The “Rule of 140”

The “Rule of 140”

By Cullen Baggett | May 27, 2024

       One hundred forty, why is that number significant? Is it the code to some secret passage leading to treasure behind Mount Rushmore or in a Mayan pyramid? With confidence (though not 100% confidence), I can rule that out. For Bible quizzing, 140 is actually very relevant and important to remember. I will attempt to give a quick summary of why the number 140 is significant and why you should tuck it away as a rule of thumb for a three-team quiz.

       Before diving into the how and why, it’s only right to start out by saying this is NOT an absolute law. To my knowledge, no advanced statistical study has been conducted to test the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of the rule in every possible scenario. Situations may arise, though unlikely, where the rule of thumb wouldn’t work. For example, this event of failure would be more likely at an event which awards bonuses to quizzers who quiz out without error or a team bonus for every member answering a question. In the time I have been involved in Bible quizzing, I cannot recall seeing a team get a low with 140 points, though I have heard a story or two. As a life principle, let’s try to make err on the rules and not the rare exceptions. 

       Alright, the disclaimer is out of the way so what is this 140-thing?! The rule of 140 states that: “if your team reaches a score of 140 points in a quiz, under the overwhelming majority of circumstances, you are safe and should heavily consider sitting, virtually guaranteeing a middle.”  This may not sound like groundbreaking or exciting information, but it could be the difference between a middle and a low or elimination and living to quiz another round.

       Football has been referred to as “a game of inches”. Let’s call Bible Quizzing “a game of milliseconds.” Just a little bit too early on that jump and the quizzer doesn’t have the needed information, virtually taking a shot in the dark and relying more upon a game of probability than his or her memorized text. Just a little bit too late, and you’re watching those “easy money” points going to an opposing team. 

       Why interrupt the rule of 140 discussion with a sports comparison about jump-timing and a small margin of error? Because, this rule may just put you in a “safe situation” where you don’t have to focus on jump-timing or right-down-to-the-wire quizzing. Instead, you’re sitting back, waiting for the other two teams to duke it out. You are safe and can look forward to the next round. 

       In a normal quiz, there are 20 questions each valued at 20 points to be answered correctly. This is a total of 400 points on the board. If we divvy out those points across the three teams, we get 133.33 points, a number obviously not divisible by 20. The minimum number greater than that number which is also divisible by 20? You guessed it! 140. Getting to a clean score of 140 means your team has answered seven 20-point questions correctly. Let’s dive into a quick theoretical example here to show the logic.

       If you get off to a hot start, answering the first seven questions correctly, you’ve taken a 140-0-0 lead. 400 minus 140 tells us there are 260 points left out there for the other two teams. If you sit the rest of the quiz, neither team errors, and we split those 260 points between them, the final score after Question 20 is 140-130-130 and you’ve got that 140. This means your lights are getting turned off while they’re battling it out in a tie-breaker. 

       While I understand this is a very clean and elementary example, the rule applies for the overwhelming majority of circumstances. Time and time again, I have seen teams reach 140 and in the heat of the moment when emotions are high in the competition, they eventually squander their secured middle. This is disappointing as a spectator but definitely more-so for the quizzers and coaches. But why? Why does it happen?

       First, maybe it’s an attempt to keep up momentum by continuing to jump. The “big mo” is real but that’s only a decent theory. Second, maybe it’s the goal to secure a high rather than a middle. Highs versus middles is a totally different conversation. Going for a high over a middle is a justifiable goal; however, for the sake of argument, 100% of the time, a middle is better than a low. Third, it may even be an old-fashioned attempt to run up the score on a friendly rival. This would imply a massive underestimation of an opponent, so hopefully this is the rarest case. Whatever the reason, if your team is in a quiz with two other competitive teams and you’ve reached 140, maybe call a timeout and think twice about continuing to jump. At least pull back the reins on aggressive jumping. 

       I can’t resist another sports example. Let’s go back in time. It’s 2016, we’re at Super Bowl 51. The Atlanta Falcons played the New England Patriots in a quest for their first title. They fail. Patriots’ Quarterback Tom Brady captured his 5th Super Bowl ring, winning in overtime with a final score of 34-28. But wait, with 2:18 to go in the 3rd Quarter, the Falcons were up 28-3. Talk about having victory ripped from you!

       Some call this a miracle comeback, others call it an embarrassing collapse. I tend to go with the second school of thought. Poor, unnecessarily aggressive play-calling coupled with poor execution allowed the Patriots to comeback and win the Super Bowl. Now, Falcons fans and “anyone but the Patriots fans” remember this as a “what could have been.” Don’t be like the Atlanta Falcons. If you have 140, especially if it’s in the form of a big lead, think long and hard before continuing to jump. 

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