The Great Midwest Trivia Contest, Circa 1966

For 12 Lawrence University students and hundreds of eager competitors, the end of January begets a sleepless weekend, diligent scorekeeping and a whole lot of trivia — 50 hours worth, to be exact. Cover graphic by Angie Ling for Midstory.

If you’ve ever played a game of trivia, you might be familiar with questions like “Who was the fifteenth president of the United States?” or “What element has an atomic number of 12?” How about “What is the ZIP code of the only place, according to a work by John Robbins, that has a reference work about Edward William Bok?”*

The latter (you can find its answer at the end of this article, if you’re curious) belongs to none other than the Great Midwest Trivia Contest, a trivia competition in a league of its own. 

The Great Midwest Trivia Contest (GMTC, for short) was founded in 1966 by J.B. deRosset, then a student at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. Despite some minor formatical adjustments over the years — the contest was run through radio until the pandemic forced it to go virtual — this unique style of trivia has unfailingly started on the last Friday of every January, at 10:00:37 p.m. Competition ends just after midnight on the following Sunday, meaning a continuous run of 50 hours. Players are by no means obligated to play continuously, but it does give especially dedicated teams a chance of answering more questions.

Lawrence University students answering the phone in the 1971 contest. Image courtesy of Lawrence University Archives.

The questions themselves are arguably what makes the GMTC so special. Regular questions, supposedly GMTC’s easiest bunch, are worth five points. Teams are given three minutes per question to submit their answer. These quirky, five-point stumpers aren’t nearly as straightforward as what you might find in a typical round of, say, pub trivia. Past questions have included:

“In 2013, a man from the Pacific Northwest attempted to blow up a sign with a modified pressure cooker. What did the sign say?”*

“First, translate the phrase ‘Bon matin, j’aime le jeu’ from French to Furbish. What is the binary code for the 13th letter when it is translated?”*

Next are the action questions, where players are invited to participate in creative prompts, whether it be creating a drawing, performing a skit or recording a song. Their creations are worth up to thirty points, with varying time limits for submission.

Action questions are also typically given with a specific theme in mind. In 2021, one theme was Podcast Hour, which resulted in players submitting short podcasts on topics ranging from Jerry Seinfeld’s role in the “Bee Movie” to games involving scones, which was appropriately titled, “Game of Scones.”

The Great Midwest Trivia Contest competitors over the years. Graphic by Angie Ling for Midstory. Original images courtesy of Lawrence University Archives.

The GMTC’s three hardest questions are infamously known as “Garrudas.” The Garrudas are asked on the last night of competition, with point values ranging from 25-50. Players have ten minutes to answer each Garruda. 

Sunday night ends with the “Super Garruda,” which is worth a whopping 100 points. Few teams ever manage to get the Super Garruda right, and understandably so. The 2021 Super Garruda was: 

“Sarahmarkophoto posted mortie_and_me’s wedding photo in a 1955 fast-food restaurant chain. There is a national holiday that is dedicated to what creates this food item that this restaurant is known for. On the day of this national holiday, I have been quoted, “You must way suck as a therapist!” in a podcast episode named after a bug known as the “talismans of luck.” If you come inside the place where I got married to my current husband, you’ll notice a celebratory message written on the upstairs wall. What does it say?*

President Rik Warch reads the first trivia question of the 1984 contest next to Headmaster John Landis, class of 1984. Image courtesy of Lawrence University Archives.

Luckily, players aren’t expected to know any trivia answer — especially not the Garrudas — off the top of their heads. The questions have dramatically evolved in difficulty since 1966 because of the increasing availability of the Internet. The Trivia Masters (TMs), all Lawrence University students, enjoy sending players through a wild virtual goose chase to scour for answers.

Nick Mayerson, this year’s Head Master (HM), is a senior at Lawrence University studying International Relations. Mayerson has participated in the GMTC since his first year at Lawrence, with 2023 being his third year as a TM and first year as HM. 

12 TMs are responsible for writing questions, answering phones and making sure the competition runs smoothly. The intense workload of the TMs, who make it through the weekend on sheer adrenaline and a handful of five-to-six-hour sleep breaks, has brought them even closer together.

The 2023 Trivia Masters. Image courtesy of Nick Mayerson.

“We care for each other, and it’s a family at the end of the day,” Mayerson said. Despite the exhaustion that might kick in halfway through the weekend, Mayerson feels that the collective excitement and joy that the GMTC brings — to TMs and players alike — is well worth it. 

Mayerson also cherishes the teams and alumni who have returned to play for decades — evidence of an enduring and committed trivia community. 

“Even as things come and change and pass, they still play and they’re still excited to be here and they support us so beautifully,” he said. 

One of the oldest teams, Hobgoblin, contacts the new HM every year with advice and support. This year, they continued their tradition by reaching out to Mayerson.

J.B. deRosset competing in the 1986 contest, twenty years after he created it. Image courtesy of Lawrence University Archives.

The GMTC is an impressive example of the power of tradition. Each year, the last question — the Super Garruda — of the current contest becomes the first asked at next year’s competition (meaning it theoretically never ends), which has led organizers to proclaim GMTC as the world’s longest-running trivia contest. 

Its many peculiarities, including an animal mascot (an armadillo, in case you were wondering), have helped make the Great Midwest Trivia Contest so great over the past five decades. Here’s to many more years of quirky questions, Internet scavenging and college trivia at its finest.

To tune in to the next contest or to learn more, check out the Great Midwest Trivia Contest website.

*Answers, in order of appearance in article:
  • 1. 20540
  • 2. Teacher Standards an Practices Commission
  • 3. 01000101 (for E) or 01100101 (for e)
  • 4. “Happy Birthday Dad!”
By Angie Ling for Midstory.


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