Trivia teams fight fatigue in heated contest

ROB CALLAHAN | Updated 2/11/2013

The 34th annual Trivia Weekend complements its pop culture and general knowledge trivia contest with space and science questions.

Nonessential Government Workers headquarters, circa Hour Twenty-Five

Nonessential Government Workers headquarters, circa Hour Twenty-Five

Trivia Weekend, Saint Cloud's annual trivia marathon, draws in competitors from every corner of Minnesota. The contest, which started on Friday evening and wraps up on Sunday night, runs for 50 consecutive hours. It features disc jockeys reading questions over the air at KVSC-FM and teams of sleep deprived amateur researchers gathered at their respective headquarters, phoning in answers.

Players spend weeks or months organizing their teams, preparing spreadsheets, arranging research rooms and collecting odd facts relating to a theme, which changes every year, and once the competition starts the teams tackle questions of varying difficulty and point values in a race to take first place. This year's theme is "A Space Oddity", so the bulk of the questions pertain to space. 

“I think the theme is a very good one—we are purposefully exploring the space, galactic, scientific side of this theme versus solely the Sci-Fi theme, which we have touched on with other themes in the past,” said Jo McMullen-Boyer, Station Manager of KVSC-FM.

“I’ve already learned of teams that have deep connections to the theme and perhaps, an advantage. One team is comprised of Ph.D. students at Cornell University in the Space and Science department. Another team has connections to NASA and one team has a lot of physics majors involved.”

The annual contest began in 1980 as an event put on by KVSC and the Saint Cloud State University Residence Hall Association as a way to alleviate Minnesota’s cabin fever. That year, 14 volunteers answered calls on four phone lines from 50 teams. By 2012, KVSC required hundreds of volunteers to staff the 32 trivia hotlines and 67 teams participated.

Most of the teams taking part are based in Central Minnesota, with the majority of those in and around the station's home of Saint Cloud, but the greater Twin Cities metro area is home to about a dozen others. Other teams utilize the station's streaming audio to play from Duluth, Hastings, Wisconsin, South Dakota and Washington State. While new teams form every year, some form when existing teams merge and others consist of veterans who have played since their college years in the 1980s or 1990s. Teams such as Neo-Maxi Zoomdweebies, The Chairleg of Truth and WWSD: What Would Scooby Doo? capitalize on obscure pop culture references and other turns of phrase to choose their unique names.

Nonessential Government Workers, a veteran Saint Paul team and one of only two teams playing in the Twin Cities proper (the other, Bondage Camel, play in Minneapolis but could not be reached,) boast core members who have played together for over twenty years. The spacious Victorian home that serves as their headquarters is filled with rows of research computers, dedicated phone callers, a score keeper/disputer and a white board operator who keeps the rest of the team abreast of current open questions.

Like many other teams around the state, some of NEGW's members have become noticeably fatigued by Hour Thirty. Some have only slept a handful of hours. Some haven't slept at all. The strain gets to a few, who argue or turn on their teammates out of stress. Others work diligently to focus on the task at hand, answering new questions before time runs out and those points are lost. If one team falters due to grogginess, there are over 50 other teams ready to inch past them in the rankings. By Hour Forty, top ranking teams may start to crash and tumble down. By Hour Fifty, Visine and energy drinks may be the only thing keeping them standing.