Illinois takes 2nd place in ‘Super Bowl of the mind’ quiz bowl

After months of virtual brain training, teams of students from local universities tested their knowledge and wit this weekend at a national collegiate quiz bowl.

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Northwestern University’s quiz bowl team, picture at the Evanston campus.

Northwestern University’s quiz bowl team, picture at the Evanston campus.


University of Illinois students took second place Saturday night, after months of virtual brain training and preparation, at a national collegiate quiz bowl deemed the “Super Bowl of the mind.”

Northwestern and the University of Chicago also sent teams to compete at the 2021 National Academic Quiz Tournaments’ Intercollegiate Championship Tournament, which returned this year — albeit online — after organizers had to cancel the 2020 event due to the pandemic.

Thirty-one Division I teams and 32 Division II squads went head-to-head with one another in a bracket format comparable to college basketball’s March Madness.

The game’s concept is simple, but the questions are complex. Teams of four students race to be the first to correctly answer questions spanning from a wide range of subjects, from sports and pop culture to classic literature and biology.

Saturday’s contest started in the morning and ran late in to the evening.

Illinois topped the state teams, finishing second in Division I behind Columbia University. Meanwhile, UChicago placed sixth and Northwestern tied for 17th. In Division II, Illinois finished in seventh place, Northwestern and UChicago finished ninth and 11th, respectively.

UChicago came in with the upper-hand in terms of experience: The university is a quiz bowl powerhouse and has attended the academic competition every year since 2007. It has won an astounding 12 NAQT titles, including 10 since the turn of the century.

Most recently, the University of Chicago won the 2018 Intercollegiate Championship Tournament Division II event.

Illinois has previously won two NAQT national titles, though the most recent one was more than 15 years ago. Northwestern has yet to win any. Earlier in the day, team president Justin Jasperse said he was hoping to end the program’s drought and establish Northwestern as a place talented quiz bowlers want to go to.

Jasperse said there’s “definitely a rivalry” between the Illinois universities. Matches between the state programs are usually the “most intense” of the season and are the ones his squad preps most for.

“We’ve actually been able to place higher than them in the past,” said Jasperse, a third-year Northwestern student majoring in philosophy. “Historically they have done a better game. So when we face them it’s a big rivalry.”

Regardless of the outcome, Jasperse said he was grateful this year more than ever to be part of a quiz bowl team. He said training for competitions has been a great outlet for him and his teammates amid the pandemic-induced stresses.

“Every Friday, we do something like watch a movie, or play a game — we do something that isn’t quiz bowl, but might be like trivia,” said Jasperse, who’s competed in at least five collegiate quiz bowls. “We do a lot of things just to bond as a team that’s been kind of a return to normalcy.”

In honor of the quiz bowl, test your knowledge with these sample questions (answers listed below):

1. In this film, a judge relates how the people of Athens once opened their gates to a tyrant they had previously banished. This film’s characters include Harvey Pell, who gives up his deputy’s badge after being passed over for a promotion. Toward the end of this film, Amy Fowler — who is played by Grace Kelly — shoots a man in his back, despite the pacifism of her Quaker religion.

For 10 points—name this Western in which outlaw Frank Miller is faced by Gary Cooper’s Will Kane at the title time.

2. What Eurosceptic party was once led by Nigel Farage?


A. Name this Mongol khanate that ruled Russia in the medieval era.

B. In the late 14th century, this khan briefly reunited the Blue and White factions of the Golden Horde, before he was deposed by Tamerlane.

C. In the late 15th century, the power of the Golden Horde largely disintegrated following the Great Stand on the Ugra River, where the horde refused to engage this Grand Prince of Moscow.

4. A man with this position asks Seth Wright to work for him after going into a bathroom to vomit. Another man with this position murders Verna Thornton in the hospital after learning about the Defiance conspiracy. On one TV series, this position is held by Mellie, the ex-wife of a man who also held it and who had an affair with Olivia Pope.


A. Identify this work about the adventures of a man whose first name is Wellingborough. It ends with the narrator hearing about the death of his friend Harry Bolton while whaling.

B. Two years after publishing Redburn, this author published Moby-Dick.

C. In chapter 27 of Redburn, the title character “at last arrives” in this British city. In 1856 Melville visited this city, where Nathaniel Hawthorne served as an American consul.


1. High Noon 

2. UK Independence Party (or UKIP)

3a. Golden Horde (or Zolotaya Orda or Kipchak Khanate; prompt on partial answer)

3b. Tokhtamysh

3c. Ivan III (or Ivan the Great; prompt on “Ivan”)

4. President of the United States (accept POTUS)

5a. Redburn (His First Voyage)

5b. Herman Melville

5c. Liverpool 

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