“Why are we doing this?” Ryan Chapman asked the crowd. “Because being lit majors was a mistake and this will make us feel better.” Chapman, who works at FSG , is the master mind and MC behind “Nerd Jeopardy,” an event he created to promote the publishing house’s online newsletter, Work in Progress.
Last night McNally Jackson Books in SoHo hosted “Nerd Jeopardy,” but Chapman first held FSG’s Jeopardy at Lolita Bar and then at Housing Works. Soon enough, he said, they needed more space: “My friends were half the audience when we first started,” he said. “And now it’s about eighty-five to a hundred people every time.”
In a room of about a hundred people, some forty of them were wearing glasses, including Ryan, who stood at a podium to the side of the screen situated between Poetry and Self-Help. Teams of at least three players wrote their names on a paper and tossed it into a box, from which only three total teams would be chosen to compete in the night’s game. Chapman, who enthusiastically pointed the audience to the free wine table—“A sober audience is a mean audience,” he said—spelled out the details of the game, which, much like regular Jeopardy, included questions answered in the form of a question. “If they don’t answer in the form of a question,” he said, “heckling is encouraged.”
The teams chosen were #NerdAlert, Sexy Swamp People, and The Bohemoths, who were told to sit on the benches in front of the audience. “So it’s really humiliating when they get an answer wrong,” Chapman explained. He handed out little plastic security lights purchased at Staples for a designated team member to flash in his direction when they knew the answer.
Suddenly, the bright blue board popped up. Round One, five categories, 100-500 points. The first five categories included: Numbers, Will You Please, Publish My Novel, Please!, Magazine Editors, Read that Tune, and “The Real World” and Literature, which was a mash-up between the popular MTV show and a book title. Chapman looked to the skinny, bearded man in rectangle glasses with a MacBook Air in his lap to start the game, “You know where you click, Steve. God I hope this works.”
#NerdAlert immediately took the lead, answering all five of the Magazine Editors questions. Angharad (the ‘g’ is silent) Coates, #NerdAlert’s member who did most of the buzzing, was on such a role that she began using questions for everything, “What is Numbers for four-hundred please,” to which Chapman responded, “I like your enthusiasm.”
Topics became increasingly hard. The Audio Daily Double, for example, played a Barry White song and asked which 1985 novel would have been sexier if combined with the tune. The answer? Barry White Noise. Chapman was clearly having fun, thanking the crowd for heckling the team members, and speeding up the game once the wine ran out. He read the question to “Which Republican candidate wrote this book?” slowly, “Never Call Retreat (colon), Lee and Grant (colon), the Final Victory.”
Then, Final Jeopardy jumped to the screen: Scottish Poets. A groan from the crowd. “Who wrote the song ‘Auld Lang Syne’?” Not surprisingly, Coates, who later said, “My mother plays real Jeopardy regularly,” knew the answer: “Who is Robert Burns,” bringing her team to final victory at 14,900 points.
Coates and her fellow mates Lauren Reddy, from Workman Publishing, and Liz Stein from Penguin Group, divvied up their prizes—a Paris Review Box Set, The Oxford Companion to Beer, and Skippy Dies. Chapman dismissed the audience: “Okay, that’s it everybody. Go buy books!” In response, the man behind the wine table called out “All these books are for sale.”
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