Jeopardy! is actually elementary, my dear Watson


Great, something else that’s smarter than me.

That list has swelled over the years, ranging from my teachers to clergy to my parents to co-workers to my asthmatic pug, Bailey. Every time I start to think I’m getting a little smarter, I run into a person who immediately lets me know I’m far lower on the intellectual totem pole than I’d like. I actually now consider myself the base of the totem pole — and not because I add any structural advantage to the pole, but more due to the fact that I am beneath all others.

And now, Watson has added to my self-esteem woes.

If you haven’t seen this, Watson is a computer that IBM is hailing as a major advancement in computers’ efforts to understand human language. The company believes this technology will help build interactive robots that can aid in customer service, health care, national defense and education. For now, Watson is simply crushing human opponents on the popular television game show “Jeopardy.”

Watson was represented on Tuesday night’s airing of the show by a black avatar that appeared to be a tablet against two noted Jeopardy! contestants — Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. Watson received the clues via digital text messages and then buzzes when “he” knows the correct answer.

At the end of the program, Jennings had $4,800, Rutter had $10,000 and Watson was sitting pretty with a total of $35,734. At the beginning of the game, Watson had answered the first 13 questions of the game correctly before Jennings chimed in with a correct answer.

It was brutal, and reminds me once again how much knowledge there is to obtain in this world of ours, and just how little of it I possess. Is Jeopardy! a game based largely around useless trivia? Absolutely. But it’s also a game that tests one’s individual knowledge. And Watson, Jennings and Rutter all possess mountains more than yours truly.

I typically fare pretty well in Jeopardy! when watching it from the comfort of my home. There’s enough worthless information swirling around in my head that I feel comfortable in most of the subjects that pop up on the screen. Of course, I feel better when I see “Sports” or “Literature” at the top of the charts than I do when I read “Science” or “Ancient Egyptian Chutes & Ladders Champions,” but I fare pretty well.

Unless my mother happens to be around. Then I get smoked.

See, my mother has her Master’s degree in the classics. She can read ancient Greek like it was English and was a Latin teacher at the high school level for many years. If she doesn’t necessarily know an answer, she can often guess it because she understands the roots of words so well with her knowledge of ancient words.

She also knows a lot about theater and stage because her mother was crazy about Broadway and live performances, and her father was a journalist for about a million years, so she picked up a little bit about everything over the course of her lifetime. And, well, my mother is just basically a lot smarter than I am. It used to drive me crazy, because I’d think that I was going to get away with something, and the next thing I knew she was all over me like stink on a monkey and ...

But I digress.

My mother has been on my mind a lot this week because she lost her mother, my Grandma Jody, on Saturday. That was four months and one day after she lost her father, my Grandpa Joe. Just as I am fortunate to have had two of my grandparents until I was in my 40s, my mother was blessed to have both of her parents until she was in her ... well, let’s not go there. I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I’m no dummy, either.

I feel bad for my mother right now. Both of my grandparents were struggling with their health the past couple years, and their passing certainly wasn’t a surprise to any of us, but it still stings. And it stings far worse for my mother than it does for me.

I’ll miss Grandma Jody’s gift to absolutely dominate any room she walked into, as well as her ability to tell a raunchy joke that would even make me blush. She was also a fierce card player and the social queen of Long Island, N.Y.

But she was also my mommy’s mommy, and I’ll truly miss her for being that.

I don’t know as much as Watson, but I know that hurts.