Great Midwest Trivia Contest

The Great Midwest Trivia Contest, or Midwest Trivia Contest, is held once a year in Appleton, Wisconsin, broadcast over Lawrence University's radio station, WLFM. It has a claim as the longest-running college bowl trivia contest.[1] Beginning with Trivia XLI in 2006, the contest went to a webcast-only format after WLFM ceased FM broadcasting.[2]


The contest begins at 10:00:37 p.m. on the Friday of the last full weekend in January.[2] It ends at around midnight on Sunday for a total of approximately 50 consecutive hours.[3][4] Students are appointed "trivia masters" and they administer the contest.[5] Every year, a new lead trivia master, called the "Head Master," is appointed by the previous Head Master.[6] The Head Master has the final say on any disputes.[7]

About 12 Trivia masters make up the questions,[1][5] and teams are given 3 minutes to answer each question,[2] which is done via telephone. Students volunteer to answer phones at the WLFM studios during all 50 hours of the contest. All teams that answer the question receive its points. Most questions are worth 5 points each.[3] In the early years of the contest, teams researched using massive numbers of books; now teams find answers using computers on the internet.[6] At the end of the contest, several difficult questions called garrudas are asked. Teams are given 10 minutes for the first few garrudas.[7] The final, most difficult question dubbed the "Super Garruda" is worth 100 points and teams are given 30 minutes.[3][7] The endeavor is governed by the Trivia Credo: "Trivia is meant to be entertainment and should be perceived solely in that light." The teams with the highest scores are declared the winners in on-campus and off-campus categories,[3] receiving prizes such as pink plastic flamingos and stainless-steel bedpans. The Great Midwest Trivia Contest is known as the "World's Longest Running Trivia Contest" because of its custom of having the university's president ask the previous year's Super Garruda as the first question of the next year's contest.[3][8]

Questions used include "What was Holden Caulfield's middle name?" and "In 2004, which nation drank the most coffee per capita?" (The answers are "Morrisey" and "Finland," respectively.) The 2009 Super Garruda was "Who was going to be married next to what was the "World's Largest Cedar Bucket" in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in June 2005, before it mysteriously burned down the week before the wedding date?" (answer: James Walters and Jaki Neubauer).[6] On-campus teams are occasionally asked to do special action questions such as composing a love song or doing a dance routine based on a theme.[7]


The contest was founded in 1966 by James Bailey deRosset as an alternate for a serious academic retreat with professors (called "Encampment Weekend").[9][10] deRosset visited his girlfriend at Beloit College; he was disappointed with Beloit trivia contest and had ideas on how he wanted to improve on their contest.[11] deRosset spoke with his friend, Junior Dave Pfleger, who worked at WLFM and arranged airtime.[12] The first contest consisted of questions in four categories (television, rock 'n' roll music, comic books, and movies) that were written by deRosset and his friends.[11] The first question asked in 1966 was "Who was Superman's father?"[11] (answer Jor-El). The first winners received a broken refrigerator as their prize.[11]

It may be the oldest college-based radio trivia contest in the United States. Lawrence's inaugural edition on April 29, 1966 predates both the presumed May debut of the biannual Williams College Trivia Contest by a week or so and the February 1969 debut of the Stevens Point Media Trivia Contest by three years. However, the precise date of the first Williams contest is not known; before its playing schedule was standardized, spring semester Williams Trivia games were sometimes held as early as February and March.

Teams originally had to be within about 30 miles (48 km) to receive the FM signal for WLFM.[11] The radio station changed to internet broadcast and the first internet-only contest was held in 2006.[11]

The 50th annual contest was held in 2015 and it featured teams as far away as Sweden.[13] The question difficulty had grown significantly because the teams could quickly find answers to simple questions using Google and the internet.[11] Several Head Masters and deRosset returned for the contest.[11] The contest had amassed over 18,000 questions in 2450 hours of competition by the end of the 2014 contest.[11] The 50th contest featured one question per hour taken from a previous contest.[14]

The Lawrence trivia contest has been written about in Playboy,[15] USA Today, The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post,[13] The New York Times, and most of the newspapers in Wisconsin. The 1984 Head Trivia Master, John Landis, '84, appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America." Paul Harvey asked a question in the 1978 contest: "I’m Paul Harvey. Now, for five trivia points where is the International Armadillo Confab and Exposition held? Gooooood Day!"[15] The answer was Victoria, Texas.


  1. Patterson, Kara (January 22, 2009). "Crazy for Trivia". The Post Crescent Weekend. pp. 4, 5.
  2. Weekend of trivia is serious business; Ed Berthiaume, January 24, 2008; The Post Crescent, Retrieved January 27, 2008
  3. "Trivia contest champs win by one question". The Post Crescent. February 2, 2010.
  4. LU trivia competition spans generations; January 28, 2008; The Post Crescent, Retrieved January 27, 2008
  5. Kelly, Angela (January 22, 2009). "Trivia junkies convene for annual competition". WLUK. Retrieved 2009-01-26.
  6. Anderson, Cheryl (January 23, 2012). "Lessons in Trivia". The Post Crescent.
  7. Patterson, Kara (27 January 2011). "All Things Trivia". The Post Crescent Weekend.
  8. "Trivia returns to Lawrence this weekend". WLUK-TV. Retrieved January 26, 2013.
  9. Question #141, 2009 Great Midwest Trivia Contest question
  10. "44th Annual Lawrence University Trivia Contest Puts Spotlight on the Offbeat, Little-Known". January 19, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-25.
  11. Jones, Meg (January 21, 2015). "Lawrence University's trivia contest thrives in the age of Google". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved January 23, 2015.
  12. Anderson, Cheryl (January 24, 2015). "Not trivial: Lawrence U's Great Midwest Trivia Contest celebrates 50th edition". Star Tribune. Retrieved January 27, 2015.
  13. Cheung, Ariel (January 27, 2015). "50th edition of Great Midwest Trivia Contest golden". Washington Post. Retrieved January 27, 2015.
  14. "WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Oldest college trivia event starts Friday". Pierce County Herald. January 22, 2015. Retrieved January 27, 2015.
  15. ; Contesting Trivia; Playboy magazine reprint (page 28); Retrieved January 27, 2008
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