A Quizzical Pursuit

Posted by Stephen Badger

What do Chelsea FC, Brave New World, John Rawls, and the Niger River have in common? Each of these disparate entities is the correct response at a recent quizbowl tournament. If you’re not familiar, quizbowl is a competition featuring two teams with buzzers that attempt to answer questions before the other team. The material ranges from African literature, biochemistry, American opera, and ancient history to pop culture and current events – the full range of academic knowledge. I love quizbowl because it allows me to apply my broad set of interests to a competitive framework, exposes me to vast troves of knowledge I otherwise might’ve never experienced, and allows me to share that experience with others.

I started playing quizbowl in my junior year of high school, and I was hooked from the start. Here was a place where my extracurricular interests, such as watching plays and listening to classical music, were rewarded as facets of a well-rounded intellectual curiosity rather than being cast as distractions from my career interests in engineering. I began a quizbowl organization when I got to UT Dallas. A lot of the activity has focused on volunteering at local middle and high school tournaments to provide competitive learning opportunities for Dallas area students. Last year we contributed approximately five hundred combined volunteer hours. In October, we competed in our first tournament as a team at the VCU Novice Tournament at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO).

From left: Dhruv (‘14 Scholar), Divas, me, Kevin at UCO.
From left: Dhruv (‘14 Scholar in white shirt), Divas, me, Kevin at UCO.

Although we all qualified as novices for the tournament, some of us had high school experience, enabling us to win the tournament 10-0 over teams such as Kansas State and the University of Tulsa. The prize for learning is, of course, more learning; below is our picture with an illustrated copy of On the Origin of Species that I won as an individual scoring prize.

From left: Divas, Kevin, me, Scotty (‘14 Scholar), Dhruv (‘14 Scholar)
From left: Divas, Kevin, me, Scotty (‘14 Scholar), Dhruv (‘14 Scholar)

Three weeks ago, Scotty (‘14 Scholar) and I drove to Rice University to compete in the ACF Fall tournament. Too cheap to rent a hotel room and too sane to drive down Saturday morning, we decided to leave Friday night and get an Airbnb room in Houston’s Chinatown. After a few hours of sleep and some early morning bagels, we strode boldly onto the Rice campus, flush with our victory at the VCU Novice tournament a month earlier. What had we to fear from our opponents, these non-VCU-winning teams who would crumble at the light of our buzzers?

There are two things you should know about quizbowl. Firstly, knowledge builds on knowledge and the longer you’ve played the game, the deeper and more interwoven your knowledge will be. Secondly, it takes a lot of energy to concentrate and answer hundreds of questions for hours. That’s why you rarely see a one-man championship team, and most teams include the maximum four allowable players to distribute the pressure. Most of the other teams had full squads including upperclassmen and even graduate students with years of collegiate experience; our nascent two-man team was barely stifling yawns as we blearily slumped to the end of the day. We finished 3-6, capturing the DII title (freshmen/sophomore teams), shown below, over the only other eligible team, UT Austin. Hey, we’ll take it!

Featuring Scotty, myself, and Mr. William Rice
Featuring Scotty, myself, and Mr. William Rice

I’m excited to see how quizbowl will grow here at UT Dallas. If there’s anything to be learned from our Rice experience, it’s that we need more UT Dallas students involved in academic competitions to become the regional powerhouse I know we can be. Regardless of my ultimate career path (which is far from set in stone!), my quizbowl activities will continue to encourage and reward my interests in a multidisciplinary web of knowledge, and I hope to spread that intellectual curiosity to my fellow students.

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