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De Stijl by Andrew Hart
April 21, 2009, 1:55 pm
Filed under: quizbowl

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With ACF Nationals right around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to open up the floor to a discussion on style.  If you were arranging a quizbowl special designed to be played on Nationals-level questions between two teams of four, who would you want on the teams for pure quizbowl viewing enjoyment.  In other words, constuct two teams that would be most enjoyable to watch play a game of quizbowl.

I will post my teams later, but I’ve got some good ideas.



Thoughts on Style by Andrew Hart
March 15, 2009, 12:00 am
Filed under: quizbowl

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Apologies for not posting on Sundays recently.  I sometimes go into shutdown mode when I have things to do.  I’ve decided that at least for this week, I’m going to write about quizbowl.  And since I don’t know any blogs more entertaining than FreeDarko, I’m going to adopt that style to do it.

So quizbowl, like a lot of things, manifests itself as a public display of private effort.  Great buzzes are more than just a display of knowledge; they’re a performance of past experience.  When Jonathan Magin pushes that button and lights up that light and says those words that earn him ten points, you can almost see him hunched over on a sofa, paging through The Invention of Morel.  Many times when I get tossups, I’m reminded of the first time I heard of the answer in question, which invariably calls up memories of driving at night on a freeway somewhere in central Wisconsin, with only the glow of a laptop, a half-dozen faces in anticipatory silence, and the dulcet tones of Rob Carson reading tossups on Par Lagerkvist and the Zeeman Effect (always buzz on Paschen-Back, man!) to keep me company.

I happen to think that playing packets for eight straight hours in the car is the purest quizbowl experience.  Just buzz when you know it, play the bonuses as a group, and slog across the road at 80 MPH (74 in Wisconsin, and even then they’ll probably still pull you over) in the general direction of a tournament.  When our team drove to the Canadian SCT for god knows what reason, we must have played three or four full ACF Fall sets in a long weekend.  I went from not knowing who the hell Henryk Sienkiewicz was to answering questions on Quo Vadis? before the giveaway in two days.  Somewhere between then and now, which I guess is barely two years, we got pretty good.  Still, nothing beats driving past the SUN RAY mall at 1:30 in the morning when Rob and Bernadette are undoubtedly asleep and nailing that tossup on “Dejection: An Ode” when it’s only Gautam and me awake anyway.

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Tournaments always seem so far removed from the dark and isolated moving bubble of stationary air that is a car at night.  For one thing, I always feel in command of my thoughts at practice.  Maybe I’m alone in this, but I oftentimes find myself lost in my own head during tournaments, sort of like the exact opposite of an out-of-body experience, but with that same weird feeling of watching yourself.

Still, tournaments are where the peak experiences of quizbowl happen.  I’ll never forget Illinois Open two years ago, when I had some of the best games of my life against Matt, Jerry, Jonathan, and Eric; beat Seth Teitler despite going 2-4; and scored meaningful points against quizbowl’s foremost luminaries at Ryan’s Experiment.  And Chicago Open this year, watching Brendan establish himself as one of the best players in the country, and answering a meaningful last tossup against Andrew Yaphe’s team.

And of course, tournaments are the place to get angry at quizbowl and yell loud obscenities, especially after hearing ICT tossups on obscure government health insurance programs.

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Tournaments are also the source for otherworldly moments.  Our team would likely have been relegated to the third bracket at ICT last year had I not buzzed in for no particular reason and said “Marston Moor” in our tiebreaker half-game against Georgia.  After it happened and we got ten points and a bonus for it, I still had no idea why I buzzed or how I decided to say that answer; the last conscious thought I remember was thinking to myself “this could be Shiloh.”  There have been a half dozen meaningful situations in which I’ve buzzed at the end of a question with no real idea of the answer and said something that came from somewhere in the fog and gotten the answer right.  I hardly recall why I thought it would be a good idea to tell Brendan to “say something by John Burgoyne” when the bonus answer turned out to be The Heiress.  The weird thing was that it didn’t feel like a guess; I really felt like I knew it would be that.  Maybe this is why I feel that strange watching-myself sensation.

Personal reflection aside, the point I’m driving home is that playing a tournament is a performance unlike any other quizbowl-like activity that we may do.  And we all have our performative styles, which are endlessly fascinating.  There’s a quality to the matchup between the mercuriality of Ryan Westbrook and the unflappability of Seth Teitler not fully captured by its translation to a scoresheet.  When Ryan beats Seth, it’s Stephen Jackson knocking down the pull-up three over Tim Duncan with 20 seconds left on the shot clock.  It doesn’t necessarily come as a shock, but it does call up familiar emotional responses.  Quizbowl is more than a record of who buzzed first the most and negged the least and got the most bonus points.  It’s a clash between contrasting styles in a wrestling match as elemental as any between a gorilla and a superman.

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It’s pretty easy to spot and contrast the obvious styles.  Ryan gambles, Seth makes sure.  Charles is laid back, Jerry can get angry.  Some get nervous, some rise to the occasion (and no way am I telling the internet who I think fits those molds!).  But style encompasses more than general emotions, and all of us have a style.  Eric’s hunched-over full-body Judge buzz is as much a style as his ultra-competitive demeanor.  And who among isn’t endeared to Seth’s mini headshake, Sorice’s soliloquacious banter, or Lafer’s regretful tone?

Style can tell us a lot about each other’s private efforts to improve.  Something about the way Jonathan buzzes on that William Gass tossup inspires confidence that he’s read A Temple of Texts, and there’s that look in Eric’s eye that tells you that the aza Diels-Alder reaction factored into his recent past.  And of course, Charles will spend all afternoon telling awesome stories about the driver of his illegal taxicab to Nagorno-Karabokh if you let him.

Quizbowl is always going to be about knowing more than the other team.  But our games double as shows for ourselves, and our styles take center stage.

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