Sunday, May 19, 2024

I don't do that well when the Jeopardy category is Math

Bill and Darling are watching Jeopardy.

DARLING: Bill, one of the categories is MATH TALK. You will kick butt!

BILL: Not clear. I doubt they will have the least number n such that R(n) is not known. They will ask things easy enough so that my math knowledge won't help.

DARLING: But you can answer faster.

BILL: Not clear. 
Recall that in Jeopardy they give the answers and you come up with the question.
Like Sheldon Cooper I prefer my questions in the form of a question. 
Even so, I will present the answers that were given on the show (that sounds funny), then 
I will provide the questions (that sounds funny), what happened, and what I would have gotten right. 

ANSWER: Its a demonstrably true mathematical statement; Calculus has a ``Fundamental'' one.
QUESTION: What is a Theorem?
WHAT HAPPENED: Someone buzzed in and said AXIOM. This one I knew the answer and would have won!

ANSWER: Fire up the engines of your mind and name this solid figure with equal and parallel circles at either end. 
QUESTION: What is a Cylinder?
WHAT HAPPENED: Someone buzzed in with the correct answer. I had a hard time parsing this one and only got it right in hindsight. This one I would have lost on. Note that the phrase Fire up your engines is supposed to make you think of Fire on all cylinders. This did not help me.

ANSWER: Multiply the numerator of one fraction by the denominator of another (and vice versa) to get the ``cross'' this. 
QUESTION: What is a Product?
WHAT HAPPENED: I got this one very fast. So did the contestant on the real show. Not clear what would happened if I was there.

ANSWER: See if you can pick off this term for the point at which a line or curve crosses an axis. 
QUESTION: What is an Intercept?
WHAT HAPPENED: Someone buzzed in with the correct answer. I really didn't know what they were getting at. Even in hindsight the answer does not seem right, though I am sure that it is. The phrase pick off this term is  supposed to remind me of something, but it didn't. Lance happened to read a draft of this post and did the obvious thing: asked ChatGPT about it. ChatGPT said that in football a pick off is an interception. To see the ChatGPT transcript see here.

ANSWER: In 19-5=14 19 is the minuend; 5 is this other ``end''
QUESTION: What is a  Subtrahend?
WHAT HAPPENED: Someone buzzed in with the correct answer. The answer was news to me. It is correct; however, I am not embarrassed to say I never heard these terms. Spellcheck thinks that minuend and subtrahend words. This is similar to when I was not smarter than a fifth grader (see blog post here). 

So the final tally:
The $400 question I would have gotten right
The $1200 question I might have gotten right if I was fast on the buzzer

But that's it. Why did I do so badly? 
1) Two of the ones I got wrong were phrased in funny ways. I thought so anyway. And note that they did not use advanced math knowledge, so my math knowledge didn't help. (This is not a complaint- it would be bad if they used advanced math knowledge. Like when a crossword puzzle my wife was working on wanted  Log-Man and it began with N and I knew Napier. Why was that in a crossword puzzle for laypeople? Because  Napier has a lot of vowels in it.)

2) One of them I really did not know the math knowledge. Is it arrogant to say that if there is a math question on Jeopardy where I don't know the answer then its a bad question? I leave that as an exercise for the reader. 

On questions about  presidents, vice presidents, or American history, I do well.

On questions about novelty songs  (sometimes comes up) I do very well. (One question was about this song here. The question: here.)

But math... not so much. 

For computer science questions I also do not do that well, but I've learned some common abbreviations that I did not know: 

BIT: Binary Integer (A reader named Anonymous, who makes many comments, pointed out that BIT is actually Binary Digit. I have a possibly false memory of Jeopardy telling me Binary Integer. Either my memory is wrong or Jeopardy is wrong. But Anonymous is right- its Binary Digit.) 

HTTP: Hypertext Transfer Protocol

HTML: Hyper Text Markup Language

FORTRAN: Formula Translation

Those were more interesting than learning about minuend and subtrahend, terms I had never heard before and won't hear again unless I catch a rerun of Jeopardy (at which time I will get it right).


  1. bit = binary digit

    1. (Bill) I have this possible false memory that on Jeopardy the answer was binary integer. I have modified the post to reflect this. Thanks!

  2. Ralph Hartley suggested the use of a logarithmic measure of information in 1928.[7] Claude E. Shannon first used the word "bit" in his seminal 1948 paper "A Mathematical Theory of Communication".[8][9][10] He attributed its origin to John W. Tukey, who had written a Bell Labs memo on 9 January 1947 in which he contracted "binary information digit" to simply "bit".