No subject is too trivial this weekend at Lawrence


by Jim Lundstrom
The Appleton Post-Crescent, January 18, 2001.

Meet Matthew Pickett, for one weekend the king of all things trivial.

The Lawrence University senior will preside over the 36th annual student-run Midwest Trivia Contest Friday through Sunday.

The grand master will lead a team of 10 other LU students, dubbed trivia masters, who will oversee the chaos of trivia weekend as it's broadcast on the campus radio station, WLFM-FM 91.1.

"We are always in a trivia mode," Pickett said. "It gets more intense in the last month or two."

Trivia masters are each assigned the task of coming up with 75 questions and answers, the more obscure the better. Those are narrowed down to 350 questions to be used in the contest.

"The night before Trivia Weekend starts, we meet in a secret room far, far away from society to come up with a purified core group of questions," Pickett said.

For three days, trivia is the center of the universe for those who organize the contest and the hundreds who play.

The best estimates suggest there are about 400 off-campus players and another 100 on-campus players. They are all in pursuit of trivial prizes that in the past have ranged from used bed mattresses to toilet plungers to squirrel pelts to packages of Ramen noodles.

Pickett was not willing to discuss this year's prizes.

"Of course they're secret," he said. 'We've got some good ones; horribly good."

Even though Pickett disturbed the traditional time trivia weekend takes place (it's one week earlier), he still recognizes the importance of tradition to the scores of trivia teams tuning in this weekend.

"We're trying to keep a lot of traditions going," said the 23-year-old trombone-playing grand master.

The contest gets off to a traditional start at 10 p.m. Friday with the reading of last year's Super Garruda question by Lawrence President Richard Warch. (The answer is "Puppy" by Jeff Koons.) "We're also keeping many of the Hours," Pickett said, mentioning the return of the popular Death and Destruction Hour, the Mean Hour ("That's one of our favorites," he said), the Stoopid Hour, the Risque Sex Hour ("It got a lot of approval last year," Pickett said. "We try to do it when kids are asleep."), the Physics Hour and the Girl Hour presented by two female trivia masters.

Trivia masters operate in shifts, taking turns answering phones, giving questions on air or working the dreaded complaint line.

"Every now and then we'll get a question that's contested," Pickett said. "We generally take the attitude of whoever's calling." That is to say, if you are a screaming moron on the complaint line, the person on the other end at Trivia Central will also be a screaming moron.

Pickett, in his fourth year of involvement in the contest, said he will continue participating as a contestant when he enters the real world as a band teacher ("Hopefully in the area," he said).

"I will definitely play," he said. "I will try to play as many years as I can. I love trivia and I want to support it for as long as I can."

He stops to consider for a moment that this is his last year behind the scenes of the venerable trivia contest.

Is that a tear rolling down his cheek?

"Basically, the rest of my life will be a downhill ride from here," he said.