Trivial Pursuits {?} - Chapter 16, Part 1

One of the first categories I was very close to sweeping from Lily and Jake with the braces and the hairy buzzer-arm mole, was Ancient Egypt. I’d gotten the $200, the $400 and the $600, all from one to the next in a row, and then the $800 turned up to be the Daily Double.

Most people who are watching Jeopardy! at home don’t have any way to know this, but there are lights on the game board when you’re there at the studio that can’t be seen on television. When Alex Trebek finishes speaking, the contestant can buzz to give the answer in the form of a question, but only when these special lights are lighting up. If you buzz in before the lights, you’re prevented from buzzing again for about one quarter of a second. This may not seem like a crucial amount of time, but on Jeopardy!, being locked out from buzzing, even for a nanosecond, can mean all the difference from getting the chance to answer the Daily Double, which just happened to be in the Ancient Egypt category, which I knew like no one else, and being locked out.

So when Trebek said: This system was used to measure fractions, like 1/8th, I knew the answer—the Horus-eye System—as soon as I heard the word fractions and I thought that would be the end of him speaking. For the moment, I forgot all about the lights and I buzzed in when he said the words like 1/8th, which gave Lily the chance for the Daily Double and not me, because by the time I was unlocked, she had already fingered her buzzer. But she didn’t know anything about Horus losing his eye in the battle with Seth, the God of Chaos, to avenge the death of his father. Or how Seth was tearing out Horus’s eye and ripping it into pieces, into fractions. If she did, she messed it all up because if I remember myself right, so her question was something like What is the Rhind System?

Of course, you’re already laughing to yourself because most everyone knows there is no Rhind System but instead a Rhind Papyrus, which is named for Alexander Henry Rhind, the Scottish man who bought the papyrus in the 1800s from the Egyptians. This is the famous papyrus that shows us how the ancient peoples of Egypt did all their calculating and also shows that they got very close to approximating pi at 3.1605, which is pretty unbelievable when you think that these people were only able to do multiplying or dividing by the number 2!

Well, good for Lily that she didn’t wager all her money on What is the Rhind System?—but I was ready to put down everything I had and because I buzzed in too early, so I missed the opportunity. It’s amazing sometimes when you think of it how a quarter of a second here or there can account for so much or so little. You don’t even know what you are missing sometimes—you can’t know. In the big picture of life, what is one quarter of a second? First you think to yourself, nothing. But then you remember the times when the quarter of a second really mattered, like when my dad was deciding to pick up the hitchhiker and missing the truck, who was coming into his lane. Or maybe I got some opportunities on Jeopardy! because hairy-mole Jake was buzzing one quarter second before the lights. How can I know?

Lily didn’t seem to get too excited from missing the answer. I was probably more upset than she was for missing the chance at having a chance. But I got the $1,000 in Ancient Egypt, and four out of five is okay. It was about another famous papyrus called the Turin Papyrus, which most topographers consider the oldest surviving map in history. Pictured on this map, you see some few kilometers of a wadi that is actually near to the State of Israel.

Wadi is the Arabic word for a valley, like you have here in Los Angeles the San Fernando Valley, between the mountains. So this valley would be called a wadi back home. Even the Jews are using the word. And it can also mean sort of a river without water running through it, which you see a lot in the Middle East. Then, when it rains, all the water is collecting fast in the wadi and racing through the desert like an avalanche. It’s really something to see.

There were no questions in the Ancient Egypt category on the Edwin Smith Papyrus. Like Alexander Henry Rhind, this Edwin Smith bought the papyrus in the 1800s from the Egyptians, which is why it’s named for him. Other than that, there’s nothing else you need to know about Edwin Smith. But the papyrus, which is from around 1,500 BCE, is important to know because it’s the oldest known medical text of the world. In there, the writers are describing all kind of trauma surgeries to things like the liver, the spleen, the kidney, and the bladder.

I know a lot about this papyrus because when my mom started to get ready for the mastectomy, I read everything I could find about this surgery. Besides all the latest research, so I also was interested in the oldest stuff written. The Edwin Smith Papyrus reports some few cases of breast tumors, maybe a total of seven or eight, that were treated by cauterization, which is basically like sticking a hot piece of metal on the tumor to burn it out. Other than that crude method, basically the papyrus says there is no known treatment for a tumor in the breast.

The day my mom went in for her surgery, I was supposed to be going with some few groups of kids for a day at the beach in Tel Aviv, to give them a break from the bomb-shelter camps they were in at the North during most of that summer of the Lebanon War. I told my mom I wanted to be with her at the hospital but she said no. She said the kids needed me more than she did. She said my father would be there and her sister would be there and there would be a lot of doing nothing and eating bad hospital food—like knidalakh, which I really hate—and she would feel more comfortable if I wasn’t there bored, wishing I were somewhere else.

I said I wouldn’t be bored, that I’d have my Yasser Seirawan book to work on improving my endgame. But she really wanted me to look after the camp kids. So what could I do?

My father dropped me and Eos off at Park La Brea from Cedars-Sinai hospital, and got back on the freeway to Irvine, 30 kilometers south, where he was going to paint an industrial complex with some few other men.

Eos and I went back out the next morning to make some films on Sunset Boulevard and it was like everything that happened the day before did not happen. Well, that’s not 100-percent true. She asked me when I woke up if I felt strong enough to stand out in the heat with the camera, and if my head was still hurting.

Even though it basically wasn’t, a big part of me wanted to tell her no, just to maybe make her annoyed and delay the filming, or even stop it all forever—stop the search for a guy she probably was never going to find. After all, how would she proceed without me? Would she find someone else to hold the camera? Would she hold the camera and find someone else to ask the trivia questions? It didn’t seem like it was possible without two people, without me.

But while I did have the strength to start filming again, what I didn’t have the strength for was to tell her my feelings, or to make her annoyed. It may have been what I wanted to do, but somehow it just didn’t feel right. She was being very kind to give me the opportunity to be part of Ask Otis, which I was learning from a lot—and paying for my food most of the time and allowing me to sleep in her extra room with the nice, white carpeting, and my mother always said we should be extra kind to people who are hosting us, so I knew I couldn’t purposely annoy Eos in that moment. But I did want to very much.

Check out previous chapters of Trivial Pursuits {?} right here.

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