In the latest Around Town column, read about a Paly educator advancing to the "Jeopardy!" Teachers Tournament, actress Glenn Close bringing her mental health initiative to Palo Alto, Gunn High graduates behind a popular animated show and Waymo staying close-mouthed about plans to test driverless cars.
THE UNDERDOG ... Palo Alto High School Spanish teacher Trevor Crowell made a huge comeback on Tuesday's episode of the "Jeopardy!" Teachers Tournament. The Mountain View resident had a rough start in the quarterfinals round when he quickly found himself in the red with negative $200 for a question that challenged the contestants to sort out anagrams. He outshone the competition when he answered all five questions about NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, the final question being a video Daily Double where his $2,000 wager boosted him to $7,000. In the second round, he showed off his knowledge about Central America, correctly identifying bananas and coffee as the region's most important fair trade crops in yet another Daily Double that raised his earnings to $11,200. Crowell showed off his chops in the classics category, where he secured his third Daily Double that asked for the book containing this Plato quote: "Democracy passes into despotism." (Answer: "The Republic.") He incorrectly answered the Final Jeopardy question: "As a teacher, this woman regained her sight thanks to 2 surgeries in 1881 and 1882." Another competitor responded with the correct answer, Annie Sullivan, where Crowell said the name of Sullivan's well-known student Helen Keller. A $100 wager left him with $15,500 — enough to help his advance to next week's semifinals and a step closer to winning $100,000.
'HOPE IS AN ACTION' ... Local teens got the chance to talk with actress Glenn Close this week, not about her film career but rather her personal experience with mental illness. Close co-founded Bring Change to Mind, a national nonprofit working to combat the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness, in 2010 after her sister, Jessie Close, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and her nephew, Calen Pick, with schizoaffective disorder. "When my sister Jessie and nephew Calen were properly diagnosed and treated for mental illness and they returned to their community, they were isolated by the stigma and misunderstanding of their friends and peers," Close told the Weekly. The organization sponsors student-led clubs across the country, including one at Palo Alto High School. Club members from seven local schools invited Close to participate in a "Hope is An Action" activity fair at a Palo Alto home on Wednesday evening. Close thanked the students for working on their campuses to eliminate stigma, which she sees as the biggest barrier to mental health care in the U.S. today.
THE GOOD 'OL DAYS ... Lisa Hanawalt and Raphael Bob-Waksberg, production designer/producer and creator/showrunner, respectively, of the Netflix animated series "BoJack Horseman," gave a glimpse into their lives as Gunn High School students in a profile published online Tuesday in "The California Sunday Magazine." The series is considered one of TV's most groundbreaking shows and was the streaming service's first original adult animated series, according to the article. Hanawalt's new animated series, "Tuca & Bertie," which debuted on Netflix this month and on which Bob-Waksberg serves as a producer, focuses on the friendship between a toucan (voiced by actress Tiffany Haddish) and a song thrush (voiced by actress Ali Wong). In the article, she called Gunn "one of those schools where if you didn't take five AP classes and get 1600 on your SATs, you were considered subpar." The pair grew close during their time in the school's theater program, where Hanawalt would create sketches that turned into stories through Bob-Waksberg. The profile also captures the two debating over Bob-Waksberg's title as "Class Clown" as opposed to "Funniest," a title that went to another student, in his class favorites. He described the "Class Clown" title as "'Ahhhhh, look at me, look at me!'" while the "Funniest" designation translated to "'Oh, a subtle wit.'" Hanawalt was blunt with her longtime friend in her response: "You were not subtle."
• Read our 2014 feature on Hanawalt and Bob-Waksburg here.
TIGHT-LIPPED ... Waymo executives plugged their hardware, computer systems and safety standards at a Wednesday press event — but the self-driving car company is still mute on when driverless testing will actually launch in the Bay Area. Ever since last October, Waymo officials have had permission to begin a new stage of autonomous testing, with authorization to send out about 60 driverless vehicles onto the streets of Mountain View, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale and Los Altos. Up to this point, Waymo vehicles have always had a driver behind the wheel ready to take control if needed, but this new phase would allow the vehicles to navigate city with no one on board. News of the coming "ghost cars" have excited some and alarmed others. The company has given no indication of when it will be ready to launch. Waymo Chief Technology Officer Dmitri Dolgov said the company was getting ample data from its testing in the greater Phoenix area of Arizona. "I don't want to throw out any concrete date, our deployment will be gated by the safety," he said.