Tag: minutia

Trivia Time: Lawrence sets the bar when it comes to all things obscure, inconsequential

It wasn’t so much “playing” Lawrence University’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest as a freshman in 2013 that got Jon Hanrahan hooked on the college’s 50-hour minutia marathon.

It was taking a break from answering questions to answering phones at Action Central that turned him into a contest die-hard.

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Grand Master Jon Hanrahan (center) and his fellow trivia master’s will oversee the 51st edition of Lawrence’s 50-hour Great Midwest Trivia Contest Jan. 29-31.

“After playing for several hours for Plantz Hall’s legendary Morgan Freeman team, I went to the WLFM studios and spent just as much time answering phones that first year,” said the senior from Johnsburg, Ill. “I remember being thrown off by all the clamor and the commotion, but I also remember thinking, ‘this was something I needed to experience first hand.’”

From humble phone answerer, Hanrahan has risen to become the Grand Master of this year’s contest, the exalted overseer of the 51st edition of the country’s oldest ongoing salute to all-things insignificant.

As per custom, the contest kicks off precisely at 37 seconds after 10 p.m., Friday, Jan. 29 and runs continuously through midnight Sunday, Jan. 31. As it has since 2006, the contest will be webcast worldwide on the Internet at wlfmradio.lawrence.edu.

Questions are asked in three-minute intervals, with teams calling in answers to a bank of a dozen or more phones staffed by volunteers in the WLFM studios.

Last year’s celebratory 50th contest attracted 65 off-campus teams and 29 on-campus teams, with similar numbers expected for this year’s edition.

Orchestrating 50 straight hours of the most complex, unGoogleable questions is not a task Hanrahan takes lightly, even though the contest’s long-standing credo is basically to have fun. Helping him maintain some degree of sanity while overseeing a largely insane endeavor will be 12 hand-picked trivia masters.

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Volunteers will be busy answering phones and recording correct answers in the WLFM studios during Lawrence’s 2016 Great Midwest Trivia Contest.

“I have spent many nights staying awake, mulling over detail after little detail,” said Hanrahan, who counts his selection as this year’s Grand Master as one of the “disproportionally” proudest moments of his young life. “The contest is a vast and complex beast. I’ve had at least three dreams about trivia and in each one I had to tend to something that I forgot or didn’t foresee.

“I really trust my co-masters to run an entertaining and relatively stress-free contest,” he added. “I’m excited about their ideas and their somewhat oddball perspectives. We’re all going to push ourselves to write creative questions that really stretch the possibilities of what a Lawrence trivia question can feel like.”

Since making its debut in 1966 as an alternative to an off-campus academic trip known as “Encampment,” where select students went off to discuss esoteric topics with professors, Lawrence’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest has nurtured friendships and sparked romances — at least one set of trivia teammates became husband and wife — while spawning second and even third generation trivia devotees from among the original players.

Haranhan credits the trivia contest’s enduring popularity to Lawrence’s non-traditional “good, smart student.”

“As Lawrentians, we like to follow our passions, but we also tend to want to mess with things,” said Hanrahan, a piano performance major. “Trivia is that chance to be messily intellectual and creative. Do the answers to any of our 400-plus questions really matter? Usually, no. But for some reason, the players keep searching. By the time the weekend is over, the questions and the answers will drift away and yet, because of it all, we will have had a chance to see just about every nook and cranny that exists in the world. And we will have left our strange, ambitious mark.”

While Hanrahan hints at a few new twists up his Grand Master sleeve, he’s not about to reveal any of his plans in advance. It goes without saying, though, no one will be able to answer a single question off the top of their head.

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Concentration and great search abilities are useful skills during Lawrence’s 50-hour tribute to all things trivial.

“Even if someone is not aligned with any particular team or if someone is able to only answer one question correctly the entire weekend, we’ll do our best to make the listening itself entertaining,” said Hanrahan, who hopes to pursue a career in radio after graduation.

Following trivia tradition, Lawrence’s president, in this case Mark Burstein, will start the fun by asking the contest’s first question, which, again by tradition, is always the final question — the virtually impossible “Super Garruda” — from the previous year’s contest.

While it proved to be a stumper last year, it should be an easy “get” right out of the gate for every team this time around. To wit: Near property previously owned by Rockwell Lime Company is a manhole built in 1921 with an 8-inch diameter pipe leading downstream 226 feet. What is the manhole label and what is written on the cover of the manhole?

Surely written in notebooks and special files all over campus and around town is the answer “15-47” “Richards Iron Wks” (works).

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College” and Fiske’s Guide to Colleges 2016. Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

Happy 50th! Lawrence celebrates a not-so-trivial birthday

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Channeling their 1960s “Mad Men” era roots, 2015 Grand Trivia Master Weronika Gajowniczek (center) and her fellow trivia masters will oversee the 50th edition of the nation’s longest-running salute to all things trivial Jan. 23-25. Photo by Nathan Lawrence ’15

Can anything that survives for half a century really still be considered “trivial?”

A year older than the Super Bowl and tougher than the Seattle Seahawk’s defense, the Lawrence University Great Midwest Trivia Contest — the country’s oldest ongoing salute to all-things insignificant — celebrates its 50th birthday Jan. 23-25.

After 2,450 hours of competition and more than 18,000 questions since then-Lawrence senior J.B. deRosset first asked “Who was Superman’s father?” back in 1966, Lawrence’s 50-hour intellectual scavenger hunt has established itself as the game’s granddaddy, asking students and others to ponder the offbeat and obscure long before minutia ever became en vogue.

“Going into that first contest, I don’t think any of us contemplated this happening a second time,” said deRosset, who will travel from the warmth of Miami to chilly Cheeseland this weekend to help commemorate the contest’s milestone moment. “My mind was on being draft eligible for Vietnam, raging hormones and where to go to graduate school.”

Following tradition, the 50th edition of the contest kicks off at precisely 37 seconds after 10 p.m., Friday, Jan. 23 and runs continuously through midnight Sunday, Jan. 25. As it has since 2006, the contest will be webcast worldwide on the Internet at wlfmradio.com.

“Trivia is like a 50-hour super bug…you don’t want to eat, you can’t sleep and the whole weekend is pretty much a weird fever dream.”
— Weronika Gajowniczek, 2015 Grand Trivia Master

Senior Weronika Gajowniczek, who presides over the weekend’s craziness as this year’s Grand Trivia Master, says trivia can “infect” players a little like the flu.

“Trivia is like a 50-hour super bug,” said Gajowniczek, who served as one of the contest’s 12 trivia masters the past two years before being chosen as the grand master this year. “You don’t want to eat, you can’t sleep and the whole weekend is pretty much a weird fever dream.

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A small army of trivia masters and other student volunteers will man the phones in the WLFM studios, collecting answers and tallying team point totals during Lawrence’s 50-hour Great Midwest Trivia Contest.

“Most people don’t just play trivia, they live trivia,” added Gajowniczek, who spent 16 straight hours answering phones at trivia headquarters as a freshman. “For that one weekend in January, you forget about everything else — homework, sleeping, eating, hygiene, your sanity. Nothing becomes more important than answering those arbitrary questions.”

Aah yes, the questions. Written by the trivia masters, the goal is to make them as “unGoggleable” as possible. The result is such brain teasers as On how many episodes of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” has the game Party Quirks been played? (129) or Who is immortalized on a blanket as Altoona Area High School’s top football player of 1965? (Dick Bard).

“You just dedicate your weekend to frantically searching in the weirdest corners of the internet,” said Gajowniczek, one of only a handful of women to oversee the contest in its long history.

In addition to the usual array of wacky questions and theme hours — Death and Destruction, Meowour (a segment devoted to felines) and, in tribute to Gajowniczek’s heritage, an all Polish-related set of questions — this year’s 50th edition will feature a tip of the hat to its 49 predecessors. Once each hour, Gajowniczek said they will ask a throwback question taken from the archives of the previous contests.

“Since there is 50 hours and 50 years, it works perfectly, so we’ll base a question off every year.”

Last year’s contest had 19 on-campus teams and 57 off-campus teams battling wits and busy signals for the loosest definition of the word “prizes.” Gajowniczek promises a return to more traditional prizes this year.

“The last few years, the trivia masters would just find something in the studio and give it out as a prize and mostly it was just things no one would keep,” said Gajowniczek. “We definitely want to bring back the tradition of the prizes, make them more memorable keepsakes, commemorative. I’m not promising anything special, but nothing like a jar full of cream cheese, like last year.”

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J.B. deRosset ’66

For all of its silliness, the contest actually grew out of a serious academic endeavor, one for which deRosset was bypassed. After not being asked to join a select group of students and faculty for an off-campus academic trip then known as “Encampment” to the general student populace and “Entrapment” to its detractors, deRosset came up with an alternative to the academic retreat: a contest on the campus’ radio station for “the trivial minds left behind.”

“My junior year set it up,” recalled deRosset, an attorney. “I had accumulated some extra credits from an off-campus program at Argonne National Labs and arrived my senior year with little stress and plenty of time and brain space for some creativity. It has kept going because it went so well the first year and my partner in crime, Dave Pfleger ,was ready, willing and able to do it again. With two contests under the Lawrence belt, it had the momentum to keep on truckin’. I know it takes a lot time for the students to put this together. More power to them for keeping the tradition alive.”

Again per tradition, Lawrence President Mark Burstein will have the privilege of blowing out the first birthday candle’ as it were by asking the  50th contest’s first question, which, also by tradition, is always the final question — the Super Garruda — from the previous year’s contest.

No team was able to add 100 points to its total last year by answering the 2014 Super Garruda: In the final resting place of Copernicus there are pillars with graffiti scratched into them. One of these pillars has graffiti that reads “EM is cool” and “DW is ok.” What does the only music-genre related graffiti on that pillar say?”

Come 10:00.37 Friday night, every self-respecting trivia team will know the answer is “Punks is not Death.”

Attention Lawrence alumni: If you’re making a pilgrimage to Appleton this weekend for your annual trivia fix, we’d like to chat with you. We’re hoping to connect with several LU grads about the contest for a story in the alumni magazine. Send a note to Communications@lawrence.edu and tell us where you’ll be on Saturday and how we can reach you. Thanks.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.