Each February for the past 29 years, San Francisco-area high-schoolers have turned out in droves - to spend the weekend at the library? The annual invasion of art galleries, newspaper archives, and universities is all part of the Friends of Millard Fillmore Trivia Hunt.
Director Bob Hunter, vice principal of Carlmont High School in Belmont, Calif., says the hunt (named for America's 13th president) is an effort to turn on students to problem-solving and research.
Each school's trivia team has 52 hours to come up with the answers to questions ranging from "Find the name of the baby whose picture is on Gerber baby-food products" (Ann Cook) to "How many points did the Dow Jones Industrial Average go up in its first 100 years?" (5721.92) Each answer must be documented. Contestants also have to find five bring-in items. For example, a ticket from the "Late Show with David Letterman in San Francisco." Creativity is key.
"There are lots of great war stories," Dr. Hunter says. One year, 12 students had to get themselves into Stanford University's library, but they had only one library card. How did they manage it? "It's easy if you have a Frisbee, masking tape, and an open window," they told Hunter.
Another year, students had to obtain the autograph of one of the Most Valuable Players (offense or defense) for a particular football game - a tense local rivalry. Before the game, one group went to the hotel where one team was staying, handed the program to a player, and asked him to have everyone on the bus sign it - on the off chance that someone would win one of the awards. That year, Hunter chuckles, that squad won both.
And sometimes it doesn't hurt to go directly to the top. This year, Hunter's wife got a phone call asking if one team could borrow Hunter's Millard Fillmore Christmas ornament, one of the bring-in items. (The rules say you can use any means that's legal.) Another team hit up Hunter for his unused ticket to a strike-canceled 1994 San Francisco Giants baseball game - another item on the bring-in list.
Hunter isn't sure how many get involved in each hunt, since so many parents and community members join in. This year, for example, one team went so far as to e-mail friends at MIT for help.
Some Questions From This Year's Contest
1. Provide the name of the head of state who was interviewed in his pajamas on a 1959 Edward R. Murrow TV show.
2. The name of the entertainer who occupied the center square on the final network broadcast of "Hollywood Squares."
3. The name of the performer to have the first classical album "go platinum" - sell 1 million copies. The name of the work featured on the album.
4. The name of a Division I college football team that went through an entire eight-game season without scoring a single point. In what year did this occur?
5. What feat caused 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier to be looked upon by many who live in the North as a hero but in the South as a villain?
6. Write an English word that contains all five vowels in alphabetical order.
7. Dentist B.H. McKeeby is perhaps the most famous male model in American art. Name the famous painting in which he appeared and the name of the artist.
8. The name of the brigadier general who went into combat after having served as US president.
9. The name of a president whose personal plane was nicknamed "The Sacred Cow."
10. What common, simultaneous fate was shared by the following vessels? Where did the event occur? Nagato, Arkansas, Anderson, Saratoga, Sakawa.
11. The name of the first American to hit a golf shot on the moon.
12. What town proudly calls itself "The Toothpick Capital of the World"?
Answers: 1. Fidel Castro; 2. George Gobel; 3. Van Cliburn, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1; 4. Villanova, 1923; 5. He "created" a home run. While in the seating area of Yankee Stadium during the 1996 New York Yankees-Baltimore Orioles American League Championship Series, he reached over the wall into the area of play and caught a fly ball; 6. Facetious; 7. "American Gothic," by Grant Wood; 8. John Tyler, who served in the Confederate Army; 9. Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman; 10. They all were sunk by a nuclear blast at the Bikini Lagoon test site; 11. Alan Shepard; 12. Strong, Maine.