Tag: Trivia

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).

Off-campus, On-campus Teams Successfully Defend Trivia Titles in Contest’s 41st Edition

The Holy Brogan Empire captured its sixth straight Lawrence University Great Midwest
Trivia Contest off-campus title over the weekend in the 41st edition of the annual salute to the insignificant. It was the team’s eighth title in the past 10 years.

The Empire racked up 1,120 points out of a possible 1,800 in the 50-hour, 324-question trivia marathon that ended Sunday night at midnight. The team received a broom that was set on fire as a first-place prize. What’s the Frequency, Lawrence? finished second with 1,015 points, while Radio-Free Iowans finished third for the second straight year with 967 points.

Bucky’s successfully defended their on-campus team title with 1,127 points, while Coalition of the Awexome finished second with 1,021 points, edging I Hate Patrick Ehlers and His Big Dumb Face, which placed third with 987 points. Bucky’s was awarded a painting of a clown that had been spray painted in orange graffiti.

A total of 62 off-campus teams and 11 on-campus teams participated in this year’s contest, which was conducted with an all Internet webcast format rather than an over-the-air broadcast for the first time in its history.

No team was able to answer the contest’s final “Super Garruda” question: Spike O’Dell, the WGN radio personality, has a cup museum in Door County, Wis., that features cups signed by celebrities that have been on Spike’s show. What did comedian Tracey Ullman write on her cup?

While no one came up with the correct response (“To Spike, I don’t have herpes — love Tracey Ullman”), one team drew the wrath of O’Dell by tracking him down on the phone to ask him.

Holy Webcast! Lawrence University’s 50-Hour Tribute to Trivia Goes All Digital

Like nearly all long-standing events, Lawrence University’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest — the nation’s longest-running salute to all things inconsequential — is steeped in tradition.

But when the 41st edition of the 50-hour marathon dedicated to mindless minutia kicks off on Friday, Jan. 27, one of its original elements will be missing. Instead of hitting the airwaves at its customary 10:00.37 p.m. start time, the contest ventures into uncharted waters with its first ever all-Internet broadcast (

And while this year’s contest questions will be delivered digitally, the 65 or so off-campus teams and 10 on-campus teams will still try to answer those questions in the time-honored tradition of phoning them in to one of the dozen telephone lines set up in the WLFM studios just for the contest.

“As much as possible, we’re hoping it (the switch from an FM signal to a Webcast) won’t affect the contest,” said senior Reid Stratton, who, as this year’s grand trivia master, will officially preside over the contest that runs until midnight Sunday (1/29). “We hope players will tune in on their computer rather than on their radio and things will be just as crazy as ever.”

The change was precipitated by the sale of WLFM’s broadcast license last year and a conversion to an all Web-based broadcast format for the station.

“This is going to be a little like entering the ‘Twilight Zone.’ In some ways we feel like we’re stepping back in time 26 years,” said Carole Leslie, 70, whose serves as house mother, cheerleader and avid participant for “Jabberwocky,” a team that has religiously played the trivia contest since 1980. “We’re feeling excited as well as a bit nervous. It’s a new horizon for the contest and should make for an interesting experience.

“I just hope we don’t wind up in 43rd place like we did the first year we played,” Leslie added with a laugh. Jabberwocky’s team of 10 core members, who play out of the basement of Leslie’s Greenville home, has consistently been a top 10 finisher among off-campus squads over the years.

While Stratton looks toward the weekend with fingers crossed that no technical “glitches” will derail the madness — Lawrence has made arrangements with outside sources to provide additional bandwidth for the weekend — the transition from an over-the-air broadcast to an Internet one opens up possibilities for trivia fans all over the country to participate in the contest without having to travel to Appleton, or at least to the limited signal area of the old WLFM.

Count Rich Bennett among those who are looking to joining the fun from afar. Bennett, 33, who works as a production manager for an advertising agency by day in Baltimore, Md., also organizes a weekly “pub quiz” at his favorite watering hole, Max’s Taphouse. He stumbled upon Lawrence’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest earlier this month on Wikipedia while researching questions for his own contest.

Intrigued by what he read about the contest, he and three buddies are set to take the Lawrence trivia plunge this weekend.

“I know we’ll be undermanned, but it’s certainly going to be interesting,” said Bennett, who will hunker down for the weekend at TBC Advertising, his company’s office, which will serve as his team headquarters. “It will be fun. We’ve got some powerful computers we can use, but I’m more worried about how we’ll get food here all weekend.

“We expect to lose, but lose gracefully,” Bennett added. “Hopefully the madness won’t set in until the very end. I know I’m going to sleep in late on Friday to help get me through the weekend.”

In some ways, the broadcast format switch is merely catching up to the sea change the contest’s “landscape” has undergone the past half dozen years or so. Gone are the days of closets stuffed with index cards, encyclopedias and ready-reference books on movies, music and television shows that got unpacked each January. Laptops with high-speed Internet connections have made books passe and become the weapon of choice for all teams serious about silliness. A search engine guru is now just as important as a good quarterback on a football team for this generation of triviaholics.

Thanks to Google, and others similar “tools,” the trivia masters who generate the contest’s 350 or so questions need to exercise all creative outlets when coming up with the mind stumpers.

“We definitely have to be more careful when we write questions,” says Stratton. “The trick is to come up with questions that are interesting but not completely ridiculous, something that provides a ‘hmmmm’ moment when people hear it.

“A good trivia question will either have a funny set-up or a funny answer,” Stratton added. “The set-up may seem pretty arcane, but then the answer will make you smile.”

Combine 50 hours of off-the-wall questions with wacky music, in-studio skits, highly-caffeinated, sleep-deprived men and women of all ages on clever, oft-times politically incorrect named teams with “prizes” ranging from bags of human hair to plastic pink flamingos and you have the recipe for a truly original weekend.

“The reason I love the trivia contest is because for 50 hours, you get to live on an entirely different planet,” said Stratton. “There is no night or day. It’s totally absorbing and completely out of this world.”

As per usual, the contest will begin Friday evening with Lawrence President Jill Beck asking the opening question. Beck will return Saturday morning to host “President’s Hour,” a 60-minute salute to all things presidential.

And in keeping with one of the most sacred of all Lawrence Great Midwest Trivia Contest traditions, this year’s first question will be the “super garruda” that was asked at the end of last year’s contest.

All teams that remember Mushtariy Madrahimova of Uzbekistan wrote “It is the hugest building I’ve ever been” for her comment in the guest book during a visit to the Capitol in Madison on December 11, 2004, will jump start this year’s contest with a cool 100 points.