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Looking for Patterns

Last Christmas, my incredible, kind, and brilliant partner gave me perhaps the most thoughtful gift I’d ever received. We frequently watch Jeopardy! (my favorite show) together and as such, he knows which categories are my “knowledge gaps.” Unbeknownst to me, he began recording my areas of weakness and building a website—the Jeopardy! game.

Pulling from real Jeopardy! boards, the website refreshes each day with five categories, each featuring five clues ranging from $200 – $1000… just like on the show. When you click on a dollar amount, the clue is revealed. When you click again, the answer appears with an option to click “Add to score” or “Missed this one.” Each game is out of $15,000… just like on the show. But the kicker was the categories themselves. My partner had created the board to pull categories that contained keywords related to my knowledge gaps. That is to say I wouldn’t be receiving categories about geography (my trivia strength!) but rather the British Monarchy (a definite weak point).

I fell in love with the game and began tracking my scores on my calendar. A month or so later, my partner duplicated the webpage to have a generic board that pulls from all of the Jeopardy! archives, not just my unique knowledge gaps. This is all a long way of explaining that each day I was writing two numbers on my calendar: the “control group” score and the “knowledge gap” score.

It seems obvious that I should do better on the general game board. It would seem obvious that my knowledge gap board would cause me more problems. But then I noticed a week's worth of pattern. Fascinated by data, I began to calculate how many times I hit a certain percentage of correct answers or what percentage of days I did better on which board.

After a month of tracking both, I was ready to write a post about the patterns I saw, but when I looked back, there wasn’t really a pattern at all. So give it another month, I thought. Surely, a pattern will emerge.

Another month passed. No pattern revealed itself.

I’ve been playing two Jeopardy! boards everyday for months. Some days I absolutely crush a board of my knowledge gaps. And some days it’ll be lots of swinging and lots of missing. Other days I’ll sweep back-to-back-to-back categories on the “everything” board. And other days I’ll be completely flustered as I struggle to place any correct answer.

Perhaps we cannot find exact patterns in things that are not a perfect science. On travel days, I’ve occasionally rushed through the game making careless mistakes that, if I’d read more carefully, I certainly wouldn’t have missed. And sometimes, I completely surprise myself by pulling an answer out of seemingly nowhere.

Perhaps some things are not meant to fall into an easy pattern. Perhaps rather than searching for predictability, I should embrace the uncertainty that comes when I surprise myself with a correct answer… or when I realize that months of casual studying has me recognizing British Monarchs and different art movements.

Perhaps, rather than trying to logically talk yourself into a belief or decision or lifestyle, it is easier to simply observe what’s happening. Things might not fit as perfectly into the box as you would like. But maybe, just maybe, you’re creating your own box where everything you need will find its perfect fit… and maybe you’ll learn a little along the way.

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