Harry Shearer, you Bastard

I have a dark secret that fortunately only comes up once in a while. Mrs. 'Struction (OK, Dr. Mrs 'Struction. Happy dear?) knows about it, and likes to bring it out at parties when she thinks it's time to make me squirm. You see, I was on TV a long time ago. Worse than that, I was on TV in the geekiest way possible. No, I wasn't on Jeopardy. Worse. I was on the NOVA science quiz show. Worst of all, I bombed.

Ok. Here's my excuse. The game show was set up using, as they described to us as the "Jeopardy Buzzer System." At some point in the development of Jeopardy, it was decided that letting people buzz in while the question was being asked would disrupt the flow of the show. So they came up with a special system where the contestants' buttons are not active until the question has ended. Even more, hitting the button before it's been activated renders it inactive for an additional two seconds, which might as well be forever.

Now whether this is an Aspie thing, or just a personal quirk, but I've never been very good a judging just when is the right time to butt into a conversation when in a group, and by not very good, I mean really, really bad. By the time I've figured out that a person is done talking, and it's safe to open my mouth without rudely interrupting, somebody else has already beat me to it, and the conversation moves on. Sometimes it's a minor annoyance, but when a conversation gets really animated, I'm pretty much completely shutout.

So what does this have to do with a game show? I'm lousy at figuring out just when someone is done talking, and being 100ms too early means I've effectively forfeited the question. Worse, I'm not trying to figure out when the host is done. I'm trying to figure out when some unpaid intern in the booth (and who probably has the question written down in front of her) decides it's done and presses the master button to activate our buttons. I think in the first round I got one question wrong, one wrong that that I should have been judged right because the question was poorly worded, and the rest of the time you can see me futilely pressing away at the button because I was either a fraction of a second too early, or a fraction of a second too late. Needless to say, I was the first to be eliminated.

On the whole it was an interesting, if not very satisfying experience, and I'd done a good job of putting it behind me. Then a couple weeks ago I was listening to Harry Shearer on the Nerdist podcast, describe the experience of being on celebrity Jeopardy, when he described the whole button thing…and mentioned the light.

Whoa, what light?

I had to rewind and listen again. His description fit exactly with my experience, except there was also a light that came on when the faceless intern in the booth hit the button. He didn't have to laser focus on the hypnotic wiggling of Alex Trebek's mustache as he asked "These are the most massive particles of the solar wind and are largely responsible for the aurora borealis…" and hit the button only to hear "… and aurora australis." He could listen to the question, decide if he has an answer, then focus on the totally unequivocal light to come on. I was a video gamer, I could have handled that no problem.

I had a response I'm not proud of. "You bastard!" I found myself saying. I was actually getting mad at Harry Shearer. It wasn't his fault the NOVA producers thought they'd save a few bucks and leave out the one piece of critical kit. But it didn't matter. I wanted to take a poke at him. I've never experienced that visceral kill-the-messenger instinct before.

I'm better now. Harry Shearer is safe should we ever cross paths. I can't even begrudge the NOVA folks that much. After all, the consolation prize was an HP95LX. Little did I know it, but it turned out to be the most useful and all-around best PDA I would have for almost 20 years. There was also a massive McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. I can't say I use it much, but it looks nice on the shelf.