TV-watchers notice the plethora of ads featuring brain supplements aimed at seniors, promising better clarity, concentration, memory and the like. I swallow one every week night, at 7 p.m.
This supplement has no side effects. It does not interact unfavorably with other drugs. I have been taking it for decades, all the while measuring my acuity by how fast (or if) I cough up the answers.
This answer, of course, is “Jeopardy!” Its host, Alex Trebek, is the only TV personality who — after seven Emmys in 30 years — never annoys, even when he exaggerates the pronunciation of foreign-language words.
Trebek died on Nov. 8, still dapper in impeccably tailored suits, shirts with traditional collars and ties worthy of a Fortune 500 boardroom. He announced the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer more than a year ago, but kept taping shows through treatment, which offered hope before the final decline.
What made the show so addictive wasn’t just Trebek’s charm and wit. It drew junkies like me because the questions — and speed of answers — tested our skill, our memories and (my specialty) how to glean clues from the “answers.”
Because, as Trebek admitted, the most difficult usually included a hint.
After watching for decades, I learned another trick: the most obvious answer, the one that pops into your head without a thought process, is the right one. Contestants are fooled, thinking “Nah….that’s too easy.”
Thus, all three brainy contestants recently missed “Madame Curie.”
Alex chuckled and shook his head.
Watching “Jeopardy!” was a litmus for what I knew cold, what I remembered, what I could spit out fast enough. I identified deficiencies in American history, pop music, science, mythology and geography. Other categories — art, literature, food, people, music (with the exception of contemporary pop) — I do OK, especially in Final Jeopardy, when you have a few seconds to think. In other words, I can nail Michael Jackson and Billy Joel, but Katy Perry and Lady Gaga are beyond my ken.
“Ken,” being a Hebrew word meaning knowledge.
The Bible? So-so. Shakespeare? A toss-up, after all these years. But I’m an opera whiz.
Of course, like so many “‘Jeopardy’ Junkies,” I do much better when watching alone. No pressure.
Mustn’t forget the entertainment value of contestants like all-time money-winner Ken Jennings or, more recently, Las Vegas gambler James Holzhauer who, I read, annoyed Trebek by his “method” of choosing high-ticket answers first, enabling him to wager more in Daily Doubles.
Futher more, Trebek seemed like a nice guy, good-looking still at 80, with an attractive family and friendly demeanor.
“Jeopardy!” was worth rushing through dinner and postponing the clean-up. It represented the best of the quiz-show era, which left us with wind-up dolls like Vanna White.
I imagine the show will continue, perhaps with Jennings as host. I see he’s been brought back for on-camera duties. But it will never be the same even if, by some miracle, I learn the periodic table, a chronological list of U.S. presidents and bodies of water east of the Mediterranean.
Only fitting that Trebek should go out with a famous and applicable clue:
Who said “Good night, sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”?
Horatio, of his dying buddy Hamlet.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.