What is a Jeopardy challenge unlike any Alex Trebek has ever seen?

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If you grew up before DVRs and spent weekday nights as a kid trying to decide between watching The Simpsons or Jeopardy like I did, then you too would have felt at home during Slice Magazine’s Literary Jeopardy on September 13. The event, held at Speyer Hall inside University Settlement on Eldridge Street and sponsored by Six Point Ale, raised money for the publication’s printing costs, pitting three teams of writers, editors and agents against each other in a tight and often friendly, but cutthroat game. Host and foodie connoisseur Joseph Scalora promised “A Jeopardy challenge unlike any Alex Trebek has ever seen.”

Representing “Team AJ” were A.J. Jacobs, Esquire Editor at Large and author of Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Quest for Bodily Perfection, Shannon Barr, Executive Director of Creative Development at the New Yorker, Ben Loehnen, senior editor at Simon & Schuster and Byrd Leavell, co-founder of the Waxman Leavell Literary Agency. To the left sat “Team Meg, ” led by Meg Leder, executive editor at Perigee Books and author of The Secret Me Book, joined by Dan Wilbur, author of How Not to Read, Michelle Legro, editor at Lapham’s Quarterly and Choire Sicha, co-proprietor of The Awl. Team Scott, led by Scott Hoffman, founding partner of Folio Literary Management, consisted of Michelle Brower of Folio Literary Management, PEN Emerging Voices recipient Shanna Mahin and last-minute ringer Paul Lucas.

As Scalora introduced each team with its own theme music, it was clear this wouldn’t be your grandmother’s Jeopardy. The rules were simple, much like the game. Groups were allowed to confer together and then answer. All answers had to be in the form of a question and the buzzer (yes, there were real buzzers) would only light up once the question was completely read. Any team who could not answer in time was met with the dreaded thunder stick, shaken by Slice co-publisher Celia Johnson.

1. Dan Wilbur explains his strategy.

Team Meg, who clearly had their own cheering section, quickly pulled into the lead during the first round, answering questions from categories such as “As I Lay Wasted” (showing photographs of famous alcoholic writers) and “Hot Water” (which matched authors to their crimes.) However, after Team AJ returned with six packs of light beer for themselves and other competitors, the winds shifted. As the round began, Scott Hoffman declared ,“There are two reasons why we’re losing. One is we suck. Two is we’ve been drinking out of cans and bottles and we need to be drinking it from a cup,” as he pulled out last year’s trophy cup.

1. The staff of Slice Magazine.

As the game ran through Double Jeopardy, the scores became closer until Team

Scott chose a Daily Double, wagering everything and taking a commanding lead after the audience and host publicly debated whether “The Arctic” was the same as “The North Pole.” (It is.) With Team Scott ahead by $2,000 at Final Jeopardy, the audience waited in anticipation, clutching their Six Point Ales. The category, “Mistakes and Regrets” (named after Slice’s theme for issue 11) stumped even the biggest bibliophile among the contestants, leaving Team Scott as the victors for the second year in a row. At the conclusion, publishers Maria Gagliano and Celia Johnson thanked everyone for coming and supporting Slice’s fifth game-show inspired event and the magazine’s efforts to bridge the gap between emerging writers and the publishing world.

Said Johnson: “I loved seeing famous authors and literary professionals in a game show format. It’s not how you imagine authors, editors, or agents — slamming their hands on the buzzers or shouting out answers — and yet they seem to thrive in the fun environment.”

Indeed, I too walked out in complete surprise, as did many of the contestants, including Choire Sicha, who felt inspired by the night’s competition: “Now I want to have my own literary trivia night — except I don’t think I could pull it off as beautifully and magically as the Slice folks did. God bless Slice magazine.”

***

— Eric Nelson is a fiction writer and curator living in Ridgewood, Queens. He writes a weekly column for Bushwick Nation called “From the Wood to the Wick.”

Thanks to Kori Davis for the photographs.

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