Section: Features

Kenyon’s premier trivia organization: What is Quiz Bowl?

Kenyon’s premier trivia organization: What is Quiz Bowl?

It’s not regular trivia, not Jeopardy! and definitely not a pop-culture quiz in a magazine; it’s Quiz Bowl — an academic competition with national matches held every year, and an accomplished club here at Kenyon. On Oct. 14, Kenyon Quiz Bowl’s A-team won the Great Lakes Region fall Academic Competition Federation (ACF). They played against the Ohio State University, Michigan State University, University of Michigan (UMich), West Virginia University, Carnegie Mellon University, Cedarville University and Case Western Reserve University, beating UMich’s A-team in the final round. Aside from ACF fall, they also sent students to a novice competition this semester. 

The club has a history of great successes: In 1963, retired English Professor Perry Lentz ’64 and three other students helped to put Kenyon on the national map. According to the Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin, the team was the “only college in Ohio to survive the first round and — with an all-male enrollment of 583 —the smallest college in the nation to advance as far.”

But what are these competitions, and what makes them any different from Village Inn trivia? President of Quiz Bowl Casey Watkins ’24 explained that there are 13 rounds, each consisting of 20 toss-up questions and three potential bonus questions for each correctly answered toss-up, all worth 10 points each. Toss-ups are paragraph-long trivia questions where each individual team member has the opportunity to “buzz in” and give their answer. 

Out of the 20 toss-ups, teams can expect to answer a distribution of history, science and literature questions. Watkins explained that typically only one out of the 20 is a pop culture question. Of the usual four people on a team, they try to have one player that specializes in each category. 

To prepare for competitions, supplementing their knowledge during meetings is key. The team divides itself into two teams, with Watkins or another senior member reading from old ACF packets. They use real buzzers to simulate competition. Watkins detailed the benefits of this practice style: “Especially in [toss-ups], where they’re a paragraph long, some of the information is very similar.” 

Aside from the actual knowledge, learning the format of the game can be one of the most challenging parts. “I think a big part of it is getting used to knowing when you know something,” said Watkins. “There’s a lot of psychology behind it. There’s a lot of game theory of when you buzz in and all that sort of thing.”

Despite these complications, Watkins estimates that only about half of the club’s 25 members have previous Quiz Bowl experience. If anyone is interested in joining Quiz Bowl, they definitely still can. “We are very easy to join, it’s a lot of fun. The vast majority of Kenyon students would do very well at it,” Watkins said. 

Speaking of Kenyon students, Vice President Ethan Parks ’24 suggested that The Collegian should seek out Quiz Bowl members for their “Class Clash” segment. According to Parks, their attention to campus events could be an asset.

Looking to the future, the team hopes to compete at ACF winter (which will be hosted on the Hill), regionals and nationals. They are also interested in another full undergraduate national tournament held at Columbia University in March and the online qualifier coming soon. The team usually competes at the undergraduate or Division II level but can move up to play in the Division I or graduate level, especially at national events. 

While competition can be intense and tournaments are usually 12-hour-long days, Watkins emphasized how fun Quiz Bowl can be. For example, “buzzing in on something that you have no business knowing but you’ve learned it from a packet you read a week ago. And you’re like, oh yeah, I learned something!”

His best tip for success in Quiz Bowl is taking different classes at Kenyon, considering they cover such a wide variety of subjects. “I really think it’s surprising more liberal arts schools don’t compete in Quiz Bowl because it’s set up so well for it.” 


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