After booking my flights and hotel (the latter with a nice Sony corporate discount), the next four weeks were a blur of boning up on my weak areas. Studying for Jeopardy! is bizarre; it’s not remotely like studying for an exam because the topics are so wide-ranging and yet surface-level; a knowledge pool that’s miles wide and a quarter-of-an-inch deep.
- US States, cities and capitals
- Nations and capitals
- Mountains, bodies of water, rivers, deserts
- Historic places of significance
- US National Parks
- US Presidents
- US Vice Presidents, cabinets, secretaries, Supreme Court judges
- US Constitution and Amendments
Note the emphasis on US-based facts. Jeopardy! loves those US politics questions, which put me at a distinct disadvantage since I was competing against a bunch of Americans who’ve memorized this stuff since grade school along with their daily Pledge of Allegiance. But deep down, my nightmare scenario has always been me getting a Daily Double or Final Jeopardy clue about Canada… and blowing it!!
History, especially wars
Yuck. Military history, my very least favourite subject at school. Aside from geography. No coincidence that they were both taught by the same (loathed) teacher. And who were the Carolingians, anyway? And what was that I vaguely remember about the Ottoman Empire?!
In his book Brainiac, Jeopardy! all-time champion Ken Jennings mined great humour out of his not knowing anything about alcoholic drinks, being a Mormon. It wasn’t so funny to me any more, since I am hardly more knowledgable about alcohol than your average Mormon. I’ve had maybe two mixed drinks in my life, and couldn’t tell you much more about the wines in our fridge other than one’s red and one’s white, and both are probably too far gone by now even to cook with. And my show would be airing on New Year’s day, so there was a definite chance this category could come up.
- Books of
Not a category I am particularly interested in, but always useful for general literary knowledge.
- Olympic host cities
- Notable athletes
- Sports awards and MVPs
- Major-league sports teams
- US College teams
Because I couldn’t care less about this topic, this is where I finally drew the line. Aside from Olympics and sports team basics (names and cities), I had no intention to do a lick of research. I just figured I was going to wipe out on these—January 1’s Rose Bowl be damned.
My normally messy desk got even worse
Flash card hell
Final Jeopardy betting strategies
In Final Jeopardy the three contestants get the category provided to them and then have to bet all, some, or none of their earnings—keeping in mind the other people’s scores as well as their probable proficiency about the topic. Simple in theory; it gets more difficult when you only have a few minutes to make your calculations, taking into account your position (first, second and third), as well as how difficult you think the question is going to be. I could go into hideous detail—because Peter and I did—but I won’t here, lest your brain tries to crawl out of your skull to escape the tedium.
In addition to all this, every weeknight I played along with the show on TV, using an old novelty Captain Underpants pen as a reasonable stand-in for the signalling device. Peter acted as coach and scored my performance, using a complicated scoring system1 that Jeopardy! aficionados use but I never quite got the hang of.
Fun Fact I learned studying for Jeopardy!
The mascots for the Washington Nationals baseball team are called the Presidents: George, Tom, Abe and Teddy (the four dudes on Mt. Rushmore), who race each other around the field during the fourth inning.
Teddy always loses.Teddy finally won his first race at the end of the 2012 season.
In repeat Jeopardy! champion Bob Harris’s entertaining and thoughtful book Prisoner of Trebekistan, he recounted how while he was studying for the show he found himself descending into a bizarre headspace which he called “Trebekistan”: A place where unrelated facts started wrapping around each other in a great, miasmic tangle of knowledge. In early stages it was an exhilarating and fun state for a trivia geek; later on it started flirting dangerously close to madness.
I started wondering whether I was pushing too hard towards Trebekistan myself when I found someone’s blogpost about a Reddit thought experiment:
“In a mass knife fight to the death between every American President, who would win and why?”
The blogger had posted reasons for every one of the 44 US presidents, and I got a little disturbed when:
- I read the entire article (I mean, a month ago I didn’t even know who William Harrison was, let alone anything about him!)
- I understood the blogger’s reasoning and amusing observations behind each president’s chances
- I largely agreed with the outcome (though I had some doubts about Lincoln being among the top three finalists), and
- I found the post very funny
Fun Fact I learned studying for Jeopardy!
Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita, was also a respected lepidopterist. In addition, he, his wife and son all had synesthesia.
- The number one resource for things Jeopardy! is the J! Archive website run by and contributed to by whom I presume must be fanatical Jeopardy! fans. It features in text form every clue and answer to every Jeopardy! show ever aired; all contestants’ names and how they did; and a huge glossary of betting strategies with names like “Falk’s Law” or “Shore’s Conjecture” as well as the useful scoring system called the “Coryat score” (all named after notable past champions). ↩