As campus traditions go, the 50-hour sleep-deprived, mind-bending adrenaline rush that is the Great Midwest Trivia Contest is tough to beat.
Those who don’t play may never understand.
Those who do play, well, pick your descriptor. Addictive. Obsessive. Weirdly soothing.
Lawrence University’s annual deep dive into obscure, insignificant, irresistible trivia is upon us. The 54th edition of the Great Midwest Trivia Contest kicks off at the very specific time of 10:00.37 p.m. Jan. 25 and closes at midnight Jan. 27.
This we know. The annual contest, organized and executed each year by a team of student trivia masters, is weaved into the rich history of Lawrence, a quirky Friday-to-Sunday blitz that is part of the student experience, a connection to alumni and an odd but fun connector to the greater Fox Valley community.
Started in the spring of 1966, it’s drawn attention in recent years from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, among others.
In honor of those bonus 37 seconds of anticipation on Friday night, we’ve pulled together 37 reasons why you should embrace the 2019 trivia spectacle for what it is: Fun.
1: Indoor diversions can be good. It’s a late January weekend in Wisconsin. Have you seen the forecast?
2: The world is ours. The contest draws nearly 100 teams, more than three-fourths coming from off campus. While most teams set up shop in or around Appleton, the webcast at WLFM Radio brings in off-campus teams from across the country and sometimes around the world.
3: Campus royalty. Being named head trivia master is, well, huge. Miranda Salazar ’19 has picked up the challenge this year. And it’s no small challenge. “It’s a 50-hour continuous event, and I’ve spent five times that on this contest getting it where it should be,” she said.
4 through 15: High honor. Salazar isn’t alone in her dedication, of course. She has a team of 12 carefully selected trivia masters helping her craft questions, doing the leg work and working throughout the marathon weekend at WLFM headquarters.
16: The president is all in. As part of the five-decade-plus tradition, President Mark Burstein will launch the contest by asking the first question on Friday night. Veterans of the annual contest know there is a head start – the final question from a year ago, known as the Super Garuda, is the first question of this year’s contest. More on that later.
17: It moves fast. Questions come every five minutes. Teams have three minutes to find the answer and call it in. “This year’s theme is fast, efficient, streamlined,” Salazar said. “We’re taking everything people like about trivia, everything we like about trivia and distilling it down. We’re trying to ask as many questions as possible, take as many song requests as possible and be as responsive as possible.”
18: Connections. Those who work the contest forge connections with those who came before. Way before. “I was emailing with the guy who founded it (in 1966), J.B. deRosset … and even he doesn’t really know why it’s still around,” Salazar said of the contest’s enduring appeal. “He remarks that it’s still living. That’s what he calls it, like a living thing.”
19: Seriously, not everything has to be, you know, serious. “I think it’s really that once you start playing, it’s infectiously fun,” Salazar said. “Once you have the bug it’s really so much fun. It’s a way to hang out with friends, to rally around silly things, to not take yourself too seriously while also dedicating your time to something.”
20: Cameras on campus: Spectrum TV was on campus last week to capture some of the fun in advance of the big weekend. Watch for it to air this week.
21: A podcast is born. Brothers Bryan and Matt Peters, Great Midwest Trivia veterans of more than a decade, love the contest so much they’ve launched a podcast in its honor. “We love trivia and the history around it and we want to see the contest grow,” Bryan said. “That is our goal with the podcast. Bring new people to the contest and bring back the people who have left.” The first two episodes of the Trivia Brothers podcast are up. Find a related Facebook page by searching The Trivia Brothers.
22: Traditions rule. Part of the ongoing appeal is tied to the traditions passed down each year. Some are public, some a little more inside. The worthless prizes, the armadillo, the song “Africa” by Toto. “We have a pretty big community of alumni,” Salazar said. “We really kind of operate like a fraternity or sorority in as much as we have a group of alumni who we rely on and ask questions of and talk to.”
23: A recruiting tool? You bet. Salazar knows first-hand how the trivia contest can be a calling card for prospective Lawrentians. As a high school senior in Delaware four years ago, the trivia contest was that quirky thing that separated Lawrence from other schools, she said. “I knew I wanted to play trivia when I was touring Lawrence. It was one of the things that made me want to come here, that made it special or unique to me.”
24: Google is your friend. The contest has evolved through the years. Not only is Google now encouraged, it’s sort of required. The thrill is in the hunt.
25: A team is a team is a team. You can go solo. You can start a new team with friends. You can join an existing team. “My freshman year … I got seven of us together and we piled into a room and got snacks and made it our home base for the weekend,” Salazar said. “That’s how I got hooked on it.”
26: Victors are crowned: Come midnight on Sunday, a gathering will be held to announce the new champions and hand out those useless prizes, mostly found items from around the WLFM studio. A broken bagel, anyone? “The prizes are less than valuable,” Salazar said. “Also, there is a tradition to break the first prize.”
27: It’s not everybody’s thing, but it’s not boring. “When I started researching colleges, I always looked for something quirky or different and some of them are kind of boring,” Salazar said. “Schools will say we have a tradition that we all have a picnic at the end of the year, which isn’t really all that fun. But when I read about this (trivia contest), I said I want to do that.”
28: You can still get in. Registration takes place at 8 p.m. Friday. A team rep needs to call in to give needed team info. It’s as simple as that. Find details at https://blogs.lawrence.edu/trivia.
29: Creativity is in play. The action questions may require some dress up or perhaps some video production or in-the-moment songwriting. So that’s fun.
30: There is wiggle room. When calling in an answer, teams get three guesses.
31: Winning is cool, names are fun. Last year’s off-campus champ was The Holy Broman Lonestar Republic Presents: Cardboard Davy Crocket Remembers the Alamo. The on-campus title went to The Cult of the Pink Shoe.
32: Friends stay friends. Trivia remains a great connector once you leave Lawrence. “I’ll keep playing,” Salazar said. “There’s a big alumni team out there with a lot of my friends on it. But if everyone keeps playing on the same team, it’ll just be too powerful. So, I’ll start my own alumni team. I’ll give them some competition.”
33 to 35: Know your Garudas. Come late Sunday, things get tough. The three Garudas are billed as super difficult questions and come with elevated scoring (25 to 50 points instead of the usual five) and extra time (10 minutes to answer instead of the usual three).
36: The big one. The Super Garuda question always closes the show and then opens the following year’s contest. The 2018 Super Garuda, written by Salazar, drew no correct answers to close last year’s contest (it’s worth 100 points). The question: In the Tanzanian city whose name is an anagram for “A Salad Smear,” there is an intersection of two roads near the Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco. One road shares the first name with the former Supreme Chief of the Gogo and the other road is named for a Tanzanian Sultan whose skull’s return is discussed in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. On the wall in front of the intersection there are three large legibly scrawled words in English, what are they? The answer: “The Jungle, Bob.”
37: There is pressure. Salazar is feeling it. “It’s a big job,” she said of this grand master thing. “This is a 54-year tradition, don’t mess it up.”
If you play
What: Lawrence University’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest
When: Begins at 10:00.37 p.m. Friday and runs through midnight on Sunday.
Where: Streams live on WLFM, the school’s radio station, https://wlfmradio.lawrence.edu