Great Midwest Trivia Contest

Tag: Great 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 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).

Nothing Trivial About This Birthday: Lawrence University’s Marathon of Minutia Turns 40!

Back when a first-class stamp set you back a nickel and the Beatles’ “We Can Work it Out” was tearing up the pop charts, Lawrence University student J.B. deRosset decided he would try to build a better mouse trap.

While no mice were ever caught with deRosset’s creation, he did manage to ensnare a generation of college students who, for the past 40 years, have turned matters of minutia into an annual 50-hour artform of outrageous questions and answers.

Welcome to the 40th edition of Lawrence University’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest, the nation’s longest-running salute to the obscure and inconsequential, where first-place prizes like toilet seats and bags of Ramen noodles are revered as badges of honor.

Broadcast on the Lawrence campus radio station, WLFM, 91.1 FM, the madness marathon begins Friday, Jan. 28 at the all-too-appropriately insignificant time of 10:00:37 and runs through midnight Sunday, Jan. 30. Fifty continuous hours of off-the-wall questions culled from the minds of a team of student “trivia masters,” all designed to challenge — and occasionally stump — even the best “Googlers.”

In honor of the contest’s 40th birthday, deRosset, who holds near cult-like status among Lawrence trivia diehards, is returning to the scene of the crime, flying to Appleton from his home in Miami, Fla., to spend the weekend as the contest’s guest of honor.

“J.B. is our Great Grand Master, our hero,” said Jonathon Roberts, a senior from Sturgeon Bay who is serving as this year’s trivia grand master. “If it weren’t for him we would just be sitting around staring blankly for 50 hours in a row this weekend. But because of him, we have an actual activity. For many of us, up until now he has just been an untouchable being of history. It will be an honor to finally meet the mythical legend.”

It was the dead of winter of 1966 when deRosset, then a senior at Lawrence, began plotting how to improve an idea he stumbled upon while visiting a woman-of interest who was attending Beloit College at the time.

“Some group at Beloit was putting on a trivia contest at their student union. My only recollection was that it was a lame, pathetic, pitiable attempt,” deRosset recalled of his original inspiration. “I knew it could be done a whole lot better. I came back to campus all enthused about how Lawrence could do a better job at a trivia contest.”

With the help of two friends who worked at the campus radio station at the time, deRosset started tinkering.

“The three of us created the synergy needed to create a weekend radio contest,” said deRosset, 61, who has since built a successful career doing legal and financial planning work for McDonald’s Corporation. “We spent a month or two drafting questions, each of us utilizing our particular specialty. Mine at the time was rock and roll. Somebody else watched too much TV, and another had comic books.”

The first contest — only 26 hours long — hit the airwaves in May of ’66, coinciding with Lawrence’s annual “Encampment Weekend,” an academic retreat in which select students and faculty members headed off to discuss issues of great importance. deRosset engaged those students who were left behind in an intellectual battle of a different sort, asking them to call in answers to esoteric questions asked during the course of a radio broadcast. The team that answered the most questions correctly received a fitting prize for a contest of this ilk: an old refrigerator filled with 45 rpm records.

Forty years later, the Internet has altered the trivia contest landscape — computers and laptops with high-speed network connections have gradually replaced mountains of almanacs, encyclopedias and reference books as the “weapons of choice” — but the spirit of the contest retains much of its original verve.

“Trivia is the perfect relief from the winter blues,” said Roberts. “Everyone is exhausted from the cold this time of year so the idea is, with 50 hours of sleeplessness, we push you over the edge into a world of complete ridiculous exhaustion. That’s the land where real creativity and fun lies.”

“And people love the prizes,” Roberts added. “I mean, where else can you win seven pounds of human hair and a broken TV in exchange for 50 hours of your life?”

At the time, deRosset had no idea his idea would have such staying power. But with the perspective of 40 years, he’s not entirely surprised, either.

“We had such great camaraderie that it was simply a blast that winter of 1965-66 putting together the concept and working on the details,” said deRosset. “I have to believe the same is still true today, even if the academics sometimes get in the way. It is sort of like playing football for USC or the University of Miami, but without the large payoff or the disabling injuries.

“From the listeners’ viewpoint, I don’t believe college humor will ever get old,” deRosset added. “As cable TV pushes the major networks to lower their taste thresholds to newly discovered subterranean depths, maybe the Lawrence trivia contest will not be that different. But I love the team names. I love the irreverence. I love all the strange pieces played during the contest, especially the Monty Python stuff. Most of all I love the brief relief it gives in an increasingly troubled world.”

From “Frying Nemo” and “Apocalypse Cow” to “Smarter Than the Average Bush,” creative, often outrageous and sometimes borderline offensive team names add a playful dash of fun to the weekend.

Playing this year as The West Bank of Kaukauna Concealing Weapons of Mass Deduction, a team of several dozen smarty pants twentysomethings who gather annually from eight states, including California and New York, has dominated the competition in recent years. The Bank, which has won four consecutive trivia titles and six of the last eight, will be among the 60 some teams expected to vie for this year’s off campus title. Joining the 8-10 on-campus teams this year will be a special team made up primarily of recent Lawrence alumni.

Bigger. Stronger. Faster. That is how Roberts promises to make this year’s 40th trivia contest.

“The 40th edition of the contest is a milestone,” said Roberts, “and we’re going to mark the occasion with harder questions, more extreme action questions, more ridiculous skits and more celebrity guest spots. We have been building this up
for 40 years now and let me tell you, trivia, like life, begins at 40.”

To help celebrate trivia’s 40th birthday appropriately, Roberts has organized a special “pre-contest” party Friday, Jan. 28 from 7:30-9 p.m. in Riverview Lounge of the Lawrence Memorial Union for all the trivia teams to gather and meet each other prior to waging their battle of wits.

New Lawrence President Jill Beck will make her trivia debut by asking the contest’s opening question, which by tradition, is always the final “Super Garruda” question from the previous year. All those paying attention should be able to start this year’s contest with an easy 100 points because they will know by now what casts a shadow on Jesus in the DeBakey Room in the Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas. Last year, no team was able to correctly identify the cupped hands on a sculpture of Dr. Michael DeBakey as the source of the shadow.

For additional information on the contest or how to register, visit

In addition to being broadcast on WLFM, the entire contest also will also be webcast at