How mental_floss Helped Erik Dresner Win $22,401 on Jeopardy!

This morning, I got a great email from mental_floss reader (and friend of a friend) Erik Dresner about his experience on Jeopardy! that I had to share. Hope you enjoy it—and his awesome celebratory tattoo—as much as we did!

Hi Erin,

So here's my story:

Back in June, I got the call to appear on Jeopardy!, something I've been trying to do for 10 years. I spent the next six weeks studying Shakespeare, state capitals, world capitals, the presidents and the periodic table. One day before flying out to LA, the new issue of mental_floss, with a whipped creamed mustachioed Alton Brown and a tiny yellow eel on the cover, arrived in my mailbox. Also arriving was my other magazine subscription: Entertainment Weekly.

I brought the magazines for in-flight entertainment during the take off and landing procedures that put an embargo on electronic devices. My plan was to read EW on the way there and mental_floss on the flight back, but halfway through EW, I switched. Who knows, I thought to myself—maybe there will be a tidbit in there that could help me on a clue or two.

Fast forward two days. I've been picked for the third episode taping that day. The returning champ is Sara Lehmann, a woman from Albuquerque who entered the previous episode's Final Jeopardy with four times the cash of the second place contestant. She was good on the buzzer, bet large on Daily Doubles, and knew seemingly everything. I was terrified to go up against her. My one shot coincided with going against one of the better players I've seen.

I managed to hold my own for the first round of the game. I even got $2000 back when a response I gave earlier ("What is Firewood?") was ruled correct after a review. However, Sara responded correctly on a true Daily Double at the end of the round to take a commanding lead going into Double Jeopardy.

When you're on the show, everything is a blur. I had tunnel vision, focusing on the clues and only the clues with no hunting for Daily Doubles or paying attention to the scores. So when I did stumble upon a Daily Double, I was surprised to see myself in the hunt with over $10,000 and $5000 behind Sarah. I (hindsight: regrettably) wagered conservatively and got an easy one ("What is vulcanization?") to keep it competitive.

When the round ended, I found myself down by $5400 after an incorrect $2000 response. ("What is Mauritius?") My only hope at this point would be a Final Jeopardy that Sara would get wrong.

Then the Final Jeopardy category came up: Modern Opera.

Someone cursed. Others groaned. I laughed. Of course I'd get the opera category. I know little to nothing about opera. I only made it through two-thirds of Faust before leaving out of sheer boredom. It's just not my thing.

I considered betting small, assuming we'd all get it wrong, and hope that Sarah would bet big. But something kept nagging me. Modern Opera. That issue of mental_floss I read on the plane had an article on the modern opera Nixon in China. I remember reading the words "modern opera" about eight times in it. (On a re-read, I found that while those two words appear frequently in it, they're never together.)

I decided this had to be a sign, and bet big. If I was wrong, there was no way I'd win. I was gambling away my one Jeopardy! experience on a response before I even saw the clue.

Jeopardy! (Season 29.3-3) - Sara, Michelle, & Erik by R38102

Back from commercial, the clue is revealed: "This opera begins with Air Force One landing at Beijing."

If you watch the episode, you can see me write the response, very carefully dot the i in Nixon, then take a sigh of relief. But I wasn't out of the woods yet.

The third place contestant, Michelle, answered "What is Miss Saigon?", not a bad guess under the circumstances. I got mine of course. Then it got to Sara who blanked. There it is right there: life's dream realized. Sure, it may be a shallow dream, but Jeopardy! has been my favorite show since I was a teenager.

So thanks to you, mental_floss, I can forever call myself a Jeopardy! Champion, even if it's just for one day. If I wasn't already planning on being a lifetime subscriber, that cemented it.

I've attached two pictures—one of me with Trebek, and the other with my celebratory tattoo. The star represents my one victory (like a World Cup winning team puts on their jerseys). The roman numerals, 6448, represent the episode number. And I'm sure you recognize the little guy swimming through the letters.

Erik Dresner

In case you ever end up on a game show, you should subscribe or download the iPad version of mental_floss.

Courtesy of October Films
This Scientist's Idea of the 'Perfect' Human Body Is Kind of Terrifying
Courtesy of October Films
Courtesy of October Films

The perfect human body has the legs of an ostrich, the heart of a dog, and the eyes of an octopus, according to anatomist Alice Roberts. And it’s utterly terrifying.

With the help of anatomical artist Scott Eaton and special effects designer Sangeet Prabhaker, Roberts created a life-size replica of herself that fixes many design flaws inherent to the human body, Motherboard reports. Roberts unveiled the sculpture on April 23 at the Science Museum in London. On June 13, the BBC released a documentary about the project.

Among the flaws Roberts’s sculpture corrects are humans’ inferior ears, spine, and lungs. Roberts borrowed anatomy from reptiles, birds, and other mammals to create a Frankenstein-esque creature straight from the island of Dr. Moreau.

The sculpture of Alice 2.0, left, with Alice Roberts, right
Courtesy of October Films

The sculpture has legs like an ostrich because, as Roberts says on her website, the human knee is complex and prone to failure. Like humans, ostriches are bipedal, but they are far better runners. Bird-like lungs that keep air flowing in one direction, not two, make running and other aerobic activities easier for the perfect human to manage. And a chimpanzee’s sturdier spine and a dog’s heart (which has more connected arteries, leading to lower heart attack risk) make Roberts’s alternate self more resistant to injury and disease.

Robert’s ideal human body also has skin like a frog that can change shades based on the environment, and large, bat-like ears that amplify sound. Roberts also fixed humans’ backwards retina, which produces a natural blind spot, by borrowing from octopus eye anatomy.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is the baby head poking out of the sculpture’s marsupial pouch. Roberts says marsupial pregnancy would be far easier on the human body and more convenient for parents on the go.

“This could be a human fit for the future,” Roberts says at the end of a trailer for her BBC documentary.

[h/t Motherboard]

Employees at Antarctica's McMurdo Station Are Throwing a Party for Pride Month

Employees at Antarctica's McMurdo Station are gearing up to celebrate Pride month in one of the world's harshest environments. On Saturday, June 9, the station will host what Hannah Valian, who deals with the center's recycling efforts, calls "one of the larger parties ever thrown" at the station.

McMurdo Station is an Antarctic research facility owned and operated by the United States. The station is more sparsely populated during Antarctica's colder autumn and winter seasons (which run from March to September), but employees tell us there's still a decent-sized LGBTQ scene to celebrate this June.

About 10 of the 133 people currently at McMurdo identify as LGBTQ, says Rachel Bowens-Rubin, a station laboratory assistant. Valian said the idea for a Pride celebration came up in May at one of the station's regular LGBTQ socials.

"Everyone got really excited about it," she tells Mental Floss via email. "So we ran with it."

Ten individuals are wearing coats while holding a rainbow-colored Pride flag. They are standing in snow with mountains in the distance.
"I hope when people see this photo they'll be reminded that LGBTQ people aren't limited to a place, a culture, or a climate," McMurdo's Evan Townsend tells Mental Floss. "We are important and valuable members of every community, even at the bottom of the world."
Courtesy of Shawn Waldron

Despite reports that this is the continent's first Pride party, none of the event's organizers are convinced this is the first Pride celebration Antarctica has seen. Sous chef Zach Morgan tells us he's been attending LGBTQ socials at McMurdo since 2009.

"The notion is certainly not new here," he says.

To Evan Townsend, a steward at the station, this weekend's Pride event is less a milestone and more a reflection of the history of queer acceptance in Antarctica.

"If anything," Townsend says, "recognition belongs to those who came to Antarctica as open members of the LGBTQ community during much less welcoming times in the recent past."

This week, though, McMurdo's employees only had positive things to say about the station's acceptance of LGBTQ people.

"I have always felt like a valued member of the community here," Morgan tells us in an email. "Most people I've met here have been open and supportive. I've never felt the need to hide myself here, and that's one of the reasons I love working here."

Saturday's celebration will feature a dance floor, photo booth, lip sync battles, live music, and a short skit explaining the history of Pride, Valian says.

"At the very least, I hope the attention our Pride celebration has garnered has inspired someone to go out and explore the world, even if they might feel different or afraid they might not fit in," Morgan says. "'Cause even on the most inhospitable place on Earth, there's still people who will love and respect you no matter who you are."


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