Who’s a Jeopardy genius?

Ken Jennings has won more than $1 million answering questions on Jeopardy. Is he a genius? Howard Gardner, Mr. Multiple Intelligences, tells the New York Times that Jennings has great “verbal linguistic memory,” and probably a logical, organized mind. Also he has the “inter- and intrapersonal intelligence” (people smarts) to be a great bluffer.

Jonathan Plucker, a cognitive scientist at Indiana University who runs a site on intelligence, suggests intelligence may be a general ability “translatable from one field to another.”

(Plucker) said he was quite impressed after watching Mr. Jennings compete. “He was playing the other competitors as much as he was playing the board,” Dr. Plucker said, by making guesses, holding back at certain times, acting confident. “This guy was clearly good at contextual sorts of intelligence,” which is to say, reading the situation and the rules, in addition to having the necessary knowledge.

I don’t normally watch the show but I saw Jennings clean up a few nights ago. The guys is cool under pressure. I got one question he missed. Saul’s hometown is Tarsus, not Damascus. Sure, he was on the road to Damascus when he was converted, but he wasn’t heading home.

Via Chris Correa, who also has a post on a study of whether music lessons boost IQ. He believes any cognitively demanding activity may raise IQ, and notes that voice lessons did more for the six-year-olds in the study than keyboard lessons.

About Joanne


  1. interested observer says:

    Some twenty years ago I read about a study of Downs Syndrome children. The conclusion of the study was that engaging DS children in rotational movement could raise their IQ’s.

    (1. I didn’t read the study; 2. I don’t remember who wrote it; 3. I don’t remember where I read ABOUT the study; 4. I know the conclusion is radical – I don’t want to argue; 5. If anyone knows where to find the study please let me know because I would love to read it.)

    I bring this up only because a number of parents have reported to me that their childrens grades have gone up (sometimes dramatically) when their children started taking dance, gymnastics, or other classes that involved large scale stimulation of coordinative motor skills.

    I believe a theory has been put forward that mankinds verbal development was the direct result of an increased use of the hands for complex tasks.

  2. John Thacker says:

    He’s also great at buzzer timing and reflexes. A huge percentage of the questions are known by all three contestants, but he rings in first.

  3. I was able to catch Ken the last three nights while on vacation, and what’s interesting to me is that he buzzes in before he knows the answer.

    Maybe he gets a little voice that says “Oh, I know that!” and he buzzes in. It seemed to me that almost every time he did that he was able to come up with the correct answer in the required three seconds.

    I get that little voice also, but I usually am not able to come up with the answer. They showed a photo of Joel Grey, which I knew was Joel Grey, and I knew I knew it, but darned if all I could come up with was “oh, I know it, um, what’s his name…”


  4. Interested Observer,
    I’ve heard reports from parents of kids with DS and autism who say their kids tend to “get it” more when they are involved in physical activties. And I’ve seen it in my own son. I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on that study you mentioned if anyone finds it.

  5. I won a chuck of money, a trip to Puerto Rico and some lamps on the show about 15 years ago. My husband who is much smarter than I am, won Rice-a-Roni–why? He buzzed only on questions he was sure of, while I buzzed pretty aggresively when I thought I had any short of shot at all.
    Ken’s reflexes and his bravado have served him well.

  6. I have an e-mail correspondent named Jeanette Farmer who swears by penmanship training (resembling Palmer method) coupled with music. I’m not sure I buy her argument, but the conclusion is certainly possible. Her site is
    Jeanette Farmer
    “Train The Brain To Pay Attention the Write Way”

  7. I was a Jeopardy! contestant ten years ago. I took 2nd place. Had I bet all of my money in the Final Jeopardy! round I would have tied for first and stayed for the next game. But I calculated my bet to cover the wrong scenarios.

    I knew a lot more answers (or “questions”, to be more precise) than I had a chance to give (that is to say “ask”). The game was largely about the buzzer.

  8. I was on my high school’s It’s Academic (like College Bowl) team. When we tried out, the TV person said that girls rarely made the team because they weren’t as willing as boys to guess; girls hesitated, wanting to be sure of being right. The game favors aggressive guessers. I made the team by shouting out “kelp” to a science question. It was a guess. In two rounds, against 12 opponents, I was the only girl.

    In Trivial Pursuit, I’ve perfected the art of sounding supremely confident while guessing. Of course, I learned that as a journalist.

  9. pragmatist says:


    Are you from Chicago? Ed Grennan (sp?) on
    WMAQ? I thought the red buttons on that
    long block of wood were kind of cheesy, but
    the did keep a twitchy hand from making
    inadvertant contact.

  10. I went to Highland Park High, Pragmatist. I don’t remember the buttons or the MC or the station that did It’s Academic. Just the damned red-haired sophomore from New Trier West who cleaned our clock in the second round. He hit the buzzer three words into every question. The kid was psychic. And very annoying. New Trier West won the Chicago area tournament that year, which would have been 1970.