Instead of having contestants answer trivia questions, the host gives them the answer, and then they have to provide the corresponding question! What a concept!
Actually, it’s a fun idea, when it’s being done (well, was being done) by Johnny Carson as Karnak the Magnificent. But on Jeopardy, they just don’t follow through with it. Sure, they insist on the answers being in the form of a question, but they don’t seem to care whether the questions the contestants come up with could actually be answered by the answer on the blue screen. No matter what answer is presented, the contestants’ questions always begin with what is or who is. Never any verb other than is, and never any of the other wh words that English provides.
To give one of the more egregious examples I saw last night, the category was anagrams of place names, and the answer was “Down under barn race.” The contestant said, “What is Canberra?” and got credit. Now hold on a minute. If someone asked me “What is Canberra?” and I said, “Oh, you know, down under barn race!”, they’d think I had some kind of aphasia. What the contestant should have said is, “What is an anagram for Canberra?” Even then, only the second half of the answer “Down under barn race” works.
I wonder what the game would be like if the producers actually insisted on questions that truly corresponded to the answers. I can see it now… the category is tourist attractions, for 100…
Alex: This national monument, home to thousands of Jurassic dinosaur bones, is located on the Utah-Colorado border. Lenny?
Lenny: What is Dinosaur National Monument?
Alex: I’m sorry, that’s incorrect. Neal?
Neal: Where is Dinosaur National Monument located?
Later, in the Double Jeopardy round…
Alex: On August 28, 1963, this man gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Rudy?
Rudy: Who is Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Alex: Sorry, wrong question. Neal?
Neal: When did Martin Luther King, Jr., give his “I Have a Dream” speech?
Alex: That’s correct, for $200.
And the next day, when I’m the returning champion…
Alex: On a popular reality program, this man is known for dismissing contestants with a unique hand gesture and the words, “You’re fired.” Maria?
Maria: Who is Donald Trump? Wait! I mean, uh, how–
Alex: I’m sorry, we have to go with your first answer, and that’s incorrect. Neal?
Neal: How does Donald Trump dismiss contestants on The Apprentice?
Alex: Correct! Neal is in the lead with $6000.
And for the Final Jeopardy answer…
Alex: This flightless bird is believed to have crossed the road in order to get to the other side. Let’s see what Kaitlyn wrote.
Kaitlyn: Why is the chicken?
Alex: (Can we accept that?) No, I’m sorry. Let’s see what Neal wrote.
Neal: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Alex: Correct. You were so close Kaitlyn, but as you know, the questions must be syntactically well-formed.
…yeah, that’d be pretty cool.
Well yes, formulating an appropriate question would be much harder than just tacking on Who is or What is to your response, but wasn’t that the whole point of the questions-as-answers setup? The way they do it now, it’s just a requirement that the contestants say the magic words before they give their response. If that’s all the producers want, they might as well just have the contestants preface every response with “Mother may I?” or “Please, sir.”