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The 20th Annual Battle of the Brains

By Maggie O’Hara

Photo courtesy of Maggie O’Hara

The UCI campus was quiet by 7 p.m. on the night of Monday, May 14, but inside the Student Center, a group of students scurried about. They were handing out raffle tickets, munching on cookies and snacks and practicing for the evening’s event, the 20th Annual Battle of the Brains.

The Battle of the Brains is a faculty and alumni-versus-students trivia competition held each year by the Campuswide Honors Program. Students in the program tested their knowledge against faculty from different departments, as well as alumni from several graduating classes. This year, professors Kieron Burke of the chemistry department; Nicola Ulibarri from urban planning and public policy; and Kyle Stanford, Jeff Barrett, JB Manchak, Cailin O’Connor and Jim Weatherall from logic and philosophy of science participated in the competition.

Student volunteers adorned the walls of Crystal Cove Auditorium with carefully painted images suited to the theme of the evening: fairytales. One banner showed Little Red Riding Hood skipping down a stone path. Another depicted  Goldilocks with three bowls of porridge. A third portrayed the giant’s famous “Fe Fi Fo Fum” from “Jack and the Beanstalk” in swirling green script. Meanwhile, the soundtrack to Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” played in the background. In the audience, a purple rope separated the auditorium into two sections: supporters of the faculty and alumni sat on on the right and students on the left.

The stage was set up with two tables and a podium between them. Each of the tables had a set of colored lights — red for the students and yellow for the staff and alumni — connected to a set of four handheld buzzers for contestants to press when they knew the answer. Behind the contestants, an automated scoreboard and clock, also decorated to fit  the fairytale theme, kept time for each of the three 20-minute rounds.

With some pro-faculty banter from Campuswide Honors Program Faculty Director Ted Wright, the competition began. Event Chairs Alex Pai and Brendan Tung emceed throughout the evening, introduced contestants and interacted with the videos and skits students had made to facilitate the competition and garner laughs. For each round, four contestants from each team took seats on stage and one question-reader guided the game.

Questions included general knowledge, such as, “How much does the average adult human brain weigh?” (about three pounds) and “What is 2018 in Roman numerals?” (MMXIII, as one faculty-member responded), as well as UCI-related trivia, such as, “What is the name of a group of Anteaters?” (a candle). Correct answers from contestants were followed by applause and shouts from the side of the room supporting that particular team and the addition of 10 points to their score. If neither side answered the question correctly, it would be opened up to the audience. If an audience member answered the question correctly, five points would be added to the score of the side that the audience-member supported.

Nikki Oei, an English major who won a prize for responding with the most correct answers, stated that the experience was a “great activity for the community to come out and have fun in a way that we don’t get to in class.”

The event was sponsored by several local businesses, which provided raffle prizes for the event. Student volunteers sold raffle tickets before the event, and three raffles were held during breaks between each round of trivia. The raffle included several coveted prizes, including gift cards to Target and Trader Joe’s, pairs of Rainbow sandals, tickets to Knott’s Berry Farm and the OC Fair and the grand prize of a $250 gift certificate to South Coast Plaza.

After three rounds of questions, the faculty were victorious, defeating the students who were the defending champions. The final score was 625 points for the students and a whopping 1,035 points for the faculty and alumni. Perhaps next year the students will regain their title.