Travel-Team Geeks

The Denver-bound Quizzo players, in the Bards Pub on Walnut Street, are (from left) Jason Garbowski, Phil Castagna, Nate DiGiorgio, Ryan Crocetto, and Johnny Goodtimes.

We were waiting for Garbo.

This was 10:15, Monday night, the Quizzo contest had already begun, and the team to beat was doing a pretty good job of beating itself.

It had no clue about the first question: What's the name of the high school in the TV show "Glee?" 

It stroked the second question, Where did the poem "Casey At the Bat" take place? But asked, Which ingredient in chewing gum comes from the sparadilla tree? it choked.

These were not just self-styled experts in trivial pursuits. These were travel-team geeks, a crew of Quizzo all-stars from a variety of Philadelphia pubs, hand-picked to compete in Denver and represent the depth of local knowledge about matters high and low. They'd dropped by the New Deck Tavern by the Penn campus to stretch their brain muscles a bit before undergraduates playing for beer money. And they were already cramping.

Where was Garbo? 

Munching peanuts and filling out the answer sheet was Phil Castagna, 32, a Center City attorney who during warm-ups had shouted out the right answer to every question, and had to be told to give someone else a chance. He'd come up with the team's name for the evening -- 12 Angry Men on the Field, a dig at the way the Minnesota Vikings had penalized themselves out of field goal range at the end of last weekend's playoff game.

Across from him sat Nate DiGiorgio, 27, a computer jock at Penn, whose specialities were sports and technology.

And next to Castagna was Johnny Goodtimes, 34, the man who had assembled the team with an eye for filling in the holes in his body of knowledge, which are drafty. His strengths, he said: "Good looks and drinking."

They were fielding the fourth question -- who designed the steam boat called the Clermont -- when in came Garbo.

Jason "Garbo" Garbowski, is 31, a tutor for Stanley Kaplan, the testing company. He says he's a generalist. His teammates say he's Rain Man. As they were waiting for him, they recalled a recent gathering where highlights from the Master's Tournament played on the TV. As the rest of the team watched. Garbo stared intensely. "Look," Castagna said, "he's downloading!"

"What do we have?" asked Garbo, taking a look at Castanga's answer sheet. He quickly filled in the missing anwers, getting McKinley High, missing Chickle, but nailing Robert Fulton and the rest of the questions in the round.

Not a good start for a team that's used to winning. Two more friends will be joining them for this Saturday's Geek Bowl in Denver. As the big day approached, he'd been talking some smack on the Geeks Who Drink Website, where he'd called out all of the other contestants' cities and started a cross-country flame war. He wrote:

 While the competition for First won't be very close, I really think that battle for 2nd Place could be one for the ages! So tighten up your Birkenstocks, trim your neck hair, and eat your granola, Denver. Philadelphia is coming to town...and we're bringing hell with us.

The Virginia-born Quizzo master has lived here eight years, and it didn't take long for the city to rub off on him. He realized he was becoming a Philadelphian during the summer of 2006 when he saw a Rockies-Padres game in Denver and found himself heckling relief pitcher Trevor Hoffman.  "Just like in the All Star game, Trev, baby," Goodtimes hollered. "Just like in the All-Star game,"  which Hoffman had just blown.

"People looked at me, horrified," he said. "I thought it was mild."

Monday night's Quizzo match went four rounds, and the Angry Men went on a tear, knowing Don Shula coached longer in the NFL than Tom Landry and that Euclid was the father of geometry. They identified all 10 international road signs during a visual round, and found a series of questions about Eddie Murphy easy. By midnight, they'd clawed their way into a tie for the lead.

Then they missed all five playoff questions. Second place.

"This happened to us the last time we invited the media," Goodtimes said. "This is a wake up call. We've got four days of hard studying to do."

He turned to his teammates. ""Who's gonna handle video games? Who's going go deep into Led Zeppelin tracks?"

Clearly they're trying to make Denver over-confident.