Ken Jennings and Jeopardy!

In the past 24 hours, I watched the last four episodes of JEOPARDY!’s most recent season, mostly comprised of the Ken Jennings steamroller making mince meat of anyone who dares stand next to him. It’s been entertaining, but it’s also been enlightening.

Things I’ve learned:

  1. A lot of Jeopardy! clues have nothing to do with the categories they’re in. Notice how often the category is used as a segue to the real question/answer. It’s bizarre. Often, the clue belongs in the category, but the hint that gives away the response has nothing to do with the category.

I’ll make up an example here: Given the category of “Presidents,” the answer might read, “President George Bush calls this his home state, the capital of which is Austin.” You don’t need to know the president’s home state, so long as you know the state capitals. That’s a minor example, but there are plenty just like it on any given board.

  1. Being a movie buff certainly pays off. Movie-themed clues can show up in just about any category.

  2. That said, Jennings’ scope of knowledge is very wide. He answers Shakespeare, geology, alcoholic beverages, European history, royal history, geography, pop culture/celebrity, mythology, and more. Lesson learned here? Being an English major is a very good thing. Being well-read is even better.

  3. Thursday’s game had a very fast buzzer. Usually, the contestants are cleared to ring in just a split second after the camera cuts to them. On Thursday’s show, the buzzers were opened just before or just as the camera cut to them. Someone different was opening them up, and Jennings was able to notice it and correct for it.

  4. If you’re looking for Daily Doubles, don’t bother with the first clue in a given category. This is basic Jeopardy! strategy, but there are many people who don’t understand this. In one game, there were two Daily Doubles left and two categories left. Once Jennings found the first one, he immediately switched to the other category, starting at the second clue in.

  5. On Final Jeopardy, I got the Shakespeare clue right (actually naming 3 of 4) and the Presidents clue correctly. Both shot right to mind. It shows that sometimes, your first guess is the best. =) (I didn’t answer the Singers category right, which irked me. I should have gotten it.)

  6. September 6th. Mark the date on your calendars. That’s when KenJen returns to go after the Tic Tac Toe record of consecutive game show wins, even if the stat is comparing apples to oranges. On the bright side, this gives him a few weeks to study. On the down side, it does the same for everyone else. heh heh

To sum this all up: Ken Jennings is a very smart man, using good Jeopardy! strategy*, and with an excellent sense of timing for the buzzer. And people want to know why he’s winning? I think it’s obvious.

(*) Some might challenge some of his betting in the name of being cute with the round numbers, though.


7 Responses to “Ken Jennings and Jeopardy!”

  1. Everything Is In/Flux
    27. July 2004 at 16:53

    Dealing with the flow Last week I posted about Ken Jennings, Jeopardy player extraordinaire. In that post I linked to this amusing post on Jason Kottke’s site. I also did a trackback on the post and thus was listed at the side under the other trackbacks. I received a lo…

  2. Augie De Blieck Jr.
    27. July 2004 at 17:01

    Wow, that’s scary. You managed to link in within minutes of me writing the post. Cool. And thanks. =)

  3. Matt Clements
    27. July 2004 at 17:17

    Yeah Bloglines must have picked up your feed just after you posted and I happened to read it as soon as Bloglines made it available. Even in the asynchronous nature of blogging you can still have near-synchronicity. :)

  4. Joseph J. Finn
    27. July 2004 at 19:42

    For those wondering, the record for consecutive appearances is 46 days, set by Thom McKee on Tic Tac Dough in 1980. Oh, and this article has a picture of McKee at the time.

    God bless Google.

  5. Tom Galloway
    28. July 2004 at 17:31

    Other reasons why Ken’s doing so well:

    1) Not only was he active in quiz bowl in college (where one can get used to thinking of strategy with regards to this. For example, there’s actually a situation where the right thing to do in quiz bowl is buzz in when you have no chance of getting a correct answer [you're leading by 10 points with around 10 seconds left in the match. Buzz in on the last toss-up before enough information to answer is given, then take the maximum several seconds before using another second or two giving whatever random answer comes into your head. You've just had 5 points subtracted from your score, but barring a wild guess being correct the other team now has no chance of answering the question correctly and tying you], but he’s continued as literature and mythology question editor for NAQT (National Academic Quiz Tournaments). Note that the all-time winner on US games shows, Kevin Olmstead, is also associated with NAQT.

    2) He’s a long time comic book geek. We’ve been discussing this a bit over on the J! boards, and my theory is that a J! clue is about the same amount of text as in a comic book word balloon. So, if you’re used to reading that amount of text quickly and as a unit, you get an extra second or two to think over the other players.

    3) He knows his weak areas relative to what the show uses a lot. As a teetotaler, he was weak on alcoholic drinks. So, during the month between getting the call and appearing, his wife drilled him on drink ingredients with flashcards.

    What I’m going to find interesting is how quickly word leaks out about his eventual loss. All his previous games, and potentially his next ten (the first two weeks of next season have already been filmed), were under the radar save for whoever was in the studio audience. But now, well, it’s easy to find out when J! is taping and station someone to watch the entrance to the Sony parking structure. Or, since Ken’s workplace has become known, stake it out or call and ask for him on tape days. Etc. When he stops going to LA on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, you figure he’s lost.

  6. Everything Is In/Flux » Blog Archive » Dealing with the flow
    23. January 2006 at 13:10

    [...] Edit: Augie has a nice summary of why Ken Jennings is such a strong contestant. [...]

  7. Dating
    28. February 2006 at 21:00