50-Hour Salute to the Insignificant Takes Center Stage as Lawrence University Hosts 46th Annual Trivia Contest

If it weren’t for an extended bout of insomnia his freshman year, Derrell Acon might never have risen to the exulted status of Grand Master for the 2011 Lawrence University Great Midwest Trivia Contest.

“As a freshman, I was only sleeping about every other day as it was, so students in Plantz Hall recruited me for their team, thinking I would make an ideal candidate,” said Acon, a fifth-year, double-degree senior from St. Louis, Mo.  “There were times during that year’s contest I was the only person on the team who was awake.”

The following year, Acon helped Plantz Hall to a second-place finish among on-campus teams before crossing over from question answerer to question writer/asker in 2009.  After two years as a trivia master, Acon was promoted to the proverbial big chair for this year’s contest.

Acon said he was the logical choice to orchestrate this year’s quizzical craziness.

“I have the most experience.  I’m looking forward to the opportunity to handle it this year and make sure everything goes well.”

The 46th edition — yes, the contest predates the Super Bowl by a year — of the popular contest dedicated to the world’s most insignificant facts begins its 50-hour run Friday, Jan. 28 at its usual quirky time of 10:00:37 p.m. and continues through midnight Sunday, Jan. 30.

Lawrence President Jill Beck kicks off the insanity by asking the contest’s first question.

As the trivia contest’s first African-American grand master, Acon takes devilish delight in the fact the he might be the answer to one of the 350-questions typically asked in a future version of the same contest he is overseeing this year.

“It’s an honor.  I can relate to Barack Obama,” Acon said with a laugh.

First held in 1966 as an alternative for students who didn’t participate in a serious academic retreat with professors, the trivia contest was originally 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/trivia, allowing people from all corners of the world to participate.

Questions of varying point values range from mildly obscure to the ridiculously inconsequential. At various times, the contest will feature hour-long sessions of questions centered around such themes as death and destruction or all things cats.

While the contest’s unpredictably accounts for a good deal of its charm, there is one certainty heading into this year’s version:  for the first time in a decade a new off-campus champion will be crowned.  The Bank of Kaukauna, which has dominated the contest since the turn of the century, winning its 10th consecutive title in 2010 by a mere five points, is abandoning contest supremacy for sociability.

“We always played to win, but we wanted to try something a little different this year,” explained John Brogan, who has hosted the 40-some members of the Bank of Kaukauna team at his parent’s home for the past 12 years.  “The team came to a decision last year that we were possibly doing bad things for trivia. Teams were consolidating for the contest just to try to beat us. When you just have a few megateams, you undermine the inclusiveness of what trivia is all about.”

Brogan said many members of the defending champs are returning to the Fox Valley from around the country for this year’s contest, but will be more focused on embracing trivia’s credo:  have fun.

“We’ve never served alcohol during trivia, but this year we’re going to relax that rule a little bit,” said Brogan, who has been extended the honor of asking the contest’s first “garruda” question. “In the spirit of trivia, we want to just have fun, see people we only get to see once a year at trivia time and just enjoy the contest.”

As always, the contest begins Friday evening with the last question of the previous contest — the virtually unanswerable 100-point Super Garruda question.  While no one correctly answered it last year, most teams will be able to start this year’s contest with 100 points because they’ll now know who is listed as the 2002 recipient on the plaque for the “Walt Haag Memorial Broken Propeller Award.”  (Not me.)