Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Paris – 25 March, 2015

Each year, NHBB and our international counterpart, IHBB, organize over 200 tournaments in over 20 countries around the world. The overwhelming majority of these run in a 12 week period from January 5-March 25 that is affectionately known to NHBB staff simply as “Crunch Time”. During this period, for NHBB’s 6 current full-time staff members, there are no off days, and 16+ hour work days and 110+ hour work weeks are common. On the plus side, we get to travel throughout the USA and the world, and meet thousands of the country’s and the world’s best students at our tournaments. Still, Crunch Time often can be exhausting, and usually means a higher wait time for us to respond to emails, awards being sent after tournaments, and other such bumps in the road.

For the fourth year in a row, NHBB’s Middle School History Bee team of Eric Huff and Nick Clusserath (accompanied this year by 8 interns, as well as Raynell Cooper or Bunnie Hadsall for most of the way) is out on the “Magical History Tour” around the USA (as of this post, they’re in Missouri, en route to Tennessee for this afternoon’s tournament near Memphis). The History Tour, according to those who are on it, is variously described as “an amazing experience” and “the most exhausting thing I have ever done.”

Nolwenn and I meanwhile, just completed an eight week-stretch in Asia that featured a 10-day outreach trip to Australia as well. During this time, there were a number of weekends where we each directed two events on a weekend in two separate countries (we made all our flight connections :), often being in a particular country for less than 24 hours at a time. We’re now in Europe, having arrived in Paris yesterday, after running tournaments in Rome and London (me) and Stuttgart (Nolwenn) over the weekend. I’m soon off to Sweden for IHBB’s inaugural tournament in Scandinavia on Sunday, while Nolwenn runs our largest regional tournament in France to date on Saturday.

Still, nothing this year compared to last year’s craziest Crunch Time escapade where on 2 hours of sleep, I ran a tournament for 20 teams in Singapore on my own at a school with no assistants, the most confusing school layout of classrooms ever encountered – and worst of all, no air conditioning. Having a team from Singapore’s Ministry of Education observe the tournament didn’t exactly lighten the pressure either… After the tournament, I missed my evening flight to Malaysia, which necessitated hiring a taxi to make a 5 hour drive (costing roughly $450 USD, including hotel for the driver and the trip back to Singapore). The driver then got lost on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur for 2 hours, before finding a hotel at 5am. No sooner did I finally lie down for an hour’s nap when the morning muezzin (Malaysia’s an Islamic country after all…) prevented any sleep. That meant an allnighter before running the Malaysia tournament for 18 teams, again on my own. Somehow, all went well, though, and we had about 10 teams from Singapore and Malaysia come to our inaugural Asian Championships last year, so they must have enjoyed themselves.

So Crunch Time = hotels, schools, airports, and emails, emails, emails. It is physically and mentally draining, and we’re glad it’s gone well and is (for the high school and international divisions, at least) basically over. Now, our eyes are looking ahead to Nationals, Canadians, Euros, and Asians (and farther ahead, to the International History Olympiad…). For the next two weeks, things are relatively calm – only tournaments in 4 countries this coming weekend, for example, and about an 80 hour work week for Nolwenn and me at the moment. But after Crunch Time, we’ll take it.

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