In pursuit of trivia

It’s beginning to snow as I sprint across campus at 1:12 a.m. on Sunday morning. I’m playing Williams Trivia – a midnight to 8 a.m. extravaganza – and I’m already 12 minutes late in running my team’s first “hourly bonus” over to Trivia Headquarters in Prospect basement. I hear soft strains of weekend revelry as I run through the Odd Quad, and I pause for a moment to catch my breath amidst the fat, swirling flakes. After all, the night is young.

My team is no stranger to the Williams Trivia Contest: Our freshman year, we competed as a conglomerate of entrymates and other trivia-inclined comrades. We attacked the contest with eager freshman zeal and ended up coming in second place. To us, this was perfect; we’d had fun and performed well while escaping the responsibility of planning and hosting the subsequent contest – a colossal duty/honor that falls upon the winning team.

For one reason or another, we’ve missed every Trivia Contest since then, but we’re back for a senior-year hurrah. It doesn’t matter that we haven’t stockpiled the peanut M&Ms or caffeinated beverages the way we did last time. We are unbothered by the fact that the teammate who was supposed to host us in his common room has just flaked, as have several other key members. We’re unsure how this reunion team will pan out, but there’s a small crew of feisty players ready to out-trivia all the rest (or, ideally, to out-trivia all but one to snatch that convenient silver medal once more). Since our freshman year debut, we have gained three years of wisdom, and one of our members has won $25,000 on Jeopardy.

This January’s contest marks the 85th anniversary of the biannual Williams Trivia Contest, and while the alumni are loyal and fervent, the on-campus participation has dwindled drastically over the past few years; this contest we are one of only three teams of current students. It’s a shame because while trivia is certainly not for everyone, it’s certainly for more than just us.

Midnight rolls around, and we’re off. We listen to songs on WCFM and get a point for each that we correctly identify, using Instant Messenger to send in our responses. The songs are cleverly coupled with trivia questions (another point); for instance, a question about the only character from the American Film Institute’s Top 50 Villains list who is never seen (the hunter from Bambi) accompanies “Dear Mama” by 2Pac.
While some team members work on music trivia, others attack the Hourly Bonus – filling in a baseball diamond with the characters from Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine, using a Boggle grid to find one-name music stars (from Madonna to Rihanna) or naming the digitally erased element from famous photos. We all take turns working on the more elaborate Super Bonus; for one of them, we repeatedly rewind and fast-forward a short audio segment to identify as many of the 129 songs within as possible.

The thing I love about trivia is that it’s diverse enough that everyone contributes something. Rachel uses her thesis researching skills to track down the most obscure tidbits on Web sites. Josh blows us away by his ability to name upwards of 60 movies featured in the Super Bonus smorgasbord of film clips of combat scenes. Brenna knows just when to insert emoticons into IM to win the favor of the contest hosts. I find my stride in “Kid Lit Strips” – a challenge that consists of identifying narrow cutouts of children’s book pages.

Half the team is power-napping by the time we creep into first place around 5 a.m. We’ve received a load of points from our Action Bonus (perform a skit with as many movie clichés as possible), and I’m starting to get nervous. I tell the team that we’ve exerted our dominance, and now we might as well just drop out and let another team win – let another team deal with hosting spring Trivia Night. Personally, I think this is a great plan, but the others refuse to concede. I start brainstorming ways to sabotage my own team, which, I imagine, is a little outside the spirit of the game, but you do what you have to do.

Well, I blame sleep deprivation because by six a.m. we’re still in the lead, and I’ve begun to believe that we might actually win, and it might not be so bad. The final two hours pass in a blur of random tidbits: Monsterpiece Theater once presented “The King and I,” starring Grover as the king and the letter “I” as I; people tend to lose weight when Wal-Marts are built nearby; and on the same day that Fenway Park opened, the Titanic sank and Hitler turned 23.

When we hear the radio announce that our team has won, we can’t quite decide whether to be ecstatic, depressed or just cautiously excited. We go for the latter, trekking across campus to receive our trophy, contemplating where exactly we fall on the Nerdy Spectrum and – most importantly – already beginning to brainstorm questions for the upcoming contest.

It’s in May. Get excited.

Elissa Brown ’09 is a psychology major from Palo Alto, Calif.

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