January 14, 2011

Jeopardy

An IBM computer the size of ten refrigerators will compete on Jeopardy:
Watson will be the third contestant in a round of shows to be broadcast Feb. 14-16, taking on Brad Rutter, who has won more than $3 million on the game show, and Ken Jennings, who set a record with 74 consecutive "Jeopardy" wins in 2004-05 in which he racked up more than $2.5 million.

Watson, about as big as 10 refrigerators, has had its software updated for "Jeopardy" so it can activate a signaling button of its own, just as its human competitors will have to do ...

When I was on Jeopardy in 1994, there was a short in my buzzer, so I'd have to press it five or ten time before I got credit for it. Gen. Schwarzkopf had the same problem as me on Celebrity Jeopardy, but being a more forceful personality, he stopped the show until they fixed it. A few years later, I went out to dinner with an old high school friend I hadn't seen in about 10 years. The first thing he said was, "Hey, I saw you on Jeopardy. What was wrong with your buzzer?"

I came in second, with something like $6,700, which would have been nice, but to my surprise, I found out that you only got to keep your winnings if you won the round. Second prize was supposed to be a trip to a Mexican resort, but it was contrived so it wouldn't really worth it (I'd have to buy four roundtrip tickets from Chicago to LA to use the flights from LA), so I never used it. So, the only thing I got for flying from Chicago to LA to compete on the show was the home board game version.

Jeopardy was a real cash cow for Merv Griffin.

They should have a new quiz show for old codgers like me who can't remember actual names anymore to see who can cover up for their senility best through fast Googling. For example, for about 15 years I've never been able to remember the name of the 1980s blonde actress who was in Never Say Never, 9 1/2 Weeks, LA Confidential, who bought a town, who lost a ridiculous amount of money in a lawsuit when she backed out of this bad movie about a woman who gets her limbs cut off and put in a box. But it only takes me about ten seconds to find the name ... Kim Basinger ... so it doesn't really matter except in the rare situations when I leave the house and talk to people.

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is your appearance on YouTube? If not do you have a copy or can you obtain a copy to upload it on there?

Anonymous said...

Part of Watson's practice match:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12rNbGf2Wwo

Anonymous said...

For example, for about 15 years I've never been able to remember the name of the 1980s blonde actress who was in Never Say Never, 9 1/2 Weeks, LA Confidential, who bought a town, who lost a ridiculous amount of money in a lawsuit when she backed out of this bad movie about a woman who gets her limbs cut off and put in a box... Kim Basinger...

Whoa - earlier this evening, I was listening to a recording by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, and I got to thinking about Anne-Sophie Mutter, and I was trying to remember Anne-Sophie's new husband's name.

The guy who was married to the Rosemary's Baby chick [who herself had been married to Frank Sinatra].

And I could see a picture of him in my mind's eye, on Public Television, in the 1970s, playing a jazz piano duet with Oscar Peterson.

Andre Somebody-or-Other.

Andre Previn.

BTW, I get it really bad when I drink a glass of wine - something about alcohol shuts down my hippocampus altogether, and I can't remember a dadgum thing.

Polistra said...

Wow! A house-sized computer that can emit a beep! IBM is really pushing the tech envelope now.

Angus said...

From the autobiographical parts of Ken Jennings's Brainiac, it seems like a major part of his success was obsessively practicing his button-work ahead of time.

William1066 said...

Wow - I have exactly the same name-remembering malady. Can spout a paragraph about the person but cannot remember the name. End up mentally going through the alphabet to jog my memory - which works most of the time.

So what is the cause? Don't say old age as it been my problem for decades.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

Here in Japan there was "Senile Jeopardy" on TV a few years ago. It was hilarious. They'd answer without hitting the buzzer. If one misunderstood the question like "What does a white-collar worker do? and answers "White!" the other would start answering "Red!" "Green!" "Blue" etc.

stari_momak said...

The interesting thing to me is that it obviously took much more in terms of hard and software to get a computer to perform at the highest levels of 'trivia' than it did to achieve analogous performance in chess. For those of us with 800s on verbal portions of standardized tests, but rather less on quant or 'analytical' sections),* that is a measure of vindication.

*The GRE actually did away with its logic puzzles type analytic section, most likely to do lack of predictive value.

Mel Torme said...

Google got it wrong, anyway. If their server software was really well written, it would know that you want the answer in the form of a question, like:

GOOGLE RESULTS (2 out of 12,345,772):

(PAID ADVERTISEMENT)

Who is Kim Basinger? Is she the hot blond who almost played in that movie about the woman who gets her limbs cut off and starred in 9 1/2 weeks? You can be her friend with benefits when you meet her on linkdyn ....

(PAID ADVERTISEMENT)

Who are the hot blondes in your area, 91014? Meet the hot blondes in 91014 zip code area. Most of our clients get married within 9 1/2 weeks...

Anonymous said...

A lot of people seem to think there is something wrong with their buzzer when its really that they cant get the hang of the timing

Anonymous said...

Wow Steve, you really got around. First we find out you were on the original Kids Say the Darndest Things and now Jeopardy!?

Also, I was just reminded of what most people consider to be "intelligence". I was watching Jeopardy! with my brother, and he commented that Ken Jennings must be "one of the smartest people on Earth".

Anonymous said...

A quiz show for the memory-impaired? Sounds like something from "Firesign Theater", or an old SNL skit.

PotKettleBlack said...

"there was a short in my buzzer, so I'd have to press it five or ten time before I got credit for it."
Funny, everyone I know who's lost on Jeopardy (or everyone I know who knows someone who's lost on Jeopardy) comes up with that same excuse. Isn't that a bit ironic, coming from Mr. HBD? Why not blame testing anxiety, or stereotype threat, or a yet-to-be-defined general malaise in the air that wickedly discriminated against you? Face it: you lost fair and square.

Anonymous said...

Kim Basinger was married to the son of makeup man Whitey Snyder before she married Alec Baldwin. I knew him a little when I lived in LA. He introduced me to his father, who showed me the famous money clip which he still carried daily. It would probably be worth a million dollars today.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what Watson will blurt out when the category is Africans in Mensa.

Anonymous said...

"Wow Steve, you really got around. First we find out you were on the original Kids Say the Darndest Things and now Jeopardy!?"

When you grow up in Studio City your chances of ending up on syndicated television are greatly enhanced.

Marlowe said...

Will they send the IBM machine on holiday if it wins?

James Kabala said...

These days, second place gets $2,000 and third place gets $1,000.

Take it with a grain of salt, but Wikipedia claims:

"When the 1984 version began, the show's creators decided to award full winnings only to the champion as a means of making the game more competitive, so that the final outcome is not always evident until the end of the game. On the Fleming version, contestants would occasionally decide that they only wanted to win a certain amount of money, and stop ringing in when they reached that amount, instead of attempting to become a returning champion. Others would refuse to write down a question for Final Jeopardy! if another contestant had a significant lead."

It does seem a bit sore-losery to complain about faulty equipment.

Skip G. said...

Thanks to GOOGLE search,and my vampire avatar,people on Facebook think I'm young and hip,until I gap out and make an obscure cultural reference,like: "That Dorothy Killgallon was such a load!"

josh said...

Dont they screw with the buzzers to allow women and minorities to win more? I have seen shows where you can easily tell a contestant is pushing the hell out of his buzzer and nothing happens. I dont suppose the 800 SAT guys here have seen much of Family Feud with the black guy,Steve Harvey,the comedian-as host,but it is an HBD trove! The black family NEVER wins,their answers range from the merely silly to the totally absurd,and the host is excesively officious to them,complimentary,reassuring and consoling. he is cool and aloof to the white family.The scuzzy Richard Dawson was renowned for kissing all the female contestants--I dont think they had blacks on the show in those days- it would be very bizarre to have Harvey macking on all the white ladies,very bizarre indeed.

Cockeye said...

"When I was on Jeopardy in 1994, there was a short in my buzzer, so I'd have to press it five or ten time before I got credit for it. Gen. Schwarzkopf had the same problem as me on Celebrity Jeopardy, but being a more forceful personality, he stopped the show until they fixed it."

WHAT? Steve acted so Japanesey, showing grace to the host though he was being gypped.

James Kabala said...

"Don't they screw with the buzzers to allow women and minorities to win more?"

Ah, the Internet, where extremely serious accusations (that would destroy the show if proved true - remember Charles Van Doren?) can be made in passing with no need for evidence.

Darwin's Sh*tlist said...

It sounds like you did better than First Things' James Poulos, who was on the show in the past couple of years and pretty much stank.

What did you talk about with Trebek during the player introduction piece in the first round? "And, Steve, it says here you have some interesting opinions about race and intelligence. Tell us about that."

Anonyia said...

"Don't they screw with the buzzers to allow women and minorities to win more?"

I watch jeopardy, and seeing NAM is pretty uncommon to begin with, so they wouldn't have to do that. And women seem to only win 1/4 of the time, so I don't think any screwing with the buzzers is going on...

Steve Sailer said...

No, the show wasn't rigged, there was just an electrical problem. The staff could see me pressing the button ahead of everybody else but my sign not lighting up. They came up to me during the commercial breaks and told me I had to be pressing my button wrong in some fashion. They wasted all the time during the commercial breaks telling me how to press my button better. What they should have done is stop the tape and bring out an electrician, but that would have been expensive.

Instead, they brought out the electrician between the first show, which I was on, and the second. (They film five shows in one day.)

This was about a week after the big LA earthquake of January 1994, which may have shook things up in the electrical system.

I had tried out about a year before, but only got invited on in a hurry after the earthquake. Presumably, more desirable out of towners had canceled out of earthquake fears.

They always have a surfeit of guys like me who pass the annual initial screening test -- mild-mannered thirtyish white guys with glasses (notice Watson's two competitors) -- so, per capita, other demographics are more likely to get picked to be on the actual show to boost ratings.

Steve Sailer said...

But, no, there's zero evidence that the show is rigged once you are on it.

If you pass the screening test, you're just more likely to get picked out to actually be on the show out of the qualifiers if you aren't a Ken Jennings type. For example, out of ten or 15 people who competed in the five shows filmed the day I was on, one of the competitors was a black U.S. Navy officer wearing his full dress white formal uniform. He looked fantastic. Us other competitors joked that they ought to rig the show so he could be on all week: ratings would soar.

I stuck around and watched his show. He was competitive and finished second out of three players. So, neither the screening test nor the show itself is rigged, but I believe it's widely admitted that the intermediate step of picking qualifiers to be on the show isn't random. For example, the heart of Jeopardy's audience is lady school teachers, so women are more likely to be invited on the show out of the qualifiers.

Steve Sailer said...

Anyway, in sum, despite my own random bad luck and minor complaints I have about how they contrived the runner-up prizes to make them less likely to be used, Jeopardy is, overall, a quality show and a fine institution (especially compared to 99% of what's on TV).

John McGill said...

Hey, I was on Jeopardy around Thanksgiving, 1991. I went 2 for 3. They told me ahead of time that you had to hit the buzzer as fast and as often as you could to make it fair when two people hit it at the same time. Following those instructions and being hung over were my secrets to success. I remember beating a female Canadian TV journalist and a USN Surgeon. The guy who ended up beating me was a short order cook at the Irish Pub in Atlantic City, NJ. I was then and am now a lineman, so it didn't feel so bad losing to another blue collar guy. Also, I was amazed at the amount of groupie phone calls and letters I received. Alright, eight or so, but still. Thanks for the memories and I can't believe I beat Steve Sailer at something.

Wallace said...

"Anyway, in sum, despite my own random bad luck and minor complaints I have about how they contrived the runner-up prizes to make them less likely to be used, Jeopardy is, overall, a quality show and a fine institution (especially compared to 99% of what's on TV)."

You're just saying this cuz the host dude looks kinda like you.

Anonymous said...

especially compared to 99% of what's on TV

I just watched an episode of Smallville tonight wherein Oliver Queen [the Green Arrow] waxes eloquently about removing the barbed wire impediments which would keep potential immigrants from realizing The American Dream.

And so yet another series bites the dust.

Hail said...

Soduku puzzles and Rubik's cube puzzles can both now be solved, nearly instantly, by computer programs.

Jeopardy has the advantage of being highly-complex. Answering the questions often requires as much creative processing as knowledge-retrieval.

Since no robot can ever have an original thought, the human race can always stay a step ahead, if the question writers are clever enough.

sabril said...

"Since no robot can ever have an original thought"

I disagree. As far as anyone knows, original thought is just a mechanical process.

Alan Stewart said...

I once started a discussion on a game show usenet thingy about how I thot the change in the Trebek game to only-winner-keeps-money hurt the game because it reduced startegy. In the old version If you were in second place you had to decide whether to risk it all for the win for be happy with your $2000. It was interesting to see people's bets and their implied valuation of the marginal dollar of winnings. (BTW I highly doubt stories of people stopping ringing in during the main rounds *when they were sure they knew the answer* Sounds like a fabricated excuse, not a real reason.) Even worse, a good proportion of Final Jeopardy rounds are now pre-decided, where the winner had more than double the money of anyone else and cannot be caught. How fun: a round in which 2 out of 3 players don't care whether they're right or not.

About 75% of the people responding in the thread disagreed with me and preferred the new rule. It seems Americans like a winner-take-all, loser-go-home contest.

David said...

"it doesn't really matter except in the rare situations when I leave the house and talk to people."

The Hunchback of Notre Dame told himself the same thing. You know, the guy whose name begins with a Q... can't think of it.

Anonymous said...

No Jeopardy discussion can go by without referencing the most clueless guest of all time.....Wolf Blitzer. He bombed on the practice round, and on the televised game he was just as bad. I think Ron Burgundy could have done better. His colleagues probably blamed it on the Tea Party or Sarah Palin.

Difference Maker said...

The interesting thing to me is that it obviously took much more in terms of hard and software to get a computer to perform at the highest levels of 'trivia' than it did to achieve analogous performance in chess. For those of us with 800s on verbal portions of standardized tests, but rather less on quant or 'analytical' sections),* that is a measure of vindication.

And yet you are unable to perform the calculations of simple machines.

josh said...

Google "jeopardy rigged? harry eisenberg" This guy wrote a book suggesting that J wanted more women to win and adjusted the questions to that end on occasion. There can be a huge difference in what men and women know. I recall once watching the show with a female contestant and the topics were bizarre!Women in film was one topic,i think,LOL! So are we to believe that the producers are some group of pure souls who seek only to spread knowledge or maybe they care about ratings and stuff? Apology accepted,kabala. However my comments re Family Feud were made in fun,they seemed a bit harsh. Sorry.