How many blackbirds in merry old King Cole’s pie?


The Appleton Post-Crescent, January 19, 1973.

How many blackbirds in merry old King Cole’s pie?

Everybody’s ready. The next voice you hear over Lawrence University Radio Station WLFM will be that of university President Thomas S. Smith.

All over campus, and throughout Appleton and the Fox River Valley, people are leaning in close to their radios waiting for the president to speak:

“Who is the Turkish wrestler who wears a money belt in the ring?”

The president has spoken and everybody starts grabbing for telephones. The Midwest Trivia Championship Contest is under way. For the next 50 hours, until midnight Sunday, a wave of little known and mostly useless facts, the kind that nobody has any good reason to remember but just might know, will flow in and out of the WLFM radio studio. The president always tosses out the first question. Then WLFM staff announcers take over.

What did four short blasts mean in Jack Armstrong’s secret whistle code? What music was always played when people balanced plates on the Ed Sullivan Show?

Those are questions from last year’s marathon of minutiae. This year, Master of Trivia Anthony Welhouse, a senior from Kaukauna, promises 700 new questions, an average of one every three minutes, for the tournament.

Lawrence’s 8th annual Championship Trivia Contest will be held Feb. 23-25, “The best kind of question,” according to Welhouse, “is the kind that is just off the tip of everybody’s tongue. The kind that makes you say to yourself, “I know that, but what is it?”

The trivia tournament is becoming increasingly popular each year, with many alumni returning to campus as well as students from other colleges and universities. Practically every dormitory and fraternity house on campus has one or more trivia teams, and many people off campus, from junior high school age on u, enter the contest.

Ken Howell, captain of last year’s championship team, Mad Dog, says there is only one way to win at trivia – and that‘s to hang in there all than way, from 10:39 p.m. Friday until midnight Sunday.

Howell’s Mad Dogs last year won the title in a sudden death playoff with a team called Gamara, which took its name from a giant space turtle that figured in a string of Japanese monster movies. Names of other teams in the running for prizes that included a pink plastic flamingo and a half-empty jar of peanut butter were The Sky King Fan Club, Hank’s Ivory Tower Bar and Grill, the Nine Twigs of Odin, Big Al and John Doe.

The lengths any of these teams, and others, would go to pick up valuable points was unlimited. At one point, traffic on College Avenue was slowed to a halt so that teams armed with rulers and tape measures could determine the answer to: How wide is College Avenue in front of the Lawrence Memorial Chapel?

That was last year, and there’s no telling what the devious master of trivia has in store for this year’s trivia entrants.

Is it worth it? Those who seek the Trivia Contest’s dubious distinctions and rewards think so. And so does Eric Buchter, student manager of WLFM.

“After all we’re an educational station, aren’t we?”