Annual trivia contest strikes in area neighborhoods
By Gene Kemmeter
The logo for trivia this year speaks volumes. A forty-niner (no, not a football player) panning for gold below the words “WWSP 90FM Presents: Trivia Rush 49.” This is the 49th contest for the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) and draws several thousand people to the community, including more UWSP alumni than come back for homecoming or any other university event.
Newer residents are undoubtedly baffled by the fervor some longtime residents exhibit as the contest nears. What causes middle-aged people to plan for months for the contest and invigorates them into acting similar to what they did decades ago? That is hard to explain.
There’s just something inherently exuberant about answering a question off the top of the head or finding an answer and calling it in just seconds before the radio announcer says “phones down in the back.” Those episodes are repeated countless times in countless homes, residence hall rooms and apartments in the area during the weekend.
The contest provides the city with the nickname “The Trivia Capital of the World,” and longtime area residents know why. They realize just how many of their friends and neighbors partake. They’ve experienced uncommonly long lines of slow-moving vehicles, a large amount of motorists on seldom-traveled roads and neighborhoods with an unusual number of vehicles parked near a house with most of its lights on for more than 54 straight hours.
Then there’s the crowds at 7 a.m. Saturday and at 7 a.m. Sunday where trivia players congregate for the “Running Question.” The “Question” is an opportunity for players to get outside and walk around early in the morning for exercise after a night spent in front of a computer screen in a dimly lit basement. The “Running Question” also gives players a chance to find out what acquaintances are back from out of town to participate in this year’s contest.
The players make an economic statement in the area, especially for motels, restaurants and stores. The visitors, as well as residents, need something to eat and drink during the weekend, and some of them want it in a hurry. Others look for more leisurely places to unwind for an hour or so.
And UWSP alumni aren’t the only ones who return to the city. Former residents who played trivia while living here come back to visit, and many children who grew up here come back to play trivia again with their childhood friends, sometimes bringing back new-found friends who are intrigued by the contest and want to participate themselves.
Through the years the contest has changed, especially in recent years with the influence of the Internet. Initially, the questions were based on what listeners could remember off the top of their heads. There were no reference books, and teams could call in as many times as possible within the time limit. That created a calamity as the telephone system was unable to handle the magnitude of calls, resulting in a lengthy wait for dial tones and jeopardizing emergency calls.
That’s all nostalgia now, and maybe a future subject for a trivia question. But make no mistake about it, rooms will silence and ears will turn their rapt attention to 89.9 on the FM dial at 6 p.m. Friday, April 13, as “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf plays on the station’s airwaves. Trivia 49 is about to begin, testing the intellectual, mental and physical stamina of participants.