LIKE millions of others, my husband and I watch Jeopardy every night, well, just about every weekday night. I don’t know why we are addicted when we lose so consistently. It’s like asking to be punished and going back the next day and the next and the next after that for more punishment, hoping somehow after enough punishment, there will be a reward.
We are not alone. Jeopardy, the most popular TV game show of all time, draws an average of nine million viewers a night. During peak times like the college championship when the toughest questions are posed with the least chance of at-home audiences getting them right, viewer numbers swell to 15 million.
With all the genuinely important stuff going on in the world, I cannot imagine why I am trying to figure out what causes this love-hate relationship with Jeopardy. For anyone who doesn’t suffer the same addiction to a time slot and predictability (7:30 pm, ABC, immediately after ZNS National Report or EyeWitness News), I’ll sum up what Jeopardy is all about. It’s a game with questions. Originally, before it was called Jeopardy, it was called ‘What’s the Question?’ and to this day, 58 years after it first aired, Jeopardy is still the answer and question show – that is, the format is a & q. There is a host and three contestants. The host provides the answer and whichever contestant hits the buzzer first tries to answer it correctly with a question that starts with the words, “What is?” or “Who is? Or “When was?” You get it. If they guess correctly, they get to go again, if incorrectly, the next contestant to buzz gets a chance.
There are 61 questions per show, 30 in the first 15 minutes, another 30 plus Final Jeopardy in the last half of the half hour show. Contestants and home audience play along together (only contestants get to take home cash that night), choosing questions from one of six categories and the dollar amount they want to risk up to $1,000 in specific amounts. In Final Jeopardy, they can risk whatever sum they want up to what they won before.
Here’s a sample of what seems like an easy question to us: The category is Island Nations. Contestant says they will risk $200. Host: “This English-speaking island nation was once part of the British Empire that oversaw its 700 islands.” The contestant who buzzes first and answers in the form of a question, ‘What is The Bahamas?’ wins $200 and the chance to go again in the next question. Sounds simple, right? That’s because we know the answer. But most of the time, we don’t which is why it is so mind-boggling that we keep trying. And, except in Final Jeopardy where the contestants have 30 seconds to write down an answer, they only have about two seconds to get it right or lose the opportunity to think out loud. So either you know it or you don’t. No time to figure it out.
So, let’s try a $1,000 question in the same category, Island Nations. This was a recent one: Host ‘What’s now this nation that resisted naval sieges by the Berbers in 1429, the Ottomans in 1656 and Axis WW11 air assaults?’ Not so easy when you don’t have the answer at your fingertips.
On a good night, I may get six to eight questions right, on a bad night, two to three. So why do I turn on and tune in to Jeopardy to be beat up by something in which at my best, I am scoring around 10 percent and often less?
Why, like others, did I think Jeopardy would just fade away when its long-time host, Alex Trebek, died in November of pancreatic cancer, by the way, the same cancer that caused the death of his predecessor Art Fleming who was the show’s first host from 1964 to 1975. Trebek, who took over in 1984, filmed more than 8000 episodes over 36 years. No other game show host retained Trebek’s popularity, credibility and likeability for such a stretch. A welcome guest in the household every night, he was as comfortable a companion as warm slippers on a cold night. The show, the host, the pattern – predictable, regular, routine and yet challenging, mostly manageable.
And maybe that is why we continue to watch and play, despite our low scores. There is so much we cannot control, so much out of our hands and our reach, whether or not to send troops into battle, whether to admit that we will one day be taking orders from robots, maybe with so little control over what happens around us, the simple 24 minutes of air time of Jeopardy is a reminder that even if we don’t get the answers right, the choice to be in the game is up to us.
Oh, the answer to that $1,000 question: I think it was Malta, but if I am wrong, it would not be the first time, and I will still watch Jeopardy waiting, hoping to get the next one right.
King has a prince of an idea for those tanks tiefs
Every now and then, a problem that seems almost insoluble turns out to have a simple solution. Take the case with the theft of propane gas cylinders.
Gas cylinder thieves, those who rob others of the ability to cook by taking tank and all the cooking or heating fuel it holds, get away with their crime because unlike vehicles that are easy to identify, all cylinders are pretty much created equal. Don’t let the common looks fool you. There is a secret. Every cylinder has a serial or identity number. The reason that tank tiefs get away with tiefin’ tanks is that no one is checking the serial number to see who a tank rightly belongs to.
A tank tief can steal a cylinder sold by one supplier and call another one to fill it, all of which is perfectly legitimate, and no one is checking to see if the tank is at the residence or business of its rightful owner. Nine times out of ten, the tank belongs to the individual who calls and asks for a refill. But when the pandemic hit and people lost jobs and got hungry, tanks were a quick buck and filled tanks were even better barter. So there has been a rash of propane gas tank thefts and as you can rightly imagine, it’s not high up in policing priorities of culprits to be captured and cases to be solved.
But there is a very sharp young woman whose idea could prevent the costly interruption. Her name is King and she works at one of the major propane gas companies. She says if all the local gas companies got together and insisted drivers check to see where the tank they are filling belongs, it would solve a problem that affects the poorest among us where tanks are most exposed. All it takes is cooperation among companies and drivers. Over time, a database would emerge, making the checking process even easier.
And don’t think these tank tiefs aren’t courageous. They recently hauled off a 200lb propane tank that had just been refilled, weight – approximately a ton? Sounds like Ms King has a prince of an idea.