LU's annual trivia contest, kicking off Friday, feels a connection

The Appleton Post-Crescent, January 27, 2011.

By Kara Patterson
Post-Crescent staff writer

The credo of Lawrence University’s Midwest Trivia Contest, in summary, says trivia is some serious fun.

It’s that paradox of commitment and conviviality that fuels the contest for on- and off-campus teams and the Trivia Masters, Lawrence students who run the contest.

“Especially during the contest itself, that’s what I’m going to feel like will be my main job, to make sure it never gets too stressful for players and Trivia Masters, that people are respecting that underlying rule,” said Grand Master Derrell Acon, a fifth-year student from St. Louis who oversees the Trivia Masters and has the final say on all things trivial during the weekend. “It’s fun to have something to play that doesn’t have significant bearing on your own life, outside of all these really serious things we have in our world and in our personal lives. I think it does something for the human spirit, this sense of community and connecting the community of your team to someone else’s community, and being part of this big network we call trivia.”

The 46th annual contest is a webcast event of continuous play that starts at 10:00:37 p.m. Friday and runs through midnight Sunday. It’s considered the nation’s longest-running trivia contest because of the way each contest opens with the last question of the previous contest.

Everyone is invited to play this town-and-gown game, alone or on a team of any size. People call in from anywhere and score points for correct answers. The contest packs between 350 and 400 questions into about 50 hours.

Until the very end of the contest, each team gets three guesses and three minutes per question. As the clock counts down to the contest’s end, Trivia Masters unleash several 10-minute stumpers called “Garrudas.” Those lead up to the final question, or “Super Garruda,” a 20-minute toughie.

Lawrence has invited long-time trivia player John Brogan to ask the contest’s first Garruda. Brogan’s Bank of Kaukauna team has celebrated a dozen wins in its 14 years of play.

The first time the team played, when Brogan was in college, team members hoped to finish in the top 10.

“We won the contest,” said Brogan, 35, of Minneapolis, who returns to his family’s home in Kaukauna for trivia.

The team’s victories include a 10-year winning streak from 2001 to 2010.

“It was grueling and tense because it was a really close contest,” Brogan said, referring to last year’s event. “You have to obsess on every question so you can’t take the time to enjoy the people you’re with who’ve come from all over the country.

I’m not saying it doesn’t happen at all, but it was certainly more tense than fun on balance. So we got to the end of the contest and we were really happy we’d won 10 in a row, and we were like, do we have anything else to prove? We said, OK, what can we do to make it more fun.”

To that end, Brogan’s team is planning for a more relaxed atmosphere.

“Food has always been a super important part of the contest for us,” he said. “We make homemade dumplings and a different sort of ethnic meal every year. We’ll do five meals a day, and omelet bars in the morning. I love to cook, and I’m going to cook a couple of the meals. We’re thinking about doing cool cocktail hours in the middle of the contest to just have fun and enjoy it.”

In the spirit of the action questions that Trivia Masters present to on-campus teams — challenges such as choreograph a dance routine or compose a love song — Brogan’s team is putting together its own proposal for off-campus fun.

“I think if we can get enough people we’re going to do an impromptu broomball game in the middle of the contest,” Brogan said. “If we can do it, we’ll challenge some other teams.”

Brogan encourages trivia players to treasure the little joyous moments, such as when his team sang in chorus at the top of their lungs to Toto’s “Africa,” a trivia song staple.

“I suspect even playing chill we’ll finish in the top 10, but our goal this year is not to win, it’s to have fun,” Brogan said. “For us I think the contest is a slog that you do because you have to be in position to then answer the Garrudas at the end. If there’s anything that we will give our all on, it’s probably those. I’m really proud of how my team comes together to answer those questions and work through a problem.”

Acon, 22, said trivia players looking for a break during the contest may volunteer to help Trivia Masters answer phones at Lawrence. Off-campus team members take calls from on-campus teams and vice-versa.

“You’re there, you’re getting free food and you’re helping the contest out,” Acon said.

If you play
What: LU’s Midwest Trivia Contest
When: Starts at 10:00:37 p.m. Friday and runs through midnight Sunday.
Official team registration will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, but people can register at any point throughout the contest.
Where: Anywhere you choose. The contest is webcast. Play by yourself or assemble a team. Teams are split into on-campus (Lawrence students) and off-campus (anyone else.)