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Founder, alums return for 50th Great Midwest Trivia Contest

As the ancient “Trivia Credo” goes, “Trivia is meant to be entertainment and should be perceived solely in that light.” Founder of the Great Midwest Trivia Contest, James Bailey deRosset, certainly seemed to agree as he laughed his way through his weekend visit to Lawrence for the 50th contest of trivia hidden in the recesses of the internet.

The 50th anniversary of the Great Midwest Trivia Contest kicked off at 10 p.m. and 37 seconds on Friday, Jan. 23 and ran until midnight on Sunday. This year, 13 student trivia masters, eight women and five men, filled WLFM radio station on campus for 50 themed hours of questions. Twenty-three on-campus teams and 65 off-campus teams participated in the Lawrentian-created tradition this year. Grand Master was senior Weronika Gajowniczek.

The story goes that deRosset got the idea of a Lawrence trivia contest after visiting his Beloit College student girlfriend Sue Hildebrandt. During his visit, he saw a trivia contest in their student union and came back to Lawrence with the goal of making a bigger and better one. The first trivia contest happened on Apr. 29, 1966. He was the first Grand Master during his senior year, and passed on the crown to his friend Dave Pfleger the next year.

“I’m somewhat amazed that it hasn’t died with a whimper,” J.B. said while hanging out in WLFM studios Saturday night in the midst of trivia madness. J.B., now 71 and an attorney in Miami, said a huge part of the success of trivia was Pfleger’s idea of putting it on radio.

Today, it is the longest running college trivia competition in the United States. The contest moved from local radio to online streaming nine years ago, and has since grown from its 30-mile radius to teams from across the world.

One tradition of Trivia is having themed question hours such as Polish hour or Feminism hour. Questions also ranged from calling a Staples store in Arizona to ask about the items in aisle nine (pens and pencils) to the nine action questions for on-campus teams.

Action questions are a favorite tradition of trivia masters and J.B. himself. This year, teams were challenged to make their own food truck, yarn-bomb a structure on campus, make a Lawrence minute video and throw a 50th anniversary party in the typically quiet Somerset room in the Warch Campus Center.

Trivia Master alumni came back this year from all over the country to form their own team, “Past Masters.” Patrick Short ’81 recalled what he learned during his time as a trivia master coming up with the hundreds of questions.

“I can say looking back that it taught me a ton about team, that simple thing,” Short said. “Masters working together and everyone having to pull their weight and get things put together. Everybody had to pitch in, it couldn’t come out of the brain of one person, there was no way.”

In the middle of winter, students get excited for trivia simply for its fun, competitive nature and that it is something to do during the long Wisconsin winters. In deRosset’s opinion, what you do outside academics is really important.

“I found in high school, in college and in life you have the things you’ve got to do,” deRosset said, “but the stuff that you do for fun… particularly in college, the activities you do that are extracurricular, are so important. That’s what really made Lawrence for me.”

The winners of this year’s trivia contest were awarded various objects during the awards ceremony at 1 a.m. on Monday morning.

The first place winners on campus were Bucky’s Brood of Burgeoning Butt Brigadiers’ Bizarre Belligerents Bird-Bondage-Base Burlesque Bonanza, with 1,374 points. They were awarded a gold-painted phone. Coming in second place on campus was Shrek out of Ten 3: We Bought a Sherk (sic), with 1,347 points, who earned themselves a gold-painted car part. Third place on campus was awarded to Taking the Hobbits to #Octopunks is not Death, who had 1,141.5 points and received a gold-painted candle-holder.

Off-campus teams got similar awards and bragging rights. First place went to Hobgoblin of Little Mind, with 1,236 points and a gold-painted bowl. The second place award of a gold-painted ghost wall decoration was 50 Shades of Trivia, with 1,225 points. Third place went to Je suis Iowans, who had 1,217 points and received a gold-painted doll-sized chair.

“I think that one of the important things in life is to have some great breaks,” deRosset said. “Life is better when you have traditions.”