Our first qualifiers

Done before others get started.


A short update today.

Cameron Heights CI is the first (to my knowledge) qualifier for Ontario provincials. They represent the Waterloo region and earned their first-ever provincials berth last year. They reached the playoffs last year, and will try to do so again. However, I don’t have any results regarding them so far, and it could be a tough road with the good performances from Ontario teams we have already seen this year.

February is usually a bit early for regions to wrap up, so most results won’t appear until the late March or early April window.

History Bowl also has its first national qualifiers out of Vancouver and Ottawa, but I don’t have results for those events yet. IHBB Canadian nationals are held the first weekend of May.

Finally, U of T will hold a quizbowl tournament later today with the questions used at Carleton in December.

Waiting to resume

January blahs

Thanks to many schools having exams, quiz activity is taking a backseat for now. Events should resume in February with the new semester. Some schools haven’t started up their team yet for the year, while others are in the middle of waiting for two months or more.

Most regional leagues will start up next month, though some have done preliminary events in the fall. If any leagues finish up and want to show their completed results, feel free to send them here for the database.

Lisgar’s tournament will be held February 9. I have touted this tournament in the past as a Nationals preview, and all the champions since 2015 have gone through this event. The tournament seems pretty close to full (for their resources), but I will be there with the updates.

For all the teams getting ready for their upcoming schedule, keep up the practice and preparation! The main season awaits.

Famous Players

High Q doesn’t count.

On this blog, I normally don’t publish names of players for consent reasons. Today, I make an exception.

“Reach for the Top” was a very widespread activity in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, and it should come as no surprise that some famous Canadians have appeared on the show. During this holiday lull, I thought I’d take a trip into the past and bring up some alumni of the program.

Probably the most high-profile former player is Stephen Harper. Harper was prime minister from 2006-15, and while often associated today with Alberta, grew up in Toronto. In the 1977-78 season, Richview (led by Harper) had their first Etobicoke-region match against Vincent Massey. Harper racked up most of his teams points, but lost that match and was eliminated from the season. That Richview team may have had some consolation knowing that they only took one loss that year, and it was to the eventual national champions. A lengthy recounting of that game was published in the Sun chain of papers in 2011 (“The whiz kid who beat Harper”), though that article has now been relegated to archives.

Another Right Honourable quizzer is Kim Campbell. Campbell was a cabinet minister in the Mulroney government before taking a brief term as prime minister in 1993, becoming Canada’s first female head of government. Campbell played for the Prince of Wales HS team in 1964, when Reach for the Top was a localized show before a national championship was formalized. Clips of Campbell along with a interview about her time on Reach for the Top appeared on a 50th anniversary W5 segment for CTV.

Keeping with political leaders, Bernard Lord was another former player. Bernard Lord was premier of New Brunswick from 1999-2006, and played in Moncton in the early 1980s. I don’t know which school he played for, but he was not on the 1984 (his senior year) Moncton HS team that finished second nationally.

A current provincial party leader, Andrew Weaver, also played in high school. Weaver is the leader of the BC Green Party, whose small caucus holds the balance of power in the nearly equally divided BC legislature. Weaver played for Oak Bay HS until his graduation in 1979; while Oak Bay had an impressive nationals attendance record in the first decade of Reach, the school does not appear to have represented BC at Nationals during Weaver’s time.

Two major financial figures during the Harper era were Jim Flaherty and Mark Carney. Flaherty was the finance minister for most of Harper’s term, while Carney was the governor of the Bank of Canada and later was appointed governor of the Bank of England. Neither Flaherty (at Loyola in Montreal in the late 60s) nor Carney (at St. Francis Xavier in Edmonton in the early 80s) made significant progress on televised Reach.

Leaving politics, an alumnus that has tooted his own horn about his Reach for the Top exploits is Tom Harrington. Harrington has hosted a variety of sports and news programs on CBC. In 1974, his Gonzaga team pulled off an upset in front of a home crowd and won the Reach national title, giving Newfoundland their first (and so far only) title and making Harrington the most famous champion. I covered the Gonzaga team in a post earlier this year.

Also with CBC is Shelagh Rogers. Rogers has hosted several shows on TVO and CBC Radio for nearly four decades, and is an officer of the Order of Canada. She played for Lisgar CI in the early 1970s. 1970s Lisgar, however, was not of the caliber of the modern team, and Rogers only competed up to the regional level.

Finally, another Order of Canada recipient is Mike Laziridis. Laziridis founded Research in Motion and developed the Blackberry. He didn’t make much playing progress in high school, but has a well-published anecdote about building a buzzer system and selling enough prototypes to Windsor teams to pay for his later tuition to the University of Waterloo.

There are almost certainly other famous Reach alumni. However, for some, Reach participation was not enough to merit inclusion in a biography, especially if they only had a “one and done” experience. I’m also aware that there are several other famous people that participated in Reach for the Top as coaches or hosts (pretty much every CBC anchor from the 60s to 80s read a local match at some point). If you know of other famous players, feel free to comment below.

As for coverage of current players, I will be on break until holidays and high school exams wrap up. Regional tournaments usually start up in February, and Lisgar CI will hold an independent event that month as well.

Practice Questions

Or questionable practices

Many clubs are starting up their meetings this time of year. While early meetings will sort out fees, a tournament schedule, and other administrative tasks, the majority of the time will be spent practicing on questions.

Clubs can have different attitudes toward practice questions. Some clubs meet quite infrequently and get enough playtime through the welcome package provided by SchoolReach. Some clubs limit buzzer time in favour of studying or writing material. Many, however, quickly burn through the supplied questions in a few practices.

Firstly, it is worth considering not using the introductory package (of roughly 12 packs) during practice. When I was in high school, we saved them for arranged matches between other local clubs; we’d taxi over for an afternoon against another school and play 3 or 4 of the packs. I’m sure other schools do this as well, and if you don’t, you may want to find a fellow school that would also agree to not use the introductory package intramurally in exchange for mini-tournaments.

Once the welcome package is exhausted, most teams resort to old SchoolReach questions. Unfortunately, this method works because of a history of repeated questions and topics. The potential repetition also favours established teams with a large archive and hinders any new teams trying to move up the ranks. A diet of old questions with careful attention to “pet” topics is probably good enough to get past regionals.

Even a decent SchoolReach archive can be depleted, especially for players in their fourth year of practices. Digging up questions more than a decade old tends not to be very useful, both because of the lost relevancy of current event topics and because writing trends change over time. Most good teams know about this, but for new practice material, go to the quizbowl packet archive. Even if you can’t figure out the quizbowl format, you can get away with reading all the question types on the buzzer. The archive covers the spectrum from middle school novice sets to university national championships, so take the time to find something right for your level. A high school team starting up for the year is recommended to try the SCOP sets or the Ladue sets. Like with old Reach questions, be careful about the relevancy of questions before 2008 or so. With over 400 tournaments each containing roughly 10 packs, the quizbowl archive provides more than enough material for a high school team.

Of course, there is also the option to create your own material. Some clubs see value in writing questions as a way to practice: not only does it require you to look up information, but you must also find out what information about a topic is important for clues and how relevant that topic is for a question. A question that simply asks “who was born on [date]?” is useless to a player; the writer must find facts that will give a player a reasonable opportunity to buzz. Practice writing doesn’t need to actually end up played at the buzzer, though a few schools put that effort to use as independent tournaments, especially south of the border.

Hopefully I have provided some options for getting your practice material started up for the year. Please don’t ask me about old SchoolReach questions, because I don’t have any and they are not supposed to be distributed.

Finally, an early reminder that the UTS tournament is happening on the weekend of October 27. I intend to go for staffing and reporting updates, and I hope to see many teams there. Get practicing!

Assigned Questions

Time to put you on the spot

I’d like to take a brief look at assigned questions in SchoolReach. This will be my second review of a specialized question, following my post on shootouts.

Assigned questions are a set of eight questions directed individually to each player in the match. Assigned questions began in Top of the Form and were brought over to Reach for the Top upon its establishment (team scrambles and who-am-I questions are the other specialized formats imported from the UK show). Assigned questions have had some variation over the years in how they played – they always begin with a question directed to one player for full value of points, but incorrect responses could lead to the question being dead, an option for a corresponding player on the opposing team to reply for full or half value, or rarely an option to open the question to buzzing. In modern SchoolReach, assigned questions are posed individually in seating order with an opportunity for the facing opponent player to pick up on incorrect answers, with all correct responses being worth 10 points.

Assigned questions represent a little less than 10% of gameplay. They are found in most packs, and usually occur in round 1. Assigned questions are not often the topic of post-game banter and highlights, even though it is the question format with the most points available to a team. I imagine it gets overlooked because each player only needs to listen for two questions, it’s hard to control play for a full 80 points, and round 1 can get overshadowed by impactful buzzes late in the game. Assigned questions are still worth looking at – certainly more than shootouts…

As a person that dabbled in writing a variety of assigned questions, I can say that they are potentially the laziest to write, or the most difficult. There are sequences out there that clearly required no effort to write, for example, picking eight world capitals or eight song titles and providing an introduction of “given a thing, name the thing it is connected to”. Unfortunately, those sequences give very little consideration to equality for each player; in a set of eight with Norse gods as answers, one player will be lucky enough on a default guess of “Thor” (not to mention the potential imbalance of a whole team getting easier parts than the other side). Another issue is that assigned questions are usually in a single subject (history, sports, literature, etc). Modern top teams are not built to have every player dipping their toes in each subject, but rather with players specializing in a few subjects. If a sequence has harder questions, it could all go dead except for the single player on each team that knows the topic (art questions can be particularly prone to this). Getting equality and accessibility in a single subject is actually a challenge to pull off, and was an exercise in frustration for me when I followed my distribution grid and saw that it was time for an assigned question on sports or social science!

Good assigned questions will be a hurdle as overall question quality improves in SchoolReach. I found them to be the most draining type to write, especially compared to a who-am-I or scramble that former quizbowl writers would find comfortable. It may be time to consider alternate ways to use an assigned format. The shootout is one, but perhaps there is room to incorporate assigned parts into relays or lists. For example, have a relay on a subject that starts with easy answers that the weak players in the subject can buzz on (and then step aside), leaving the remaining hard answers for the specialists. Or take a cue from Top of the Form: if you don’t earn your assigned part, your team can first buzz and bail you out for half value before it goes to the opposite side. Assigned questions should still play a role in SchoolReach as a way to reward teams that diversify from just a single monolithic player, but we may need some creativity to keep it fair.

I’ll offer a strategic hint for the current format of assigned questions. If player seating order is not a significant factor for your team, have the most generalized player sit fourth. This person might not necessarily be the top player, but is someone who could get a tiny bit of everything. By sitting fourth, the generalist will be able to eliminate answers that already came up in the phase, narrowing down the potential options for the question they will hear at the end. This is particularly useful for answer spaces that come from a somewhat limited list, such as Shakespearean plays, provinces, religions, or parts of a cell. But then again, take it with a grain of salt, as it would really only affect one question out of a game of more than eighty.

I will be off for the rest of the summer. I will return after Labour Day with a preview of the upcoming year, so feel free to bring any insights.

Old scores and finals

Please point out my inaccuracies.

Thanks to Sinan for giving some updated scores regarding his tenure with Woburn from 2004 to 2006. There are updates to the 2004, 2005, and 2006 Ontario provincial pages and some national final scores.

Woburn’s 510-470 national final victory over UTS in 2006 marks the highest known losing score. Perhaps unsurprisingly, UTS’ long domination of Reach also has them with the second-highest known losing score (415 in 2008) and a tie for third-highest (410 in 2017).

Sinan also recalled, but can’t confirm, a 630-410 final between St. George’s and Leaside in 2004. If this was to be confirmed, it would be both the highest winning and highest combined final scores, surpassing both held by the 600-410 final between Frontenac and Saunders in 1999.

Edit: The 2004 final has been confirmed as 610-410 and now takes those known records.

I did a bit more spelunking, and here are my known national final scores (pre-1985 comes from CBC archive summaries):

  • 1974: Gonzaga 300, O’Leary 270
  • 1975: Queen Elizabeth 455, Gordon Bell 285
  • 1976: Central Peel 305, O’Leary 290 (finding O’Leary in yet another nationals is really discrediting the Canadian Encyclopedia‘s claim of fellow Alberta team Lorne Jenken having 6 consecutive nationals in the 1970s!)
  • 1977: Glenlawn 340, Dryden 315 (a news article about Glenlawn claimed they earned a “record” 535 points, but perhaps the reporter mistook a prelim score)
  • 1978: Vincent Massey 300, Dryden 255
  • 1979: Banting Memorial 310, Dryden 270
  • 1981: Cobequid 265, BC representative 205 (lowest known winning score)
  • 1983: Roland Michener 360, Lorne Jenken 195
  • 1984: Deloraine 315, Moncton 280
  • 1992: Saunders 380, Ancaster 300
  • 1998: Gloucester 440, Kingston 380
  • 1999: Frontenac 600, Saunders 410
  • 2000: Merivale 310, Ridley College 210
  • 2004: St. George’s 610, Leaside 410
  • 2006: Woburn 510, UTS 470
  • 2007: London Central 365, KVHS 300
  • 2008: Lisgar 420, UTS 415 (closest final)
  • 2009: London Central 470, KVHS 310
  • 2010: KVHS 330, Cobequid 290
  • 2011: KVHS 380, Centennial CVI 360
  • 2012: UTS 420, London Central 250
  • 2013: UTS 540, Bellerose 190
  • 2014: Martingrove 390, London Central 290
  • 2015: Lisgar 380, KVHS 280
  • 2016: KVHS 440, Eric Hamber 330
  • 2017: Lisgar 460, UTS 410
  • 2018: UTS 520, London Central 280

I’m not sure how to incorporate this in the database, since most of the old scores are the only known score from the event. I have them saved for myself, and I will probably refer to them in factoids.

Quick updates


Here are some quick updates for the week:

Kennebecasis Valley HS continued their lengthy run of success on the New Brunswick circuit, with their senior team sweeping the field to victory at the Nackawic leg of their regional tournaments. Fredericton HS came second, while KVHS also won in the junior division.

From a few weeks ago, Royal St. George’s College comfortably won the southern Ontario site of History Bowl. Their closest margin of victory was 70 points, and they swept the field of “Central Richmond Hill”, Westmount, and Chaminade. A member of RSGC also won the individual History Bee at that event. Ottawa’s site will be next on the agenda on March 3.

If anyone was curious about the recordings from Lisgar’s Reach tournament, they won’t be released until at least after Westmount uses the questions. The questions may possibly be used elsewhere as well.