Super Garruda

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The ultimate cerebral scrum: Lawrence’s Great Midwest Trivia contest promises 50-hours of maddening fun

Late January in Appleton is not only stocking cap time, it’s thinking cap time.

Jenny Hanrahan
Senior Jenny Hanrahan has the honor of serving as the head master of 2018 edition of Lawrence University’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest.

Hundreds — thousands? — of minutiae aficionados near and far will don their best thinking caps Jan. 26-28 for the 53rd edition of Lawrence University’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest, the nation’s longest-running tribute to all things unimportant, insignificant and inconsequential.

A year older than the Super Bowl, the 50-hour contest returns with its world-wide webcast Friday at its traditionally quirky 10:00.37 p.m. start time and runs non-stop until midnight Sunday. Featuring nearly 400 of the most difficult questions imaginable, all written by Lawrence student trivia masters, the contest originates from the studio of wlfmradio. Team registration begins at 8 p.m. Friday.

Overseeing this year’s contest fittingly is senior Jenny Hanrahan, a nugget of trivia herself as the younger sister of Jon Hanrahan, the head trivia master of the 2016 contest. Together they are believed to be the only siblings ever to direct the contest, which began in 1966. Jenny also holds the distinction of becoming a trivia master without ever having played the contest herself as a Lawrence student.

“I played trivia as a senior in high school, my brother’s first year as a trivia master. That’s how I knew about it,” said Hanrahan, an anthropology and theatre arts major from Johnsburg, Ill. “I came to Appleton to visit that year. The friend I stayed with was worried because the team I was joining was very intense and she didn’t know if I would like it. But it was the type of zone that I was super into. They were so committed and it was so much fun.

“I came to Lawrence as a student the next year and became a trivia master immediately,” added Hanrahan, a rare four-year trivia master. “I only actually played trivia during high school. Sometimes, when I’m on a break, I’ll sneak into a team’s room and play a few questions just to see if I’m any good at it. I’m usually not.”

Jenny Hanrahan in the WLFM studios
As this year’s head master, senior Jenny Hanrahan will be on the mic to open the webcast of the 2018 Great Midwest Trivia contest precisely at 10:00.37 Friday evening.

Nearly 100 teams — 80 off-campus and 18 on-campus — competed in last year’s cerebral scrum with Madison-based Holy Broman Literary Society. Led by 2013 Lawrence graduate Andrew Kraemer, the team won its first ever off-campus title, finishing 18 points ahead of two-time defending champion Hobgoblins of Little Minds from North Carolina.

Moving the team’s home base to Minneapolis this year, Kraemer said they have players coming from five states in defense of their title. Kraemer himself will be flying in from Austin, Texas, to join his teammates.

As for becoming back-to-back champions, Kraemer conceded, “There are a lot of really good people out there, a lot of good teams. But we are going to try our best. We’ve picked up a couple of incredible people who fell in love with the game and have a real passion for it.”

“It’s so stupidly fun in the most irrational way. I can never explain it because I don’t even know why I love it so much.”
— Jenny Hanrahan 2018 trivia head master

When the final results were announced last year and Holy Broman Literary Society was declared the off-campus champions, Kraemer said the team was nothing short of ecstatic.

“We all jumped up at two in the morning shouting in my Madison and screamed so loud that a dog in the apartment actually got scared and threw up.”

While off-campus participation has remained strong through the years, one of Hanrahan’s goals for this year’s contest is to engage more students on campus and have at least one team in every residence hall.

“There’s always been a culture of stress at Lawrence; I don’t have time for anything,” said Hanrahan. “It’s not necessarily a negative reaction, but often the response is ‘I don’t have time for it,’ because trivia can be time consuming. But the great thing about playing trivia is that you can dedicate as much or as little time to it as you want. We hope the RLAs (residence life advisors) can make sure there is a space for people to play if they want to play.”

Group shot of 2018 trivia masters
Head master Jenny Hanrahan (standing) and her fellow trivia masters will oversee this year’s contest.

For more than five decades, Lawrence’s Great Midwest Trivia contest has been intoxicating sleep-deprived players of all ages with its mix of ridiculously difficult questions, eclectic music and completely useless prizes. Like a Super Garruda, the impossible question is “Why?”

“It’s so stupidly fun in the most irrational way,” said Hanrahan. “I can never explain it because I don’t even know why I love it so much. But when I played it the first time, I was immediately hooked. It’s just the weekend for forgetting everything else.”

“Once I became a trivia master, it’s still stupidly fun in a different way,” she added. “There is that excitement and pride in helping to run the contest. It’s especially exciting talking to alumni that this has meant the world to for decades. I’ve heard some describe it as their ‘homecoming.’”

According to Kraemer, the trivia contest’s attraction is all about the chance to the outside world on pause for a while.

“For the other 363 days of the year, you have to be another person, so for the two days of the contest, you get to devote yourself to something that’s totally fun.”

For any trivia novices contemplating a toe dip into the contest, Hanrahan offers some practical advice from the head master’s chair.

Students answering phones during the trivia contest in the WLFM studios
The WLFM studios will be busy once again as answers to questions during the 50-hour Great Midwest Trivia contest light up the phone lines.

“First thing is it’s worth it to play, whether you’re with a super committed team or you just want to hang out and see what it’s all about. Know that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s 50 hours! You need to allocate your time and resources accordingly. Make sure you schedule someone to answer questions during that 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. time period. Most importantly, you have to have an open mind to be able to enjoy it, otherwise it’s so overwhelming and daunting. If you come in, ready for strange things and different things, you’ll have an amazing time.”

Following trivia tradition, Lawrence President Mark Burstein kicks off the contest by asking the first question, which by tradition is always the final — and virtually unanswerable 100-point “Super Garruda” — question from the previous year’s contest.

Any trivia team worth their laptop will start the 2018 contest by knowing the answer to this opening whopper: A number of Lawrentians have taken trips to China to study sustainability. In the third city visited on their 2015 trip, there is a bar on the 10th floor of a building near the intersection of Minquan Road and Fushui North Road. In the fifth issue of a magazine they distributed last July, which features a pink robot on the cover, what artist is shown on page 8? (Dickid).

Bring on the madness.

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.” 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.

Lawrence’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest offers 52nd test of cerebral fitness

 It seems a no brainer that Ridley Tankersley would eventually hold the exalted title of Trivia Headmaster of Lawrence University’s ultimate test of cerebral fitness.

A photo of Lawrence University Trivia Headmaster Ridley Tankersley.
Senior Ridley Tankersley will oversee the 52nd edition of Lawrence’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest.

Heck, he almost was named a trivia master before he was even a Lawrence student.

As 2017’s Trivia Headmaster, Tankersley, a senior studio art major from Phoenix, Ariz., will oversee 50 straight hours of outrageous competition all in the name of fun during the 52nd edition of Lawrence University’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest.

Older than the Super Bowl and liberally sprinkled with questions that make explaining the Higgs Boson look easy, the Lawrence trivia contest is the nation’s longest-running salute to all things obscure.

The contest returns in all its inconsequential glory Friday, Jan. 27 at its customary 10:00.37 p.m. start time and runs until midnight Sunday. The contest, just as it has for the past 11 years, will be webcast worldwide from the control room of wlfmradio.

Nearly 400 questions will be asked over the course of the contest, with hundreds, if not thousands of trivia addicts playing for on-campus and off-campus teams, calling in answers to the WLFM studios. Last year, 86 teams battled it out for the off-campus title, which was won by Hobgoblins of Little Minds, a team based in North Carolina. Among on-campus combatants, David and the Bucky’s Batallion Diabolically Antagonizing Tortured Brood-Makers, Basically Building Batteries, Bungee Jumping Blindfolded, Bizarrely Bludgeoning Bells and Definitely Ascending toward Brilliance By Dastardly Battling Together outlasted 18 challengers for its second straight title.

Tankersley, who went from playing as a freshman to serving as a trivia master the past two contests, tried to pull a fast one in 2012. As a visiting prospective student, Tankersley conspired with a current student to apply as a trivia master.

“We thought it would be funny if we both auditioned to be trivia masters,” said Tankersley, who was a member of the winning on-campus team his freshman year. “I pretended to be a Lawrence student. My visit roommate gave me a fake Lawrence ID number and his room number. I went through the whole process, including an interview. I heard I came close to being picked. I think people were quite surprised when they realized I was back in Arizona finishing high school.”

As he gets ready to settle in to the big chair for the weekend, Tankersley hopes to remind players of the contest’s credo: Trivia is meant to be entertainment and should be perceived solely in that light.

“I’ve seen the focus put on competitiveness, not the enjoyment of playing and I want to see it go back to that,” said Tankersley, who figures he’ll only manage to sneak in eight hours of sleep during the course of the 50-hour contest. “I want it to be on the front of everyone’s mind that people are playing because it’s fun and trivia masters are doing what they do because it’s fun.”

A photo of Lawrence University headmaster dressing up as a Joker, surrounded by trivia masters holding up large playing cards.
A “deck full” of trivia masters will assist headmaster Ridley Tankersley (center) during this year’s 50-hour Great Midwest Trivia contest.

While technology has perhaps eroded some of the contest’s original, simple charm, its core spirit — a weird, yet at the same time weirdly logical experience —  remains untarnished.

“You’re in a room with waxing and waning numbers of other teammates, but you’re all there doing the same thing,” said Tankersley, whose dad played as the one-man team “Square Root of All Evil” from Arizona last year. “People take it seriously and it’s inspiring that they do, finding the fun in this weird thing.

“It’s really all about the community of playing,” he added. “It’s about spending time with your friends on the weekend, and maybe coming out of it with a bad prize. It’s all about the experience.”

 Appleton native Kim Stahl knows all about trivia’s “community of playing.” She began playing the trivia contest when she was in elementary school and started a team in sixth grade. Today, she and her best friend Heidi Delorey are co-ring leaders of a team that numbers around four dozen multiple-generation players from as many as 10 states who annually converge on her home — in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Stahl, who has approximately 35 years of notches in her trivia belt, and her merry band of “Hobgoblins,” have benefited from the contest’s switch from an over-the-air broadcast to its current webcast, allowing her to maintain a beloved, decades-old tradition.

“We just love playing. We love the contest. It’s a lot of fun and it makes for a wonderful reunion,” said Stahl, a 1991 graduate of Appleton West High School. “And we love the fact that all of these Lawrence students have kept it going all these years. It’s such a unique college tradition.”

Despite her long history with the contest, Stahl first cued the DJ to play “We are the Champions” in 2015, the contest’s 50th anniversary. They successfully defended their title last year and now are gunning for a coveted “threepeat.”

“We are firmly intending to hit the hat trick this year,” said Stahl, whose own personal trivia tradition involves filling her front yard with pink flamingos the weekend of the contest.  “After never expecting to win for the first 30-some years, that would be a crowning jewel.”

Following trivia tradition, Lawrence President Mark Burstein, will start the fun by asking the contest’s first question, which, also by tradition, is always the final — and virtually unanswerable 100-point “Super Garruda” — from the previous year’s contest.

For one of the few times in the contest’s history, last year’s Super Garruda was correctly answered by the Trivia Pirates…Aaarrrggh. They somehow managed to come up Earwigs Rule to the question: In 1964, a band pretended to play Beatles songs at a battle of the bands called the Letterman Show. What is written in the top right corner of the page that features the band in a KWSS DJ’s copy of the lead singer’s 1965 high school yearbook?

Here are a few “softballs” to help everyone get warmed up for this year’s contest.

  1. In 1988, students at the University College in Dublin broke a record by debating, for 503 hours and 45 minutes, what statement?
  2. At this toy themed amusement park in San Diego, what guards the entrance to the ride immediately south of the easternmost green roller coaster?
  1. The leader of a one-man comedy synth punk band also has a website dedicated to images of a certain household object. What is BigJerk’s lamp thinking?

(1. “Every Dog Should Have Its Day” 2. A 16-foot tall LEGO pharaoh  3. “I hate the zoo.”)

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.”  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.

The Ultimate Intellectual Scavenger Hunt: Lawrence University Trivia Contest Turns 49

The irony is not lost on Addy Goldberg.

Addy Goldberg, 2014 Grand Trivia Master

The Lawrence University senior and selfconfessed “very bad” trivia player finds himself overseeing the 49th edition of the nation’s longest-running intellectual scavenger hunt — Lawrence University’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest — despite never actually having played the contest.

He joined elite company in the contest’s illustrious history by earning anointment as a trivia master as a freshman in 2011, a feat matched by few first-year students. After two more years as a master, he was thrust into the contest’s ultimate position as this year’s Grand Trivia Master.

“I feel like I’ve been raised by it, because my introduction to the contest wasn’t through playing it or through witnessing it, but through running it,” said Goldberg, who doesn’t have any freshman among his 12 trivia minions. “I feel a lot of debt to the trivia masters who ‘raised’ me as the freshman who had no idea what was going on, which usually is not how it’s supposed to go.

“Trivia in the general sense, the more bar trivia kind of thing, I’m actually very bad at,” Goldberg concedes. “I was actually in Quiz Bowl in high school and I was bad there, too. But I like weird stuff and I happen to learn a lot about it. I can’t exactly spout it off in a useful way sometimes but if you want to ask me what I’ve been up to on the Internet lately it’ll probably be obscure. So in a sense the trivia contest is pretty well catered to me.”

Q1. Who is the president of the micronation that fixed their currency to the cost of radishes in 2007?

Trivia-Logo_newsblogUnder Goldberg’s direction, bragging rights to the title of this year’s 50-hour contest — last year’s battle royale of all things obscure drew 13 on-campus teams and 61 off-campus teams —kicks off anew at the precisely appropriately inconsequential time of 37 seconds after 10 p.m., Friday, Jan. 24 and runs continuously through midnight Sunday, Jan. 26. As it has since 2006, the contest will be webcast worldwide on the Internet at

Launched in 1966 as an alternative activity for students who didn’t participate in an academic campus retreat, Lawrence’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest is a 50-hour celebration of all things insignificant, with 400 Google-challenged questions of various point values asked every three minutes, sandwiched around off-beat humor and eclectic music while teams scramble to call in answers to a phone bank in the WLFM studios.

Through its nearly half century existence, Lawrence’s trivia contest has enjoyed remarkable staying power, as Appleton in late January remains a destination point for many from around the country who return to the Fox Valley to reunite with friends and family for a weekend of fun and furious web surfing.

Q2. Which American state includes the greatest number of governmentally established plantations?

What’s the secret to the contest’s ongoing popularity?

“People seem to really care about it,” said Goldberg, a psychology major from Needham, Mass. “People are willing to work for it and put a lot of energy and effort into it, which is great, and there’s a lot of surprising energy there.”

Goldberg, whose doctor got excited during a recent office visit when he discovered he was examining this year’s Trivia Grand Master, also credits an intertwining of communities for the contest’s longevity.

The 2014 Great Midwest Trivia Contest trivia masters, led by Grand Master Addy Goldberg (upper left).

“You get the tight-knit trivia masters who somehow manage to pull it together every year, and they are in debt to the players they see every day, their friends on campus, all of whom have a debt to the off-campus teams, the real lifeblood of the contest because they’re way more dedicated,” said Goldberg. “All the intertwining communities bring a lot of vitality to it.”

Q3. Zebulon Pike once floated all the way from Toronoto to Sackets Harbor, New York. What was he floating in?       

Last year’s contest came to a clumsy conclusion when an on-campus team posted the answer to the final “Super Garradua” question on Facebook, prompting the trivia masters to cut short the time allotted to answer the 100-point question, preventing several teams, including the defending champions, from answering.

“I’ve been thinking about that, but as of yet there are no policy changes we’re going to announce,” said Goldberg. “It’s certainly going to be addressed, letting everyone know, ‘Let’s be serious, let’s watch ourselves.’”

This year’s contest will provide Lawrence President Mark Burstein with his trivia baptism. Following tradition, Burstein will have the honor of getting the 49th contest started by asking its first question, which, also by tradition, is always the final question — the Super Garruda — from the previous year’s contest.

Q4. What three words are written in metal letters on the back wall of Cranky Pat’s in Neenah?

What is usually an unanswerable question, last year’s Super Garruda proved to be anything but as seven on campus and 14 off campus teams managed to get the correct answer before the contest was called prematurely.

The controversial ending was prompted by this question: Within a sculpture by Mike Sullivan, the creator of “The Sex Life of Robots,” there is a building called “Kino Ironhole.” What is carved into the pavement to the left of the word “lulu?”

All teams worth their smart phone should start the contest with an easy 100 points by knowing it was “Big Unit Jizzbot.”

A1. Oskar Agustsson
A2. Maine
A3. Whiskey.
A4. Sing, Dance, Giggle

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 2014 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.