The Washington Post

October 05, 2004

Quizbowl in The Washington Post

Those of you who've seen occasional references to "quizbowl" on this blog and wondered what that word meant might be interested in this Washington Post article on the game. (The three of us are all present or former members of the University of Chicago quizbowl team, and so we know the subject quite well.)

The article's generally pretty good. It has its share of oddities (I've never heard of a 100-question round, for instance), and it focuses far too much on former quizbowlers who've gone on game shows. (That's a good way to draw readers in, but it's really a peripheral side of the game.) Parts of the article, moreover, seem a bit bizarre:

"Certainly there is a segment of the community dismayed by game shows and the questions they ask and that Ken Jennings or Kevin Olmstead, whom they don't perceive as the best quiz bowlers or the most knowledgeable, are rewarded so much," Hentzel said. "It's like authors of serious fiction looking at J.K. Rowling and saying, this isn't fair, these aren't great books, yet she's richer than the Queen of England."

Plenty of quizbowlers think that game shows are silly, of course--for the simple reason that they are. But I don't know of many people who refuse on principle to appear on game shows and, whatever you think of the quizbowl record of someone like Kevin Olmstead is, I don't know of anyone who's "dismayed" by his success. In fact, my main criticism of the piece is that it purports to be about quizbowl, but focuses on a small group of people, none of whom have played in a non-master's collegiate tournament in the past five years. Had the author actually seen fit to go to a tournament, the tone of the article would have been quite different.

You have to be an active quizbowler to notice most of my criticisms, though--and, for the record, I speak as someone who's more-or-less quit writing for NAQT because of doubts about its philosophy and its commitment to question quality. You might want to check out this earlier New York Times article if you're interested in the subject: it has more glaring errors than the Post did, but was also more effective in giving readers a feel for what the game is like.

Posted by Ed at October 5, 2004 12:42 PM

As a grand master of the game, I have to say that this criticism is way off-base. Why, I was playing 100 or even 150 question rounds back when you were sucking at your mammy's teat! Also, I resent the implication that pillars of the quizbowl community, like myself or Eric Hillemann, are in any way behind the times. Question quality, thy name is NAQT!

Posted by: Tom Waters at October 5, 2004 01:48 PM

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