Minutiae hounds test their skills

Game quizzes knowledge of useless facts
by Kara Patterson
The Appleton Post-Crescent, January 26, 2003.

APPLETON — Ralph Borzyczkowski’s altar of small facts says it all.

In the rented office space, which is Trivia Central for the team “Who Would Jesus Bomb,” Borzyczkowski’s green-tinted file box sits in its place of honor atop an Elvis table runner and a blue suede tablecloth.

The box is just one steadfast resource that will get Borzyczkowski of West Allis and his fellow team members through Lawrence University’s 38th annual Midwest Trivia Contest.

It holds minutiae ranging from religious festivals to the real names of famous personalities, including the horse Mr. Ed (whose given name is really Bamboo Harvester, by the way).

“Ralph’s got most of these facts in his head, but he goes there several times during the contest,” said team member Jim Froeming of Appleton.

Froeming is the unofficial ringleader of about 20 core members who will stop by the team’s headquarters at Appleton’s Lincoln Parkway Complex throughout the 50-hour contest that ends at midnight tonight.

About 55 teams competed last year in Lawrence’s phone-in contest, with the Bank of Kaukauna earning its fourth title in six years.

In various incarnations, Froeming said, the team currently known as “Who Would Jesus Bomb” dominated the trivia field with a winning streak from 1988-2000.

The team members are self-confessed curmudgeons when it comes to searching for answers on the Internet.

They still haul in reference books from the four corners of Wisconsin, and have stacked about 500 volumes on Shawn Grant of Beaver Dam’s custom-built wooden shelves.

“But you have to adapt,” Froeming said. “Why should we get paper cuts when we can type things in?”

Most of the players on site Saturday morning have been active trivia hounds since the late 1970s.

Grant met his wife, Mary, during the 1986 Midwest Trivia Contest.

Mary Grant planned to arrive for an afternoon shift Saturday, with the couple’s daughter Caralea, 5, in tow.

“She’s the next generation of trivia players,” Shawn Grant said. “If they ask questions about ‘Blue’s Clues’ or ‘Dora the Explorer,’ she’ll be all over it.”

Most of the energy in Trivia Central emanated from a cluster of four laptops and three phones on a table in the middle of the room.

With a run of obscure questions featuring the dolls Barbie and Ken, famous women’s measurements, and characters in fairy tales, the team dubbed the segment “Girls’ hour.”

On a dry erase marker board Froeming kept track of the team’s points, some that Mark Hembree of Oconomowoc called in.

“We try to develop a friendly relationship with the people on the other end,” also known as Trivia Masters, Hembree said. “Guys that are really good can hang on the phone while others are scouring books and going on-line.”

One local team this year has concocted its traditional “trivia fuel” of turkey soup. Another team rubs a lava lamp for luck.

“Who Would Jesus Bomb” employs feng shui to calm their nerves. Feng shui is a Chinese practice of organizing space to channel positive energy.

“We’ve tried to focus the energy through the dry erase board by turning it toward the radio station” at Lawrence, Froeming said with a smile.

Midway through Saturday, “Who Would Jesus Bomb” stood at a solid eighth place.

When worse comes to worse, and it may as drowsiness sets in, said Froeming, the team’s spinners come in handy.

“We have spinners for numbers, letters, and categories” that offer help to jump-start a sluggish brain, he said.

“It’s kind of a joke because of the guessing that the contest entails.”

Kara Patterson can be reached at 920-993-1000, ext. 215, or by e-mail at kpatterson@postcrescent.com