Month: July 2017

An Interview with GPQB’s Founders

Today marks the third anniversary of the founding of GPQB. When the site was created in 2014, only about 30 teams were playing pyramidal quizbowl in Pennsylvania; however, in the 2016-17 season, 81 Pennsylvania teams participated in at least one Saturday invitational, with several more playing in pyramidal leagues. Over 20 PA schools also attended either SSNCT or HSNCT in 2017. The following is an interview with Ben Herman (BH) and Chris Chiego (CC), GPQB’s co-founders and current editors.

JW: What was the state of pyramidal quizbowl in Pennsylvania at the time you founded GPQB?

BH: In 2014, pyramidal quizbowl in Pennsylvania was very scattered. People were mostly just focused on their local league and trying to win their area, and they weren’t really thinking about the bigger picture of the state or nationals.
CC: When I first arrived at Penn, there was not a single team from the actual Philadelphia area at our yearly high school tournament (QuAC), except for maybe Central Bucks East and Henderson. It was kind of shocking to come from some fairly developed quizbowl areas in California and Georgia and Tennessee even, and to go to a place where it just seemed like nobody was talking to each other. At the time, it was just a very weird set of teams where you had really experienced out-of-state schools coming in and beating up the Pennsylvania teams, with maybe a few exceptions.

CM: So, Chris, you touched on this a little bit already, talking about the circuits you came from in Georgia and in California. What other outreach efforts had you done prior to founding the site?

CC: In undergrad, I mostly focused on playing quizbowl and trying to hold together a college team, which is a whole lot of work in itself. But I had done work in southern California, which consisted of trying to flip teams from a bad TV quizbowl league to good questions and more tournaments, and we had some success. We definitely made inroads, and a few years after I left, they finally voted to change a couple leagues over to pyramidal questions. Then in Memphis, I was a coach actually, and I spent a whole year trying to work with other coaches in the area to make those tournaments pyramidal. But as soon as I left, everything went back to bad questions. So I’ve definitely had some mixed results. I was determined, when I got to Pennsylvania, that hopefully we’d be able to learn from the mistakes of the past, and it helped that Ben had a lot of local knowledge that really helped jumpstart that.
BH: Being an undergrad at the time, in a similar way to Chris’s experience, I was mostly focused on playing quizbowl, up until about six months to a year before GPQB started. Basically I was really burned out on playing at the time, so I was looking for other things to do with the game because I still had some passion for it. And really beginning with the invitation to go help out Ron McColl and the Phoenixville team at their tournament in 2013, I started helping local coaches along with Bill Tressler, helping them get information and pointing them towards the forums, and I think it just kind of grew from there. When Chris arrived, we started talking about it, and we started making some plans about how we were going to reach out to teams and so on.

JW: You guys both mentioned how you were busy in college, especially undergrad, with playing quizbowl. Which have you preferred more, playing quizbowl or doing outreach, and why?

BH: Doing outreach. It’s really not even close for me. Playing was fun, but it was always—you never felt like you were good enough, and I think a lot of intelligent people tend to fall into that trap. That really beat me up by the time I was done playing. With outreach, it’s always something casual, it’s never something I feel like I have to do. It’s great to meet new people and be involved with that social environment of quizbowl while also helping to spread it around and helping kids discover what they want out of quizbowl, whether it’s playing, writing, or outreach, or just having fun.
CC: I really did enjoy playing, and I think that’s what led me to really want to do outreach. The longer I played, the more I wanted to expand this to more people, because I never really got a chance to play in high school since my high school unfortunately only played nonpyramidal local TV tournament things. But again, I think once anyone’s done with playing, or if you’re just graduating (if anyone in quizbowl actually graduates these days), outreach is a great way to put the rest of your time towards introducing this game to other people. And as Ben said, you can do it as much or as little as you want. You can just get a chance to talk to people about quizbowl, and it can be a part of your social life in some ways, meeting with coaches and other players. It’s a neat way to keep involved with the circuit without the same stresses of studying.

CM: What changes to the quizbowl community do you think your site has helped accomplish, and what do you hope to further accomplish?

CC: Well, we do see who comes to the GPQB website, and it’s from all over Pennsylvania and across the country. It’s really neat to see how many times we get hits from new areas and then a few weeks later, we’ll hear from a new person interested in starting a team there. GPQB’s useful as a website that explains what’s going on, goes through some of the lingo, and keeps track of all the tournaments in the area, though we actually get a lot of people from outside of Pennsylvania who come in and learn from some of the podcasts and other advice posts and interviews we’ve had in the past, too.
BH: Along similar lines, quizbowl has the reputation of being something that’s kind of opaque to a newcomer, and that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. I think the website has provided a place where new people, who maybe want to know more about pyramidal quizbowl, can go. I think what this site really accomplishes is being a landing pad where people can go to learn more about quizbowl, to wade their way in and start to know where they might want to go with it.

JW: What are some of the things that made the outreach in Pennsylvania especially successful and how can those things be replicated in other parts of the country?

BH: In terms of the strategies we’ve used, we’ve used a lot of personal connections, and working with the coaches rather than exclusively other quizbowl people. We can use coaches’ contacts through teaching at high schools and through playing in leagues to help sell quizbowl. Rather than doing it from the top down, Pennsylvania’s outreach has been a lot more from the bottom up, and that’s been a big reason why we’ve been successful. It definitely helps to have people who are familiar with the game to move things along, but I think you need to work heavily with high school coaches and not rely on university players to do that kind of outreach push.
CC: The key thing here in Pennsylvania that’s unique is that it’s the players, the coaches, college programs—all of them have gotten really on board with outreach. Having people at most of the major universities in Pennsylvania is a great way to amplify outreach, to get new people in, to keep old high school players involved. I also like that we do have a lot of rural involvement, because in so many other places, it’s just a few suburban areas for the most part and not really involved outside the main metro areas. I think some of the history of Scholastic Scrimmage and other TV shows has led to a legacy of quizbowl in many parts of the state. I hope this can be a model for other parts of the country to follow in the future—I think we’re on the right track to get the majority of schools in the state playing quizbowl.

CM: Where do you see Pennsylvania in the quizbowl community now, and where do you expect to see it go in the near future?

CC: If I were doing my state of good quizbowl ratings, which I might finish up at some point, I think Pennsylvania’s at least a B now. We’re in the upper tier in terms of success, but we’ve still got a long ways to go. We’ve improved the quality of teams throughout the area and we’ve done a good job in some areas of getting more schools involved, but I think we still lack some of the national credibility. We get some teams to the New Jersey tournaments and such, but it’d be neat to see Pennsylvania teams traveling more like Ithaca from New York has, or how Hunter or some of the other big schools do as well. It helps spread the Pennsylvania brand elsewhere, down towards DC, towards Ohio, in the Youngstown area and such like that. Some solid NASAT finishes are good for that as well. It’s good right now, but I think that there’s still some room for improvement here in the future.
BH: I remember playing as a Pennsylvania high school team in New Jersey and in Delaware in 2009 and 2010, and back then, we were basically treated like dirt by those teams, to be frank. They would laugh at us when we, you know, couldn’t pull a 20 on what would be called canonical bonuses and such. I agree with Chris that we’re not at the top, we’re certainly not in the realms of New Jersey and New York or Illinois, and that’s largely because we have not regularly produced multiple top 50 schools in one year for several years yet, but I think people are starting to consider Pennsylvania when they talk about the national scene. We’ve come a long way and there’s a long way to go, but considering where we started, I’m very happy with how the state has advanced in the last few years.

Thanks to Ben and Chris for answering our questions, and a huge thank you to our readers for supporting the growth of Pennsylvania quizbowl!

-Connor and Jackie

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Trends in Quizbowl Questions to Know

Pyramidal quizbowl has never been a stagnant activity- the difference between sets from 1996, 2001, 2006, and 2011 is staggering in scope, style, and quality. Though the question writing process has gradually become more stable, the game continues to evolve to match the tastes of its production teams. While I don’t want to wade into deep question writing theory, it is worth noting that the canon is always in flux, and teams seeking to compete at the statewide level will need to keep pace with it. To this end, I thought it would be worth going over a few of the trends in question writing I’ve noticed over the past four or five years, and how this has changed the sets I’ve moderated and which our teams play.

Before going into specifics, it should be noted that trends in the high school game follow trends in the college game– by incorporating their distribution and then either normalizing or rejecting those changes. This is largely because the majority of editors, including large chunks of NAQT and HSAPQ writers as well as some outside hands on housewrites, are collegiate players of great experience. They write the game as they know it. In the not-too-distant past, non NAQT/HSAPQ question sets for high schoolers often looked eerily like college sets for the worse, with overemphasis on social science few high schoolers were exposed to, an excess of world lit which rarely is assigned in English classes, and too many niche topics and insider jokes that played better in the smaller, more national college circuit. These sorts of issues were very problematic even six or seven years ago, when I was playing, but have largely been rectified. Still, when there is no obvious disconnect between what high schoolers know and where the college game is going, the high school game tends to follow it.

Here are some of the trends in distributions and question writing of late:

  • More film in fine arts- Once confined to the pop culture realm, classic film has been booming within quizbowl packets. As a respected visual art with lots of criticism and ample gettable answers, film plays a seemingly a larger role in sets each new season. When in need of a study break from other subjects, it might not be a bad idea to pop on an old Hitchcock film or Oscar winner. It should be noted recent releases still fall under the pop culture distribution and haven’t increased their share- we’re talking venerated titles (the turn of the millennium is a good benchmark).
  • History questions becoming more conceptual- Quizbowl was once rife with simple rote military and political history pointing to very specific figures and moments in time. There’s still a fair number of questions on this, but increasingly we’re seeing tossups getting creative with their answer lines. Rather than, for example, writing a tossup on “The Roman Empire,” you’ll see tossups with an answerline like “women” or “taxes,” utilizing only clues from Ancient Rome. The same knowledge is tested, but using a general rather than a specific answerline. This has made the sets less stale, and in my opinion more fun. However, it has decreased the usefulness of classic study techniques like list memorization and flashcarding.
  • The limiting of the social science canon- Largely as a reaction to the flood of social science as a mirror of the college game (often a full 1/1 per round) that peaked in the late 00’s to early 10’s, all but the hardest housewrites have severely limited their social science use. This particularly applies to anthropology, sociology, and linguistics (less so for economics and psychology, as there are AP courses for these topics and high schoolers thus are far more likely to know them in depth). This makes these topics easy to master at regular difficulty and a tough but quite manageable challenge for nationals. I would highly recommend players specializing in larger categories pick up one or two of these fields as minor specialties for a steady 30-50 points per tournament.
  • Philosophy becoming the smallest piece of RMP- this is probably the newest trend, which I’ve only seen regularly in the housewrites in the last year or so. For similar reasons to the social science reforms, philosophy is shrinking at the expense of myth and especially religion in sets. It remains to be seen where this will stabilize.

Ben

Winchester Thurston Interview

I recently got the chance to chat with Jacob Dubner (JD), EJ Eppinger (EE), Nathaniel Hull (NH), and Aidan Place (AP), recent graduates of Winchester Thurston and members of the team that finished T-4 in the Private/Charter division of the 2017 SSNCT and T-9 at the 2017 HSNCT. They ended the season ranked #1 in Pennsylvania.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

JW: How did you first get into playing quizbowl?

EE: Freshman year, we have this fun activity trip with a couple of seniors, and I was chaperoned by the legend Nat Brodsky. Somehow the subject of British monarchs came up, and apparently he was very impressed by my knowledge of British monarchs, which is very ironic because I know nothing about them. He said “you should do quizbowl!” so I showed up at the first quizbowl practice. Then I kind of invited the others.
NH: For me, after first trimester of sophomore year, I had just finished soccer season. Since my brother had done quizbowl the past year, I decided to try it, and after a while, I told Jacob how cool it was.
JD: Sometime winter of sophomore year is when I joined in.
AP: I joined in the beginning of my junior year, mainly because they did it.
JD: We were already friends with Jack Chaillet, who was the quizbowl captain and superstar, which also helped bring us in.

JW: You went from #10 in PA in the mid-season poll to #1 at the end of the year. What did you do to improve so quickly and prepare for nationals?

JD: Early on in the year, where there were teams beating us, it kind of gave us a reality check. I think before, we didn’t really do any specialization, everyone learned what they felt like learning. But then this year, we realized, “we’re really bad at fine arts, we’re really bad at science.”
AP: I think losing Jack Chaillet, who was a generalist and all-around player, made us realize where the gaps were.
EE: I definitely think that we learned how to play the games well enough that we had a higher probability of winning games that were close, even if they didn’t need to be.
NH: At HSNCT, I feel like every game was close, starting from the first round. By the end of it, we were ready, even against better teams, to just outbuzz them in buzzer races.
EE: And we had very few dumb negs. If we were able to keep it close, we had an advantage in that we were more disciplined, I guess.
NH: It helps having four people. You don’t have to rely on one person.
AP: One person can have a bad round, and other people can step up.
EE: It’s like, if I were a one man team, and I had a round with no buzzes, I’d be kind of screwed.

JW: At HSNCT, do you remember what you were thinking while you were playing on Sunday? Were you surprised to find yourselves still going in the playoffs?

NH: When we came up against Lehigh Valley, we were thinking his stats were so much better than ours, so it was going to be really hard.
AP: We were sort of shocked that we made it that far. It almost helped in a way, because we expected to lose those later rounds. We didn’t start panicking if we fell behind in points. It was like, keep calm and keep our heads in, and we just kept on going.
NH: It makes it even better once you win.
JD: I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, going into playoffs on the second day, my goal was top 50, but then we just kept going. Every extra round we went, it was like “oh, we’ve already gone further than we were supposed to go,” so just have fun and do your best.
NH: Once we were playing against higher seeds, it was like, just see what happens.

JW: Do you have any other good study tips or tips for team cohesion?

JD: Even for non-quizbowl stuff, we spend a lot of time together, so having a good group of friends, it’s not a burden when you have to go to quizbowl practice and hang out with these people.
NH: There’s less of a chance of tempers flaring in a match, or any issues like that. In terms of studying, I think you have to actually know the basic stuff before you learn the really hard hints for things.
EE: At least for most people, the first year you spend at quizbowl, you’re just learning the quizbowl canon. Or how the questions are written, understanding how they would word things.
NH: I think one of the reasons we did so well at nationals was because, especially EJ and Aidan, they just learn random things because it’s what they do for fun. [Jacob and I] handle the “quizbowl” knowledge, they handle the other stuff.
AP: [EJ and I] were able to fill in with random powers. There’s always going to be unpredictable power hints that you’re never going to find if you’re only studying “quizbowl” stuff.
NH: Also, some of it’s just assessing the risk of negging, and where you think the other team will buzz.
EE: Especially against some poorer teams, you’re motivated to not neg at all and wait until you’re 100% sure. But then at nationals, you’re like “I was going to buzz, but they beat me to it” on every question.
JD: We were kind of lulled into a sense of confidence and conservatism by local tournaments. There were a lot of good, competitive western PA teams like the Alagars, Allderdice, Norwin, Shady Side, but most don’t go to nationals. We got used to being able to wait until we were really sure to buzz, and I think we realized at small school nationals that maybe that didn’t work as well, especially against these really good teams.
EE: Against the teams that are better than you, you know you have to be aggressive.

JW: You guys mentioned the differences between SSNCT and HSNCT and how you played there. In your opinion, which was more fun?

All: HSNCT!
AP: There’s so many teams there, the hotel’s gigantic. It’s such an event.
NH: Basically, small schools nationals was good practice. SSNCT was fun, but HSNCT was more fun.
AP: And also we brought more people to HSNCT. We brought Jack Chaillet, our former captain, so it was just a better experience.
JD: At small school nationals, you still see questions that you would see at a local tournament, whereas at HSNCT, you get to see a lot more of that stuff like “I’ve never heard a question on this before,” so it’s just the freshness of it all.
EE: At HSNCT, there are entire questions on things that would be clues in easier questions.

JW: From the past season, is there any specific victory you’re especially proud of?

JD: The Darien one.
All: And the Lehigh Valley game.
NH: We won by a decent margin, too.
EE: I think all of us had a good round that round.
NH: And I think because Lehigh Valley was the first round, we woke up and found out we were playing Alex Schmidt—
AP: We didn’t really know how far we were going to go, we didn’t expect to go all that far, so it was one of the most satisfying unexpected victories. We were like “ok, we can actually go somewhere with this.”
JD: Jack Chaillet wasn’t in the room for that match, so as we were leaving the room, we walked out there and the surprised look on his face, a face of wonder, it was pretty awesome.

JW: Do you have any memorable team moments or favorite stories you’d like to share?

AP: We took a van to History Bowl, a ways outside the city. We brought Jack Chaillet with us and accidentally left him at the place where the tournament was. He went to the bathroom and we didn’t realize he was gone, so we just drove off without him. We were at least three miles down the road before we realized. And we didn’t actually turn around because we had forgotten him, we turned around because our coach who just retired at the end of the season, Mr. Hallas, forgot his backpack at the tournament place. As we were on our way back, we realized that we had actually also forgotten Jack. He’s there in the parking lot, wondering where we were.
NH: Another story—in the last round of small school nationals, I negged on the Philippines, saying Italy. I heard “bunga bunga party” instead of Bongbong Marcos. In honor of my neg—
AP: We named our SSNCT trophy after the question we thought lost us the tournament.
JD: Our SSNCT trophy is named Bongbong Marcos and our HSNCT trophy is called Ferdinand Marcos, after his father… I guess overall, the best thing about quizbowl, better than any individual story, just the overall experience of doing something with your friends—it’s been a lot of fun. These people, I spend 90% of my time with, even when we’re not doing quizbowl stuff. I think just getting to do something with them was a lot of fun.

JW: Lastly, do you guys intend to continue playing and/or being involved with quizbowl in the future?

AP: In September, I’m staffing a tournament in western Pennsylvania.
EE: Once you’re done with high school quizbowl, you can apply to write questions for NAQT—
NH: And I think some of us are trying that.
JD: My days as a competitor, I think, are over, but it’d be fun to staff some tournaments and write some questions. Maybe some recreational quizbowl, here and there.
EE: I definitely think I would go to staff tournaments at CMU.
NH: Yeah, we’re all going to be involved in some way.

JW: Alright, thanks! Do you have anything else you want to add?

EE: Just a shout-out to David Hallas.
JD: One of the little things—at nationals, whenever the other teams would call timeouts, their coaches would jump up, start giving this really intense pep talk.
NH: We would call our own timeouts whenever we felt like it.
AP: (laughing) He would meander up to the table with his coffee in his hand and be like “well, you guys are doing pretty well.”
NH: But this coming year, he’s going to be replaced by Dr. Josh Andy.
JD: So yeah, shout-out to David Hallas and our incoming coach, Dr. Andy. I think he’s going to be the one to pass on the quizbowl legacy. At our school, we had, way back, Nat Brodsky, who was the old quizbowl legend, then he passed it on to Jack Chaillet, and then Jack Chaillet passed it on to us. And hopefully we’ll pass it on to someone else.

Thanks to Jacob, EJ, Nathaniel, and Aidan for participating in this interview!

-Jackie

Site Announcement: New Student Contributors

GPQB is happy to announce that we are welcoming two active high school players to write for us as associate content contributors for the upcoming academic competition season.

Jackie Wu is a senior at Downingtown East High School in Exton. Despite first being introduced to academic competitions through various bad formats in middle school, she is now working on bringing better quizbowl practices to her own program and to the local competition. As team captain during the 2016-17 season, she increased D-East’s participation in pyramidal quizbowl and directed two high school tournaments, winning the Benjamin Cooper Young Ambassador Award from PACE. She plays at most regular high school invitationals around the southeastern Pennsylvania area and can sometimes be found staffing nearby novice and middle school events.

Connor Mayers started playing quiz bowl in seventh grade at Marticville Middle School. While there, he captained the team for two years and led it to its first ever Lancaster-Lebanon Middle School Quiz Bowl League title in 2016.  Currently, he is a sophomore at Penn Manor High School in Millersville where he is the team captain. In the future, he hopes to continue playing and growing his club and pyramidal quiz bowl as a whole.

We look forward to working with Jackie and Connor to make content which speaks directly to the playing experience of the thousands of quizbowl playing students across Pennsylvania and neighboring states!

-The Staff