If you can't name the two countries involved in The XYZ Affair, you might not be ready for Knowledge Bowl. Throughout the school year, hundreds of kids across Minnesota, and thousands more across the country, put their learning on the line at Knowledge Bowl meets. Kids from seventh grade to 12th grade compete, facing questions that range from history and geography to math and poetry.
IT'S WARM AND STUFFY in this big, flourescent-lit meeting room. There are no spectators, no cheerleaders, just half-a-dozen tables, crowded with high school kids, heads together and whispering. It's the first round of this Knowledge Bowl meet - the written round.
Each team has five kids. For about an hour, in rooms up and down the hall, the team members sweat their way through the same list of 45 questions, and write down their answers.
Next comes the oral part of the competition. Three teams gather in each room and wait for an official reader, who'll act as quizmaster. The questions will range widely.
To get ready for matches, some teams meet during lunch to wrestle with questions from past Knowledge Bowls, and to practice "beeping in."
Tower-Soudan 10th-grader, Sean Craggens, says the first team to beep gets to answer the question.
"It's like a green strip. It's pressure-sensitive. So when you touch it it beeps into a computer, it lets you know who answers. It's kind of like Jeopardy, , you hit the button," Craggens says.
Knowledge Bowl is one of dozens of academic competitions, from the spelling bee, to the inventors' congress. The kids who do Knowledge Bowl tend to be involved in at least some of those other events. They tend to be involved in lots of school activities.
Tenth-grader Audrey Geiger from Cloquet is a fourth-year Knowledge Bowler. She and several teammates wear purple feather boas, props they got while running on Cloquet's cross-country team. She says Knowledge Bowl kids might be brains, or jocks, or preps or anybody. She says Knowledge Bowl is for fun, not for social status.
"There aren't people that come with the crowds and stuff like they do for football," she says. "They don't say over the intercom, 'Good luck to the Knowledge Bowl team,' or anything like that. It's of one of the lower-on-the-food-chain sort of things."
Knowledge Bowl competitions continue across Minnesota through the school year. The Junior High championship is decided in January, the Senior High championship in May.
By the way, the two countries involved in the XYZ Affair were the United States and France.