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November 29, 2009

Iowa State Memories #1 - Kaleidoquiz

One of the fondest memories I have of my time at Iowa State is the annual "Kaleidoquiz" trivia (and other things) contest that was put on by the local ISU radio station.  I hadn't thought about it in a while, however, until I did my 1 vs 100 post yesterday.  You're probably wondering:  What the hell is "Kaleidoquiz?"  I'm glad you asked (I'm kinda psychic that way).

Kaleidoquiz is basically a 26-hour marathon trivia contest with a lot of other extras added in as well.  It's also a blast to play, though you have to have a dedicated team if you want to have any success at it. It began in 1967 and is still going strong.

Kaleidoquiz started on a Friday night, at 4:00 pm and ran for 26 hours.  Teams compete for the grand prize (I don't even remember what it was, which shows you how well we did) by answering questions as well as taking part in other activities (to be described later).  The DJ would read out a question and each team would try to answer it.  Teams were assigned different phone numbers to call and the person at the other end of the line would record the given answer.  Each team would have 6 minutes to call in.  When the 6 minutes were up, even if it was in the middle of a song, some funny recording would come on that essentially said "Warning:  KQ lines are closed."  After the current song ended, the DJ would read the answer to the question, and then read the next one.  Each question had different points values depending on the difficulty.

Teams could use whatever resources they had on hand, like encycolpedias, other reference books, science texts, and the like.  Nowadays, the Internet has made this a bit easier, but they still try to tailor the questions so that they aren't *that* easy to find the answer to.  Some of them require local knowledge.  Sometimes they ask you to solve an equation.  The questions can really vary.

Here are a couple of questions that were used in 2004, from the official Kaleidoquiz web site:

Q4.       When, and in what publication, did the term “O.K.” first appear?

A4.       March 23, 1839, Boston Morning Post

Pts.      40

Q8.       How many non-emergency public phones are located on campus?

A8.       123

Pts.      40

Q10.     When was the first child born in Spearfish, South Dakota in 2004?

A10.     3:48pm on Sunday, Jan. 4

Pts.      50

The questions could get even weirder, too.

When I lived in the dorms, our floor would always get a team together to take part.  We'd bring a stereo into the floor's den (TV room, basically), along with as many reference books as we could find.  We'd have a phone in there as well, and somebody was tasked with recording our points.  I, being a trivia buff, loved every minute of it.  Sadly, I wasn't of drinking age when I lived in the dorms, but if you were you could have beer or whatever in the den while we played.  It created a great sense of camaraderie among all the guys living on the floor.

Yes, I did say this was a 26-hour contest.  As the night dragged on, they introduced a couple of wrinkles into the game.  The first was a scavenger hunt.  Teams had to send a representative to the radio station (it was located on campus) to pick up the list of items, and then they had a certain amount of time (I think it was an hour) to bring as many items as they could down to the station.

What was even funner, though, was the "Travelling Question."  This almost always involved somebody having to have a car or other vehicle available.  You would have to follow a series of steps to arrive at the right answer, and you had a couple of hours to do it.  One year, we had to go to the Memorial Union and count the number of steps up to the door, then go to that mile marker on Highway 30.  Once you were there, there was something else you had to do, then something else, and it eventually arrived at one answer.  You had to get that answer to the radio station by the time limit.  It was often a laugh riot as that one year you'd see these groups of people walking up the steps and counting them, then arguing about whether certain steps should be left out.  It was a blast.

Sadly, my teams usually gave out around 8:00 am the next morning, and we never had people who were willing to sleep that night and then take over once the others went to sleep.  I usually stayed up all night, but when I was one of the last ones playing, I gave up too.  We were never dedicated enough to truly work at winning this game.

Looking at the main Kaleidoquiz web site, given above, it looks like they've added some things, probably to lessen the influence of the Internet on the proceedings.  It looks like in addition to the Travelling Question, there's a road trip question as well.  Last year, supposedly they were supposed to go up to Canada (which is probably at least 5 hours one-way).  There are also movie and music montages, other contests that you have to send somebody down to the station for.  They'll ask for teams to send down their best _______ (it could be anything) but teams won't know what the contest is until that person gets there.

Here's an example of a road trip/Travelling Question, 2005:

"On top of the other challenges there is also a traveling question, where teams must trek across the state following clues to the prize. Last year, teams were given a fortune cookie with lucky numbers on the fortune, a CD of "Jane Says" by Jane's Addiction and a Monopoly deed to Park Place. The answer was simple: The lucky numbers were the highways to get to the destination, "Jane Says" was referencing Janesville, Wis., and Park Place was a bar found in the city.

"One of the guys even tried calling up the lead singer of Jane's Addiction to see if that was the answer. With KQ, you never know," King said."

While my Kaleidoquiz experience always fizzled out by the next morning, the Friday night was always a lot of fun.  I enjoyed doing this with the guys on my floor.  You could go down to the station and tape up signs with music requests, the music itself was quite varied (Mojo Nixon was popular, especially the Elvis song), and we just had a good time together.  The year we did the Memorial Union was the only year I went out on the Travelling Question (I was the stay-at-HQ guy who manned the phone and helped with the answers), but it was definitely fun too.  I can only imagine what it's like now, where you may have to drive an hour or two (at least) to do the Road Trip question.

This year's Kaleidoquiz was March 6-7 (this year's will probably be on a similar weekend), and I know that, if I lived in Ames, I'd be there in a heartbeat.  When I was thinking back on this, I figured that Kaleidoquiz probably went away as the Internet made answering many of these questions easier.  I was so happy to find out I was wrong.  It sounds like it has successfully morphed into an even more outrageous weekend than it was when I was there.

You can find out more about it here.

And if you're an Iowa State alumnus, or you live in Ames, and have your own memories, I'd love to hear them. I wish UBC did something like this.

(This is the first in a series of memories that I'd like to share with you, mostly from college, but who knows?  There could be other things in there too)


  1. It was fun reading that. I remember you talking about it when you were there. It's nice it's still around. Can't wait for more of your memories.


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