Knowledge Master Open

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Knowledge Master Open was a computer quiz contest held twice a year, run by Academic Hallmarks.

The event began in 1983 with a high school division, and later added four more divisions which AH labeled "5th Grade," "6th Grade," "Middle School," and "Junior High." Presumably, the fact that two or even all four of those grade levels could be part of the same school/team depending on the structure of one's local school district was addressed in the eligibility rules.

Academic Hallmarks announced that the spring 2013 KMO was the last one that will be offered.


The tournament's "official" date is on a Wednesday, but teams may compete earlier, as long as scores are reported by the end of the official contest day. Teams may consist of any number of students. Registered teams were mailed a password-protected floppy disk (earlier years) or CD (later years) in advance of the tournament, and the password was announced on the KMO website at the start of the official competition period.

The contest consists of 200 multiple-choice questions (100 questions for the 5th/6th grade division) in a variety of categories. Questions has five answer choices and teams are given two chances to answer each question. Five points are awarded for a correct answer on the first attempt with bonus points based on how quickly the team answered.

Time Bonus Pts.
0-7 seconds 5
8-12 seconds 4
13-17 seconds 3
18-22 seconds 2
23-29 seconds 1
30-60 seconds 0

Two points are awarded for a correct answer on the second attempt, with no bonus points possible. No points are deducted if both answers are incorrect.

Teams are given up to three five-minute timeouts. Teams are only allowed to use pencil and paper; assistance from outside resources, including adults and spectators, is prohibited.

During the contest, awful puns are occasionally displayed between questions, each playing on the word "auk", referring to the "Great Auk" which is the mascot of the competition.

At the end of the contest, statistics are displayed indicating how well the team did in each category. Results are reported via telephone by reporting the number of correct answers, number of points, number of second chance answers, and a "score code" generated based on the aforementioned values that is used to authenticate the total number of points reported.

It is unknown if anyone ever got around the score code verification system; however, it was trivial to attempt to cheat at the contest in other ways, either by copying the files off the disk and attempting to crack the password without disturbing the original files in order to pre-research the questions, or by having ineligible people or materials in the room during the competition. KMO relied on an honor system to avoid those issues, and, despite occasional rumors, there was no solid evidence of any winner cheating. Most years of KMO only awarded plaques or t-shirts as prizes; monetary prizes were infrequent and modest, providing a low incentive to cheat.

Scores are usually posted to the contest's website the Friday following the official tournament date. The name of the national champion (or champions, as ties are not broken) in each division is announced, and all schools are shown ranked relative to their state. A list of overall national finishers could only be compiled by third parties.

Once the official competition period has ended, the passwords for the contest are posted on the KMO website so that old disks may be used as practice material. Each contest may be re-played an indefinite number of times, but only the first usage will generate a valid score code.

Relationship to quizbowl

As a multiple choice, computer-based quiz with no head-to-head component, the KMO was not an attempt to be any kind of quizbowl event. However, due to the crossover of knowledge and trivia needed to succeed at KMO with the canon of bad quizbowl, many of the more successful participants were quizbowl teams, or at least squads that had success in local TV formats. Some teams that were initially formed to compete in KMO evolved into very successful good quizbowl programs; most notably, the State College dynasty still labels itself the "State College Knowledge Masters" club.

The questions disproportionately emphasized the pet topics of the Academic Hallmarks writers (grammar, math calculation, and earth science) out of proportion to their normal rate of appearance in the quizbowl canon.

Academic Hallmarks is inexplicably protective of its old results data, so only the names of winners before 2013 are available on its website; all old tables of finishes have been scrubbed from their site and blocked from being archived. Memory reveals that in its peak years around the late 90s and early 2000s, each year's ten tournaments attracted a total of about 6000 entries, and always had several exotic entrants from non-quizbowl states or international English-language schools such as the Tashkent International School listed on the results.


Knowledge Master website