Trivia Weekend brings back memories of contests past
Trivia Weekend always brings back happy memories of contests past. And while I could write a book about all the years of trivia I’ve played and all the teams I’ve had the opportunity to play with, let me tell you about how I came to play the game in the first place.
I first began playing the famous contest back in high school. I heard about it through a boy I was dating. He was on a team and told me I should find a team to play on, so I did. I asked around and found some friends who were playing on a team called Mixed Nuts, so I joined them.
Mixed Nuts played in the basement of a home on Main Street, literally just a stone’s throw from the radio station where the contest was broadcast. It was a great set-up. There was a place for snacks, treats and beverages, a place to record and call in the answers, lots of chairs and couches to relax and do research on, and a separate darkened room for people who needed to crash for a bit. And of course, stacks and stacks of books and magazines everywhere.
There was no sleeping in the main room. If you started to drop off, you were relegated to the napping room. And if anyone thought at any time that a sleeper might have the answer, you were shaken awake by team members excitedly yelling the question in your face. Not the greatest way to wake up, but we were teenagers and the verbal abuse and lack of sleep barely affected us.
We had a dartboard on the wall to help pass the time and would put different pictures of then-hated celebrities in the center. We switched them out pretty regularly, but I remember the longest lasting was Ayatollah Khomeini, who was causing a lot of trouble in the Middle East back in those days.
It was way before the internet, so there were plenty of notes to reference, and yet most of us answered off the top of our heads. And once in a while when we really needed an answer, we’d call someone and ask … and I don’t mean another team. We’d call that town, or that business, or even that celebrity.
We did our best to find the answers with the resources we had, but once in a while we had to make a call. If the question was about a bridge in a certain town or a picture that was hanging in a particular bar somewhere, we would call information to get the phone number for the actual place, or a local gas station in the area and ask the employee who would answer the phone. This strategy worked really well … most of the time.
My favorite was when the query was about a gentleman who had won the most money ever on the game show “Jeopardy!” It had happened within a week or so of the trivia contest that year, so in a very bold move, we called information and asked for Alex Trebec’s phone number. To our complete astonishment, we called the number and lo and behold … Alex answered the phone.
We were all totally dumbfounded and amazed, but our team captain stayed focused and explained quickly that we were playing in the world’s largest trivia contest and only had a very brief time to answer, and asked him the question.
Would you believe it? He didn’t know the answer! We thought that was hilarious, chatted a little while longer with him and then graciously thanked him for his time. I’m sure he made his number unlisted after that.
Little did I know that my boyfriend was playing that weekend on a team called Occupation Foole, its name taken from the title of an old George Carlin album, and his team actually won the contest that year. That pretty much blew my mind, after having played 54 hours of trivia with a team that placed in a much lower range and seeing all the effort it took just to get to that spot.
Back then things were much less structured than they are now. The registration process was free, and easily done over the phone. Unfortunately, that lent itself to trouble when it came to bored teenagers. Just to make things more interesting, we would make a few sub teams with ridiculous names that were much too colorful to list here. And we would call in our answers with silly voices and act confused and cause all sorts of trouble. In fact, it’s probably because of our antics that those rules are in place now.
I remember making up funny answers for the Trivia Focus questions so that we’d sound sharp and witty when the interviewer would call. We figured out the Trivia Music Montage questions the old-fashioned way, and we really enjoyed the Trivia Stone clues.
We would record them on a cassette recorder, and play them back, writing every single word down as carefully as possible. Then we’d send a small group out to figure out where they led to.
Back then it was also OK to use any type of beam while searching for stone clues, so we all had high-powered flashlights, and we weren’t afraid to use them. It’s really easy while playing trivia to completely forget that it’s 3 or 4 in the morning and the rest of the town is asleep, so I’m sure we woke up more than a few people with our enthusiastic searching and hollering out, “I found it! I found the BVM!” If you’ve ever played the game, that’s an acronym for the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Yes, those were the days. The days when you could stay awake for days at a time and your body didn’t punish you severely. The days when you could eat anything you want and your system didn’t rebel at the abuse. The days when you would camp out with a notepad in front of your VCR and take notes on your favorite shows, movies and commercials. For me, that was when trivia was a lot, lot, lot of fun.
After the internet came along, I kind of lost interest. Of course, around that time I also turned 40 and realized that I didn’t want to do anything for 54 hours in a row anymore. But I’m no quitter. I eventually got on the other end of things and started answering the trivia phones, and that’s a whole new level of fun.
It’s a joy to hear excited teams call in with their answers and hope they get them correct. Having been there, I know exactly how they are feeling and share their enthusiasm.
If you’re playing on a team this weekend and happen to read this before Saturday night, I’ll be answering phones with the Central Wisconsin Area Community Theater folk from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. We’ll be wearing silly hats, using silly accents and committing all sorts of frivolity to help keep you awake in the wee hours of the contest. Best of luck to all the teams out there, and as the Oz would say, “Let’s play trivia, Fast Eddie!”