Participants dialed in to traditions

by Jim Lundstrom
The Appleton Post-Crescent, January 23, 2004.

Bill Martin likens his 30 years playing in a team in the Great Midwest Trivia Contest to someone who lived through horse-and-buggy days to jets. “It’s changed a lot,” said Martin, who with his wife, Rocky, will host a team in their Appleton home for the 15th year in a row this weekend. He remembers his fingers turning numb from dialing a telephone to answer questions.

“Now you can have your computer dial for you,” he said.

The Martins have five computers in their home, hooked up and ready to go into service when the 39th annual Lawrence University trivia contest begins its 50-hour broadcast tonight.

“We went to DSL a couple years ago,” Martin said. “I’m not going to give that up. We just leave that in.

“We have a core group of people who know how to use the (Internet) search engines pretty well,” he said. “But we still have books. We actually have had people look up things faster in books than you can look it up on the Internet.”

The Martins have accumulated plenty of reference material over the years.

“And other people truck them in from wherever they are,” he said. “Got a friend who brings in five cases of books, then packs them all back. They bring in Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, whatever anybody can find.” Some things have not changed, he said, including the big pot of turkey soup for fuel and cans of “really, really, really cheap beer.”

“That’s the tradition,” he said.

The Martins expect at least 10 people to show up at their house for the contest but have had as many as 60 people visit throughout a weekend.

“It’s more of a homecoming,” Martin said. “These were a bunch of friends who were around Appleton and moved on. It’s a chance to catch up with what’s happening in their lives in an atmosphere where you’re not pushing to do anything important. It’s trivia, after all.”

The team also has grown to include the children of the original players.

“My son, Colin, has been playing since he was 4 and he’s 17 now,” Martin said. “When my son was 6, there was a question about a game he had. We woke him up at 2 in the morning, asked him the question and he gave the answer. We call the kids he knows. Unfortunately, given the age difference now between the trivia masters who are running the show and the people who are playing it here, we actually need those kids.”

Last year the team, named “We Are Professional Guessers,” came in sixth place out of 60 teams in the competition.

As in year’s past, this year’s team name will be decided just before registration.

“We’ve got a couple things we’re looking at,” Martin said. “One guy wants us to be called ‘Monsters in Dust’ from an Oscar Wilde quote, and then a friend of my son’s came in with a T-shirt on that I liked. It said ‘Lord of the Onion Rings.’” Those are some of the top contenders right now.” Don’t get the idea that the Martins are focused solely on winning.

They do it for the fun and the laughs. Still, that doesn’t stop Martin from dreaming about that technological boost that could put his team ahead of others. “If I had hit the lottery I would have put a DS3 line in, get up that speed,” he said.

Jim Lundstrom can be reached at 920-993-1000, ext. 374, or by e-mail at