A trivia addict goes straight

The Appleton Post-Crescent, February 8, 1975.
David Wagner is a copy editor and arts editor of the Post Crescent

A trivia addict goes straight

For five points, name the movie in which Jimmy Cagney shoved a grapefruit in the face of his costar. For five bonus points, what was her name?

Not important, you say? Think again, because as you read this, several hundred young people who are self-taught experts on a variety of unimportant subjects are competing in the tenth annual Midwest Championship Trivia Contest.

This annual event is aired over the Lawrence University FM station, WLFM (91.1), and it brings together a group of trivia junkies who will abuse their health by skipping sleep for two nights and torture their brains until they hurt trying to remember who recorded “Rainbow” in 1957. As a bonus, they will the same phone number as many as 500 times between 10:39 p.m. Friday and midnight Sunday – 49 ½ hours of nonstop silliness.

I have the right to make such judgments about trivia weekend because I am a rehabilitated trivia addict. I got into it easily enough, never suspecting I would get hooked. My wife, as she was then was, was not feeling well one Saturday night. She was sick, in fact. I was tired and already in bed, but didn’t feel ready to sleep. To pass time, she thought we might listen to some trivia contest she recalled hearing about. We fanned the dial until we found WLFM – our fatal mistake.

At first, it wasn't too bad. When we tuned in, the contest had been going for 26 hours. We listened to the questions, which were followed by a Top 40 song, during which time competitors called in answers. We listened for about an hour, realizing we knew most of the answers. But we weren’t aware any old body could compete. We thought preregistration was required.

Finally, it dawned on us. Anyone could play. Most of the teams had funny names and when we made the decision to compete, we needed a name. My record review column at the time was called “Under the Album Covers.”so we became Albums Covers.

I think we went to bed around 6 a.m. after piling up impressive point totals. Although far behind because of our late start, we became the sentimental favorites of the WLFM crew.

After four hours sleep, I was up at 10 a.m.Sunday, raring to go. We played hard the rest of the time, doing well but managing to finish only fourth in the off-campus competition. What we would have given for those was wasted 26 hours!

By then, we were trivia contest junkies and next year’s contest would be a different story, we vowed.

Next year was a different story, for sure. We were prepared. We started at the opening bell and didn’t give up until the final question. Of the 49 ½ hours in the contest, we played 40 or 41. We battled for the off-campus lead through the competition and we took it seriously. So did our , major competitors, who, I'm sorry to report, discovered our identity and tried sabotage. It must have been around 2 a.m. Sunday when our phone rang. I answered, but the party on the other end said nothing. Nor would he/she/it hang up. So, because it was an incoming call, I couldn’t break the connection and there was no way we could use our phone.

That incident set us back about 30-45 minutes and we relinquished the lead, I can’t print some of the words I used during the time the dastardly trick was played on us. We were junkies who couldn’t get a fix.

What neither of us had anticipated about that second year we competed was the danger every junkie faces – overdose. We OD’d on trivia that weekend. We recovered, luckily, in a few days, but vowed never to do it again.

We kept our vow, but like any rehabilitated addict, total abstinence was essential. It was rough the next year, knowing an answer to a question and not being able to do anything about it, but we proved to be strong.

Subsequent to our first year’s participation, I got my own radio program on WLFM, which ran for several years until I gave it up for time and interest reasons. During those seasons, my wife and I never participated at the station on the receiving end of calls during trivia weekend, though most of the other announcers did. It was part of our rehabilitation program.

We were not the only addicts trying to kick the trivia habit, and I think Lawrence, as a public service, should not be content to get hooked on the junk. The school, or at least the radio station, has an obligation to help us kick the habit. I suggest a halfway house concept, in which we would be phased out of trivia by gradually being asked easier and more pertinent questions, such as, "Who was President before Richard Nixon?"