The Ultimate Brain Tease: Lawrence University Salutes the Insignificant in 47th Annual Trivia Marathon

What’s older than the Super Bowl, more challenging than U.S. tax laws and highly likely to cause more insomnia than sleep apnea?

If you said the Lawrence University Great Midwest Trivia Contest, there is a team somewhere that wants to add you to its roster.

The country’s oldest continuous salute to the obscure and offbeat returns Friday, Jan. 27 for its 47th year of 50 straight hours of the most mind-numbingly insignificant questions imaginable. Following tradition, the playful questioning begins precisely at 10:00:37 p.m. and continues through midnight Sunday, Jan. 29.

Launched as an alternative for students who didn’t trek off with professors for an academic retreat, the trivia contest made its debut in 1966, one year before the championship football game that later became known as the Super Bowl was first played. Originally broadcast over Lawrence’s campus radio station WLFM, the contest transitioned to an Internet-based format in 2006, expanding its reach to a global audience.

“Lawrence’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest is the greatest thing since Edison invented the electric hammer,” senior Jake Fisher said with a laugh.  A senior bassoon performance major from Lake Forest, Ill., Fisher holds the coveted title of Grand Trivia Master this year.

Like many Lawrentians, Fisher got hooked on the trivia contest as a freshman after attending a meeting in his residence hall about forming a team.

“My friends and I were really into the idea,” said Fisher, who personally wrote 40 questions for this year’s contest.  “Once the contest began, I became completely immersed in it.”

The sole purpose of the contest is fun and for nearly five decades it has attracted a loyal following of trivia addicts who take great delight in correctly answering ridiculous questions in the hopes of winning an equally ridiculous prize, ranging from a stuffed chicken with broken springy legs inside of a black cardboard coffin to a Batman stocking.

Last year’s contest attracted 69 off-campus teams, including a one-person entry from Japan, and 15 on-campus teams. After two straight runner-up finishes, the Trivia Pirates ARGH!! edged the Trivialeaks 1,275-1,260 to win the 2011 off-campus title. Morgan Freeman’s Plus Plantz’s Pecorous Pastures Propose Presenting Persnickety Penguins with Ponchos won the on-campus title.

Yes, clever, and sometimes borderline offensive, team names are part of trivia contest lore.

The contest annually provides the perfect mid-winter diversion for students and community players alike.

“There’s something almost therapeutic to it,” said Fisher.  “Winter term is always the hardest. Moral is lower, students tend to become more exhausted and drained of energy. The contest acts as a great way for students to take their mind off of schoolwork and give them a break. When the trivia contest comes around, it’s almost as if we’re not in school anymore. The stress of getting that paper done goes away and you get lost in the question searching. I’d like to think that happens for the off-campus teams as well.

“Plus, the contest also gives you the freedom to do something extremely ridiculous,” Fisher added. “Players don’t think twice about running outside in the freezing cold weather to do something absolutely absurd just to get 10 points. That’s part of the beauty of the contest. There’s always the fascination with searching for answers to the most ridiculous questions ever conceived.

The contest features questions of varying point values with hour-long sessions of questions centered around specific themes sprinkled in throughout the weekend. Without tipping his hand, Fisher promises Trivia opus. 47 will have a few new wrinkles under this direction.

2012 Trivia Masters (from left): Patrick Pylvainen '13, Chris Mlynarczyk '12, Provie Duggan '12, Ethan Landes '13, Nick Paulson '14, Addy Goldberg '14, Jake Fisher '11, Ian Terry '14, Maija Anstine '11, Geneva Wrona '12, Kyle Brauer '11, Travis Thayer '13, Micah Price '13.

“On-campus teams should be prepared for a little bit of cruelty,” said Fisher, among the latest generation of students who have turned matters of minutia into an art form.  “I might abuse my power as Grand ‘Dad’ Master. Nothing that would make people angry, but I do have some tricks up my sleeve.”

Following tradition, Lawrence President Jill Beck opens the contest Friday evening by asking last question of the previous contest.  Known as the Super Garruda, the question is worth 100 points and virtually unanswerable, but that never stops teams from trying.

Last year’s Super Garruda — “What was the log entry on September 29, 1961, at 2 p.m. PST in the Alamo Airways daily log at McCarran International Airport? — had teams calling pay phones and car rental centers at the airport, hoping to reach someone to help search for the answer.

“I was actually proud I could cause so much disruption at a place like the Las Vegas’ airport in the middle of the night,” said Fisher, who wrote the question that became last year’s Super Garruda.

While the question went unanswered last year, every team should be able to start this year’s contest with an easy 100 points because they’ll now know the answer is “Drunks called back. Left their pants in the apache. Said for me to take care of them.”

About Lawrence University

Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a world-class conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. Ranked among America’s best colleges, it was selected for inclusion in 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 1,445 students from 44 states and 35 countries.