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— 'I'll take San Diego for 100!" "All right!" The woman at the head of the line, in front of a dozen or so other Jeopardy hopefuls at University Towne Centre, is wearing a name tag so the coordinators can read it into their microphones with that game-show host/deejay, hypermanic funspeak that does not otherwise occur in human language. "Debby! Okay! The Spirit of Saint Louis was built by Ryan Airlines..."

"Charles Lindbergh!"

"Who is, Debby. Who is Charles Lindbergh?"

"Oh yeah, who is."

The huge purple RV is in town for a few days, the word "Jeopardy" emblazoned across its sides. San Diego is but one of many cities on the tour enlisting warm bodies and reasonably quick brains for the television show most likely to make Americans shout at the screen. The bodies behind Debby are those who passed the initial ten-question test administered by Jeopardy employees in the promotions department. A second line, 16 people at 11:30 a.m., snakes from a rectangle of tables and folding chairs at which another 20 or so San Diegans are scowling, puzzling, agonizing over the sheet of questions. There appears to be no time limit for the test, and some have been at it for well over 15 minutes.

Taking a place in line, I wonder how San Diegans stack up against the rest of the country when it comes to that combination of intellectual prowess and lint-trap trivia mentality required for on-air participation with Alex Trebek.

To my left, the mock show/audition continues. Debby is still up. "How about potpourri for 100?"

"Ohhhkay, Debby! Transportation. It's the name of an early warship propelled by oars and the kitchen of a boat or a ship!"

"Wait a minute!" The second coordinator barks into the microphone, amplified by a loud sound system, and her words echo off Starbucks, Banana Republic, and beyond. "You said you knew how to ring in properly! Hold it, hold it, Rodney and Debby."

The other coordinator chimes in with the good-natured inquisitor act. In feigned exasperation, he laments, "They say they're going to ring in correctly, they say they're going to answer in the form of a question."

Coordinator #2: "Didn't you say you knew what to do? Didn't you, Debby?"

"I'm a liar," Debby laughs and cowers.

"You hear that? You hear that, everybody? Any students of Debby's here today? They should know this. Whoa, folks, looks like Paulie's gonna make the move over to the microphone. "

Paulie is a matronly, gray-haired woman with sensible shoes, sensible haircut, eyeglasses. "What is a galley?" is her response.

Applause: it sounds a little grudging. "Yay, yay! Come on, people! Continue, Paulie."

"I Said, San Diego!" Paulie leans into the mike. The category of questions is, in fact, "I Said, San Diego," and you must speak the entire phrase, not simply "San Diego" or "I Said." Like a field sobriety test, this is also a measure of one's ability to follow instructions.

Coordinator #1: "In 1987 and 1988, Dennis Conner skippered this San Diego Yacht Club entry to America's Cup victories. "

"Back to Paulie, make that move!"

"Stars and Stripes."

"That's right. Continue."

"Word Play for three." This is Rodney.

"Celebrity Rhyme Time: Kristofferson's osculations!"

"Go ahead, Debby," says coordinator #2.


"Celebrity Rhyme Time, Debby! I can't accept that."

"Kris's kisses!"

#1: "No, and you only get one go at these."

And so on.

I can't believe I would do any worse. When a chair is vacated at the rectangle of tables and folding chairs, I am seated next to a woman who looks like a Russian dentist/interrogator. I am not allowed to record the questions on the sheet I am given because of Writer's Guild rules.

The first thing I did was write, "What is?" at the top of the page and make ditto marks for all of them except "He was known as 'The Little Giant' in the presidential election of 1860"; I answered Stephen Douglas. Pure instinct and I have no idea if I was right. They don't tell you; they only tell you whether or not you pass and can go on to audition.

The next one was "Alpha Crucis is the brightest star in this constellation." I seemed to remember the star's name from some science-fiction novels but have no idea which constellation. Oh well, Orion is a popular one. I wrote, "What is Orion." I won't tell you if I was right or wrong, just to keep on the good side of the Writer's Guild in case I ever want to join.

The one I left blank just stumped me, and I figured no amount of time staring at the question was going to make any difference. It was more or less this answer: "It is to sleep lightly or move dirt around." My friend told me the answer (rather, of course, the question), and I almost smacked my forehead. But as an Italian, smacking my forehead is a stereotypical gesture I try to avoid.

I don't remember the other seven questions -- oh, wait: "The Mackinaw Bridge spans the northern part of this state." That was easy because my girlfriend is from there.

The rest I moved through so quickly, I don't remember any of them. I felt it was important to respond instinctively. I was told I passed, and I believe the woman who corrected my test had an impressed look as she counted down the 90 percent correct quiz. I'm almost positive. She asked if I wanted to audition the next morning at the Westgate downtown. I said yes and accepted a sheet of instructions and directions I did not look at until later.

The Russian dentist/interrogator passed too, but she didn't think she could get off work the next morning.

Meanwhile, over the P.A. system, more answers and questions. "Transportation! This runnerless sled was first used by North American Indians to haul supplies and game over the snow."

"And we're going to Debby again."

"A dogsled."

"No, Debby. And we're going to Rodney."

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