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.

1 comment:

Myron said...