The Smoke Signal, MSJ's Official Newspaper


Academic Challenge Season in Full Swing

By Staff Writers Pradyumn Acharya & Jerry Yuan

The MSJ Academic Challenge Club, which consists of Science Olympiad, Science Bowl, Quiz Bowl, and Ocean Science Bowl, recently sailed through their many competitions even with the challenges of the pandemic. Read below to see how each team fared.

Click the links below to jump directly to read about each team.

Science Olympiad

Science Bowl

Quiz Bowl

Ocean Science Bowl

Science Olympiad 

At the Mira Loma Science Olympiad Invitational on January 9, the MSJ Science Olympiad teams scored many wins, with team MSJ Thonk receiving 8th place, and team MSJ Yaw receiving 19th out of a total 62 teams. MSJ’s superscore, a combination of their best placements from each of the two teams, was 4th out of the 50 schools that competed, matching their expectations.

The competition, which tests various disciplines of science ranging from astronomy to cryptology, was moved online due to COVID-19. As a result, most of the build events, a portion of the competition which involves creating and testing a contraption, were canceled. Science Olympiad Captain Senior Caleb Chiang believes that this change has actually been beneficial for the team. “We’ve historically been pretty mediocre to bad at build events, so not having them has been pretty helpful in general,” Chiang said.

MSJ Science Olympiad also tried de-stacking for the first time ever this school year, which meant that they split their team members such that both teams would be equal in strength. This way, captains could identify how well certain individuals are performing without partner assistance and push for stronger improvement. 

Mira Loma was the first invitational this year where captains decided to stack the teams, and Science Olympiad Captain Sophomore Chris Ge feels their new methods have begun to show promise. “It’s encouraging to see that we can beat top schools like [Troy High School] and [Mason High School] at physics and earth science events,” he said. 

However, there were still some events that the team struggled in. “There are definitely certain events and topics that we do feel that are not quite up to par with the rest of the team,” Science Olympiad Captain Junior Inimai Subramanian said.

On January 23, MSJ also competed and stacked their teams in the Solon High School Invitational, with MSJ Lime earning 4th place and MSJ Marigold earning 19th place out of 93 teams, and their superscore was 4th out of 58 schools.

The captains hope their performance at Mira Loma and Solon can identify and boost the teams’ weak points in preparation for their future competitions. The team also hopes that the benefits of the virtual format may allow them to win their states competition and qualify for nationals. “If there’s one year when we can actually win, it’s going to be this one, so we need to take full advantage of that,” Chiang said.

Science Bowl

MSJ Science Bowl performed exceedingly well at the Statewide Science Bowl Practice Tournament, their first practice competition of the year. The Science Bowl A and B teams placed 1st and 2nd overall. Before the competition, Science Bowl co-Captain Senior Anish Kashyap felt nervous as some of the team members forwent this competition in favor of the Ocean Science Bowl competition on the same day. However, this hiccup did not seem to matter based on the final turnout. 

Through coordination with other Science Bowl Team Captains, schools that could not previously compete with each other due to physical limitations could now do so in a virtual setting. 85 students representing 17 teams across CA ended up competing. This number exceeded Science Bowl Captain Senior Srinjoy Chatterjee’s expectations, who also helped organize the event.

During the tournament, each team was placed in a Zoom breakout room with a reader, who asked the team a series of questions. The standard question asked is called a ‘toss-up,’ which is worth four points. Teams have seven seconds to answer, and if done correctly, they will then face a follow up ‘bonus’ question for ten points. The round continues until all questions are exhausted. The A team gained a perfect score in four out of the five rounds, while the B team pulled off perfect scores in two of the rounds.

The transition to virtual was relatively smooth sailing for Science Bowl. Instead of holding practices at one of the captain’s houses, practices were held over Discord. To simulate the physical buzzer experience, team members created a buzzer bot in the Discord server where participants typed into the chat to buzz in. Additionally, the convenience of the virtual world meant practices could open up to everybody.

Looking ahead, Science Bowl, apart from conducting its weekly practices, hopes to compete in practice scrimmages with American High School and Lynbrook High School. “Of course, coming up in early March we have our regionals tournament. So, if we do well there we advance to nationals, which is something I’m hoping we do this year,” Kashyap said.

Quiz Bowl 

On January 16, Quiz Bowl virtually attended the California Cup 3 tournament after competing in the previous two California Cups earlier in the season. Team A placed 4th in the Competitive division, Team B placed 5th in the Standard division, Team C placed 12th in the Novice Division, and Team D placed 8th in the same division.

The tournament was conducted over Discord, where teams were placed into competition brackets. Matches took place in a Discord server, where questions were read in the voice channel and participants buzzed in by typing “buzz” in the text channel. Each match consisted of 20 questions, where players had five seconds after buzzing in to answer.

After the initial round-robin matches, teams competed in their playoff brackets based on their record in the earlier matches. After the playoffs concluded, the results were finalized.

Quiz Bowl has adjusted well in its conversion to virtual practices and competitions. Quiz Bowl Captain Senior Vibhav Athreya believed the virtual format makes things more convenient. “Now you can just open your laptop, hop on Discord, and just join the practice there,” he said. 

Athreya is optimistic about Quiz Bowl’s performance in future competitions. “Moving forward, I feel confident that we’ll be able to do well in future tournaments, especially with the rapid improvement of our members who are underclassmen … I think they’re definitely poised to carry the team over when the seniors graduate,” he said.

Ocean Science Bowl 

The MSJ Ocean Science Bowl Varsity Team recently competed at the official Sea Lion Bowl scrimmage online on January 16 in preparation for their regional competition in February, earning 132 points out of a possible 200 points.

Ocean Science Bowl is a buzzer-based competition much like Science Bowl, but it focuses much more on marine sciences and policy and also involves a written test that the team cooperates on.

Due to concerns about internet connections, Ocean Science Bowl, like Science Bowl, decided to forgo the head-to-head buzzing aspect of the competition. Instead, teams are put in a Zoom breakout room where they buzz in by themselves to get the best possible score and advance. The written test is also now conducted over a shared Google Document that teams collaborate on.

To adapt to the virtual circumstances, the MSJ Ocean Science Bowl team has adopted a Discord buzzer bot to mimic the buzzer system in competition. However, this change meant the team practiced in a format that was different than what would be at the competition. 

The new format means that, instead of buzzing against an opponent, the team members are buzzing against each other, so the change was difficult for them to adjust to. “We need to become a lot more confident in our answers and be a lot better at nonverbal communication for each answer to indicate our confidence,” Ocean Science Bowl Captain Junior Titus Tsai said.

Despite his qualms about these changes, Tsai still feels that the virtual format may benefit the team’s performance at the Sea Lion Bowl regional competition on February 6. “Our chances of getting first place at regionals has definitely been increased because of this new format because we generally buzz a bit slower than some of the other competitive teams in our region. This will definitely help us,” Tsai said.

Cover Image courtesy of MSJ Academic Challenge Club

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