I plan to do a JEOPARDY! column every Saturday, complete with cliffhangers. This may be an artifice, but so were the Saturday matinee cliffhangers. You always knew if OUR HERO were hanging off the precipice at the end of the reel, that his horse and a piece of rope would save the day in the beginning of the next scene. Didn’t you?

Every weekday at lunchtime from 1965 to 1968, while growing up in Binghamton, NY, I would go to my maternal grandmother’s house and watch JEOPARDY! with Art Fleming as the host, and Don Pardo (later of Saturday Night Live fame) as the announcer. I watched with my great-aunt Deana Yates, who lived with Grandma Williams. (About the only decent scene in the movie Airplane 2 was the Art Fleming JEOPARDY! sequence.)

The money was much less then. The clues in the first round ran from $10 to $50, with the second round double that. Watching that program, I learned that the ZIP Code for the Spiegel catalog in Chicago was 60609, and that Rice-A-Roni was “the San Francisco treat.” I probably learned some other stuff as well. But I went to high school in 1968, and didn’t come home for lunch, so I watched the program only sporadically thereafter, and by the time the show went off the air in 1975, I was off at college and hardly watching it at all.

Meanwhile, I tried out for one of those Pyramid shows, hosted by Dick Clark, when I was living in NYC in 1977. I must have done miserably; even my sister, who didn’t even watch the show, got a callback, though she was not ultimately chosen, either.

JEOPARDY! returned in 1984 as a syndicated show hosted by Alex Trebek, former host of High Rollers, a show I would watch occasionally. I was almost instantly captivated by it. The questions addressed popular culture as well as the more encyclopedic material. The set was more stylish. Also the money had increased tenfold, with the clues running from $100 to $500 in the first round, and again, twice that in the second round. As the show grew in stature in the culture, I knew I’d have to try out “sometime when I get to Los Angeles.” Meanwhile, I watched with a fervor that approached devotion.

Then I saw THE NOTICE in the Times Union, Thursday, April 9, 1998, Page: D5, 169 words. I almost missed it:

If you think you have what it takes to win at “Jeopardy!”, prove it at a pretest at Crossgates Mall April 29 and 30, 4 to 8 p.m. WTEN, Ch. 10, which airs the game show at 7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, will sponsor the competition. About 75 Capital Region contestants who take the pretest are expected to advance to a regional contestant search in Boston May 14.

I hadn’t gone to Los Angeles, but Los Angeles had come to me!

The instructions in the paper were to call starting at 9 am to register. I called promptly at 9 and got a busy signal. I hit the redial regularly for about 20 minutes before I got through. Finally, I was able to make an appointment.

I rode up to Crossgates on my bike, not really knowing where I was going. (The tryout was at a closed department store, but since I didn’t usually frequent the mall, I didn’t know where this store – which I couldn’t name THEN, let alone NOW – was.) And I had made a 4:15 pm appointment, which I was in danger of missing.

Fortunately, I saw a WTEN truck. I followed a techie through a narrow passageway that wasn’t generally open to the public, getting there about 4:13.

There was a swarm of humanity in queue for the test, some for 4:30 and 4:45 appointments. I signed in, and was seated fairly quickly. We were in a section with a bunch of desks, arranged as though it were a classroom. The test itself was 10 questions. You needed to get seven right to get to go to Boston. I remember little of the test except that there was something about Egyptology that I may have gotten wrong. I also found out later that there was another test in every other seat, so that we couldn’t cheat. The other test had a question, the answer of which was Cal Ripken, Jr. (probably something about his “Iron Man” streak of consecutive games played.) Some folks wrote Cal Ripken, which was marked as WRONG, because there was a Cal Ripken, Sr., his father, who was also associated with baseball (and specifically with the Baltimore Orioles.) I thought at the time that I had gotten at least 8 of 10 right.

About 15 minutes later, someone read a list of names of people who had passed the test. I was ON the list! I went to the designated table and got a sheet of paper informing me that I would be able to take a bus to Boston on May 14 to take the REAL test. But I COULDN’T. I had a NON-REFUNDABLE train ticket to visit Detroit and Cleveland that week. (Obviously, I had missed that part of the newspaper notice.)

What will I do?

Continued next Saturday, June 4.
I finally watched the last 10 games of the Ultimate Championship over two early morning viewings. All I have to say is: It’s too bad more stories didn’t say “Brad Rutter wins” (except in his section of Pennsylvania, and on the JEOPARDY! site.) Most stories read “Ken Jennings loses”, because of his now celebrity status. At least Brad will have $2 million to lick his wounds.

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