Two groups of New College students are huddled around a couple of tables in HCL 7 on a Monday night. It looks like a study session, but it’s not, not exactly.
For one, these students have electronic buzzers.
“Tossup three,” says one seated at the front of the room. “This god indirectly produced the Furies after using a sickle to castrate his father— ”
Conor Welch hits his buzzer “Kronos,” he says, and his group gives a quick, quiet cheer.
“For ten points each, name these insects recently stricken by colony collapse disorder, leaving the honey and pollination industry in disarray.
“Bees,” says a teammate.
“This maneuver is performed by bees to communicate information about the location of food. This action is named for the central part of the figure-eight as bees wiggle back and forth.”
“The waggle dance.”
“Waggle dance?” someone says skeptically.
Waggle dance is correct.
“Bees, wasps and ants belong to this order of insects named for their membranous wings. Hooks called hamuli connect rear wings to the forewings in this order.”
“Hymenoptera.” And so it goes for a couple of hours.
The New College Quiz Bowl Team takes their trivia seriously, and it pays off – six days later, they took first place among 32 teams at Valencia College’s “Delta Burke” tournament, one of the best-known in the Quiz Bowl circuit.
The club was founded this year by Naimul Chowdhury and Alexander Koutelias. Both are in their first years at New College, and they bring both energy and experience and energy: Koutelias played in high school, and Chowdhury is a transfer from State College of Florida, where he was on a national champion team.
For the uninitiated, Quiz Bowl is nothing like the academic trivia games on television. The 10-point tossup questions are “pyramidal,” Koutelias explains, starting with obscure clues that gradually become easier. That rewards the team that can answer the fastest, giving them the follow-up bonus questions, where teams can rack up 30 points. Each match has 20 tossups and 20 follow-ups.
The questions cover a vast array of topics, but in major tournaments, players can expect perhaps 30 percent to be about literature, 30 percent about science, 20 percent about history and the rest on an array of topics – philosophy, economics, computer science, art, even opera – “maybe once or twice every 40 questions,” Koutelias says.
Typically, you try to build a team that can cover the spectrum, while knowing full well you can’t cover everything. Chowdhury calls himself a “generalist” but with strengths in math (his AOC), physics and mythology.
Koutelias says his strengths are history, art history and geography, with a specialty in his hobby, opera. “I’ve only missed one opera question in all my practices,” he says. “He’s an opera specialist if there ever was one,” Chowdhury jokes.
Katia Diamond, a computer science major, notes she almost buzzed in before him on an opera question last week. A novice Quiz Bowler – and one of their strongest players – she’s been studying and building lists, and working from Koutelias’ list of the most common operas cited in the game.
No one out-practices Conor Welch, though. He studies a few hours each day, beefing up his already formidable knowledge of math, philosophy and mythology.
They’re among the 25 players, roughly 50-50 men and women, who show up regularly for practices. With virtually all of them first-yearQuiz Bowlers, New College has been playing in the novice division so far. (With his experience, Chowdhury can’t participate in these tournaments.)
And the team – or teams, as they typically send a few to each tournament – has been incredibly successful.
They opened the season by sending three teams, dubbed Rock, Paper and Scissors – they choose non-hierarchical names – to the VCU novice tournament at Florida Gateway College. Team Paper went undefeated and Rock and Scissors also won most of their matches.
They followed that up with the Academic Competition Federation fall tournament at University of Florida. They went 4-3 in the first round, losing to graduate-student teams from UF and University of Central Florida and a Georgia Tech undergrad team.
But that was enough to get to the winner’s bracket, where they rallied for wins against Georgia Tech, 325-290, and UCF, 355-250, giving them second place overall for the tournament.
Next camethe Delta Burke tournament, named for the actress, a famous Valencia alumnus. New College split 18 players across five teams – NCF Baby, Scary, Posh, Sporty and Ginger (the 1990s Brit-pop Spice Girls, for those fuzzy on music trivia).
NCF Scary took third place, finishing 8-2 with close losses to SCF and NCF Baby. And NCF Baby – Katia Diamond’s team – went 9-1, and was named the champion of the tournament.
No resting on their laurels, though. In the spring, they’ll be in more challenging tournaments, against stronger players. As Chowdhury says: “If you master one level of Quiz Bowl, there’s another one higher. Quiz Bowl is very humbling. No matter how much you learn, you can always learn more.”