“Triple” Jeopardy!

Recently, I’ve enjoyed reading two books written by former contestants of the TV game show “Jeopardy!” They are both books I’d be likely to read anyway, but since I actually had an in-person audition(!) looming on my calendar (now since completed “without incident” – I’m in the contestant pool again, this time until September, 2016. Doesn’t mean they’ll call me, but I’ve gone as far as I can in the tryouts process. 🙂 ) , I was also reading them to hopefully gain a little insight or some pointers. brendan dubois book

The first was Brendan DuBois’ “My Short, Happy Life in Jeopardy,” where he describes his history trying to get on the show and his eventual appearance, where he experienced a modest level of success. The second was the more recognizable (to Jeopardy! fans, anyway) Bob Harris’s “Prisoner of Trebekistan.” How did I learn of these books? Well, I’ve been a lurker on the Jeopardy! (“JBoard”) message board where fans of – and often former contestants on – the show discuss the games that are broadcast (and other matters, but I’m mostly interested in what they think of the games and clues). It’s basically a message board full of monday morning quarterbacks, and they can be ruthless if contestants wager illogically or commit other faux pas. Author Brendan DuBois is a frequent commenter there and his sign off had a link to his book so I risked my $2.99 (or $3.99, I can’t remember now) and ordered his book. Bob Harris’s book is mentioned by Mr. DuBois, so I soon got that one as well. I more or less enjoyed both books, the DuBois book mostly for his story as I must sadly report it was rife with typos and errors (e.g. Jane Austin, Dave “Groul” of the Foo Fighters (twice!) and numerous other typos and errors). This is made more shocking by the fact that DuBois is already a published, “award-winning” Mystery writer. The e-book I purchased was poorly edited – maybe it was a rush job to cash in on his appearance on the show?  One thing I did take away from the DuBois book was that – if I am fortunate enough to get the call to appear on the show – I’m going out there to try and WIN, not just to be star-struck and “enjoy the experience” (which I would certainly do – but how much more enjoyable would it be if one were to win too?)

prisoner-of-trebekistan-a-decade-in The second book was great. Regular watchers of the show may remember Bob Harris and his unique personality. A former comedian, his wit is prevalent throughout his book, “Prisoner of Trebekistan” and even though at times it got a little tiring, remained generally fresh throughout. Mr. Harris was in the game to WIN it. If he were to lose, it wouldn’t be through lack of preparation or effort. Harris’s success on the show came more through rote memorization and “training” than most top Jeopardy! players – a fact he freely admits and realizes may be a liability, as when he describes going up against Jeopardy! titan, Dan Melia: “But I’m starting to realize that Dan has actually read all the books whose titles I have merely memorized. This is not going to make my life easy.”

Don’t remember Bob Harris? Here’s an interview that may refresh your memory

There also some great Jeopardy! stratagems in Harris’s book, including one I’ve always thought about but haven’t heard many mention “…by attacking your weakest category immediately, you’ll probably get the hardest clues off the board with the least possible amount of money at stake. If there’s a Daily Double in the weak category, it will barely matter, while hitting it late puts you in a difficult betting situation.” He also warns against the danger of guessing, saying you should treat the signaling device like the gun in a game of Russian Roulette. “Keep your finger off the trigger unless you’re damn sure you know what’s in the chamber.” He also pointed out that if you miss a clue – even if no one else gets it, you lose ground against both by the value of the clue. If someone else DOES get it, you’ve lost twice the value of the clue vs. that player which, plus the value you lost against the other is a net loss of THREE TIMES the value. That’s a big risk. That said, I wonder how hard it would be under game situation pressure to not make an educated guess. You see people do it on the show all the time. Like the two unfortunates pictured below, who will probably never live it down that in their appearance on the show, neither even got to stick around for Final Jeopardy. (I know, here I am not helping matters either…)

Anyway, this was a great book, chock full of helpful info for Jeopardy! hopefuls.

Having knocked out these two books, I thought it might be nice to complete a literary hat trick and read a third Jeopardy!-related item, David Foster Wallace’s short story “Little Expressionless Animals.” I have this story in a collection from that author on loan from one of my Vonnegut Library Book Club colleagues, Dave, whose work as the stalwart scribe of that club’s meetings may be found at its blog site.  Wallace’s story was a humorous speculation about a seemingly invincible Jeopardy! champion.

david foster wallace

A young woman (whose learning came from a set of encyclopedias that she read while watching over her autistic brother during a tough childhood; unbeknownst to her, the little brother is memorizng them as well…) begins a longer than one-year reign as champion and, though odd, charms many at the show, even Alex Trebek (who’s offer to join him for a soda at the Sony Television cafeteria is shot down, however).  She actually ends up dating the daughter of one of the show’s staff, which leads to complications, naturally. Of the main character, we learn that “…she believes lovers go through three different stages in getting really to know one another. First they exchange anecdotes and inclinations. Then each tells the other what she believes. Then each observes the relation between what the other says she believes and what she in fact does.”  She’s also described in this way: “She has a way with data. To see her with an answer… Is there such a thing as an intellectual caress?”

Similar to Ken Jennings’ run on the show in real life (which I believe this story actually pre-dates) what first was a fun and exciting curiosity eventually becomes tedious and there is a backlash to seeing the same champion over and over AND OVER again. Eventually, the show – now desperate for a new champion – enlists the one person they think may be able to stop her: (Yep – you guessed it) Her younger brother.

There’s a lot of great humor in the story, too, as – in one example of gamesmanship, one contestant convinces another that, if she finishes in the read, she’ll have to pay Jeopardy! the amount of negative money on the board before they’ll let her leave the set. There’s also behind the scenes shenanigans between Alex and Pat Sajak, who are apparently are at “war.” For example, Alex pranks Sajak by manipulating the applause sign during Wheel of Fortune, leading the audience to cheer when contestants hit bankrupt or “lose a spin”, etc. – ha ha ha.

What about you?  Do watch the show, “Jeopardy!” or have you read anything about it? (Ken Jennings’ “Brainiac” was also good – but I read that long ago, in my non-blogging days).  Have you ever tried out or auditioned for the show?  There are actually on line Jeopardy! tests the next couple nights so it’s not too late to register!  🙂 I’ve shared a sample of a prior test in a previous blog post if you’d like to see what kind of questions were on it that time.  Good luck if you do!

“Bookish” questions on Last Night’s Jeopardy! Online Test


This Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday mark the latest round of the online tryouts for the TV game show, Jeopardy! As a lifelong triviaphile and someone who now and then is blessed with episodes of ’Rainman’ memory, I’ve tried out twice before, making it “all the way” to the contestant pool both times. I was never called up to the show, though (I did the math once and figured the size of their contestant pool might be ten times the number needed, so even if you make it “all the way” in their audition process, it’s still a bit of a lottery).

If you’re interested in taking the test, you still have one night left to try. You have to register first, which takes about 5 minutes. The tests are run at a specific time (it was 8 p.m. eastern for me) so its a good idea to register earlier in the day to make sure you know what time you need to log on. Here’s a link and good luck if you give it a go: http://www.jeopardy.com/onlinetests/adult/

So, someone was kind enough to post the 50 questions (and answers, which I’ll share below) on the show’s online forums last night. As in prior times I’ve taken the test, books and literature comprised a significant percentage of the questions. I’ve bold-faced the ones that had a book or literary component below – quite a few, eh? I scored comparably to the last time, which resulted in an invitation to the in-person phase of the audition, where you have to take another fifty question test, be photographed and interviewed, and play an abbreviated version of the game with two other candidates.

Take a gander at the questions and see how many you know. (I’ll post the answers “below the fold”) Sony Television is very cagey about sharing how many you have to get right to “pass,” but based on prior experience I suspect it’s at least 35 or maybe as many as 40. When you take the test online, you only have 15 seconds to type in your answers. Pressure!

Have you ever tried out for Jeopardy!? What was your experience like? Do you watch the show? How many of the “bookish” questions below did you get?

Below is an image of what the testing screen looks like:


And now the test:

1. Explorers
In 1724 Peter the Great commisioned this Dane to explore the Pacific coast of Siberia

2. TV Dramas
Claire Danes plays the Emmy-winning role of CIA agent Carrie Matheson on this Showtime drama.

3. Fashion
In bridal fashions, blusher, cascade, & birdcage are types of these

4. Bestsellers
The TV series “Under the Dome” is based on a bestseller by this author

5. Bodies of Water
The Gulf of Finland is an arm of this sea

6. “A” in Mythology
In Greek myth, Jason led this famous group of sailors

7. General Science
Nearly all of the Earth’s weather occurs in this layer of the atmosphere below the stratosphere

8. 20th Century Playwrights
“Glengarry Glen Ross” about desperate real estate salesmen, won him a 1984 Pulitzer Prize

9. 10-Letter Words
This “botanical” interchange is where 2 highways meet

10. Memoirs
She wrote the 2009 memoir “Going Rogue: An American Life”

11. Single-Named Performers
Marshall Mathers goes by this stage name

12. Trees
Brought over from Australia to the US, Blue Gum is a common variety of this tree

13. American History
In November 1906 Teddy Roosevelt left the US to personally see the progress on this engineering project

14. Language Lessons
It’s the Spanish word for the midday rest

15. Art
A rich auburn color is named for this Venetian artist, who favored that hair color in his paintings

16. First Names
One of the top 5 for US girls born in 2012, it also belongs to a Jane Austen heroine

17. Books & Authors
He reworked a novel called “Stephen Hero” into “A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man”

18. Deserts
This desert forms the triangular southern half of Israel

19. Actor-Directors
He wrote & directed 2013’s “Blue Jasmine” but doesn’t star in it

20. Physics
“Planck” down this term for the smallest amount of energy that can be emitted as electromagnetic radiation

21. Architecture
The 3 orders of ancient Greek column were Doric, Ionic & this ornate one named for a city

22. Compound Words
It’s an apartment house owner who overcharges tenants while allowing the property to deteriorate

23. Name the Work
1902: “The horror! The horror!”

24. Entrepreneurs
In the 21st Century he kept dazzling visitors to Vegas with the encore as well as the casino that bears his name

25. Current World Leaders
He served in the KGB from 1975 to 1991

26. The Solar System
Triton is the largest moon of this planet

27. US Presidents
He was President when the 20th Century began

28. Flags
4 white fleurs-de-lis appear on this Canadian province’s flag

29. English Literature
According to a George Eliot title, the Tullivers own a mill on this river

30. Classic Movie Actresses
She played Isla in “Casablanca”

31. Alliteration
Bovine term for a business product that is a dependable source of income

32. Shakespeare’s Women
While sleepwalking she yells, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!”

33. 4-Letter Capitals
It’s the Capital of Latvia

34. Tech Stuff
In 2013 Susan Bennett was revealed to be the original vocie of this iPhone assistant

35. Colonial America
The Pilgrims formed Plymouth Colony & this religious group founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony

36. Ancient Greeks
At age 70, he was put on trial for “Not believing in the gods the state believes in”

37. Nonfiction
His books included “Diet Revoluion”, “New Diet Revolution” & “Health Revolution

38. Anatomy
The name of this jawbone is from the Latin for “To chew”

39. World Cities
Located at the south end of the Bosporus, it’s the only major city to lie on 2 continents: Asia & Europe

40. American Lit
This author’s “House of the Seven Gables” tells of the cursed Pyncheon family

41. Legal “E”s
Often issued in times of war, this order prohibits ships or goods from leaving a port

42. Bible Books By Story
3 friends are thrown into a fiery furnace in this biblical book

43. College Bowl Games
Since 1975 this New Year’s college bowl game has been played at the Superdome in New Orleans

44. Literary Trilogies
“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” completed the trilogy about a hacker from this country

45. Health & Medicine
It’s the learnign disability in which sufferers reverse words like “was” & “saw”

46. The French Revolution
During this bloody period of the revolution, at least 17,000 people were executed

47. Politicians
This Senator’s memoir “An American Son” covers his family’s journey from Cuba to Florida

48. The Western Hemisphere
The West Indian island of Aruba is a self-governing part of this European country

49. Such a Character!
Robert Bloch based this motel owner in his novel “Psycho” on convicted Wisconsin killer Ed Gein

50. Double “L” Words
Hairstyle described as “Business in the front, party in the back”

1. Bering
2. Homeland
3. Veils
4. Stephen King
5. Baltic Sea
6. Argonauts
7. Troposphere
8. David Mamet
9. Cloverleaf
10. Sarah Palin
11. Eminem
12. Eucalyptus
13. Panama Canal
14. Siesta
15. Titian
16. Emma
17. James Joyce
18. Negev Desert
19. Woody Allen
20. Quantum
21. Corinthian
22. Slumlord
23. Heart of Darkness
24. Steve Wynn
25. Vladimir Putin
26. Neptune
27. William McKinley
28. Quebec
29. Floss
30. Ingrid Bergman
31. Cash cow
32. Lady Macbeth
33. Riga
34. Siri
35. Puritans
36. Socrates
37. Atkins
38. Mandible
39. Istanbul
40. Nathaniel Hawthorne
41. Embargo
42. Daniel
43. Sugar Bowl* (Question is incorrect as the 2006 Sugar Bowl was played at the Georgia Dome)
44. Sweden
45. Dyslexia
46. Reign of Terror
47. Marco Rubio
48. Netherlands
49. Norman Bates
50. Mullet

So, “Jeopardy!” invited me to a contestant audition…

Back in February, I participated in an on-line tryout for the television quiz show, “Jeopardy!” and thought that I did pretty well. It was a fifty-question test, and there was very limited time to answer each question before the next one popped up. I figured that I did just about as well as the other time I went through the audition process. That was back in 2004. I made it “all the way” that time and was in their contestant pool while Ken Jennings was winning his 75 shows in a row (and hurting my chances by not allowing the show to turn over a new champion every few days). They never called me, although I did see a few people from the group I tested with on the show. At that time, they told us, “you’ll be in our files for about 16 months; if we don’t call you within that time, you’ll have to try out again.”

So, I’ve been “bitter” all these years (ha ha) yet spent the time “constructively” by sitting in multiple bars that run the Buzztime Trivia network, taking on all comers – usually with success. In that time I’ve neglected or ignored opportunities for the online tryouts – at least until this year. Sony Television is very secretive about their testing process too, not telling you how many of the fifty questions you need to get right to be eligible, only saying that more people pass the test than they have room for at their auditions and basically,”don’t call us, we’ll call you.” In other words, by passing the online test, you’re still in a “lottery” to possibly get an audition, just one that has a hat with fewer names in it. So, I figured I would never hear from them…

BUT, a couple weeks ago I got an email inviting me to an in-person audition in Lexington, Kentucky next month. So, I will be sacrificing a vacation day to drive the three-ish hours to see if I can get into an even smaller hat with even fewer names in it. I’m excited and nervous both. I’d love to get on the show and win some “big money,” but the shows I’ve been watching lately have been a little discouraging. Well, except for last Thursday, which I would have absolutely crushed, lol. All the reading I’ve done over the years has really helped my “trivia skills” as has having a very wide range of interests. The fifty question test I took on line, had roughly 20% literary-related questions. I’ll paste the list below (warning: including answers) the fold, If you’re curious. Wish me luck!

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