Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Brainiac by Ken Jennings

 Ken Jennings' semiautobiographical (Hey! That word ought to be part of a jeopardy question about twenty-letter words!) book works for me on a number of levels. Jennings happens to be my all-time favorite Jeopardy champion, closely followed by Tom Nissely and Colby Burnett, and, like Vanna White's bio, Vanna Speaks, his book evokes pleasant memories of my younger self's post-dinner entertainment.

Ken has been a trivia geek his entire life, and has created a fun an interesting meta-tome of trivia about trivia and the lives and careers of fellow trivia lovers, from the quiz bowl contenders and coaches of the college games to the professional Hollywood writers of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He also takes us on a trip through the factoids of trivia history, where the first book of trivia, published in 1830, was Sir Richard Phillips' A Million of Facts, and into the golden age of radio trivia shows.

 Each chapter title, by the way, is phrased in the form of a question. Every chapter is also a trivia quiz, with answers at the end, for us trivia buffs to test our knowledge.

If you're looking for a guide to how to be a Jeopardy champion, this isn't it. Unless you have made trivia your life, like some of the people Ken meets and gets to know in his story, you probably won't be motivated enough in the first place. In fact, he spends very little time talking about the games, except in an epigrammatic way, as an introduction to each chapter, when he shares out a crumb or two of interest.

I don't know if he invented it himself, but Jennings presents a 9 point classification system for trivia questions and answers:
  • The Plain Vanilla Recall
  • Plain Vanilla with Hot Fudge
  • The Superlative
  • The Unique One
  • The Huge Number
  • The Meaningless Coincidence
  • The Elusive Everyday Recall
  • The Trick
  • The Puzzler
I think I've run across nearly every one of these types, in various trivial pursuits. Speaking of Trivial Pursuit, he devotes a portion of a chapter to the board game which swept America back in the eighties, and tells us what happened to those intrepid souls who invented it.

My favorite quote:

"Knowledge and intelligence are not the same thing, but they do live in the same neighborhood."

A charming and witty read, in Ken's usual self-deprecating style.

No comments: