Not to brag — well, okay, I will — but I’m pretty good at trivia. I even won a few thousand dollars once on the History Channel’s low-rent version of “Jeopardy.” (It would have been $25,000, but I got tripped up on a question about the Pathfinder mission to Mars. Who knew Nissan sent an SUV into space?)
Yet I would have been humiliated had I been at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History Museum recently. The event was the 14th annual Paleo-Knowledge Bowl, and I am definitely not as smart as 20 teams of 4th through 6th graders.
Especially the Wilton Library team, which included Westporter Charlie Colasurdo. And which won the entire shebang.
The day-long event includes questions about paleontology that Ph.Ds would stumble over. It begins with a written exam — say, “Name the 2 Connecticut dinosaurs known from skeletons that were discovered in a Manchester sandstone quarry in the late 1800s”* — but that’s not even the most fun.
Throughout the day the 20 teams are whittled down to 16, then just 3. Each question is read twice. Team members confer, and announce their answers in front of a live audience.
For the final round this year, a Yale proctor wheeled out a Deinonychus skull. The judge asked why its antorbital fenestra — that’s the skull opening between the eye and nostril, dummies — was particularly large. He read off a battery of possible answers.
Charlie and his teammates conferred. They were excited — because, unlike you and me, they knew that orbital spaces helped the dinosaur see at night.
Still, the team — competing in its 1st-ever Paleo Bowl — was surprised to win the whole shebang.
“We couldn’t believe that all our hard work got us to the final round,” Charlie said, channeling his inner Super Bowl athlete. “Some of the questions were tricky, but our team was really well prepared by Mr. Fennell.”
For the past 5 months Darrell Fennell, a volunteer coach, and his daughter Katherine — along with the Wilton Library staff — coached the team for several hours a week. They explored dinosaurs, fossils, paleobiology, geology and more, through presentations, discussions and demonstrations. There were even field trips to the Peabody.
In addition to a behind-the-scenes peek into Peabody’s vertebrate paleontology collections, the winners walked away with a trophy, family memberships to the Yale Peabody Museum — and a special prize of rare fossils.
After my own experience with the History Channel quiz show, I’ve set my sights on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”
Charlie Colasurdo, will you be my phone-a-friend?
(*Answer: Anchisaurus and Ammosaurus. Duh!)