Who Wants to Be a Judge at the National Academic Championship?

Chris Lenius, coach of the Chaska team, offered contest judges use of the internet computer in his hotel room. No more than 30 minutes could be spent reaching a decision, as this was the second-to-last match in the 2003 Nationals, and teams had planes to catch! A dozen reputable sources were found to indicate that Lake Titicaca, not Lake Maracaibo is South America's largest lake. Another dozen reputable sources listed Lake Titicaca as South America's second largest lake, next to Maracaibo. NAA chief judge Mike Mastandrea, not in St. Louis at the time, was consulted by cell phone. Everybody knew that, regardless of the judges' decision, one team would leave the game elated, the other unhappy. Mike's advice: given the evidence, there were two alternatives. (A) Since Scripps Ranch gave Titicaca, an answer that would be correct, according to numerous sources, remove the 15 points from Walton and award them to Scripps Ranch, which would give Scripps Ranch the victory. (B) Since good arguments could be made for either Walton's answer or Scripps Ranch's answer, just throw the question out and come up with a replacement, which would be posed to Scripps Ranch as their 15-point bonus. If they missed it, Walton would get a chance to get it right and, in so doing, tie the game.

We opted for Plan B, explained our reasoning, deliberately, to the assembled audience, fielded a few questions from the coaches, then posed the deciding question to Scripps Ranch. What is the largest lake, by surface area, in Europe? They knew that it was Lake Ladoga, and won the game.

In retrospect, the decision would have been a bit easier, though no less heart-rending, had we thought to contact geologist Thomas McGuire during the research break on Sunday rather than the day after. His take on the question and answer: "A lake is, by definition, a large body of water, surrounded by land, and not directly connected to the ocean. ... So Lago de Maracaibo is not a lake. It is, in fact, an embayment of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Venezuela."

Return to the statistical summary of the 21th Annual National Academic Championship.