Jeopardy Test Proves I am Dummer Than a Fifth Grader


I took the online Jeopardy! test yesterday. Don’t bother setting your DVR; I won’t be appearing on the show any time soon (unless Alex Trebek dies unexpectedly and there’s a shocking provision in his will about who should replace him on the show).

I’m pretty sure a bag of hammers would have scored higher than I did.

I have the kind of miles-wide/inch thick base of knowledge that is perfect for things like Jeopardy!, Trivial Pursuit, and occasionally stupefying a drinking buddy (“Why the hell would you know who invented hot pants?” [Mary Quant]). I blame it on my dad. Growing up in my house, we kids all had to shut our traps for 30 minutes every evening when Jeopardy! came on. If our jibber jabber made Dad miss one of the questions, we’d get this: “What is, go stand in the closet for the rest of the show.”

[Look, I can’t stand it when people use punctuation as part of a word. I’m just going to call it Jeopardy.]


I’ll take hypnotic blue squares for $200 Alex.

The old man was a trivia master, and I followed in his footsteps to spend a lifetime gathering a massive mental warehouse of dubious bits of knowledge no one is ever likely to need. [Winner of Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976: Saul Bellow.] The only time I was ever able to flex this obscure muscle was when I was watching Jeopardy.

Then came Trivial Pursuit, the hot party game of the mid-80s. I didn’t know all the answers, but I knew enough to be accused of reading the cards beforehand, or using some kind of wireless, in-ear transmitter set-up to communicate with a crony at Encyclopedia Britannica (really, Mom?).

I still have at least five supplementary sets of cards stashed away somewhere. Sports. Music. Baby Boomers. Movies With Robert Duvall. Eventually I couldn’t get anyone else to play with me.

But I always had Jeopardy.

“You should go on Jeopardy,” people would say. I tell you, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I could fly to Los Angeles tomorrow in my own diamond-encrusted helicopter and buy enough forged documents to bullshit my way onto the set and start putting my answers in the form of a question right away.

But I don’t even have enough money to buy a cubic zirconium-encrusted helicopter. Fortunately, there’s the online test. It’s given every January, and I usually remember it around St. Patrick’s Day. This year, though, their relentless promo spots finally made it stick in my head.

I went to the site and registered last week. Got a confirmation number and chose my day for the test. So far so good.

The test was at 6:00 p.m. There would be 50 questions, 15 seconds to answer each one. No sweat. From about 2:00 yesterday afternoon till about 5:45, I studied frantically. It was like pulling an all-nighter in college, only without the trucker’s speed and a passing grade on the line.

What actress played Ilsa in Casablanca? Hint: It’s not Paul Henreid.

I read two-minute summaries of all of Shakespeare’s plays. The complete list of Greek and Roman gods and creatures. Old Testament in a nutshell. New Testament in a clamshell. Operas. U.S. Presidents. Basically anything that makes me holler, “Damn it, I hate when there’s a whole category of _____ in Double Jep!”

I spent a full hour poring over a map of the world, trying to get a grip on the geography of what, last time I checked, was the USSR. Tried to burn the positions of the countries of South America into my brain. Canadian Provinces. U.S. state capitals. Tasmania. Bangladesh. Denmark. Papua New Guinea. Lake Okeechobee.

I closed the door to my studio, sat down at the computer and took a few deep breaths, trying to clear my mind of chatter and noise. The kids had strict instructions not to bother Dad unless one of them was losing a lot of blood.

The “think” music from the show started playing, and I set aside my study materials. Fifteen seconds per question, there was no time to cheat even if I wanted to. This is Jeopardy, baby. You don’t Google it, you noodle it.

I said a silent prayer to the Jeopardy gods: Please, let the first category be Rolling Stones Drummers.

Go! First question: What actress played Ilsa in “Casablanca”? Uh, it wasn’t Humphrey Bogart, it was the chick. Uh, I can see her face. “Play it again, Ilsa.” I know this! Um…

DING! Next question: Marshall Mathers goes by what stage name? Wow, really? Eminem. Who doesn’t know that? Unless they’re looking for Slim Shady. But he was a character in a…

DING! Next question. And so it went. No correct answers were provided, so there was a lot less cussing.

photo by drcliffordchoi via FlickrThe test was fast and furious, and as I kept stubbing my brain on the questions, I felt my self-esteem dropping like Willie Nelson’s sperm count. I began to panic. Sweat poured off my face onto the keyboard.

A satellite photo of Ireland appeared on the screen. The question: “What is the name of this ‘green’ isle?” The land mass was literally emerald-colored. I had just looked at a map of the U.K. not thirty minutes earlier.

“GREENLAND!” I yelled, typing it in.

Ding. End of test. I palmed my face as the leering visage of Alex Trebek came onscreen next to a paragraph explaining that our scores would be tabulated and every contestant who did well enough to move on to the regional tests would be notified within the next year. We would not be sent our scores. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Disgusted, I trudged over to the mini-fridge, where I keep a supply of beer for emergencies. This was a routine emergency. I tipped the cap off a bottle of Red Hook and walked back over to the computer.

Taking a pull off the beer, I looked at the screen and in my best Sean Connery, said, “Your mother’s a whore, Trebek.”

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.


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