Modern Technology For An Ancient Contest

Certamen is a special class of  high school quiz bowl tournament that’s focused solely on the classics. No, not Austen and Dickens, the actual classics. All the questions are about stuff like ancient Greek and Roman civilization and culture, classical mythology, and the finer points of Latin grammar. Like any other quiz bowl, the contestants use buttons to buzz in and answer the questions.

To win at Certamen, a team needs more than just a vast working knowledge of classical antiquity. They also have to be fast on the buzzer. The best way to do that is to practice with official equipment. But this is Hackaday, so you know what comes next: all the ones you can buy cost five times more than they should, so [arpruss] made an awesome open-source version for a fraction of the cost.

The practice machine consists of 12 arcade-style buttons connected to a control box. An Arduino Mega in the control box records the order of button presses as they arrive and displays a corresponding code on an LCD. A toggle switch selects between Certamen mode, where one button press locks out the rest of the team, and a Quiz mode with no lockout.

Our favorite thing about this build is the way [arpruss] took care of managing long cables, which was one of his main must-haves. The buttons are wired to the control box with Cat6 in three groups of four—one cable per table, one pair per chair. Our other favorite thing is the Easter eggs. Hold down the clear button on the control box when the system is booting and one of two things happens: either the buttons band together and turn into piano keys, or some Latin poetry appears on the screen.

[arpruss]’s 3D-printed buzzer bases look pretty slick. If Certamen practice ever starts to get out of hand, he might consider more robust packaging, like these Devo hat buttons.

2 thoughts on “Modern Technology For An Ancient Contest

  1. Here’s another way. The US Department Of Energy’s National Science Bowl used to have a schematic for an electromechanical system using relays. It was designed to be first button lockout. IIRC it uses lights at each button and there’s a reset button on the master box.

    Some years ago I helped a friend build one with that circuit. We got some heavy duty contactors for the switches and built the whole thing in commercial grade plastic electrical boxes, and the contestants still managed to break some of the box covers. Everything was strung together with phone cord and RJ45 jacks and plugs. Instead of a buzzer we used an old dual chime doorbell. Packing it up was simple. Unplug all the cords, fold up and tie. Place everything in a Rubbermaid tub.

    I’ve sent the NSB people an email asking if they still have that schematic.

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