APPLETON, WIS. — Not only will Lawrence University senior Erin Watson preside over the 44th edition of the nation’s longest-running trivia contest, she will become a trivial footnote in its glorious four-plus decades history.
Lawrence’s annual 50-hour mental marathon dedicated to mindless minutia returns Friday, Jan. 23 for a weekend rife with questions and answers as obscure as they are inconsequential. And for just the second time since the contest debuted in 1966, a woman will reign over the weekend ridiculousness.
“It’s exciting,” said Watson of her position of power. She joins Melinda Young, who in 1977 served as the first female grand master. (Three other female students have served as co-grand masters, the last in 1989). “I hope to bring a little different perspective to the contest. I think all the female trivia players out there will be excited about the change.”
Watson, a studio art and English major from Milwaukee, played trivia as a freshman, but served as a trivia master the past two years. She credits her “extreme dedication” to trivia for her ascension to this year’s grand master’s chair. By tradition, she was hand-picked for trivia’s top spot by last year’s grand master, James Prichard.
“It’s not exactly a democracy,” said Watson.
Even if it is all only for fun, the logistics of pulling together an enterprise of this size and scope is daunting.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun work,” said Watson, who managed to stay awake, if not completely alert, for 46 of the contest’s 50 hours last year. “The contest always presents challenges that you have to figure out as go along. I don’t know if I can make it all 50 hours this year, but now I at least have some powers of delegation.
“Trivia is a quintessential Lawrence event,” she added. “It’s an weekend unlike any over at Lawrence. A lot of what makes trivia great is the spontaneity and the unexpected things that happen during the weekend.”
Just as it has since 2006, when WLFM, the Lawrence campus radio station, switched to an Internet-based format, the contest will be webcast at www.lawrence.edu/sorg/trivia.
Some 350 questions of varying point values will be asked during the course of the weekend, with teams on campus and off, including some at distant locales across the country, calling in answers to a bank of phones in the WLFM studios.
For Sarah Davies, trivia weekend provides a welcome mid-winter rush.
“I love the feeling of everyone in the room working to find some stupid answer to some stupid question, but taking it all very seriously,” said the senior from Forest Lake, Minn. “Everyone needs to have some total ridiculousness in their lives, and if that’s dashing around campus at 4 a.m. to complete an action question to get 10 more points or calling museum curators in New York at 1 a.m., so be it.”
Since its founding in the mid-1960s as an alternative for students who didn’t participate in a serious academic retreat with professors, this game of questions and answers on steroids has managed to maintain its irreverent charm and quirky appeal, annually converting new students into trivianatics while bringing off-campus teams back for more.
James Breen, a senior from Cottage Grove, Wis., blindly stumbled into trivia after transferring to Lawrence as a sophomore and instantly became hooked, participating for 46 of the contest’s 50 hours last year.
“It is a weekend of sheer bliss, a rush of adrenaline and quite a bit of crazy all mixed into one,” said Breen. “It is arguably the best weekend on campus every single year. It is the one weekend where you will spend 30 or 40 hours straight with someone you might not know very well, but the need for manners or even proper hygiene are thrown out the window. Why else would this competition have lasted since 1966? It is a Lawrence University tradition that no one will forget.”
In keeping with the spirit of the contest, team names often reflect the combatants sense of humor, ranging from the self-deprecating (Baltimorons, for a team from Maryland) to the topically irreverent (Mark Foley’s Trivial Interns) to the tried-and true (Jabberwocky, which is celebrating its 30th year with the same name).
And in keeping with one of many trivia traditions, Lawrence President Jill Beck will get things rolling by asking the contest’s first question at precisely 10:00.37 p.m. Friday. Also by tradition, the final “Super Garrauda” question from the previous year’s contest will be this year’s first question. To wit: In the “Citadel of Opportunity” section of “An Invitation to the International Olympic Committee to Celebrate the XIX Olympiad at Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.” there is a photograph of a girl wearing a sign around her neck. This sign bears the name of what notable figure? Sadly, no one knew it was singer/entertainer Josephine Baker.
For most of this decade, the contest has been ruled by two teams. Student members of the Yuai community have rolled to six straight on-campus crowns, while the Bank of Kaukauna has dominated the off-campus competition, winning every year since 2001.
Count Breen among those who are looking to unseat the long-time champions this weekend. He’s part of a coalition of four residence halls whose goal is to end the Yuai’s reign at the top.
“It won’t be easy. I may not get much sleep. I may not do any of my homework that weekend, but if we can stand atop the con(servatory) steps Sunday night in victory, however, all will be worth it,” said Breen.
“Is that rational? Probably not, but it’s trivia,” he added.