Explore the Past: Brain Game History

For 23 years, Literacy Rochester has hosted the annual Brain Game tournament to raise funds for the programs and resources provided to local adults in need of literacy assistance. Each year, Brain Game would grow and become an event that community members and businesses would look forward to each year. 

What is Brain Game anyway? Well in 2001, Literacy Volunteers of Rochester (LVR) started the annual tradition of a trivial pursuit competition with a silent auction. Since then, the core of Brain Game has remained the same but has expanded beyond its original vision into a grand and distinguished community event. 

Flyer from the first annual Brain Game in 2001

The First Annual Brain Game

As stated above, the first annual Brain Game started in 2001. At the time, the LVR board knew they needed a way to raise funds to continue operations. One board member, Marge Grinols, who had experience with development activities, informed the board that a venue should be booked as a starting point. Before Brain Game even was thought of, the board had planned the location at the Gleason Auditorium in the Bausch & Lomb Public Library Building. 

Winter LitBits 2001 - Front Page

Interestingly enough, another chapter of Literacy Volunteers had an event named Brain Game as well. A West Virginia chapter started their Brain Game event in 1998 and continued to be an annual fundraising event for many years. However, the West Virginia chapter played their tournament similar to Jeopardy where contestants buzzed in to answer questions, picked from categories, and earned “money” for correct answers. 

LVR’s version is a trivial pursuit style of game where participants must correctly answer questions to earn more points and move on to advancing rounds. Despite the similarity, the LVR Brain Game was created by the board members. Former LVR president, Peter Giopulos, confirmed that Brain Game was not something every chapter was doing; the name similarity was purely coincidental.  

LVR’s Brain Game was originally a competition between different local law firms and attorneys. Eight teams composed of four attorneys each were the competition participants for the first couple years. Essential to team recruitment was Paul Keneally, a partner at Underberg & Kessler and secretary of the LVR board. Keneally significantly contributed to the success of the first event as he encouraged local law firms to join. By the September deadline, seven out of the eight teams were lined up to compete and soon a final team registered to compete.

Key figures of the event included Irving Kessler and Judge Reuben Davis who were the official judges for the event. In addition to his role in Brain Game, Kessler was previously a reader for the late 1990s literacy campaign, Reading Rally. The masters of ceremonies were Karlson and McKenzie from the 94.1 The Zone morning show.

Final question from 2004 Brain Game: According to the websites Music Now and WABC, what was the most popular song in the year LVR was founded, 1964? 

a) Hard Days Night by the Beatles; 

b) Yellow Submarine by the Beatles; 

Correct answer: c) Hello Dolly 

c) Hello Dolly by Louis Armstrong; or 

d) Love Me Tender by Elvis Presley. 

With everyone in place, it was time for the big night. Teams boasted their knowledge of familiar categories while relying on audience lifelines on more difficult questions. The original seven categories were sports, geography, music, history, entertainment, science, and politics. Each category offered a wide range of question difficultly – more difficult questions earned more points for a team.

Volunteers and board members were surprised at the level of audience participation and overall enjoyment from everyone involved. The game allowed participants to purchase lifelines which granted players the ability to ask an audience member for help. In total, 54 lifelines were used during the entirety of the game. Shockingly, a lifeline was used to call on a participant’s 11-year-old son and his answer helped the team, Intellectual Insolvent, win the qualifying round. 

After an entertaining and enlightening night, finalists Intellectual Insolvents and the Chamberlain D’Amanda Oppenheimer & Greenfield group went head-to-head for the final question.

What U.S. city represents the busiest international border crossing.  
The correct answer was San Diego.  

The winning team of the 2001 Brain Game was Chamberlain D’Amanda Oppenheimer & Greenfield, who would go on to compete and win two more Brain Game competitions.

Over the Years

By 2003, Brain Game had outgrown the library location. From 2003 to 2007, the competition was held at the Clarion Riverside Hotel as popularity increased. And, in 2008 the event moved again to the Rochester Club Ballroom until 2012.

In 2009, a new twist was the inclusion of a team of LVR volunteers. The impromptu team was a last-minute addition as volunteers sat in for Lacy Katzen’s firm. After the addition of the LVR volunteer team, Brain Game changed the competition the following year. Brain Game was now open to any team who wanted to participate and was not limited to attorneys and accountants. Teams from local colleges including Monroe Community College, Rochester Institute of Technology, and St. John Fisher began to participate alongside business teams such as Brighton Securities, Avalon Document Services, Great Tie Consulting, and other generous organizations.

In 2020 another twist was added to Brain Game. In both 2020 and 2021, the Brain Game was held virtually as the COVID-19 pandemic restricted in-person activities. However, an in-person Brain Game resumed in 2022 and was held at the Hyatt Regency Rochester. 


Brain Game logo

Two teams, Chamberlain D’Amanda Oppenheimer & Greenfield and Bond Schoeneck & King, have won three Brain Game’s. 
Underberg and Kessler won their first Brain Game in 2013.  
Brain Game has been held at 8 different locations from hotels, a library, and a ballroom.  
On average, Brain Game has raised $22,000 each year for Literacy Rochester.  
• In 2017, Brain Game set the record for raising over $45,000.


2002 Brain Game

2002 Brain Game - Check-in Table
2002 Brain Game - Intellectual Insolvents Team
2002 Brain Game

2005 Brain Game

2005 Brain Game - Chamberlain D'Amanda Team
2005 Brain Game - Game Play
2005 Brain Game - Audience Participation


Current Event Question from 2023 Brain Game: Taylor Swift recently attended Kansas City Chiefs Football Games to watch Travis Kelce play. What is his position? 

Correct Answer: Tight End 

2008 Brain Game

2008 Brain Game - Manning and Napier Team
2008 Brain Game Champion - Bond Schoeneck & King

2013 Brain Game

2013 Brain Game - Audience Participation
2013 Brain Game - Rose Marie Klipstein and Peter Giopulos
2013 Brain Game Champions - Underberg and Kessler

Ultimately, the 2001 Brain Game sparked an annual tradition that would bring together the community for a unified goal. Each year, Brain Game helps maintain the LR mission and programs that are provided at no cost to adult literacy learners. Literacy Rochester is grateful for the support and generosity of those who participate and donate each year! 

Mark your calendars for next year’s tournament on October 10, 2024. 

Want to hear more stories? Over the years, thousands of subscribers received updates about the organization through LitbitsWe welcome new LitBits subscribers! Sign up now – Click Here or refer to the “Contact Information” section on this page. 

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