Lawrence University trivia masters want to make your brain hurt

The Appleton Post-Crescent, Jan 21, 2009.

By Kara Patterson

Lawrence University senior Erin Watson keeps a notebook of questions and answers in her possession, and adds to it when she comes across a detail she really wants to remember.

Not an unusual thing for a college student to do. But Watson isn’t just any student. She’s the grand master of Lawrence’s 44th annual Midwest Trivia Contest, and her notebook is full of random and unusual facts that on- and off-campus teams of students and community members scramble to find in their collective memories, online or in hand-held reference materials.

Watson’s notebook, by the way, is just one resource in the trivia organizers’ collection. Each of the trivia masters under Watson’s leadership — a dozen Lawrence students this year — have their own unique ways of accumulating contest minutiae for this weekend. The 50-hour, 350-question event — the nation’s longest-running trivia contest — starts at exactly 10:00:37 p.m. Friday and runs through midnight Sunday.

“What I like about trivia is that it gives a lot of us, the trivia masters, an opportunity to show off our unique interests or talents we all have, that I think everybody has, that you don’t get to use in your daily life,” said Watson, 21, a studio art/sculpture and English major from Milwaukee, who still has the questions she’s written from her sophomore and junior years as a trivia master. “A lot of us build on our experiences. The contest ends up reflecting our personalities. Some years we have people who are really heavy on video games or D&D (the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.) I’m really into art and I read fashion magazines, so that’s a different perspective.”

Trivia master Claire Gannon, a senior from Delafield, saves pamphlets and photographs from her trips in case they turn out to be trivia-worthy.

“Some trivia masters will Google their own questions to see how hard they are, because maybe they’re aiming to make their question pretty easy or pretty hard, so they change the wording,” said Gannon, 21, who’s double-majoring in geology and government. “My style is, I just write questions to write questions. If it’s a shut-out it’s a shut-out. If every team gets it right, every team gets it right.”

Sophomore biology major John Crawford, a new trivia master, pays particular attention when he’s reading newspapers and scientific magazines.

“Also, when I came to Lawrence I was a history major, so I still have a lot of interest in history and the history behind things, and the real happenings of world events,” Crawford said.

Someday Watson’s name may come up as the answer to a trivia question. Watson is the first woman to singlehandedly lead the trivia masters since LU alumna Melinda Young did so during her senior year in 1977.

“We have a lot of girls who get involved in organizing teams on campus, but they don’t necessarily want to be trivia masters,” Watson said. “It was always something I had wondered if I could do, and it’s really exciting that I get to. I think with me being a grand master it might change some perceptions that you have to be a certain way to do it.”

Young, now 53, lives in Madison and works for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. She previously lived in Hawaii for 25 years, and she hasn’t yet tuned back in to the contest. But, she says, she still finds herself thinking like a trivia master.

“My thing was, if I just found something interesting I would be just like, oh, that would make a great trivia question,” Young said. “I’m three decades removed from it but I still have that instinct. I had that idea of, the point of this is what you know, not how good of a researcher you are. I was much more interested in oddball facts rather than something you could find by looking it up easily.”

For her trivia contributions, Young indulged her fondness of film and literature.

“I still remember my Super Garruda (final question of extreme difficulty,)” she said. “They had shown a Marx Brothers movie (on campus), ‘A Day at the Races.’ For the final race on the board listing all the horses, there were two names scratched out. What were those names.”

(Answers: Heartthrob and Fast Felipe.)

If you play
What: Lawrence University’s 44th annual Midwest Trivia Contest
When: Starts at 10:00:37 p.m. Friday and runs through midnight Sunday. Official team registration will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, but people can register at any point throughout the contest.
Where: Anywhere you choose. The contest is webcast, or broadcast over the Internet. Play by yourself or assemble a team. Teams are split into on-campus (Lawrence students) and off-campus (anyone else.)
Contacts: 920-832-6937 for off-campus teams (to register and give contest answers); 920-832-6567 (ext. 6567) for on-campus teams.
Listen: If you’re playing or just listening in, go to LU’s WLFM radio station Web site at Click on “Listen Online.”
Info: For more information, go to the contest’s Web site at For updates during the event, click on “Current Contest.”
Trivia tees: Trivia t-shirts bearing the 2009 contest logo designed by Trivia grand master Erin Watson are available throughout the contest for $9 each. People can purchase them at the campus radio station up to the contest’s final ceremony.