Ken Jennings

March 3, 2011

IAmA 74-time Jeopardy! champion, Ken Jennings. I will not be answering in the form of a question.

Hey Redditors!

I'll be here on and off today in case anyone wants to Ask Me Anything. Someone told me the questions here can be on any subject, within reason. Well, to me, "within reason" are the two lamest words in the English language, even worse than "miniature golf" or "Corbin Bernsen." So no such caveats apply here. Ask Me ANYTHING.

I've posted some proof of my identity on my blog:

and on "Twitter," which I hear is very popular with the young people.

Updated to add: You magnificent bastards! You brought down my blog!

Updated again to add: Okay, since there are only a few thousand unanswered questions now, I'm going to have to call this. (Also, I have to pick up my kids from school.)

But I'll be back, Reddit! When you least expect it! MWAH HA HA! Or, uh, when I have a new book to promote. One of those. Thanks for all the fun.

Updated posthumously to add: You can always ask further questions on the message boards at my site. You can sign up for my weekly email trivia quiz or even buy books there as well.[/whore]

What has been the single biggest change in you life since your epic winning streak, besides the money?

Old people can't keep their dry, lilac-scented hands off me. Man, do old people ever love Jeopardy. I can't go anywhere in public where there might be old people, like Hallmark stores or cemeteries.

Has there been any talk of a rematch with Watson (and Brad Rutter)?

Only by Brad, once you get a few drinks in him.

I think both Jeopardy and IBM think they have gone to the promotional well about as much as they could with the Watson thing, and it will retire undefeated, like Rocky Marciano.

Rush Holt!

Laughing pretty hard at this, btw. Rush Holt!

Nice username.

Lots of people think it's a Jeopardy reference, but actually I was thinking of that time Watson and I were cellmates in prison, and it kept raping me.

You're mormon? from Utah? really?

No. I am a devout Mormon, but I'm a native Seattleite. We were living in Utah at the time I was first on Jeopardy though, but then I decided to move to a state where most people don't think water fluoridation is part of a global United Nations conspiracy. Just kidding Utah! Love you man.

Wow. On the Too Beautiful to Live podcast the other day, you revealed that Watson also raped your wife as part of his spoils as the victor of the Jeopardy! IBM challenge. Somebody get Watson on the national sex offender registry already before more lives are destroyed!

Uh, that was host Luke Burbank's joke. I don't want people to think I am an endless well of supercomputer-rape jokes.

I moved to utah from california, and most people here can't take that type of humor here. If you even say the word "rape" it will stun most people into silence.

Anyways, here's a question: How do reconcile all the logical inconsistencies in Mormonism given the highly rational mind you must have?

I thought this might come up. Normally I would think you were a jackass for telling a stranger "Hey, your religion sucks!" but luckily this is an AMA, so all courtesy bets are off.

It's true that, from a rationalistic point of view, Mormonism has plenty that is crazy-seeming about it, but then again, so do all religions. To me--even me, a guy who tends toward sensible, naturalistic explanations for things!--that is what gives religion its charm. All I know is that my faith makes me happy and makes me a much better person.

That doesn't mean I agree with everything all Mormons do (for example: the "Soldier of Love" video by Donny Osmond) or even everything the institutional church has done. People are flawed. But in general, Mormons are salt-of-the-earth when the chips are down. They have your back. Even the South Park guys know that.

Holy shit. Jennings no offense but I honestly never thought of you to be this funny.

You're ridiculously smart, in tune with the internet, and you can draw-- I can safely say I'd be intimidated if I ever met you in person. Hell, even if you replied to this comment I'd be giddy like a schoolgirl telling all my friends.

Anyways, cheers from Canada :)

PS: Me being a Canadian and all, I have to ask... what are your views on cannabis? Have you ever tried it?

Never been high--except on a drug called Ken Jennings!

(Warning, Ken Jennings may cause drowsiness, nausea, "housemaid's knee," night blindness, paralysis, or death. Ask your doctor if Ken Jennings is right for you.)

But in general, Mormons are salt-of-the-earth when the chips are down. They have your back. Even the South Park guys know that.

Unless you're gay.

Fair point; see "I don't agree with everything all Mormons do" above. Personally, I am all about the gays.

"That what they teach you at school in Utah?" --Alex Trebek

GET OFF MY BACK TREBEK! Or "Chaim Trebekovitz," which is his real name. Just sayin.

Never been high--except on a drug called Ken Jennings!

what does this drug feel like?


(On Jeopardy.)

(Unless you're playing a computer.)

Please tell me you typed that in Charlie Sheen's voice.


Oh yeah. It was hard to tell because I'm typing with fire-breathing fists. WINNING!

Thanks for your civil responses.

Normally I would think you were a jackass for telling a stranger "Hey, your religion sucks!" but luckily this is an AMA, so all courtesy bets are off.

Would he be be a jackass if he asked "Given that CS graduates are often portrayed as nerds, didn't you think of choosing another degree instead?" ?

Why do you think that asking somebody to justify their choice of religion is impolite? What makes it different from anything else, like your favorite team or sports car?

All I know is that my faith makes me happy and makes me a much better person.

Drunks also feel that booze dulls their pain. As for making you a better person, could you give an example of something you would do differently if you were not a mormon?

Yes, the CS question is a dick move too. I love atheists. But Asperger atheists are my archenemy.

If I weren't Mormon...uh, I would have ordered a glass of nice Pinot Grigio with the scallops I had for dinner last Friday night. (That is the boring Mormon equivalent of the "two chicks" joke from Office Space.)

Not to make this Ask a Mormon, but why do you think that Mormons get so much guff over their religion? I mean it is hardly new anymore, and yet it seems to attract controversy through mere existence.

Also why do so very many of the press articles about you mention your faith (as opposed to say Brad Rutter, whose faith lazy googling doesn't even reveal)? I mean did you bring it up in interviews or was it a route the journalists themselves pursued.

Mormons tend to have their religion outed no matter what they do. "Guy dies in avalanche" can become "Mormon dies in avalanche" pretty easily. That's what you get for belonging to a religion founded by an upstate-New-York farm boy who claimed to speak to angels and translate golden plates from ancient America. Goes with the territory.

That said, I try to be a good public face of Mormons (and, by extension, Christians in general, and religious people in general). I think I'm a pretty normal guy. I clean up okay. I'd like people to see that Mormons/Christians can be more normal than the stereotype they got from Big Love or Glee or whatever.

Hi, Ken! Thanks so much for doing this.

Why does a person of your obviously staggering intellect believe in supernatural hokum for which there is not a whit of empirical evidence (the existence of God, outer darkness, the angel Moroni, etc.)? I mean no disrespect, and hope my question isn't too blunt. I'm a big fan.

I've always thought this objection to any religion was sort of silly. If (fill-in-the-blank religion) IS "true", and God values faith, as (fill-in-the-blank religion)'s teaching undoubtedly claim, then wouldn't He prevent a whit of empirical evidence from coming to light? To make the battle between faith and doubt meaningful? Why should it be easy to believe every single important thing?

Is your secret Mormon name Watson? If it isn't, can you cast a level 3 prayer or something and have it changed to Watson?

You are thinking of Scientology. Btw, the density of blue thought threads on Watson's avatar measure how "clear" his engrams are.

plenty that is crazy-seeming about it, but then again, so do all religions

You don't have to pick one. You can check the box marked "not applicable".

Obviously. I was answering the implicit "so much crazier than other religions!" that normally comes with glib online discussion of Mormons. The people who call Mormon temple garments "magic underwear" presumably wouldn't call a yarmulke a "magic beanie" just for a snarky punchline.

Have you ever read the novel "Life of Pi" by Yann Martel?

If by chance you have, it sounds as if you are saying that the idea it puts forth, that differences in religions are just different versions of the same story and the Mormon story happens to be the one you prefer.

Am I close or way off?

Somewhere in between. Obviously there are distinctly Mormon things that I think makes the faith uniquely good. But I'm also well aware that (a) plenty of good and bad can be found in all religions, including the lack thereof, and (b) I doubt I would be Mormon if I hadn't been raised that way. I'd say I'm lucky, Redditors might say I'm deluded, but I'm okay with that.

Why no love for Corbin Bernsen? He collects snow globes and plays a character on one of my favorite shows, "Psych".

I guess I am unfairly conflating Mr. Bernsen with his sleazy "Arnie Becker" character on L.A. Law. Sometimes I assume Charlie Sheen is a crazy, dissipated party animal like his sitcom character too.

How much of your success on the show would you contribute to knowing the answers the other contestants did not versus just being able to time the buzzer clicks better than them?

Yeah, Jeopardy is not Price Is can't get on just for wearing a military uniform or an "I Love Alex" t-shirt. Every night, all three contestants passed a very hard test to be there. Ergo, nearly all the contestants know nearly all the answers nearly all the time. So it just comes down to buzzer mojo. Which is why Watson won so handily...pretty hard to have better response time than a circuit board.

Is he a celebrity?

Is he Wolf Blitzer?

How did you prepare for Jeopardy before your first appearance?

Whats your favorite band/album?

I watched the show obsessively. This is pretty nerdy but I even watched it standing up behind my recliner at home, using one of my son's toddler toys as a makeshift "buzzer." (Insert dirty joke here.) My wife kept score for me. We made flash cards of presidents and "potent potables" and crap like that.

Favorite record: man that is tough. I'm listening to the new Destroyer record as I type this. When the laws are changed I want to marry Dan Bejar.

Can you elaborate on this? Are you saying the three contestants have a practice round before the show is filmed?

Well, yes, but I just meant there is a tough audition process, so most of the people who get on the show are very, very good at Jeopardy.

Were you always interested in trivia or did it happen later in life? Do you use the memory palace technique to memorize trivia?

Hey, I just read Josh Foer's new book about memory palace techniques. No, most trivia people I know don't cram. They are just natural sponges for information. Something weird and genetic in the way their associative memory works, I guess. They are just curious about everything. And when you are curious about a subject, facts just stick. I did do some mnemonic stuff on Jeopardy to remember stubborn stuff that was too boring EVEN FOR ME to remember. Like: John Quincy Adams was elected in 1824. So I'd picture Quincy, M.E. working a 24-hour shift or something.

Could you make me a mnemonic story about the moon and what year we first landed?

Let's put it this way: it involves you, between the moon and New York City.

Did winning at Jeopardy get you hella laid?

Again, devout Mormon, happily married family man, etc. But luckily my wife has a weird "game show contestant" role-playing fantasy, so yes. Yes it did.

Many educated people do not believe their holy books to the letter, so you being a devout Mormon throws off my stereotype. Can you elaborate on how much of the book you believe is factually based?

Luckily, Mormons are not biblical literalists. So you can choose to keep all the crazy stuff you like (Moses just turned his rod into a snake! badass!) and choose to ignore the crazy stuff you don't like (wait, God just sent bears to kill those kids because they made fun of Elisha's male pattern baldness?)

I'm not saying no Mormons are young-earthers...but let's just say you're not likely to see those ones on Jeopardy.

Actually, it was Aaron that had his rod turned into a snake, not Moses. I just corrected Ken Jennings. My life is complete.

Being corrected by you has turned my rod into a snake.

Alright then, how many women have you needed to turn down since your first Jeopardy! appearance?

Oh man. Try out for Jeopardy TODAY. You'll be signing boobs in Sharpie for the rest of your life.

What is your educational background?

Do you really drive a 1999 Toyota Corolla still?

Who cooks the most, you or your wife?

Do you often get recognized in public?

Can you tell me a joke, please? A dirty one.

How do you feel about the strike in Wisconsin?

What would you give a Ted talk on?

In your next Jeopardy appearance, would you consider just drawing a giant penis where your name would be? Do they check for that?

Thank you for the IamA.

Went to high school in Seoul, Korea. Went to U of Washington and BYU. Bachelor's in English and Computer Science.

Yes to the black 1999 Corolla: straight-up gangsta.

My wife is an excellent cook and I can only make breakfast food.

Yes, it's like the first scene in A Hard Day's Night every time I leave the house, except all the girls are all in their eighties.

I am standing up on my desk right now holding a piece of paper that says UNION! just like Norma Rae, in support of organized labor in Wisconsin (I take bathroom breaks twice a day).

My TED talk is entitled "How to Make Love Like a Jeopardy Champion."

Jeopardy has made me re-write my name in the past (once when I wrote it backwards, another time when I wrote it in Cyrillic) so I don't think a giant penis would make the cut, plus it would make Alex feel inferior. But I did put a giant scrotum on the title page of my book Brainiac.

Can you give us an abriged version of how you ended up taking HS in Seoul? How's your Korean?

My dad served an LDS mission in Korea in the 1960s and always wanted to go back...we moved there in 1982 when he got a job at a law firm in Seoul.

My Korean sucks, sadly. I've forgotten a lot. Even without subtitles, I could usually understand Jin and Sun on Lost. Mostly.

If you can only cook breakfast does that mean you are not the one who BBQs?

Wait, you're right. I grill too. Jeez, you guys are tough.

But I did put a giant scrotum on the title page of my book Brainiac.

I knew it!

They're calipers. (screams at sky) CALIPERS!!!!

How do you feel they handled Jin and Sun's deaths? Should they have died speaking Korean or English?

Yeah, what was up with that? Total copout. Sun's "Tiger Mom" would have burned all her stuffed animals if she'd seen her speaking her last words in English.

What did you think of the "conclusion" to LOST?

No Mr. Eko return = NO SALE!

I detect a distinctly ignored question here...

Yeah, I can't think of a dirty joke I like. Someone once told me that only unfunny people know jokes.

Wait, I laughed pretty hard at the pedophile joke in Blue Valentine (THE FEELGOOD HIT OF THE YEAR!), but it's too long to type here. Go look it up.

Since you mentioned breakfast food, may I ask what you would put in your ideal omelette? I like knowing one random, harmless thing about awesome people.

And even though you weren't wondering, I like green peppers, tomatos and feta cheese.

Bacon, tomato, avocado, Monterey Jack. Wow, that sounds grossly middle-America-Denny's for an elite left-coast Seattle guy like me.

What did you like about going to school in Seoul? What was your favourite class? Do you have a 'first day at school' story?

From nerdy/studious/book lover (I think the term is bookworm) to drama geek to the popular "in" crowd jock, where did you fit in on the high school student body totem pole?

Yearbook editor. Which is its own (geeky) niche.

Holy crap! I drive a black 1999 corolla. I'm going to be a Jeopardy champion!

Plus think of the chicks.

When growing up in Korea, did you bedroom have a ceiling fan?

Obviously not, since I survived.

Will you be the leader of the Resistance against Watson once he starts to control Skynet? Please, and thank you.

Once we are all working in the slave-pits together, I will try to put in a good word for you all. I will be like the old Barnard Hughes character in Tron, who remembers the Master Control Program when it was just accounting software.

You're in a desert, walking along in the sand, when all of a sudden you look down and see a tortoise. It's crawling toward you. You reach down and you flip the tortoise over on its back. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can't. Not without your help. But you're not helping.

Why is that, Ken?

Nice try! You can't win 74 straight Jeopardy games without also learning how to pass the Voight-Kampff. Nexus-6 babeeee.

What is Alex Trebek like off camera?

Trebek takes a lot of heat for being sort of smug and starchy on camera, but that's just for TV. In person he is sort of a nut, always doing goofy jokes and accents and little bits of soft-shoe and stuff. He's like your good-natured, slightly-losing-it grandpa.

Have you spent any time with Trebek outside the confines of the Jeopardy studio? Do you send him Christmas cards? Does he come over for dinner?

Alex and I don't get to hang out much due to the convoluted Jeopardy security requirements. I saw him at last year's National Geographic Bee in DC (he hosts, I was doing research for my next book, Maphead, about geography geeks).

So I don't know the guy real well. He's a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a Perry Ellis suit.

You're generally known as a Mormon, but you seem far more loose than the stereotype (using terms like "bitch," for example). It seems like you'd violate the prohibition on gambling with every daily double and final Jeopardy answer.

Do you ever feel pressure from your religion to act in a certain way in public? Or am I just misinformed about how strict the religion is?

I feel more like the pressure is the OTHER way. People have this idea that Mormons are monolithically boring and/or creepily Stepford-y. But in my experience, that's bull, and Mormons are as diverse in most ways as anybody else. I think it would be cool if people figured that out.

So I just try to be myself.

Thanks for your time!

"Do most people in the audience get your awesome sense of humour? Or do they politely laugh and give you confused looks?" I think you are projecting here.

"Do you find that people you've known before your fame have tried to be more closer to you than they were before?" Actually, no. People came out of the woodwork, but only in a good way. Like "Hey, I was in your kindergarten class, good job on Jeopardy." Keep in mind this was before Facebook.

"What is one epiphany/something that was said to you that made you realize "I can maintain my fame and not be remembered as just the guy who once won big at Jeopardy!"?" Screw that, I don't want to be famous. I keep getting asked who my publicist is. Why would I have a publicist?!? I'm just a guy on a game show. I got mine. I need a privacist.

I've heard that IBM really did consider using Darrell Hammond for the voice, no lie. That would have been the awesomest thing in the history of awesome.

You're a little too funny, did you hire writers with your winnings?

Bruce Vilanch is hiding under my desk right now. Unfortunately he's not writing jokes for me, if you know what I mean.

Be honest. Did you actually lose the day you broke your streak, or did you throw the game?

People keep asking me this. WORST CONSPIRACY THEORY EVER. Have you ever quit a job where you were making like $75K an hour?

But I think that lady who beat me was probably born in Indonesia, or Kenya, or something. Disqualified!

Greetings from possibly one of the most devoted Jeopardy fans on the planet!

Is Trebek as much of a tool in person as he seems on the show? I've heard from some people who have met him in person that the whole "tactless witless asshole" thing is just an act he does.

Also, how do they decide what to ask contestants about for the interview portion? Why are they always SO unremarkable, when that's likely the only moment these people will ever have to tell the public something interesting about themselves?

"how do they decide what to ask contestants about for the interview portion? Why are they always SO unremarkable, when that's likely the only moment these people will ever have to tell the public something interesting about themselves?"

It turns out that being able to pass a very hard trivia test does not exactly self-select for telegenic-ness.

1) How long did it take to film each episode with Watson? I heard the machine would crash several times and so it was not a normal game.

2) You were putting on a good show for humanity during that second game. Why didn't you bet it all on the final jeopardy question? I was anticipating a big bet in classic Jennings style.

"Why didn't you bet it all on the final jeopardy question?"

It was a two-day total-point final, and Watson couldn't be passed. I had second place locked up over Brad, so I couldn't wager much.

Huh. You didn't answer his first question. Did you sign some kind of NDA preventing you from publicly talking about the ways Watson's actual performance differed from the final Jeopardy edit?

or a more general question: Did you sign any kind of NDA with IBM before the competition?

and an even more general question: Did the NDA contain some kind of recursive clause that prevents you from talking about the NDA? Don't answer this question once for "yes", and don't answer it twice for "no".

Did you sign some kind of NDA preventing you from publicly talking about the ways Watson's actual performance differed from the final Jeopardy edit?

No, his question was just boring. Yeah, between Jeopardy taking the show on the road (Watson doesn't travel so we taped at an IBM lab in Westchester County) and the complications of connecting a computer to the game, there were lots more glitches than normal. Did it affect Brad's or my buzzer mojo? We will never know.

What is your favorite Bond film?

Do you speak any languages other than English?

How old were you when you got your first girlfriend?

Do the contestants and Trebek practice the "get to know the contestants" banter?

What are the accommodations like backstage?

Edit: for a moment, though in popular usage it has come to mean "in a moment."

Goldfinger and Casino Royale. I have a weird fondness for the Timothy Dalton Bonds though. Even the Joe Don Baker one! I KNOW!

Fluent in Spanish, some Korean.

Nine, but it was Heather Thomas on The Fall Guy, which probably doesn't count.

Obviously not.

Because of the scandals of the 50s, it's still a felony to rig a game show. So the contestants are all sequestered like a jury and trooped around together like a chain gang. If one person needs to pee, it becomes a mass bathroom break. The whole scenario is a little awkward, like if all the teams in the NCAA tourney had to share a locker room.

What is your favorite Bond film?

Do you speak any languages other than English?

How old were you when you got your first girlfriend?

Do the contestants and Trebek practice the "get to know the contestants" banter?

What are the accommodations like backstage?

Edit: for a moment, though in popular usage it has come to mean "in a moment."

Goldfinger and Casino Royale. I have a weird fondness for the Timothy Dalton Bonds though. Even the Joe Don Baker one! I KNOW!

Fluent in Spanish, some Korean.

Nine, but it was Heather Thomas on The Fall Guy, which probably doesn't count.

Obviously not.

Because of the scandals of the 50s, it's still a felony to rig a game show. So the contestants are all sequestered like a jury and trooped around together like a chain gang. If one person needs to pee, it becomes a mass bathroom break. The whole scenario is a little awkward, like if all the teams in the NCAA tourney had to share a locker room.

The 1967 or the 2006 version of Casino Royale?

The 2006.

Does the weird fondness have anything to do with Maryam d'Abo?

I can't get into any woman with an apostrophe in her name. "Maryam d'Abo" sounds like a character in some terrible epic-fantasy novel.


This is a like a job interview. "Well sir sometimes I just WORK TOO HARD!"

I can't sing. I've never beaten my wife at bowling. I have the same $8 haircut I had when I was five.

What's your favorite form of knowledge absorption? Books? Internet? Documentaries?


When you were a software engineer, what language(s) did you program in? Do you still program for fun?

Mostly Java. "Programming for fun" was always a foreign concept to me...I was not a great programmer. I pity the fools who are maintaining my old code right now.

In the sixth season episode "See You in September" of the TV show "Perfect Strangers", it is revealed that Balki is a licensed nupitiki doctoruthiki, a Myposian marriage counselor. He administers the Myposian marriage test to Larry and Jennifer, to help them get over their fear of getting married. However, no mention was made of this in the second season episode "Since I Lost my Baby", when Balki and Larry attempt to save the Twinkacettis' marriage.

Was this a continuity error? Or did Balki receive this certification through some sort of correspondence course from Mypos at a later date?

I've thought a lot about this over the years, and have decided that Balki didn't feel right using his Myposian certification in his adopted country, due to the licensing issues, both legal and ethical, that even he would recognized.

And now we do the dance of joy!

Ken, you have a way with the written word. Brainiac was an excellent read and I'm looking forward to your new geography geek book, Mapheads. Are there any works of fiction kicking around in the mind of Ken Jennings?

I'm thinking of writing a bildungsroman in which a star-struck young quiz show contestant from a small town arrives in Hollywood, and the dark forces that try to corrupt him on his way to fame.

I also have a volume of game show erotica coming out in the fall.

By the way, if you are a nerd of any kind, especially a trivia nerd, I hope you check out my first book Brainiac. It's still in print at Amazon and finer bookstores everywhere. Or you can order a signed copy from my website. Or, if you like the smell of homeless people looking at pornography, you can check out from a local library. Plug over.

Specifically, what kind of wheelbarrow do you carry your balls in?

My balls are carried for me at all times by the thirteen contestants who lost to me on Jeopardy back in 2004 with a negative score, meaning they didn't get to compete in Final Jeopardy.

They take turns.

You seem like a really awesome guy besides being incredibly intelligent. I just can't seem to understand the whole tithing a % of winnings to the church thing. I would assume you are too smart to fall into that scheme. Then again maybe you did it for the tax write off, or part of some larger troll job. If so, then kudos.

Not to be flip, but alternately people could tithe to their churches because of the many worthy things that get done with the money? Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. etc. cf. Matthew 25:34-40

Before the God-hating hivemind jumps all over me: I also give to plenty of secular nonprofits too, so we might just have to agree to disagree on this one.

Suppose one of your hands was amputated and the only option for a replacement was either a lobster claw or an octopus tentacle. Which do you choose?

Why do all the options have to be sushi? I foresee problems if your graft looked a little TOO delicious.

What do you think of BYU suspending its star player right before the NCAA tournament just for having consensual sex with a major?

I think that is going to cost the program millions. You can't say their convictions are hypocritical, at any rate. They really believe students shouldn't be having sex outside of marriage, and there are plenty of non-crazy reasons to go along with that, obviously.

What was your SAT score?

My verbal was better than my math.


I interviewed a LOT of trivia nerds for my book Brainiac, and they all seemed to come by it from birth. Like how you can't coach height, I guess. My son definitely has the gene, he is the kid always annoying you with his latest fact from the Guinness Book of World Records.

I wish I knew how to turn normal kids into trivia nerds, because then I could write a bestselling book with the secret. Also, the teen pregnancy rate would plummet.

Do you think you'll be asked to take over for Trebek when he retires? Would you do it?

I doubt I would be asked...wouldn't they be more likely to go with someone with, you know, actually hosting experience?

That said, I would do it in a heartbeat. Talk about a dream job. That dude works like five days a month reading trivia questions (okay, "answers," YEESH) and makes millions. Plus millions of middle-aged cat ladies have sexy fantasies about him.

What category would be a nightmare for you?

I remember COUNTRY MUSIC kept showing up. That or HOCKEY. Least favorite categories. Basically anything with a mullet is my Jeopardy kryptonite.

What kind of fiction do you like to read in your spare time?

I just finished the new Jonathan Franzen book (it's good! Not as good as Corrections) and am working my way through the Library of America's complete Raymond Carver volume.

Turns out Carver actually wrote in a pretty conventional prose style but he had this overpowering editor that edited all his stuff into that almost self-parodic laconic style. Weird.

What do the contestants talk about when you stand next to Alex while they roll the credits? Just pretending to look suave for the cameras?

It's normally a pretty awkward social scenario. Two of you are shell-shocked and pissed, one of you has just realized he's going to have to come back and do it all again after a 10-minute tape break, and one of you is slightly drunk and wants to get out of there before the Lakers game starts.

Obviously you are something of a Renaissance man when it comes to trivia - your knowledge has a fair amount of depth but an unequaled breadth. I think it's fair to say that our culture is moving away from that kind of knowledge and towards intense specialization - people tend to define themselves as experts in increasingly small and specific areas.

Do you agree that that is a trend? If so, is it a good or bad thing for us as a thinking species? As a culture?

Yeah, I wrote about this in Brainiac. The problem with specialization is that cultural literacy is starting to disappear...there are fewer facts and references that you know everyone will know. Even something like TV--there are 175 channels instead of 3. This means it's harder to communicate. It's harder to get to know people.

You should be building colossal marble statues of your Jeopardy champions, people! We are your last hope in a world in which you have outsourced all your stuff-remembering to Google.

What is the most outrageous thing that happened during the filming of the shows? Did Trebek ever snap at anybody?

I have told this story before, but the security on the show is pretty intense. I totally caused a CTU-like "shutdown" one time by changing my necktie using the wrong mirror--the same one Trebek uses. No contestants allowed back there!

I thought it was pretty funny at the time, except for all the crew members who probably got fired over it.

Say I was going to be competing on Jeopardy in two months from now. What books/resources would you suggest I look over to prepare?

Congrats! You will be joining an elite club of virgins.

Preparation: my book Brainiac is okay for that, but Bob Harris's book Prisoner of Trebekistan is better. (Mine is less Jeopardy-centric.) Mike Dupee's out of print How To Get on Jeopardy...and Win is best of all. But I think the title might be a little on-the-nose, don't you?

Read The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. Know world capitals. Know US presidents and their dates. Remember: by the odds, most first-timers lose, so be determined to have fun no matter what. You will also play better that way.

Don't wear a sweater, you will look like a tool.

Anything? OK. You state you are a devout Mormon. Create a Jeopardy category of "odd" things most non-Mormons would not know about the Mormon belief system. The more odd the better!

Mormon trivia:

  1. Christian Aguilera was born Mormon. Not our finest effort.

  2. The original proposed name for Utah, "Deseret," isn't related to "desert." It's a Book of Mormon word (and therefore etymologically iffy to nonbelievers) meaning "honeybee."

  3. Mormon congregations are called "wards," and dioceses are called "stakes." Some of our houses of worship used to therefore be called "stake houses," but this turned out to be too confusing. (Especially because there was no salad bar.)

  4. Mormon scripture strongly implies that the apostle John, as well as three Book of Mormon disciples, never actually died but are still kicking around someplace. Awesomely, this leads some Mormons to repeat urban legends about "the three Nephites" miraculously appearing to help little old ladies, repair the cars of stranded travelers, etc.

  5. My Sunday school teacher, when I was a Mormon teen, once memorably advised us that "There's nothing more overrated than sex, and nothing more underrated than a good bowel movement." It totally worked...I don't remember a single other sermon from when I was a kid, but I think about this guy exactly once a day, and then again once a week.

What do you think of the Southpark critique of Mormonism? How do you feel about atheists and atheism in general?

The South Park approach to Mormonism (wacky doctrine, nice people) is so dead-on I have nothing to add.

I like atheists, but prefer agnostics. I know this isn't a new critique, but plenty of atheists have an unquestioning zeal you'd be hard-pressed not to call...religious.

I don't even watch Jeopardy, and have never seen the recent Watson ones, but this fucking rocks. You're a pretty awesome dude, Ken Jennings. I can't believe you're a Mormon too - one of my best friends is Mormon... and so I must ask, WHY ARE YOU PEOPLE SO GENEROUS AND WARM AND FRIENDLY??? Seriously. Mormons are the nicest people ever.

It's just because we all love you so much.

Also, we all saw Marlo Thomas's "Free To Be...You and Me" as kids and it really made us warm and sensitive. Especially the Rosey Grier song.

Do you watch Jeopardy! with your children and if so, how often do they get questions right?

I can't really relax into Jeopardy anymore...I get PTSD when I hear Trebek's voice and the music. But like Marty McFly says, my kids are gonna love it. Dylan ran in last night to tell me he nailed a "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" question that went 0-for-3 on the show. Nerd!


People thought I look like a douche for shaking my head in faux-disbelief every time they showed my money total.

In hindsight, this is only because I looked like a total douche every time I shook my head in faux-disbelief every time they showed my money total.

You're being rude to our guest!

Yeah, if that Salvation Army girl from Guys and Dolls were here and you kept tweaking her for gay-hating, you would get downvoted for that too.

That Salvation Army girl from Guys and Dolls was hot, btw.

I hear you had an awesome roommate when you lived in Utah who went on to write books and stuff. Why don't you tell us about how awesome he was?

I kid. (Only a little.) Okay, a serious question. How did it feel to beat Brad? I always felt you got the raw end of things during your previous meeting, coming in cold as you had to. In some ways, that free pass to the final round was a backhanded compliment.

Hey Brandon! I hope I'm allowed to out this comment as coming from bajillion-seller-of-nerd-fantasy books Brandon Sanderson.

Yeah, I felt like the buzzer gods were not smiling on me last time Brad kicked my butt. This would have been sweet, sweet revenge, if a supercomputer hadn't been raping me the entire time.

Sanderson and Jennings were roommates... Nerdgasm. Ken, do you read WoT?

Sanderson and Jennings were roommates... Nerdgasm.

Our other roommates were Brent Spiner, "Weird Al," Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, 5/6 of Monty Python, and the lightsaber kid from that one video.


Lawyer. If you have that kind of mind, you can be a doctor, but if you have that kind of mind AND ARE ALSO A HUGE SMART-ASS then it's law school for sure.

Leg. What is it?

Flag on the moon. How did it get there?

Let's say you're at home with friends and people want to play a board game. What do you go for? Settlers of Catan? Risk? Monopoly? Who's In My Mouth?

I love this trivia-lite game called Wits and Wagers so much that I just wrote some questions for it. Oh, and we are currently obsessed with this little-known 90s word game called Inklings that I bought at a yard sale.

Another shameless plug: I'm sure University Games would love to sell their warehouse full of unsold "Can You Beat Ken" board games I tricked them into printing up back in 2005. BUY BUY BUY.

You probably don't remember this but.... you were the reader for a UW High School Quizbowl tournament in 2009 or 2010. You were reading a newspaper, while my team was questioning whether you were actually Ken or not. Just wondering what you thought of that incident haha, I've always wondered what you thought at that moment. We were the team that ended up winning that tournament also.

I didn't notice, I was trying to work the Jumble. Congrats on your win!

Random question maybe, but there was is reference to your high school days on Wikipedia. Is it true that you were a graduate of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program?

Also, what advice would you give to aspiring knowledge whores like yourself to get on and succeed on Jeopardy?

Is it true that you were a graduate of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program?

Yes, but so was Kim Jong-Il. (This is my version of "Hitler was a vegetarian" for IB Eurotrash.)

Not really a question, but you came to my school (Escalante Elementary in Utah) I think in 2004-05 ( I was in 6th grade) and talked to us all about your winning Jeopardy! I just wanted to let you know that a bunch of us wanted to sit up front because we thought you'd throw out money since you won so much! Haha...only in the minds of 6th graders...

EDIT: year was probably 2004-05. I have a hard time counting real years when it's regarding what grade I was in and what years correspond to it.

Sorry! Last time I tried to throw hundred dollar bills at a sixth-grader I spent the night in jail.

Why do you welcome your new robot overlords?

Is it because their logic is undeniable?

No, it's not robot-specific. I'm just a welcoming guy. Gays, immigrants, the Chinese...I welcome all onslaughts.

You get sick of people assuming you know everything? I used to elaborate on topics that interest me (there are many) in sufficient detail that people thought I was a know-it-all, and would give me a hard time about it, all the time. Whenever I DIDN'T know something, they'd make a big deal about it. It's gotten to the point where I rarely comment at all anymore.

I have this habit of pulling out my phone to double-check stuff in conversations that nobody is sure about, so people tend to realize very quickly that (a) I don't know everything and (b) that thing you do with you iPhone is pretty annoying honey,

(b) is usually my wife.

Do you feel overwhelmed with questions yet?

Yeah, where is the STOP ASKING SHIT button again?

What's your job right now?

What are some interesting jobs offers that you have gotten since your Jeopardy fame?

Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Harry Reid (D-NV) both called me back personally in 2004 to try to get me to run for Orrin Hatch's Senate seat.

I am not making this up. Win on a game show and you can apparently run for the US Senate. That was when I realized the Democratic Party was f@#$ed in '04.

What's your job right now?

What are some interesting jobs offers that you have gotten since your Jeopardy fame?

What's your job right now?

Mindy is always trying to get me to put "OCCUPATION: Gentleman of leisure" on tax forms, etc. I usually go with "Millionaire playboy" like Bruce Wayne instead.

Are you a democrat?

Registered and everything. Small d and large.

Coke or Pepsi? Which cola product do you like more? Which one has more appealing products to you? Which one is better (overall) as a company?

What are your favourite "geek/nerd" shows? (ie Firefly, Doctor Who)

Favourite drink (alcoholic or otherwise)?

You're a super star :D <3

Diet Dr Pepper.

For some reason Mindy and I are watching ST:TNG on DVD lately. Holy cripes Riker is a smug bastard.

Certainly! SFGate - note that the estimate from "Yes on 8" was that 40% of donations came from Mormons.

LA Times article about the movie "8: The Mormon Proposition"

This is true, Mormons shouldn't be pulling that "we were just one of many faith traditions who blah blah blah." We helped get 8 passed and it blew up in our faces and I'd like to think it made a lot of sensible Mormons think twice.

In your opinion, did Watson win mostly by buzzer domination alone?

Well, if it hadn't known the answers too, it would have a pretty short game. Watson was a real breakthrough in question-answering, no doubt about it. That said, on a written test (no buzzer advantage!) vs. me and Brad, it would have got its ass kicked.

However, that would have been the most boring quiz show in history.


No, Watson buzzed just a few milliseconds after activation, EVERY TIME (that it knew the answer). A human buzzing early gets locked out for 250. This is why carbon-based life got its ass kicked a couple weeks ago.

Also, Andy Richter should have been there.

What is your favorite Simpsons episode?

Lemon tree maybe? Like choosing between your children.

Hi Ken, thanks for hosting an AMA.

Question: Are there ever times when you're in public and people try to call you out for a duel of random knowledge? Do you carry your own buzzer in case of such an event?

Sometime radio DJs try to do a "stump Ken" thing* and people will call in, who, I swear, have no idea how trivia works.

"So Ken, my mom used to buy shoes at this place on 125th Street? It's gone now. WHAT WAS IT CALLED?"

*because they are idiots


Nobody likes to hear rich people say that money isn't everything. Nobody likes to hear celebrities talk about how GRUELING it is to be famous, sigh.

That said, winning a lot of money is sort of scary. Half of all lottery winners have lost it all in five years. How embarrassing would it be to win for being all smart-like on Jeopardy and then lose it all on a dumb investment? Or blow and hookers?

So it's pretty boringly invested in boring stuff, not Jeopar-bling. (New word!) Some went to charity. A lot more will once the kids' college is paid for. The main thing I bought is more free time: I work from home now, so I can see more of my family, play Legos with my kids, etc. See? MORMONS ARE F#$%ING ADORABLE!

What is your favorite Celebrity Jeopardy episode (from SNL)?

Let's just say I tried to register on Reddit today as TurdFerguson. Shockingly, it was taken.

Boxers or briefs?

No one has posted a Mormon "magic underwear" joke yet! Reddit FAILS.

K-Jeezy, thanks for the AMA.

There's a bar in a small town in India that did a little 'Western Trivia Night' which I dominated for about 2 months. I signed up for every game under the name Ken Jennings. So there's a small town in India in which you're very famous, fyi.

As for a question, what's the deal with highschool in Korea? Sorry if that's been answered before, but how was that? Have you done much traveling beside that?


My street name is actually "Special K."

Yeah, we travel a lot. Thailand and Cambodia last year, and then London for our anniversary. Growing up overseas was awesome. I can think of plenty of Americans who would benefit from having seen from a young age that (a) holy crap this country is totally different from us and (b) holy crap this country is like centuries older than us and despite those differences doing just fine!

Screw American "exceptionalism." I'm here to promote Earth exceptionalism. Our planet should be a city on the hill to the (loser) rest of the solar system. I mean, did you see that Planet Earth thing? We have glaciers and llamas and fruit bats and shit.

Have you ever had your IQ tested? What is it?

I think my parents did a test when I was a kid but they would never tell me what it was. I can't decide if that means it was good or not.

Anyway, IQ is bullshit. Except for the IQ movie where Walter Matthau plays Albert Einstein as an adorable yenta. That IQ is awesome.

If you could be on any other game show, whether educational or physical, what would it be? Family Feud? American Gladiators? Legends of the Hidden Temple?

If I just had one more kid, there would be five of us Jenningses and we could go on Family Feud. (My favorite quiz show ever that didn't pay for my house. I used to run home from school every day to watch Family Feud, true story.)

But I don't know if we're having one more kid. And you can't really leave the fifth spot vacant. I'm picturing an empty spot with a little floating nametag that says "VASECTOMY."

Um, Ken, GOD I'm an IDIOT, I never know how to start these questions.. You.. you.. remember that time you were, uh, you were on Jeopardy?

That was awesome!

Speaking of 90s-era SNL: people do whistle the Jeopardy theme to me in elevators.

I always think of "Rooooox-anne..."

Just want to say thanks for your support of public television and radio.

Sesame Street and Electric Company taught me to read; it's the least I could do.

But the "Fresh Air with Terry Gross" coffee mug at my elbow right now is pure affectation.

You mention that one of the harder parts of Jeopardy! is the mastery of the buzzer. Can you describe your technique for effectively buzzing in to answer? Did you use a timing method or was it a mash-and-pray method?

Wait one Trebek-syllable (ts is the abbreviation for this SI unit) then mash mash mash.

If you are on against scared humans, you'll do great. Against the scary computer from WarGames, you will still lose.

Have you bathed in a huge pile of cash yet?

I have a big vault full of coins like Scrooge McDuck.

How was your time at Seoul Foreign School?

Go Crusaders! Ah, the fond memories I have of your papier-mache, now-politically-incorrect Christian mascot.


There once was a host named Trebek...

I forget how it ends but YOUR MOTHER'S A WHORE!

There once was a host named Trebek...

I forget how it ends but YOUR MOTHER'S A WHORE!

Wait, I got it.

There once was a host named Trebek, Whose mustache was sexy as heck. It would have been weird If he'd grown a big beard, Like Conan, or Riker on Trek.

Back when you were in the middle of your winning streak, I faintly remember Alex asking you to tell something about yourself, and you replied that you had killed someone. Can you expand on that?

It was just to watch him die.

PC or Apple?

PC laptop, Apple phone. Bi-curious, I guess.

Just wanted to say thanks for trying to save us from the Robot Overlords. I'll guess we will have to rely on John Connor since you blew it!

I hope you mean Christian-Bale John Connor. Because if you mean Edward Furlong, we are f@#$ed!


Sometime I see groupie-swooning on the Internet, but I always assume those are REALLY fat 45-year-old men in their briefs.

Has anyone you have met on the street ever asked you a random trivia question to "test your skills"?

A doorman at a hotel in St. Louis wouldn't let me in before I named all the presidents that ascended to the office without being elected. True story.

Since you've become famous, what are the pros and cons of fame?

Also, is there a celebrity you've got to meet that you've always wanted to meet?

Is there a celebrity you've got to meet that you've always wanted to meet?

Grover from Sesame Street. Alec Baldwin. Norm McDonald.

That sounds like the setup for some terrible "Karnak" joke.

1) What did you do with the winnings?

2) At what point in the process (if any) were you wanting it to just be over?

At what point in the process (if any) were you wanting it to just be over?

Are you talking about this AMA?

What is your response when people state that trivia is "useless information?"

I love to learn new facts and soak up information, and find it fun and fascinating to share knowledge with others or blurt out the answers while watching Jeopardy, but it is often met with the "why would you ever need to know that" response. Clearly for you it has translated into some success, but for us everyday trivia buffs, do you think there are benefits other than personal satisfaction (not that personal satisfaction isn't a good enough reason)? Any types of careers you think folks with a love of trivia would be better suited for?

They all wind up unemployed Mensa types, or journalists. (Soon to be the exact same thing!)

Knowing facts isn't just a waste of time, or an autism symptom. Facts inform decisions, obviously. The person with the right facts at his/her fingertips is going to make better decisions than the person who has to look them up, or never quite gets around to looking them up. All kinds of decisions: who to vote for, what to major in, where to go on vacation.

It's always better to know a thing than not to know it.

Do you sit or stand(crouch) to wipe?

I didn't even know crouchers existed until recently. That is messed up.

I guess I can live and let live, as long as they don't try to infect the rest of us with their sick, sick agenda.

Going into the show what chances did you think you had in being able to beat Watson?

Considering how the electronic reflexes gives Watson such a huge advantage over reacting to the buzzer, do you think it would have been fairer if they introduced some small delay as a handicap?

Going into the show what chances did you think you had in being able to beat Watson?

Watson was beatable. I beat it badly once in practice. So did Brad. But when it gets a good run of categories, it's unstoppable.

I suggested some reasonable tweaks to level its speed advantage on my blog.

What are your plans for the future? Will you ride the Jeopardy wave into the sunset, or do you have other plans independent of your game show fame?

I like writing. As long as people buy my books, I get to keep writing. Jeopardy only calls once ever seven years, and my DVD habit doesn't pay for itself!

Did you have a "Duh!" moment when you missed the final jeopardy question with your answer of FedEx or did it truly stump you?

I always did my own taxes. I could have thought about that question for 30 minutes, not just 30 seconds, and still blanked it.

Constructive note to all the people who like to come up to me on the street and tell me how "easy" that one was and "even they" knew it: go to hell.

What is your favorite sandwich?


I heard through friends of friends that you were something of a power player in the college academic team/quiz bowl circuit. Any truth to those rumors? Is that where you got your buzzer mojo?

I played some college quiz bowl, but was never that great. Quiz bowl requires greater depth of knowledge than Jeopardy does. Most of my Jeopardy-type knowledge is a mile wide but less than an inch deep.

Any insight into how Rush Holt beat Watson? (Go Carls!)

Also- how did you decide to do an AMA?

Rush Holt!

I will never stop doing this now. I hope I never meet the guy...

Do you have any advice for a computer science student?

Learn Hindi and Mandarin.

Thank you, I'll be here all week.

Learn Hindi and Mandarin.

Thank you, I'll be here all week.

Dear Lord please don't REALLY let me be here all week...

Did you ever think that the 'answer in question form' thing was unnecessary bullcrap?

I mean who says 'To marry Elizabeth, Prince Philip had to renounce claims to this southern European country's crown.' when you say 'What is Greece?'

You know who complains about this? Europeans!!! You aren't one of those Europeans, are you?

(Actually, in my experience, it's usually the British who profess to be the most baffled by it.)

Yes, the show's little syntactic conceit makes no sense whatsoever. But you have to understand that US audiences have grown up on this format. We don't even hear the "What is..." anymore. It's like "like" or "you know." It's background noise.

Are you a BYU sports fan? Do you think Jimmer Fredette will be as effective in the NBA as he is now?

I'm not convinced that Jimmer is a legitimate NBA threat. Sorry fans!

What is the best thing you've gotten to experience because of the Jeopardy run?
What do you think of Seattle?

I got to read the Top Ten list on Letterman, which would have made my high school self pretty much explode with happiness.

Love love love Seattle. There's nowhere else to live.

What happened to the game show that you were developping with Comedy Central? Is it just stalled or completely scrapped?

Effectively scrapped...they wanted something "smart" to pair with the Daily Show back in '05. Freaking Colbert...

That said, if you know any network execs, I have some time free.

I've gotten to two in-person Jeopardy try-outs, but don't think my anecdotes (the ones the contestants chat with Alex about after the first commercial break) were up to snuff. Nevertheless to say, I didn't make it.

(a) Do you have any advice for getting over this lack of an interesting life for the purposes of getting on Jeopardy and y'know just because?

(b) Do you have any anecdotes that didn't make it to the air because they were offensive/off-color/out-of-character? You were on the show for 74 days, so if it didn't make it, then it must've been filthy and thus, hilarious.

(c) Lastly, sad to say that I didn't catch much of your historic run. After a while, what did you and Alex end up chatting about? Not to impugn on your awesomeness, after a while you just run out of things to talk about, no?

a. I've sure you have the just need to frame it right. It can be anything. Claim that you love airline food. Give Trebek a straight line and his elderly audience will love you for it.

b. Once I wrote down on my card that I was a "grammar Nazi." (I know, pretty exciting after 60-something games.) This got changed on the air to "grammar cop." You can't be any kind of Nazi on Jeopardy.

Do you have any desire to go try to cure cancer or anything like that?

I was going to this afternoon, but then I got sort of busy...

Stupid Reddit.

Did you make any friends with any of the people you met through Jeopardy?

We actually had one, uh, Ken Jennings runner-up and his family at our Oscar party last weekend.

But most of them hate me with the cleansing, white-hot hatred of that Dianetics volcano.

My wife's two favorite people are you and Anderson Cooper. No question, just letting you know.

I have some bad news for her.

Uh, about Anderson Cooper that is. I'm as straight as the Utah-Arizona border. (But without all the polygamy.)

What's your favourite algorithm?

Bubble sort.

OK. If you had to choose between Mona on Who's the Boss or Blanche on Golden Girls for a steamy night, who would it be?

Blanche. Campy middle-aged women with southern accents always remind me of Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie. MAJOR CRUSH!

I have nothing to say but your "What Be Ebonics?" answer was my favorite Jeopardy moment of all time.

Some say funny, some say know, tomato tomahto.

What's your favorite place in Washington State?

The deck of a ferry boat going between Seattle and Bainbridge Island on a warm, clear day.

This interview was transcribed from an "ask me anything" question and answer session with Ken Jennings conducted on Reddit on 2011-03-03. The Reddit AMA can be found here.