18 April 2010

Hour 54, where are you?

"Why is it trivia? People call it trivia because they know nothing and are embarrassed about it."
~Robbie Coltrane

Do you like to eat junk food, stay up around the clock and answer silly questions? Then the World's Largest Trivia Contest is for you!

Every April heralds a special time in my community of Stevens Point, Wisconsin when our star shines most brightly as we host the World's Largest Trivia Contest.

Forty-one years ago the first trivia contest was held on the campus at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) as a fundraiser for the campus radio station WWSP. From those humble beginnings back in 1969 with 16 teams over 8 hours to the more than 400 teams comprised of 6,000-10,000 people competing over 54 hours, this fundraiser has become more than just a trivial place in the record books.

Q: What is the answer to the first trivia question asked each year?
A: Robert Redford

Teams can be anyone with a phone and a streaming audio connection to WWSP 90 FM. They range from 3 friends in a dorm room to over 50 friends, family and neighbors who work out shifts and have specialties in questions. There are people coming back from Ohio, Illinois, and Alaska. And there is even a team from as far away as Rome playing online. Some teams prepare year round for this event by keeping notebooks nearby and recording anything that might be trivia-worthy throughout the year. They save candy wrappers and cereal boxes. Whole storage sheds full of stuff that comes out once a year for this weekend.

I can recall when I played on teams in the 1980s complete with basements full of old almanacs, box after box of National Geographic magazines, tables filled with every manner of late night munchies, and a healthy dose of optimism. Today, the teams are more than likely completely connected to the internet {Goodsearch will donate for each search performed on their site. WWSP is a nonprofit.} But the snacks are still the same. And the drinking. Let's not forget about that. Whether it is Red Bull or Budweiser or Mountain Dew. There is a lot of drinking that happens.

I used to think that this was little more than an excuse to push your limits and see how many hours you can stay up {the contest runs for 54 hours straight, from Friday at 6pm to Sunday at midnight} and goof off. There is quite a lot of that. But there is nothing trivial about this trivia contest. Love it or leave it, Trivia is what puts Stevens Point on the map.

Q: What is the name of the big winner from the television game show "Jeopardy" who came to Stevens Point to take in the contest?
A: Ken Jennings

Trivia is an integral part of who we are. People who played in college come back each year. I can remember playing with teams of my high school friends and my parents and their friends. And with the advent of streaming audio, there are players from all over the country - and world - tuning in.

It kicks off with an actual parade complete with floats and about half the teams participate.

Each hour has 8 questions. And each team has the length of two songs {some of the most obscure oldies songs you have ever heard! Although I was sort of dismayed to find that my favorites from the 80s are now old enough to be on Trivia!} to phone in an answer. Each question varies in difficulty from things that your child might know if they keep up with Disney or Nickelodeon, to so challenging that it is amazing that anyone can know something so trivial. But they always have one or two questions an hour that most teams can answer. And the points are awarded based on how many actually answer correctly {each question is worth a maximum 2000 points}.

There are music challenge questions where the entire team needs to call in and sing the words to a song, or a song snippet where 10+ songs are played and you need to correctly identify the artist and song. In the Trivia booklet there are obscure pictures. You never know exactly what you are expected to answer about them so you find out all that you can in the hopes that you might know the answer when it is called upon.

Each year there is a particular movie that is shown the weekend before with special questions culled from it. This year is was "Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." And then there is the Trivia Stone. All the teams are given a set of clues that take them on a tour of the area. If they follow them correctly they will find the hidden Trivia Stone and get the points.

Hundreds of volunteers help to make this happen. From those registering teams to the people who answer the phones and take the answers {there are always 18 phone operators answering, "Hello, Trivia. What's your answer?" even in the dead of night}, it takes an entire community to pull this off.

A documentary titled "Triviatown" was filmed during the year that I volunteered to answer the phones in 2004 which debuted in 2006. That film won best film at the Wisconsin Film Festival and the best documentary at the Westchester Film Festival in New York.

The names of the teams are so creative and sometimes a bit risque and questionable, but all in fun {like Far Q, Hold Still I'm Trying to Be Friendly, All the Horsemen Knew'er, The Rainbow-ners or Yoda's House of Polish Wisdom} . Some teams have the same name or some variation every year {classics like Lactation Nation, Slow Children Playing, Dyslexics of the World Untie! or Drain Bamage}. Other teams pick a new name, often based on contemporary events or the theme {such as Comfortably Dumb-Wish You Were Beer!, Endora: The Dark Side of the Broom, Wii Had A Slight Weapons Malfunction, or I Just Sham-wowed in my Snuggie}. Some of these teams have been together and playing for 20-30 years. That is dedication to all things trivial. And while the number of teams that is really serious about it is growing, there are plenty more that just play for the fun of it. It is a game after all.

Q: What is the name and artist of the last song played each year before the first trivia question is asked?
A: "Born to Be Wild" by Steppenwolfe

I don't play on a team, but it is hard to ignore that this is happening in my community. And it would be hard to find someone in this area who doesn't know someone on a team. There probably is not a bag of Frito-Lays or a case of Miller Lite available anywhere in the stores. And don't even think about trying to order a pizza. But I still listen to the question with my kids to see if we know the answers {they go to school with the kids of one of the contest writers and we can always answer a few}. Some of the best times comes when they read the list of teams and their point values from 0 to well over 10,000. Hearing the names read aloud by contest writer's Jim "The Oz" Oliva and John Eckendorf during those designated hours {it takes an entire hour to read them all} is sometimes the funniest part. Especially when they are sleep deprived and get the giggles while reading.

What do you win in the World's Largest Trivia Contest? Why, bragging rights for the next year, a coveted trophy, and loads of memories. And if you are lucky, a day off from work on Monday to sleep in.

What sets your community apart?
Do you host a festival? Is your location known for something special? Is it home to famous movie stars or politicians?
Share what makes your hometown more than just a dot on a map.
Do tell!

Check It Out::Triviatown

Enjoy the day!


Alexandra said...

I would guess you'd be good at Trivia. Why aren't you on a team?

Jenners said...

How cool!!!!!

As far as I know, my town is known for NOTHING!

Lance said...

Wow!!! I did not know this about Stevens Point - very cool!!! So, we live in this tiny little community, Wales. I suppose it is best known for it's Welsh history (and a keeping of that tradition in place). A summer weekend festival was started a couple of years ago to give the community something to gather around. It's still taking shape, and involves lots of music, fireworks, games for all ages, and food (and drink!). It doesn't sound like much, but draws a lot of people out - and is always a fun event to just hang out at....

stregata said...

Sounds way cool! My "home" town (where I was born) is probably best known for being a once divided city. Where I live now - is not even a dot on the map.

SueBeads said...

Wow, that's very interesting! My "town" is little, a township really. We have a summer festival in August every year. We went when the kids were little, but the rides are cheap and seemingly dangerous so we don't really go anymore!

Alice said...

How fun for your town to be known around the world for this event!

I live in a small rural community that is known for.....nothing. We no longer have a summer carnival or a fall festival. The citizens have no desire to help either by donating their time or money to anything. It's so frustrating! Just in the last couple years there has been a BBQ contest, and hopefully it will become bigger.


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