I first met Ben Kitchen ’21 when he auditioned for Frosh Revue in his signature ramen noodle jumpsuit. I sat down with him to talk about the jumpsuit, his radio show and the Williams Trivia Contest, of which he is the reigning champion.
So what’s the story behind the ramen noode suit?
I am a fan of ramen noodles, the instant packaged kind, to the point where one day my family went to Sam’s Club and saw a 20-pack for $10, probably cheaper than that since ramen isn’t that expensive, and they thought, “We need to get that for Ben.” I’ve always been a ramen fan. There was a kid working in the back alley behind my house in Denver, and my mom saw he had ramen pants, and her immediate reaction was, “I need to buy these for Ben. Ben would love these.” And she went online and found that not only were there sweatpants, there was a sweatshirt as well, so she bought both. Upon determining what clothes I should bring to college, those two were immediate “yes pile” clothes. If I didn’t bring them to college, I don’t know what I would do. I’ve worn those to high school, I’ve worn those to superhero day at a summer camp, I’ve worn them on a ’70s day at summer camp – I came up with wild justifications for each of those.
What’s the most ridiculous place you’ve worn them?
Most out-of-place place I’ve worn my ramen noodle jumpsuit … I feel like that’s most places. In most places, even if shorts and a t-shirt are acceptable, you’re not expecting someone to walk in with a ramen sweatshirt and sweatpants. Probably the one that was the biggest stretch was the 1970s day at the summer camp. I said that it was ’70s attire since the first ramen factory in the United States opened in the 1970s, so therefore it was a representation of the culture of the 1970s. So yeah, there was a lot of polyester that day, and I was just wearing a ramen suit.
How did you get started with the online Williams Trivia contest?
There’s some backstory here. I went to bar trivia in Denver five nights a week. … One Thursday, this guy, his name was Steve, he said to me, “Hey Ben, there’s this trivia contest I’ve been doing for several years and given that you are a fan of trivia, I think you would enjoy it.” It was the Williams Trivia Contest. My first year I played, I played alone and got 23rd – this was a few years back. The next time I got a group of friends together and we got fifth, and then the same group of friends got together and got second last January. This past May, we got the same group together and got first. The stipulation is that, if you get first, the “prize” is that you have to write all of the questions for the next one. Since we won in May, I’ve been spending a good chunk of the last six months writing trivia questions in my free time, and even not in my free time. There’ve been times where I’ve said, “I have an essay to write – time to write trivia questions!” That’s coming up the second Friday in January, 10 p.m., on WCFM Williamstown 91.9.
Do you have a particular favorite subject area of trivia?
My favorite subject area for most things will be math, but generally at trivia they don’t ask about math. I mean, this past week at the Purple Pub they asked, “How many equal sides are there in a scalene triangle?” and that is math, but …
The answer is none, right?
Yes, it’s none. It’s math, but you won’t see a math round frequently. There was one trivia in Denver where the round title was “Sexy Mathematics,” although the math was kind of shoehorned in there. They focused more on the sexy aspect. Generally, I’ll defer to what I know in a certain category – I have always been passionate about geography. I get a kick out of the fact that Uzbekistan and Liechtenstein are the only doubly landlocked countries, or that the capital of Croatia is the only one that starts with a “Z” in the entire world. Generally, if there’s a weird geography fact that I know, it’s always a good time. Geography is always the thing where you can look at a map and learn something new.
Could you tell us a little bit about your radio show?
The show is “The American Tour”; my DJ name is Ben. Not DJ Ben, because on the survey at the beginning of the year I thought “DJ” was implied, so I just wrote “Ben.” It is not. I chose “The American Tour” because it needed a name. Basically, we’re going through the states in the order of admission to the Union – going from Delaware to Hawaii – and giving a little bit of trivia about each state and then playing an hour’s worth of music … choosing music from musicians born in each state.
Have there been any particularly tough states?
The hardest state so far has been Delaware, because Delaware isn’t the most populated state in the United States. I managed to find two rather notable musicians from Delaware: George Thorogood & The Destroyers, the guys that sang “Bad to the Bone,” and Cab Calloway who sang “Minnie the Moocher.” I ended up lumping Delaware in with Pennsylvania, because that’s the next state in order of admission. That’ll probably happen as I move further along and find more states that have fewer known musicians from them. The most insanely insane state so far has been Connecticut. I am not that far along, so Connecticut has been the most recent one, and it’s only the fifth state. … I dedicated myself – I spent two hours last Friday night on the couch in my common room looking up “List of Celebrities from Connecticut.” I went through and I found some notable musicians and bands from Connecticut like John Mayer, and Liz Phair – she sang “Why Can’t I,” which is on the 13 Going on 30 soundtrack. I ended up choosing a bunch of weird ones, like the Whiffenpoofs, the a cappella group from Yale, or Seth MacFarlane – he did a song on the soundtrack for the movie Sing – it was a cover of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” I think the season eight winner of The Voice was from Connecticut. There were three times when I had to cheat and I chose a band where the lead singer was born in Connecticut but the band was formed somewhere else, like The Carpenters, Surface and Sugar Ray. My personal favorite of all the Connecticut bands was The Zambonis, which is a “hockey rock” band who I believe listed themselves as the only band whose chief influences are The Beatles and Wayne Gretzsky. Connecticut used to have a hockey team, the Hartford Whalers – they moved to North Carolina. The Hartford Whalers have a song widely associated with them called “Brass Bonanza.” [Begins singing.] NA NA NAH NAH NAH NAH NAH. That was wildly off-key, but you can’t tell, because this is a newspaper. It just so happens that The Zambonis did a cover of “Brass Bonanza,” so I was able to play a song by a band from Connecticut for the Connecticut hockey team that no longer exists, and that is one of the greatest things I’ve ever done.
So, how did you end up at the College?
That is a series of random almost unrelated events which all started when Steve told me about the Williams Trivia Contest. When I was doing the trivia contest, I didn’t know it was based out of a college. I thought Williams was the name of the guy who ran it. There’s famous Williamses out there, like Ephraim Williams, or Brian Williams. It could’ve been the news anchor running the trivia contest – I didn’t know! My school was obsessed with Naviance, and [finding out] how good a match a school was for you. I’m not really a picky person, so I just chose a small school – doesn’t necessarily have to be near civilization – and I wanted to do math. And Naviance spat out a bunch of schools. A bunch of schools were a 100 percent match … and then I scrolled down, and Williams was a 99 percent match. At this point, I knew that the trivia contest was based out of here. With Williams a 99 percent match, I texted my mom and she looked them up and said, “They have a big trivia contest!” and I replied, “I know – I have a bunch of people coming over tonight to compete in it!” So that was the first time my mom knew the trivia contest was based out of Williams College. We toured Williams, and I loved it. I believe our tour guide was Jad [Hamdan ’19], who’s now the JA [Junior Advisor] for the entry next to ours. … I knew I wanted to come here, I got in and now I’m here.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself, without which this interview would be incomplete?
I guess I’ll take this time both to plug “The American Tour,” Saturdays at 6 p.m. on WCFM 91.9 Williamstown, and the Williams Trivia Contest, the second Friday in January at 10 p.m.