Annual LU Trivia Game Survives Leap: Contest Now Found Online


APPLETON — The leap from radio waves to the Internet doesn't appear to have killed off the Great Midwest Trivia Contest.

The annual competition, now in its 41st year, kicked off Friday night from its home in the Music-Drama Center basement at Lawrence University and wraps up tonight around midnight.

For the first time, it is being broadcast entirely via the Internet, rather than over an FM radio station.

"When we switched from radio to digital, people thought we'd die," Lawrence junior Sarah Welch said Saturday. She was one of 12 trivia masters engaging in a little gallows humor by wearing black shirts bearing the words habemus unum pedem in sepulchro, which she said loosely, and perhaps badly, translated to "We have one foot in the grave."

With 76 teams signed up this time around, about the same as last year, and initial glitches ironed out, the contest appeared to be rolling along fairly smoothly.

"It's going surprisingly well," trivia grand master Reid Stratton said Saturday morning, 12 hours into the 50-hour marathon. "Two weeks ago, I was pretty shaky. But we tested everything and our IT services were very good. By Friday afternoon, I was pretty confident. We've heard few complaints."

Stratton said the only glitch was dealing with participants who had slow connections or longer delays.

"In the first few hours, we tried to figure out how teams with long delays could play," he said.

They solved the problem by giving those with the slowest connections a special phone number and extra time.

Stratton said lag time on campus was 9 seconds. Off campus it ranged from a five-second delay up to a minute. "It depends on their connection speed. We found DSL and cable are running within a couple seconds of each other."

The move from radio to computer, which the WLFM station did as a whole in September, makes sense, Stratton said. "A very significant number of students don't even have radios. It's much more convenient on the computer."

The station's bandwidth, which normally can accommodate 120 signed-on listeners, temporarily was bumped up to 1,500, Stratton guessed. He estimated there were about 150 to 200 signed on, including teams from North Carolina, Utah, California and Texas. "There's one guy in Shanghai," Stratton said.

Teams included familiar names — Jabberwocky, Iowans, Bucky's and Scull Squadron, for example — alongside new players. The Bank of Kaukauna-sponsored team, last year's winner, is playing under the name Holy Brogan Empire. The bank's retired CEO James Brogan died in May.

Aside from format, the contest itself appears the same. Broadcasters read trivial questions, and players have three minutes to call in answers and get points. Besides having fun, top finishers get bragging rights and prizes that, in years past, have included such things as a bag of human hair and a piano that previously had been set on fire.

The university's studios were filled Saturday with the usual doughnut boxes, Jolt Ultra cans, ringing phones and an abundance of students, both over-sugared and awake or asleep in any available corner.

From a player's perspective, the challenge of the new format was preparing computers, cables and DSL lines.

"You need to be amazingly technologically savvy," said Todd Kunstman, host of the team called "What's the Frequency, Lawrence?" playing out of his Kenmar Photography studios in Grand Chute. "You can't just show up and play. You've really got to be plugged in with digital and electronics. You have to have an IT fix-it guy."

Having said all that, he added, "It's still a good reason to have a party."