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Tilting at Windmills

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September 16, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

PRISONER OF TREBEKISTAN....Have you ever wondered if there's a secret to winning at Jeopardy? Well, it turns out there is. And Bob Harris spills the beans in Prisoner of Trebekistan.

Seriously, he does. He was over at my house a few weeks ago and we got to talking about his past appearances on the show. I'd love to be a contestant too, I told him, but I have poor reading habits and a lousy memory and probably wouldn't do well. Pshaw, he told me. There's a trick to memorizing large amounts of crap and it's all in the book. He'd be happy to send me a copy. And he did. And it did.

Unfortunately and I don't want to give anything away here the secret involves (a) massive amounts of time and (b) a healthy dose of obsessive insanity. Both of which Bob apparently had at the time, and it's a combination that makes Prisoner of Trebekistan genuinely delightful. It's got plenty of inside dope about Jeopardy, but it's also a journal about Bob's life and how Jeopardy holds up a mirror to it. It's a terrific read.

Highly recommended, whether you're a Jeopardy junkie or not. It's available now at bookstores large and small. It probably makes a great gift too, and all the royalties go to a reliably liberal fellow blogger. How can you lose?

Kevin Drum 5:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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Comments

I auditioned for Jeopardy, and I was astonished at the screening test. If you want to pass the test and get to the second screening round, you better know the bible backwards and forwards, there were tons of questions about it. I failed the test. But then, I'm a buddhist.

Posted by: charlie don't surf on September 16, 2006 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

It's got plenty of inside dope. . .


That's 'It has plenty of inside dope', it got it at the store.

Posted by: afxstein on September 16, 2006 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

Ken Jennings has a book out too.

It's more about trivia nuts in general, though.

Link.

Posted by: Steve Brady on September 16, 2006 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

What Kevin Drum doesn't understand is that his insane political positions put us all in Jeopardy! How's that for a pointless, off-topic tie-in?

Posted by: Al on September 16, 2006 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

Question: How long did it take you to read the book? I got my copy this past week and I've been able to dedicate about 30 minutes to so far.

Being a how-falutin' political blogger gives you hours to read? And you get paid for it?

...I'm doing something wrong.

Posted by: Darryl Pearce on September 16, 2006 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

I have poor reading habits and a lousy memory...

Cripes, your memory seems pretty good to me. I'm a mildly obsessive political junkie myself, but god knows I can't keep a running tally of six years of Bush shenanigans in my head the way you can.

Posted by: crabshack on September 16, 2006 at 7:24 PM | PERMALINK

I'll have current events for $1000

George W Bush

Who was the worst President in US history?

Correct!

Posted by: craigie on September 16, 2006 at 7:56 PM | PERMALINK

Back in '94, I went to a tryout session pretty much on a lark, and ended up winning four shows and getting to the two-round Tournament of Champions final. I hadn't been a student of the show, so what surprised me the most was the luck factor: which categories came up, which opponents you drew, and what particular questions were asked. I pulled out one game in final Jeopardy because a word in the clue reminded me of a movie I had seen when I was about 10. Another time, I sort of got my own name (Segal) wrong on a final Jeopardy question about plays (The Seagull), but ended up winning anyway. The other thing I wasn't prepared for was the importance of buzzer timing; I can't tell you how many chances I blew in that last Tournament game because one of the other two guys buzzed in ahead of me. (By the time you get to the Tournament, I've got to believe that most of the time, everyone up there knows the answer--the difference is who rings in.)
All told, it was a great time. Like having a yard sale for all that otherwise useless information accumulated over the years. Plus, you get a measure of "stupidity insurance." Even if you say or do something boneheadedly lame, you get cut slack: "Yeah, but he DID win on Jeopardy."

Posted by: Isaac Segal on September 16, 2006 at 8:42 PM | PERMALINK

I went to one of Jeopardy's regional cattle calls where they gave written tests to the first n hundred people to get in line. I did a good job on that and was given a ticket to a second screening round involving mock Jeopardy games (with buzzers, etc.). Unfortunately, the day of the second round was also the day one of my high school chums was getting married. It would have been difficult to skip the wedding since I was the best man.

Answer: Wedding attendee
Question: What was I in lieu of being a Jeopardy contestant?

Posted by: Zeno on September 16, 2006 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

While we're on the topic, some guy in Iowa solves the energy crisis,

http://scienceblogs.com/aetiology/2006/07/iowa_solves_the_fuel_crisis_1.php#more

Posted by: cld on September 16, 2006 at 9:37 PM | PERMALINK

The day is mine!

Posted by: SukitTrebek on September 16, 2006 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't been a Bob Harris fan since his Australia blogging - my girlfriend used to live in the places he described and she claimed his observations and conclusions we way off.

Posted by: Mark on September 16, 2006 at 11:35 PM | PERMALINK

I just finished the book several days ago, and I have to say I found it marvelous. Harris does a memorable job of spinning his narrative backwards and forwards in a wonderfully non-linear manner, yet it works. Thought provoking insights, self deprecatory humor, and lots of facts; if there's another book like it anywhere I'd be surprised.

If you know anyone who is a teacher, they'll get a kick out of this, because one theme of the book is how learning both expands and enriches your world in ways you can't anticipate. It also leads to humility as you start to realize how much you don't know and how much more there is waiting to be discovered.

Posted by: Larry Roth on September 16, 2006 at 11:53 PM | PERMALINK

What Isaac Segal said. After sending in 50 audition lottery postcards in 1991, I got called for an audition. I scored 100 on the written test and then had a simulated game with categories such as Furniture and Fashion. I got no further.

Posted by: Randy Paul on September 16, 2006 at 11:56 PM | PERMALINK

I'll take BORING for $500, Alex.

Z-zz-z-z-z-z-z-z......

Posted by: A Cynic's Cynic on September 17, 2006 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

Here's a couple category tips: If it's "U.S. Presidents" the answer is Harrison. If its "Explorers" the answer is Scott. At least it has been three or four times.

The REAL Jeopardy Game that we purists play is to give the correct question after the category is named, but before the clue is given.

I've done it only five times in ten years.

Posted by: buddy66 on September 17, 2006 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

If I get accepted as a contestant on both Jeopardy and Survivor will the
Washington Monthly give me a blog, too?

Posted by: fyreflye on September 17, 2006 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

"The REAL Jeopardy Game that we purists play is to give the correct question after the category is named, but before the clue is given."


yes! i play that way too for final jeopardy. friends and i used to do that. they give the category, go to commercial, and we argue about what the right response is going to be, whatever the clue is. i won once. so did a couple friends. it's easier than you might think.

Posted by: rqz on September 17, 2006 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK


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