So. You’d be forgiven if your abiding impression of the last year or so, up until these past few weeks, was a sense of deja-vu: that the present had lost any pretense of impartiality, and had chosen to linger on a small set of scenes and moments, or—more accurately—to revisit and reframe them, until their substance was attenuated to extinction or their contingent possibilities driven to exhaustion. But, if time has its eddies—if preoccupations and instances can stagnate over days, and months, and years—the broader river must, eventually, flow. And, of course, it has. Whatever the pandemic was (or is — he writes, convalescing), it finally feels, at least to me, that we have woken back into history. The pulse is, more or less, there.
So, on the brink of the first in-person tournament since 2020: where is quizbowl? It’s probably safe to say the circuit has coped well enough in the last two years. It was a small mercy that quizzing was uniquely suited to weather information-age pandemics, but it was, nonetheless, a mercy. In truth, it has been the special paradox of the virtual that the circuit has got bigger whilst feeling smaller: a thread that might run twelve or so hundred miles in tight equilibrium up and down through the South counties (Cambridge–London–Oxford–Southampton–Bristol) and then swing to curve around the Pennines (Warwick–Sheffield–York–Durham) and apogee—tersely, finally!—in the central belt was shrunk and tightened, on-screen, into something a little like proximity and quite a lot like closeness.
But, all the same, tournaments—physically—have been missed. If we haven’t had to wake up before seven, if we haven’t had to scrounge whatever money we can from our societies for travel, and if we haven’t had to worry about finding the right damp University building to compete in for the next eight hours — still, something intangible has been lacking. Glasgow and Edinburgh, in particular, have every right to dispute the necessity of any intangibility that requires two overnight trains (it is hard, after a night on the Caledonian Sleeper, to believe in any form of the immaterial), but I imagine most of the circuit, Scots included, agree—don’t say it too loudly!—that, really, it is just very exciting to see each other in person again. It’s a brave new world, for those of us who’ve only played on a digital circuit; the much-diminished likelihood of seeing anyone’s pets, however, is a heavy loss.
But, to focus: in-person it may be, but BSQC is still BSQC. With 24 teams heading down to Imperial to compete, what’s to be expected? As always, Oxbridge have sent forward traditionally formidable A teams: former BSQC winners Oli Clarke and Jacob Robertson and the no-less-intimidating Michael O’Connor and Oliver Hargrave make up an Oxford side undoubtedly eager to take the title home for a second year running. Likewise, although Cambridge A has no members in common with last year’s BSQC A team, they enter the competition coming off a convincing 10–1 win at ACF Regs; the unanimously excellent Liam Hughes, Michael Kohn, Tony Ford and Daniel Cropper will be joined by American Harrison Whitaker in his British Quizbowl debut. Ox B and Cam B, both of whom have enjoyed regular success this season, will presumably find more than a few matches going their way too, although it remains to be seen whether the physical presence of Ox B’s many plush crabs will act as some sort of performance-boosting talisman. With Oxford sending off 4 teams, OUQS evidently has talent to spare — though Cambridge, Imperial and Warwick have all found enough players to produce a still-impressive three teams each.
It must be acknowledged, though, that last year saw the traditional Oxbridge duopoly weaken, at least a little: Edin A, Imp A, and Southampton all claimed tournament titles for the first time in 2021. Edin A come in having ranked no lower than third in every tournament this year, and will comprise a who’s who of excellent UC players past and present (with Ben Russell-Jones and Niall Karunaratne currently giving spirited performances on BBC 2, and Nicholas Winter and former Durham player Holly Parkinson from 2020’s series completing the set). Imperial A will cap off a good season by fielding current UC semi-finalist Michael Mays with lit-player Enoch Yuen, history-specialist Justin Lee, and newcomer Adam Jones. Meanwhile on Imperial B, Mays’ lit-and-film teammate Fatima Sheriff will be joined by last year’s semi-finalist Imran Rahman and regulars Oscar O’Flanagan and Rahim Dina, with Imperial C largely identical to the same team that won this year’s British novices. Southampton, on the other hand, will largely be composed of newer quizzers: this will be the first BSQC since, well, 2013 without Evan Lynch playing. That those who find themselves against Soton tomorrow will breathe a sigh of relief is a belated, and incommensurate, testament to the level of play Evan has provided the circuit; best of luck to those trying to fill his shoes.
Otherwise? Warwick’s three canon-strong teams will inevitably make a mark, with last year’s UC winner Andrew Rout leading Warwick A and Warwick B featuring ACF Fall top-scorer Robert Crawley. Durham and Bristol have sufficiently storied histories in Quizbowl that upsets by them are by no means out of the question. Brookes will presumably be fearsome on any post-fifties music. After a year’s hiatus, and Andrew Fisher’s successful turn on Only Connect, Sheffield will be looking to put in a strong show. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on how Manchester A’s fast buzzer technique and Manchester B’s postgrad, last-chance wildcards pan out. Finally, Glasgow, with the dubious distinction of longest journey to BSQC (reader: 345 miles), won’t be coming all that way to not fight it out on Saturday.
So: matches will be lost and won. There’ll be powers and negs to go over in the South Kensington dusk — questions on books you meant to read, and figures you used to know; cautious hesitations, chanced buzzes. A dead toss-up on computer science. A race on Chinua Achebe. It will be, in short, a tournament. Nothing, after all, is new under the Sun. But to be back again at Imperial, playing BSQC — it’s reassuring, after everything, to see time rhyming. Happy quizzing.