Thursday, April 26, 2012

Playing in the World's Largest Trivia Contest in the 21st Century

Last weekend, the World's Largest Trivia Contest was played in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, the place I consider my hometown. I just happened to be updating an old spreadsheet with all the teams I had played with in that illustrious contest over the years and discovered this was my 20th Trivia contest.

For the uninitiated, the contest is sponsored annually by WWSP 90FM, the local college radio station. The contest is broadcast on the radio and, for the past five years or so, been simulcast on the internet. The basic gist of the game is this: Questions are asked and people call in to answer them. The contest lasts for 54 straight hours, from 6pm on Friday to midnight on Sunday. Each question is worth a certain number of points, dependent on how many teams answer it correctly. The top ten teams get trophies and bragging rights for the next year.

And the questions aren't something you'd find in Trivial Pursuit. A working knowledge of that game doesn't help for Trivia. If you can remember what poker hand the robot in Silent Running had, or what TV show starred an actor playing both himself and his own father, or what country once made Porky Pig president, then you've got the mentality for Trivia. And for players, it is always Trivia with a capital "T".

The difficulty of the contest has varied over the years, as the people who write the questions, Jim Oliva (a.k.a. the Oz) and John Eckendorf, have had a difficult time of making the contest both entertaining and reachable in the era of Google and internet search engines. Before the advent of the net, Stevens Point was a city of stenographers, as teams that hoped to contend for a trophy would be taking notes in movie theaters, while watching TV, while listening to the radio, and anywhere that an interesting little fact might raise it's head and be fodder for a question. I personally have notes on nearly 3,000 movies, 5,000 TV episodes and 3,000 old-time radio shows.

Most people play on teams of two or more people; the more people usually being better, at least up to a point. I played on one team for eleven years, before deciding to branch out and start my own. There's just only so much you can do; Most teams don't even consider the possibility of winning. One year we came in 4th place. The last question of the contest used to be noted for a high difficulty factor, and when I got that answer correct that same year, I decided it was time to move on and see what I could do on my own. The four years I ran a team, it was a solid Top 25 team. It was a fun experience, but when I moved to Pennsylvania in 1998, that was pretty much the end of my career as a Trivia player.

Then 2008 comes along and with the streaming of the contest, I was able to give it a try again. I played remotely (and still do) for a team called the Collective (now called Collective Foole, after merging with a long-time team). The first few years was hard. We only had dial-up internet available in our town, or at least in the two-block area at the end of town here. I was always lagging about thirty seconds to a minute behind everyone else, and that became tiresome at times, missing answers I knew but couldn't express properly to the team. Luckily, they soon figured out I wasn't just an old crazy guy. Well, I hope they have, anyway. 

This year, however, the wife and I finally got tired of the slow speed of dial-up and invested in a wi-fi hotspot. Playing this year was a joy, as that 30 second to a minute of lag became five seconds at the most. And I could actually contribute a lot more, since I could help with looking answers up on the net rather than just relying on my notes. To keep myself interested in previous years, I always had a little game of "get the answer before anyone else" going, but this year, that wasn't really necessary.

Collective Foole placed 12th in the contest this time around. We had placed 6th last year, so the finish was a bit disappointing, but I think we've actually made great strides on organization and utilizing our resources. Top 10 would've been better, but Top 20 is definitely respectable. 

It is early Thursday morning as I write this, and I've finally started to recover mentally from playing; 54 hours, even with a few hours of sleep here and there, wears you down. Soon the preparations for next year will start. There's always more movies to see and more TV to watch. Most people don't understand the obsession people in Stevens Point have with Trivia. I can't even begin to explain it myself. I think it's just something that's in a person's blood. Or I've been doing it so long that the meaning itself has lost any definition.

But I know that the strains of Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" next year will once again begin the culmination of another year of feverishly hopeful preparations, when we are again told "Let's play some trivia, Fast Eddie!"

By the way, if you want to really get a feel for what this contest is like, without waiting to play, try to find a copy of the movie Triviatown. This documentary does a very good job of relating the insanity makes a college town double in size for a weekend.

For those wanting information on the contest, please check out for more information.

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