San Francisco Chronicle

Ex-Peninsula Quizkid is found dead

Diana 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 drowned.

"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 Cambridge."

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 than that."

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 Friedman.

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 investment firm.

"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