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Homework Assignment: Understanding Jeopardy!
With all the excitement of the [IBM Challenge], where the [IBM Watson computer] will compete against humans on [Jeopardy!], I thought it would be good to provide the following homework exercise to help you appreciate how challenging the game is and the strategies required.
Overview of the game of Jeopardy!
If you are familiar with the show, you can safely skip this section.
Known as "America's Favorite Quiz Show", the Jeopardy pits three contestants against each other. The board is divided into six columns and five rows of answers. Each column indicates the category for that column of answers. The rows are ranked from easiest to most difficult, with more difficult answers being worth more money to wager.
The contestants take turns. The returning champion gets to select a spot on the board, by indicating the category (column) and wager (row), such as "I will take Animals for 800 dollars!" Contestants must then press a button to "buzz in", be recognized by the host, and respond correctly. If the contestant responds incorrectly, the other two contestants have the opportunity to respond. The contestant with the correct response gets to chose the next answer.
For each turn, the host, Alex Trebek, shows the answer on the board, and spends three seconds reading it aloud to give everyone a chance to come up with a corresponding question. This is perhaps what Jeopardy is most famous for. In a traditional "Quiz Show", the host asks questions, and the contestants answer that question. On Jeopardy, however, the host poses "answers", and the contestants provide their response in the form of a "questions" that best fit the category and answer clues. For example, if the categories were "Large Corporations" and the answer was "Sam Palmisano", the contestant would answer "Who is the CEO of IBM Corporation?" Both the categories, and the answers are filled with puns, slang and humor to make it more challenging. Often, the answer itself is not sufficient clue, you have to factor in the category as well to have a complete set of information.
The game is played in three rounds:
In the first round, there are six categories, and the rows are worth $200, $400, $600, $800 and $1000 dollars. If you respond correctly on all five answers in a category column, you would win $3000. If you respond to all thirty answers correctly, you would earn $18,000.
In the second round, there are six different categories, and the rows are worth twice as much.
The final round has a single category and a single question. Each player can decide to wager up to the full amount of their score in this game. This wager is done after they see the category, but before they see the answer.
After the host finishes reading the answer aloud, the buzzers are lighted so that the contestants can buzz in. If a contestant gets the question correctly, he earns the corresponding money for the row it was in. If the contestant guesses incorrectly, the money is subtracted from his score. If the first contestant fails, the buzzers are re-lit so the other two contestants can then buzz in with their answers, learning from previous failed attempts.
To provide added challenge, some of the answers are surprise "Daily Double". Instead of the dollar amount for the row, the contestant can wager any amount, up to their total score they have won so far in that game, or the largest dollar amount for that round, whichever is higher, based on his confidence in that category. There is one "Daily Double" surprise in the first round, and two in the second round.
In the final round, each contestant wagers an amount up to their total score, based on their confidence on the final category. A common strategy for the leading contestant with the highest score is to wager a low amount, so that if he fails to guess the response correctly, he will still have a large dollar amount. For example, if the leader has $2000 and the second place is $900, the leader can wager only $100 dollars, and the second place might wager his full $900. If the leader loses the round, he still has $1900, beating the second place regardless of how well he does.
Whomever has the most money at the end of all three rounds wins that amount of cash, and gets to return to the show for another game the next day to continue his winning streak. The other two contestants are given consolation prizes and a nominal appearance fee for being on the show, and are never seen from again.
The show is only 30 minutes long, so the folks at Sony Pictures who produce the show can film a full weeks' worth of television shows in just two days of real-life, Tuesday and Wednesday, allowing the host Alex Trebek and his "Clue Crew" time to research new categories and answers.
So, here is your homework assignment. Record a full episode of Jeopardy on your VCR or Digital Video Recorder (DVR) and have your thumb ready to press the pause button. For each round, listen to each category, pause, and try to guess what all the answers in that column will have in common. For each category, write down a statement like "All the responses in this category are ...".
The answers could be people, places or things. Suppose the category "Chicks Dig Me". In English, "chicks" can be slang for women, or refer to young chickens. The term "dig" can be slang for admires or adores, so this could be "Male Celebrities" that women find attractive, it could be objects of desire that women fancy (diamonds, puppies, etc.), or it could be places that women like to go to. As it turns out, the "dig" referred to archaeology, and the responses were all famous female archaeologists.
Once you have those all your statements written down, press play button again.
Next, as each answer is shown, you have three seconds to hit the pause again, so that you have the question on the screen, but before any contestants have responded. Go on your favorite search engine like Google or Bing and try to determine the correct response based on the category and answer. Consider these [tips for being an Internet Search ninja]. Once you think you have figured out your response, write it down, and the dollar amount you wager, or decide you will not respond for that answer, if you are not sure about your findings.
Even if you think you already know the correct response, you may decide to gain more confidence of your response by finding confirming or supporting evidence on the Internet.
Press play. Either one of the contestants will get it right, or the host will provide the question that was expected as the correct response.
How well did you do? Were you able to find on the the correct response online, or at least confirm that what you knew was correct. If you got it correct, add in your dollar amount to your score. If you got it wrong, subtract the amount.
At the end of each round, look back at your statements for each category. Did you guess correctly the common theme for each category column of answers? Did you misinterpret the slang, pun or humor intended?
At the end of the game, you might have done better than the contestant that won the game. However, check how much added time you took to do those Internet searches. The average winner only questions half of the answers and only gets 80 percent of them correctly.
If you are really brave, take the [Jeopardy Online Test]. If you do this homework assignment, feel free to post your insights in the comments below.