Sunday, August 27, 2006

One flying over the...

Mails, Announcements and other communications from the Hostel-12 council members always start with "Dear Inmates". I may be a linguistic bigot of some kind, because I don't like the word "inmate" applied to me. The dictionary seems to suggest "inmate" is merely a resident of a dwelling, but then this is the same language that has words such as "cleave".
(I'm a lot more suspicious than you can imagine.)

To me, "Inmate" suggests resident of a prison or asylum. I'll get one of these places one day, but right now let me revel in my minor crimes and misdemeanours in the open, sweet air. Or issue me striped uniforms and aluminium cutlery for banging against rods.

(I'm a lot more imaginative than you can suspect.)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Mull-har Quizzing

Earlier, it was a long post about my two days at Malhar '06. Now for the heart-wrenching tale that shall wring blood out of rocks i.e. the quizzing events.

As recounted before, in each quizzing event, the team I was part of made it to the final, which made a trip back to 'har unavoidable. Thankfully, administrivially, the place was much more welcoming on finals day than on elims day. I had read tales that made me shiver and was hoping to experience more of the same (on the Tolstoy-ski principle that every good quiz is like another, but every bad quiz is unique - and memorable - in its own way)

The Entertainment Quiz
The first bit of surprise was the news that Harsha Bhogle was going to host the quiz. This considerably dampened my spirits because here was Harsha reducing the probability that this would turn out to be a bad quiz :-) However, since people have told me that Harsha's quizmastering is probably the best by a celebrity host, I was keen to experience this first-hand.

This perception turned out to be true. He is easily the best celeb host I have experienced. Courteous to all the quizzers (and here's where you pay attention Derek) but very audience-friendly too without needing to pander to the LCD. We had 4 IIT teams in the final with Ruparel being a slightly surprised 5th team. The questions and format were Xaviers' own.

The format was disappointing. All questions on direct, except during the specialities. With such a format, you really don't need all teams on stage during the finals! Just call us when you want to ask our directs and we'll show up, thank you. When I raised this later, Harsha defended the organisers saying passing would have taken up a lot more time, but that excuse isn't good enough I'm afraid. It's like letting each football team play against an open goal without the other team for a half and vice versa. I could easily know all the answers to the others' questions except my own and do badly. Sadness reigns. During the specialities, there was this silly option of "throwing" questions to other teams - a gimmick I detest because it's just that: a gimmick, and doesn't add much to the enjoyment of audiences or participants either.

The questions, however, turned out to be decent. At least the 1st half did. The good ones were in the rounds of movies, music and a connect round where the audio accompanying the video was different and the two had to be connected to each other. The a/v connects were pretty good, but a grouse was the fact that the answers to most questions were the names of the directors of the movie in the video (a fact we exploited in one question where we simply guessed the name of the director w/o knowing the audio part properly). Since we led from start (to finish), our specialities ended up being classical (the 2nd last team picked up jazz) in which we ended up with a net gain of zero. Their intentions in including things like classical were noble, but the questions did not stand up - people get put off by such genres precisely because we don't often ask the interesting questions.

The second half was quite obscure: questions on games, comics, football world cup (incredibly vague!). In the last specialities, we ended up with Arts which we did reasonably well (2nd last team picked up Theatre, which we actually would have got about 4 out of 5). We ended up winning fairly comfortably in a quiz not too tainted by obscure stuff and obviously hosted very well. This was not the 'har quizzing show I had been promised!

The "Major" Quiz
There is a certain inevitability in life. If you've done something long enough (I believe they call it "experience", and it euphemistically veils the scars), you can sometimes sense how things are going to turn out. That feeling was finally bought to fruition at the "Military/Political" quiz.

Now I have very little knowledge about the genre of Military trivia, but listening to a few questions over the last few years, I became somewhat cognisant of many interesting themes in that area. Shivaji and Kunal S. of the BC have been the local experts, and when Kunal did an introductory Mil quiz at the BC for the rest of us, I found it quite interesting. In complete contrast, the Malhar elims had hardly any questions on the military side. The political side was riddled with old questions and vague ones drafted in by express post from trivia websites. But would the elims feign a "camp" flavour and disappoint, a la the morning?

As soon as the quiz started (about 45 mins late), I knew we were in for quite an evening. A tale potentially to be single-toothedly told to avid grandchildren (or perhaps grand-nephews/nieces, depending on how the life-plot pans out) beside the fireplace was guaranteed to unfold. The reason for this was the fact that our lady-host launched into a "welcome one and all" (never a good sign) that re-introduced Einstein's famous quote about the 4th World War to be fought with sticks. The long opening speech involved mentions of millenial conflict (there was something wrong factually somewhere which I regret I have forgotten) and harangues on imperial hegemony and such-like (I may be wrong with the passage of time, but that's what it sounded like). We were then introduced to the rounds. It seemed like the 1st three rounds were normal (normal == mutated in the circumstances) leading to the elimination of one team, followed by a military strategy round, after which there would be more extremely prejudicial dismissals followed by ellipsis. ("ellipsis" because what was to unfold over the next couple of hours would wipe everyone's memory clean). At that time, I thought I hadn't heard the "military strategy" bit properly. Wait, wait, said my guardian devil before vanishing temporarily in a puff of hell-fire.

Mercifully, they had "passing" this time (with d&p of course). The 1st round had 4 questions (direct) for each team, in batches of two. They passed along if teams didn't answer. The 1st two sets, to Govt. Law College and St. Xaviers, were answered directly. Predictably, we (who were in the middle of the pack) did not answer any of our directs in the first phase. Symbiosis Law (Suvojit and co.) did well while I don't know what the other IIT team did. The second phase moved on the same lines. The main points of interest here were the tendency of the guy operating the presentation to occasionally show the answer before the teams could, and of the QM to forget to pass the question and give the answer herself.

Round two was crazy in its novelty. Each team picked 5 out of 7 topics (such as "assassinations", "world wars", "spies" et al) - everyone was offered the same 7 topics - and answered two questions on each. The scoring was something that Calvinball could pick up. It went something like this: you answer your directs correctly, and you get 10. If you get it wrong, another team could answer it costing you -5. If they got it wrong, they got -2 and you wouldn't lose any points. Or something of that sort. Soon, all teams realised that if you answered another teams qn on them passing, you couldn't make any points of your own. You could merely hurt them by doing so - "for the sadistic pleasure of doing so":: quote by QM (paraphrased). So this meant that for 5 teams x 5 topics x 2 questions each = 50 qns, passing had no relevance. There was no incentive for anyone to guess answers apart from the ones receiving the directs. As a result, for over 75% of the passed qns, people didn't attempt. This had the happy side-effect of speeding up the quiz, though. In the middle, there was a collective memory lapse and no one (including an increasingly befuddled-looking scorer) seemed to be sure of the points system. At the end of this round, we ended up leading the quiz by a bit, and frankly, we had no idea how. There were a bunch of out-of-a-Bela-Lugosi-film vague questions and factual errors such as referring to Tony Blair as a "Head of State" (He is "Head of Govt") and an incorrect question asking "In her film debut, Aishwarya Rai played roles based on two CMs of Tamil Nadu - name them" (Rai played just the Jayalalitha character; the other based on Janaki was played by Gowthami - I didn't complain, for a. it wasn't our direct and b. I had reached a don't-care state). There were a couple of Aussie PMs like in the elims - so had some hits the previous night.

Round three was a simple 5-qn rapid-fire made weird by the choice of scoring. "you get 2 for the 1st question, 4 for the next and so on". Aye jumalakaDi gili-gili! Did it mean that the 1st question is worth 2, the 2nd 4 and so on till the last question was worth 32? Which meant you could score a max of 2+4+...+32 = 64? No, of course not. It merely meant you could score 2^n where n==no. of correct answers (of course n>0 :-)) Again, an unnecessary gimmick. (The only point of interest was that each set had a caricature of a personality made by a Malhar volunteer - commendable)

At the end of this, poor Symbi Law found themselves last. They had topped the elims, had given answers to some tough questions and still were out. I remember remarking to Suvojit that it might actually turn out to be a fortunate thing for them. I don't think I was wrong.

(Before the quiz began, we were informed that "three eminent people" would judge the strategy round, and that they would be introduced at that point, but rest assured they were "eminent people". The introductions never happened until at the end when the 2 of the judges took it upon themselves to do so, revealing that we had had a former army Colonel, a PR lady - predictably she talked a lot - while the last gent wisely stayed incognito.)

So now we had to attempt a military strategy round (since this was WW4 - we had no real major weapons, apart from quiz questions so far, I guess). There were two maps, one a grid based one with bits of topography in each square and the other a general AOE-type region with different terrains. You have to achieve an objective using a bunch of resources. You buy resources with the points you already have. You then devise a strategy to achieve the obj. Then you present your strategy and defend questions. Now, the problems were:

a. What the hell was this subjective round doing in a quiz?
b. Why were there two maps if there was such a shortage of time?
c. Was this my imagination or was it soon to turn into a business case/debate type event?
d. Why were the three slides on rules-points-map not printed and given to participants - instead we had to copy them, forget half the rules leading to some teams realising this on stage?
e. Was this designed by Dali in an over-surrealistic mood?
f. Why could we not even raise a point before the hon. judge not allowing us to speak before she could find out from the QM whether we were allowed to do so (who in turn told the judge only the judges could)?
g. Why not let teams pick resources as a part of their strategy and not announce them before, at which point hardly anyone could understand the rules?

By this time, I realised I was having an epochal, life-altering experience (the exact words in the message I sent Kunal when I had to express this to the outside world). My fuse had completely gone phut. However, my teammates Rahul and Tushar had their wits about themselves and concocted some chop suey. Teams presented, giant balloons of hot air could have been filled for free, found no one could remember the rules properly, points were raised and so on. I was having an uninterrupted series of Jaspal Sandhu-in-"Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro" moments.

After all this rigmarole for over an hour, my head was splitting. We were then informed that the quiz, having gobbled up all the time allotted to it, would have to be abruptly ended then. The results would not be available until the next day (shades of JBDY's "hum draupadi bhaabhi ko baad me.n bhej de.nge"). Until then, it seemed I'd need smelling salts to stay alive. I have never come any more closer to considering a switch to dope of any kind before. But we couldn't go just yet. The judges decided it was time someone introduced them, and spoke. The Army man was nice, euphemistically praising the horrendous efforts. The lady said she'd observed if teams presented as a "team" (we came in for praise for letting only one guy speak - little did she know the others were too flabbergasted to do anything else). I also had my first ever experience of what is apparently the South Bombay lingo. Both the lady and the QM liberally dispersed "you'll"s and "dears" and "sweethearts" and "darlings". Wow!

So for the first time ever in my life, I had been to a quiz where we wouldn't leave knowing who had won the quiz. Incredible. The next day we found that we had come second, the other IIT team was third and the quiz was won by Xaviers (who, if memory serves us right, were last at the beginning of the strategy round). The round had been worth 100 points. We had had a lead of about 40 at the beginning of the round and about 15 after the resource allocn. We lost by about 20 points in the end. I don't want to suggest any foul-play, but one thing is clear - we won the quizzing part of the day comfortably. The rest is mere conjecture. I felt worst for the poor scorer and bell-keeper who seemed so clued out and happy to escape the strategy round.

The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Quizzing And Quizzers
Such is the quizzing life. Based on these experiences and many before, I propose setting up the SPCQQ. It is sorely needed. Only the day when officers of the SPCQQ shall raid a quiz in progress for having violated fundamental statutes and endangering the mental capacities of poor, unsuspecting quizzers shall we really have our rights safeguarded in this country.

While leaving, I heard requests for "genuine feedback". Since I am not in the habit of providing fake feedback (I can't guarantee certification though), here are some points for the Jhavierites:

* Each year, everyone seems to think your quizzes are bad. Even if you do not agree, you have to respect such sentiment. Personally, I think you guys do not have the experience to hold a quiz. Get someone from outside to do it. Or announce a moratorium until you amass the experience. Do yourselves a favour. I am, by all accounts, a reasonably fair critic. This is a fair criticism.

* Attend a lot of quizzes before you formally set some of your own. There are quite a few decent ones happening in Bombay, and if you're willing to travel, in Pune, Bangalore, Chennai and others.

* Read these posts: 1, 2 and 3. I won't claim these are gospel, but take whatever you feel like from them.

* Listen to your audience and participants. Their body and verbal language are trying to tell you a lot of things. Yes, you are a big fest and you may feel you are entitled to some maaz. But with great maaz comes great criticism when things hit the fan above (sorry, Uncle Ben)

* A quiz should be enjoyable by all involved. It's not a gladiatorial contest between the organisers and participants.

* Keep a quiz simple. Let your elims reflect your finals. If you want to make it into a mixed style event, make it amply clear in the beginning.

* There were requests at the end for applause for the "hard work put in designing the strategy round". Well, hard work and good intentions are no excuse for mucking up things. It helps, but not everytime. Do a half-decent quiz and I'll give you an ovation myself.

I'm really glad I won't be going back to Malhar next year. I really am. It's not that I like being caustic about such events. But you'll have left me with no option, sweethearts.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


This is a biiig post. Warning over.

Puneri quizzers have a tendency to not travel too much for quizzes. This is not because we prefer being lions at home (I could be wrong) but it's probably more to do with a more inbuilt inertia that rubs off when you live in Pune. "Why bother to travel so much when you can get a decent quiz within a 5 km radius at regular intervals?" is probably what he (and occasionally a she) would tell you, but we're too lazy to say these things (we prefer leisurely blogging about them).

Which is why, despite justified (self-)criticism of not competing much outside, it has never really bothered me that I haven't been to many of the big college fests of the country of the kind that has youth magazines salivating in their dreams. For it has been my (painful) experience that these are an unending reservoir of bad quizzing moments that no amount of "let's look at other events/people/things at a fest" can undo (our motto being: "v q i.e. v r"). And especially when is rapidly aging, these things are harder to digest.

Elims Day

But I went to Malhar '06. It was not to clutch at reminders of renewed academic flings, but merely to see for myself the much-venerable St. Xavier's college, a place which is in the same age-genarian bracket as ol' COEP. As the bus rolled through Bombay, the jokes of "stick to the wall" became louder. And believe me, it's no joke - they do tell you to stick to the wall, even when there is no wall. Soon, we were being told to not do many things. So before I tell you what I did manage to do, here's what I couldn't:

  • Stand outside a line (even while registering for an event)
  • Stand near the admin office
  • Stand in about 90% of the premises
  • Stand still (it seemed - see incident 1)
  • Take photographs (see incident 2)
  • Register for a three man event with less than 3 (see incident 3)
  • Keep my satchel with me during the elims
  • Walk bidirectionally in most passageways

As promised, the incidents:
1: In the afternoon, having found no place to rest my de-calcinated bones, the legs claimed union regulations and went on strike. On being asked to "keep moving" by a well-meaning volunteer, I could only move my arms about and ask him: "Is this fine?". Something I was soon to observe: extended volunteering seems to sap your sense of irony.

2: Ok, this was probably my mistake but my strong sense of irony in contrast to volunteers was to blame. I now like to think this is the closest I have come to being "bounced" out of anywhere. Having roamed around the place and the incessant rain driving me blue, all I could see were these signs everywhere saying "don't stand around", "no food and beverages on the stairs" and so on. Feeling increasingly like a small-time Chicago bootlegger during the Depression, I felt almost ashamed to exist as it seemed every action of mine was violating some injunction (when you're on their turf, do their implied punishments apply, I wonder?). It got to a point when I (along with two KReSIT friends) saw a bunch of Xavierites (I'll use Kunal's patent-pending "Jhavierites" appropriately w.r.t the quizzes) standing, a little aimlessly (or so it seemed to my blue-and-jaundiced eyes), near a sign saying "Do not loiter here". I controlled my by now mania-induced Joker laugh to remark to the friends that it would be a great idea to snap a photo of one of these signs. Then, with manic enthusiasm running away with the plot, it seemed an even better idea for me to pose right under that sign and be in the frame.

Which was a little bit of a mistake. I forgot all about "no cameras" at the gates also implying "no photographs". Friend says "here is a camera phone!" and there I had jumped into position. Sadly, the Xs also did some jumping and I was immediately surrounding (the sign-makers would have been happy - clearly, no one was doing any loitering now). "I'm sorry, no photographs". The mania, though ebbing, was going down with a fight. "You see the irony here, don't you", I blurted. "Irony?", said the most heavily-built of them, a touch defiantly. I wasn't too sure if he knew what I meant by "irony", but soon his features relaxed and he decided to not dispose of me in any of the potentially thirteen different ways discussed in the last Malhar Security meeting. And here I am, writing this post.

3: This, at least, finds me on the right side of common sense and quizzing ideals. At Malhar, I grew increasingly restive w.r.t the excessive checking of IDs (at least two for those part of "official contingent") and the line-standing. After having nothing to do for about 2 hours between elims, KReSIT friend and I join the queue for the Business quiz+more elims. Only to find out at the end of the FIFO that we couldn't register with two members. "For you need a maximum of three", I was told. "Aha!", said I, spotting the flaw in the argument. "We are less than three". "No, you need a minimum of three too", said she, rolling the sleeves back to reveal the ace. I remonstrated and ooh-ed and aah-ed in the name of common sense, but I was told there was not much that could be done and would I like to meet the O-somethings? (refer Kunal's guide to the Os). At first, I thought I ought to, but then I withdrew as the outcome was not in doubt. And we had been cautioned by our contingent leaders to not cause a fuss, and I didn't want to do so in an event that I wasn't even good at.

The fact that I got through the day after incidents and elims was partly to the cooling environs of the only solace that day - the St. Xavier's Library. It's a good place to roost - tidbit to remember if you are there and need a place to rest that aching head. It had an interesting poster about the Human Genome Project too.

Finally to business: the two quizzing elims I had been drafted for. The morning fixture was that of the Military/Political quiz, dubbed the "Major Quiz". (As events would unfold, one could think of a lot of phrases to insert between "Major" and "Quiz".) The elims were bad, as bad as expected. A litany of woes:

  • We were given 90 minutes for 40 questions and then warned there would be -ve points if we took more time.
  • The qs that were decent were too factual to be interesting.
  • Some were hilariously awful ("In what pose was George Washington often depicted in paintings") (paraphrased). A quick web search later that day revealed that some of these bad questions were lifted, word for word, from a site called "" whose sections on Australian PMs must have received a lot of hits from the Malhar proxy server.

The evening was the Entertainment quiz. Interestingly, they had also clubbed Sports among Entertainment - not that I was complaining. But again, the questions were poorly framed. There was an attempt to bring in Indian f&m, and even references to Indian classical, but the choice of facts and framing: questions such as "what is the significance of the Michael Jackson song "Billie Jean" (what is significant to me could be insignificant to you) and "ornamentation i.e. the art of learning to sing impossible (paraphrased - I forget the rest)... what is it called" (the intent of the question wasn't too clear) were typical. It was a pleasure when we put pens down. Answers took a while coming, so I scooted before they appeared.

Finals Day
I didn't have to go for the 2nd Elims day thankfully. But the scheduling of the finals was rather irksome. For the finals were scheduled such that what could have been an easy set of 4 holidays was hacked down to half (for me). Malhar has a separate set of finals day a week apart, and plus they chose to go for Sunday and Monday (Monday was a working day for students, and some from IIT were severely inconvenienced) instead of a more favourable Sat-Sun, given Tuesday was 15th Aug.

The overall atmosphere was pleasantly better - security were (we get frisked) nicer than last week (when they had surveyed my Crocin tablets with the eyes of a Redneck customs official assigned to flights from Afghanistan), volunteers were almost apologetic about the one-ways and so on. The book exhibition (by small vendors - the street sale type) was a good idea. Admittedly, there didn't seem to be too many "great finds", but I did pick up a couple of books (A collection of "insults" and the book form of "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines"). There was also a film festival, but could not attend it because of the time taken by the quizzes. Was also good to see a small booth put up by students from their "Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged". The only event I saw a glimpse of was "Geetantar", where people sang words from one Hindi film song to the tune of another, and what's more, they were doing it fairly well. "Raga", the newsletter, was read - some articles were quite creative.

But the quizzes were what I was there for, and well, the tales of them shouldn't disappoint. Coming soon.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


* The immediate post 1st-stage period of protracted procrastination is winding down. A longer and more detailed study is imminent. Of how I seem to put off things, I mean. (Oops, that was not particularly discreet, I think). Perhaps I should research the different facets of procrastination.

* More academically, I'm reading a little about network models that characterise The Small World Phenomenon. A fortuitous procurement of Duncan Watts' book on the subject from BCL, Pune a couple of months ago is turning out to be useful.

* There are officially no animals left in the skies. They followed cats and dogs in the slipstream of the downpour over Mumbai and Pune, in some kind of Noah-like exodus. I missed the last Mumbai edition (in late June and early July this year) by being at Pune, but this time I can sit in the lab and feel very fortunate that I don't have to travel. Except for the minor annoyance having to walk all the way to H-12, it's not too bad, There is no real comparison to the woes of the commuting and living-in-sub-standard-homes population of the city.

* The recent increase in walking recalls Observation 2 in an earlier post. The pace of walking is distinctly more leisurely than the new crop of students here.

* Omkara was watched again, this time in Huma Adlabs, Kanjur Marg. No self-respecting multiplex would have countenanced such lack of clientele (word is that the previous avatar of Huma was that of a rather shady samajh-rahe-ho-naa? type theatre and it's only getting rid of that image slowly). Also, being a m'plex, they charge m'plex prices. OTOH, you are assured of tickets 99% of the time.

* Convocation Day tomorrow at IIT-B, i.e. a chance to put on slightly funny and "authentic" indigenous dress material. The Chief Guest this time is economist-ex bureaucreat-Dy. Chairman Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, which is a good choice, especially given last time's choice was maananiya Arjun Singh. I'm guessing there won't be the same extent of restrictions unlike last time.

* I went to St. Xavier's fest "Malhar" for the elims just to see the premises of the famous institution. Experiences were experienced and bloggable experiences at that. Will wait for until the finals on Sunday to make that possibly vitriolic post. To record views on the elims of the quiz before the outcome (on Sunday) can be held against me: the elims were badly done. Lots more to follow.

* Jatin finds a shelf with books on movies in the IIT-B Central Library. It opens my eyes a little - I realise I have not really explored the library stock much for fiction, films, sports etc. (the science collection is good, esp. old copies of Scientific American and Nature editions are to be found). Within 5 minutes of getting to the clearly unpopular section (yippee!), I find "All About H.Hatterr" by G.V.Desani that came well-recommended, but equally well out of stock. The rest of today's quick sweep are:
Ravan and Eddie" by Kiran Nagarkar, "Scorcese on Scorcese" (based on a set of interviews with the ace filmmaker) and a biography of Francis Ford Coppola by Peter Cowie. From having exhausted my small stockpile of books and no impending visit to Pune for until half a week to replenish, I now feel as I have hit a sufficient lode of gold.