LU trivia competition spans generations

The Appleton Post-Crescent, Jan 27, 2008.

Players compete via phone, Internet

By Maureen Wallenfang

Jabberwocky took over Carole and Bill Leslie's basement in Greenville this weekend for the 29th year in a row.

The group — named for Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem — is one many of longstanding multigenerational teams playing in the 43rd annual Great Midwest Trivia Contest based at WFLM studios at Lawrence University in Appleton.

The contest ends at midnight tonight.

Jabberwocky has never won in its nearly three decades. Its best finish was fourth place.

But what compels the core team of between 10 and 20 members to come in from as far away as Philadelphia each year has nothing to do with winning.

"It's like a family reunion," said Carole Leslie, the slender 72-year-old "Trivia Mom" of the group who goes by the name Fred.

"I've known these kids before they knew who they were. I've watched them grow and mature. It gives me a sense of satisfaction to see them. It's a very warm thing," she said. "We are happy to finish in the top 10."

"The rest of the year, our lives are separate. Trivia is our grounding point," said her daughter Janine Melchion of Greenville, who loves the camaraderie. "I cherish this time."

Trivia is a 50-hour marathon of inconsequential questions and answers run by students at Lawrence University in Appleton and broadcast over the campus radio station's Web link, trivia. Because of the Internet feed, registered teams include some from California, New York, Canada and Texas.

Grand Trivia Master James Eric Prichard estimated 85 teams are playing this year. Of those, about 73 are off-campus and plenty of them have been playing the game longer than Prichard's team of 12 trivia masters — ages 20 to 22 — have been alive.

"These teams remember playing trivia in a way that's foreign to us," he said. "The fact that they're still playing says we're doing something right."

At Jabberwocky, Fred remembers her daughter Janine was designated dialer on the team's one rotary phone circa 1980. "Her fingers would be bloody."

Now, instead of books and rotary phones, the game is dependent on computer skills and is played with banks of computers, high-speed Internet connections and multiple rapid redial phones.

Still, the occasional answer comes out of someone's head.

"If it's hard to find on Google, it's a pretty good question," said Meghan McCallum, a Lawrence senior and one of 12 trivia masters.

When the contest started Friday night, Jabberwocky had all its essentials in place. Besides the computers, there were good luck charms like a hideously ugly 1960s-era owl lamp and Yodi, a deaf, 17-year-old dog who circled the room hoping for dropped food.

Team members had a ceremonial a sip of champagne — the only alcohol this team will allow all weekend — and the game was on.

While Bill Leslie preferred to be outside clearing show, Fred cheered everyone on. Their son Brian and his friends, who started the team when they were teens, now have children who are teens playing along. As Cindy Timm of Freedom was playing, her son Andy listened from Fort Bragg, N.C., a few months away from being deployed to Iraq.

At mid-day Saturday, the team was in 12th place.

"The only year I wanted to win was the year the top prize was a metal bedpan," said Fred. "I wanted to take it down to J&B Trophy and get everyone's names engraved on it."

Sample questions
Q: What U.S. president was an orphan by the age of 14?
A: Andrew Jackson.
Q: According to Harold Hobson, what was the best thing about Ian McKellen's "Hamlet?"
A: His curtain call.
Q: What Disney character has a watch displaying men with beer?
A: Geppetto in the animated movie, "Pinocchio."
Q: When put together, the answers to 24 and 47 across in the New York Times crossword on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007, form this two-word palindrome that describes a Senate worker looking with amazement on a job payment inconsistency.
A: Page gawks at task wage gap.

Team names are half the fun
The Post-Crescent
APPLETON — The Great Midwest Trivia Contest allows teams call to themselves by any name. Some longstanding teams change names every year. Others, like Bank of Kaukauna, Six Feet Under, Iowans, Jabberwocky, Bucky's and Skull Squadron, use the same names, or close variations, each time. Some new names this year bordered on tasteless, like Statutory Crepe and Fluffy Bunny Burgers. Other names were simply funny: Rage Against the Answering Machine, Do Vegetarians Eat Animal Crackers? and Unexplained Bacon. "One on-campus team is Ben Ben Ben Ben Ben Ben Ben because they have seven team players all named Ben," said Chelsea Seremeta, a Lawrence junior from Kaukauna and one of 12 trivia masters running the contest.