Published April 19, 2004; Category: STUDENTS
Advertised as "the varsity sport of the mind," the 2004 College Bowl National Championship will be held April 23-25 at the Montgomery campus of Alabama's Auburn University. The qualifying students are busy honing their knowledge of high art and low art, of classic literature and pop literature - and it couldn't hurt to know which alkali metal is the lightest of the solid elements.
"It's lithium," said Ben Taylor '07, a member of the Dartmouth College Bowl competitive team. The team members know lithium's weight; and that it was discovered by Johan August Arfvedson in Sweden in 1817; and that it can be used for battery anodes, high strength ceramics, high-temperature lubricants, and in treatments for manic-depressive disorders. It's something they now know by heart.
For the first time in 10 years, the Dartmouth College Bowl team is on the list of contenders for the national title. The four-player squad - consisting of Taylor, Tyson Kubota '07, Ting Lu '05 and David Hankins '05 - won first place at the 2004 Northeast Regional Tournament held at Providence College in Providence, R.I., beating out teams from Boston University and Williams College, among others. At the national tournament in April, the qualifying students will compete against teams including those from Cornell University, Georgetown University, the University of Chicago and University of California-, Los Angeles.
Thanks to a strong performance at the Providence regionals, Taylor, who finished second in overall individual score, gained a spot on the four-player squad that will be representing Dartmouth at nationals. Due to College Bowl rules, each school can send only one team; the Dartmouth students chose their team based on tournament attendance, individual performance, and overall "group chemistry," Taylor said.
Although he said he remains assured of the team's capacity for success at nationals, Taylor acknowledges that students are often blindsided by the Bowl's twofold approach: students must answer both tossup questions and bonus questions. Both deal largely with popular culture and current events, but with one key difference: conferring among teammates is allowed on bonus questions, which are often multi-part, but not on tossups, which, given the timed nature of the competition, are brief.
"You'd be surprised how different sets of questions can be," Taylor said. "We expect some pretty tough competition, especially from the University of Chicago, the defending champion."
"I think that we have a good chance of making the playoffs at nationals. If we can do that, we definitely could win the tournament, though it won't be easy."
- Ben Taylor '07
According to the team, a typical tossup question runs something like this: "Which substances, first discovered in 1935, are 20-carbon fatty acid derivatives containing a 5-carbon ring? They can affect blood pressure, blood clotting, ion transport, and muscle contraction. Aspirin works by preventing the synthesis of these chemicals because they also sensitize nerve endings." The answer? Prostaglandins.
"I think that we have a good chance of making the playoffs at nationals," said Taylor. "If we can do that, we definitely could win the tournament, though it won't be easy."
In the meantime, the students practice two nights a week for about two hours, focusing as much on teamwork as on trivia - and learning how to ring the contest buzzer quickly but not prematurely is a chief concern.
The website for College Bowl, Inc., provides a series of sample questions, both tossups and bonuses. According to the Dartmouth team, this is a good place to start.
"Some teams like to study for the tournaments by memorizing the vice presidents or something like that, but for us it's much more fun," said Hankins. "We learn what we can in practice, and don't worry so much about trivia."
Learning as much as possible often means talking as much as possible. At a typical study session, no one student holds the floor, and the explosion of voices - students chatting about popular culture, presidents, and poisons - heightens their chances of success at nationals, the students say, because it ensures a diversity of topics.
"As a group, we're unpredictable, but we all get along and have fun," Taylor said. "We've also been working through sets of questions from previous national tournaments to get a feel for the type of questions we'll run up against."
Although they remain confident, Taylor and others cite the unpredictability of all team competitions, however organized, as the sole factor tempering such assurance. Indeed, the Dartmouth team has already had its share of shakeups. Hankins, a leading scorer, is in the northern African country of Tunisia on an internship, and will be replaced at nationals by alternate Matt Fujisawa '06.
Even the team's leading scorers, Hankins and Taylor, say that College Bowl is a group effort. Team president Art Vilassakdanont '06 said he expects each active member of the 20-player squad to be at practice sessions, where the participation of all is vital to the process.
No excuse exempts team members from the stress of preparation, even an off-term in Africa. Hankins, 5,000 miles away in Tunisia, is making the travel arrangements for his teammates.
"I've been coordinating all of this over Blitz, and it's been quite an undertaking," he said in an e-mail from Tunisia. "Both Hanover and Montgomery are at least an hour from a major airport, so logistical planning has been the toughest part."
Taylor said his only real fear is getting the team to Alabama intact. This anxiety is not without justification. In the winter of 1994, en route to the Pennsylvania nationals, Grant Bosse '94 hit a patch of ice on I-91 in Vermont, his car skidding into a snow bank. No students were harmed in the accident, but waiting for a tow truck cost them valuable time; they arrived late, and they took three forfeit losses. As a result, they faced eventual champs the University of Chicago, already sated with a number of tossup and bonus points, during their first round of competition.
Avoiding such mishaps is central in the minds of this year's contenders, by now brimming with more weighty matters, like the following: "Which Austrian-born composer was legendary for his fear of the number 13? He died at age 76 (7 + 6 = 13) on Friday, July 13, 1951, at 13 minutes to midnight."
The answer? Arnold Schoenberg.
By NOAH TSIKA '05
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Last Updated: 12/17/08