Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ghosh on Jeopardy, Part III

[Third in a series on Prof. Ghosh's appearance Friday, April 30, at least in TV time that is, on the grueling quiz show, in his own words. A Legal Profession Blog exclusive.  -- Alan]

      That morning the Jeopardy crew was testing out a prototype for Watson, a robot created by IBM  to play Jeopardy against human contestants.  The first game with Watson is scheduled for later this year or perhaps in early 2011.  I really could not make out what the director, cameramen, and other technicians were doing with Watson, perhaps whatever passes for make-up in the robot world.  ["Only its hairdresser knows for sure." -- Alan]  We were asked to sit patiently as Watson was tamed and then escorted off stage like so many other contestants past and future. Then the real fun began: learning how to use the game equipment. The director had us up on stage, three at a time, to try out the buzzer and learn what it felt like to be behind the podium. We saw how the Board was set and  reset, where the videoclues were displayed, how the sidelights came on and off indicating when we could buzz in, and the nifty, but not so-futuristic, sliding doors through which Alex entered. Platforms behind each podium raised and lowered contestants so that they would all appear to be the same height for the home viewers. We practiced a game with easy questions, some involving Sony products, to get used to the feel of the buzzer, the flash of lights, the cadence of the questions as they filled the sound stage. I fumbled with the buzzer, kicked myself for not getting “what is a walkman?,” and ever so briefly worried whether I had on too much make-up. I felt ready to go, but inside thought of all the million ways I could screw up, many of which I executed perfectly later on.

       I wasn’t picked in the first group of contestants which consisted of the returning champion from the previous day’s taping, or last Friday’s show as it would be referred to, and two of the newbies.  I figured I would be the last one selected and I was, but that gave the whole day to watch the behind the scene action and mingle with my fellow contestants. Under the terms of our sequestration, the contestants sat together on the side bleachers of the studio audience and are not allowed to communicate, even look at, friends and family sitting across the aisle. We were told not to speak out any answers, even in a whisper.   Conversation among the contestants was limited to how the last game went, experiences with the audition and other games. One just had a baby. Another mentioned that the family car broke down on the day she got the invite call; the money would help out.  A graduate student in art history from New York, a researcher on the mathematics of earthquake prediction from California, a high school teacher and quiz bowl coach from Arkansas—all brought together by the promise of being on TV for twenty minutes and earn several thousands in prize money.  [part 4, the last, is next.]

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