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The answer to cabin fever: A trivia contest!
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A crew of volunteer operators stand by at KVSC radio in St. Cloud to take calls from trivia teams who phone in their answers to the annual trivia contest. (MPR Photo/Annie Baxter)
Hundreds of people in St. Cloud spent this past weekend bleary-eyed, over-caffeinated, and glued to their computers. They were participants in the 25th annual trivia weekend. The contest started as a way to beat cabin fever. There were a handful of teams. And now it's 71 teams strong. St. Cloud state's student radio station, KVSC, broadcasts the 50-hour contest live.

St. Cloud, Minn. — In a theater space in downtown St. Cloud, a team called the "Loose Meat Sandwiches" is setting up shop. The scene rivals an FBI operation. There's an overhead projector, phone bank, a dozen ISDN lines, computers, and hundreds of reference books organized by category along the wall. Loose Meat Sandwiches boasts 40 members. They're as young as 18 as old as 60. And for the most part, they're average Joes who love trivia, not heady scholars. For 50 hours, they work in shifts, cater food, and take naps in sleeping bags lined up on the floor.

Team member Dan Barth rallies the troops. "Thank you all so much for coming back to Loose Meat Sandwiches. (We finished) Number 3 last year, Number 1 this year!" he cheers.

The weekend contest begins at 5 p.m. sharp on Friday night. The questions are broadcast over the radio.

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Image Loose Meat Sandwiches

"This is KVSC, St. Cloud. Welcome to our 25th anniversary of trivia weekend," the radio booms.

Questions are weighted according to their difficulty. The first questions are deemed easy.

"Please tell us the name of the Minnesota cat who found his way from Wisconsin Dells back home to Hibbing in 2002," the DJ announces.

It's rare that people know answers offhand. Trivia weekend isn't about how much you know, it's about how good you are at finding information. A thorough search on the Internet usually does the trick. But some questions are "computer proof."

Team member Mark Barth says that's when you get creative. Last year, he tracked down an obscure Orville Redenbacher recipe by calling the only place where a library would be open in the middle of the night: Hawaii.

"I found a librarian that went to the reference, found the book on Orville Redenbacher, verbatim read it to me in this ear, as I had the answer line in the other ear," Barth recalls. "And it was one of the biggest trivia points. We were one of the only teams that got it."

The teams' answers are taken at a call center at KVSC, where 15 volunteer operators stand by.

Keith Piskur has been working the phone bank for about six years. He loves to heckle the teams. "Where'd you pull that answer out of," he chides one caller.

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Image The responsible parties

The rules permit the teams to take as many stabs at a question as they can. That means the phone never stops ringing.

"They keep calling. They never stop," Piskur says. "Fifty hours of constant phone calls. We'll be hearing phones in our sleep for the next week."

It's easy to feel like you're stuck in the trivia version of the movie "Groundhog Day." Every hour, it's a new round of questions. You start to lose track of day and night.

In the course of the weekend, the team Loose Meat Sandwiches fluctuates between first and third place. By Sunday afternoon, things aren't looking good for a victory.

But team member Brandon Lukash keeps his cool. He knows the 50 hours he's spent glued to his computer will be memorable.

"We remember the really tough questions, just to tell as anecdotes to our friends when we get home," Lukash says.

He adds that it's all just tidbits to share at a cocktail party. "It's as useless as being an English major," he says. And he should know, since he's an English major himself.

They say the best trivia question is one that no team can answer. Sometimes the power of trivia prevails over the best prepared teams, and leaves them stumped. In the end, Loose Meat Sandwiches got about 75 percent of the questions right, and came in second.

But they'll get right back to collecting magazines, books and newspaper articles to help them out next year. And they'll hope that someday all the useless knowledge they amass will be enough to win.

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