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Chapter 2 - Ken

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Kenneth Greevey, a student at Northwest High School where I have maintained a 4.0 GPA every semester save one. Mandatory practical arts classes are a cruel joke. I partake in few extracurricular activities, preferring to use my free time to socialize with my friends, enjoy a vintage video game, or build my collection of books. Oh, but I will not bore you with the details of my life or the minutiae of my daily routine; there will ample time for this as we proceed. For the time being, I will merely set the stage for the drama that is to come.

The Northwest High Trivia Master competition consists of two parts: the entrance exam and the tournament. The tournament proper is a sixteen–team, non–seeded, single–elimination bracket. Starting from the quarterfinals, matches are public. Each round consists of two standard sets of ten questions each, two team–participation wager questions, and one sixty–second lightning round. Assuming no challenges or unusual events, a Trivia Master round lasts approximately ten minutes.

Registration for the competition opens one week before the beginning of the tournament. Most people gather their teams in the week prior to that, at a time when serious contestants have been planning their team–building strategy for months. That is what it takes to win in this contest. In many ways, the game is won or lost at registration.

I realize that this is a bold claim, so allow me to present my case. Last year, we fielded a superb team that was widely favored to win, but we fell short in the semi–finals. This was not a failure of skill, however, as any objective record of our performance will conclusively demonstrate. It was a failure of planning. We encountered a collection of questions that were well outside of our collected field of expertise. I had successfully gathered the smartest team possible, but it was a team with similar skill sets. Our range was excessively narrow, and that cost us a shot at the finals. We were victims of foul luck and short–sighted planning.

Many people do not acknowledge any of this this. They refuse to even consider the role that strategy plays in victory. My good friend and teammate, Paul Liston, is among these people. Paul is a fantastic competitor – with an accuracy rate of 98% and an average reaction time of under 300 milliseconds, he is among the best in the state, if not the country. What he fails to recognize is that, at this level, performance is inadequate by itself. He even becomes visibly irritated when I bring up strategy and has even been known to respond with some rather biting invective.

To spare his sensibilities, I restrained myself from speaking of Trivia Master with Paul until one week before registration opened. Even as I placed the call that morning, I suspected that Paul would be cross with me.

“Ken, what did I tell you about calling me early in the morning?”

I was correct. “You told me that you get up at 6:45. I called at 6:50, so I know I didn’t wake you up.”

“Do you really have to be that literal? I meant approximately 6:45.”

“Well, did I wake you up?”

“Fine, fair enough.” I suspect that he was humoring me. Paul is a very even–keeled person, always keeping himself in check and minding decorum. Consequently, it is difficult to tell when he is angry. I have become quite skilled at sensing his subtle tells, though. “Just tell me why you were calling me.”

“This year’s rules came out today. Check it out.” I handed him a three–ring binder containing the unabridged rulebook. The rules are easily accessible on the school’s website and printed on posters all over the building, but I appreciate the utility of a copy that I can pull out when I need it, that will not break or malfunction, and to which I can freely add my own notes.

He let out an extended sigh – one of his tells. “This is why you called me early? To see the rules? The rules don’t change that much from year to year, you know.”

Paul is smart, but not very thorough. “Of course the rules changed! Under this year’s rules, our sophomore team would have been disqualified. These things are very important to know.”

“You’ve already...How long have you been studying this?”

“Since last night.” I flipped open the binder and held it up for Paul. “See? Because we switched teammates at the last minute. They won’t let you do that anymore.”

“Can we talk about this upstairs?” he said, rubbing his temples. Paul does this frequently, more so during trivia season. He should talk to a medical professional if he continues to get these headaches. “I want to stash my stuff and get somewhere quiet before that asshole shows up.”

“I finished running the model.”

“Please tell me you’re joking.”

We were talking about a statistical model. After last year’s embarrassment, I took all of the questions asked, classified them according to subject, and fed them into a computer program. Three hours later, I was holding all the data I needed to emerge victorious.

I paged through the binder to the beginning of my personal notes. “No, it really worked. I ran the program on Saturday, and it worked just fine. I would have told you sooner, but I wanted to double–check it myself to be sure. Here’s the breakdown from last year: Science, 19.7%; History, 17.5%; Literature...”

“You really don’t need to read all of the numbers,” said Paul.

“Literature, 14.8%; Math, 13.7%; Geography, 10.7%; Popular Culture, 6.8%; Sports, 6.3%; Current Events, 5.8%; Fine Arts, 4.2%.”

Paul nodded and turned slightly away – a possible sign of derision, though I have never conclusively determined if this is another tell.. “Great. Now, what do we do with that information, exactly?”

“We use it to plan our team. Between the two of us, we have about two–thirds of the questions covered. You’ve got us handled on history, geography and current events.”

“I’ve got current events?”

“Well, you watch the news,” I said. “That’s all they ever ask about, really. I’ve got math covered, of course, and we can both field science. That leaves just a few small, yet crucial gaps in our knowledge.”

“All right, I see where you’re going with this, but let’s walk and talk, huh?” Paul can be very fickle, complaining about being called in early one minute, then in a terrible hurry the next. He was headed up the stairs before I even said anything. I can usually keep up with Paul, but sometimes I fall behind due to his slightly greater height giving him a longer stride. Some may argue that I am out of shape, but I feel that this is fallacious.

I caught up with Paul at his locker. “I have a few candidates in mind, but I wanted to run these names past you, get a little feedback.”

“Sure. Run those names past me and...”

Paul froze in mid–sentence. I followed his gaze and immediately knew why. The library doors stood open, and Aaron Baines Bellamy was walking out.

“Morning, Paul,” he said with a smile. In nature, animals smile to show their teeth.

“Hello, Aaron,” said Paul. He was visibly anxious.

“You doing Trivia Master this year?” said Aaron.

“We do Trivia Master every year,” said Paul.

Aaron showed us his teeth again. “Good. It’s going to be quite a year, you know. I’m glad to know that you’re in the mix, I was afraid this year you might step out, it did get a little messy last time.”

Paul could barely bring himself to look at Aaron. “...It is my last chance. I couldn’t pass that up.”

“Good. Contests like this just aren’t all that fun without real competition, and there’s so little around here. Well, I’ll leave you to it.” As Aaron walked away, I could hear him mutter something that sounded like “See you at the finish line.”

All of this calls for some explanation. Trivia Master should be a gentleman’s competition between intellectuals, but there are some people who treat it as a matter of blood and honor. Aaron Bellamy is one such person. He too has a strategy, but his does not account for the rules of the competition. He does not respect the game, nor his rivals. He sickens me, as he does all decent people. Fortunately, Aaron has never secured victory with his tactics. Unfortunately, he knows of no other way to play, and he will do so again.

Aaron’s behavior is merely the opening salvo in his grand strategy. I have read much about these tactics of his. In military parlance, the term is “psy–ops,” but you would probably call it “mind games.” Mind games are a favorite maneuver in Trivia Master, but Aaron is especially skilled in this field. It is important to inure one’s self to such tricks when seeking the championship.

I turned back to Paul. “As I was saying, I’ve compiled a short list of candidates for the other two slots. This part isn’t as scientific as the rest of my strategy, so I thought we could have a little back and forth. Are you paying attention?”

“Yes, Ken.”

“Brian Booker, Karen Schumaker, Terry Brown...Jane Anders...”

The last name woke Paul up. “Jane’s on your list?”

This was a bit of a mean trick on my part, but a necessary one. It is no secret to me or to any other thinking person that Paul has a terrible crush on Jane Anders. When it is necessary to draw his attention, all I have to do is mention her name. It is not that I do not want Jane on our team. I would love to add her fantastic 78 point–per–round average to our lineup. However, it was simply not a realistic proposition.

“It would be awesome if we had her on the team, she’s great for literature and would really make us unstoppable,” I said. “But you know she’ll be going in with her friends, just like last year and the year before.” Paul needs these reminders from time to time.

“Yeah.” Paul looked defeated, but he kept going. “Who else you got?”

“I’ve been thinking about those fine arts questions. There aren’t many, but I definitely remember there being more last year. They’re real killers, too. You remember how we got screwed by those questions about symphonic music last year.”

“And Broadway box office numbers. I still can’t believe that one.”

“Exactly.” I shuffled through my personal notes. “Now, there aren’t many teenagers who are going to know a lot about the arts, so I figure we’re going to need a specialist, someone who lives and breathes this stuff. That’s why I want to get Scott Carroll.”

Paul looked puzzled. “Amateur dramatics Scott Carroll? Drama club kids don’t do trivia.”

“Well, it’ll take some convincing, I’m sure. I just want to know if you’re okay with him being on our team.”

Paul shrugged. “Hey, I have no problem with Scott Carroll. I’m just wondering who you have in mind to take care of literature.”

“You really want me to talk to Jane, don’t you?”

“I don’t know...you could ask.” Paul was always very poor at hiding his embarrassment.

“Maybe I will. See you later, Paul.”

Paul is a dreamer. Some days, it is wise to humor him and leave him to his dreams while I take care of our serious business. I had plenty to do and barely enough time to accomplish it all, and I certainly had no time to reassure him about Jane. It is not as though I had much to say to him, anyway.

In actuality, I had already picked out our fourth member. He had precisely the skills we needed to win the tournament. My preliminary estimates suggested a healthy 86% chance of victory with the full team – admittedly one with a low significance, given that I do not yet know the nature of the competition. However, I knew that my choice would displease Paul, and maybe even make him angry.

There are some decisions that simply have to be made. For Paul’s sake, I will not involve him.

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