Trivia(l) Pursuit: A walk through the IIT-M Quiz Club

Design by: G Rohit Reddy

About six and a half months ago, Abhirami, Prahalad and I found ourselves in the finals of the concluding quiz of the 2020 edition of Nihilanth, the annual inter IIT-IIM quiz competition. At the helm was Major Chandrakant Nair, the acclaimed quizmaster who has garnered nation-wide admiration and drawn quizzers from all over the country to his quizzes. Team IITM’s exploits over the past couple of days meant that we were already on course for victory. After four hours of brain-racking questions, the mage delivered his final act. Right after the last question was answered, the whole of CLT erupted: IITM was crowned the Champion of Nihilanth 2020. From taking up the responsibility to host it at IITM when everyone else backed out, to winning the competition on home turf, it was a day written for the ages – when quizzing triumphed over everything else.

First look at the Quiz Club

Fall of 2018, I was one of several buzzing freshies, each looking forward to their stay of four or five years in the campus with an assortment of aspirations. Quizzing was something that was definitely not on my bucket list of to-dos at insti, owing to my ignorance of the existence of the club and the quizzing scene in the city.

You see, the last time I’d attended a proper quiz was when I was in the 9th grade. It was a purely serendipitous event when I made my way to MSB one fine evening for the Freshie Main Quiz, as I had nothing else to do. Only at the end of the day did I realize how much I loved doing this! Consequently, I was added to the WhatsApp group and soon discovered that I was pretty late in joining the group (and hence, the club), compared to fellow enthu peeps from my batch, who had been inducted the conventional way: through the club weekender (I shall get to details presently). Most of my first year was a journey of discovery – quiz leagues, QF1 meets, Litsoc – as we were exposed to club specific quizzing jargon and a warm bunch of seniors, seasoned legends who’d stamped their names in the annals of the club over the years.

A semester later, I found myself travelling to IIM Calcutta along with five other freshies as part of the 30-member insti contingent to what would be my first Nihilanth. Apart from the absolutely gorgeous weather that Calcutta had to offer, this was my first flavour of what a national level quiz fest felt like. Although I didn’t make it to any of the finals, I got to witness firsthand some of insti’s finest battle it out with the crème de la crème. You see, IIT-M has a reputation for being one of the best quiz clubs in India (totally not bragging here), which it owes in no small part to stalwarts from the days gone by. From 2014-2017, we had a continuous streak of Nihilanth victories that sort of propelled us to stardom. 2018 had other plans, as a reinvigorated IIM-A team played spoilsport to deny us a perfect fifer by fewer than five points. Naturally, 2019 was the year we were seeking redemption. Unfortunately, it was simply not to be as a solid Kharagpur team beat us by a good 15 points. As a result, the mood back in the camp was rather morose, especially with the bulk of the QC members (fondly known as the HS14 gang) passing out that year. On a personal note, it was a lot of fun and easily one of the highlights of my first year at insti.

Scenes from the Prelims of the inaugural SciTech quiz in Nihilanth 2019, IIMC

The rest of the year was spent with a couple of friends and I often bunking classes to attend quizzes around the city, as we gradually incorporated ourselves into the circle, gaining experience with every quiz we sat for. The IITM QC Grandmaster (erstwhile Litsoc Grandmaster) Quiz is an annual Lonewolf quiz set and hosted by a passing out member of the quiz club. This tradition is devoutly followed towards the end of every even semester. Last year, it was Gerleo’s (one of the most versatile quizzers the club has produced) swansong. One of the most hyped-up events of the year, setters are typically known to ramp up the difficulty of questions so that only the most well-rounded quizzers qualify for the finals, which is altogether another spectacle to behold. Hence, it was another personal landmark when I qualified as one of the ten finalists of Grandmaster that year. What followed was 2 hours of my naïveté being exposed as I stared dumbstruck at most of the questions, while Sukruth and Juice (Tejas) waltzed away to the questions’ tunes, culminating in a close contest between the two. Nevertheless, as I shamelessly quote Baron de Coubertin, “It’s the participating that counts.”

First year as coordinator

Shortly before we left for the summer, we were briefed about the role of a club coordinator. The prospect of officially taking up roles, setting quizzes and organizing events got all of us excited. After a short selection procedure based on apps, about 15 of us were vested as coordinators for the year 2019-2020. Based on the proposals that different coords had written out in their apps, a string of new initiatives were implemented right away.

One main pointer was to increase the club’s online presence. And this not only meant resurrecting the hitherto dormant Facebook group but also involved opening up avenues on ‘Gen Z’ social media platforms, i.e. Instagram and Twitter.

Coords were assigned to take care of the QC account on different platforms. For the first few weeks, a fortnightly roster was formed, and each coord would post a question a day. This went on for a couple of months until the start of the fall semester, after which we switched to posting questions once a month. (You can check out the QC Instagram account to keep up with the same!) 

The prime motive of any club at the very beginning of a new year is to scout out as many interested freshies as possible, because they are the ones who will take up the mantle and carry the club forward in the future. The Quiz Club was no different. The first task for us as coordinators was to formulate a plan for the Freshie Weekender. As a freshie, I hadn’t really checked out the quiz club section during Weekender ‘18 (as I mentioned earlier, I was a late bloomer). And from the little I’d heard from my batchmates, it was one of the most crowded sections among all clubs. About 4 coords were assigned to set reasonably simple questions, while others took care of the general ambience with colourful posters and helping out with the logistics. By the end of the day, we’d managed to catch a handful of freshies, and all of them were added to the WhatsApp group.

Oh, and the QC WhatsApp group is one of the most vibrant ones around, abuzz with activity for about 20 hours a day. On a particularly busy day, one may encounter up to 25 questions (and a healthy amount of spam too!).

The rest of the semester went pretty much as planned with the usual dose of Litsoc quizzes, informal meets, and of course post-quiz dinners at Zaitoon (how I miss that place). At this point, I wouldn’t do justice to this article if I fail to mention the QC Standard Time, where meets and events are forbidden to start on time. A delay of fewer than 30 minutes is early! Every event is also bound to stretch by at least an hour more than initially speculated. Well, this probably applies to a lot of other clubs in insti as well, but we have come to embrace it.

Nihilanth 2020

If you have come this far, thank you for being patient and bear with me for a little longer, for I now intend on walking you through the last few months leading to Nihilanth 2020 – a tale of teamwork and utter tenacity.

Every year during the waning stages of the fall semester, the club conducts Prehilanths (Pre-Nihilanth), which are basically a set of screening quizzes to select freshies to the insti contingent that goes to Nihilanth the following January. Each of these prehils is set on specific topics to gauge the individual strengths of freshies. Coords are tasked with setting these quizzes, which are usually run at good ol’ Quark, where everyone huddles around a table with a couple of laptops displaying the questions, as they eagerly jot down clues and answers. This went on smoothly for a couple of weeks, a bunch of freshies were selected as part of the contingent, and everyone left home for winter break. The Inter IIT Cultural Fest was scheduled to be held at IITB that year, which was to be a good test to know what to expect at Nihilanth. Hence, a somewhat depleted contingent of about seven to eight of us got to Bombay, where we were routed for the most part. The exception was the final quiz – MELA – where the insti team comprising Tejas, Aishani and Aditya absolutely thrashed the opposition teams as they galloped to victory in style. That win gave us some consolation for our otherwise rather dismal performance and left us with renewed vigour to try and do better.

On the other side of the spectrum, there was a lot of confusion regarding Nihilanth and whether it was happening at all. Each institute seemed to think that one of the others would be hosting the event. Eventually, it reached a point where no one had bid to host Nihilanth at all, citing funding issues.

After all this, Nihilanth might not happen at all! Something had to be done to ensure the legacy continued. Till now, we had never thought of hosting Nihilanth right here at home because of, well, budget issues again.

That’s when the convenors decided to take up the responsibility of hosting it here. A meeting was organized where the convenors and coordinators brainstormed to cut down on additional costs as much as possible and draft an optimal budget. A decision had to be made: a choice between Nihilanth and Madras Minutiae (insti’s annual quiz fest). We stuck with the former, and the proposal was sent to the dean, who miraculously agreed to it! This was about a fortnight before the weekend the event was supposed to take place.

Just as one hurdle was cleared, fate seemed to throw another obstacle to thwart our plans in the form of COVID-19. Cases were on the rise all over the world by early March, with many colleges already having shut down indefinitely. This meant that we didn’t have much time before insti did the same thing. Fortunately enough, a few of the IITs and IIMs responded to the invitation. By the start of the event, two teams from Kharagpur, one from Bombay, a couple more from Ahmedabad and a few teams from Tirupati, Hyderabad, BHU and Roorkee finished the rest of the lineup. 

We’d gotten this far, now all that was left was to go win it. The three days following that just whizzed past with insti teams putting up a good fight in all the quizzes, the highlight being the moment when Chad (Sathvik) and Paramu (Aditya) came out first and second respectively in the flagship Lonewolf quiz. By then we had amassed enough points to have an unassailable lead, which takes me back to the finals of the General quiz, post which we were crowned as champions, retrieving what was lost two years ago.

After the customary photographs and celebrations (ex-QC member Zainab was ever so kind to bring us cake!), we retired back to our rooms for a good night’s sleep after almost thirty hours of staying awake on the trot. We had to evacuate our hostels the very next day as insti shut down indefinitely, and the timing couldn’t have been better!

IITM Contingent post Nihilanth 2020 victory, joined by Major Chandrakant Nair, CLT

Which brings us to a question: why does one quiz? There is no particular explanation – some people derive joy out of knowing obscure facts, while others do it for that burst of adrenaline when they ‘crack open’ a question. Either way, everyone feels a sense of belonging and togetherness when they’re a part of a club that promotes the same. People may have their differences in opinion over a lot of other things, which often leads to healthy debates on the QC WhatsApp groups which may sometimes get out of hand. For instance, there was a minor hiccup when people weren’t happy with the teams drafted for Nihilanth – however, any feeling of animosity vanished during the event, when everyone came together as one club. That’s the beauty of the club. Today, QC has entirely shifted online with fortnightly meets being held on Discord, which are open to everyone from insti. So do drop by sometime for a fun-filled evening of quizzing! 

Edited by: Amrita Mahesh

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