Like many a trivia-accumulating American, I have been an on-again, off-again fan of Jeopardy! for years. I sit on my couch and shout answers at the TV, groaning when a contestant muffs a question: "Harriet Tubman was from Maryland! How can you not know that?" So when I saw an announcement for an online test to screen potential contestants, I thought, Why not?
An online test, an in-person audition, and several months later, I had a taping date in Culver City. I spent weeks preparing, carefully not yelling my answer before Alex finished reading the clue and phrasing it in the form of a question. I didn't do anything else to prep, figuring my years at a library reference desk and editing book reviews had stuffed me full of useless-in-almost-any-other-setting facts. Clue: "This storied NBA franchise got its start in Fort Wayne, Indiana." Answer: "What are the Detroit Pistons?" Clue: "This unusual fish is bright pink." Answer: "What is a blobfish?"
The day of the taping arrived, and I toted a bag with several changes of clothing to the studio. (A week's worth of episodes is taped in one day, so a returning champion must appear to have come back the next day.) I sat in the quarantined contestants-only section of the audience and waited my turn, noting categories and clues I wouldn't need to remember, wishing I'd been at the podium for "This language is spoken in the Philippines" ("What is Tagalog?"), and thanking my lucky stars the video-game category passed me by.
Finally it was my turn, and if the cameras had been on me as the categories were revealed, they'd have recorded my double-take at "Kid Lit." When I got control of the board, that's where I went. "This three-horned dinosaur hatches in The Enormous Egg." Answer: "What is a triceratops?" (Irritatingly, one of those clues it needs no subject-specific expertise to answer.) "This son of Poseidon has adventures in modern-day America." Answer: "Who is Percy Jackson?" (N.b.: I didn't take notes; my recollection of wording may be different from the board's.)
Then I hit a Daily Double. "Let's make it a true Daily Double," I said. How could I not? Clue: "In The Phantom Tollbooth, how do you get to the Island of Conclusions?" Answer: "..."
You see, I'd never read The Phantom Tollbooth, even though it had been my older brother's absolute favorite. I just never got to it as a kid, and as a librarian, I never needed to; it spoke for itself.
So as I stared at the clue, trying to remember everything I knew about The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer, allegory, Milo, Tock the watchdog, the sisters Rhyme and Reason), all I could imagine was the legions of watchers—my brother, my copy editor, everybody in the children’s-book world—yelling at the TV, "How can you not know that?" (For those who also haven't read the book, you jump to Conclusions, of course.)
Well, though I managed to move beyond the exposition of my shocking ignorance to play reasonably competitively, I didn't win. No new car, solar panels, trip to India for me. I got some Jeopardy! swag (a pen, a ball cap), a story, and a mission: read The Phantom Tollbooth. You know what? It's a darn good book.Vicky Smith is children’s & teen editor.