Thursday, May 3, 2012

Don't Know Much about History

Actually, I know a fair amount about history, or at least I used to at one time. But continuing on in the theme of "songs to get stuck in your heads," here you go, a song appropriate for a post about preparing to appear on Jeopardy.

I left off last time after getting the call from Jeopardy. What happens shortly after that call is a growing dread as you realize that you have the entirety of human knowledge to somehow cram into your brain over the course of about six weeks. Then you say to yourself, "Well, sure, but you don't really have to know everything, just the things that are likely to come up on Jeopardy." Which sounds great, until you ask yourself, "Okay, self, who was the 23rd president of the US?" And then you follow that up with "What do you really know about The Odyssey, besides the fact that you didn't finish reading it in high school?" And, "Let's discuss what you know about baseball, poetry, business, hockey, ballet ... shall I go on?"

In my case, you then realize that you're also going to be dealing with the holidays cutting into your prep time, and the new year, and your own birthday, and your husband's birthday falling on one of the possible taping dates, as I mentioned in the last post. So great, there shouldn't be any distractions or anything. Then you curl up into the fetal position for a while and consider calling them back and cancelling the whole thing.

But after that, you get down to business on trying to be as prepared as possible. I'll tell you about what I did.

Oh, but first I have to say that if you watched Jeopardy this last Friday, you saw the guy who was introduced to my group of contestants as the reigning 3-day champion, Jacob Silverman. It took me by surprise when I saw him on last Wednesday's show. Because of the 3-week gap created by the Teen Tournament and some celebrity competition, my show is suddenly both very near and very far away. The Monday the regular show returns will begin the shows of my Jeopardy "class." Anyway, back to the process of prepping.

The most important thing to me was to have down cold the things that come up a lot that will make you look like an idiot if you don't know. Presidents, world capitals, the Constitution, basic things like that. When I was in high school a million years ago, my AP US History teacher had us keep our notes on index cards, and I went back to that technique for my Jeopardy studying. One set of cards was for presidents in chronological order, with their home states, years served, and political parties. Then each president also had a card where I had the details of their lives and presidencies - full names, wives, occupations, places and methods of death, burial places, notable happenings during their time in office.

I did crunches at the gym counted off as "Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Jackson...," push-ups counted as "Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy...." You get the idea. If it could be put in order, I used it. Countries of the world by size, by population. British royal houses and monarchs. Vice presidents. And things that didn't have any order, I just read their index cards while I was on the treadmill (which was funny when I knocked them over trying to move them and they all went flying).

I forced myself to read the news (less than I should have, I admit), which is something I haven't done since 1989, because I could envision getting a Daily Double that would essentially boil down to "who is currently in charge in Germany" and me not knowing. (Although that's actually the only one I really would have known, since I went to Germany last year.) I learned members of the cabinet. I learned the periodic table, straightened out those Greek names that I only vaguely knew, learned about ancient Rome, various wars in Europe, and bit the bullet and tried to learn a little bit about philosophy and economics. I made timelines to help put events and people in context. I listened to opera. I was like Johnny 5 in Short Circuit - "more input!"

I was like Johnny 5, that is, until I started to realize that my brain was behaving less like a sponge and more like a conveyor belt - I felt like things I had "learned" early on were being pushed out the other side by new information. I'd reached the end of my capacity (at least for such a short period of time). It coincided with there only being a week or so before the actual taping, too, so I had to decide whether I wanted to plug the holes in my mental bucket and try to retain what was already in there, or just keep pouring water in and hope that whatever was in there at the moment of taping was useful. I decided to plug the holes - I would resign myself to my lack of familiarity with Wordsworth poetry and the World Series.

In the end, after endless conversations with my husband about the role of luck in anything like this (watching at home, some boards make me feel like a super-genius and others leave me wondering where I was when people learned all these things), I figured I was as ready as I was going to get. My plane tickets were purchased, the hotel room was booked, I had picked out what I was going to wear, and I'd made my week-before call to the Jeopardy folks to confirm that I'd be there. Nothing remained to do but completely freak out.

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