One of my favorite shows is Jeopardy. Like most people who watch along, I get a kick out of trying to shout out the answers before the on-screen contestants can buzz in their correct reply. The best part? When I’m wrong, I don’t get deducted points. It’s like I win all the time. That is, until recently, when I watched the IBM supercomputer Watson beat up on my hero Ken Jennings, and another former champion Brad Rutter. I still enjoy watching, of course (Who doesn’t like Alex Trebek!? And yes he should grow back his mustache.) but I no longer aspire to be on the program as before. The amount of knowledge required is vast, and what made Watson so impressive was its ability to comprehend human language quickly. Jeopardy has a way of speaking intricately—phrases that even the human contestants do not always pick up on. To those braver (and smarter) than I, here are some valuable tools to get you started for Jeopardy success.
The go-to memoir for this is Bob Harris’ Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy! Harris was an eight-time winner, and this book tells that story, as well as suggestions for how to be a future success on the show—how to prioritize categories, how to seek out the “Daily Double,” what to expect in “Final Jeopardy.” That this book is so humorous and well-written makes it all the more an essential tool.
Next is the man himself, Ken Jennings. Seventy-four time winner on Jeopardy, and second place only to Rutter for all-time winnings, Jennings is the modern-day authority on all things trivia. To attempt to be a contestant on Jeopardy, or any other trivial game show, for that matter, without consulting his books (or researching his performances) would be detrimental. You would also be robbing yourself of a fantastic personality. In Brainiac, Jennings not only goes through his personal experience on the show, but also its history, and his own history as a “trivia nerd.” Just for an idea of how fast and complex his mind works, fans could also pick up his Trivia Almanac, wherein, much like his former monthly column in Mental Floss, he takes a subject from each day and compiles it seamlessly.
Finally, aside from picking up the encyclopedia and memorizing it, many former Jeopardy champions swear by The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. I’m picking through it, and it has already improved some of my shout out to the television answers, even if I’m not quite sure how I learned what I did—this book is to thank. Compiled by subject (“The Bible,” “World Geography,” and “Business and Economics” are some of the chapters), this book is a pretty handy compendium for any future trivia buff.
There you have it. All the tools you need (you, not me) to be a future Jeopardy champion. Now go take out the computer.