Player: “Alex, I’ll take ‘Jeopardy Champs’ for $1,000.”
Alex Trebek: “All right, here is the clue for you. ‘With one-day winnings of $77,000, he is one of the most successful players in the history of “ Jeopardy!”
Player: “Uh, who is Roger Craig?”
Alex Trebek: “That’s right! And he was back this week to win our ‘ Tournament of Champions.’”
Roger Craig is one of the biggest winners ever on TV’s “Jeopardy!” He won $77,000 in a single day — more than the record-setting Ken Jennings, more than IBM’s Watson computer. In seven days, he racked up $231,200 in winnings. (His streak was ended by a Final Jeopardy question on sports.)
He’s smart, obviously, but he didn’t just use his smarts to memorize a lot of trivia. He’s a computer scientist who was finishing his Ph.D. at the University of Delaware when he first went on the game in 2010 — and before playing he developed a computer app to help figure out the patterns of questions (er, answers for which you have to come up with questions) on the show.
In a talk at New York University, he said he went to a website called J! Archive, where fans have diligently recorded the clues on the show, game after game. He said the questions really aren’t random when you put them through a computer.
“A lot of people will say, ‘Oh, “Jeopardy” asks about anything,’ but it really doesn’t,” he said in the NYU talk, posted on Vimeo. “It comes back to capitals, presidents, Shakespeare, and there are hundreds of other categories, but it will never ask really obscure things in an obscure field.”
Watch him in action. It’s no accident that he boned up on English literature or the languages of small countries before playing.
Craig has publicly said he’d like to reconfigure his app as an educational tool, though not with questions from “Jeopardy!” He said he plans to give some of his winnings to Virginia Tech and the University of Delaware, where he studied.
He appears on the game show’s website, smiling with Alex Trebek and admitting that while he wasn’t surprised he won, he is a bit surprised at his new fame: “I was a little naïve about the power of television when I first was on.”