Out of the Blue


My daily dose of after-dinner angst


By Deborah Salomon

When people of a certain age finish comparing aches and pains, medications and grandchildren, the conversation turns to Jeopardy! — hereafter known as J!. Odd, since few seniors appear as contestants. I mean, they don’t compare notes on 2 Broke Girls after eating the local diner’s Early Bird Special.

That’s because this backward quiz show, which debuted in 1964 (! indeed), serves as a barometer. Make that thermometer, since nobody’s sure what a barometer measures. And if they are, they can’t define barometric pressure.

Can you?

Anyway . . . I have learned much about myself and others from J!, things unrelated to the answers. First, deal with suave Alex Trebeck, who wears great suits and looks amazing for 77. His only fault seems to be a language affectation, mostly French, where he exaggerates pronunciation, meaning “See, I know what I’m talking about and you don’t.”

He does, actually, since his mother was French-Canadian. I won’t excoriate his know-it-all attitude. Not hard, Alex, when answers are on the card you’re holding, with the foreign words spelled phonetically.

As for the exclamation mark, the producers offer no explanation except emphasis — and to raise the question among people who notice, because all don’t.

Then, “It’s the category, stupid!” Well-rounded, I’m not. Gimme food, literature, vocabulary, body parts, famous people dead or over 50, architecture, art, nursery rhymes and I’ll pop out answers, right or wrong, abetted by three stupefying (except for the toga party) years of high school Latin, since Latin is the root of everything.

Do kids take Latin anymore?

But pop culture, pop music, movies and TV shows I thought nobody watched, American history, science (chemistry and biology didn’t stick), geography, math (got As, don’t remember a thing) put me under a dunce cap, in the corner, now considered child abuse. The occasional miracle happens: The answer to an obscure clue just bursts from my mouth. I can’t place where I heard or learned it. I call it “stray matter,” instead of gray matter. Right now, I can’t even remember an example — not a good sign.

In fact, I’m much more likely to score in Final Jeopardy because I know, after years of watching, to seek the clue within the clue. Hello, Captain Obvious!

Now, the real fun. Or, what happens when you watch alongside someone from a similar memory pool. The air crackles with unfriendly competition. Your reputation is on the line. And then a particle floating through the parietal lobe short-circuits the synapses, causing you to freeze with the answer just beyond tongue tip. This erodes confidence, may ruin a friendship.

During these sessions I hear, “I do much better when I watch alone.” (Don’t we all?)

How about, “I’d get ’em all on multiple choice.” (Better than nothing.)

Remember, contestants study, practice with coaches. These hot shots know Indonesian inland waterways and English kings’ Roman numerals like I know, well, enough stuff to get the occasional thrill, especially during the junior championships.

Last, I’ll confess a wicked pleasure: Spectrum airs the same episode of “Jeopardy!” at 7 and 7:30 p.m., on different channels. Watch the first, round up regulars for the repeat and show ’em who’s boss. (!!)

Otherwise, don’t sweat the results. Win or lose, brain games keep mature minds sharp. And, eventually the big-money answer to Final Jeopardy will be Arthur Godfrey, ipso facto, Happy Rockefeller, carpe diem, vox populi, ad hoc, Daisy Mae or moratorium.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a staff writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

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