No Shit Sherlock: An Idiot’s Guide to the Online Jeopardy Test

The online Jeopardy test is hard. Real hard.

No Shit Sherlock: An Idiot’s Guide to the Online Jeopardy Test
Trebek taunting me with his smug smirk of superiority

Last night, at exactly 8 p.m EST I went online to face a barrage of moderately difficult to impossible trivia questions. This happened because I was participating in the east-coast edition of Jeopardy’s first step of its rigorous contestant-selection process: the Online Jeopardy Test.

It was the first time I had faced the test and, as a lifelong fan of the show, and the person whose friends always say “should be on Jeopardy,” it was a humiliating, intellectually bruising experience.

For someone who, as a six year old, was read Christopher Hitchens the way other kids are read “Everybody Poops” and was subjected to unending and torturous games of Scrabble with my learned, pipe-smoking English grandfather, I have a profound sense of appreciation for what IBM is about to subject poor old Watson to next week in Jeopardy’s man vs. the machine competition.

The quiz happened so fast, with so much information flying at me, that now as I look back I’m hard-pressed to remember anything other than the fact it took 11 minutes and left me with a lingering feeling of disappointment the moment I completed the last question. You have 15 seconds to read the category, read the clue, think of an answer, type in your answer and click submit. It happens in a flash. I’m not even sure how many questions I answered. 50? 35?

It’s difficult to remember the questions I know I didn’t know. It’s easier to recall the ones I should’ve had. And none sticks out more than this one:

Q: Which British feminist author wrote the work “A Room of One’s Own”?

In a flurry of panic, the only answer that came to my diminished and anxiety stricken mind was Agatha Christie. “I’m a jackass,” I thought to myself. And scrambled to type in an only slightly less embarrassing answer: Jane Austen. Later, lying on my girlfriend’s bed staring out the window and into another apartment, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor floated into my mind. “Damnit!” I thought as the answer came to me. Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? Apparently I am.

Some questions I know I botched but I still am not clear of the answer…

Q: This nation gives out an award called the Leopold Prize.

I shamefully typed Germany and clicked submit and immediately thought I should’ve typed Belgium, after their infamous King. Now, after Googling Leopold Prize, the answer seems to be America.

Other questions were easier and made up the bulk of the test. (I got these):

Q: This Kingdom borders Burma, Laos and Cambodia.

Q: Stephen Dedalus, Leopold and Molly Bloom are characters in which novel?

Q: This Winter Olympic event started in the summer games in 1920—Canada won the first gold medal.

Q: This famous person wrote the 2010 bestseller “Decision Points.”

But there were enough impossible questions or questions that required more than three seconds to think about that I became buried under a mountain of intellectual mediocrity. Jeopardy doesn’t tell you how you did on the test, even if you make it to the next round or even onto the show, but if I had to guess I’d say I got 70% right—not good enough for the show, I’m sure.

My poor performance is surely the result of being a member of the first internet generation. There seems to be an inverse relationship between my increasing internet usage and my memory recall. Trivia games rely on contestants with impeccable memories. As we rely on the internet to do more and more of our memory storage and fact/grammar/spellchecking, the way of the trivia show contestant is a dying art. Maybe it’s time for a Charles Van Doren to stir things up?

As we spiral toward Idiocracy Jeopardy will become even more exciting. We’ll see next week, when Watson takes on Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, whether two of the greatest quiz show contestants ever can give humanity one last hurrah in the battle against the machines, before our minds turn to mush and Watson, HAL 9000 and SkyNet team up to scorch the sky, kill John Connor and destroy humankind.

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The online tests for the Central and Mountain Time Zones are Wednesday February 9, 2011 and the Pacific Time Zone, Alaska and Hawaii have theirs on Thursday February 10, 2011.