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Are you one of those people who always blurts out the answers during class until the teacher finally asks if anyone else knows the answer?

Do you force your family to watch reruns of "Jeopardy" just so you can prove to them the extent of the useless (well, somewhat useless) knowledge that has found a home in the recesses of your brain?

If this is the case, and even if it isn't, tune into "MasterMinds" to watch your friends and enemies at 20 high schools throughout Western New York battle it out in the academic arena.

MasterMinds is a game show that pits teams of four from two different high schools against each other in a pursuit to rack up the most points by answering trivia questions. The program began seven years ago in Rochester and took root in the greater Buffalo area five years ago. This year, the show has been enlarged to include Albany schools.

Remember "It's Academic," the quiz show that used to run on public television? Ask your parents. In essence, MasterMinds is a revival of this older program.

In this region, the list of participating high schools so far includes Bishop Timon/St. Jude, Canisius, City Honors, Cleveland Hill, East Aurora, Grand Island, Hamburg, Iroquois, Kenmore East, Lancaster, Lewiston-Porter, Orchard Park, Sacred Heart, St. Joseph's, West Seneca West, Williamsville East, Williamsville North and Williamsville South. Many of the students faced rigorous qualification tests to earn a place on the team.

So, what's this game all about?

The actual contest consists of two rounds. In each round, two types of questions are asked: a toss-up, which is open to everyone, and a bonus, which is answerable only by the team that correctly answers the toss-up (and no, the answer does not have to be in the form of a question). Here's the catch. Toss-up questions can only be answered individually; there is no conferring among teammates. Bonuses, however, are answered as a team, through the captain, and usually consist of multiple parts, each worth a designated number of points. The topic of each question is totally random and can range from history, science or math, to literature, current events and pop culture.

If you thought the contestants on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" received hard questions, wait until you watch an episode of MasterMinds. The speed is faster, the questions are harder, and the game much more exciting. Competitors on each team must remain on top of all of this to help their schools to victory.

Contestants spend a great deal of time preparing, and although it's a lot of work, they enjoy every second of it. "It's a great way to meet people from all over the area," Lauren Welch, a senior at Williamsville East, said.

Many of the participants have made new friendships while rekindling old ones. Pat Yang, a sophomore at Williamsville North, says, "MasterMinds is a great experience. It teaches you teamwork and the spirit of competition. It's a magical feeling."

Marc Solomon, a senior at St. Joseph's Collegiate, agreed. "MasterMinds is fun because it provides challenges and creates camaraderie."

Other students simply love the experience of being on the show. "MasterMinds fine-tunes the mind, sharpens the wit and hones the intellect," Sam Arbesman, a senior at Williamsville South, said, adding, "and there's free pizza!"

Sam isn't the only one who can testify to the joyful mental rigors of the game. "It's not what you know," observed Jeff Platt, a Williamsville East senior, "it's what you know in three seconds."

MasterMinds is a show like no other. It brings the top minds of Western New York to face off against each other in intellectual combat. Instead of watching one of those other quiz show rip-offs, why not make watching MasterMinds your "final answer." Consult your local cable access listings and support your friends and classmates by tuning in.

Besides, as Nardin senior Carrie Bonfante put it, "In what other activity can you get free food and be able to press a buzzer?"

Jason Davis is a sophomore at Williamsville East High School.

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