Tag: Midwest Trivia Contest

All Things Trivial Saluted During Lawrence University’s 45th Annual 50-hour Contest

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).

Lawrence University Trivia Contest: The Mount Everest of Useless Information

Who would ever have guessed something so silly would have such staying power?

Since 1966, the Lawrence University Midwest Trivia Contest has been turning thousands of minutia mavens into guessers — intelligent and otherwise — with its annual 50-hour salute to the obscure and inconsequential.

Lawrence’s 39th edition of its test of useless knowledge hits the airwaves of WLFM (91.1 FM) at 10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 23 and runs through midnight, Jan. 25. In addition to being broadcast on WLFM, the entire contest will also be webcast at www.lawrence.edu/sorg/wlfm. Untold hundreds — thousands??? — representing more than 50 off-campus teams and a half-dozen or more on-campus squads will match wits over questions ranging from the Minnesota state muffin (blueberry) to which U.S. president once played Desdemona in Shakespeare’s Othello (Ulysses S. Grant). All in the name of fun.

Bill Martin, an “adolescent fortysomething” will be competing in his 30th trivia contest this year. He’ll throw out the welcome to his Appleton home for upwards of 40 friends and relatives who will arrive from as far away as Chicago and Dubuque, Iowa, to spend all or at least parts of the weekend engaged in matters of unimportance.

“It’s a real pain in the butt to get ready for every year and you wonder why you do it, but afterwards, when it’s all done, you say, ‘that’s why you do it,'” said Martin. “It’s really an excuse to get together with people you haven’t seen much in the past year and have a great time.”

While Martin can boast of a being a one-time trivia champion — his 1976 team, “Hungry Chuck Biscuit” earned the first-place prize, a salt block — he says these days it is more about camaraderie than it is competition.

“Play trivia…have fun, that’s our philosophy,” Martin said. “Playing the trivia contest is like climbing Mount Everest. You play because it’s there.”

Martin’s contest history includes a mix of tradition and not. He always cooks a turkey the weekend before the contest and turns it into turkey soup — “trivia fuel” as he proudly calls it — to keep his teammates nourished. And “really, really, really cheap beer” is a contest staple. But where some teams are beholden to a team name or slight variation thereof, Martin relies on last minute brainstorming to produce a calling card, the likes of which have included “Mental Floss,” “Bored of the Rings” and “Dumber than Ditch Carp.”

Much like Martin, John Brogan’s trivia baptism started out innocently enough in the mid-1990s, gradually evolving into a great excuse for a party.

“When our team started, most of us were sophomores in college,” said Kaukauna native Brogan, now a law clerk for the Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. “But as we’ve all started to assume, or avoid in some cases, the responsibilities of getting older, our chances to get together have become fewer and fewer. Trivia is one of the few times a year that I can convince all of my eclectic friends, and their friends, to spend some time together.”

Don’t be fooled, though. Brogan’s collective Bank of Kaukauna braintrust isn’t sitting around waxing nostalgic all weekend. He’s assembled the equivalent of a cyborg trivia terminator, winning three straight off-campus titles and five of the past seven. And it doesn’t appear they will be surrendering their crown without a fight anytime soon.

In turning his parents’ home into trivia headquarters for the weekend, Brogan is expecting some 50 team members from eight states armed with 30 computers, seven land lines and more than 25 cell phones poised to defend their 2003 title.

“Our real strength is the people on this team, which includes four doctoral candidates in a variety of fields, computer gurus, opera singers, medical students, economists, philosophers, photographers, psychologists, bakers, junior high students and more lawyers than you can shake a stick at,” said Brogan.

The Lawrence trivia contest has produced more than its share of unexpected events and memorable moments over the years, including an on-air wedding proposal by one of the contest’s male trivia master’s (she said “yes” and they were married in 2002). This year’s grand trivia master, senior Phred Beattie of Klamath Falls, Ore., said that is what makes the contest so much fun.

“Everything we don’t plan, usually happens,” said Beattie.

What kind of zaniness will occur over the course of this year’s contest is a tougher question to answer than any actually asked during its 50 hours. One certainty, though, will be Lawrence President Rik Warch upholding tradition by once again kick-starting the fun. He’ll ask the first question — which is always the last question of the previous year’s contest — at exactly 37 seconds past 10 o’clock Friday night.

No one was able to answer last year’s 100-point “Super Garruda” in the allotted time (although Brogan’s Bank team did come up with it 15 second after time expired!). But come Friday night, nearly everyone will know that “No Picnic. Why? No Woods. Prevent Forest Fires” was the saying on the entry Frank Zappa designed in the ninth grade to win a fire prevention week poster contest.