“Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun.”
--Every tossup on Clifford Geertz ever
Pretty much everyone acknowledges that quizbowl questions don’t exist in a vacuum; any given question is influenced by the questions on the same or similar subjects that came before it. Most people call this concept “the canon”, and use it to get better at the game and influence their own editing efforts.
However, this isn’t a post about the mechanics of writing or playing – it’s a post about the personal and social aspects of quizbowl. Everyone loved following the big-name interpersonal rivalries in QB - Bollinger vs Jackson in the modern era, Jerry vs Seth vs Mike in times previous - but all that people tend to note is the win-loss record and scores. There’s so much more happening any given game between two good players (especially two players who have been around for forever) that gets overlooked in favor of focusing on who beat who to what tossup and when. Furthemore, I’ve never seen a good account of a player’s internal monologue during a game, which I hope to provide here.
In his post about writing ACF Nationals, Ike mentioned that it was “poetic” that the question clenching the game; I thought a lot about his choice of words, and realized there was actually way more poetry and history in that game than I initially realized.
As we went into our respective final-round matches, both Chicago and Penn were x-1. Penn took a severe beating from Maryland in Round 13, and Chicago dropped a game to us a few rounds prior in a great nail-biter lost to history. Both of us managed to emerge from our next games with a win, thankfully – us over UVA in a game that saw four tossups go dead, and them over UMD in a game Chris Manners later described as his “worst ever”. The shift in the question set was perceptible, but I knew the key to winning was to keep your head down and remain unfazed by difficulty. Or, as I’d been telling myself since I was a sophomore at Brown: just get the science.
I walked out of the room, towards Chicagoans Chris Ray and John Lawrence in the hallway. Chris and I shared our traditional handshake/bro-hug greeting that usually began our interactions over the past ~8 years or so (I’m not sure how this started, incidentally). All of us were obviously elated that we had made it this far. At the beginning of the year, John and I were particularly excited about the prospect of a Penn versus Chicago final. Then, of course, Matt Bollinger returned. We had a brief exchange at that point, at which I told him that he shouldn’t lose confidence in the Penn-Chicago final – I was very happy to be proven right. In some form of final irony, I actually owe Matt for what was to follow – had UVA not beaten Maryland, there was a chance that Jordan Brownstein could have crawled his way out of the pit to a final over us.
You couldn’t ask for a group more suspended in quizbowl’s webs of significance. I am fortunate to have played with Saajid and Patrick for four years, and both of them put in spectacular amounts of work to get us to this point – Saajid literally studying until he injured both of his hands and keeping us inspired to continue. It was their last chance to win a title - and functionally, mine as well. Chris Chiego, who joined our team this year, had also made his mark, helping propel us to 2nd at ICT 2015 and putting the game against UVA away with a clutch buzz on the Green River. Interestingly, in previous years, Chris had been instrumental in Penn taking some bad losses they shouldn’t have against UCSD (at ACF nationals 2010 and ICT 2012, something Auroni will crow about whenever given the opportunity - ex here), though now he worked for us, putting away American history questions and introducing the team to the wonders (?) of craft beer.
On the other side, Chris, John, and I had played against each other and edited tournaments together several times over the years (in keeping with the spirit of this work, I won’t try to back-calculate my win-loss record against them. I doubt I could remember all of those games anyway). In fact, I believe I had given John his first editing task, therefore cementing my instrumental role in the rise of the music mafia. James Lasker, someone who I proudly called teammate for his four years at Penn (and defended against Matt Weiner online), was now on the other side of the table. I remember telling John and Max the year before that I never really got to see James develop, and that I hoped the Lawrence system would help one of my descendants win a title even if I couldn’t. Then, there’s Max Schindler, ever-cheerful font of humor, excellent science player, and all-around swell guy. We had already developed a bit of a repartee, given that part of his role was beating me to the science questions, but I’ve only played against him for two years at this point.
I don’t remember much between that time and the time of the final, but I do remember sitting on that stage, waiting for the packet was interminable.
While looking out into the crowd, I noted that the Penn and Chicago crowds were approximately the same size, since both of us had brought three teams. We didn’t have the benefit of Chicago’s infinity dollar budget, but Sarita Jamil’s logistical wizardry had landed us a grant that covered part of our travel. I was proud to be part of a large team, even though I had very little to do with its expansion other than showing up to play.
I wondered how difficult the packet would be. People were already talking about how the difficulty took a real jump during the playoffs, but I only noticed in the last round, where tons of tossups went dead. Finals past have included science tossups I couldn’t get by the end (like “Inductively Coupled Plasma”), and just a few rounds prior there was a Civil War question that Chris Chiego didn’t know by the end – this is somewhat akin to a tossup on a [EDIT: human] disease I’ve never heard of, except even harder.
While listening to a song on loop, getting in the quizbowl mood, I noticed a few alerts on my phone; unfortunately, because it was a new phone, my contacts list wasn’t populated. One text mentioned how ten years had prepared me for this. Another wished me luck. Jason Zhou from Chicago had posted a picture of the stage on Facebook. Nice kid. Wrote for NHBB. Will probably be really good in a few years. Finally, the Stanford team had come back after winning the UG final. Good for them! That Andrew Wang kid seems alright, though. He’ll get more chances.
Finally, we could start. I grab a new apple (a habit I developed at ICT this year). I mark my notebook with “End of Time” where the opponent’s name usually goes, meaning that song from Chrono Trigger was now stuck in my head. Ugh, should have thought that out. Jerry was reading. Makes sense. Poetic, for obvious reasons. Ike was scorekeeping. Sounds good. Playing against Chicago. On a stage. Again? It’s 2008 all over again. At least Selene and Susan weren’t there to battle over biology. But Chris Ray gets those questions sometimes. Hopefully Billy Busse didn’t write his questions out of the Army Field Manual or shitty Sci-Fi Channel Movies.
Tossup 1. It’s a fluid dynamics “condition”. Is it “no-slip”? Has James taken fluid dynamics? I don’t think so, he never mentioned it. It can be prefixed with “quasi”. Is it “steady-state?” No, that’s an enzyme kinetics thing, I’ve derived that, can’t be that. Max buzzes, says “inviscid” I think. Neg. Good. Sit, wait. Earth’s rotation? Oh, Coriolis equals pressure gradient. The fuck is that called? Oh, I wrote about it for MO 2011. Buzz, geostrophic, good. MO 2011 was the first tournament Saajid, Patrick, and I worked on together, so good start there.
Some bonus about horses full of My Little Pony references. This is dumb. Patrick knows Clever Hans. That’s good. 10 on the bonus.
Tossup 2. Art. Come on, Saajid. Wait, that annunciation, that flight into Egypt. There was a flight into Egypt tossup against Yale at ACF Nationals 2010. Auroni was reading. We almost lost that game. That sounds like Henry Tanner’s version. Is this just Tanner? Those biographical details line up, he went to France didn’t he? Wait for it. Wait for it. “Father and son”, buzz, Tanner. Good. Should have gotten it earlier.
Jazz bonus, defense. Saajid 10s it. That’s fine.
Tossup 3. Poem. Don’t care. Don’t care. Don’t care. Don’t care. Wallace Stevens? No one knows? Something about his mother being religious. Cool. No loss. Probably not going to read that, sounds boring.
Tossup 4. A city, ancient city. Come on, Patrick. Wait, isn’t that clue about Croesus of Lydia? Is the city called “Lydia”? Buzz, fuck they said Lydia, neg. They don’t pick up “Sardis”. Sorry guys. Dial down aggression.
Tossup 5. Philosopy. Fuck, Gaston Bachelard was on my list, forgot to read about him. John gets good buzz on “History”. Philosophy bonus, don’t know John Salis. Oh, that’s Derrida. Oh, that’s Levinas. Fuck, can they pull it? Yeah, they did. 20 for them.
Tossup 6. Organism. Bio. Fuck, this had better not be taxonomy bullshit. No, it’s probably a model organism. Good. Fucking lungfish. It responds to blue light, has a gene with two words in its name? Is it just Arabidopsis? No, it can’t be. FRQ gene, that’s…I can’t remember. Oh, Oak Ridge strain, seven chromosomes. Neurospora! Chris Ray buzzes. FUCK. Wait. There’s no way he knows “Neurospora”. Calm down. Neg, you bastard, neg! Yes, good. Wait. Wait. Auxotrophs and Beadle and Tatum. Yup. Buzz, Neurospora Crassa. Good.
Oh, Oswald Moseley. Chris Ray told me about his son really liking dominatrices or something. Can’t get Notting Hill, but Patrick knows about the Mitford sisters. I knew that clue about Lord Curzon, though, from writing about him in Penn-ance. Could have been useful.
Tossup 7. Character. Come on Saajid. Noise, don’t care. Poodle. Wait, isn’t that a thing from Fau-…John Lawrence already got it. Bonus starting with impossible Japanese author. Ike, this is your doing. Other two parts are easy. 20 for them.
Tossup 8. Music. COME ON SAAJID. He gets it! GOOD WORK DUDE. If he’s the music mafia you’re goddamn Eliot Ness.
Organic chemistry. Reducing agent in the Barton-McCombie reaction. I can’t remember. Jerry says “Tributylene hydride”? Oh, TributylTIN hydride/Bu3SnH! Man, Billy, that’s tough. Sodium cyanoborohydride on imines, straight from Chem 36, just don’t fuck up the pronunciation, go slowly. Ozonolysis for the 20, easy enough.
Tossup 9. History. “Forty Thieves”. Wait, is this just the Old-Court/New-Court Controversy? Yep, there’s Francis Blair. I should buzz now. Why am I not goddamn buzzing?! Fuck, Robert Penn Warren clue, of course John knows it. Oh, he’s prompted. “This has a name?’ You bet your ass it does! Neg 5. Pick it up. Oh god, some religious history thing. Only get 10 for catechism.
Tossup 10. Classics. Come on Patrick. Confident buzz with “Head of Pompey”…but a neg. Oh, that sucks. Oh, Thetis and Iris, that’s just Hector’s body. Good idea for a question, Ike. Jesus, this bonus on ships is fucking impossible. 10 for Vasa. Its gun ports were too low! I can’t remember why I know that, though.
Halftime. Score’s 110-65. Good. Need more points. Barrett Block and David Xu are chanting “QUA-KERS QUA-KERS”. Those jokers.
Alright, starting up again.
Tossup 11. Physics. Cool. Don’t know jack about coherent backscattering, should learn. Oh, that swimmer thing. Fuck, what were the conditions for the Scallop theorem again? Surface states of topological insulators, don’t know that. What did that fucking Scallop theorem say?! Oh, doubly-degenerate spin-one-half eigenstates of a Hamiltonian, Kramers theorem! Buzz, that’s time-reversible. Good.
Great, Saajid is worried about this lit bonus. Oh, I know this one, blow out the candles. Man, Dennis Jang wrote a tossup on Night of the Iguana like 8 years ago but I don’t remember this middle part. Wow, detail from The Rose Tattoo. Oh, Saajid knows it, something about condoms. That’s funny because sex. Great. 20.
Tossup 12. Some lit thing. Saajid negs. Dude, that already came up, come on. Wait, wait, wait. Oh rats, Saajid knows it at the end, but John doesn’t. Matt Jackson puts another tally on the “Dead Tossups” count. Man, we really suck at quizbowl Good thing UVa’s not here to see this.
Tossup 13. Some book. Sounds Arab. “The Pillar of Salt”, wait isn’t that that Saudi thing? No that’s “Cities of Salt”, don’t neg. Intro by Sartre? But this isn’t a Fanon thing. And Chris Ray negs with “Wretched of the Earth”. Oh, Albert Memmi, is that thing…buzz, Colonizer and the Colonized? 10. I’ve heard of that, but don’t’ know where from.
Oh boy, computer science! My favorite kind of science because I don’t have to know it. Easy part, complexity classes. Oh, I knew that. Middle part’s interactive proof, which Will Butler wrote an impossible CO tossup on a few years ago. Good, he knows that too. The last part. Ok some kind of graph problem that Saajid doesn’t know. Throw out answers, throw out answers. Come on, Wikipedia. Nope. Oh fuck it’s just what it sounds like, Graph isomorphism. Well whatever.
Tossup 14. A politician. Don’t know this, don’t know that. Foreign minister, oh that’s the Spanish Marriage thing which I know nothing about. Patrick buzzes, says Palmerston. Neg 5…and the question says Palmerston just 5 words later. LORD PALMERSTON! PITT THE ELDER! Focus Eric, Simpsons binge later, quizbowl now. That’s alright, Patrick, you knew what was going on. They don’t pick it up. Good. Oh, Guizot! He comes up.
Tossup 15. A sculpture, I think. Self-oxidizing? Is this Spiral Jetty? No, that’s stupid. Chris Ray buzz. Nope, it’s not Bird in Space in this death packet! Oh, Richard Serra, that’s probably Tilted Arc but Saajid knows. 10 points, good work. Bonus. Is that from the Shanemah? Fuck, my comic book version never came in. Oh, there’s an easy part on Rustam. And an equally gettable part on Zaal. Cool, 20.
At the 15, 190-55. Good. We need two more goddamn questions, and we’ve clinched it. Stay calm. Stay calm.
Tossup 16. Some location. This sounds like one of those utopian communities. But I don’t know any of this. Wait, they make refrigerators? Maytag? Kenmore? Chris Chiego guesses Kenmore, but no dice. Fuck, Amana also makes refrigerators. Man, you know something, I really hate questions related to refrigerators in quizbowl. All of them suck. There was that physics tossup on them in like 2012 CO which was completely retarded, but this is even worse.
Tossup 17. Ok, “two-word concept”. Keep that in mind. “Two-word concept”. “Two-word concept”. Oh, a flaneur. False consciousness. Oh, Michel de Certeau, he’s that guy from the “France” tossup in SCT 2013 that Evan Adams beat me to. Buzz NOW. Time slowing down like Kyle Katarn using Force Speed. Voice cracking. This will clinch it. Don’t fuck this up. Does “everyday life” have two words? Yes? THEN SAY IT, BASTARD!
10 points. The world goes red. Fuck am I having a stroke? No, its psychosomatic.
WIN. YESSSSSSS. Wait, this table isn’t conducive to embracing teammates. Sit back down. Saajid 20s this bonus. I don’t even pay attention. I’ve stopped caring.
Tossup 18. Oh, some science thing. I should care. Blah blah blah. Oh, Vogel-Fulcher-Tammann equation. I think that was in Lederberg. Oh, of course Max knows the clue from Lederberg before me. There’s some poetry right there (this has been a very common occurrence over the years, including Andy Watkins beating me to a zinc finger tossup at ACF nationals 2010 because of it. It was ACF, so he wasn’t cheating). Good thing we’ve won already, or else that'd be really aggravating.
Tossup 19. Literature. I could not care less. John gets it. Some bonus points are gotten. Cool.
Tossup 20. History. Man, you know what’s history? This final. Stuff happening. Early buzz from Patrick….HOLY SHIT A QUESTION ON THE ON-TO-OTTAWA TREK!
What a way to come full circle! CA-NA-DA! CA-NA-DA! Much cheering and applause. I can hear Carol Wang’s laughter. GOOD JOB, PATRICK!Actual e-mail correspondence from 9/9/2011 wrote: Eric: Hey can you write a tossup on On to Ottawa for Editors 5 of MO?
Patrick: As in the On to Ottawa Trek? That I can do. I did a gr. 10 project on it.
Eric: Cool man. Thanks!
Oh, Physics bonus. I only know one part. There’s some counterfactual universe in which that’s super sad, but not this one!
We won! Finally! Shake hands with other team. Hug Chris Ray. Guy I’ve played against for almost a decade. Stop crying, you sissy. Hugs all around! Oh fuck, I can’t not cry when Jerry hugs me. I finally did it, Jerry! And Bruce apologizes before hugging me. Heh, that’s so Bruce. Text Linna. She’s happy too.
Finally, I can unclench. Of course, my post-quizbowl headache starts to set in, but the monkey on my back for the last 8 years is finally gone. Standing ovation when getting trophy. How kind! I’m hungry. Good thing I have this apple.