Millionaire Recap

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Some people have requested a transcript of all the questions in my Millionaire stack, and others wanted to know what was going through my mind while I was in the hotseat. So I've combined them into one entry.

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$100: Which of these vessels is designed to be powered by wind?

A. Sailboat
B. Canoe
C. Submarine
D. Geraldo Rivera

$200: Ragu is a popular brand of what grocery store product?

A. Salad dressing
B. Barbeque sauce
C. Salsa
D. Pasta sauce

$300: "Should auld acquaintance be forgot" is a line from both "Auld Lang Syne" and what

patriotic tune?

A. Yankee Doodle Dandy
B. My Country Tis of Thee
C. You're a Grand Old Flag
D. America The Beautiful

My first moment of panic. I didn't know the answer to this initially, but realized that I knew all the songs on the list and could work through it. So I mentally ran through each of the songs until I hit the right lyrics, which you see me sing on the show.

500: Commonly used to refer to soldiers, the military abbreviation "G.I." stands for "government" what?

A. Individual
B. Immersion
C. Imperative
D. Issue

I was still nervous and a little rattled from the last question. Had you asked me this question in my living room, it would have been a no-brainer. And in the hotseat, I immediately knew ISSUE was right. But the wording of the question threw me. "Government issue" doesn't really make sense referring to PEOPLE. The government doesn't issue people. The previous day's show, taped a few minutes earlier, saw four players leave or crash before getting to $32,000. One of them crashed with $0. I didn't want to do that. And meanwhile, the background music you hear during the first five questions isn't played in the studio-- it's added in post-production. The studio is completely quiet. A couple hundred people were all focused on me in eerie silence, which made it uncomfortable for me to spend the time I should have spent to calmly think it through. So I panicked and Asked the Audience. I regretted it almost immediately, but couldn't take it back. You can see the self-disgust on my face for throwing away a lifeline on such a bonehead question. In the end, it didn't matter-- more on that later.

The audience voted:

A. 12%
B. 0%
C. 3%
D. 85%

$1,000: What word is often used as a mnemonic to help kids remember the names of the Great Lakes?

A. SHINE
B. HOMES
C. STONE
D. EMPIRE

Phew. After the previous two questions, I was relieved to get something I knew.

$2,000: What prehistoric creature's name comes from two Greek words meaning "wing" and "finger"?

A. Triceratops
B. Stegosaurus
C. Pterodactyl
D. Brontosaurus

The word "Greek" caused me to misinterpret the question when it first appeared, thinking that all the choices would be mythological creatures and having no idea what creature they were talking about. Since mythology is a really strong subject for me and this was a low level question, I was very puzzled. You can see the concern on my face. Then the choices came up, and "Triceratops" confused me again since it's not a mythological creature. Then "Stegosaurus" came up and I realized a) I'd misunderstood the question, b) they're looking for dinosaurs, and c) the answer would be "pterodactyl". When "Pterodactyl" came up, I smiled a little with relief and then-- still rattled from the lifeline-- thought it through vocally to make sure I had the right answer.

$4,000: The Torah is commonly referred to as "The Five Books" of what Biblical figure?

A. Abraham
B. Moses
C. Jacob
D. Noah

Everything going through my head was pretty much said on screen. I immediately thought MOSES, but when Abraham appeared I doubted myself. I took five years of Hebrew school. I was bar-mitzvahed. Of course I knew "The five books of Moses"-- anywhere else but in that hotseat. So I just had to calm myself down, think it through, and convince myself that my first impulse was the correct one.

$8,000: In the 1989 film "Do The Right Thing", a riot begins after a trash can is thrown through the front window of a what?

A. Laundromat
B. Barbershop
C. Video store
D. Pizzeria

In the course of the day, I'd known EVERY movie question that had been posed in all 4 episodes taped. Except, of course, the one given to me. I can't count the number of times I COULD have seen this movie, but didn't. In college. At friends' houses. On cable. I've had ample choices to see it without even going out of my way to do so. It never really interested me. So inside, I'm railing at the injustice. For God's sake, give me the Indiana Jones question Julian burned 2 lifelines on! I knew that one cold. Of the four choices, LAUNDROMAT and VIDEO STORE seemed the most likely, but I had absolutely no concrete reason to pick those over the others. I absolutely needed a lifeline, and the one I'd have chosen was the Ask the Audience-- which I'd already used. 50/50 would just give me better odds on a guess. So I had to use the lifeline I'd really hoped to save until much later, the Phone a Friend. Earlier in the day, I'd been informed that two of the people on my Phone a Friend list couldn't be reached and therefore weren't available for me to use. Both of them are cinephiles who would have known this immediately. I worried that it wouldn't be easily Googleable (although the plot summary on IMDB provides the answer), so I needed someone who'd seen the movie. Of the three people left, I knew Mark was also something of a cinephile and I was reasonably confident, although not certain, that he'd seen the film. So I called him, and thankfully he knew it right away. If he hadn't, I'd have had to have used the 50/50 and hope to guess correctly. I wouldn't have, though-- PIZZERIA was probably my last choice, and I think I would have picked whatever other option remained.

$16,000: In 1969, the Apollo 11 mission took about how many days to travel from Earth to the moon's surface?

A. 2
B. 4
C. 6
D. 7

I actually stopped tape on this question. When I first read it, I thought it was asking for the time it took Apollo 11 to reach the moon from Earth. Then I saw they were looking for the time from launch to actually landing. This made a huge difference to me-- it introduced a new variable (how long did they orbit before landing?)-- and I wanted to be absolutely sure I was reading it right. So I stopped tape and asked to clarify. When you see me kind of staring off into space, that's because I was watching the stage manager, who signalled me when they resumed taping. My gut said the answer was 4, but I had no solid justification for it. As I said on camera, I thought it was a low number given the size of the Apollo capsule. 2 seemed low (and if it were 2, I thought the choices would be 1, 2, 3, 4) and 6 and 7 seemed high. But I could be completely wrong, and it could have been any of those. I REALLY wanted to get to $32,000. Much as I'd have liked to hold onto the lifeline, I'd have kicked myself if I took the shot on 4 based on nothing but a hunch and some spurious meta-game reasoning. So I took the 50/50, hoping that 4 and 7 would be the remaining choices. Instead, it left me with 4 and 6. I knew I wasn't walking away, and 4 had been my gut feeling all along. Essentially, I used the lifeline to see if 4 would survive. Since it did, I went with it.

$32,000. The ancient Minoan civilization originated on what Mediterranean island?

A. Rhodes
B. Cyprus
C. Crete
D. Sicily

My thoughts are pretty obvious here if you watched the show. I'd just burned my last two lifelines, and was facing the all-important $32,000 question. I needed to get this right. If I had no clue, I'd have to decide if I'd really do what I'd been saying I'd do at this point, and take a guess. I was pretty sure I would, but not 100% sure. But as soon as the question came up, I pumped my fists with thumbs up. Finally, something I knew. Thank God! As I said earlier, mythology is a strong category for me. I knew that King Minos, and the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, are based in Crete. I was pretty sure that the Minoans are named after Minos. The only question was if they'd first established themselves on another island before coming to Crete. But I couldn't think of any reference I'd ever seen suggesting that, so I went with the obvious answer.

$64,000: Mattel's famous Barbie doll has what middle name?

A. Millicent
B. Veronica
C. Elizabeth
D. Nadine

My heart sank. I had no freaking clue. How ironic, that an expert on games would go out on a toy question. But there's no risk on the $64,000 question, so I was definitely taking a guess. When Millicent first appeared, it resonated for me. I have no idea why. I eliminated Nadine immediately-- I just couldn't imagine such a provincial name being chosen. Veronica was an Archie, and it seemed that attorneys would nix using Veronica as the doll's middle name for fear of litigation. That left Millicent and Elizabeth. I could see a strong case for Elizabeth, a regal name that might have some appeal to children. My brain said Elizabeth, but Millicent had touched a chord. I decided that since I was going to guess anyway and had no real data on which to base my decision, I'd trust my first instinct and cross my fingers.

At home, Meredith never fools me when she tries to fake out contestants. She has a tell. She never draws out the agony when someone has truly gotten in wrong-- she just comes out and says so. She only plays with you if you've gotten it right. So earlier, when she tried to fake me out on the Apollo question, it didn't work. But on this one, despite my knowing her tell, I was sufficiently uncertain about the answer that for a split second she got me.

The show ended at this point, and Meredith expressed her amazement to me that I'd guessed it correctly-- that to her, Millicent was as "out there" as I'd said Nadine was to me. This was the last show taped on that day, so I was held over for another tape day, got to meet another group of contestants, and spent another restless night tossing and turning with the Millionaire theme music stuck in my head as I wondered if I'd have the guts to guess on the $125,000 question if I didn't know the answer.

I also had ample time to think about my lifeline usage. I'd been kicking myself for burning the Ask the Audience lifeline on the GI question, but I realized it wouldn't have mattered. If I'd saved it, I'd have asked the audience on the Do the Right Thing question, and then used another lifeline on the Apollo question. I would absolutely have used my last lifeline on the Barbie question at $64K if I'd had one available. So even if I hadn't panicked at $500, I'd still be going into the $125,000 question with no lifelines left. Phew! A lifetime of restless sleep and "what if?"s averted.

$125,000: Jean-Joseph Mouret's "Rondeau" is best known as the theme music for what television show?

A. Meet the Press
B. Masterpiece Theatre
C. Murder She Wrote
D. Dynasty

I was hoping for something I knew, but this wasn't it. And it galled me, because television is another strong category for me. So I took a good, hard look at the choices. I knew the Dynasty theme music, and it's very modern-- so I eliminated that right away. Murder She Wrote's music seemed like something that Mike Post might write (he didn't), not something from a French composer. That left Meet the Press and Masterpiece Theater. I had no idea what Meet the Press's music was, but my dad used to watch Masterpiece Theater all the time and I knew that music by heart. And it sounded like what "Jean-Joseph Mouret's 'Rondeau'" might sound like. So I felt pretty good about Masterpiece Theater, but not certain-- especially since I couldn't conclusively eliminate Meet the Press. All day long, I'd been telling people-- myself included-- that if I didn't know the answer to the $125K question I'd guess anyway. My reasoning was that the difference between $32K and $64 wasn't life-changing, and if I got it right, not only was I at $125K but I got a free look at the $250K question, which I might know. On paper, my reasoning was sound. In the hotseat, though... everything changes. I had $64,000 in my pocket. All I had to do was walk away. Much as I might have wanted to think of it as theoretical money, it wasn't. It was real. It was mine. And if I guessed, I could lose half of it. So I thought for a long time-- much longer than shown on TV. And if finally came down to the fact that if the answer really was Masterpiece Theater and I walked away, I'd NEVER forgive myself. I'd always wonder how far I could have gotten, and I'd become a bitter old man in my early thirties. If I went with Masterpiece Theater and it was wrong, at least I took my shot. If I did all that I could and it just didn't work out, I could live with that. So I pulled the trigger.

$250,000: Snoopy's favorite line "It was a dark and stormy night." is the first line of a novel by what Victorian author?

A. George Gissing
B. Edith Nesbit
C. Edward Bulwer-Lytton
D. Vernon Lee

It's obvious that I knew this immediately. I remember seeing the Dark and Stormy books in the humor section of bookstores when I was a teenager. I believe we had one or more of them in the house library of my college fraternity. And just three months earlier, the Microsoft Puzzle Hunt had featured a puzzle based on Bulwer-Lytton contest winners. I don't know why Edith Nesbit registered for me-- I looked her up later and didn't recognize her works or anything about her. Something about her name did resonate, though. There was never a moment when I was thinking that I'd answer B instead of C. All the time I spent thinking about it-- again, more than was shown on TV-- was spent wracking my brain trying to figure out why Nesbit resonated so I could conclusively rule her out. I couldn't do it. I had no idea why her name was familiar. But I KNEW that Bulwer-Lytton was associated with the contest, and that the contest was inspired by "It was a dark and stormy night." I was pretty sure he was the author of the novel. There was no way I could walk away from this question, so I just set my uncertainty aside, trusted what I knew, and took the plunge.

$500,000: In January 1995, who became the first celebrity to appear in the well-known "milk mustache" ad-campaign?

A. Billy Ray Cyrus
B. Naomi Campbell
C. Tony Bennett
D. Joan Lunden

Another pop-culture question I didn't know. My stack was heavy on pop culture. Pop culture is a very strong area for me, yet I used 2 lifelines on pop culture questions. Grrrr. I'm rather more aware of advertising campaigns than the average American, too, so the fact that I didn't know this bothered me. But here's the kicker: I didn't know who Naomi Campbell was. I'd seen the name before in Yahoo News headlines, but mentally I had her pegged as a country singer (NAOMI Judd / Glenn CAMPBELL). So when I ruled her out, I was ruling out someone that didn't exist. My first thought was Michael Jordan, because he's so well known, popular, and black-- the image of a white moustache on a black face would be striking. Oh, the irony. In the end, I was leaning toward Tony Bennett, because milk has a stodgy image and so did Bennett, until his weird youth appeal kicked in. So he seemed like a strong candidate. But my logic was thin, and there was a lot of money on the line. Given the bizarre set of names among the choices, I thought it was highly likely that ALL of them had done milk ads (in fact, all of them had done milk ads in the first year of the campaign). I REALLY wanted to at least SEE the million dollar question, but $250,000 was real money. Dropping back to $32K would be painful. Once again, I did the analysis: how would I feel if Tony Bennett was the answer and I walked? And I decided that I'd feel OK, since I wasn't at all sure about it this time-- it'd be an enormous guess. And if I guessed and was wrong, I'd feel sick about giving up $218,000. So I decided to call it a day, and walked away with the cash.

18 Comments

Peter - Well done. I love your analyses. I love that you say "resonate" and you mean by it what I do. Great run. You gambled on the right things and stopped at the right time. I especially love that you worked out that your LL usage did not matter.

Regarding Edith Nesbit: I believe that a bunch of the Judy Blume children's books had "E. Nesbit" as one of the characters' favorite authors. That's why the name rang a bell for me, anyway.

Nesbit rang a bell for me, too. Except it was thanks to my son Jack's repeated viewings of Toy Story.

After Buzz Lightyear finally realizes he's just a toy and can't fly -- and knocks himself silly trying -- he's picked up by evil child Sid's sister, and made to pose as "Mrs. Nesbit" at her play tea party.

And Michael Jordan, it turns out, has not done a milk ad. Strange. He seems a natural candidate. Maybe he's lactose intolerant.

thank you, david!! the nesbit connection has been nagging me for days. that must be why the name seemed familiar to me too.

If you read the Edward Eager books (Half Magic, etc.), you might know E. Nesbit from there. E. Nesbit was the favorite author of the children in the Eager books, and they long to have something magical happen to them just like to the children in the Nesbit books.

I've never read E. Nesbit, though.

Glad you figured out that the lifeline use didn't matter!

I don't think the Dark and Stormy Night books were in the Kappa library, Peter, but I had several of them and read them at Firesides and other readings. Paul thinks you had us do a literary contest based on them at one point.

Hi Peter! You did a FANTASTIC job. Your logic and calm in the "hot seat" were inspiring! Congratulations on your quarter-mill victory! You certainly earned it.

Peter, as one who witnessed your fabulous performance from the audience, and as your mom, it was surely one of the highlight experiences of my life. You certainly looked calm even though the nerves were at work. However you seemed confident and relaxed. It was great fun to be in the audience and root you on. I remember my hands hurt from clapping and I held my breath so much during your deliberations on questions that I thought I would hyperventalate. I really wanted you to go as far as you could, and the fact that you stopped at $250,000 was the right decision. Enjoy the spoils and use it for fun things and things you want, remember it is not a question of need, it is always want. Life is too short not to enjoy if you have the means. We had a great time at your home, and if you decide you want help with decorating or renovating, just call. I am only an airline ticket away. Love ya much, Mom

Hi Peter,

I'm your friend Karen's mom (from Brown Univ.) Karen was in the process of moving from SC to Boston, and forwarded your message to me so that I could tape the show. When we watched it together, we were thrilled and delighted BUT couldn't believe we didn't know that we'd miss the last segments as I didn't tape the show again on Friday.

Until reading your postings now I had no idea how far you'd advanced. Mazel tov on your great winnings, and I agree with your mom---spend the money on things and events that will make you happy and build lasting memories....

I can't wait to let Karen know that you did so well.

I probably was introduced to you while visiting Karen at Brown, so it was nice to "see you again." Enjoy everything...(and I bet it's MORE than just 15 minutes of fame!)

Sincerely,
Sandy Schiff

Great analysis. I always assumed that it was very, very different to be on the spot rather than watching at home; your inner dialog is welcome confirmation.

I never bought into that theory until I sat in the chair. And in fact, it wasn't the lights or camera or being on television that made it different. It was the unexpected silence during the first 5 questions, and the fact that real money was at stake.

Hi, Peter!!
I saw Day 1 & was supremely impressed. As Mike Fessler wrote, it's great to see you in action again after all these years. And it's fun to think that early-life obsessions can really pay off (literally as well as figuratively). Congratulations -- for getting on the show in the 1st place & for doing so well (& with such poise! Very fun to hear your thoughts while in the hotseat). So,,,are you going for a revived 70s game show next? (I noticed they've brought back the Hollywood Squares *and* the $64,000 Pyramid, though I think the latter might be called something different now).

You can be really proud of the way you played the game; a breathtakingly, admirably logical thought process and a fantastic result on what looks to me like a very difficult stack. You rock so very hard indeed. :-)

I didn't see your shows live, I'm afraid, because I wasn't sure which channel was the local ABC (?) affiliate in Orlando and a quick surf-through the not-very-many channels that the hotel room TV received didn't reveal the answer. (I thought of ringing the front desk and asking, but didn't for time reasons.) Even if I had found it, I probably wouldn't have had the time to see it - and I definitely would have felt bad about taking the time on Friday to see the second half. (It'd've probably been completely impossible.)

Karen: Hi! Great to hear from you. Most game shows have an eligibility lockout for a year after any appearance on another game show, so I'll have to wait before trying somewhere else. But considering that I've been a game show fan all my life, it's really rather amazing to me that Millionaire was only my 2nd audition attempt (I didn't pass the Jeopardy! test about 4 years ago). Quite aside from the money, the whole experience was a lot of fun and I'd love to do it again on another show. So yes, now that I've tasted of the forbidden fruit, I will probably try for a second bite. Dick Clark's Pyramid is my all-time favorite game show, but I'm not crazy about the new version (judging is very inconsistent, only celebs can "give" in the Winner's Circle). Not that I'd turn it down if offered, mind you...

Chris: Sounds like you were frazzled in Orlando. Did you have a chance to view the show online? (www.loooser.com/peter)

Our son David told us you had posted your Q&A here, so I just finished reading it. Very Impressive! Especially your judgement at the end to take the money. Knowing when you're in over where you want to be is a gift. Too bad you had to use the lifeline early, but I'd have blown that question even with the lifeline. Good show!

Just read your post....entertaining, well written, and very informative.....inasmuch as I will be a contestant in the near future!

Any helpful tips or suggestions as I prepare myself?

TIA...Will

Tips? Hmm.

1. Take your time in the hotseat. Think through EVERY answer, and don't rush. It's very hard to do when so many silent eyes are on you, but it's YOUR time so take it.

2. The first 7 or so questions are not there to trick you. If something seems like the obvious answer, it's probably correct. Had I taken that advice to heart, I wouldn't have used a lifeline at $300.

3. Make sure all of your Phone a Friends have multiple Google windows open and know how to use them. You might even want to practice with them a little. A whole lot of questions are very easy to Google.

4. Decide what you're there for. I wasn't there to walk away with $16K or $64K. I had self-respect once I reached $32K, and I was happy at $125K. After that was gravy. Only you know what will make you happy, but my feeling is that you get only one chance to be on Millionaire. The difference between $16K and $1K is not life-changing for most people. If you're not desperately in need of the money, don't waste your one opportunity by walking away with $16K or less-- take a chance and go for it.

Good luck!

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