Before Ken Kuniyuki, a straight-A junior at...

Before Ken Kuniyuki, a straight-A junior at Torrance High, got to the question that knocked him out of contention for first place in the first California Citizen Bee, he had correctly defined the term “stagflation.”

“I said that stagflation is a unique economic condition in which a recession and inflation are combined,” the 16-year-old said.

Kuniyuki’s coach, Torrance High government teacher Pat Wright, was in the audience. “He knew it right off and I was so amazed,” Wright said.

In the Citizen Bee, a national competition encompassing American history, geography, economics, politics, culture and current events, Kuniyuki placed third in the state finals Saturday.


Kuniyuki, whose favorite subjects are social studies and mathematics, stumbled on a question about President George Bush’s gun-control policy.

“I said he put a ban on automatic guns,” Kuniyuki said.

Judges ruled his answer incorrect.

“I forgot to say it was a ban on imports,” he said. “I presumed that they knew that I didn’t mean all guns, but you can’t second-guess the judges. I learned that.”


Despite the gaffe, Kuniyuki garnered a third-place prize of $750 and a spot in the national finals in Washington on June 17.

“I’m really excited,” Kuniyuki said. “I wasn’t expecting to win third place. And going to Washington--it will be my first time there, so I am even more excited.”

The other California entrants are Stephanus Philip, a Moorpark junior who placed first, and Margaret Kuo of San Clemente High, who placed second.

Kuniyuki is a member of the Torrance High Service Club, the Science Club, the Chess Club, the Debate Club and the academic decathlon team.

He is also a student of the 19th Century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, whose writings he analyzed in a term paper for an honors English class.

“I like the way that he emphasized compassion in relationships,” said Kuniyuki. On the other hand, he said, Schopenhauer “was extremely pessimistic. Maybe he was too pessimistic.”

Kuniyuki, who typed hundreds of facts into his Apple IIe computer to study for the state round of the Citizen Bee competition, said he has begun preparing for the final round.

And he isn’t taking anything for granted. “I’ve already made some notes for myself,” he said.