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Interview with Tero Kalliolevo

Tero is the top Finnish quizzer, with bronze in the WQC 2008, and multiple wins in the Nordic Championships.

First, tell us a little about yourself. How old are you, where do you live, and what do you do for a living, and what kind of education do you have? We’re assuming you’re not a professional quizzer, yet. :)

-I am 33 years old, I was born in Tampere and I am currently living near Tampere town centre. I have Master of Science degree from Tampere University of Technology in 2002.
My majors are multimedia and microelectronics. Currently, I work for Nokia as a design engineer. I used to work for Tietoenator some 4 years before that.

When did you first start to quiz on a competitive level? Was it a pubquiz?

-In 1996, I participated to a Finnish TV 3 quiz competition series ‘Tietopörssi’ and I finished second. Jussi Suvanto won the same competition in the previous year. My first venture to pub quizzes was in 2002 when I checked what it was all about. I didn’t perform well in that particular pub quiz. In 2005, I begin to participate pub quizzes again in a more serious manner, found some quiz colleagues, and now I am quizzing 2-4 times weekly.

-In the early 90s our English and Swedish teachers used to organize some quizzes now and then. It was fantastic and soon I was playing against all the other students of the class. :-)

What are your favourite subjects?

-Geography, history, sports, mythology and science

What are your least favourite subjects?

-Basically there are no such subjects, but I feel I know too little about philosophy, literature, some genres of music and fashion/lifestyle.

Can you also tell us a something about quizzing in Finland. How are the pubquizes? Are there other circuits? Like the Belgians, who do not quiz in pubs, but in schools, community houses or wherever they can, and mostly it seems, during the weekends. Have you something like that in Finland, and where is the «center» of the quiz scene? I understand it’s not in Helsinki where the strongest quizzers are from, so I guess no quiz leagues exist?

-The quizzing is very locally oriented. Of course, this has much to do with long distances between some towns. Many (older) people are also very accustomed to short (and clear) «one sentence» questions and find the WQC and EQC style of «long» questions strange, confusing and not preferable. There is a huge amount of pub quizzes in all or most of the major towns. I don’t know why Helsinki hasn’t developed to a leading quiz centre on Finland. It is a big mystery.

We don’t have similar kind of quiz circuits as the Belgians (and Estonians) have. There are some annual quizzes which have or don’t have many international style of questions. For example, Oulu (Uleåborg) Open has had some very challenging questions for the last couple of years. It has been held on March and the winner of each year has been obliged to prepare questions for the next year. I made questions for the 2009 event. There are some distinct centers for Finnish quizzing, such as Oulu, Tampere, Turku and to some extent also Helsinki and Joensuu. I really would like to see some kind of quiz league in various towns, but it seems that for most of the people it is enough to sit down to a table and enjoy the questions in a local pub(s) without working for expanding the ways of quizzing. I have heard that there is some kind of quiz league running at Turku, but I have the feeling that the diffictulty level of the questions is not at the «international level». Many pubs do have monthly quiz «series», but it just means that weekly scores are summed and the monthly winner or winners get more beer. In some quizzes, it is quite characteristic that there are harder questions on certain well established topics (e.g. sports, music) and ridiculously easy questions on some topics (e.g. science) or some very ridiculous number questions which smoothen the knowledge gap between the best teams and the rest.

You of course have a Finnish Championship; when was that first held, and who won?

In 2008, Jussi won the first Finnish Championship in its current form. Our scores were tied and Jussi gave better answers to three tie-break number-related questions. Last year I won Jussi with only a half point margin. Tuomas Tumi was just half point behind Jussi, so it was a very close call.

Also, I’ve been told that especially sport quizzing is particularly popular in Finland, and that you have a special Sport Quiz Championships which have been arranged for over 20 years, is this correct? If so, is it the same people who win this (like you and Jussi), or somebody else entirely? Tell us about the format.

-You are right. There are two annual competitions arranged by a Finnish association called Suomen Urheilutietäjät (~Finnish Sports Quizzers). The questions are very hard, time consuming and require very detailed knowledge and ability to combine pieces of information and harvest one’s memory. One of those competitions is associated to all kinds of sports, but the other one is limited to athletics. It is not the same people who win in these competitions. Tuomas Tumi, Jari Hakalax, Jari Hynninen and Timo Toivonen are among the most succesful quizzers in those competitions of those who also participate to general knowledge quizzes. I was around 15th-20th in the former (of those competitions) this year. The association also publishes a magazine twice a year with different sports related articles.

Do you use any kind of mnemonics to help memorizing names and lists, like many quizzers do?

-Yes, I often associate names of places, persons, things with other similar sounding names, e.g. some days ago I thought that I had forgotten the name of the artist with strange fur-made art (Meret Oppenheim), but then I suddenly remembered that the name had some kind of association with some other famous person and soon I remembered first Oppenheimer and then almost immediately Oppenheim. :-)

You first came to our attention I’d say, when you smashed all opposition in the Nordic Championships in 2008, and later the same year you came third in the the WQC, and was not far off the first place either. You must have been very happy with that?

-Yes, I was very happy for it. I found it very satisfactory that I didn’t make any clear mistakes. There were some wrong choices from 2-3 alternatives, but it was almost optimal result. It was also nice to enjoy success because I had practiced quite a lot. I very much like to read old quiz questions and find all kinds of fancy quiz stuff from them.

This year, you repeated the three golds in the Nordic, this time on home turf, not bad! Congratulations. Could you tell us more about how that championships went?

-This year the team and pair competitions were much tighter than two years ago. Jussi couldn’t participate this time and it had an effect. He usually knows much about those questions that I don’t know, so he is quite optimal partner for me in the pairs competitions. In the pairs competition, I was with Tuomas Tumi this time and we had quite smooth performance, but in the last round the questions were extremely suitable for us and we could secure the victory. The team competition was also very thrilling and tight until the very last round. Again we managed to get answers with a good percentage and with the help of teamwork in the last round.

In the personal competition, I got a good start. There were some mistakes along the way and one very bad round, only 4/20 but it seemed to be very hard for all. In that round, there were many questions on my weaker subjects. I was a little afraid of the last round, because I didn’t have good experiences of the last rounds from the previous EQCs. This time I got some very uncertain answers correct and got a small lead for the final. The questions of the final were very different from the previous EQC/WQC/NQCs, and luckily very suitable for me, so I could even extend my lead. As a whole, I very much enjoyed every question, round and competition.

So, when you’re not reading quiz-related stuff, what kind of literature do you like?

-Well, almost all the stuff I read has some value as a quiz material. I like classic books and currently I am reading some Shakespeare stories. I also like to read books about history of music, sports, science and also some comics.

Any favourite movies, and music?

-I have favourites in almost all kinds of music and movies. I like music with fine melodies and something that differentiates them from most of the compositions of the same genre. My personal favourites are, e.g. Dire Straits, Toto, Elton John, Mozart, Beethoven, Dave Brubeck etc. What comes to the movies, I really don’t like most of the Hollywood films, especially new versions of older movies or TV series such as A-Team or Transformers. The movies are so fully productized, full of special effects and follow similar patterns. It often feels that you have seen the movie before.

Can you recommend any quiz related literature that you’re particularly fond of?

-As I said before, I read old (online) quizzes and not so much quiz literature. I haven’t much tried to find good quiz books. The Finnish quiz books are not too good, since there is a clear line for the difficulty level of the questions. One never finds detailed questions, e.g. the rulers of Byzantium (just to give an example). I havent’ tried to find English quiz books so far. I think they have much better stuff. For the time being, I get enough quiz «nourishment» from the old online quizzes.

What can you tell us about the other Finnish top players. Obviously we know that Jussi is a strong player, who unfortunately did not attend this year’s Nordics, but there are others, too. How do you reckon your chances in the EQC later this year, as a team, and individually? Does the format suit you?

-I personally think that the other Finnish top quizzers don’t practice enough. The EQC questions of the individual competition are very interesting in such a way that sometimes they seem to be very suitable for me and sometimes a real nightmare. In general, they are much harder than the ones in the WQC and I think that I have also made more mistakes in the EQCs than in the WQCs. I guess I have also missed more questions on my weaker subjects than the top players on their weaker subjects. But I am still quite confident for the EQC 2010.

Jussi is a very good partner for me for the pairs competition. Last year he knew exceptionally well in the pairs competition. I think we have chances for the podium, but it depends on many things in the end.

The current team competition format is very thrilling in the later phases (semifinal and final), but on the other hand I don’t like it when all the questions can’t be answered by both teams. The format could be modified so that the other team gives the answer on paper and the other team reads the answer aloud for a certain amount of questions and then changing of the roles takes place. The scoring could be organized in such a way that the team who has not selected the theme for the current question gets more points for knowing the correct answer if the other team doesn’t know etc. That would correspond to «stealing» the question in the current format.

Anything you’d like to see more of in international quizzing?

-Well, more Finns participating. :-) And also people from new countries, especially from Sweden and Denmark. It would be nice to make new acquiantances with them, too. I don’t know if the actual content of the competitions can be much developed. But for one thing, I would like to have more time for answering in the competitions. I was glad to find out that time was not an issue in the NQC 2010. And btw, one of the biggest differences with «traditional» Finnish and international style of quizzing is that in many Finnish quizzes competitors get all the questions with one delivery and can allocate time freely for each question.

Thanks for talking with us, Tero!

-Thanks for organizing the interview.