Two weeks ago, I used this space to share my mixed feelings about participating in The Great Midwest Trivia Contest, an event I love dearly, but also cannot return to in the capacity that I most desire. I wanted to share my new feelings following the event, but the contest itself kind of put me on my heels, so I haven’t really had the chance until now. I hope you’ll forgive some revelations that are a little past their urgency.
First off, let me commend this year’s staff of Trivia Masters for putting on a truly well-run event. It was everything that contest should be, and it was a joy to listen to. I was able to play both with old friends and newcomers, and everyone had a fantastic time. Many of my fears of inadequacy were unfounded, and in fact, I found my tendency to think like a Trivia Master to be an asset more than a handicap. I’d love to detail some of my favorite moments of the contest (of which there are many — it is, after all a 50-hour event), but it’s my experience during Garruda Hour that bears mentioning here.
Garruda Hour is the final hour of the contest, where the difficulty of questions, the time given to answer them, and the points awarded for answering them correctly are all increased. Now, to say that the difficulty is increased is a bit of an understatement, as these questions almost always go unanswered. Not that they need to — the answers are necessarily always out in the world — but in order to be google-proof, they often end up being unfindable under the time limit. Just to illustrate the concept, I’d like to share a the Super Garruda I wrote my senior year (the Super Garruda is the last question of Garruda hour, worth 100 points, and generally considered to be the hardest question of the contest):
In the ‘Citadel of Opportunity’ section of ‘An Invitation to the International Olympic Committee to Celebrate the XIX Olympiad at Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.’ there is a photograph of a girl wearing a sign around her neck. This sign bears the name of what notable figure?
The answer is “Josephine Baker.” But what’s important is that the book, Detroit’s ill-fated bid to host the 1968 Olympics, isn’t findable anywhere on the internet. In fact, it may not be findable anywhere in the world other than the Detroit Public Library and my own home (one of the perks of having a librarian in the family). Garrudas often feature this type of “you have to be there” element, though there are occasional (and very welcome) exceptions to this trend.
The point is, these questions are incredibly hard. In fact, the last time anyone had gotten the Super Garruda was 2001. Smaller Garrudas are gotten from time to time, but nobody gets the Super Garruda. But that doesn’t stop teams from trying. Bagging one of these answers is a real accomplishment, and teams are willing to do anything to get them. Attempts to find Garrudas often include cold-calling people who may know or have access to the answer, and one year, even included an attempted break-in at the Wisconsin State Capitol.
We were a team with limited resources operating out of Boston, a far cry from the action in Wisconsin, so I didn’t have high hopes for Garruda hour. Curiously, the first question was New England-related, prompting us to make a guess. Guessing is not penalized during Garruda hour, but you are only allowed three (maybe four) attempts. More importantly, I’ve sat at that phone bank during Garruda hour, so I understand how desperately the Trivia Masters don’t want that phone to ring. This is as much a test of their question-writing skills as it is a test of players’ answer-finding skills, so they have a stake in nobody finding the answer. Our guess was wrong, putting me off from wanting to venture more guesses in the future.
The second question asked about the image on a specific paperweight that was at one time or another on display in a specific museum dedicated to such things. We came up with a guess and called it in. Meanwhile, I found an image of a paperweight bearing an image of a french horn. I had no confidence that the image was related to our search, so, though I mentioned it to my team, I implored them not to call it in. I figured it was likely wrong, and would only serve to raise the tensions in the phone room. As luck would have it, the answer was a french horn, which irked my teammates something awful. My sympathy for the Trivia Masters had won out against my sympathy for my own teammates, which is clearly not how things should be.
The next question came and went without so much as a solid lead, so we readied ourselves for the Super Garruda.
It was a simple, beautifully constructed question, gilded with colorful but useless details. In essence, it asked what someone named Tonee from Chicago had written on her comment card at the MoMA when she visited in March of last year. It’s a classic Super Garruda: the answer was probably something funny or weird, but you’d need to see that card in order to answer it (or at least somehow get ahold of Tonee). Our only hope was that the “comment card” in the question was, in fact, one of the “I went to the MoMa and…” cards that are indexed on this site. As luck would have it, it was. We had found the answer to the Super Garruda! I couldn’t believe it. Honestly, getting a Supper Garruda was so beyond what I thought was possible, it had never occurred to me to really want it. I cannot convey how excited we were when we found it.
And then I called it in.
Provie Duggan, a fantastic Trivia Master, one I consider myself very lucky to have worked with, answered the phone with all of the sullen dread I had forgotten lived on the other side of the phone during Garruda hour. I suddenly felt very guilty for finding the answer. Provie genuinely felt like she had failed the contest, and I did my best to assure her that this was not only a classic Super Garruda, but a damn good one. Honestly, Garrudas, while hard, should be theoretically gettable. The fact that we (and a few other teams) got it meant only that the question wasn’t impossible, which is more than can be said about the Super Garruda I wrote.
I wanted desperately to comfort her, but I knew at that moment, I had moved irreversibly from being a Master to being a player. I had called in without regard for the poor Masters’ nerves, wanting only to announce to the world that I had found the answer. Unbeknownst to me, I had been reborn during that hour, moving forever from the world of Trivia Masters to the world of trivia players. I don’t know if I was ready for the change, but a Super Garruda is one hell of a consolation prize.