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What Is, Geeking Out on Jeopardy!?

Set of Jeopardy!

Even the current set inspires nostalgia. Image courtesy jeopardy.com.

When CHF learned that the June 21 episode of Jeopardy! would include a category devoted to the International Year of Chemistry (IYC 2011) we were quite excited. Perhaps none more than I, a particularly avid fan of “America’s favorite quiz show.” I’m not kidding—the IBM Watson challenge was a high point of my year.

Jeopardy! is one the few things that has been around for as long as I can remember. Even when I don’t get to watch it, knowing that Jeopardy! is airing each weeknight at the same time and on the same channel is deeply reassuring. And while the show has evolved over the years, the changes haven’t been too jarring (even when host Alex Trebek lost his mustache).

But how would an IYC 2011 category play out? And how would I do as I played along? When I tuned in last week I had to wait through the first round, two commercial breaks, and Trebek’s always awkward conversations with the always nervous contestants to find out. In place of a category name, the familiar IYC 2011 logo appeared atop the first column in Double Jeopardy as Trebek explained, “This is the International Year of Chemistry.” The other categories were “Musical Theater,” “Writers’ Relatives,” “Papal Bulls,” “What Do U Stand For?” and “Nothing.”

The contestants shied away from the IYC 2011 column for almost as long as possible, literally choosing “Nothing,” which featured clues about variations on the word, like “naught” and “null,” over the clues about chemistry. Their reluctance was disappointing, but then I realized that this reaction is what IYC 2011 seeks, in part, to remedy—by increasing public understanding of chemistry and generating enthusiasm for its future. So I can only hope that some of my fellow fans (Jeopardy! averages nine million viewers daily) were intrigued enough to learn more.

And how did I fare in the IYC 2011 category? I got only three of the five answers: one on carbon dioxide, one on water, and one on Marie Curie (which mentioned the fact that IYC 2011 celebrates the 100th anniversary of her second Nobel Prize). But I take comfort in the fact that Jay, an oncologist from Annapolis and reigning champion from the previous game, did only a little better. He got the one Daily Double hidden in the IYC 2011 column: "Chemist Frederick Soddy came up with this term for atoms having the same nuclear charge but different masses."

What is, isotopes? Jay went on to win this game as well. But I’d say the biggest win was for IYC 2011 itself, which, after all, had its primetime television debut.

Margo Bresnen is Communications Specialist at CHF.

Related:
International Year of Chemistry Events [CHF]
Jeopardy IYC Recap [CENtral Science]

Posted In: Education

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