EVERETT – Let’s get this straight. Nick Spicher knows all about the heyday of hardcore hip-hop or “gangsta” rap. He was a 16-year-old high school kid in 1995 when the movie “Dangerous Minds” came out. It featured Coolio’s soundtrack song “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which became a huge hit.
And Spicher, now 38 and living in downtown Everett, was quick with his answer on a “Jeopardy!” episode that aired recently. He was faced with an often-used category, “Music & Literature Before & After.” Here was the clue: “A song by Coolio from ‘Dangerous Minds’ goes back in time to become a 1667 John Milton classic.”
“The idea is giving two answers in one,” said Spicher, recently hired as a program innovations manager at the Imagine Children’s Museum in Everett. “The correct answer was ‘Gangsta’s Paradise Lost,’ ” he said Wednesday.
In the instant after hitting the buzzer, Spicher was sure he had it. He phrased his answer “Jeopardy!”-style, in the form of a question, beginning with “What is?”
Here’s the problem: “I pronounced it ‘Gangster’s,’ ” he said.
That all-too-proper slip of the tongue not only cost Spicher $3,200 in Jan. 2’s game, it made him a media sensation last week. Google “gangsta” and “Jeopardy!” and you’ll find Spicher’s mispronunciation and show host Alex Trebek’s correction of it on YouTube. There are items about the gaffe in the New York Times, on TV news and entertainment websites, and rap message boards.
The rapper Coolio, on the TMZ website, said he thinks Spicher’s answer was “close enough,” but that “the ‘-er’ will always get you in trouble.”
For the time being anyway, Spicher might be the best-known game show contestant since Ken Jennings, a south Snohomish County native and 74-time “Jeopardy!” champion whose winnings on the program totaled more than $3 million.
Spicher hasn’t yet received his “Jeopardy!” winnings, but after shows taped in October that aired Jan. 1 and Jan. 2, he is $15,201 richer. He won Jan. 1 and came in second Jan. 2. How he’ll spend his windfall is “yet to be determined,” Spicher said Jan. 3. It’s been several months since his whirlwind trip to California, where “Jeopardy!” is taped in Culver City.
These days, Spicher is excited about programs he is creating at the children’s museum. He was hired last summer after more than six years as education director at the Science Factory, a museum and planetarium in Eugene’s Alton Baker Park.
At the children’s museum, Spicher said kids will see him work with dry ice and “frozen bubbles.” A Princeton University graduate who has an advanced degree from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, he studied the history of science and technology. That made him a double-subject threat on “Jeopardy!”
Before his museum work, he taught high school physics and algebra for two years in New Orleans.
“We’re really excited about his programming,” said Kimberlee Valvick, communications director at the Imagine Children’s Museum. She said Spicher has done a “soft launch” of his Saturday programs, “and he’s already got a following.”
A New Jersey native, Spicher has heard from school friends since the “Jeopardy!” appearance. About those boyhood days, he said that of course he remembers Coolio, “Gangsta’s Paradise,” “Dangerous Minds” – “and all that.”
During the show, his answer initially was ruled correct. “Only later in the game, they corrected the score,” he said. “They stopped the tape. After a few minutes, an executive producer came onstage to break the news to me. They were going to review the answer, and the reason why.”
Spicher’s journey to “Jeopardy!” began when he took a 50-question online test, which he said is offered about once a year. Always a fan of the show, he did well enough to get an email asking him to attend an interview and audition in Seattle. That process included a mock “Jeopardy!” game at a Seattle hotel in July.
By late September, he knew he’d be on the show. He has known what happened since the October taping, but had to keep it to himself until the episode aired.
Although he sees the correction as “a little nit-picky,” Spicher said “I think ‘Gangsta’ is the right answer, there’s no controversy about that.” And he can laugh about it, just a bit.
“It was a funny moment – to be corrected on the pronunciation of ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ by Alex Trebek is pretty funny,” Spicher said.
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