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I wonder how many Jeopardy winners the average American knows, personally. I think I’m friends with three of guys who’ve won games, two of whom made it to the ToC.
One of them is Tom Nichols, who hit upon something this week that had been burbling in my brain without me being able to put a name on it:
Jeopardy is becoming less fun.
The problem is the dominance of the long-run champions. As Nichols explains, mastery of the buzzer is such an integral part of Jeopardy success that a player who has won a couple games has a substantial advantage against new players. And a player who has won many games gains an enormous advantage:
The thing that makes champions so hard to beat is not brainpower; it’s the buzzer.
Mastering that little clicker is everything. You can’t see it at home, but the board has lights that go on just off-screen that let you know when the host is done speaking. (This is why you never hear anyone ring in over the host: You can’t.)
When the light goes on, your buzzer goes hot, and each player tries to buzz in a millisecond before the other guys. Buzzing in early will lock you out for a split second; two of you buzzing in at the same time locks out both of you. Usually, all three of you know the answer, and it’s just a matter of getting there first. (“Triple stumpers,” where all three players stand there dumbfounded until the timer beeps, are pretty rare.)
Why does this matter? Because the more times you use the buzzer, the better you get at it. It really is a learned reflex. It takes a little getting used to, and then you develop a rhythm.
And success in Jeopardy begets success in Jeopardy. The more you buzz in first, the more likely you are to get to the Daily Doubles, which (1) allows you to magnify your lead and (2) prevents trailing opponents from being able to catch you.
As Nichols points out, we got to this place of Jeopardy superchamps because the producers lifted the five-win maximum several years ago. This let the best players get much better than the competition. And because the potential rewards for Jeopardy success increased so dramatically, it more or less professionalized Jeopardy playing.
The show is better when it exists as an amateur pursuit.
Nichols doesn’t get into this, but I wonder if there’s an analogy here to the World Series of Poker, which was revolutionized by online play and the emergence of quants who have come to dominate the game.
Was it better when it was guys like Johnny Chan and Frank Henderson heads up?
2. Popular Information
Judd Legum’s newsletter is absolutely invaluable. It’s real reporting, every day, at the intersection of politics and money.
Last week he dug up a story about an Indiana state senator who has taken anti-CRT posturing to absurd lengths:
In Indiana, State Senator Scott Baldwin (R) has introduced sweeping legislation that Baldwin says is designed to ban Critical Race Theory (CRT) and related concepts in K-12 education. During a committee hearing on the bill earlier this month, Baldwin told a high school English teacher that he should be "impartial" when discussing Nazism. It is a case study about how the frantic efforts to ban CRT can quickly lead to absurd outcomes.
Among the provisions in Baldwin's 36-page bill is a requirement that teachers "remain impartial in teaching curricular materials or conducting educational activities." At the hearing, Indiana history teacher Matt Bockenfeld said he was concerned about that language. Bockenfeld told Baldwin that he could not be "neutral" on the rise of Nazism before World War II.
For example, it’s the second semester of U.S. history, so we're learning about the rise of fascism and the rise of Nazism right now. And I'm just not neutral on the political ideology of fascism. We condemn it, and we condemn it in full, and I tell my students the purpose, in a democracy, of understanding the traits of fascism is so that we can recognize it and we can combat it.
…We don't stand up and say who we voted for or anything like that. But we're not neutral on Nazism. We take a stand in the classroom against it, and it matters that we do.
Baldwin objected to Bockenfeld's approach and said specifically that he did not believe Bockenfeld should be permitted to express his views on Nazism or any other "ism" in the classroom:
Baldwin said he doesn’t discredit Marxism, Nazism, fascism or “any of those isms out there.”
“I have no problem with the education system providing instruction on the existence of those isms,” he said. “I believe that we've gone too far when we take a position on those isms ... We need to be impartial.”
Baldwin said that even though he is with Bockenfeld “on those particular isms,” teachers should “just provide the facts.”
“I’m not sure it’s right for us to determine how that child should think and that’s where I’m trying to provide the guardrails,” Baldwin said.
3. The Margins
It’s been a not-great patch for Web3:
Once you see what is going on for real in the crypto space, you realize it’s not that the extremely normal Twitter user and part-time venture capitalist Chris Dixon was being delirious in his seminal “Why Web3 Matters” thread. It was just that he was being extremely evasive (or maybe ignorant) about why firms like his are now so interested in this space.
It’s just business. The short of it is that these firms that have brought you Web 2.0** style centralization with all its benefits and downsides, are now looking for their next big hit. And while Big Tech has already grown to a democracy-defying size while making all their early investors and employees wealthier than gods already, crypto promises a whole lot more; an ability to own and fully control entire economies. Who could (or should, as an investor) miss out on investing in new monopolies that are vertically integrated across the entire economies? Imagine El Salvador, but way…worse? Dumber?
It’s probably not lost on people who have been investing in Coinbase that if you could own the on-ramp into the crypto ecosystem for the masses, that you can exploit all the advantages of being a, or even the, bottleneck. And surely, you could exploit all the benefits of economies of scale over time.
But a gold rush is going to attract a lot of people.
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