Sunday, January 28, 2007

Brainiac (Ken Jennings)



Where were you the summer of Ken Jennings? We were in Madison, and every day after work I'd come home halfway through the game. "How's Ken doing?" I'd ask Jim, who was working from home at the time, and he'd give me the update on the current Jeopardy! game. At first I wasn't a big Ken fan, but he quickly grew on me: He seemed very nice, was gracious to the two poor saps who had to play against him, and didn't present himself as too much of a know-it-all or too pretentious. It was probably the longest streak of continuous Jeopardy-watching we've ever had. In the end, Ken won 74 Jeopardy! games.

Well now Ken Jennings has written a book: Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. The book is a mix of Ken's experience on Jeopardy!, along with more information than you could imagine on trivia: the history of it, stories about people who make their living writing about it, how to phrase a good trivia question, and crazy days-long trivia fests in places like Steven's Point, Wisconsin.

A complete aside, but while reading this book, I could not get the song "Jeopardy" by Greg Kihn out of my head. Not because it's a particularly good song, but because it's on the radio a lot and I only know the first line ("Our love's in jeopardy, baby. Oooohhh ooh ooh ooooohhh.) and it easily repeats in my head. Greg Kihn is now an aging rock star who is one of the radio deejays on the morning show we listen to on our way to work. Among other things, he usually talks about how much he hates Berkeley (he's a George Bush voter), what new parts of him ache as he's getting older (sometimes he even takes calls from other aging rockers to discuss their latest body ailments), and at least once a week about how his Dad fought in the snow in Belgium in World War II, and how things just aren't the same as they used to be. Even now, while writing this review, the song is looping in my head, though sometimes I switch the lyrics to the Weird Al version ("I lost of Jeopardy.")

Ken's a pretty decent writer, and I found the story of his adventures with Jeopardy! to be the best part of the book. Someone else in the book's production must have known that too (whether it was Ken or his editor) because the book is organized so that many parts begin with Ken's story with Jeopardy!, leave you at somewhat of a cliffhanger, and then jump into a many-page long story about the history of trivia before returning back to what happened on Jeopardy!. (Did you know that we he first tried out for Jeopardy!, they still had the 5-day champion rule? He was called to be on the show 8 months after he auditioned, and in that time, they had changed the rule.)

Ken couldn't talk about the Jeopardy! experience while it was happening, so he felt like he was leading a double-life of sorts (the tapings would occur every Tuesday and Wednesday each week, so he'd fly back and forth between Los Angeles and his home town of Salt Lake City). But once his episodes were on air, he became a national celebrity. He knew it was maybe getting out of control when his young son started referring to him as "Ken Jennings" instead of "Daddy."

If you're the least bit curious about the inner workings of Jeopardy! or want to know more about trivia, I'd recommend this book. Jennings even has trivia questions throughout each chapter, so you can test your own trivia knowledge.

Next book up: Ball Four by Jim Bouton

1 comment:

Murphy said...

Catching up today. Really enjoy the work (maybe it's not really work - looks like you are having fun) you two are doing. Also really like your creative approach to the pictures.