‘Jeopardy!’ Champ Roger Craig On How He Beat The System

"Jeopardy!" champ Roger Craig with Alex Trebek (Sony Pictures)

"Jeopardy!" champ Roger Craig with Alex Trebek (Sony Pictures)

It’s pretty much a given that anyone who goes on “Jeopardy!” — even during the celebrity weeks — is pretty darned smart. But the show’s recently-crowned Tournament of Champions winner, Roger Craig, takes things a step beyond just having arcane knowledge of bird migratory patterns. The computer scientist won because he figured out a way to use the show’s massive database of questions to his advantage.

Gawker posted a lecture Craig gave about how he cracked the “J!” code at a conference in New York called the Quantified Self Show & Tell. Essentially, he took the questions from the J! Archive website and created a web-based application that showed him what topics the higher-value questions were in and where he was and wasn’t knowledgeable. This allowed him to study on the subjects he needed to study and ignore everything else.

Using this program as a high-tech study aid, Craig went on “Jeopardy!” in September 2010 and broke Ken Jennings’ record for winnings in a single game, raking in $77,000 in his second appearance. His championship run was peanuts compared to Jennings’, but he did win a very respectable six times and took home over $230,000. In the just-ended Tournament of Champions, Craig blew the field away, especially in the finals, when he parlayed a couple of big Double Jeopardy bets into an insurmountable lead on the first day of the two-day round.

Impressive, right? What’s more impressive to us is that Craig, who like most 30-something computer scientists, spends most of his time on the internet, was more blown away by being on the front pages of Yahoo and MSN than being one of the most-watched shows on TV.

Watch Roger Craig talk about beating “Jeopardy!”:

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