University Quiz Bowl team wins national championship

Sunday, April 17, 2016 - 4:45pm

Members of the University of Michigan Quiz Bowl team face off against the University of Chicago in their final round of competition in Angell Hall on Sunday.

Members of the University of Michigan Quiz Bowl team face off against the University of Chicago in their final round of competition in Angell Hall on Sunday. Buy this photo
Grant Hardy/Daily

 

The 25th Academic Competition Federation National Finals — popularly known as Quiz Bowl — were held in Angell Hall Sunday, with the University of Michigan emerging as the winner.

The finals of the inter-collegiate quiz tournament were held between teams from the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan, with the University of Michigan’s team winning with a score of 300 to 160. The team was composed of Linguistics Ph.D. candidate Will Nediger, Epidemiology Ph.D. candidate Auroni Gupta, LSA senior Sid Dogra and Physics Ph.D. candidate Brian McPeak, who competed together this year for the first time.

Gupta said the victory was hard-won and a result of long-term efforts.

“Our main rival school this year was University of Chicago,” he said. “This whole year it’s been extremely back-and-forth. We won some, they won some, including another nationals in Chicago. We were favored to win this one but you never know what to expect. There was a tough moment earlier today where we took a loss to them in the playoffs, but we stayed on target and we beat the other schools that we had to.”

As a nonprofit organization, the ACF is student- and volunteer-run, including organizers, question-writers, editors and mentors.

Jerry Vinokurov, this year’s tournament director, said the Quiz Bowl aims to be an inclusive organization, open to all people interested in the subject, not just students on a volunteer basis as question-writers or other roles.

“We are a voluntary association of people who run Quiz Bowl tournaments,” Vinokurov said. “Almost all of our members are players or former players themselves. It’s not exclusive to institutions at all. You don’t have to be a student to be a part of ACF. All you really have to do is to be someone who is interested in contributing to Quiz Bowl, primarily through editing questions.”

An ACF member since 2006, Vinokurov said he gained exposure to quiz bowls during his undergraduate and graduate years at University of California, Berkeley and Brown University, noting that the only requirement for forming teams is that team members must be enrolled in the same school.

“Our rule is in order to participate in an ACF tournament you have to be enrolled as a student in a degree program,” he said. “You can be a graduate or undergraduate, that doesn’t matter, but your team has to come from a single school. You can’t form a combined team from across multiple schools. That is the only restriction.”

The organization, founded in the 1990s in response to participant dissatisfaction with another competition's questions, also emphasizes good question writing.

Dogra said participant involvement in writing questions was a key component of the competition.

“For ACF tournaments, teams have to submit a packet to play,” Dogra said. “Editors work through those packets, keep the good questions, edit them a bit and then add in their own questions. So the editors spend a lot of time — hundreds of hours — writing questions.”

In addition to winning the national championships, the University of Michigan team’s question packet was also given the Best Packet Award. The ACF finals covers issues which are multidisciplinary, including highly specific and integrative questions from the sciences, humanities, social sciences and music.

Dogra said the team embraced the uncertainty of not knowing what questions would be asked, since the possibilities were virtually endless.

“We never really know what is going to be tested so we have to learn as much as possible,” he said. “We have some sort of intuition, but we can never know for sure.”

Gupta said the team strategy hinges on comprehensive coverage via distribution of workload.

“All of us have our categories,” he said. “This year Will and I split up literature and some of the arts. Sid does a lot of chemistry and history. Brian knows a lot of physics and other sciences like astronomy and math. We make flashcards to learn because there is so much to cover. It is impossible for anyone to cover everything — that is why this is a team game.”

Vinokurov said the challenge inherent in organizing the tournament is also his greatest source of satisfaction.

“For me the most fulfilling part is just the fact that every year we are able to deliver a high-quality tournament,” he said. “People come out, go to great lengths to come here and play it, they get a lot out of it, very gratifying experience just to see it all come together in a really great way, and see the teams enjoy themselves.”