The folks on Oxygen Is For Losers seem to remember their contest with some measure of abashment, but there's really no need. While this was nobody's idea of the perfect contest, there was a continuous flow of quality elements.
Not the least of them were the on-air questions and songs, which were varied and largely quite excellent. Unlike many contests, there was nowhere you could identify the drop-off point. There were sharp questions at 7:45.
The boni, well, they were shaky. The supreme devastation of theforever-in famous 47th Word Hour successfully camouflaged a number of dicey topics.
Domesticity had a lot of obscure/uninteresting sections ("Name the type of fiber" in Antron III, Chromspun, Enka, Zefkrome, etc.-- OH BOY), plus a lot of badly-structured questions that had multiple choice or 50/50 answers, enabling any schmuck to flip a coin ("Is it quicker to bake 7 potatoes in the microwave or the oven?"). There was some good stuff here, but what could've been a fine Hour grew into a lackluster Super.
The Science-Fiction Super, though, was very good. I'm a sci-fi cretin, but to my uneducated eyes, this provided a good assortment of easy & hard, wacky & anal, spread out over a very wide region of sources. 137 questions didn't seem TOO onerous...... until you looked and saw just how many 5-part, 8-part, and even 18-part questions counted as "one." More bloated than Harlan Ellison's self-image, but just as entertaining.
The Album Covers bonus (updated with huge success by Plastic Pal a couple of years later) was a very good idea crippled by two factors: first, an incredibly narrow range of era/style. And second, ghastly reproduction that made their montage look like something vomited up by an actual flock of seagulls.
The 47th Word bonus was so supremely twisted that to criticize it seems pointless. The thalidomide of Williams Trivia, its impact shall never be forgotten by those who were there.
The Video Game bonus (all questions, no sounds or images) was a real winner, filled with cool stuff.
Likewise, the Grunts 'n Groans tape was an entertaining, effective audio bonus. Even if it did include Kung-Fu Fighting. Notice how there's always much less to say about the good ones?
There are stalker bonuses in Williams Trivia, ideas that seem to float very low in the atmosphere, where any team can easily grab at them. They're not big enough categories to support repetition, the way Sports, Comics, Movies, TV, and others are. Many teams jot down these same old topics onto the irrotating list of possibilities. And when they're used in a contest, they're invariably indistinguishable from any of the other semesters when a teams uccumbed and did their too-similar versions. If you've seen 6 Potent Potables boni, you've seen 'em all.
Soap Operas and Feminism are two such categories. There's never been a Soap Opera Bonus without a "name the 25 towns these 25 shows are set in" section. There's never been a Feminism Bonus without plenty of the none-too-thrilling acronyms and book titles to identify, and umpteen "Name the first woman to--" questions. These boni were no exception. Bookended around the Drum Solo saudio (an amusing idea that could never really work in reality, and didn't),this made for a slow, dry stretch of trivia.
The last Hour Bonus, Religious Trivia, was a long but solid bonus on a variety of faiths, from Christ to Odin. A good bonus that was good for you.
A solid Ultra and several nifty Actions (the first two were the best) wrapped up a generally effective contest. It's worth noting that Oxygen had some better ideas in their throwaway grab-bag Action than other teams have had in their entire contests. That's my memory of this contest-- there was just too much good stuff to give it anything but a clear thumbs-up.
Not every team enjoyed the Oxygen is for Losers contest. That semester would be the last competitive one for venerable squad Phasers on Stun. This was not entirely Oxygenís doing; Phaser Charlie Singer jovially accuses some members of getting to the point in their lives where golf was a more important part of the weekend than the contest. But all agree that, for them, Trivia had deteriorated from the way it once was back when the world was young, the birds were singing, and Yahoo! was something cowboys said.
If Williams Trivia has one constant, it's that "the contest USED to be good, but lately it's really gone downhill." This feeling was first documented around 1972 or 1974.
Still, late-blooming Phaser Mitch Katz raises some major Trivia issues that no team can safely ignore. As you read his commentary, what's most clear that Oxygen is for Losers was lucky the Trivia Listserver was still five years away:
Mitch Katz writes:
"(Winter 1990) doesn't go into my list of contests because I never finished. After five years away, I had returned to Williams Trivia with the same goofy cast I had played with so many times before. We were about twelve in number. I think we were in the Perry House living room.
It quickly became apparent that I was in a different trivia world. Bonuses were so elaborate it took five minutes just to read them. Difficulty of the contest seemed all important to the hosting team. Questions were from history, government, and geography as opposed to the Six Great Trivial Realms from which nearly all questions were drawn in my day (Movies, Sports, TV, Ads, Comics, and Williamsiana).
The questions had no emotional impact, either in the asking or the answering. I didn't go into "tip of the tongue" phenomenon. I didn't scream, "Wait! Wait! I know that! I know that!" after hearing a question, sure that I could dredge up the knowledge before the song ended. I didn't spend three minutes in a back and forth of tiny pieces of information with a teammate until the answer emerged. I didn't completely miss a question, and then, upon hearing the answer, have the capacity to admire the quality of the question anyway.
This contest was not a celebration of things stuck in my head from being a kid and watching TV or following sports. This contest was not a celebration of useless knowledge that reminded me of another place and time. This contest was not an interrogation totally removed from the finals that students would soon be taking. I could actually picture some of these questions being ASKED on the finals. This contest was a different creation from what I expected or needed. At 4:30 am, I got in the car and drove back to New York.
I wrote this on the way home from that contest back in 1990:
The contest doesn't have to be so difficult. Then it's no fun. The contest should fulfill its purpose.
Increasing contact at the radio station seems to be a trend-- pick up and deliver bonuses and superbonuses, ultrabonuses and do trivia actions (which have become extraordinarily elaborate, more like scavenger hunts).
The contest has lost its sense of tradition. For instance, did they know that this was the 49th semi-annual contest?
It used to be an end of classes party. Everybody on campus played. Every dorm had a team. Many had more than one. Everybody knew who the big teams were and people used to bet on the outcome. Now, every team gets a new name for each contest. Maybe it's our fault (Pros from Dover to Grape Nehi). PTG used to play every year. Then Manhattan Skyliners. The big three were Bomo, Buda Bear and General Bumble (which was a merger of Bee Bumble & the Stingers and The General). Remember the Cunning Linguists, He's Dead, Jim, The Knights Who Say Ni, Paul Lynde to Block?
Sports--in five hours there were three questions-- horses pissing to a whistle, a rookie pitcher setting a record for giving away comp tickets, and the original name of basketball. These are little-known facts, which is different from trivia. No one remembers seeing any of these things. They do not recall great sports moments (i.e. US hockey team beating the Russians in the Olympics, Ali-Frazier fights, an injured Willis Reed taking the basketball court vs. the Lakers).
Two 3 point plays on Crayola crayons was really much considering that they probably didn't hit 100 questions.
Clues-- It shouldn't be that you stay on the same phone line all during the length of the song being led through to the answer.
Everyone should be able to answer at least one question. You should touch on every possible realm to include and entertain the widest number of people. This means hitting media that have the widest possible audience. The object is not to be cute or clever at the expense of the trivia. Too much obscure and meaningless detail. No megatonnage. No T.O.T. phenomenon. Contest has become like Amherst's. Not media focused. "What do you do on your off hours" stuff is missing. There's nothing here to keep you awake. No nostalgia. Nobody's dancing to the music.
No sports, no comics, no cartoons. Bonuses used to be call-in; 47 parts is ridiculous. Quantity does not equal quality. Things sure have changed. Videotape/VCRs, cable syndication & reruns of old shows, and reference books & games have changed the face of trivia.
In Steve Gardner's article, he talks about a good trivia question "detonating megatons of nostalgia." In the Chip Buckner article from The Record, Williams Trivia founding father Frank Ferry defines perfect trivia as "a tremendous emotional experience... something that you know but can't quite remember--something you could kill yourself over."
Am I just a cranky old fart, unable to cope with change? I certainly hope not."