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Chapter 15 - Ken

Northwest High enrolls over six hundred students every year. Of those students, almost two hundred will sign up for Trivia Master. This adds up to approximately fifty teams. There are sixteen slots, so two–thirds of these teams will have to be dismissed before the tournament proper begins. To narrow this field, the tournament is prefaced by a timed entrance test. The sixteen teams who perform the best on this test are randomly placed in the tournament bracket.

The entrance exam never factors heavily into the pregame strategy. There are no tricks at play, and no real doubt as to who will score the highest. It is simply a minor annoyance, a stumbling block on the road to success. However, it can be an enjoyable diversion as well. The entrance exam is the last chance for the teams to meet in a casual environment, to treat each other with some degree of class. Alternately, it can be a chance to have a little fun at the expense of the other competitors. While perhaps not the most mature of pastimes, I must admit that I relish this part of the competition. It is a nice way to release some stress before the beginning of the serious part.

As it is unrealistic to handle two hundred students at once, each team is randomly assigned to one of three rooms, with the assignments listed on signs posted at each location. This year, we were assigned to the library, which was a welcome change. Last year we were in the gymnasium, an uncomfortable and all–around unpleasant place for a test. While the faint aroma of stale sweat is a minor distraction at best, the terrifying memories of dodgeball are far harder to ignore.

During the last period of the day, we are released early to go to our appointed rooms. The test itself takes just a small portion of the period, leaving a fair amount of time before the test starts. For me, this is one last opportunity to study the competition. Even at this late date, there is much to be ascertained by watching the other teams interact.

I was standing outside of the library when a familiar face appeared. “Excuse me, Ken? Ken Greevey?”

He was the student I spoke to at registration. “We met on Monday...Leon, right? What’s up?”

“I was hoping you could help me out a little. I’m trying to find the room for the entry test. Is it here?”

“That depends. What’s the name of the team?”

“The Praetorians.”

“I think your team was assigned to the choral room. There should be a poster around here somewhere...” There are flyers noting the locations of the rooms, but they are seldom well–placed. The closest one is over a water fountain. “...Yeah, choral room.”

“Thanks. Oh, where is the choral room?”

“It’s downstairs, on the far right.”

“Thanks again! You’ve been so helpful.” Leon started to depart, but turned back to me at the last moment. “Maybe this is...I don’t know, untoward to ask someone I might face down the line, but how does this entrance exam work? It’s a little new for me.”

“I thought you’d done some trivia before?”

“I have, but they were much smaller schools. You know, it wasn’t such a big productions.”

“Yeah, we really go in for the big show here, but this part isn’t a huge deal. Just answer the questions they give you. I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

“Thanks. Hey, you might kick yourself over this if our teams face each other.”

Ah, the naivete of the newly–arrived competitor. “Well, good luck.”

“You too, and thanks a lot.”

In a competition like this, it is nice to meet a decent person now and then. Of course, it can also hurt if you are later tasked with defeating them in the tournament. Conquering a newcomer with big dreams and a pleasant demeanor is never enjoyable. I do not envy the team that faces the Praetorians.

A voice came from behind me. “Find a new friend?” It was Paul, in an uncharacteristically sunny mood.

“Just helping a kid I met at registration.”

“So Trevor and Scott haven’t shown up yet?”

“Oh, they’re here. I’ve got them inside, staking out a table near the reference desk. I figure that’s where they’re keeping the test, so we’ll know exactly when it comes out.”

“Nice.” Paul was scanning the crowd, looking for anything of note. He would never admit this, but I think he likes this part as much as me. “So...you pick up anything interesting out here?”

“Plenty. Remember the Speed Bumps from last year?”

Paul groaned. “Don’t tell me Richie’s fielding the Speed Bumps again?”

“Almost. He brought in Sally Kay.”

“Like that’ll make a difference. If they clear the prelims, I’ll be shocked.” Paul looked around the hallway, spotting Duncan Washington in the crowd. “I see Duncan found a team.”

“Sure he did, and it’s a decent roster. They’ll get to the quarters for sure. I told you, man, it’s all okay.”

“I guess. You see Colette around here?”

“Nah, she and her weird friends must be in another room. Good riddance, huh?” I leaned in a little bit closer. “But, you might be interested to know that I saw Jane’s team.”

The name caught Paul’s attention, but only for a moment. “Big deal. You saw Isabel’s stuck–up friends.”

“No, that’s the thing. I think Jane picked the team this year.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, and they could be some serious competition. They’ve got Karen Schumaker and Ching.”

“Hannah!” Paul growled and smacked me in the back of the head. “Why do you have to say things like this?”

“Geez, sorry.” I do not understand why Paul takes these jokes so seriously. It is not like he knows her.

“I guess you just can’t help yourself,” said Paul. “Hey, what about Aaron? Is he here?”

“Fortunately for you, they sent him to the choral room. All I know is that he has Brian Booker on his side.”

“Those two deserve each other.” He stole a glance at the library doors. “We about to start?”

“Yeah. We should really get inside.”

The library doors swung open and the massed students filed in. Students at these competitions are always very civil and sober, moving quietly and never shoving. It is a far cry from the sort of wild free–for–all one sees at, for example, a football game. Per my instructions, Trevor and Scott were already at the designated table, waiting for us.

Hovering over to the side was our proctor, Mr. Garrett. I often wondered what, exactly, led Mr. Garrett to teaching. He mocks his own students on a regular basis, and while he plays his remarks off as mere jokes I have my doubts. I am very good at understanding people, and I can sense a bit of malice behind the japes. This event is merely another opportunity to show us who is in control.

The presence of a proctor is arguably unnecessary, as it is harder to cheat on the entrance exam than it seems. The questions on the test – in the fundamental categories of science, math, language and history – are very simple in nature. These are the kind of questions that any high school freshman should know. However, there are a lot of them, and we are only allotted fifteen minutes to finish. Realistically, there is no way that four students could completely fill out the test in that much time. It is more about time management than knowledge. Anyone attempting to cheat will use up too much time and fall short in the end.

The whole test phase is very perfunctory. Everyone – including the administration – knows which teams have a legitimate shot. Sometimes, I suspect that the proctors save time by shredding the tests from hopeless teams.

I will spare you the details of the test. Let me suffice: We successfully answered half of the questions, which is more than enough to secure our placement in the tournament. With the test finished, we are dismissed and free to go – a few minutes before the final bell, which is a nice bonus.

“Good going, Paul!” I said. “Hey, got any plans this weekend? I’m thinking a bad movie night. I read about some really amazing cheese the other day. Maybe we could grab a pizza from Oscar’s and see how long we hold out?”

“This isn’t a trick to get me to read trivia questions with you?”

“No trivia, no tricks. Promise.”

“In that case, I’m in. I just need to drop off some things in my locker and call the folks real quick.”

Paul opened his locker to find a surprise: A manilla envelope sitting in the top shelf. “Were you expecting something?” I asked.

“No.” He pulled out the envelope and opened it, then shut it quickly, the color draining from his face.

“What is it?”

Paul hesitated for a second. “It looks like a series of trivia questions on school stationery.”

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