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Chapter 17 - Ken

Since we will be starting the tournament soon, I would like to take a few brief moments to describe the ins–and–outs of a round of Trivia Master. What appears to be a very simple rule set is actually rich in subtleties, the mastery of which is the difference between a good team and a champion team.

During each round, there are twelve people on stage. Aside from the two teams, there are three people who are either student or community volunteers: One to keep score, one to clear the buzzers after someone has buzzed in, and one to keep time during the phases where this is relevant. Finally, there is Mr. Douglas Laubhan, who runs the actual tournament and serves as master of ceremonies. In terms of their arrangement, Mr. Laubhan stands at a podium at stage left; the crew sit at a table in the middle of the stage; leaving the teams at stage right, seated at tables arranged in a rough quarter–circle so that they face the center.

Each round consists of five portions. First, there is a block of ten questions each of which is worth ten points. Players are allowed to buzz in before Mr. Laubhan finishes the question, but if the player is incorrect his or her team will incur a ten–point penalty, so there is some risk involved. The player must also wait for his or her team and name to be called, or the question may be invalidated. This takes some degree of self–control, as the instinct of any true competitor is to shout out the answer immediately.

Following the first set of questions is a team participation question. First, the team must place a bid of between ten and fifty points. The bid must be placed before the question or even the category of the question is known, so there is some degree of strategy here. Once each team has placed its bid, the question is read and each team has thirty seconds to confer and write their answer down. Finally, each team reveals its answer and bid, and the scores are increased or decreased as appropriate.

The third portion is another block of ten questions, this time with their values doubled to twenty points. The fourth portion is another team question, with the upper limit for bids increased to one hundred. The final portion is a lightning round, with the teams getting sixty seconds to answer as many twenty–point questions as they can.

At the end of the fifth portion, the scores are read and the winner announced. The overall average score is 225 points. The average winning score is 270 points. Our average score – as in that for teams which have included Paul and me – is 280 points.

The eight preliminary rounds are conducted on the first week of the tournament. These matches are dealt with quietly in a closed auditorium. Only the team, the crew and the odd would–be student journalist attends these matches, and only the names of the winners are released to the student body. They are very bare bones rounds, but this is to be expected. The preliminary rounds are a winnowing, little more than a chance to clear out the less–experienced and less–skilled teams before the tournament goes public.

On the following week, the tournament begins in earnest. The quarterfinal, semifinal and final rounds are all held before the assembled student body, with all of the pomp and circumstance one might normally expect from a homecoming football game. The public tournament is, in many ways, a drama for our times – there are heroes and villains, conquerors and underdogs. Some earn the glory of the crowd, others and humbled before the world.

Ultimately, though, it is less a tournament than a demonstration of what is to come. You see, each year there are certain teams, typically two or three, that are strongly favored to win. Those are the teams that attract the most zealous of fans, and one of those teams always claims the championship. This year, the strong favorites are the Flying Brains, headed by Aaron Bellamy; the Valkyries, headed by Jane Anders; and of course, the Raging Nerds, headed by Paul Liston and yours truly.

Everything up until now has been prelude. It was the game that prefaces the true story. Today, things get serious. By the time school lets out, eight dreams will have been fed into the grinder. Tomorrow, eight more will meet the same fate. And on it will go until next Friday, when the true masters of trivia are crowned before the waiting world.

The biggest news – already causing ripples through the Northwest microcosm – is that the Raging Nerds and Flying Brains are positioned at opposite sides of the bracket. This means that, providing everything goes as predicted, Aaron will have his wish of a climactic battle in the winner’s circle. The school has been eagerly anticipating this for years now. It is very theatrical – the two bitter rivals, fighting and clawing for the chance to see whose skill is the greater. Behind the scenes, it is much less pleasant, and I can barely reckon what fresh horrors are yet to come.

Already, this is affecting the school in ways that I had never anticipated. With most people assuming that the final match will be our team and theirs, the student body is taking sides. Most of the football team is aligned with Paul, while basketball and baseball players favor Aaron. The math league prefers Aaron, except for those who are also in science club who lean towards us. Aaron has the forensics league and the glee club; we hold majority support among the service clubs. It is truly remarkable how for this has gone, and we have not even reached the tournament proper yet!

When the dust finally clears and the final reckoning comes down, I plan to stand in the victor’s circle. However, there are no fewer than two excellent teams in our way. Even with all of my planning, this will not be a simple win. Ultimately, it may all come down to Paul’s talent and knowledge. If he has the will, then our success is all but assured.

But will is personal and victory is universal. Thus, we will now watch together as the tournament unfolds. Make your predictions now, because there may not be time later.

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