I'm a big fan of Jeopardy, but sometimes I wonder why. Countless times, I've been stumped and
stymied. And I don't want to even think about how often I've been downright embarrassed over how long
it took to retrieve a piece of information I knew but couldn't recall.
In my frustration, I've found myself getting a little defensive. "I wonder how Alex would fare as a
contestant on his own show?" I've thought. Well, the shoe is about to be placed on the other foot. I've designed
a Jeopardy-type experience just for you.
The idea for this occurred as I was working on my new book,
Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You. I'd come upon a Montaigne quote:
"It may be compared to a cage,
the birds without try desperately to get in,
and those within try desperately to get out."
The quote is an example of chiasmus (pronounced ky-AZ-mus), the literary device in which the order of words is
reversed in parallel expressions. Chiasmus shows up in some of the most memorable, witty, and thought-provoking things
ever said or written, like Cicero's "One should eat to live, not live to eat," Mae West's "It's not the men in my life,
it's the life in my men," and JFK's famous "Ask not what your country can do for you" line. Quotations characterized
by chiasmus are called chiastic (ky-AZ-tick) quotations.
If you're not familiar with the words chiasmus or chiastic, join the crowd. Most people—even the most
sophisticated and literate people—don't. That's something I'm trying to change with my book.
Back to the Montaigne quote, I knew what he was describing because the quote was one of a number on the same subject.
But I wondered if I would have known were the answer not provided. Then it hit me: "This would be a perfect item for Jeopardy!"
So, in the familiar format, I framed the following "answer":
It's what French writer Michel de Montaigne was referring to when he wrote: "It may be compared to a cage, the birds without try desperately
to get in, and those within try desperately to get out."
I tried it out on several of my friends and, even though it stumped most of them, they all agreed it was a perfect Jeopardy-type item. So go ahead,
Alex, take a shot at it. And don't forget to frame your response in the form of a question.
How'd you do? If you said, "What is that strange and wonderful institution called marriage?" congratulations.
If you didn't get it right, don't fret. You'll have an opportunity to redeem yourself by participating in
The Chiastic Quiz Show, which I'm hosting and appears here on
this very site.
Oh yes, tell your writers to feel free to use any of the items on The Chiastic Quiz Show on your show. I can't tell you what a thrill it
would be to tune in to Jeopardy some night and hear you say the magic words, "And our final category is … Chiastic Quotations."