Entrepreneurialism: A Story about Curiosity and Ingenuity

What’s it worth to know that the Academy’s cupola draws on an illustrious heritage of monuments dating back to the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates? Well, this year it’s worth $175, one dollar for every year of the Academy’s history. What is it worth to know that middle school students never give up on an answer and will form nuanced, artful research terms for web searches? Priceless. Here’s the whole story.

When I designed a challenge around the Academy’s 175th anniversary, I wanted a series of questions that would put our students to the test. What do we look at every day that has a great history, whether we know it or not? I also wanted to show them how to tap into their entrepreneurial motivations by giving a tangible reward. As a reward, I chose an iTunes gift card that would start at $175 but go down with each clue given, so that those who solved the riddle with the fewest clues would get the largest reward.

The 175th Anniversary challenge began one Monday morning at announcements, which I followed with an email to all students:

To All Middle School Students:


Here’s more about the trivia game for 175 years at Sewickley Academy.

There are five sets of clues. Each set lists two or more seemingly unconnected things, but they are really connected by the answer to the riddle. Be the first to correctly identify the connection between all the clues and win a prize. The size of the prize depends on how many clues you use to find the answer! Don’t forget to look at all the clues together in order to figure out the riddle.


First clues: Athens, Greece. Pittsburgh, PA. And one bonus clue (not a surprise) is Sewickley, PA.


The current prize for getting the correct answer is a $175 iTunes gift card.

– – Mr. Zemsky

By 1:00 I had over 40 incorrect guesses and was feeling confident. By 3:00 I had over 50 responses that ranged from page one of the Google results, like the old “Little Athens” restaurant in Sewickley, to the obscurely fascinating, such as this:

Dear Mr. Zemsky,


My first attempt at the trivia question is as follows:


Sewickley Academy first started out as just the lower school and then became a larger school divided into three sections. The lower school serves as the ceremony hall as well.

The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens also started out as one small main university, this section also known as the Propylaea, and has also expanded and the Propylaea now serves as the ceremony hall.

Moreover, Sewickley Academy was founded in 1838 while the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens was founded in 1837.


Furthermore, both schools contain a Mr. Hansen.


Thanks, Priya

Knowing that the answer to the riddle was insanely specific, I felt confident enough to ready the next round of clues in another email to all students and scheduled it to send it that evening:

If you are following along and want to keep researching and emailing me answers, here are some more clues:


“We are the Champions” by Queen


Mr. Heavner’s class


The Richardson Building


Remember that the winning answer connects all the clues together. The previous clues were:

Athens, Greece. Pittsburgh, PA. And one bonus clue (not a surprise) is Sewickley, PA.

Then, at 5:01, before it was sent, I received the following email, under the subject line of “Second Attempt at the answer to the Similarities of Athens and Pittsburgh.”

Mr. Zemsky,


Both Athens and Pittsburgh are one of the few cities that have a Choragic Monument of Lysicrates.   It is the first Greek monument built in the Corinthian order on its exterior. It was originally crowned with an elaborate floral support for the bronze tripod that was the prize Lysicrates’ chorus won.


The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Pittsburgh is located in the Carnegie Museum of Art in the Hall of Architecture.

The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates is also a type of cupola, and our school is commonly defined by its cupola crowning the Lower School.


Attached are some pictures of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates at the Carnegie Museum of Art.


We are hoping that this answer is correct!


Morgan and Grant


8th and 7th Grade, Kurtz and Garfield Advisories

I read it three times. I paused over the magic words they had highlighted in bold as their answer. How had these two siblings – a brother and sister working together? – discovered a trivial but much cherished piece of architectural history known as the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates? I asked them in the morning how they had come up with their answer. Morgan emailed me the link she and Grant had found about the Choragic Monument and the two surviving copies, one of which Andrew Carnegie brought to his museum in his collection of the world’s greatest architectural treasures. Trying not to give away that they had uncovered the answer – my answer – to the riddle, I wrote back:

This is a great find, Morgan! Do you remember the search words you put into Google to find this?


Thanks, Mr. Zemsky

Her reply revealed a lot about how we connect knowledge today and about how students can create and describe finely tuned thinking processes:

Mr. Zemsky,


When I heard that one of the clues was Pittsburgh, or more specifically Sewickley, I thought about the signature things that defined these two places and searched for them in Athens as well.  I searched things such as the pillars on the front of the school, 175 year anniversaries, latitude and longitude, population, and finally the school’s cupola. On Google, I searched “Pittsburgh and Athens similar architecture cupola” and unsuccessfully found anything under the web search.  In desperation, we looked under Google Images and clicked on the first two pictures.  The first picture wasn’t helpful, but the second picture was the blog I showed you.  I researched the similar cupolas and found that they were both Choragic Monuments of Lysicrates.  I decided to email you when I found that these monuments only located only in Pittsburgh, Athens, and Sydney.


I also discovered that the further clues you gave make sense with the monument:


The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates was created to commemorate the award of first prize to one of the musical/​choral performances in the Theater of Dionysus. This ties both “We Are the Champions” by Queen and Mr. Heavner’s class clues together (trophy and chorus).  The Richardson Building is also known as the Lower School, where the cupola is located.


Hope this helps!

Google, or whatever your search engine of choice, has become the lens that we use to make sense of the world. More relevant to what we do at the Academy, students are supplying their own thinking to try out searches, to evaluate the results, and to refine their search criteria.

Many students thought about Athens, and had guessed that it had to have something to do with architecture, education, or politics. They put these terms on the search line and read the results. Several other students, thinking about Sewickley Academy’s campus, had also guessed it had something to do with pillars or with cupolas. The answer still did not emerge on page one of Google, however.

Morgan and Grant’s breakthrough was clicking on the “Images” link on the Google results page and looking at the results. It was there that they saw a picture that looked somewhat familiar to them and that linked to an architecture blog, which they then read thoroughly and double checked with mainstream sites about the Monument.

Kudos to Morgan and Grant for using all their resources, for not giving up, and for being able to clearly describe their process for finding the right answer!


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