Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Man Without a Clue

Just entered into the j-archive is the first game of 5-day champion Rich Lerner. It has a really good Final Jeopardy! clue. Let's dissect it, to have a gander at how good FJ!'s work and what makes a good Jeopardy! champion. The category is LITERATURE.

It's where Philip Nolan asked to be buried.

That's all there is. 8 words. Final Jeopardy! clues are written to be able to be figured out if you don't know it right off the bat, but in this case you have to know a bit more than just who Philip Nolan is or was.

I do know who Philip Nolan was. He was the "Man Without A Country" in the Edward Everett Hale story of the same name. This was one of the facts that ended up on my earliest set of Jeopardy! study notecards, 'way back in 1998. I cannibalized the book "Quizzes For Whizzes" by Minnie and Norman Hickman for literature questions, and this one made it onto a card:

Name the man whose spirit is broken when he read these lines from Scott's "Lay of the Last Minstrel":

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!

(In its own way, that would actually make a good FJ! itself. The figure-out-ability is there, maybe even more so than the FJ! we're discussing. It's too long though.)

My flashcard simply reads "The Man Without A Country" on one side and "Philip Nolan" on the other. Edward Everett Hale may be on there somewhere too, I'm not sure. Maybe it's another card entirely. This was distilled from the much longer answer given in the book:

Philip Nolan, who, in Edward Everett Hale's The Man Whithout a Country, cries out, "Damn the United States. I wish I may never hear of the United States again." For this he is condemned to a life at sea where he is denied any news of his country. He shows gallantry in the War of 1812 and dies during the Civil War after being told on his deathbed of his country's growth to greatness.

Nice little plot summary there, and it takes us back to Final Jeopardy! OK, he'd dead. Where had he asked to be buried? Had this been me, I'd have gotten from Philip Nolan to Man Without a Country to (maybe) "spent life at sea," and from there...nothing. I couldn't have made the Final leap. Neither could Rich Lerner's opponents. But he either knew, or he made the leap, to what Alex Trebek explained after his response was revealed, "Philip Nolan was The Man Without a Country. Spent most of his life at sea, and did make that request, that he be buried at sea. You're right." And Rich gets to come back tomorrow.

No matter how many almanacks you memorize, quizbooks you read, or game shows you watch, 9 times out of 10 you'll be beaten by the guy who's seen the movie, heard the album, or read the book. Trivia shouldn't just increase your score, it should broaden your horizons. That is Trebekistan in a nutshell.

The Man Without a Country is a short story freely available at one of my longtime-favorite websites, Project Gutenberg. I'm going to read it now.

I got that copy of "Quizzes for Whizzes," by the way, from future Ken Jennings opponent Matt Ottinger as part of a pile of quiz books and a CD he traded me for a copy of the "Price is Right" home game. And the circle of life is complete.


Andy Saunders said...

What strikes me most about that game? The absolutely horrid wager out of 3rd place.

Lisa said...

Hi. I lost with that question. Thanks for letting the world know, lol.

rich said...

and I won with that question. I knew he was the Man Without a Country, but couldn't remember that he had asked to be buried at sea. I did figure that was a logical answer, though, and was pretty confident with it.
Lisa, don't worry about your wager, it didn't matter.