Cracking the Knowledge Master Open
Two dozen upperclassmen are gathered in the first few rows of Blair's auditorium on Dec. 8, eyes glued to a projector screen on the stage and brains holding tight to the all the trivia they've garnered over the years. The room fills with echoes of "B!", "A!", "C!" as Blazers yell out answers to the multiple-choice questions that appear on the screen.
The routine stretches from first block into the beginning of third period, and at the end of an hour and a half, the enthusiastic juniors and seniors had earned a total of 1781 out of 2000 possible points in the 2004 fall Knowledge Master Open (KMO).
KMO, a biannual trivia competition, has become a tradition for members of Blair's It's Academic team and their friends. Blair placed third worldwide in this year's fall competition, earning six fewer points than in last spring's competition and placing one rank lower. Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology in Virginia won the fall 2004 competition with a score of 1849, and State College Area High School in Pennsylvania came in second with 1806 points, according to official KMO results released Dec. 10.
Questions for the competition are sent to participants via a computer disk so that schools across the globe can participate without leaving home. According to the KMO web site, the competition contains 200 questions that fall into the categories of American History, World History, Government, Recent Events, Economics & Law, Geography, Literature, English, Math, Physical Science, Biology, Earth Science, Healthy & Physiology, Fine Arts and Useless Trivia. Teams receive five points if they answer a question correctly on the first try and two points on the second and earn bonus points if they answer correctly before certain time limits.
An excellent job
According to the KMO web site, there is no limit to the number of students who can compete, and Blair's team had a total of 27 participants. KMO team members agree that despite having lost strong players who graduated last year, the students that participated performed admirably. "I think we came together and did really well, considering we lost so many people," says senior co-captain Saul Kinter. "That's a nice competition we just finished." According to senior Justin Kovac, KMO participants really stepped up and were serious about the competition. "It really shows a lot of maturity,” he asserts.
Before the competition, team members practiced on disks containing questions from old competitions. Blair It's Academic sponsor David Fantegrossi says that the team has a collection of ten years' worth of practice disks. "[We] run through those old competitions to get our timing down and get our strategies down,” Fantegrossi says.
However, senior Bill McManigle, who has participated in the KMO competition since he was a freshman, asserts that "you can't study specifically for KMO.” The information that team members know, he says, are derived from knowledge that they pick up in class and elsewhere. "It's more of a compilation of everything you've learned than something you study for,” McManigle states.
Strategies of the KMO
To perform the best they can, KMO participants employ a number of strategies to answer the 200 multiple-choice questions that they face. Before the competition, the co-captains assemble a well-rounded, knowledgeable team. Although KMO participants are mostly It's Academic members, Fantegrossi says that the captains invite to the competition friends and classmates who are knowledgeable in trivia, especially in areas where It's Academic members are weak. "We try pretty hard to get people to compete with us,” Fantegrossi states. Based on students' strengths, he says, the captain decides on whose answers to trust and enter during the competition.
Different strategies exist in answering the questions as well. Before the competition begins, Kinter splits the group of students in two and tells one group to read the multiple-choice answers top-down and the other to read bottom-up. "Hopefully, [this strategy] cuts our time in half to find an answer that works,” Fantegrossi says. Additionally, students yell, "Not!” whenever they see a question in the form of "Which of the following is not…” Kovac explains that in reading so quickly, participants may miss the crucial "not” in the question and provide a wrong answer and that yelling "Not!” helps students be aware of the nature of the question.
Crucial to the team is the captain, who hears the answers that team members yell out and decides on the final response. Kinter says that he and senior co-captain Martino Choi employ somewhat "conflicting” strategies in this process. "Tino [Choi] wants to get things right fast,” Kinter elaborates. "I like to think about them a bit more.” Kinter adds that Choi primarily aims to earn the bonus points that are awarded to fast correct responses, while he tends to seek out the right answer on the first try rather than lose points by answering a second time. According to Kinter, both strategies are about equally efficient.
Amid the answers flying across the auditorium, McManigle, and then Kovac, sits in front of the computer and types in answers only at the captain's directions. To clarify the final answer for the typist, the captain says, "Type,” before he gives the final answer and forbids anyone else from saying "type.” Standing in front of the participants, Kinter explains, "That means if any of you say ‘type'…”
"You will die,” McManigle finishes without missing a beat.
Kinter says that above all, the strategies really boil down to knowing the information. "[KMO has] a bunch of questions where you have to put together two obscure pieces of information,” he says, citing a question that required knowledge of Spider Man's alias and the phylum of spiders as an example. "Blair is really good at that.”
A spec-auk-cular time
Amid the problem-solving and the answer-yelling come the fun and silly experiences associated with KMO. The competition welcomes participants with a picture of the great auk, an extinct bird that sports a mortar-board and giant grin when it appears as the KMO mascot on the projection screen next to questions. The competition is littered with "encouraging” messages that appear after the answers are entered and range from "My stars and garters!” to "Auk-cellent,” and "Spec-auk-cular.” Kovac describes the messages as "annoying,” and Kinter agrees, saying, "We skip through them because they distract people from the competition.”
According to Kinter, winners of the competition receive T-shirts with bad puns, and as second-place winners last year, Blair participants earned stickers that depicted the great auk as an alien with a message that read, "I was abd-auk-ucted by a KMO.”
Bad puns and all, Kovac maintains that KMO is a great experience. "We definitely have a great time doing it,” he says enthusiastically. Team members are already looking forward to the next spring competition on Apr. 20, 2005 and having the chance to whisk away Thomas Jefferson High School's first-place rank. "I think we have a really good chance of beating TJ,” Kinter decides.
In the meantime, competitors have the third-place award to tide them over. And, as Kovac passionately exclaims, "Blair rules. We're number three.”
Below are the 26 students who participated in the fall 2004 KMO competition:
Katherine Zhang. Katherine Zhang likes French baguettes, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, bookmarks, fresh boxes of rosin, Brad Meltzer novels, and of course, "JAG." In her free time, Katherine enjoys knitting, playing the violin, and reading - especially legal thrillers and books about people in faraway places and long-ago times. … More »