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.]

PQB Interview: Emily Pike

As a quiz bowl player, Emily Pike led teams at DeKalb High School and at Minnesota’s Carleton College. With the latter, she was part of the 1999 NAQT Undergraduate Championship. While pursuing a medical degree, she appeared on two winning teams at the Chicago Open, one of quiz bowl’s most prestigious events. Today, she is a physician and Vice President of Operations for National Academic Quiz Tournaments. Play Quiz Bowl spoke with Emily about her playing career, how it helped her down the line, and how new players can find success.

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

Emily Pike – It’s fun to think back at how I got involved with this activity that has so powerfully shaped me personally and professionally.  I started playing quiz bowl in 7th grade after hearing on the daily announcements that there was a team starting up at my middle school.  I remember thinking that such a team sounded like exactly the sort of thing I’d love doing.  My coaches were the special ed teachers at our school, and we practiced by reading questions to each other out of some book of general knowledge questions.  One of my first quiz bowl matches was on a buzzer system where the buzzers were doorbells and there was no lock-out feature.

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

EP – I played in middle school and high school in DeKalb, Illinois (Go Barbs!), and then I played for Carleton College with Eric Hillemann as my coach.  I cried after my last high school match because I thought I’d never get to play again.  I was so excited to find out after I arrived on campus that Carleton had a team and that I could continue competing.  Little did I know that I had one of the few active coaches left on the college circuit to help me grow as a player, as a question writer, and as an editor.

After Carleton, I went on to medical school at Loyola in Chicago.  There was no active team there, but I spent a lot of my free time (more than I anticipated having as a med student!) writing and then editing questions for NAQT.  They liked what I had to offer, and I became a member the following summer.
Specific memories of my quiz bowl career have largely faded, but the quiz bowl accomplishment of which I’m most proud is winning the NAQT Undergraduate National Championship in 1999.  My teammates and I set that as a goal for ourselves, developed a study strategy with Eric’s help, and worked really hard to win the title.  Two of my favorite quiz bowl memories are from that tournament:  one is that Rob Hentzel (now my husband) read the game against Iowa in which we clinched the championship, and the other is that Eric Bell gave me a huge hug as I started crying as the timer buzzed in our last match of the tournament.

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

EP – I loved traveling and spending time with my teammates.  In college, we drove all over the place for events:  Kansas City, St. Louis, Ann Arbor, Chicago, plus cities closer to Northfield like Ames and Minneapolis.  We really got to know each other well in all those hours on the road.  We had silly rituals.  We were a chosen family for each other.

PQB – How did quiz bowl help you excel as a student?

EP – I’m not sure that it did. :)  I’m sure some of my college grades could have been improved by spending some of my quiz bowl time on studying for exams and writing better papers!

PQB – You’re one of two female players to have won the Chicago Open (an extremely difficult summer tournament for the game’s elite players) multiple times. What are your best memories of those events?

EP – I had no idea that I was only one of two with this honor, and, honestly, I don’t remember winning Chicago open more than once!  The main thing I remember about Chicago Open is loving Subash’s biology questions because I got lots of points for my team on them.

PQB – What skills that you gained or improved with quiz bowl has helped your career as a doctor?

When I was in medical school at Loyola, I realized that years of playing quiz bowl provided me with a huge web of facts in my brain.  This sticky web made it easier for other bits of information to get caught because I could make connections with other things I already knew.  I like to think that it gave me an advantage in memorizing all the ridiculously small details that medical students are expected to learn (which then get forgotten because they aren’t actually useful in real-life medical practice!).

Quiz bowl is also good mental training for processing information quickly to get to an answer, which is something I do a lot as an urgent care physician.

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

EP – In addition to playing lots of questions, I’d say choose a subject that you’re interested in, read multiple sources on that topic, and then write questions on it.  Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.

PQB Interview: William Golden

William Golden is a high school quiz bowl player, who currently plays for James E. Taylor High School in Katy, Texas. After beginning his career in middle school, he has since found success on multiple stages. In 2014, his middle school team won NAQT’s Middle School National Championship Tournament, at which he was also the highest scoring player. William also appeared in the 2014 Jeopardy! Teen Tournament and, in his first appearance at NAQT’s high school national tournament, finished with a 10th-place scoring performance. In 2016, he joined the writing staff for Play Quiz Bowl’s upcoming ACRONYM X pop culture tournament. Play Quiz Bowl spoke with William about his experiences with the game thus far and what he still hopes to accomplish.

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

William Golden – I first discovered quiz bowl through the National History Bee (which I found out about from an advertisement of Pawn Stars during the Bee’s brief stint as an Al Roker-hosted primetime special.) In 7th grade, I convinced my parents and a teacher at my middle school to start a weekly after-school club. I got some of my friends and a few other of my classmates to start coming to practices, culminating in us winning MSNCT at the end of the year.

PQB – You’ve already had a pretty impressive career, including a scoring prize at the 2016 HSNCT. What are some of the contributing factors to your success thus far?

WG – My teammates, my parents, and my coach Mr. Harris have all inspired me to work hard and improve. I have never really had a certain studying technique, unlike some players I know who have a giant stack of flashcards filled with thousands of clues. If that’s how you study, that’s great. I’m just naturally curious and enjoy reading about a variety of topics.

PQB – You also had an impressive run in the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament a couple of years ago. What are your best memories of your experiences on the show?

– My brief time on the show, while incredibly nerve-racking, was a lot of fun. All of the other contestants were awesome, and we kept in touch long after we taped the show. Having been on Jeopardy! helps me relax during high-pressure situations, such as in last year’s playoffs of HSNCT, because I know that nothing would be as high-stakes as when I was filming.

PQB – How does being a quiz bowl player help you as a student?

WG – Quiz bowl has helped me learn how to study effectively. Learning clues by scrolling through a packet is very similar to reading through a textbook and picking up important information. A lot of times, when I begin a new unit in class, I’ll realize I’ve already learned much of the information through quiz bowl.

PQB – You have a good amount of time left in your career. What else would you like to accomplish?

WG – I would like to give back to the quiz bowl community after all the enjoyment it has given me. I currently hold a few various quiz bowl writing jobs, and help moderate at middle school tournaments in my region. I definitely plan to continue my career and improve in college. As far as high school goes, raising enough money to able to go to both HSNCT and PACE is my priority, along with hopefully landing a top 5 finish in either nationals sometime in the next few years.

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

WG – I’ve made lots of great friends and people with common interests through quiz bowl. It’s also introduced me to great artworks, classical compositions, and books. Quiz bowl has made me a more culturally aware person, meaning I can take to many different people about a wide variety of subjects.

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

WG – For forming a team, I’d Ask teachers who you think might be interested in quiz bowl to sponsor your club or become a coach. (A lot of people might say no at first. That’s okay! Someone will eventually take interest.) Then, find kids that seem intellectually curious, especially ones who like to learn outside of school.

For joining a team, At first, quiz bowl can seem overwhelming, with the rapid-fire speed at which questions are read and the answers, some of which may seem obscure at first, but keep attending practices and find a subject you are interested in learning. With dedication and a thirst for knowledge, you will contribute to your team more and more.

PQB Interview: Andrew Hart

Andrew Hart played quiz bowl at Minnesota’s Chaska High School, and then as both an undergrad and graduate student at the University of Minnesota. As a collegiate player, he won multiple undergraduate championships. He and his team won the 2011 NAQT national championship, a title which was recognized following revelations that a player from the erstwhile winners, Harvard, had cheated. In the years since his retirement, Andrew has been recognized for his significant contributions to the game; he was named to a list of the 25 greatest players in ACF history, and was the recipient of the 2016 Carper Award, a lifetime achievement award presented by ACF.

After completing his law degree, Andrew worked as an attorney in Minneapolis and remained active in the local quiz bowl scene. He is now the chief editor for National Academic Quiz Tournaments, the world’s largest producer of high quality quiz bowl questions. Play Quiz Bowl spoke with Andrew about his experiences, his passion for the game, and his best advice for the game’s next generation of players.

Play Quiz Bowl – How did you get involved in quiz bowl?
Andrew Hart – I didn’t play quizbowl until eleventh grade, when I started because it seemed like the thing to do. I don’t recall exactly why I didn’t play earlier, but I immediately liked it, even if I wasn’t very good. Back then, we didn’t have many pyramidal, NAQT-style competitions in Minnesota, but our team always did well at them when we got the chance to play, owing much more to the talents of our other players than me. (Witness my 3-14-13 line at my one and only HSNCT, as a junior in 2005.) I started getting the hang of it though, and when I was a senior, I was a competent third scorer for a nationally competitive team.
The story of how you got involved is often less important than how you stayed involved. For me, those stories always come back to friendships; a friend kept bugging me until I went to my first practice, and trying to keep pace with my friends on the quizbowl team kept me invested in playing and improving throughout high school; two of my high school teammates, including Rob Carson, remain among my best friends. In college, my friendships with Rob, Gautam Kandlikar, Brendan Byrne, and Mike Cheyne were always the main thing keeping me involved and motivated to improve.
PQB – What was your favorite thing about playing quiz bowl?
AH – This might not fall within the realm of “playing,” but I’ve always gotten a lot of satisfaction out of writing a really good question, reading it to others, and seeing them enjoy it. In terms of actually competing, I like to answer questions and win. Not a very interesting answer, I’m afraid. I probably enjoy the generalist side of the game–trying to answer every question, rather than focusing on cultivating deep knowledge of specific areas–more than most, and it’s very satisfying to me to be able to play competently on a wide swath of difficulties and subjects.
PQB – Your national championship came by way of an unusual circumstance. How do you look back on that tournament, and the events that followed?
AH – I’ve always been pretty even-keeled about this. I’m obviously annoyed that our team wasn’t able to be recognized as the deserving (and undefeated) champions at the time. But what happened happened, and I’m just glad that the tournament organizers felt a responsibility take the allegations of cheating seriously, investigate them diligently, and make it right. The way I see it, given the now-unavoidable fact that someone did a bad thing, this was the best possible outcome, and so I look on that tournament fondly and am very proud that we came out on top. As a footnote, in a circuitous but very real way, the scandal actually started my writing career; I got to write an essay about quizbowl for Deadspin because the scandal became broadly infamous beyond even the world of quizbowl. Because writing has grown into something quite satisfying and meaningful to me, I’m grateful for that.
PQB – Since the end of your formal playing days, you’ve worked as a lawyer. How has your quiz bowl experience helped you in that field?
AH – If you’re involved in producing questions, quizbowl teaches you a lot about researching facts and writing concisely and carefully. These skills are directly applicable to legal writing, which is a lot of what you do as a lawyer. For a much more specific example, I run an annual quizbowl event on Minnesota legal history, called “Justice Jeopardy,” for the Minnesota Supreme Court Historical Society. The players are Minnesota legal celebrities, including sitting federal judges and justices on the state supreme court. The broad lesson is that quizbowl will give you niche skills that might lead to opportunities to meet important people in your chosen profession with whom you’d otherwise never connect.
PQB – You’ve also 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?
AH – There are three main reasons why I continue to do quizbowl work. First, I simply like it; writing questions for people to play and enjoy is something I genuinely love, and seeing the game change for the better because of initiatives I’ve championed is also very rewarding. Second, as always, remaining involved in the game is as much about maintaining friendships as anything else, and whenever I work on a quizbowl project, I usually get to collaborate with some of my best friends. Third, this is perhaps cliche, but I want to give back to an activity that has given me a lot over the years.
PQB – What advice would you give to a student who is interested in joining or forming a quiz bowl team?
AH – When I first got to Minnesota, we had a team and a very favorable budget situation, which are advantages that many people looking to join or found teams don’t enjoy. But we weren’t the kind of team that I thought we could be; we didn’t aspire to compete with the best teams in the country, and in fact, we tended to avoid altogether tournaments where we could play teams like that. Becoming a nationally competitive team required something almost like refounding our program altogether. We did, and it taught me a few important lessons.
The first is that you can’t do these things alone; you need to have friends who share your passion for learning and competition, and get them to join with you. I could never have accomplished much at the university level, let alone had success on the national circuit, without people like Rob, Gautam, Brendan, and Mike sharing those goals.
The second is that you should never take for granted whatever institutions and processes are already in place, and you shouldn’t dismantle them unless there’s no other choice. When Rob and I arrived at Minnesota as freshmen, we were lucky to have the framework for a successful team, but it took a lot of restraint to work within the confines of the team structure while remaking the program as we wanted to. I confess that I was not always as restrained or patient as I could’ve been. But if we had been less patient and gone our own way, ignoring the advantages that we already had because they came along with some disadvantages, we wouldn’t have been nearly as successful. Had we dismissed out of hand people who enjoyed quizbowl but didn’t share our exact vision for the future of the program, we would’ve lost a lot of the people who, as it turned out, were integral in maintaining the team’s success. People can be challenging, and bureaucracies and institutions can be even more so, but if you keep at it and try to work with anyone who could possibly help you rather than pushing them away, it will help you in the long run.
Third, never expect that someone else will step up and do the hard and often tedious work of keeping a team going. It can be overwhelming as a college freshman or sophomore, let alone a high schooler, to navigate your school’s bureaucracy to found and fund a team, to recruit new players, to set practice times and make sure people attend, to plan the logistics of attending tournaments, and to budget the money in a way that keeps everything afloat. But no one is going to do that work for you. Keep at it. Plug away at the tedious tasks. If you’re joining an existing team, volunteer for leadership positions; it will give you more credibility when you propose changes that might encounter resistance. If you’re founding a team or radically remaking an existing one, you have to understand that it takes a lot of work, and you have to commit to doing as much of it as necessary.
Fourth and finally, if you’re doing the lonely work of founding a new team, you might feel isolated, but you’re not. There’s a whole national quizbowl circuit that you can turn to for help and expertise. Become a part of the quizbowl community. Make friends with people at other schools and ask them for help or advice when you need it. Volunteer to work for national quizbowl organizations; you’d be surprised at how easy it is to advance to positions of real importance on the national scale if you’re just willing to make the connections and do the work. These positions, and the friends I’ve made in the process of getting and holding them, paid off in a big way for the Minnesota team.
PQB – Somewhat similar to the above, what advice would you give to a new player who wants to get better?
AH – People just starting out often think that there must be some magic trick to improving. There isn’t. It’s like anything else. If you want to be fit, for instance, you generally need to build muscle and lose weight. Inevitably, that means doing something that burns calories and works your muscles. There isn’t necessarily any special way to do it, though. You can lift weights. You can run. You can swim. You can play basketball. You can shovel coal. The key is, regardless of the method you choose, you need to do it enough to make a meaningful difference.
Sticking with the analogy, the kind of fitness you want often determines the kind of exercise you need to do. If what you really want is to be good at basketball, it might not make much sense to focus on general weightlifting or cardio if you don’t know how to shoot and dribble. If all you want is an attractive physique, well, maybe your time is better spent doing cardio and lifting than it is playing basketball. You get the idea.
To know what to learn or how, you need to start with something more specific. For instance, although perhaps I couldn’t have articulated it at the time, from the moment I first picked up a buzzer, I understood what interested me about quizbowl: trying to compete for every tossup, no matter what the subject was, and being good enough at it that my teams always had a shot to win. Because I knew that this is what I wanted to do, and I soon found that I hated studying from cards or lists, I focused my energies on reading widely, developing my ability to write questions across all categories and difficulties, and playing a wide range of events and practice questions to keep my buzzer skills and my feel for potential answers sharp.
Other people have different goals. Perhaps you want to learn a specific subject so well that you can’t be beaten to questions on it. In that case, you’re probably best off studying questions in that specific area to learn what answers and clues come up, making flashcards or lists based on that information, and focusing your reading on books and articles that can give you a leg up against specialist competition. Maybe you just want to learn more about your favorite subjects and get a few questions along the way. In that case, survey the questions in your subjects to learn what comes up, and follow up on whatever interests you. Maybe you just want to win. If that’s the case, you’ll want to figure out your team’s strongest and weakest areas and use whatever methods of studying are the quickest and most effective for you to double down on your strengths or plug the holes.
The only way to improve is to learn, but it’s only once you’ve decided what your goals actually are that you’ll be able to start planning out what method of learning will work best for you.

PQB Interview: Graham Wilson

Political organizer Graham Wilson has worked on campaigns on nearly every level. From state legislatures to U.S. Senate races and even a presidential campaign, Graham has established himself as an expert in field operations for elections of any size. He is now the national field director for a campaign committee based in Washington, DC. Before getting into politics, Graham played quiz bowl. Play Quiz Bowl spoke with Graham about his experiences with the game and the impact it had on his education, friendships and more.

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

Graham Wilson – I started playing Quiz Bowl at the end of my sophmore (maybe junior) year of high school. One of my best friends had joined the team and encouraged me to do so.

PQB – Tell us a bit about your playing career. What were some of your career highlights?

GW – We competed in a number of tournaments across the state and in Nationals during my senior year. At the time, I had a very deep and narrow set of quiz bowl knowledge. If it was one of the couple topics I knew well, I’d be able to get the answer really quickly. In terms of competitions, my enduring memory is finishing just outside of where we should have been. Coming in third when we should have been top 2, coming in 4th when my team outscored the third place team but fell victim to a bad ruling of the judge. The most enduring quiz bowl memory I have is our team doing very well for most of a tournament and then having a correct answer ruled incorrect. It kept us out of a top 3 finish, and because they couldn’t give us trophies, they gave our team multiple cans of soda. I still have that can 15 years after the fact. Opening it now would probably be a bad idea.

PQB – You competed at a national championship tournament in 2001. What are your best memories of that experience?

GW – Oh, Nationals 2001. It was good to be a part of that tournament, but the best memories of that experience are all about spending time with my friends at the tournament. There was a late night Risk game that lead to a running joke for years after the fact. I think we finished around 70th, but it was all about the strengthening the friendships with teammates rather than the actual results.

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

GW – The highlights that really stand out from my time in Quiz Bowl were never about the actual competitions. We answered questions, sometimes I did well other times my teammates carried me. The best memories I have are always about the camaraderie. Making jokes, chatting, talking about life with your Quiz Bowl teammates. Some of the people who were my friends then are my closest friends now. 15 years later, my Quiz Bowl career is more about the friendships I made as a part of Quiz Bowl then the actual competition.

PQB – How did quiz bowl help you excel as a student?

GW – It’s two sided. On the one hand quiz bowl helped with remembering knowledge quickly, which is useful as a student. However being a student made me much better at quiz bowl. Actively learning about history, literature, science, mathematics etc in detail and retaining that information makes it much easier to buzz in early in a question and get the information correct. There’s a lot more that goes into being a good quiz bowl player than detailed knowledge, but it forms a great base that you can improve on.

PQB – Since your quiz bowl days ended, you’ve built a career in politics. Have any quiz bowl skills or facts helped in your professional endeavors?

GW – In politics, and really any professional setting where you talk with a lot of different people, knowledge retention of previous conversations is very useful. Quiz Bowl is about knowledge retention, rapidly being able to access that knowledge and learning the context clues to determine what piece of knowledge is the correct one to bring up. You can and should do all of those same things when talking with people, both in a personal and professional setting. The key is learning the context of these questions, not buzzing too early and missing the question being asked in quiz bowl is similar to choosing how to approach telling a candidate for office that they need to make a dramatic change in their strategy if they’re going to win their election.

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

GW – Study. Pick an area of knowledge that both interests you and you have a solid base of knowledge in. Develop that knowledge, and then expand into related areas. Also, learn your teammates knowledge. If you’re fine to good at mathematics, but one of your teammates is excellent you should give them the ability to use that knowledge and score points for your team.

PQB Interview: Randy Buehler

Randy Buehler is a former professional Magic: the Gathering player. His induction into Magic‘s Pro Tour Hall of Fame cemented his legacy as one of the game’s greatest players. Following his playing career, he joined Wizards of the Coast to help create and grow the game, and he eventually became Magic‘s head developer. He later served as the director of R&D at Wizards, as well as the Vice President of Digital Gaming. More recently, he has remained a leader in the Magic community as a tournament broadcaster and as the driving force behind the Vintage Super League, an online competition for the game’s top players.

Before his career in Magic, he was a successful quiz bowl player in both high school and college. During the latter of those, he started the ABC tournament at Vanderbilt, one of the longest-running tournaments in the country. Play Quiz Bowl spoke with Randy about his history with quiz bowl and how it helped pave the way for his future endeavors.

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

Randy Buehler – I started playing in 8th grade when the high school coach started trying to recruit new players for the next year’s season. I like competition and I like academics, so I jumped at the chance and played from then through grad school (which worked out to be about 12 years)

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

RB – My high school team qualified for a Nationals tournament, which was pretty unheard of for a team from up in the mountains of East Tennessee. I went to Vanderbilt for undergrad, and we were decent. We were in a pretty tough CBI region, which we usually lost to Virginia, but we won Penn Bowl one year in the early 90’s and we were Top 10-ish at ACF Nationals. I went to Minnesota for grad school, which always won its CBI Regional, but I was never the best grad student so I contented myself with racking up stats for B and C teams at assorted tournaments. Plus I dragged the team to an ACF Nationals where it did well.

My real highlights, though, came from running the program at Vanderbilt. I started a high school tournament to raise money, and it quickly became quite huge. We also ran a tournament for other colleges, which pretty much everybody did, and we started up a “trash” tournament, which was just becoming a thing to do back then. Winning Penn Bowl was nice, as was flying to Stanford and placing in the top couple at their annual tournament, but the part I remember the most (and am the most proud of) was running the high school “ABC” tournament that we used to fund all those other trips.

PQB – You mentioned that you helped create Vanderbilt’s ABC tournament, which is still operating successfully today. What are your fondest memories of the early years of that event?

RB – Just how big it got, and how empowering it felt to create something like that from scratch. I especially remember checking the mail every day before ABC 1 and then especially before ABC 2. Our mailing list had like 800 high schools on it by ABC 2 and they just kept saying “yes”! I guess the year there was a blizzard during ABC was memorable too, but it’s really the discovery of how many people wanted to come (and then rising to the challenge of making it all a reality) that I look back on most often.

PQB – That’s great! What was your favorite thing about playing quiz bowl?

RB – I enjoy just about anything competitive, but I was never an athlete so this was as close to sports as I could get.

PQB – During your quiz bowl days, did you encounter any players who have gone on to make a name for themselves?

RB – I recognize names on Jeopardy from time to time (including Ken Jennings).

PQB – You’ve had remarkable success with Magic, as both a player and as a developer for the game. What skills from your quiz bowl days helped you in those endeavors?

RB – It’s a quite similar social scene: you have these friends that you mostly talk to through the internet, but then periodically you all descend upon some location for a tournament and compete against each other. In between you playtest and spend all the time you can trying to improve your chances of winning at the next big event.

It was actually my quiz bowl friends who first introduced me to Magic. We used to gather at Charlie Steinhice’s in-laws’ orchard for a tournament of sorts each summer (the Cider House Rules, of course). I saw folks playing what I now know was a multiplayer free-for-all game around the kitchen table in 1995, asked what it was, and by the end of the weekend they send me off to face the world with an all-commons deck made mostly out of Fallen Empires cards and 4th Edition cards. (The key “combo” was Pestilence plus Circle of Protection Black, and pro-black creatures.)

PQB – When working for Wizards of the Coast, did you ever find yourself making use of something you learned as a quiz bowl player – either an interesting fact, or some other aspect of the game?

RB – I definitely used the organizational skills, plus the organized play experience.

We’d like to thank Randy for his time and for his lasting effect on the game of quiz bowl. Stay tuned for our next feature in a couple of weeks!

Announcing the PQB Interview Series

In the coming months, Play Quiz Bowl will be releasing periodic interviews with current and former quiz bowl players. These interviews will touch on the impact that the game has had on players’ lives, how it has helped them in their current endeavors, and significant moments in the game’s history.

If you’re a quiz bowl player and would like to share your story, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact Erik Nelson at erikhasemail@gmail.com about setting up an interview.


Hello! If you’re reading this, you’ve found the home of Play Quiz Bowl LLC, a source for tournament information, event reports, and resources for new and existing quiz bowl teams in Minnesota. We are also the producers of the ACRONYM tournament, the nation’s premier pop culture tournament for high school players.

If you’re an existing team wanting to know what tournaments are coming up in your area, take a look at the events calendar for event and registration information.

If you’re a prospective student or coach from a local high school or college, check out our “What is quiz bowl?” and FAQ pages for more information about the game and how you can get started!