Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Real-Life Jeopardy

If someone were to ask you “Who was Ulysses S. Grant?”, you’d probably say something like “a Civil War general and president of the United States”. If you were a grade schooler writing a history exam, you’d probably supply more details and better sentence structure. What you would NOT say is “This Civil War general and US president is buried in Grant’s Tomb.”

Yet that’s the kind of contortion you’d go thru to participate on the deservedly popular TV game show Jeopardy, where the gimmick is that you are given an “answer” and are required to come up with the “question” that supposedly inspired it. As it plays out in practice, it’s a fraud, of course. What Alex Trebek is really giving you is a question with the “Who is” stripped off the front and the “?” stripped off the end so you can transplant them over to the answer. Yes, it’s artificial and stilted, but it’s worked well for decades, and Alex isn’t about to change it now.

What has been lost from view over the years, however, is the conceit on which the format is based: that you’re so clever, hip, and well informed that you can be mingling at a cocktail party, catch the tag end of a conversation, and instantly infer from the last comment what the initial question must have been.

Example #1: What you overhear is:

“Sam Bowie”

Therefore the question had to have been:

“Who was taken in the NBA draft between Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan?”

because that’s the only reason Sam Bowie’s name would ever come up in casual conversation.

Example #2: Context is important. For example, suppose it’s a sports-minded crowd having a peri-Olympic chat and you hear the response:

“a stick”

Here you infer that the question was:

“What do you call it when a gymnast nails a perfect landing after a dismount?”

but at any other time it would be:

“What do you call a boomerang that won’t come back?”

Example #3: It also helps if you’re familiar with riddles and brain teasers. For instance, if the answer is:

“Aha! The bear is white!”

the question had to have been:

“Suppose you walk a mile due south, then turn left and walk another mile, then turn left again and walk another mile. You’re back where you started. You see a bear. What color is it?”

because the only place that particular triangular journey works is the North Pole.

Which brings us to today’s exercise. What you hear is:

“We are SOOOOOO totally fucked!”

Therefore the question had to have been:

“Did corporate ‘persons’ just prove they could buy an election any time they want to?”

Welcome to real-life Jeopardy! Sorry about the mess. It’s under construction. Look for our grand re-opening real soon, under the name Potterville.

= = = = = =
I see in the near future a crisis approaching. It unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. The money powers prey upon the nation. ... It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than an autocracy, more selfish than a bureaucracy. It denounces, as public enemies, all who question its methods. ... Corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow and the money power ... will endeavor to prolong its reign ... until the wealth is aggregated in the hands of a few, and the republic is destroyed.

-- Abraham Lincoln, speech made after passage of the National Banking Act of 1863


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