Monday, July 12, 2004

$972,960 AND COUNTING: 29 straight for Jeopardy! God Ken Jennings, and there's no reason to think he won't crack [pinky to mouth] one million dollars on Tuesday.

I admire Jennings' steadfast refusal to break the $52,000 record for one-day winnings; it's a humble honoring of tradition, and that's pretty cool.

So far as I can gather, Jennings' success demonstrates four things I think are true about the show:
1. It's better to be the fastest than the smartest. Jennings' ear-finger coordination is exceptional, and you don't need to respond right away, anyway. But you need to have a chance to respond.

2. You don't need to know everything to succeed in Jeopardy!; what you need to understand are puns and wordplay, because a lot of the time you can get the question based on obvious clues in the answer.

3. Still, between being really smart and not being really smart, it helps to be really smart.

4. Your success can breed failure in others. When Jennings rolls off eleven in a row, as he did tonight, it forces others to respond too quickly (locking themselves out) or guessing when they really shouldn't. But what it hasn't provoked -- yet -- is people constantly going for broke on Daily Doubles. They're playing too timidly against him, and when you want to kill a dragon, you can't just knock it on its back and hope it stays down -- you have to chop its head off.

Stat via a poster the official Jeopardy! board: through 28 games, Jennings has correctly answered 966 times, an average of 34.5 (out of 60) per show. Whoa.

Also, apparently, we're nine shows away from the end-of-summer hiatus. Will we be seeing Ken in September?

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