The contestants sat clustered in teams, viewing the game board projected on the classroom wall and waiting to pounce on a buzzer if they knew the answer. This was clearly no match for amateurs.

"What is the average volume of the adult cranial vault, plus or minus 200 ml?" asked Bernie Lopez, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital's own Alex Trebek.

The Pen Is Mightier - an all-male team of first-year emergency medicine residents, who took their name from a Saturday Night Live skit - was the first to buzz in. It had 10 seconds to answer.

"One liter," said Jeff Chien, 27, who donned blue scrubs.

"One liter is incorrect," Lopez said, adding some good-natured ribbing: "Jeff, that might be your brain." (One liter would be just over half the size of a normal brain.)

The classroom erupted: "Whoaaaaa!"

The "trash-talking," as Lopez called it, had begun.

Medical school never looked so fun.

At Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia, emergency medicine residents play a doctor's version of Jeopardy! once a month, which culminates in a championship at the end of each academic year. At Thursday's semifinals, the theme was the central nervous system. The questions were culled by Lopez - vice chair of the department of emergency medicine - straight from the textbook, a 2,600-page tome: Principles and Practices of Emergency Medicine.

"You can't get many of the questions right unless you've read the chapters," Lopez said. "What we tap into is the competitiveness of the residents, the peer pressure."

The hospital first began the competition in 2011 as a way to ensure that emergency medicine residents would read their textbooks and also to make learning more interactive for a generation that grew up on the Internet, Lopez said. It's one of several interactive teaching methods used. Most residents in the three-year program are ages 26 to 30.

"One of the hardest things I've had to do as a medical educator is to try to figure out a way to get the students and residents to read," said Lopez, a graduate and former emergency medicine resident of Thomas Jefferson, who has been in medical education there for two decades. "It is sometimes difficult to find the time."

Emergency medicine residents work 50- to 55-hour weeks and spend an additional six hours in formal education training.

"We wanted to find a way to make education more fun and interesting," Lopez said.

It has worked, he said, noting that he never saw textbooks so marked up by residents trying to learn all the content as he does now.

"I get more nervous here than I do in the hospital," said John Lindenmeyer, 28, a second-year resident, who also wore scrubs and was headed after the competition to the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware, where he works in the pediatric intensive-care unit.

His team, MJ3 (because three members' names begin with J and one with M), had only two players available, a disadvantage, but he wasn't worried.

"What percent of the body's oxygen consumption does the brain use, plus or minus 3 percent?" Lopez asked the group. The team that coined itself the Rural Jurors, taken from a 30 Rock episode, nailed it: 20 percent.

Shruti Chandra, 25, of the Rural Jurors, an all-female group of first-year residents, said the game inspired residents to read.

"It's a nice public forum," she said. "You don't want to get embarrassed. You want to be able to know the answers."

When a member of the Pen Is Mightier got the first question of the day wrong, the crowd shouted: "Stuuuuuuuu!" There was a lot of high-fiving and fist pumps for right answers. Only four out of the 51 questions stumped all four teams. And a few answers that Lopez was poised to accept brought challenges from other teams. Emergency Medicine Department chair Ted Christopher sat on the sidelines and served as final arbiter.

The 37 emergency medicine residents are divided into eight teams, including Hori's Cremasters (Hori is a resident and cremaster is a muscle) and LMWH, named after the initials for a treatment for a blood clot in the leg. Categories included "trauma potpourri" - not your typical Jeopardy! fare. But the competition also offered the familiar "daily doubles" and "final jeopardy," which on Thursday tested knowledge of a subarachnoid hemorrhage - bleeding between the brain and the tissues that cover it.

The Rural Jurors, which Lopez had called the dark horse of the competition because of their slow start, held the lead for much of the game. But in the end, Lindenmeyer and his lone teammate, John Kavanaugh, 28, also a second-year resident, aced final jeopardy and bet it all, doubling their lot and edging out Rural Jurors.

"I can head down [to A.I. duPont] with my head held high!" Lindenmeyer said.

Next month for the final match, MJ3 and Rural Jurors will compete with Hori's Cremasters and Weinergate for the championship trophy. They'll have to show off their knowledge of eye, ear, nose, and throat conditions.

Contact Susan Snyder

at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com,

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