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Chapter 23 - Ken

Everything that came before has been leading up to this, the official beginning of the Trivia Master tournament. Eight teams have cleared the twin hurdles of the entrance exam and the preliminary rounds, and they are now poised to face each other before God and man. Here, on the stage of honor, we will judge the entire school and decide who is worthy to represent the assembled body. Here, on the battlefield of the mind, we will decide who deserves the title of Trivia Master.

It has been a long road that led to this point. You have been by my side every step of the way – from the first furtive plans when all was still shrouded in fog, to the gathering of a legendary team, to the gauntlet of deception and the pains of double dealing. Now, at long last, you will bear witness to an actual Trivia Master round.

I have my doubts that an event of this grandeur can truly be captured in the written word. Is it possible to reflect the titans of trivia in text? Can the splendor of the stage truly come across without the feelings that come from experiencing it first–hand? I doubt that even photographs or video could properly reflect this event, for they are but a record of fact and do not hold the deeper meaning. A person who has not set foot on that stage can not truly grasp the sensations, the raw energy that surrounds the event. To truly understand what is to come, you would have to ride inside my head and feel it all for yourself.

Pardon me, I am rambling a bit. My point is, this is a very special event for those of us who participate in it. I merely wish to make it clear what a challenge it can be to explain, in our inadequate human languages, just how significant this is. I hope that you can forgive me my flights of fancy.

This is not the first round – that was conducted a few hours before. The Valkyries triumphed by 260 points to 180, an effortless victory. They will be our first true challenge. The quarterfinal is but a warm–up.

That is not to say that our first opponents – the Council of Seelie – present no challenge at all. Colette Henshaw, their captain, is a formidable opponent, if rigid in thought and profoundly uncreative. She did concoct an interesting gimmick all her own. Well before the round began, she approached me with a list of names, prattling on about “integrity” and “improprieties” and demanding that I sign her promise not to cheat. Of course, I dismissed her. I would never sign anything that was presented in such bad faith. On the other hand, I must thank her for reminding me that Ron will be recording the rounds. I will have to arrange for a copy so that I may study up on our own weaknesses.

The fleeting moments before the round begins form the last opportunity for a conference between teammates. I took this time to run over my strategy once more.

“All right. Trevor, you’ve got classic literature and sports. Anything in those categories comes out, don’t be afraid to jump on it. Scott, you’re playing defense here. Don’t be too eager, but if something comes down the line that you know, take it. Paul will be on point, so if he doesn’t buzz in, it’s up to you guys to handle things. I’ll support Paul and field everything during the wager rounds. You got that?”

“Yes sir, General Patton,” said Scott. He has an acid tongue that I do not care for, but perhaps it will fire up the audience.

“I think we know what we’re supposed to do, Ken,” said Trevor.

“Good.” I turned to Paul. “Hey, did that girl Colette try to get you to sign something?”

“Sure did.”

“Did you sign it?”

“Hell no. All I had to do was see Bellamy’s name on it. Told me everything I needed to know.”

And then, at long last, it began. My breath caught in my throat. Oh, what a moment, what a blessed ecstasy...


~QUARTERFINAL ROUND – RAGING NERDS VS. COUNCIL OF SEELIE~

Mr. Laubhan approaches the podium.

“Good afternoon, and welcome to the second quarter–final round of Trivia Master between the Council of Seelie and the Raging Nerds.”

“Yeah!” A scream echoes from the auditorium.

“Please keep the celebration until the end of the round so we can get through the round in a timely manner.”

The lights are hot and there’s a faint murmur in the crowd. This moment is as tense as it gets. Right now, we are all equal, but that will change soon enough.

We were placed at the table closest to the edge of the stage, with Paul being the unlucky one stuck sitting flush with the audience. Now, I know he can take the pressure, but it’s still never pleasant.

Mr. Laubhan continues with his opening. “In round one, all questions are worth ten points, and remember to wait until your name and team name have been called before answering. Question one: This Central Asian nation borders Russia to the north and China to the southeast –”

Doot–de–doot.

“Paul, Nerds,” calls the girl at the buzzer console.

“Kazakhstan.”

“Correct, for ten points.” It’s no surprise that Paul drew first blood. He may be very smart, but his real claim to fame is his truly impressive reaction time. Paul’s average reaction time is a good 200 milliseconds below the norm – in a head–on match, he’ll buzz in first 19 times out of 20 against a typical competitor. He’s just that good.

“Question two: The officer in charge of the Pacific Theatre of Operations – ”

Deedle–dee.

“Colette, Seelie.”

“Admiral Nimitz.”

“Correct. Ten points for the Court.” Colette must be feeling really smug, having leveled the playing field on the second question. Well, wait until she sees the rest of the team.

“Question three: This 1975 film was only the second to win all five major Academy Awards.”

Doot–de–doot.

“Scott, Nerds.”

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

“Correct.” Scott’s already handling himself like a contender. Most people would get jumpy or lock up, but he is very confident. He knows what he knows, and that will really benefit our team.

“Question four: Born Theodore Geisel, this popular children’s author – ”

Doot–de–doot.

“Trevor, Nerds.”

“Dr. Seuss.”

“Correct.” It’s good to see Trevor in high spirits. His weakness has always been his low confidence, and I was afraid that might hinder him. But now that he’s on stage, he’s really summoning that inner strength.

Now the first round is coming to an end. We fell into a real groove, ending the round up by 70 points to 30.

“And that’s the end of round one. Now, for the first team question. Write down your wagers now, remember that in the first round you can wager up to fifty points.”

The team round is all about strategy. What amount do you bet, knowing you could lose it all? What are you willing to risk, not knowing what the question is? It’s tempting to bet the whole fifty and earn half a round’s worth of points, but most teams play more conservatively, especially if the match is close.

Me, I don’t feel like showing off this early in the tournament. I write down a nice, easy 20.

“All right. Here is your question: Calculate the volume of a four–sided pyramid with a base of 60 square meters and height of 27 meters.”

A math question! This is a bad feeling – a tiny wager on your area of expertise. Though, at the very least, it is a better feeling than a large wager on something no one knows.

But this is my territory. I love numbers, and they love me back. It takes just seconds to work out the calculations and take down my answer.

“Time’s up,” announces Mr. Laubhan. “Council of Seelie, I’ll take your answer first.” Colette flips the card with their answer. “540 meters cubed, that is correct. Your bid?” She holds up a card with the number 40. Colette is more of a risk–taker than I thought. “40 points to the Seelie. Raging Nerds, your answer, please.” Paul shows him our card – correct, as predicted – and our wager.

This means that, going into the second round, we have 90 points to their 70. The second round is a major turning point in Trivia Master. The elevated scores mean that this is where it’s possible to turn the game around – where the meat of the action lies. People take more risks, more points are gained and lost – everything is up for grabs.

“Remember, all questions in this round are worth 20 points. Question one: It is the first noble gas on the Periodic – ”

Deedle–dee.

“Saul, Seelie.”

“Helium.”

“Correct.” Damn – they’ve tied it up again. I’ve got to concentrate.

“Question two: In what geological era did Archaeopteryx – ”

Deedle–dee.

“Colette, Seelie.”

“Triassic.”

“I’m sorry, that’s incorrect.” Yes! Colette’s hubris has cost her team the lead. “I will repeat the question for the other team. Question three: In what geological era did Archaeopteryx first emerge?”

Doot–de–doot.

“Paul, Nerds.”

“Jurassic?”

“Correct.” And the game swings back to us. In an good quiz game, there are a lot of moments like this. Just when you think you’ve won or lost, an opportunity appears. There is no such thing as “inevitable.”

After that, it’s a blur of questions and buzzers and lights. It doesn’t coalesce for me until the round ends and I hear Mr. Laubhan’s voice over the fray:

“The Raging Nerds win, 290 to 230. Congratulations.”

There it is, our first step towards victory. Now it gets hard.

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