Sunday, May 21, 2006

Trivia Book of the Year, 2002

I finally again have the computer that had my "Trivia Book of the Year" master list on it, so I can review my choices. Most years have two or three choices, a winner and then some honorable mentions. However 2002 has only a single book listed: The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know 3rd ed., by E.D. Hirsch, et al.

I'm pretty sure I picked this one because it came out right after I was on Jeopardy. It's certainly one of the classic study books for the show. You really can't go wrong knowing this stuff.

You can browse the entire book online at Project Bartleby: The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy

Previous Winners:
2005: "The Great American Pop Culture Quiz Book" by the Editors of Entertainment Weekly

Thursday, May 18, 2006

I Got 6

I spent the evening at Buffalo Wild Wings, playing NTN's "Six" game. "Six" is a general knowledge game in six categories. If I correctly understand my NTN history, the game used to be "Trivial Pusuit", until whatever licensing deal they had expired. So now they just have a game with 6 categories very similar to the original 6 in Trivial Pursuit. It's a great game.

Six has 2 special rounds which raise the game up from a simple one-hour multiple choicefest. Round 2 is a matching game. You get a category; for instance, tonight had match these foreign states to their countries, and then you have to match them up. Pretty simple, but this round works as a great diagnostic for what you don't know.

Here were tonight's rounds:

Science: multiplication problems. This is the second time in the last couple of months that I've seen this. Seriously guys. Knock it off.

Geography: The foreign states mentioned above.

Entertainment: Divorced couples. Nothing more entertaining than broken marriages.

History: It'll come to me. Oh yeah, Time's Man of the Year, matching man to year.

And the last two, which I bombed following perfect scores on the first 4:

Sports: Match the NBA team to its arena.

So, seriously. Could you do this? Here were the teams:

Timberwolves (1)
Grizzlies (2)
Trail Blazers (3)
Bucks (4)
76ers (5)
Kings (6)

I knew the T-wolves, because I'm here in Minnesota, and I'm not that lame. Having the arenas listed was some help, in that somehow I recognized the Trail Blazers arena. And I guessed one of the other 4 correctly. I like questions I don't know the answer to.

This is one area where Wikipedia shines: providing lists of related things to study. I look up Wachovia Center, and there at the bottom is a list of all the NBA arenas, as well as all the NHL Arenas and more links to other leagues and other lists. Perfect for studying/beefing up your knowledge. And thus, the NTN game serves as diagnostic.

So I've resigned myself to dropping some points during the sports round, because I make it up with the Arts/Literature question. I work in a bookstore, and thus I know more-than-average about modern fiction. If the question is about popular books, I can make up my points right there. Except that tonight, it was:

Arts/Lit: Complete the Jeffery Deaver novel titles.

Uh-oh Chongo. This isn't like matching up the Janet Evanovich titles like I saw a while back. I'd actually heard of those, and they all have numbers in and are easy to remember. For this round I had to guess, and I only got 4 of 6. Nuts. Oh, well. So I look them up on Wikipedia, and I discover that the 6 novels listed all feature the character Lincoln Rhyme. So I've learned something I can use there.

The other twist round is the final wagering round. You assign point values 1000 to 6000 to the 6 categories. The scores can really fluctuate in this round, since usually up to this point the game is pretty close. (The players at BW3 in Mankato are great, and I love playing there. I'm usually near the top of the scoreboard, but I have to stay on my toes. And if any of them somehow find this, MANWHO says Hi.) Tonight I was quite a bit ahead, but I dropped my 5000 and 6000 questions, and I ended up in third. Dropping the science question alone was a 4400 point swing. Almost impossible to make up.

Anyway, Six is the Thursday night premium NTN game, and it's one of my favorites.

The answers to the NBA arenas question can be found in the comments.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Uneasy Lies The Head

I had forgotten how much fun it is to play along with Jeopardy! And having the burden of missed-clue-stenography lifted makes it that much more so. The VCR thought that Monday was Sunday, so I missed the first show. But I did see, and score along at home, the second and third shows of the Tournament of Champions. Hence there may be spoilers, so read ahead at your own risk.

1. I have a degree in history, and I still know squat about kings and queens. Nefertiti, Roland & Charlemagne, Montezuma, and Iphigenia & Agamemnon: I should have known them all. And I didn't realize until someone pointed it out that all of the pictures in this video clue were closeups of the rulers actually wearing crowns. Nothing gets past me, I tell you what.

I could bone up on them by using an online encyclopedia. I mean, I'm sitting right in front of a computer; it wouldn't take but a minute or three. But I'm not going to, at least, not right now.

2. I also know nothing about geography, especially on questions involving maps. I mean, I guessed "Indonesia" for a picture of Japan for crying out loud. The "more than 1000 islands" part of the clue threw me off. I know Japan has more than the 4 big islands, but the maps were closeups, and I couldn't see which continent they were off of and where. Etc, etc. Better call the wah-mbulance.

I did recognize Cyprus, but only because the outline is on the flag.

For the record, the four big islands of Japan are:

By size: Honshu - Hokkaido - Kyushu - Shikoku

North to South: Hokkaido - Honshu - Shikoku - Kyushu

I added to my Firefox search engines list, just so I could look that up . Now I'm cool for real, yo.

(Note: Sure I use Wikipedia. I use it a lot. But it's a quantum encyclopedia; you can never be sure whether the info contained within will be right or wrong at any given moment. So it's Infoplease primarily for me. It serves my purposes better, too. Less detailed)

3. Too many wrong guesses by Myron. My Wednesday score should have been about $6000 more, but I really wanted one of those "Alternative Energy" clues to be about wind farms, since there's a big one near the town where I grew up. I did give myself credit for "ethanol", even though I technically couldn't think of it before Vik shouted it out. It was on my microbiology exam this afternoon, for gosh sake. Also from recently taken exams: h being the symbol for Planck's constant (I guessed m). Yes that was last semester, but still.

4. Another major "should have known" clue came up last night. The "Alphabetically First" category asked for the alphabetically first U.S. Supreme Court justice (by last name). I was trying to think of one beginning with A, but I couldn't remember the name of

the most recently appointed one (1)

and sure enough, that was the answer. And I probably could have figured out

which non-radioactive chemical element fit the category (2)

too, if the game hadn't been so fast paced.

5. Categorywise I scored 5/5 on "Star Trek, Star Wars or LOTR" (a real nerd category, as discussed last week), the cutesy-pie lit recognition category "Tarzan's Book Reviews", "TV Numbers", "Politicians", and "Parlez-Vous Anglais", a French phrase ID category. 1 out of 5's were scored on the aforementioned "Who Wears the Crown", "Legal Types", and the also aforementioned "It's on the Map". I beat the smart kids on sauerkraut being the "fermented substance" in mulgikapsad, the Jan & Dean hit "Sidewalk Surfin'", and the TV show Adam-12.

Wednesday's game was awesome. It's good to be back enjoying my show and playing along. And writing about it.

Answers to questions quoted in this post can be found in the comments.

Jeopardy (May 9, 2006), at
Jeopardy (May 10, 2006), at

Japan, at
"aforementioned", at
"categorywise", at
mulgikapsad, at MOFA (scroll to bottom of page) Bonus fun fact: Estonian web pages end with .ee .

All right, fine...
Agamemnon all from

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Breaking out the Scorecard

In 1997, I started seriously watching, taping, reviewing and studying Jeopardy! with an eye toward getting on the show. Somehow perfect inspiration struct almost immediately and I developed a scorecard system that served me well in the 5 years of preparation that led to my appearance on the show.

Here's how it worked. I took a piece of three-ring looseleaf paper and drew a Jeopardy board on each side, one for the Jeopardy round, one for Double Jeopardy. Fill in the category names. Write in how I did on each clue. Calculate my score. I eventually evolved a nice little scoring system for myself. "K" means I knew the answer; "DK" mean I didn't know it, and those also get a diagonal slash. "Ig" is an incorrect guess (and also an immunoglobulin. I should really be studying for my microbiology final exam, instead of blogging). Wrong guesses also get the horizontal slash, which echoes the minus sign.

There was also "CG" for a correct guess and "POE", which stands for process of elimination and was given to a clue that I didn't get until one of the contestants had already gotten it wrong. The little dot in the corner of some boxes means it was a triple-stumper that none of the contestants got right. I added that for an ego boost, for when I got one they didn't. I seen to remember the exclamation point coming into play, although I can't for the life of me remember what it stood for. Maybe a really good clue, or an "I can't believe that was a triple stumper!" kind of thing.

Here's the obsessive genius of the system. After I'd watched each show through once and calculated my score, I'd watch it again and write down all the clues I didn't get right. Sometimes I'd just read over them for review, sometimes I'd make flashcards, sometimes I'd look up more information, and sometimes I'd just let the paper pile up. But I interacted with the show (rather than just "watching" it) for 5 years, and it paid off.

The system was inefficient at first. It took me a couple of years before I realized that I didn't need to copy down the entire clue if I got it wrong. I just needed to boil out the significant fact or clue and go from there. And that was a big step toward making me a better Jeopardy! player. Most of the clues on the show have two parts, the "crux" and the "frill." A good player goes right to the crux and ignores the extra stuff, which is there to make the TV show more interesting. Once you've learned to look for the "author of Such and Such a Novel" or "capital of Some Such Country", you've got an advantage over players who are trying to digest the whole clue.

The other big advantage was that I had a map of where all the Daily Doubles appeared for 5 years worth of shows. The DD's are placed by a human person, and thus, they are not randomly placed. Heck, the categories themselves aren't randomly placed. If there's a sports category on the show, it's probably in the second column, and a "word in quotation marks" clue is almost always on the right side of the board. Meta-knowledge is mega-power.

The other big thing scorekeeping taught me was that I had to learn not to guess. I'll come back to that in a moment.


After I'd been on the show, my scorekeeping tapered off. I just didn't feel like I needed to keep track of scores anymore, and if I did keep track of scores, it felt like cheating not to go back and write down all the clues I missed. And I couldn't watch the show without keeping score, so I slowly stopped watching altogether.

But with a Tournament of Champions starting next week, I had to wonder, "Do I still got it?" If "it" was "proper grammar" the answer is no. But if "it" was skillz and pillz, then there was only one way to find out. I got out some looseleaf, and pen and a pencil, and I drew up a scorecard:

(Click on the small image for a larger one)

By the time I taped my appearances on the show, in June of 2002, my usual score was about $30,000, with frequent jumps as high as $35,000 and a personal best of just under 40-grand, if I recall. So I'm not too disappointed at my $28,800 score from yesterday. There were a couple of things I should have known and way too many Ig's, which is about what I would expect. In fact, without the $5800 lost from those wrong guesses, I'd have been just fine.

(Actually, "SK" for should have known also made a couple of appearances on scorecards, but not very frequently. That Intel clue for $1000 is a definite SK.)

The nice thing is, with the j-archive around, I don't have to go back and watch the show again to write down the misses. I can just put both rounds on one side of the paper, and then look up what I missed, if I want to. For the record:

-risque follies opened in 1869: the Folies Bergères
-"enlightened" Bavarian secret society: the Illumnati
-'70s Red Sox catcher nicknamed "Pudge": Carlton Fisk
-country, the world's second-leading producer of cars in 2000: Japan
-number of nations with a name ending in "stan": 7
-Apollo lunar mission was aborted in 1970 due to explosion: Apollo 13
-James K. Hahn and Richard Riordan: mayors of Los Angeles
-beer from a keg, not a bottle, British spelling: draught
-Wild Bill Hickok & Calamity Jane are buried in this city: Deadwood
-Intel cofounder's law predicting chips would double computing power every 1 or 2 years: Moore's Law
-to stir up trouble, to put "the cat in among": the pigeons
-a misleading illusion; specifically, a bright light over marshy ground: will o' the wisp
-O'dramatist: Eugene O'Neill
-video clue about flowers: four-o'clocks
-General Von Choltitz, military commander of this European capital, wouldn't follow Hitler's orders to burn it: Paris
-Walter Ulbricht blocked de-Stalinization as leader of this country: East Germany
-In 1806, when a patron suggested he tickle the ivories for visiting French officers, he stormed out: Beethoven
-In the 1980s, as Vatican Doctrinal Enforcer, the German born with this surname said no to "liberation theology": Ratzlinger
-In this Hesse work, Harry Haller meets a Doppelganger of himself named Hermine: Steppenwolf
-No. 1 hit from July 1985, he was "findin' it hard to believe we're in heaven": Bryan Adams
-Had he lived in ancient Greece, this president would have been called Odysseus: Ulysses Grant

Note that I wrote, and would have written, the entirely of those Germany clues, even though they boil down to "City (not) burned by Hitler"; Walter Ulbricht was leader"; & "German composer, 1806". These clues sit somewhere at the junction of recognition and recall for me, and I'd have wanted the full text written down. Compare the Daily Double in the O' category, which is straight up recognition, and I'm embarrassed to have missed it. (I would usually pause the VCR for a few seconds, to let myself try to think of the right response if I didn't get a DD right away, but even that wouldn't have helped this time.) DD's and FJ's were always transcribed, whether I knew them or not. Near the very end of my study, I added actually writing the Final Jeopardy response down in the 30 seconds, although I'm not sure whether that skill really could have been learned. I suppose it's just one more way of thinking, and had I come to it earlier, I certainly would have made a habit of it.

This was a lot of fun, and the scorekeeping takes very little time if one is not obsessive about it. I'll probably track the ToC, just to see how I'd stack up.

And considering that I also missed a Beethoven clue when I was on the show, I should probably read a book about him or something.

Jeopardy, May 5, 2006 (from j-archive)
Ludvig Von Beethoven (from

Bonus question, for reading this far: What are the 7 countries that have names ending in "stan"? The answer may be found in the comments section.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

And again and again and again.

Because there is a theoretically finite body of "general knowledge" out there, it is inevitable that quiz shows will repeat questions. Because there are so few quiz shows on television, it is unusual when 2 shows duplicate questions on episodes airing so closely together.

From Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Friday, April 28, 2006:

(For $25,000) The registration number NCC-1701 is displayed on the exterior of what fictional vehicle?

A: Herbie the Love Bug B: Batmobile
C: USS Enterprise D: Millenium Falcon

From Jeopardy!, Tuesday, May 2, 2006:

(In the category PSEUDO MOVIE RATINGS, for $1000) It was the alphanumeric serial number for the Starship Enterprise that first appeared on TV in 1966

The same fact, but the Millionaire question is one of recognition, and the Jeopardy! one is a question of recall. The J! question is harder, but would have gotten a player only 4% of what the Millionaire one would have. Most interestingly, the contestant on Millionaire opted to keep his $16,000, rather than risk it (wisely, since he would have guessed wrong with "D"), while at least 2 of the 3 players on Jeopardy! knew the answer.

(Although Matt technically gave a wrong response of "NC-1701", I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming he was confused by the category, which required that each response "include a movie rating". NCC-1701 only kinda includes the movie rating "NC-17". Good question, bad category.)

In the 18th series of Jeopardy! (the one currently airing in reruns on GSN) there was once a category about Star Trek for which the $1000 clue involved the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. A Trekkie was playing that day, and he got the clue correct. I'm all for including real trivia on the show once in a while, and I'm glad I saw that episode.

My thanks to the unofficial Millionaire message board at and the j-archive for question transcripts.