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Duo continues to propel UWSP Trivia contest after nearly 30 years

Apr. 8, 2014
 
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Jim Oliva, right, and John Eckendorf talk in the 90 FM studio on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus. The duo are responsible for writing the more than 400 questions that will be used during Trivia 45, which begins April 11. / photos by Nathan Vine/Stevens Point Journal Media
Jim Oliva, 68, known as 'The Oz,' has been the lead writer of questions for Trivia since 1978.

Trivia 45

Question: What news outlet will give you comprehensive daily coverage of Trivia this week, including profiles of teams, a look at behind-the-scenes preparation, trivia about Trivia and live online coverage of events?
Answer: Stevens Point Journal Media. Follow us on Twitter @StevensPointJrl, on Facebook at Stevens Point Journal Media, online at stevenspointjournal.com and in print every day this week for coverage.

John Eckendorf, 49, has been helping Jim Oliva write questions for Trivia for nearly 30 years.

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STEVENS POINT — When Jim Oliva and John Eckendorf sit down every year to compose questions for the world’s largest trivia contest, they never really set out to be clever or try to stump participants.

Oliva, 68, and Eckendorf, 49, both of Stevens Point, have been writing partners for Trivia for nearly 30 years. Believe it or not, they still are working this week on putting the final touches on the 400-some questions participants will attempt to answer when the 54-hour Trivia 45 contest begins at 6 p.m. Friday.

Both Oliva and Eckendorf say the event, a fundraiser for the student-run 90 FM radio station on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus that is expected to draw about 400 teams and more than 12,000 players, is still a joy to be a part of. That doesn’t mean it’s not a long weekend for the trivia masters, however.

“Writing questions is the fun part of doing this. Everything that happens during this week, that’s work,” said Oliva, who began as a disc jockey in 1976 and took over writing questions for Trivia two years later. “The teams have fun, but at the radio station, it’s all business.”

Both men have full-time day jobs to go along with their Trivia duties. Eckendorf is a salesman for Bushman Inc., a Rosholt-based potato company, and Oliva is the director of IT with CAP Services, a nonprofit organization that provides social programs for the poor. Even so, the two estimate they spend several hours a week during the year taking notes and jotting down ideas that eventually turn into questions, and then spend weekends in January through March writing.

Eckendorf, who began helping Oliva write questions 26 years ago, said they focus on challenging teams — in the Internet age, that means finding trivia that is so obscure it can’t be answered with a simple Google search — while at the same time keeping them engaged.

“We would never want a team to go an hour without being able to answer a question, because some teams would just stop playing,” Eckendorf said. “We want it to be fun, but we also want them to have to think.”

Eckendorf said he and Oliva take notes all year, on everything from movies to commercials to interesting things they see on cereal boxes, and then brainstorm them into posers for the contest itself.

“It’s attention to detail,” Eckendorf said. “In a way, it’s tough for some of the more serious teams, because we can use something for a question and be done with it, but they have to spend all year collecting everything they can because they don’t know what the questions will be.”

After almost three decades together, Eckendorf and Oliva agree they aren’t likely to run out of frivolous, inconsequential, evanescent and otherwise trifling queries any time soon.

“We love seeing people come back every year and having fun, and as long as we can also enjoy ourselves there’s no reason to stop,” Oliva said.

Nathan Vine can be reached at 715-345-2252. Find him on Twitter as @SPJNathanVine.

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