Thinking for charity

Brain Games benefit literacy efforts

Brain Games benefit literacy efforts

February 23, 2004|by DON AINES

Cranius Maximus, Stryke Force, the Magnificent Seventh, the Dewey Decimals and 50 other teams set their sights Sunday at unseating the reigning rulers of Brain Games VII at Shepherd College.

"Runners, grab your packets and get ready for Round Two," emcee Rick Rohn told the college students handing out the lists of questions to teams of up to six members each. When he gave the signal to start the round, little could be heard but the ruffle of more than 300 pages being turned over and the scratch of pencils on paper.

"The first year, we netted $200. This year, we're hoping to clear $5,000," said Therese Hess, executive director of Literacy Volunteers of the Eastern Panhandle, the beneficiary of the $15 entry fee and other proceeds from the annual battle of wits.


The money will be used to purchase teaching materials and other supplies for the approximately 300 people the literacy volunteers serve each year, Hess said.

Sunday, there were 55 teams, down a bit from last year but well above the 22 in the inaugural Brain Games seven years ago, Hess said. In four rounds, each team had 15 minutes to come up with their best answers to 25 questions.

For the third time in four years, the Brain Games' top team came from The Herald-Mail Co. Former "Jeopardy!" five-time champion Bob Fleenor was joined by Marlo Barnhart, Dave Thompson, Dave Elliott, Jake Womer and Andrew Schotz in scoring 88 out of a possible 100.

Schotz, a four-year veteran, said the seven-point margin of victory could have been closer, with some educated guesses that turned out to be correct being scribbled down in the closing seconds of a couple of rounds.

The first question of Round One was easy enough: Name the winner of the first "American Idol" contest. Coming up with the name of Kelly Clarkson was probably not too difficult for most teams, but the questions in each round grew more difficult.

The second round started with a head-scratcher for anyone who was not familiar with the Neil Simon of the Hellenistic Age.

Q: What comic Greek playwright satirized his contemporaries Socrates in "The Clouds," Euripides in "The Frogs" and the Athenian war with Sparta in "Lysistrata"?

A: Aristophanes.

"You have to have a mix," said Michael Austin, the chair of Shepherd College's Department of English and Modern Languages and the man who came up with most of the questions. "I'd like everyone that plays to get 15 right in the first round. Otherwise, it's not fun," he said.

Austin drafted this year's 100 questions by looking at past contests. Approximately 15 questions each were devoted to history and literature and 10 or so in areas including science and math, pop culture, art and music, sports, religion or mythology, and general trivia.

"I'm just adjudicating question disputes," he said Sunday in a separate room where team answers were being tabulated. Because answers are written and not multiple choice, he was having to rule on some spelling and clarification issues.

Pancho Sanchez, for one, failed to make the grade as the answer for a question about Don Quixote's companion, Sancho Panza.

A former contestant, Austin advises teams to mix youth and experience.

"You always need a 13-year-old to answer the pop culture questions," he said.

The five members of Stryke Force, named for the late Harpers Ferry, W.Va., publisher and trivia aficionado Phil Stryker, agreed. Betsy Dungan was the junior member and pop culture expert on a team that included Anne and Gary Dungan and Georgia and Bob DuBose, all of Harpers Ferry.

A sixth member was traveling and unable to attend, but Stryke Force acquitted itself well, scoring 81 points to take second place.

"I think the first or second year, we finished third or fourth," said Ralph Petrie of Martinsburg, W.Va., a member of The Magnificent Seventh, so named for its members marking their seventh year of competition. In recent years, as the field has grown, Petrie said the team generally finishes "in the middle of the pack."

"My family comes up from Virginia to make up our team," said Amanda Thomas of Charles Town, W.Va. Unfortunately, Cranius Maximus suffered a slight concussion Sunday.

"Last year, we were in the 70s. This year, we had 56," said Mike Dellinger, a member of Cranius Maximus.

He said the team won the Best Name award a couple of years ago, an honor that Sunday went to the vanity plate-inspired NE14GR8TRIVIA.

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