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Trivia Team with UI Ties Wins Tourney Championship -- Again

For the umpteenth time, a team with strong University of Iowa ties won the Great Midwest Trivia Contest last weekend, while a late fade cost a second team with UI connections a third place finish.

"Bank of Kaukauna: Foreclosing on Trivia," led by UI alumnus John Brogan, won the championship for the fourth straight year with 1,335 points. "The Lord of Iowans: Return of the Pig" held third place through much of the contest until a poor performance in the music theory category in the final hours sent them to a fifth place finish.

"Music theory annihilated us," said Nick Street, assistant professor of management sciences in the Tippie College of Business. "We didn't have any music majors on our team and the category lasted for an hour, so that set us so far back we couldn't recover."

The annual contest is sponsored by Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis. and is considered one of the premier trivia contests/endurance tests in the country. For 50 consecutive hours, questions are asked at five-minute intervals over Lawrence's student radio station. Teams have three minutes to find the answer in any way possible--whether by rifling through reference books, going online or calling friends in New York City at 3 a.m.--and phone it in to the trivia masters. Five points are awarded for each correct answer until the final hour, called the Garruda Hour (nobody knows why), when questions become increasingly difficult and point values increase. The final question, called the Super Garruda, is worth 100 points.

Street's team, made up mostly of friends from college and at a former employer, has been playing every year since 1986. About 15 people were on this year's team, and they had an array of print and on-line resources to help them answer questions. They slept when they could, cooked their own meals of chili cheese dogs--"our designated food of trivia," he said--and ate a lot of take-out.

But that impressive collection can't compare to Brogan's Bank of Kaukauna team that consists of an army of 40 people working from two rooms in Brogan's family home in Kaukauna, WI, not far from Appleton. The team has numerous telephone landlines, cell phones and 30 computers, most with Internet connections, to look for answers to the questions. The team also has a support staff that cooks meals for the competitors.

"Brogan's team is a juggernaut," Street acknowledged. "No one can come close to them. The rest of us do what we can and battle for second. Our team's goal is to finish in the top three, which was in reach for us until the music theory category."

Although the competition is serious, the contest is not. The first question is asked at 10:00:37 p.m. on Friday, the last at 11:59:59 p.m. Sunday. Brogan's team's various championship trophies over the years have included a Fred Flintstone bank, two mason jars filled with the butts of cigarettes smoked by the trivia masters throughout the tournament and a fuzzy bathroom scale. This year's trophy was a garbage bag filled with eight pounds of human hair, which Brogan couldn't bring himself to keep for more than one day.

The questions asked during the contest tend to the odd and arcane, as well. One of this year's questions was to name an ancient machine used to detect earthquakes in China. Bank of Kaukauna: Foreclosing on Trivia was able to answer the question, in part because team member Mark Sidel is a UI law professor who studies law in China.

"The trivia masters had asked for the name of the device as translated into English," said Brogan. "But they accepted our Chinese name for the object when they found out that Mark spoke Chinese."

Among the other members of Bank of Kaukauna: Foreclosing on Trivia with UI ties were Denny Crall, Aprille Clarke, Angela Lyon, Ransom Briggs and Ken Clinkenbeard, all from Academic Technologies; alumni Matt Dendinger, Fiona Ruthven, Kyle Kaiser, Phil Brodd, Aden Biehl and Abigail Metcalf; student Patty Brogan; and law professor Sidel and his daughter, Rosie Raymond-Sidel, an eighth grader at Northwest Junior High School.

Also on Lord of the Iowans: Return of the Pig was Street's son, Kelly, an eighth grader at Northwest Junior High School.


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