trivia contest

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“Word origins for $1,200”: Senior Allison Holley represents Lawrence on “Jeopardy!” college tournament

History isn’t Allison Holley’s go-to category when it comes to playing her favorite game, the popular television quiz program “Jeopardy!.” But thanks to the show, she recently managed to make history.

The senior English and Spanish major from Racine recently became the first Lawrence University student to compete in the annual “Jeopardy!” college tournament’s 29-year history.

A photo of Lawrence University student Allison Holley with Jeopardy host Alex Trebek.
Photo courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

Holley was one of only 15 students nationally selected for this year’s tournament. She traveled to California in early January to tape the contest, which will be broadcast over the upcoming two weeks (Feb. 13-24.). Holley’s first game is scheduled to air on Thursday, Feb. 16.

How did she do? You will have to tune in to find out. (Locally, WLUK-TV Fox 11, 6 p.m.)

“I was feeling pretty good,” Holley said of her arrival at the studio for the taping. “I was actually able to sleep the night before, unlike a few days before when my mind was racing 500 miles per hour and all I could think was ‘I’m going to be on Jeopardy!.’”

She was matched against two male contestants, one from Lehigh University and the other from New York University. Holley was the only contestant representing a school in Wisconsin.

Watching/playing “Jeopardy!” has been a part of Holley’s daily routine since she was nine years old. She competed with her mom whenever she was home and when she wasn’t, her parents would tape the program for marathon viewings when she was. Her parents correctly predicted it was only a matter of time before she would give the show a shot.

“I had kind of toyed with the idea but never really looked in to it until I was watching the college tournament last year,” said Holley, who practiced for her appearance by watching the show standing up and using a click ball point pen as a buzzer. “I realized $100,000 (the first-place prize) would do a lot for graduate school and my future.”

Holley’s multiple-step journey to the “Jeopardy!” studio in Culver City, Calif., started last September with a 50-question online test — with 15 seconds to answer each question. A minimum of 35 correct is necessary to advance. Based on answers she found posted on Twitter several days later, Holley estimated she got at least 40 right.

In mid-October, the second leg of her trip showed up in her inbox on a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of a laundry session.

“I was checking email,” said Holley, “when I saw a message: ‘We would like you to come to audition in Chicago. RSVP within 24 hours for more details.’

The Chicago audition was set for Nov. 12, Saturday of ninth week, aka academic crunch time in Lawrence’s 10-week term calendar.

“It was kind of insane,” Holley recalled with a smile. “The election had happened that previous Tuesday. I was trying to finish writing a Spanish paper that Friday night in my room back home. I had to wake up early the next morning to catch the train to downtown Chicago. Somehow we made it all work and it was really awesome.”

A photo of Lawrence University student Allison Holley and her competitors from 14 colleges with Jeopardy host Alex Trebek.
Lawrence senior Allison Holley was one of 15 students nationally selected to compete in this year’s “Jeopardy!” college tournament. Photo courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

A Michigan Avenue hotel conference room served as a stand-in “Jeopardy!” studio. A second written test was administered — skeptical producers want contestants to prove they are as smart as their earlier online test suggested minus any “over-the-shoulder” help they may have employed. In groups of three, the contestants were called in to play a short mock version of the game, including a self-introduction.

“I was in the very first position and wasn’t sure what exactly to say, so I just went through my name and school and what I want to do,” said Holley of her audition. “We also had to say what we would do with the money, but you weren’t allowed to say things like pay off student debt or use it for grad school, which is what I would do. I just talked about traveling. I had gone to London and really loved it.”

After watching some of the rest of her competition in their auditions, Holley headed for home with the uncertain news from the producers that those who made it would hear from the show before the holidays.

“The best part of the whole experience was just being out there. All of the people, all the contestants that I met were really nice, cool people.”
— Allison Holley ’17

“It was one long and hectic day, but just getting that far was awesome,” said Holley.

Back home, what she thought was a wrong number in early December turned out to be the call of a lifetime.

“I noticed someone had left a voicemail but I didn’t recognize the number, so I figured someone was just asking for the wrong person,” said Holley, who was in a grocery store at the time. “I listened to it and had to stop dead in the aisle. The message said ‘Hi! This is Ryan from Jeopardy. I have your application.’ I definitely was not expecting that. I started jumping up and down and an elderly woman looked at me kind of weird. I was smiling like an idiot I was so happy.”

Accompanied by her mother, Holley flew to California, where she got to spend a day hanging out in the new Harry Potter world at Universal Studios before getting down to business the following day.

Prior to the taping, Holley got the celebrity green room treatment, including make-up and promotional photographs, along with a primer on the rules of the game and basic strategy. Held in front of a studio audience of a little more than 100, the contestants were admonished not to eyeball any family or friends in the crowd.

“The contestants’ guests sit in a special area, so there is no potential for cheating,” Holley explained. “The producer was yelling, ‘You don’t know your friends and family. Don’t look at them!’

By appearing in the college tournament, Holley forfeits her eligibility to appear on the regular “Jeopardy!” program. But being able to still check “Jeopardy! contestant” off of her bucket list is a memory she’ll never forget.

“The best part of the whole experience was just being out there,” said Holley, a member of Lawrence’s Quiz Bowl team and this year’s champion on-campus trivia contest team. “All of the people, all the contestants that I met were really nice, cool people. They had a reception for all the production staff and the contestants involved in the tournament afterwards, which was really neat.”

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 Shrekoning, Twerking for Trivia Capture Crowns in 49th Annual Lawrence University Trivia Contest

Shrek Out of Ten 2: The Shrekoning easily won the on-campus title of Lawrence University’s 49th annual Great Midwest Trivia contest held over the weekend. The Shrekoning racked up 1,398 points, finishing comfortably ahead of Bucky’s Banastitudinal Buggery Brigade, which placed second among 19 student teams with 1,232 points. David and the Bells Decisively and Terminally Bash Discordant Academic Teams by Dominantly Activating Technical Backstabbing, Dosing Amphetamines Triply, Breathing Deeply, and Trying Best finished a close third with 1,207 points.

Twerking for Trivia out-twerked the 2012 champions Twerking Red Headed Iowans Violating Innocent Appletonians 1,300 points to 1,255 to claim the off-campus title from among 57 teams. Last year’s runner-up, Hobgoblin of Little Minds, dropped to third this year with 1,205 points.

Volunteers man the phones for answers in the WLFM studios during the 49th annual Lawrence University Great Midwest Trivia Contest.

Shrek Out of Ten 2: The Shrekoning received a non-functional bong made of 2-liter soda bottles while Twerking for Trivia was presented an empty bottle of liqueur filled with cream cheese, which the trivia masters smashed on the ground, as first-place prizes for their winning performances.

A total of 416 questions were asked during the 50-hour contest, which ended at midnight Sunday.  This year’s contest featured a theme hour devoted to first-year Lawrence President Mark Burstein.

Unlike last year, when several teams were able to answer the contest’s final question, this year’s “Super Garruda” produced a shutout. No team was able to come up with the answer to this question: 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?”

The correct answer is “PUNKS IS NOT DEATH.”

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.

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.



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 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).