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Grinnell Quiz Bowl combines fun with competitive academic trivia

Grinnell Quiz Bowl combines fun with competitive academic trivia. Photo by Alexandra Fontana.

By Shreyas Karki

For ten points, name the four-a-side trivia competition team at Grinnell, famous for buzzing in answers, that “limit-does-not-exist” scene in Mean Girls, and academic fun. Buzz! 

If you guessed Quiz Bowl, that’s ten points to you. Grinnell’s current Quiz Bowl team is a relatively recent development, established after nearly a decade of hiatus, but it’s a lively, passionate team focused on trivia-for-fun.

“When I got here, there wasn’t a team,” said Christina Fu ’20, the group’s founder. “It’s not the first time Grinnell has had one, but it’s the first time they’ve competed in a while.”

A Quiz Bowl match involves two teams going head-to-head over trivia on topics from all areas of knowledge: from Hamlet to soccer rivalries like El Clásico; from CRISPR gene editing to George Washington’s famous (and not famous) battles. 

The defining feature of Quiz Bowl is a buzzer system that allows players to interrupt the moderator, who gives progressively less obscure descriptions of the answer—to “buzz in” for points. It’s the ultimate test of individual knowledge, team-work, confidence, and speed. 

Prior to this year, Grinnell College Quiz Bowl has competed in competitions in Iowa City, Chicago, Minneapolis, and other parts of the United States. However, the recent cuts to transportation funding by the Student Government Association have made competing more difficult.

“This year, gas money and competition fees are not covered,” Christina said. “It’s not as easy as it was before. Students have to pay out of pocket, and that’s not always sustainable … also, I would prefer that students didn’t think they have to contribute financially to participate in Quiz Bowl.”

The team holds weekly practices, with a focus on both competition and having fun. The only difference between this year and the last is that the sport has become more intramural due to attending fewer competitions. 

The team has pooled resources to enable continued participation in competitions, and first-year engagement has fostered a passionate community that will keep Quiz Bowl going at Grinnell even as pioneering upperclassmen like Fu graduate. 

Isaiah Gutman ’23, Nick Parker ’23, Elias Lawler ’23, Henry Sanders ’23 and Tom Grindle ’23 are a few of the new recruits, some of whom were interested in Grinnell’s Quiz Bowl team even as prospective students.

“I like Quiz Bowl at Grinnell specifically because it’s pretty laid-back,” Grindle said. “It’s not an activity that’s stressful or high-stakes, but it’s still interesting and relaxing.”

Quiz Bowl itself is a low-commitment, low-stakes, competitive, and engaging sport, even for students that are unfamiliar with it. 

Although some Quiz Bowl teams have high-school veterans, many also are comprised entirely of new players. Grinnell’s team makes it a point to provide an inclusive experience for fresh recruits through a substitution system and a focus on simply having fun.

“The perfect team would be six or seven people huddled in a basement with flashcards,” Cristina said, grinning. “But we don’t have enough time for that. However, because Grinnell delves so deeply into topics, that lends to people retaining things as they go on through college. Honestly, it’s something anyone can pick up.”

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