That Was Lawrence: The Great Midwest Trivia Contest

The May 7, 1966 issue of this publication announced the start of a Lawrence tradition with the headline “Trivia Takes Control For Campus Contest.” James B. deRosset ‘66, the inaugural Master of Trivia, created the contest after he was not selected to go off-campus with a select group of students and faculty.

This trip, known as “Encampment” to the general populace and “Entrapment” to its detractors, was ostensibly designed to increase student-faculty contact. In this outdoor forum, Lawrentians were to be able to voice their concerns, but many were dissatisfied by the weekend retreat, citing quickly-drained supplies of alcohol, weak coffee and banal conversation.

In later years, deRosset claimed to have created the contest for “the trivial minds left behind.” He was reported to have said, “the mind of every human being is a virtually untapped source of trivial knowledge.”

From the WLFM-AM office during Encampment weekend, deRosset asked 407 questions in between a general broadcast of rock and roll music. During the course of the weekend, the station received between seven and ten thousand phone calls.

Answering questions like “What product used to have as its motto, ‘when nature forgets…’?” (Ex-Lax) and “Who produced the first Frankenstein movie?” (Thomas Edison, 1910), the Plantz Hall team narrowly edged out Brokaw for the win.

The following year, the Second Great Midwest Trivia Contest began at 11 p.m. May 5 and continued for 50 hours to 1 a.m. May 8. It saw the first official division between on-campus teams, consisting of residence halls, fraternity halls and off-campus teams formed by Appleton residents.

There was a Trivia dance in Memorial Union, and festivities were presided over by Trivia Master David Pfleger ‘67 who was described by this publication as a “gnome dispatcher” for WLFM.

Riding the growing wave of enthusiasm for Trivia and the increasing dissatisfaction with Encampment, Pfleger claimed, “We will have questions for all segments of the listening audience, from teeny-boppers to Fred Allen fans. Even if you don’t participate it will be fun to listen to the questions.”

The team representing the legacy of Samuel Plantz carried the contest again.

By 1968, WLFM had the infrastructure in place to bring Trivia to all 600,000 listeners within its broadcast area. Janet Behmer ‘70, writing for The Lawrentian, asserted, “Judging from last year’s response and the increased publicity this year, Trivia should be the greatest event since Liberace left Menasha.”

The contest had reached such a degree of popularity that Behmer noted that “women will be given permission to stay out after hours” in order to help with the phone stations, but she also suggested nonetheless that “they should sign up soon so that the names can be given to the dean.”

The May 10, 1968, article covering the results of the contest proudly claimed “Yes, WLFM is getting more and more Trivia all the time!” Teams with names like “The Virgins Merry,” “The Knights of Alcohol,” “The Senior-Junior Woodchucks” and “The Pink Toilet” all jockeyed to oust Plantz from its winning streak. For the first time, a fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta, or the “Fijis” took the prize: a large wedding cake.

Although the timing and quirks of Trivia have changed repeatedly over the past 47 years, the success of this year’s contest suggests that the “trivial minds left behind” of 1966 have been followed by a fine bunch of Masters now very much at the forefront of maintaining this fine campus tradition.

 

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