Brainy to the max

Which of the five basic tastes responds most actively to glutamate ions?

What is the average cranial capacity of known specimens of homo habilis, in cubic centimeters?

Need answers? This weekend, you can sidle down to the downtown Hyatt Regency, where about 1,000 students on 224 high school teams from around the country will tackle tough questions such as these and match cerebellums (“cerebella”?) in the Quiz Bowl national championships, the Super Bowl of braniacs.

There are 16 Georgia high schools in the National Academic Quiz Tournaments contest. Three of those schools are ranked among the top 25.

Among the high-achieving Georgia teams is the one from Centennial High School in Roswell, ranked ninth and led by a 16-year-old rising senior named Adam Silverman.

“He has one of the craziest stat lines you’ll see,” said Quiz Bowl blogger Chris Chiego, a University of Georgia alum and a Quiz Bowl competitor at the graduate level at University of California-San Diego. “You’ll see not only a lot of points but a lot of power.”

“Power” comes from interrupting the moderator mid-question for extra points. It is a risky strategy because incorrect answers earn negative points, and it can generate some hilarious mistakes. (In a previous contest, one of Centennial’s competitors buzzed in with “Jack Bauer” on a question correctly answered “Ayatollah Khomeini.”)

Silverman said he believes his team is evenly matched with teams from Chattahoochee, Walton and Alpharetta, and he’d be happy to walk home with a top 10 finish.

In a season that extends from October through May, Centennial team members prepare by practicing twice a week for an hour before school starts and by taking strong academic courses. “Between the different members of our team, we’ve taken every single AP course twice,” Silverman said.

Two years ago, Centennial’s team included Silverman and his older brother Bradley, who went on to glory on “Teen Jeopardy” and as a chemical engineering major at Georgia Tech.

Their mother, Marci Silverman, says the children have outstripped the parents — “they are way beyond us” — though the whole family never misses a question when shouting out “Jeopardy” answers in front of the TV. “We never get anything wrong on the couch.”

While the rival Academic Decathlon competitions feature deeper questions in narrower subject areas, Quiz Bowl questions are broader, ranging from the Peloponnesian Wars to the video game “Doom.” Areas of focus come and go, said R. Robert Hentzel, president of the National Academic Quiz Tournaments. “Right now, Meso-American mythology is hot.”

It would seem impossible to know it all, and yet the average cranial capacity of known Quiz Bowl contestants (unlike homo habilis, whose brain pan holds about 650 cubic centimeters) has yet to be exhausted.

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