Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Look at the big brain on Brad…

This past weekend, I played a fair amount of the Trivial Pursuit, the 90's Time Capsule Edition. Love that game. Sure, part of my love for it comes from the fact that I went a smooth four for four this weekend. But beyond that, it’s just good times.

So while playing the game, I was asked a question in the yellow category, which is basically like the old Science and Technology category. On card number 263, which contains questions based related to 1995 (in the 90’s edition, each card is year specific), the yellow question was “what did Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz discover near 51 Pegasi, for an extrasolar first?” I knew the answer they wanted was “a planet.” That’s the answer I gave, and I continued on in the game.

The thing is, that answer is wrong. Flat…out…wrong. Now, I’ve played older versions of Trivial Pursuit before and seen wrong questions, although the only ones I can think of are ones that were right at one time but have since become outdated (sports records, etc.). But this one is different. The question is not wrong because it’s outdated – it would have been wrong in 1995, it was wrong at the time it was written and it continues to be wrong now. What’s interesting about the wrongness of this card, at least to me, is that I actually have personal first-hand knowledge of why it’s wrong.

In my former life, I was a budding astrophysicist. While on that life-plan, I spent a chunk of 1996 working for the astronomy/astrophysics department up at Penn State University (my god, that was already 9 years ago). In particular, I worked for Doctor Aleksander Wolszczan. Another day, I may let the science geek in me out a bit more and talk about what I did there, but for this story, what’s important is that Dr. Wolszczan’s field of study was pulsars (the extremely oversimplified definition of a pulsar is that it’s a dead star that emits a beam of radio waves and, because it rotates very fast, the radio signal pulses like the light coming from a lighthouse).

The point of this digression is the following. In 1991, Dr. Wolszczan discovered several planets circling around one such pulsar – as I recall, the rough version of his discovery is that he found that the pulse from the pulsar in question was found to have anomalies, and an investigation into these anomalies lead to the discovery of two planets circling around the pulsar. It was not until 1993 or 1994 that Dr. Wolszczan was able to present sufficient data to the scientific community to fully substantiate his claim (partially due to an earlier claim by another scientist that was disproved), but Dr. Wolszczan is now acknowledged as “the first person to discover planets outside our solar system.”

Now, to be fair to the Trivial Pursuit folks, there’s two ways to make things right. One is to change the question to ask “what did Aleksander Wolszczan discover near a pulsar, for an extrasolar first” on a 1991 or 1994 card. Alternatively, they can keep their same question and year and just amend it slightly to read “what did Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz discover near 51 Pegasi, for an extrasolar first around a solar-type star?” The difference is this – 51 Pegasi is a sun-like star, while Dr. Wolszczan’s pulsar is nothing like a sun, as it’s a dead star. So either one of these questions would work. But the question, as is, is mortally flawed.

I’m planning to send a letter to the Trivial Pursuit folks, and if I get any response, it will of course be shared here.


At 4:35 PM, Blogger Bug said...

Look, dude, it's all about who you know. Clearly, Dr. Wolksvagen doesn't know the card writers at Trivial Pursuit while Dr. Whatever and Dr. Iforgothisname do.

You want the truth to be set right? Create your own damn game called "Bribes will by you Trivial Achievements."

Who was the first female doctor? I dunno, but you could sell the answer to whomever is willing to pay the highest for it. Who holds the record for longest recorded time spent clinically dead before being revived? The answer, sir, is money in your pocket.

At 10:05 PM, Blogger EmoRiot said...

does it mean I'm stupid if I don't even understand your complaint?

At 10:10 PM, Blogger ceymick said...

Nah, you ain't stupid. The simple verions is that my guy found the first planets outside of the solar system, but they were revolving around a dead star, while the guys on the Trivial Pursuit card found the first planet that was both outside the solar system AND revolving around a sun-like star. It's a technicality, but one that Trivial Pursuit should care about, damn it!

As for who the first female doctor was, I'm paying Trivial Pursuit to put me down as the answer!


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