Science Bowl Saga: The End
In anticipation of their upcoming Department of Energy National Science Bowl competition from April 28 – May 2, I must publish the long overdue second part of their rise to the ranks of the greats (embark on The Beginning below).
With sated appetites and authentic French truffles to spare (and if you’re Derek, freebie pizza squares sealed away for later), the Albany entourage sets off for championships. No Albany supporters (I didn’t bother the A-team for fear of disturbing their ATP synthesis) can explain to me how many rounds there are from here or why these rounds are double-elimination if only one team out of four will be eliminated. After all, regional Science Bowl places teams first through third.
After perusing the (thus far unknown to me) agenda, the organization of the “double-elimination” rounds is clear.
Round 6: Red 1 and Blue 2 face off; Blue 1 and Red 2 face off
Round 7: Winners of Round 6 face off; Losers of Round 6 face off
Round 8: Teams with one loss each face off; Undefeated team has a bye
Round 9: Winner of Round 8 and the undefeated team face off
(Round 10 is only necessary if the undefeated team loses in Round 9)
Albany is Blue 1, the team with the best record in the blue division. Lynbrook is Blue 2, Acalanes is Red 1, and Campolindo is Red 2. We will have to crush Lynbrook twice in the next few hours to secure our title. I don’t dream that Albany would give Lynbrook a single extra second of their precious time, but it is possible that we will have three matches against them.
Round 6 for Albany and Campolindo is situated in a conference room where the bowlers should actually be able to breathe –if it weren’t for the steadily multiplying number of groupies and spectator teams (ones that were eliminated in the morning rounds). There is approximately a seven-degree (Kelvin) difference between this room and the foyer outside. Now would be a great time to say the competition really heated up, but it didn’t.
Campolindo tries to play it cool and keep their cool (because all paths lead to defeat). The pure pursuit of reflexive erudition is obstructed mainly by the bull-headed science judge, who attempts to be judge, moderator, and executioner.
Albany calls “Stop the clock!” when Campolindo confers on a toss-up question, earning four points for a violation of the rules. Albany’s A-team definitely has the record for the most “stop the clock” call-outs because they are the team most familiar with infringements of science bowl etiquette. On the next question, the pushover reading the questions starts to recognize Derek for an interruption right when the science judge calls a blurt. “Discussion” ensues over procedural conventions, and I use the word “discussion” VERY loosely.
The befuddled scorekeeper can’t seem to manage reading and arithmetic simultaneously, and several corrections are yelled at the scorekeeper for adding the wrong number of points to the wrong team on the wrong questions. Eventually, four points are awarded to Campolindo on the science judge’s call (after all, he is indubitably a divine entity in his own mind). At the half, Albany is barely keeping a lead at 28-22. After the halftime huddle, Albany picks up momentum (aka mass times velocity). Timothy wows the crowd with his light speed guessing game. Carlock’s punch line? “We’re goin’ to Las Vegas!” The team clinches their anticipated victory 106-64.
Meanwhile, Lynbrook has mashed Acalanes to earn themselves the place, the privilege, the punishment of facing Albany in the next round. My biased commentary must rise to the occasion as our Science Bowl team has.
Round 7 takes place in the same room as Round 6. Now it is doubly appropriate to say the competition is heating up: more people have managed to spread their increasing body heat around and Albany is ready to pounce on Lynbrook. The Science Bowlers keep their expressions carefully focused. In my mind I already see the headline forming: Cougars Butcher Vikings in Battle for Best Buzzer. Unfortunately a 36-36 halftime score proves only a battle, not a butchering. Lynbrook uses their alternate, whose name I later learn is Jennifer, perhaps hoping to get a particular subject expertise advantage over Albany. Lynbrook’s hope, which springs eternal in the metaphysical Viking breast, is neatly crushed yet again 90-54. Albany and Lynbrook each scored much lower than their second round match. The pressure must be on, or my imagination is running away with me and the questions are increasing in difficulty.
Albany has earned itself a bye for the next round. We blunder outside to fan ourselves with –wait, we have nothing to fan ourselves with and must idly enjoy the breeze on the Berkeley hills. Carlock galvanizes the Albany entourage to action, encouraging us to apply invisible pressure to the Lynbrook team. Remember Albany, we have to crush them again to win! With this new resolve in mind, we swagger to the orientation auditorium, where the crowned victor will emerge from the final matches.
There is no herald for our arrival, no stir in the seated spectators, because the clock is still running for Round 7 Campolindo vs. Acalanes. Not that the time really matters. Acalanes is playing with Campolindo although their palms have to break a sweat to do it. Acalanes makes the Camplindo team look like they belong in elementary school. Analytically, this is because the faster, more experienced team on buzzers nabs easy toss-ups and corresponding bonuses even if their knowledge is comparatively even with that of the other team. When it comes to the tough stuff, everybody is stumped and neither team gets points.
Round 8 commences immediately after Lynbrook takes the chairs of the departing Campolindo team. Somehow the gravity of these championship matches now calls for extended introductions of the moderator, science judge, and timer, and not one, but two scorekeepers, one next to the stage and the other in the center of the seating area. If Acalanes made Campolindo look like primary school children, Lynbrook made Acalanes look like preschoolers. It is incredible to me how fast the tables can turn and how stupid one team can make another look. The score at the half was 60-28 Lynbrook. Both teams substitute their alternates at the half. Although we may wish things to turn out differently, Lynbrook takes the match 162-36.
The final round is upon us. Lynbrook takes to the sunlight and fresh air for one last pep talk. Several people remark on the intensity of the competition at this time. It’s the final thrill that runs through the crowd like butterflies in the stomach. The Albany team has been sitting (perhaps) obnoxiously close to the stage setup. We are ready.
Round 9: only sixteen minutes of madness, five Science Bowlers, and a three-inch-thick collection of questions stand between Albany and victory. The quiet, tightly controlled precision with which the Albany team carries out its attacks is almost anticlimactic. Lynbrook has already been defeated twice in the last five hours. Everyone is tired, worn, and sleepy. I would feel a little complacent with my imminent loss too. The halftime score is 54-36. Albany has a lead, but Lynbrook is only a toss-up and bonus question behind.
Lynbrook’s Jennifer goes in at the half while Albany sticks with its top team. In the next six minutes Albany’s points snowball to 108 points while Lynbrook has made no gains. I’m beginning to think there should be a formula for getting skunked in Science Bowl matches based on how much time is left (two minutes) and the point lead (72). A scoring mismatch between the two scorekeepers is quickly amended. It turns out putting Jennifer in was a good idea on Lynbrook’s part; she buzzes in on a biology toss-up that ultimately garners 18 points, some of the last they will score. The auditorium holds its breath for the last minute. The clock buzzes, the bowlers rise, the score stands: 112-58.
I don’t remember much of what happened next. I am caught up in the delirium of victory that suddenly overtakes me, and I know I’m not alone. Results are officially announced. Third: Acalanes; Second: Lynbrook; Champions: Albany. Corwin grasps a golden trophy as the team proudly collects their 2011 Department of Energy Regional Science Bowl banner. How do they look more radiant at the end of this grueling day than when they started? They’ve done it. They’ve qualified for nationals and taken back their title as the region’s top bowlers. I may not see it, but I know coach Carlock is in great demand as a conversation partner. There is a grand commotion as all the placing teams clatter to the stage for a group picture. Handshakes and praise (hugs aren’t too common here) go around before the team can make it out of Building 50 alive.
Here our paths part. Albany’s Science Bowl team will eventually go on to fame and glory at the DOE National Science Bowl in Washington D.C. I, their faithful, soon-to-be-long-distance cheerleader, will keep this tiny glimpse into their incredible pursuits.
But at this very moment, there is only one question of any importance: Is 4 p.m. too early for a whopping celebration party at Barney’s?
Science Bowl Saga: The Beginning
It does not suffice to say that you should bow down in awe of the physical and mental prowess needed to advance to the Department of Energy National Science Bowl.
Therefore, I will launch into an eyewitness account of following the greats to victory (If you want a long story short, click here).
I arrive at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory just in time for the tail end of carbohydrate-consumption on the government’s dollar: 8:45 a.m. The morning feed-fest takes place in Building 54, a.k.a. the Cafeteria. I know I have stumbled upon the right place when I hear someone in authority calling urgently for “Peggy!”
Albany’s A-team, senior Corwin Shiu (team captain), senior Timothy Sinclair, senior Derek Wu, junior Juneyoung Jeong, and sophomore James Ren (alternate), will be going in for the kill today. The B-team, notable members of Albany’s next generation of bowlers, and a few parents are also present for the day’s competition. The dozen of us will be Albany’s veritable army of supporters for the long haul ahead.
Following some invisible agenda, I trail the experienced Science Bowlers to Building 50, where the majority of competition will take place. Teams sit together in the small auditorium as the competition organizers prepare an orientation PowerPoint. Meanwhile, I conduct a more careful survey of the enemy. There are exactly twelve teams, and the majority of bowlers in the room appear to be Asian males. Caucasian males are the next most common subgroup of bowlers, while girls in general are a scarce commodity. There is one team from Davis that look like they belong at a junior varsity athletic competition: all freshmen girls with excess mascara and white ribbons tied over their ponytails. Oddly, over half of the Science Bowl coaches are women, which definitely makes a statement for women in education. To their credit, the Albany team is by far the most well-groomed team (needless to say, the most attractive as well) and far too cool to wear matching shirts.
The LBNL speaker is surprisingly brisk, funny, and efficient. She finishes introducing the wonders of the national laboratory in about four minutes and moves on to tournament organization. Each team captain is asked to come down to the floor. Amid peer applause and cheers, the leader of each party takes his or her place in a line facing the audience. I wonder if there was any Science Bowl drama over team captainship.
The first half (Rounds 1-5) of competition will be played out in two divisions, Red and Blue. Team captains will draw from a box one of twelve IDENTICAL tags, each printed with a different school’s name, to determine who will be Red 1-6 and Blue 1-6. The results of the draw are:
Red 1: Purple Lotus
Red 2: Campolindo
Red 3: Lincoln
Red 4: Hercules
Red 5: Acalanes
Red 6: Harper
Blue 1: Las Lomas
Blue 2: Emerson
Blue 3: Stevenson
Blue 4: Albany
Blue 5: Alameda
Blue 6: Lynbrook
I find it mildly hilarious and ironic that all the team captains could have calculated the probability of their own selections and filled in the slots algorithmically, but they have to draw names in order to ensure fairness.
Each team in the division will play every other team in the division, round-robin style. The two teams with the best records in each division will advance to the double-elimination, afternoon championship rounds.
From an Albany Science Bowler’s perspective, Lynbrook High School is the defending champion to watch, but Lynbrook and Albany are the obvious choices to advance from the blue division. Acalanes and Campolindo will probably advance from the red division. We can worry about it after lunch.
Round 1 for Albany takes place in a rather cramped meeting room that barely contains Albany’s army of supporters. Hopefully this display helps to intimidate the private boarding school bowlers from Stevenson School in Pebble Beach. Thankfully for inexperienced spectators like me, the reading of the rules is required during the first round of the day. However, this is merely a formality since all the key competitors are overly familiar with procedural etiquette and anyone new to the bowl can’t catch anything anyway from a one-minute recitation. I watch and learn instead.
The moderator, in this case a physicist at LBNL named John Staples, runs the show by reading the questions. A bit unconventionally (so I’m told), this competition also uses “Science Judges,” essentially a moderator who recognizes members of the teams to speak. The two roles are usually performed by one moderator. A timer sets, stops, and runs the clock (they have hand-wound analog clocks to display the time, but they also use a stopwatch). A scorer makes rows of neat numbers on a large sheet of white paper. Team scores are separated down the middle of the paper and the scorer makes a new row for each question.
The teams take seats facing each other, four-on-four. Each competitor has a name card (A1, A2 Captain, A3, A4, B1, etc.) and buzzer before him (there happen to be no girls competing in this match). Going in a circle, each competitor buzzes in to test his buzzer and introduces himself. The coaches take seats next to each other and introduce themselves on friendly terms to begin the match. Of course, Science Bowl advisor/coach Peggy Carlock is on great terms with everyone.
The rhythm of the questioning goes toss-up question for four points, bonus question (to the team that answers the toss-up) for ten points, toss-up, bonus, toss-up, bonus, until eight minutes are up. There is a two-minute halftime break. The bowlers then finish up with another eight minutes of science and math madness.
Questions fall into one of six subject categories: Biology, Chemistry, Earth-Space Science, Energy, Math, or Physics (I am later told that these subjects were modified and previous competitions had Astronomy and General Science). Questions can be multiple choice or short answer. The moderator begins each question by listing the subject and type, for example, “Physics, short answer.” Multiple choice answers can only be answered correctly by listing one of the letters W, X, Y, or Z, or the VERBATIM answer. However, for short answer a great deal is up to the moderator’s discretion. A bowler can buzz in while the moderator is asking the question. This is an “interruption.” A bowler gives the other team four points if he gets the answer wrong on an interruption, and the moderator repeats the question for the other team to try and answer. No points are lost if the moderator has finished reading the question in its entirety. No one may speak before being recognized by the Science Judge. If a bowler violates this rule, it is a “blurt.” Blurts give the opposing team four points. Whoever nabs the toss-up question, on interruption or not, gets the bonus question. There is no point in interrupting a bonus question reading because it is only read for one team. The team may confer on bonus questions (but not on toss-ups). The team has twenty seconds to produce an answer for a bonus question and the answer may only be given verbally from the team captain.
About half of the answers would be attainable for a team of high school seniors if they had ten minutes to think about it. The discipline of Science Bowl training and extensive study has cut that time down to two seconds for Corwin, Timothy, Derek, and Juneyoung. They furiously scribble relevant details on notepaper for each question, but their brains do the vast majority of heavy-lifting.
I am stupefied as I watch Timothy buzz in on multiple-choice questions when only two answer options have been read. It is a combination of guesswork skill, deduction, and instinct. Timothy’s calculation speed surpasses that of my calculator any day.
These questions are clearly an insult to Corwin’s intelligence. As team captain he makes the final call on bonus question answers. His water bottle is always within easy reach. I don’t know how he holds up so well under high pressure.
Juneyoung has a difficult job as the youngest member of the active team. I’ve been told that he’s our earth/space expert and I can see that he holds his own on the math problems.
Derek. What else can I say?
“Earth/Space short answer: What is a ro-bo-naut?” A pause descends on the room as all assembled ponder this foreign arrangement of syllables. All except Derek. Bzzzt.
“A robotic astronaut.” SWAG.
Albany handily wins 170-36, and Corwin and the other team captain sign off on the official score sheet. I get the feeling that the team is used to even more efficiently whooping ass.
Round 2 features another moderator who is also a physicist who is also named John. The timer is female and the scorekeeper and science judge are male, just like Round 1. We are in a nearly identical room directly beneath the previous room. It is a strange kind of mirror imagery and only the opposing team breaks the spell. Lynbrook. I do not want to see unattractive, matching, bright red shirts with periodic tables of Science Bowl team member initials on the backs at nine in the morning. But hey, this is a Science Bowler’s life.
Albany starts a bit slow, letting Lynbrook temporarily take the lead in the first half. From my standpoint, Chemistry and Physics appear to be Albany’s strong points. Our team is also quick on Math questions. Biology seems to be a bit more questionable. Earth/Space science seems to challenge all the teams a bit, probably because no one takes that class in high school. I suppose the only reason Energy is even a category is because the Department of Energy runs the competition.
Both teams are aggressive, with an interruption on almost every single question. Albany is better at informed guessing and faster at calculation and deduction, as evidenced by the final score of 124-98. We know we will have to face them again.
Lynbrook says to themselves: It’s all right guys! If we had just done this and that, we would’ve won. It’s okay. Albany will destroy them in the rematch anyway (even the moderator expects so, voicing his high standards for Albany matches after their win).
Which brings me to an interesting observation: a lot of the teams here remind themselves to be positive as a pick-me-up after each round. The character of Science Bowl teams tends to be more on the self-effacing side, I conclude.
Round 3 against Emerson is an easy ride after Lynbrook. James Ren takes half a round in the hot seat to give Juneyoung a break. We start slow again, letting the opposing team (of junior high students!) take the lead for a bit. Albany brings Juneyoung in again at the half to clinch the victory. Final score: 142-78.
Emerson congratulates themselves for making a bit of a comeback in the second half.
I have no idea of the magnitude of Albany’s renown in the Science Bowl world, but opposing teams do slump a bit in their chairs, waiting for an imminent defeat at the buzzers of our champions.
Round 4 does not start smoothly, with Las Lomas snagging the first few points of the round. Albany barely finishes the half in the lead 30-20. Carlock pulls the bowlers outside for a team huddle. Whatever she said to them worked. Albany comes back aggressive and it is obvious they have more experience on the buzzers than their opponents.
At this point I am completely losing focus and I have no idea what bodily chemical compounds and reactions are keeping the bowlers on top of their game. A Las Lomas supporter is completely knocked out next to me. At least I am still alert enough to laugh inside my head at people who jump when the buzzers go off unexpectedly. The comic relief of the round? “That’s not real science. String Theory!” exclaims Corwin to score ten bonus question points.
Albany finishes 144-34. As the team prepares to move to a separate building for their next round, the moderator can be heard lamenting, “I remember when the bonuses were actually hard.” For the love of evolutionary theory! What is math and science in this world coming to?
Round 5 will be the last of the round robin matches. Corwin knows his team needs to push the pace: “The past three we’ve been like ‘well… we’re gonna win anyways.’” He pantomimes dangling candy before a baby (or it appears so to me). Being aggressive, fast, and smart proves to be an uphill battle this round. Albany finishes the half behind 58-46. Alameda doesn’t look too concerned –they are resigned to an inevitable loss against the better team even though they are winning.
The scorekeeper calls me out for taking notes, but I furtively persist in my non-science and math related observations. Albany fulfills expectations by taking the round 124-80.
On the slog back to fresh air, sunlight, and grub, the team entourage takes a look at the standings. Albany (obviously) has the only perfect record in its division. Lynbrook, as anticipated, has only its loss to Albany to mar its record. Acalanes has the top record from the red division, with Campolindo in second. Albany’s non-active bowlers have been following our competitors’ matches. Information is quickly exchanged about the interesting matches they’ve heard about and seen today.
We slog back to Building 54 for lunch. Four squares of pizza, choice of Sprite, Coke, or bottled water, leftover bagels, and cookies are more than enough to satisfy everyone. The Albany A-team packed their lunches, a healthier choice than consuming high-sodium and high-fat food. The A-team huddles a distance away from their followers, and I am loathe to disturb their esoteric gathering.
At this point I am also slightly delirious and desperately trying to get off this hillside and back to civilization. But I can’t. Who will cover this epic rise to stardom if I’m not here? I must accept that I am the sole chronicler of this historic journey just as all of Albany’s opponents accept defeat.
Stay tuned for the next (and last) installment of the A-team’s road to glory…