Drew Baumgartner didn’t know it at the time, but he was destined to become grand master of Lawrence University’s Great Midwest Contest.

As a youth growing up in Detroit, Mich., Baumgartner spent countless hours trying to impress his friends with his vast array of useless knowledge.

“There was a group of us who would memorize the most worthless things and challenge each other and no one cared about it except us,” said Baumgartner.

Imagine his excitement when as a freshman he wound up at Lawrence, home to the nation’s longest-running trivia contest. A year older than the Super Bowl, the 45th edition of the 50-hour contest dedicated to all things obscure and irrelevant begins anew Friday, Jan. 29 at its usual offbeat time of 10:00:37 p.m. and continues through midnight Sunday, Jan. 31.

“It was unbelievable to come to a place where everyone was paying attention to trivia,” said Baumgartner, a senior pursuing a double degree with majors in biology and music composition. “The trivia contest seemed like the greatest thing in the world to me.”

After playing for the on-campus Plantz Hall team as a freshman, Baumgartner jumped to the other side of the contest, asking the questions as a trivia master instead of answering them. Three years as a trivia master earned him an anointment as “grand master” of this year’s contest.

“Hopefully we’ll continue to deliver the kind of manic entertainment trivia players have come to enjoy and expect,” said Baumgartner.

When it was founded in 1966 as an alternative for students who didn’t participate in a serious academic retreat with professors, the trivia contest was broadcast over Lawrence’s campus radio station, WLFM. But since 2006, the contest has switched to an Internet-based format and will be webcast at www.lawrence.edu/sorg/wlfm/ allowing people all over the world to join in the fun. Among those forming a team this year will be Baumgartner’s parents back in Detroit.

Baumgartner and his team of trivia masters hope to ask nearly 400 questions of varying point values during the 50-hour minutia marathon. On and off-campus teams have three minutes to call in correct answers to such brain busters as what year was the statue of Tom Thumb, who died in 1883, stolen from his graveyard monument in Bridgeport, Conn. (1973) or how long was the scoring drive that led to Brett Favre’s first “Lambeau Leap” (74 yards).

Theme hours throughout the contest focus questions on such topics as death and destruction or all things Batman.

Last year’s contest had one of its closest finishes in years, with nine-time defending champion Bank of Kaukauna coming from behind late on Sunday to edge out the Trivia Pirates – AARGH by a mere 15 points, 1,465-1,450.

John Brogan, the ringleader of the most successful team in the contest’s four-and-a half decades history, promises his team of nearly 40 players from Wisconsin, Florida, Minnesota, Iowa, Washington, D.C., Illinois, California, New York and New Jersey have their sights set on winning a record-setting 10th straight title in 2010.

“We’re like the New York Yankees of trivia,” said Brogan. “Everyone hates us. Everyone wants to beat us. Everyone is welcome to try.”

The Trivia Pirates, a core group of some 30 or so die-hard “mateys” ranging in age from 6 to 60, including a former Milwaukee Brewers’ bat boy, would like nothing better than to break the Bank’s stranglehold on the off-campus title and capture its first crown since it last won in 2000.

“We are confident we will plank the Bank,” said Rocco “Sacco” Lemke, a Trivia Pirate team member and former performer with the 1980s punk band The Dead Milkmen, who will be coming to town from Philadelphia for the weekend contest.

Despite the competitive posturing, the contest always was and continues to be all about just having fun.

“It’s the kind of release everyone needs,” said Baumgartner. “You spend the rest of your life going to bed at reasonable hours and only remembering the things that are important. The Lawrence trivia contest is the exact opposite of all that rationality.

Sometimes a change is good.”

Two things that won’t change are the time-honored traditions of having Lawrence’s president ask the first question, which, also by tradition, is always the final “Super Garrauda” question from the previous year’s contest.

While no one was able to correctly answer last year’s contest-ending stumper, President Jill Beck will give all teams a chance to start out the 2010 contest with 100 points by asking who was going to be married next to what was the “world’s largest cedar bucket” in Murfreesboro, Tenn., in June, 2005, before it mysteriously burned down the week before their wedding date. (James Walters and Jaki Neubauer).