J! Lit Review, Part Two

As it turns out, there was a bit more Jeopardy!-related scholarship than I realized! Readers, including some from the J! subreddit, pointed me in the direction of a few pieces of research that I overlooked in part one of this lit review. These sources led, in turn, to two others, bringing us to five total works under consideration today. This will be a shorter post than the last one (I am defending my dissertation in exactly one week, after all) but maybe it will prove useful as well. The reader response to part one has certainly been positive, so I am hopeful. Let’s begin.

 

 

Chuck Forrest and Mark Lowenthal, Secrets of the Jeopardy! Champions: Be a Winner in America’s Favorite Answer-and-Question Game. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1992.

This book–authored by two of the most dominant players of the 1980s, and still standard reading for J! contestants–makes the list on a bit of a technicality. Although Secrets is geared toward addressing practical concerns for potential competitors, Mark Lowenthal does hold a PhD in history and is an adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins. Chuck Forrest, an attorney working for a United Nations sub-agency, holds a JD in his own right. (Plus, you really should read the book anyway.)

 

Jeremy M.G. Taylor, “Betting Strategies in Final Jeopardy,” Chance 7, no. 2 (1994): 14-27.

Thomas S. Ferguson and C. Melolidakis, “Last Round Betting,” Journal of Applied Probability 34, no. 4 (December 1997): 974-987.

Like several of the articles mentioned in part one of the lit review, these works offer insight into the complex wagering problem faced by players in Jeopardy!‘s final round. Taylor bases his suggestions on an analysis of over 200 games from between September 1991 and April 1993. Ferguson and Melolidakis, in turn, aim to build on the work of Taylor and of Gilbert and Hatcher (whose article was cited in the previous post.) The specific insights of these articles are perhaps a bit outdated for the current J! game because of subsequent rules changes, but they still have value as because they help us better understand the historical development of academic thinking about J!

 

Randy Laist, “Welcome to the Desert of the Wheel: A Phenomenological Reading of Wheel of Fortune,” Journal of Popular Film and Television 40, no. 1 (2012): 14-21.

Given that I published a book review in this same journal within the last two years, I’m not sure how I overlooked this work, but anyway… Laist’s article in JPF&T focuses on the role of luck in Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. The two shows, he writes, offer two different perspectives on the concept of opportunity: “the Jeopardy! idea–if you excel, you will succeed–and the Wheel idea–you may succeed, regardless of whether you excel or not, as long as you are in the right place at the right time.” While I do think language skills play a larger role in Wheel than sometimes is acknowledged (I even put together a hypothetical GOAT tournament for the show a few weeks ago!) Laist is absolutely right that Wheel is a much more democratic and accessible show than its trivia-based counterpart, in no small part because of the equalizing function fulfilled by the wheel itself.

 

Jessica Abramson, Natalie Collina, and William Gasarch, “Maximizing Winnings on Final Jeopardy!” Paper presented at the American Mathematical Society Regional Conference, 2017.

Finally, Abramson, Collina, and Gasarch offer what is, I believe, the most recent academic analysis of Final Jeopardy wagering available today. Building off of the work of Gilbert and Hatcher and Ferguson and Melolidakis, these three scholars go in a slightly different direction by defining payoff as the expected amount of money a player could win, rather than as a player’s probability of winning. As a result, they reach some slightly different conclusions about optimal betting strategy/maximizing payoff, such as in the case of runaway games, where maximizing one’s winnings and maximizing one’s chance of winning are not necessarily one and the same.

 

If there are still any other books, articles, graduate projects, and so forth out there, feel free to let me know; I would be glad to return to the topic and do a part three if needed. Either way, I hope that these blog posts have made at least a modest contribution to our understanding of Jeopardy!, and that others can continue to build on the insights reached by the scholars whose works are represented here.

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