SWHS teams head to Knowledge Bowl regional match

Knowledge Bowl veteran Claire Hofius soaks up information during a recent class at South Whidbey High School in preparation for the upcoming competition. - Jesse Portillo photo
Knowledge Bowl veteran Claire Hofius soaks up information during a recent class at South Whidbey High School in preparation for the upcoming competition.
— image credit: Jesse Portillo photo

LANGLEY — Quick. Name the largest country in the world that is an absolute monarchy.

It’s Saudi Arabia.

Now, answer the next question in 15 seconds. Slicing a cube in half increases the total surface area by what percentage?

Or, complete this statement with a one-syllable adverb so that it illustrates a double litotes: I couldn’t disagree...

The answer is less.

And for an English expert, that was easy. For the senior leaders of the Knowledge Bowl teams at South Whidbey High School, it was far from simple.

“I don’t know what a litotes is,” said senior Will Mellish.

(Litotes are a form of understatement, typically using a double negative).

Even so, they know plenty. The wealth of information of more than 20 students at SWHS has qualified three teams for the regional Knowledge Bowl tournament.

Those three squads — the Arrgyle Pirates, e(π)c (read like epic) and Team A — will have 18 South Whidbey students pitting wits and strategy against dozens of teams from schools across Island, Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties.

“I was confident two teams would make it to regionals and real pleased the third team did,” said Knowledge Bowl advisor Greg Ballog, a science teacher at SWHS.

That included one head-to-head against their teammates during the last tournament at Anacortes High School. Two South Whidbey teams rotated into the same room to square off in a game of intellect that tests their knowledge of grammar, mathematics, science, literature, geography, current events and history.

The top half of teams in the small school division advanced to the regional playoffs. South Whidbey accounted for one-third of the teams to qualify.

The well-trivia’d Mellish and Claire Hofius are Knowledge Bowl veterans. Both have been part of the program since their freshman year, and know the tactics that can mean the difference between state and going home.

“We usually stay in the top third,” Mellish said. “You kind of develop healthy rivalries.”

They said knowing their opponents is important, because then they know which room to avoid. Being in the same room as the Anacortes team Cruciverbalism, for example, is dangerous because they may sweep all of the questions too fast to buzz in, and they’ll be correct.

Another part of South Whidbey’s plan is to hover around the second- or third-best group. From there, the teams can try to sweep the questions and vault into the final room to qualify for the next match.

“The competition is really stiff and really tough,” Mellish said.

“We use it as a springboard to the top room.”

Another plan is to alternately be patient and quick on the buzzer bar. With literary questions that begin, “This famous American author,” Hofius said it’s best to buzz in with, “Mark Twain,” before the question is finished.

That’s a technique their teacher-advisor has coached.

“Don’t think, just speak,” Ballog laughed.

Buzzer-happy fingers are less than ideal with math problems. Answer too quickly, and there’s a risk of missing part of the equation.

“In math, it’s tough to buzz in early,” Mellish said.

South Whidbey’s Knowledge Bowl teams have met every Tuesday since October. They don’t study, instead they rely on information they’ve already learned in class. They also practice their speed in answering questions and look at questions from previous tournaments.

Yet for all Ballog’s coaching and support, the two seniors admitted science may not be their strongest subject.

“Whenever we miss an AP Bio question we know he just cringes,” Hofius said.

South Whidbey’s top team, the Arrgyle Pirates, placed second among small school teams. Qualifying for the regional competition is based on combining the top two scores from the previous tournaments.

Ballog, a longtime teacher at South Whidbey, knows how to motivate his trivia experts. It’s easier to lead a horse with a carrot than a spur, likewise he encourages students to perform well with the promise of food if they qualify for the state tournament.

“I’m looking forward to Mr. Ballog buying us dinner,” Hofius said.

The regional tournament at Blaine High School is Monday, Feb. 6.

Feeling brainy? Take the quiz

Here’s a sample of questions South Whidbey’s Knowledge Bowl teams may face next week (see answers below):

1. What is the slope of the line produced by the equation, C = (5/9)F + 160/9?

2. What unit of weight is equal to about 4.45 newtons?

3. Three of the five entrances to Yellowstone National Park are through what state?

4. The woman who enchanted Merlin, raised Lancelot and gave Excalibur to Arthur is generally known as what lady?

5. First commercially available in 2009, what is the Tata Nano?

6. The Calabria, Salento and Gargano peninsulas are parts of what larger peninsula?

7. In 1916, the first painting by what American artist appeared on the cover of the “Saturday Evening Post”?

8. What nautical route connecting with Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean opened in 1959?

9. The crew of the HMS Bounty mutinied shortly after leaving this Polynesian island in 1789?

10. What kind of teeth are wisdom teeth?

ANSWERS: 1, 5/9; 2, Pound; 3, Montana; 4, Lady of the Lake; 5, Car; 6, Italian (Apennine) Peninsula; 7, Norman Rockwell; 8, St. Lawrence Seaway; 9, Tahiti; 10, Molars.

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