Answers in the Form of Questions

A Definitive History and Insider's Guide to Jeopardy!

[Amazon Link]

In my old age, I've become a Jeopardy! addict. I was a casual viewer since the Art Fleming days. But it eventually grew into a must-watch thing. And since we got a TiVo, we've hardly missed any episodes; only the ones where WBZ decides to preempt or move it to another time (typically 2:37am).

I even got into doing the yearly online quiz, hoping to impress the contestant search team with my smarts. One year, I got an invite to an in-person test/audition down in Boston; it was fun, but the awaited call beckoning me to Sony Studios never came.

So this book called to me. And I found out a couple reasons why that call didn't come: only about 400 of the 2500 or so auditioners get one. So the odds aren't great.

But even worse, they are looking for interesting contestants. Reader, I know this may be hard for you to believe, but I would probably be a very boring Jeopardy! contestant. ("I have a dog, Alex. Oh, and a cat.") Even as I was filling out the audition questionnaire, I was getting writer's block trying to dredge up something, anything that a nationwide audience might find of note. ("I sat next to Richard Feynman at dinner. Asked him a stupid physics question, which he answered without the condescension or scorn it deserved.")

Oh, well, back to the book. It's really good, an illuminating look at the various factors that go into the show. A lot of funny stories, including those about Alex and many of the show's great contestants, and some not-so-great. A look at the nation's trivia subculture. Maybe more than you want to know about the infamous buzzer. Almost certainly more than you want to know about betting strategy on Final Jeopardy and Daily Doubles. (One contestant had the strategy: just bet $4000. That worked for her, until it didn't.)

The timing of the book was such that it includes information about Alex Trebek's battle with pancreatic cancer, but nothing about his death. That's fortunate, I think.