Defending Champion

A Year of Jeopardy!—Part Three

The champion’s dressing room is a small closet-sized space in the green room, with a star and the words Jeopardy! Champion on the door. Contestants have about 5 minutes to change clothes and visit makeup before getting back on stage for the next game. I quickly changed into my pink Oxford dress shirt and bright silver tie, got my touch-up, and headed back into the studio. There I joined the game’s new contestants, Julia Lee at the stage left podium, and Megan Winch at the center one.

The show got underway, and you can replay it on the J! Archive site if you wish. I’ll mention a few of the game details here, and you can watch me discuss the game, and particularly my whiff of the Final Jeopardy! clue, at an episode of The Jeopardy Fan’s Jeopardy Live Panel video podcast, which aired on October 30, 2016. In that episode I joined three-day-champ Lani Gonzalez and Thanksgiving Day contestant Jay Johnson, of course along with host Andy Saunders.

None of the Jeopardy! round categories were especially “mine,” though on some of the questions I think being a baby boomer gave me a slight edge. There was an interesting occurrence on the $1,000 clue in “Masters of Socks.” Meghan answered it and was ruled incorrect, and I attempted to answer it and was ruled correct. Meghan asked for a review of the ruling, which all of us were encouraged to do for any question if we felt a mistake had been made. While the review is underway, the taping is paused, the contestants turn their back to the game board, and executive producer Harry Friedman and former head contestant coordinator and now producer Maggie Speak are reassuring us while the judges review the ruling. In this case, they decided that Meghan’s answer should have been accepted. They played back the recording so Alex could see how best to declare Meghan correct in a way that would easily blend in with what was on tape. I went into the commercial break ahead, but was in third place at the end of the round, so I would get the first clue in Double Jeopardy! I had correctly answered the Daily Double on the $800 clue in “Stuff About States,” but had wagered $1,500 rather than making it a true Daily Double. In hindsight, it’s easy to agree with the advice of 2015 Tournament of Champions winner Alex Jacob, to bet big on Daily Doubles, especially when it’s early in the game and there is time to recover if you get it wrong.

When Alex and the contestants chatted after the first break, this time he asked me about the manatee protection regulations I had written when I worked for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. At that job I had combined my interest in marine life with my legal training; the regulations are still in force.

Double Jeopardy! began and I saw my category: “Legal Matters.” Meghan wrested the control of the board away from me on two of the clues, so I did not get a chance to “run the category.” The most embarrassing wrong answer I gave on my two days of play was the $400 clue under “Weather:” “One of these can travel at a third the speed of light & heat the air in its path to more than 50,000 degrees.” It should have been obvious to me that the correct response was lightning, but I said “meteor,” which doesn’t even fit the category. Having lived in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina for 19 years, I also should have known that Sir Walter Raleigh was the correct response for the $800 clue under “History: Hired & Fired.” I finished the round again in second place, with Julia in the lead.

When “Shakespeare” was revealed to be the Final Jeopardy! category, I was worried. I knew this was a weak category for me. I had to decide whether I would cover Meghan’s bet if we were both right, or guess that we would miss it and hold my ground. I made what turned out to be the wrong choice, and covered her bet for a correct response. In so doing I lost too much money to beat Julia when the clue turned out to be a triple-stumper. I finished in second place, my reign as champ at a quick end.

Playing the Game

A Year of Jeopardy!—Part Two

I had taken my place at the center podium, P.J. to my left and the returning champion, George, to my right. Johnny Gilbert had warmed up the audience and the director called for starting the show. Up came the lights and that famous music, and Johnny’s voice intoned, “This is Jeopardy!” He introduced us, and then Alex Trebek. Alex welcomed the two new contestants and returning champion George, and the game was underway. There is no need at this point to recount the full details of the game to you. In my last post I mentioned the J! Archive, a website dedicated to Jeopardy! Among its features is a record of every game in the 33 seasons of Alex Trebek’s hosting the show. You’ll find my debut game here, with all the details ones needs to reconstruct the play. You’ll note that each clue has a number in its top right corner, indicating the order in which the clues were selected. Clicking on the clue will give you the correct response, as well as tell you who offered a response and whether they were right. You can even replay the game, as if you were watching it on TV, by selecting “Toggle game style” in the menu bar above the game board. Go ahead and give it a try! Your ability to do this should tell you that as there are sports statisticians who track every player in every professional and college sport, likewise there are Jeopardy! statisticians.

J! Archive is a work of love by those statisticians/archivists, and if you scroll to the bottom of the help page you’ll find their names. Among the founding archivists are Kenneth Jennings, Jr., father of Ken Jennings, the record-setting 74-game winner. Another founding archivist is Andy Saunders, also known as The Jeopardy Fan, and the proprietor of his namesake website. There, Andy tracks games in nearly real-time, compiles player statistics, calculates the likelihood of contestant success, and provides news about the show. He also hosts a video podcast with contestants, and I’ll say a little more about that in my next post.

Now that you know how to replay my game, I’ll comment on a few of the clues. At the start of the Jeopardy! round I was excited to see the “Marine Life” category; this was because I was fascinated with fish when I was growing up in South Florida. In fact, I had planned to become a marine biologist before I changed my mind and decided to study law. What a thrill it would have been to run the category. Of course, anybody familiar with the show understands that knowing the answer to a clue is only half the battle. To earn the opportunity to offer the response, one had to be the first to “ring in” with the signaling device. And the show has an ingenious way to keep players from simply leaning on the button while Alex reads the clue. Off-stage a staffer keeps the devices locked until Alex finishes, and then releases the lock-out. Contestants see a light at the bottom of the board and know they can ring in; if a contestant tries ringing in before that happens, the device is locked out for 1/4 of a second. Just as Wayne Gretzky famously said that he “skated to where the puck would be,” really great Jeopardy! contestants get in sync with Alex’s cadence and begin their button push fractions of a second before the lockout ends. I was not one of those players, so I did not get all the opportunities I had wanted on the clues that were surefire ones.

In fact, during one of the Q&A sessions during breaks in the taping, Alex remarked that he felt players his age were at a disadvantage when playing against younger players, because younger ones have better reflexes. Though I am somewhat younger than is Alex Trebek, I was by far the oldest player during my two games, and I’d have to say that I agree with Alex. Part of the preparation of any player who wants to do well at the game is to practice ringing in while watching the show on TV. I did this for a couple of weeks before my taping, and while I did not become great at it, I do think doing so helped me.

In addition to the marine life clues, and my particularly fortunate choice of a Daily Double on “krill,” the $600 and $800 clues in “Women of Note” were in my wheelhouse. Justice Sandra Sotomayor, of course, because I’m in the law, and Hedy Lamarr, not only because of the hint to the Harvey Korman character in “Blazing Saddles,” but because I managed computing technology for most of the past 25 years and it is well-known to that community that Lamarr patented the channel shifting technology used in both cell phones and WiFi.

After the first few minutes of play, Alex interviews the players. We provide facts to the producers prior to the show, and Alex chooses among five facts provided by each player in asking his questions. Mine was the circumstances of how my then future wife, Lisa, knew I really liked her — I had given her a bumper sticker from my unsuccessful 1973 run for Hialeah city council. We resumed play, and at the end of the first round I was leading by $700.

One thing I miss about the original show was that at the beginning of the Double Jeopardy! round, host Art Fleming would say, “It’s time to play Double Jeopardy, where the amounts are doubled, and anything can happen!” After a break of a couple of minutes, we started the round. My most memorable clue, and miss, of the game was my blurting out “Cyrano de Bergerac” to the $2000 clue in “The Playwright Writes” because I blanked on Rostand’s name. But I would have a more embarrassing miss in the next game.

At the end of the round, our scores were George in the lead with $10,400, me in second with $8,500, and P.J. close behind in third with $8,000. The Final Jeopardy! category was announced as “British Pop Music,” and we broke to consider our wagers. Although we do not have calculators, contestants are given pencil and scrap paper, and we pretty much have all the time we need to figure out our wagers. We’re also told which interrogative preposition is best suited to the clue, and we write it down right away, so no one on Final Jeopardy should fail to answer in the form of a question.

One can do a lot of studying on Jeopardy! wagering strategy. Several of the terms in the J! Archive glossary discuss particular situations, and are based on expressions of mathematical rules that can help one wager intelligently. I had done a little studying ahead of time, but I was by no means an expert at the wager. In this case, I figured that two young men might know quite a bit about the category, so I assumed they would both get it right. I knew that I could not cover George’s bet if he were to be correct, so I decided to cover P.J.’s and cross my fingers that George would get it wrong.

We placed our wagers into the scoring system, and the round began. “This song released on July 11, 1969 to coincide with the Apollo 11 mission was used in the BBC’s coverage of the Moon landing.” While I was watching television that night, and I knew for sure that neither George nor P.J. had been, our bets were locked in, and besides, that was before ubiquitous cable television and BBC America. I had no first-hand knowledge of what the network had played, so I made an educated guess. The first thing I thought of was Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” but I knew that his first hit was “Your Song” and that was released after I had finished high school in 1971. Then Bowie popped into mind, and I had to work my way past the lyrics – “Ground Control to Major Tom” – to remember the title, “Space Oddity,” a parody of the title of one of my favorite films, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I finished writing it in the nick of time.

In the end, P.J. and I were right, and covering his bet by $1.00 put me in a winning position if George were wrong and bet to cover mine. He had begun writing “Space Oddity,” but changed his mind and answered “All You Need Is Love.” I was champion! During the wrap-up when the contestants are chatting with Alex, I started singing from the song. Next, I was hurried off stage to change clothes for the Friday taping, the last one of the day.

A Year of Jeopardy!

Part One

One year ago today at approximately 5:40 P.M., as I rode toward Milford on the route 29X bus, my cell phone played its ring tone. Looking at the screen I saw the caller was Sony Pictures Studios. My heart skipped a beat as I answered and was told that after waiting thirteen months since my most recent audition, ten years since my first audition, and 46 years since the cancellation of an audition scheduled at Rockefeller Center when I was a rising high school senior, I was at last being invited to play on Jeopardy! I turned to my seatmate Diane and told her what had just happened, and then phoned my wife, Lisa, and said “I just got the call!” She replied, “What call?” “The one I’ve been waiting for all these years – I’m going to be on Jeopardy!”

When I got home, I set about letting friends and family know that I’d be on the show, and Lisa and I started figuring out our travel arrangements. The tape days would be August 15th, and the 16th if I was carried over to the second day, which for viewers is the second week of shows taped on those two days. Those were the first two days of fall orientation at the law school, and I informed the folks at work that I would be out that week.

Next, I started working on whom I would invite to watch from the audience. Each contestant is allowed six guests. Of course Lisa would accompany me; Micah was not particularly interested in such a short trip to southern California, and our daughters’ schedules would not permit them to go. My sister, Kathy, who still lives in the Miami area, did not think she could make it, but my brother, Bruce, lives in Sacramento and said he’d probably be able to drive down.

From there I began reaching out to my friends who live in California. Their schedules were such that I parceled out seats for some on Monday and, if I was held over, for a few others on Tuesday. I then tended to my usual July activities. I went to the American Association of Law Libraries annual meeting in Chicago, where I completed my three-year-term on the executive board. While there I spoke with two previous contestants, Sarah Mauldin, a firm librarian in Atlanta, and Clare Willis, an academic librarian in Chicago. They both gave me useful tips about practicing for the show.

Micah had left for Durham from the A.A.L.L. meeting and the next week Lisa and I joined him there. We set out to find him an apartment as he wanted to return to North Carolina. I came back home to put in another two weeks of work before returning to N.C. for a doctor’s appointment and then the trip to Culver City, site of the Sony Pictures Studios.

On Sunday, August 12th, Lisa and I boarded a Southwest Airlines jet for our flights to LAX. We stayed at the Culver City Doubletree, where most out-of-town contestants stay.

Bright and early Monday morning I grabbed some breakfast, kissed Lisa goodbye, and waited in the hotel lobby for the 7:45 pick-up by the studio van. I met that day’s fellow new contestants, some of whom I knew would be playing against me. They were Yoey Sacks, Joel Goldes, George Stuart, Erin Henry, P. J. Molski, Julia Lee, Meghan Winch, Susan Logan, Norm Burnosky, and Thea Lawton. At the studio we met the returning champion from Friday’s game, Lani Gonzalez. In my only earlier post discussing the taping, I could not provide details from the games. For those of you who did not watch the games, or for those of you who did but would like to see the details of play, head over to the J! Archive to see the clues and scoring. You can begin with Monday’s game and then browse through the rest of the week.

After about 90 minutes of instruction from Maggie and the other coordinators, and having makeup applied, we walked into the studio. What a thrill it was, as I’ve been watching it on weekday evenings since this version of the show premiered in 1984. We took turns on practice playing, getting a feel of the arrangements of the podia, the placement of the screen on which video clues would be shown, and the clue board. We especially learned to watch the light at the edge of the board that signals Alex has finished reading clue and we can ring in to answer. During practice I went on a tear through a simple math category.

In the audience were Lisa and Bruce, my good friend June Liebert, and her daughters Hannah and Sophia. Returning champ Lani Gonzalez tore through her first two games, locking in her wins before Final Jeopardy! by having more than double the score of the second place contestant. I was hoping that I would not have to face her, and I think some of the other contestants felt the same way. On the Wednesday game, George Stuart managed to beat Lani, who plainly was wearing out. We later learned that she had developed an infection late the previous week and was playing with a fever and on meds! She did so well that we would not have known. As we broke for lunch, Maggie told P. J. and me that we’d be in the Thursday game, the next one to tape.

We walked over to the studio commissary and took our lunch ticket to order as we wished. Then we had a friendly lunch; as I wrote in that earlier post, we really did develop a strong camaraderie. I was a little anxious to get back to the studio. After a few minutes in makeup, we took our marks on the sound stage.

Next: Playing the Game!


What is: RESIST!

I had intended to add a post discussing my game play and other activity since my taping and appearance on the program. The election of Donald Trump brought me to tears, and the actions of him and his racist, nationalist chief counselor, Steve Bannon, must be answered. I will not be posting any more information about my comparatively minor success until we citizens restore sane, compassionate leadership to our country.



Tonight’s THE Night!

Tonight the culmination of my nearly lifelong dream will air across the country on the television stations that carry Jeopardy! My family will be watching from North Carolina, with new grandson Michael likely being passed around the living room. I’ll be watching with many of my UC Law colleagues and friends at a restaurant up the street. Today I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Mike Allen, who was filling in for Bill Cunningham on WLW radio. I’ve made the audio clip available below, as I think doing so falls within fair use. I hope you can watch tonight!!!

Living the Dream!

On Monday I achieved my life-long dream of being a contestant on “Jeopardy!” I cannot tell you about the game itself, as contestants sign a twelve-page release that includes a non-disclosure agreement. I can tell you that the program will air in the U.S. on Thursday, October 27th, and if you don’t already know which local station airs the program, go to

The program tapes ten episodes, i.e., two weeks of broadcasts, each week. Though tapings are often on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, this week they were Monday and Tuesday. On Monday morning, I joined most of the week’s contestants on the van from our hotel to the Sony Pictures Studio, which was once the famed MGM Studios. Our camaraderie developed quickly from even before we boarded the van, and it grew throughout the morning. Of course we viewed ourselves as competitors, but throughout the day we wished each of us well.

At the studio we we were guided by the very helpful contestant coordinators: Maggie Speak, Corina Nusu, and Laurie Janover. I had met Maggie, and I think Laurie as well, at my two auditions (2006 and 2015). Glenn Kagan ran us through our rehearsals, standing in for Alex Trebek. We taped three games in the morning, took a lunch break, and then did two more episodes to wrap the day.

The taping stops where commercial breaks will be inserted: after the first part of Jeopardy, at the end of Jeopardy, at the end of Double Jeopardy, and between that and Final Jeopardy. During the breaks Alex and Johnny Gilbert take questions from the audience. Alex was very open and friendly, and has a wry sense of humor. In the audience were my wife and brother, my friend June, and her two daughters.

All-in-all, the day was everything I’d hoped it would be: incredible fun and a chance to work with a group of talented and friendly people, both the staff and my fellow contestants. You can see all of them beginning on October 24, and me on October 27th. Check out the contestant profiles that week to learn about my new-found friends, and please join me in thanking the entire crew, who are listed at

I may live-tweet my local broadcast, but since it airs at different times in different markets, and we have the added complication of time zones, I will decide on that later. Also, I may have a few words about strategy and other details after the show has aired. See you later!

What is a second chance?

Jeopardy PenAs I write this post I find that it has been exactly nine years since I wrote about my first Jeopardy! contestant audition in Orlando. Last week I flew to Atlanta for the Tuesday morning audition, again held at a Westin hotel. I spent a pleasant Monday evening dinner with friends Nancy Adams and her husband Chris Kinney, and an equally pleasant Tuesday morning breakfast with another friend, Kris Niedringhaus. Afterward I checked out of the slightly lower rent hotel where I had stayed, and crossed the street to the Westin. Just before the appointed hour of 11:30 I entered the waiting room, and found about thirty-five fellow contestants, all sitting very quietly. After two minutes of the silence, I asked, “Is this a conversation free zone?” The ice was broken and in a few minutes we were introducing ourselves to each other and learning about our careers, hometowns, and more.

Several minutes some of the contestant coordinators entered the room and explained what would ensure. Maggie Speak, the senior contestant producer whom I had met at my Orlando audition, joined us shortly. From there on it was nearly a carbon copy of the 2006 audition, although I felt a little more confident in myself, particularly in my social skills. Again, all of us took a fifty question test, played a few minutes of the game in groups of three, and engaged in banter with Maggie and her colleagues. Our auditions were videotaped.

Doing the math on the show, which requires eleven new contestants each week for a season of about 40 weeks, would tell us they need about 400 contestants per year, and that is what Maggie told us. They invite about 2,500 online test-takers to the in-person auditions, so statistically each of us has just under a 1 in 6 chance of being called for the show. They evaluate the contestants based on test performance and how well they will fit the show, so there is a ranking that the producers make in deciding whom to invite. We’re in the pool for eighteen months, so now it is simply a waiting game.

After the audition I rode the MARTA back to the airport and flew to Denver, site of the 2015 CALI Conference on Law School Computing. Before launching into that event I got to spend Wednesday with my long-time friends Don Mock and Anita Colin. I officiated at their wedding during my law school days, when I was a Florida notary public. We hiked on Flagstaff Mountain and had a terrifically fun day. All-in-all, it was a great week and I’ll let you know if I get the long-desired phone call.

The Quest – and the Posts – Resume

I’ve taken the Jeopardy online contestant test nearly every year since it was first offered in 2006. I was ineligible to take it in 2007, while I was in the contestant pool following my ’06 audition. In 2009 we had just moved and, among other pressing matters, we did not yet have home Internet access. In that last post I noted that I was considering starting a separate blog, and I did that.

After six more tries with the online test, at last the time has come to resume the quest and therefore this, my original blog. A few days ago I was notified that I had done well on the online test and that I was invited to my second in-person audition!

Generally I have a good feel for how well I do on the online test, and since 2010 I’ve blanked on too many questions to score well. This year I estimated that I blanked on or gave an incorrect answer on about seven of the fifty questions. I was able to verify this afterward, when the producers posted the test clues and questions on the Jeopardy! Facebook page. As it turns out, whatever my score, it was good enough to earn in invitation to an audition next month. When I registered for the online test, like everyone else I was asked to choose one of the cities where the auditions were likely to be scheduled. None of the options was particularly close to Cincinnati, so I chose Atlanta, to which frequent flights are available from Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG).

As I noted in my earlier audition post, I’ll be taking another test, trying to show that I’ve got a telegenic personality, and playing a brief round of the game. I’m nine years older than I was the last time I did this, and I know that I am not quite as fast or sharp as I was then. Nevertheless, I plan on doing my best and I’m hoping for the best as well.

If you read the blog those years ago, you’ll notice that it has a new look. It originally was hosted at Google’s Blogger. I’ve been using WordPress for several years now, so I’ve decided to move Ken’s JeopardyQuest to that platform. I’ll be posting updates as I prepare for the audition, and of course I’ll let you know whether I make it to the contestant pool.


Long time, no post….

Greetings faithful reader(s),
You deserve an update. I was confident that I did poorly on the 2008 online test, and in fact I was not contacted for an interview last year. I missed the 2009 opportunity. It was held the week of January 26th, which is exactly when we moved from Durham to the Cincinnati area, Miami Township in Clermont County to be exact. We had no Internet, cable TV, or VOIP for nearly a week. So no test taken. On top of that, the worst snow the area had seen in some time started the night we arrived, followed two days later by an ice storm. So my quest is deferred until 2010.

In the meantime, I am considering starting a separate blog, with more frequent entries. Trying to decide whether to make it on a few specific topics, or whether to hold forth on topics of the day.