rounds. It also helped that RATRACE consisted of very short tossups, so I didn’t get a lot of time to pause and feel groggy.

PQB – This academic year, you (Tora) also achieved a perfect ACT score. Do you feel that your experiences with quiz bowl helped you in the lead up to test (and if so, how)?

TH – I would actually say that the reverse was true. The reading prompts for standardized tests often include passages about the humanities, scientific concepts, and literature, and I’ve surprisingly learned a good deal of things that happen to come up in quiz bowl from standardized tests. I distinctly remember taking a practice test leading up to the ACT that included a passage from The Red and the Black, which prompted me to read the whole book (and enjoy it). I’ve also learned bits and pieces about schools of art and biology through standardized tests, so while I can’t say I’d enjoy taking the test more times, it does have its benefits. I do think that being accustomed to thinking fast under pressure in quiz bowl helped me take the test, since various sections have a pretty tight time limit, and I didn’t end up feeling rushed or stressed while taking the test.

PQB – Wayzata impressively qualified six teams for the HSNCT at RATRACE. To what do you attribute the program’s depth and success?

CF – In the three years that I’ve been in quiz bowl, the program at Wayzata has really grown in popularity. It used to be perceived as a “nerd sport” that people do so they can put it on college applications, but now I think everyone realizes that quiz bowl is a really supportive club where everyone can come together to learn and perform well at tournaments. It really feels like a family, and everyone wants to see each other succeed. I think it’s this mentality that helped us qualify so many teams, and I can’t wait for nationals with all my teammates!

PQB – In general, how has being a quiz bowl player helped you as a student?

CF – Quiz bowl has taught me valuable study skills and has helped me identify how I learn best. For example, our team has constructed memory palaces to remember Oscar Best Picture winners, made posters diagramming the taxonomy of animals and had presentations about board games likely to show up in quiz bowl. I think the variety of techniques we use to remember information has come in handy in my classwork, especially memorizing reactions in Organic Chemistry!

TH – Quiz bowl is at its core a game about knowing things, and to get better at it, one naturally has to learn more things. Quiz bowl has opened my eyes to subjects that I would have previously called boring and tedious, and for that I am really thankful. Without quiz bowl, my world view would have been much narrower, and I probably never would have gotten to appreciate the works of John Constable or JMW Turner, who have become my favorite painters, or to enjoy opera, something I otherwise wouldn’t have thought to learn about and experience. In short, quiz bowl has let me discover what my own interests are, and I think that is such an amazing thing.

PQB – What more do you hope to accomplish in your quiz bowl career?

CF – I’m super excited to go to HSNCT in May with all six of our teams and hope to finish higher than my team did last year. I’d like to play quiz bowl in college if the opportunity is available, but I think it would be even more fun to become a moderator and maybe read at next year’s nationals!

TH – It already feels a little bittersweet that I only have one year left to play high school quiz bowl, but I really hope to continue to improve as a player and to continue to have fun with my friends. It always feels good to buzz in on a topic you’re passionate about, to get questions with really obscure or funny clues, and to work together on bonus sets, and I hope that that continues. I plan on playing quiz bowl in college as well, and I’m sure college quiz bowl will be as much of a blast, but it will be hard to part ways with everyone on the team at Wayzata. So I suppose the greatest accomplishment I can hope for is to continue to enjoy doing what I am doing. Bringing home a trophy is always a bonus, but I cherish the friends and memories I’ve made over any prize.

PQB – What’s next for you outside of quiz bowl?

CF – I’m attending the Colorado School of Mines next year to study civil engineering, and hope to get in some rock climbing and skiing while I’m there too. Eventually I want to get my PhD and work for the Army Corps of Engineers, and hopefully stay involved with NAQT along the way!

 

PQB Interview: Matt Quinn

After a brief hiatus during the run-up to the completion and first competitions of ACRONYM X, we are back with a new interview! This time around, Play Quiz Bowl spoke with Matt Quinn, the former coach of Robbinsdale Armstrong High School and a key figure in the history of the ACRONYM tournament. We also spoke to Matt about his short history as a quiz bowl player and the effect it has had on him, his students, and the landscape of high school quiz bowl in Minnesota.

Play Quiz Bowl – How did you get involved in quiz bowl? In your view, how has the game changed for the better since those days?

Matt Quinn – I went to South High School in Minneapolis in the late 1980s, at that time the school had an excellent quiz bowl team, placing 2nd in the Minnesota High School Quiz Bowl League in 1989. I can’t say I was really involved with the program, or even officially a member; I went to some practices in 9th and 10th grade. The 1988-89 squad had my close friend Andy Honigman, my childhood friend Ben Weiss, and I believe it was rounded out by Gary Gutman and Dan Rafferty. Those guys were really good, and they narrowly lost the championship to Mounds Park Academy. My first experiences were being really wowed by how fast everyone else was, and feeling like I didn’t know anything, and that everyone was better than me. Quiz bowl can be quite humbling in that way.

I suppose quiz bowl has changed a lot since then, but at the time I didn’t think at all about things like question quality, different formats, pyramidal toss-ups, only in retrospect as a coach did I realize what improvements and developments had been made since then.

PQB – You became coach at Armstrong High School in 2000. What inspired you to become a coach?

MQ – As I applied for teaching jobs that summer, after a few interviews I found out that I would get asked “What do you coach?” The possibility of me as an athletic coach was pretty ridiculous, so instead I had prepared the answer “Quiz Bowl” for future interviews. It just so happened that students at Armstrong had been asking for a team to be formed the year before, but the administration had told them that a coach was needed to start a team. Because of that, I have quiz bowl to thank for my teaching job.

I genuinely did want to start a team though; it wasn’t just to get a job. When I started as a leader, that feeling of being an inferior player was something I kept in mind. I tried to assure new players that the first few practices were going to be tough, that it was only natural to feel overwhelmed by the information being thrown at them, and that given work and time they could improve. Dissuading students from the idea that they were not any good from their first practice performance was so important. One story I would relay to new players was that Jack Brandes, Armstrong’s all time high-scorer, got only one power and one regular toss up at his first tournament. This let them know that improvement was going to happen if they put in the work.

I’d also like to think that overall I made room for everyone who joined, and that members of our group could contribute to the organization in lots of ways besides scoring points, that everyone had something to offer. We had members that were just as crucial to our success through administration like making t-shirts, through moral support such as organizing social events and snack lists, or seeing us off for Nationals at the airport, and through recruitment, so many of our members joined because their friends told them how much fun it was. Sometimes when I talk about quiz bowl with people from the community at large, I can get a whiff of the attitude that “it’s really nice that you have a place for the kids who get cut by the football team.” Quiz bowl students don’t join because they can’t do athletics. They do it for its own merits and because it is cool in and of itself. Besides, some of our best players have also been members of the football team.

I’m also proud of how competitive we wound up being, and over time I got a lot better at teaching how to play the game, as opposed to just handing out study guides. Once NAQT came on the Minnesota scene in 2003, it opened my eyes as to how much goes into constructing a question, and how knowing that as a player makes you a lot better. It took a good 5 years of watching quiz bowl to be able teach people to play strategically. Of course there is no substitute for studying and knowing your material, but you can get some points by knowing when to anticipate imminent giveaway clues, knowing when to slow down or speed up, taking a pause to be certain before giving an answer, and having systems for working with teammates on bonus questions.

PQB – What are your fondest memories of coaching?

MQ – I’m tempted to answer this question by rattling off a list of accomplishments and victories, but what I will actually remember are the students and the time I got to spend with them. When I look at our player database, I see 200 plus names of remarkable young people that I got to be associated with for a few years. Along with playing lots of great quiz bowl, we had a lot of fun, and there are so many times when we laughed and celebrated. That time Andy almost got kicked off of public access television for saying that drunk driving was “cool.” The time my kids stole all of St. Anthony’s staplers and I had to get mad at them. That time Noah sneezed. David’s yellow Columbo frozen yogurt t-shirt. Everyone yelling “Coooooooney!” for the handsome and shy John Cooney. I’m sure each quiz bowl team has their own set of inside jokes and rituals that makes their team special, and that might seem like a distraction or a byproduct, but I think it is really important to making meaning out of your time together more than just winning.

I will also remember how many awesome people I met in the quiz bowl community. At the time I retired I had been coaching 16 years, and I believe was the longest consecutively serving coach in Minnesota. (Chris Lenius and Jamie Jurkovich started before me but both took time out in the middle). The coaches are all amazing people who give up lots of time for building and running their programs, I wish they could get formally recognized in some way. Additionally, getting to see the arrival of NAQT on the Minnesota scene first hand was really exciting. Robert Hentzel and Emily Pike have done so much to raise the standards for quiz bowl here, and they do a first rate job of running and overseeing the programs and tournaments. In short, the friendships that I have formed will be something that I always treasure.

PQB – You and your team made local news when the quiz bowl budget was unexpectedly slashed. How did the community response help keep the team afloat?

MQ – The Robbinsdale Area Schools had a referendum fail at the ballot box in November of 2007. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the quiz bowl program was in the first round of cuts, our activities director told me we had been axed the day after the election. It was fortunate that we had built up a solid base of alumni, community and parents after seven years in the game to get us through that rough spell. We got by on donations for a while, and without those we would have collapsed. Most notably from the business community, Val Doherty of the Doherty Employment group matched donations after reading about our plight. Norm Draper of the Star Tribune featured our program in an article about the cuts, and that attention helped bring support from the larger community.

PQB – You’re a key figure in the history of ACRONYM, a pop culture tournament now played nationally and produced by Play Quiz Bowl. How did the idea of house-writing pop culture questions come about?

MQ – I certainly can’t take credit for the idea, ACRONYM was preceded by EPIC in Minnesota, a tournament that ran in 2007 and 2008, started by the Eden Prairie program under coach Kirk Walton. I could be wrong about this, but I believe the first EPIC was written mostly by Kirk and his friends. The Armstrong team came in 2nd place at that one. In 2008, a lot of college players helped to write that tourney, I know Andrew Hart, Rob Carson and Gautam Kandlikar were all contributors. When Eden Prairie did not run it again in 2009, I filled the void that was left with the ACRONYM tournament in 2010. The first two ACRONYMs were actually run on NAQT questions and were standard invitational meets. For me, ACRONYM was always first and foremost a fundraiser, and seeing the demand for a pop culture tournament we filled it. The weird thing I can take credit for is having an acronym that spelled out ACRONYM (Armstrong’s Conceivably Regular Or Nearly Yearly Meet).

I’m proud of the four tournaments (III-VI) that I edited and put together. Armstrong players past and present always contributed questions, and without their input the set would have skewed a lot into older pop culture that I knew from the 80s and 90s. We asked about some creative if not easily gettable topics and I had fun slipping in clues about some of my personal favorite songs, books and baseball stories every year along the way. It could be a bit sloppy in execution and difficulty levels widely varied, but I got tons of great feedback from the players. I had a kid from my alma mater, South High School, come up to me at the end of one ACRONYM tournament and tell me “This is like my birthday and Christmas and the Super Bowl all in one day. Thank you for doing this” so that was pretty gratifying.

PQB – The Armstrong team has a new coach this year. What advice did you give him when he stepped into the new role, and what advice would you give to other new coaches?

MQ – When I had to retire from quiz bowl this year because my wife Sherri was diagnosed with breast cancer, I got to hand off the best group of sophomores (now juniors) that I have ever coached. We brought three 10th graders to Nationals last year, and had another eight on the team besides that. I had a chance at the beginning of the year to meet with some of the students and let them know that I was counting on them to lead the team, and to bring their knowledge to new members. So my advice to Phil Wiese (the new coach) was to count on his reliable core of returning members. I mean, 16 year olds have led empires and made revolutionary scientific discoveries, certainly they can step up to help run a quiz bowl team. Phil has done a great job making the program his own too though. Armstrong quiz bowl is in good hands. I sure miss it, and there is seldom a day that goes by that I don’t think about something I learned from being a quiz bowl coach or a fun memory from being involved with it.

Play Quiz Bowl, NAQT Announce HSNCT ACRONYM X Mirror

Play Quiz Bowl is excited to announce it has partnered with National Academic Quiz Tournaments for a mirror of ACRONYM X at the 2017 High School National Championship Tournament, which is being held over Memorial Day weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. Like HSNCT, the tournament will be held at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.

Similar to last year, the event will be held on Sunday evening (May 28) following the conclusion of the main tournament. There will be separate divisions for high school and open teams, with a field cap of 24 teams per division.

Teams can register for this event here.

PQB Interview: Rob Carson

In the last dozen years, Rob Carson has established himself as a positive force in the quiz bowl community. In addition to being one of the game’s greatest players (and a national champion alongside friend and teammate Andrew Hart), Rob has helped produce countless national tournaments as a writer, editor and staffer. His positive influence on the game is seen daily on the hsquizbowl.org forums, where he serves as an administrator. Play Quiz Bowl spoke with Rob about his experiences with the game, how it kept him going, and what new players can do to make their marks.

Play Quiz Bowl – How did you get involved in quiz bowl?

Rob Carson – I got hectored into playing Knowledge Bowl my sophomore year of high school and then quizbowl the year after. In retrospect I have no idea why I was so resistant to it (possibly due to the specific people doing much of the hectoring?) but I immediately took to it. I wish I’d been persuaded earlier!

PQB – Tell us a bit about your playing career – where did you play? What were some of your career highlights?

RC – I played at Chaska High School, then all through my undergrad career at the University of Minnesota, then a year or two after graduation I played for a few years while taking classes part-time at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

My high school and early college career took place during an important transitional period for quizbowl–in my senior year of high school, we could only make it to one national tournament for a variety of reasons, so we chose Chip Beall’s National Academic Championship, which was on its last legs of even minor relevance. We got second in the country, beating our longtime hometown rivals St. Thomas Academy in the semifinals and losing in typically fishy NAC fashion to a team from noted Chip stronghold Worcester County, NY, who benefited from a suspiciously perfect-for-their-strengths lightning round category.

As a college freshman, I was on the Minnesota team that won the second-to-last-ever CBI national championship, an equally deprecated format descended from the old College Bowl radio and TV shows. We beat a strong USC team in the finals, but forewent the tournament the next year in favor of ACF Nationals. That tournament was a highlight–our all-underclassman team won the first-ever official ACF Undergraduate national championship in an exciting match against Dartmouth. I fondly recall getting an early buzz on a tossup on Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s novel Some Prefer Nettles due to having literally selected it at random to read about in Masterplots the week before.

Other career highlights include the time Andrew Hart and I edited 90% of a tournament in a three-day fugue state (the first tournament we’d ever edited, no less), editing a bunch of other generally-well-received tournaments, winning Chicago Open in 2009, winning the CULT national pop culture championship in 2010, finishing an agonizingly close second place at ACF Nationals in 2010 and 2011, leading the 2013 ICT in scoring, and racking up various ICT trophies, including several Undergrad championships and, eventually, a DI title–but more on that later.

PQB – What was your favorite thing about playing quiz bowl?

RC – Oh my god, everything. I love the act playing the game itself, not just because it feeds my natural desire to show off facts that I know, but because it’s a great tool to reinforce memory and learning that I’d be doing anyway–I’d be reading books or Wikipedia articles for fun anyway, but I’ve developed a sense for retaining details thanks to quizbowl. Andrew Hart talked about this too, but taking a very generalist approach is a lot of fun for me–I like always being able to compete on basically any question.

I also really love the camaraderie I developed with my teammates, and by extension the friendships I’ve made with other quizbowlers from, really, all walks of life. Traveling was and is such a joy, whether it’s the thousandth drive down I-94 from Minneapolis to Chicago or a flight to a national tournament halfway across the country. So many of the most important relationships in my life–my significant other, Bernadette Spencer; many of my best friends, including Andrew Hart, Carsten Gehring, Mike Cheyne, Ike Jose, and so many others–originated in or were significantly cemented by quizbowl.

I think what I’m most grateful to quizbowl for, though, is that it was really a rock during some fairly personally difficult times in my life. Not to get too indulgent here, but I dealt with depression of varying but constant seriousness through much of college, and in its roles as both a social lifeline and something I just plain liked to do, quizbowl’s constant presence really helped me pull through.

PQB – Your national championship came by way of an unusual circumstance. How do you look back on that tournament, and the events that followed? [Editor’s note – this question was also asked to Andrew Hart, Rob’s teammate. For another perspective, read his interview.]

RC – Haha, it’s an odd experience in toto. I’ve talked about this with people before, but the weirdest thing was I didn’t feel particularly bad about how things ended during the tournament (the real crushing blow came a week or two later at ACF Nationals, after we got out-grinded in the finals by a Yale team led by a young Matt Jackson and it felt like I’d never be able to win a legit academic national championship). At ICT, though, I thought we’d basically played our best, confidently charging through our pre-Harvard matches, and were just a couple tossups short of pulling out both of our matches against Harvard, like we’d ran out of time rather than been solidly KOed. I personally thought I was basically at my peak of playing the game by feel, as exemplified by the tossup on South Sudan in the finals that I powered based on no particular knowledge, just an idea that South Sudan would absolutely be something NAQT would toss up and that that’s probably what it would sound like.

Anyway, we didn’t win, not least because one Andrew Watkins uncharacteristically nailed the history tossup that concluded the finals match. Andy tended to play his absolute best at ICTs, and while he was a writer and editor for NAQT, so were many other active collegiate quizbowlers. A few people had suggested something might be up on and off for a couple of years by that point, but no one paid it too much mind until NAQT finally carried out more thorough security audits in 2013 and revealed, among other things, that he’d been the dishonest bad-faith cheating jerk we now know him to be, and the rumormongers were 100% correct.

Getting suddenly handed the title two years after the fact was weird–it felt very nice to have our team’s skill and success confirmed by an official title, but it will always be a little hollow in that we didn’t get to experience any of the in-the-moment rush or enjoyment of winning. Irony-drenched celebratory condemnations on the anniversary of the cheating revelations are nice, but they’re kind of cold comfort compared to the lost experience of winning for “real”.

On the other hand, 2011 ICT was the tournament where I first-lined an opera tossup against John Lawrence and then leapt to my feet and taunted him about it, so I’ll always have that!

PQB – Since the end of your formal playing days, you’ve continued to contribute to the game as a leader of the community, as well as a writer, editor and much more. What keeps you so committed to improving the game?

RC – The simple answer is a genuine love of the game and appreciation for everything it did for me. As I mentioned, it was the rock that helped me survive college, so at the base level I feel a little obligated to give back anything I can! But it’s more than that–I really enjoy everything about it. I will happily drag myself out of bed at 7am on a Saturday (or spend many hours traveling) to staff tournaments, I really enjoy writing questions, I love playing in opens. I think quizbowl has a ton of value as a supplement to a traditional educational path, since it rewards both specific depth of study and a more omnivorous freelance approach, and it exposes those involved in it to a ton of ideas and areas of learning that might otherwise be passed over or never noticed.

PQB – How has quiz bowl affected your life outside of the game? What skills has it given you that you’ve applied to other jobs and situations?

RC – I think the most direct effect is that writing and editing gives me a not-insignificant secondary income that allows me to work a regular job less than full time, and have the freedom to put in lots of time doing volunteer work for quizbowl! It’s also strengthened my memory for facts and details, which will really benefit a person in pretty much any job. Writing questions is a valuable exercise for learning how to communicate facts and ideas clearly and concisely, and can also really strengthen one’s research skills.

PQB – What advice would you give to a student who is interested in joining a quiz bowl team?

RC – The best thing I can tell you is to not be intimidated–which, of course, is often easier said than done, but there’s some very specific mental pitfalls you can work to avoid. The vast breadth of “stuff that gets asked about at quizbowl tournaments” can seem extremely daunting at first–I spent a lot of time my freshman year of college despairing that I would ever get anywhere with it–but it’s good to remember that you’re not being expected to know it all right away, or to ever know it all yourself. Quizbowl isn’t as arbitrary as some trivia games; by its very nature, ending tossup questions with easy or widely-known clues and including easy parts in each bonus gives a new player a place to start learning things.

A great first step is to just read a bunch of questions–to yourself, in practice, with your friends, wherever and whenever. This helps give you a sense of the things that are regularly asked about and thus provides a direction for further investigation (in addition, it gives you a pretty good sense of what you already know!). Then, find whatever interests you–of really any breadth, from a general subject like mythology or literature to whatever specific question topics pique your interest–and start reading. The biggest thing to remember about quizbowl is that it’s very possible to deliberately get better: anything you don’t know about is something that you can learn about, and it’ll probably come up again in the future!

Outside the specific area of playing the game, I think one of my favorite things about quizbowl is that it’s a very come-as-you-are activity. Specific situations may vary, unfortunately, but the quizbowl world is by and large very accepting, a general lack of overly strict dress codes or procedures being perhaps the most outwardly obvious example of that attitude. Enthusiasm, more than anything, is rewarded. Remember that there’s always room in quizbowl for people with any level of playing skill. It may seem intimidating, but the community will not exclude you for not being a good player! If all you ever want to do is play casually, that’s great and I welcome you; the same goes if you want to be the best player, and it also goes if you don’t really care about playing at all but like running tournaments or doing logistics or whatever else–quizbowl couldn’t exist without those people either.

PQB – Somewhat similar to the above, what advice would you give to a new player who wants to get better?

RC – The capsule advice I give lots of very new players in Minnesota who are specifically looking to get better at quizbowl is “read a lot of packets, then learn literature”. You can gain a lot of ground as a newbie by picking an area teams are often weak in, like literature or fine arts, and doing some very basic studying and memorization of things like creator-creation lists. Nailing down basic fact associations like this gives you a great foundation on which to build more detailed knowledge, and also changes unanswered tossups on things you’ve never heard of into, at least, tossups you can convert at the end.

 

News: Play Quiz Bowl to Host the 2017 NAQT North SCT

Play Quiz Bowl is excited to announce that it will be hosting the 2017 NAQT North Sectional Championship Tournament at the University of Minnesota on Saturday, February 4th.

Teams who wish to register may do so here. Information on fees and discounts is available here.

Any inquiries about this tournament should be directed to tournament director, Erik Nelson. We hope to see many of you there!

PQB Interview: Steven Levitt

Steven D. Levitt is an award-winning economist and is the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. Additionally, Steven is the co-author of the New York Times best seller Freakonomics, which bridged the gap between economics and popular culture and sold over 4 million copies. Since its release he has co-authored several followup books and presented multiple TED talks. In his earlier years, Steven played for the quiz bowl team at St. Paul Academy in Minnesota. Play Quiz Bowl spoke with Steven about his days as a player and the impact it left on him.

Play Quiz Bowl – How did you get involved in quiz bowl?

Steven Levitt -My sister Linda, who was five years older, was on the team.  So I would sit and listen while my dad quizzed her. I was a much more willing subject than she was, so then my dad quizzed me. I still remember how nervous I was taking the test to make the team in eighth grade. I think I scored the highest of anyone and they let me on the team!

PQB – Tell us a bit about your playing career – where did you play? What were some of your career highlights?

SL – I played for the quiz bowl team at Saint Paul Academy, and over those five years I competed, we had a good run!  We pretty much always won the state championship and did reasonably well at nationals.

PQB – In general, what was your favorite thing about playing quiz bowl?

SL – I loved the challenge of trying to answer questions quickly, when the question had barely begun. My teammates were so good that if I didn’t go quickly, I’d never get a chance to answer.

PQB – How has your experience with quiz bowl impacted your professional career, the writing of Freakonomics, or your other endeavors?

SL – I think that being really good at something sets you up to do well at something else later in life. But I also learned some valuable lessons.  For a long time, I thought I was “the best.”  I got a lot of positive attention for quiz bowl.  I was about four feet tall when I started, so they actually gave me phone books to sit on so my head was visible on the TV show.  It was a big part of my identity. But then I discovered, when we went to nationals, that there were people way better than me at quiz bowl (in particular there was one guy from Centralia, Missouri who was a phenom).  I had no choice but to accept that I really wasn’t very good.  Accepting that others are better is one of the best skills I ever learned.

PQB – A few years ago, you recorded an episode of the Freakonomics podcast with St. Paul Academy’s quiz bowl team and played against them. What was it like playing again, if only informally?

SL – Awful!  I couldn’t remember anything. It was humiliating!

PQB – In high school, you were coached by George Leiter, who went on to be a major influence on the Minnesota quiz bowl circuit (including as a moderator when this interviewer was playing in high school). What are your fondest memories of George?

SL – There are not enough good things to say about George Leiter. He is one of my favorite people on the planet.

PQB – What advice would you give to a new quiz bowl player who wants to get better?

SL -The new mnemonic tools for memorization are amazing. Learn about them! [Editor’s note: one such tool, Mnemosyne, is truly an excellent resource.]