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When Leonard Fahrni says he reads Playboy for the magazine's articles, you can believe him. Fahrni does indeed read Playboy--and Entertainment Weekly and God knows what else--to fill his storehouse of knowledge. To him, each dollop of data, each apparently trifling fact, deserves to be gathered, recorded, catalogued and treasured for all eternity. In an age when information is being created and disseminated at speeds unimaginable only a generation ago, no one could possibly know everything about nothing in particular, but that hasn't stopped Fahrni from trying. You may fantasize about emptying your head of every insignificant memory in order to create room for knowledge of a more respectable sort, but not Leonard Fahrni. He likes his head the way it is.
Fahrni's friends (who are, in fact, very much like him) rib him about his obsessions. They rib him about every other aspect of his life as well, and Fahrni gives them plenty of ammunition. At 38, he's bald, paunchy, single and a full-time student (he's working toward a master's degree in math at the University of Colorado-Denver) still living in Lakewood with his parents, Mary Lou and Leonard Sr. Although no one would mistake him for a kid, callers to his home must ask for "Young Leonard" if they wish to speak with him.
Plenty of calls are coming in, for this Saturday in April is the day that the latest Basement Bowl is set to take place. Fahrni has staged 31 previous tests of trivia skill in the downstairs rooms of his parents' house, but this one is special: It takes place when the 27th annual CU Trivia Bowl--once referred to by Games magazine as the greatest trivia contest in the country--was scheduled to be under way. Because the Trivia Bowl was canceled after last year's edition, however, many of the most twisted and talented trivia players in the university's august history are feeling lost, confused. They need somewhere to go--so they're going to Leonard Fahrni's basement.
By noon, two have already arrived. Sander Klein, a CU Trivia Bowl Hall of Famer and past champion, is sitting on the edge of Fahrni's unkempt bed, thumbing through a well-worn copy of Penthouse that's presumably a trivia gold mine. Opposite him is Mark Whelan (Hall of Famer, ex-champ, contest judge), who is watching Fahrni pound away at a computer. Fahrni puts everything about the Basement Bowl into his computer, including the names of the invitees and each and every question--a minimum of thirty tossups and twenty bonuses in a variety of categories (movies, TV, sports, miscellaneous)--for each of the four games he's written and readied. Whelan, a man who so loved the CU Trivia Bowl that one year he traveled to Colorado from Connecticut in order to attend, is awestruck by Fahrni's anal-retentive dedication to all things trivial.
"This is about as geeky and nerdy as it gets," he says, his voice dripping with admiration.
In 1973, when Young Leonard Fahrni, then a CU student, was far younger than he is today, he saw his first CU Trivia Bowl match. He loved every minute of it--but when the next year rolled around, he did not sign up to compete. "I thought I shouldn't play, because the people in it were too good," he says. "I went and watched for seven years before I played."
By 1980 he was ready. He joined a team, and on the day of his first game, he proudly took his place at a table set on the stage of the Glenn Miller Ballroom, where the Trivia Bowl was held. Fahrni doesn't remember the first question the players were asked, but he remembers buzzing in before the emcee had finished reading and providing the correct answer. "It was the first tossup in the first game I ever played," he marvels. "I thought, `This is easy.' Then we got killed."
The next two years Fahrni missed the Bowl; he had joined the Navy and was stationed on the U.S.S. Midway, which spent most of this period in the Indian Ocean, where it could threaten Iran's leader at the time, the Ayatollah Khomeini. Fortunately, Fahrni's stretch in the service wasn't all spent staring down the barrel of a gun. "I was the ship's movie officer," he says. "It was typecasting."
His hitch over, Fahrni returned to the States--and to the Trivia Bowl, joining forces with other competitors who were becoming almost as serious about it as he. One, Bob Downs, had already built a reputation with Bowl judges for his frighteningly complete knowledge of sports trivia and for his dark (some might say tasteless) sense of humor. During the early Eighties he had named one of his teams "Why Did God Invent Women? Because Sheep Can't Cook," but the moniker was rejected by Renae Foxhoven, then director of the Trivia Bowl as well as a member of CU's program council, which sponsored the event. "She said it was offensive," Downs says. "Can you believe it?" Downs responded by redubbing his crew "Renae Foxhoven Made Us Change Our Name." After Fahrni joined the squad, Downs continued the tradition of using Foxhoven's name as part of their handle even though Foxhoven herself had long since ceased to have anything to do with the Trivia Bowl. The placards bearing these names--for example, "How to Succeed in Renae Foxhoven Without Really Trying"--decorate one of the walls of Fahrni's basement, not far from an autographed Denver Broncos poster and a decorative rug that depicts dogs playing poker.