San Francisco Chronicle
Ex-Peninsula Quizkid is found dead
Walsh, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, April 23, 2007
(04-23) 20:35 PDT -- Daniel Barclay's sister expected to fly to Sweden
some day to watch her brainy older brother receive a Nobel Prize. But his body
was found on a Cape Cod beach Friday, and authorities told his family that the
Menlo Park native and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student had
"The running joke in our family was what would he win first, the Nobel
prize for peace or the Nobel prize for economics,'' said Rachel Barclay, a
sophomore at UC Berkeley. "I was just looking forward in 30 or 40 years
time to being a really famous guy's little sister.''
Barclay, 22, a former star of Quizkid, a local television quiz for Peninsula
high schools, told friends April 7 he was going on an adventure. That same day,
according to his father, Michael Barclay, the lanky Eagle Scout bought an
inflatable raft and camping gear at a Wal-Mart store.
Both his sister and father communicated with him via instant messaging on the
computer the following day, and both received an instant reply that they didn't
think twice about until after he disappeared. It read, "I have to meet with
some sketchy people I thought I'd never have to deal with again in East
It is unclear when Barclay went out on his raft. But he didn't show up to a toy
design class the following Monday. Friends figured Barclay, who was just days
away from completing his master's thesis in political science, had holed up in a
library or campus building hard at work on his final draft.
On April 12, after he failed to show up for several days, his friends reported
him missing to campus police and contacted his parents.
His parents flew east and for a week searched for clues and posted flyers of
their missing son.
On Friday, a bird watcher discovered a body on a beach in Sandwich, Mass.,
roughly 60 miles from MIT. Near the body was a deflated raft and a bucket.
Authorities confirmed his family's worst fears. Officials have said foul play is
not suspected, but results of toxicology tests are pending.
Michael Barclay believes his son set out on a nearby river in the plastic boat
and got in trouble with strong currents. He thinks his son used the bucket to
remove water from his raft.
"I strongly believe it was an accident. He overestimated his own abilities
to handle a small boat. He underestimated how bad the rivers were,'' said his
father. "I'm very convinced that it was just an accident and nothing more
As a Menlo Atherton high school student, Barclay led his school's quiz team to
four consecutive victories on the popular cable show. Modeled after the old
General Electric College Bowl, the televised match pits high school teams
against each other as they answer questions about literature, language, science,
art, current events and other topics. Barclay, who was featured in The Chronicle
at the time, said that he never watched television, liked to read historical
atlases for fun and spent his lunch period in practice sessions with his
teammates. He rarely missed an answer -- about anything.
"He knew when I started a question exactly where I was going before I had
the words out. It was eerie,'' said Brad Friedman, host of the show. "Other
kids have come to do that since, but no one has come close to doing it as well
as he did.''
Barclay downplayed his success on the show, telling a Chronicle reporter,
"I don't want to be seen as some strange, unstoppable force. I just want to
be seen as someone who represented his school."
"He made for great television, he was such a unique person,'' said
He entered MIT in 2003 and arrived with so many advanced placement credits that
he was set to graduate this June with both a bachelor's degree in economics and
master's degree in political science.
He spent years using a mathematical model to predict presidential election
trends and the model became the subject of his master's thesis, his father said.
During the summer of the 2004 presidential election, Barclay bet online that
George Bush would win and doubled the $5,000 he'd earned in a summer job. He
rolled that money over to bet on Hillary Clinton in 2008.
His father said his son had a wonderful sense of humor, too, and as a member of
the MIT parliamentary debate team frequently amused audiences.
After graduation, Barclay planned to stay in Boston working at a financial
"He was just a brilliant, funny, really nice kid,'' Michael Barclay said.
"Right now we're in the state of shock."
In addition to his father, he is survived by his mother, Sue Kayton, and his
sister, Rachel. A memorial service will be held later.
E-mail Diana Walsh at email@example.com.