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Friday, February 28, 2014

WaPo: Why we’re actually mad at ruthless ‘Jeopardy!’ contestant Arthur Chu

Paging Snapper…

Chu’s strategy wasn’t part of some long-brewing master plan, but simply the result of some Googling. He did some searching once he found out he would appear on the show and was inspired by what discovered about Chuck Forrest, a 1985 contestant whose similar Daily Double hunting even earned a phrase to describe his method of play, the “Forrest Bounce.”

“There’s no logical reason to do what people normally do, which is to take one category at a time from the top down,” Chu told the Web site Mental Floss. “Your only point of control in the game is your ability, if you get the right answer to a question, to select the next question — and you give that power up if you make yourself predictable.”

In 1985, of course, angry viewers didn’t have the option to take to social media to complain about an un­or­tho­dox contestant who disrupted a beloved and orderly daily routine. Chu’s secret weapon may be the fact that he can look past the show’s iconography and decades of sentimental baggage and see it for what it is: a game. And the purpose of playing a game is to try to win, generally through some combination of skill and strategy, regardless of whatever arbitrary etiquette is attached to it.

In that way, what Chu is doing isn’t so different than the principles of “Moneyball.” In the book/film of that name, as in real-life, Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane took a much-romanticized process (picking players in major league baseball’s annual draft) and turned it into something stark and evidence-based (focusing on statistics and formulas instead of the traditional and more subjective scouting). In fact, when you zoom way out, Chu’s strategy seems to fit into a larger cultural pattern: Now that everything can be measured, quantified and reduced to statistical probabilities, there’s no space for romance or instinct anymore. A scientific formula predicts hit songs; Big Data determines who directs our favorite shows. And all of these approaches have been adopted because they work: As Chu earned another victory on Thursday night, he became the show’s third-highest earner ever. (He has said he will donate some of his winnings to fibromyalgia research; his wife suffers from the condition.)

Chu, like Beane and Netflix and Warner Music Group, isn’t breaking any actual rules here. He’s just being ruthlessly, idol-killingly pragmatic, in a space where we don’t want pragmatism — we want pure genius!  We want Ken Jennings!

Jennings, who set a “Jeopardy” record with 74 consecutive victories while winning $2.5 million in 2004, thinks Chu is “playing the game right.”

“In sports, players and fans love it when teams shake up the game with new techniques: the basketball jump shot in the 1950s, the split-finger fastball in the 1980s, four-down football today,” he wrote over at Slate. “Why should Jeopardy be any different?”

JE (Jason) Posted: February 28, 2014 at 06:58 AM | 131 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: media, moneyball, sabermetrics

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   101. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 28, 2014 at 04:28 PM (#4664280)
Maybe if they didn't show the contestants the clue screen until Trebek was done reading it, the importance of clicking ability would be diminished.

I think the better answer is to let you buzz in as soon as you know the answer, but don't let you answer until Alex finishes (for the folks at home). That way you take away the emphasis on perfect timing, and shift it to figuring out the answer first.
   102. Dale Sams Posted: February 28, 2014 at 04:31 PM (#4664281)
I'd like to see a study done on trivial pursuit.

Does reading the question rather than hearing it read to you increase your chances of getting it right?

And does holding the card and reading it give you a better chance than just reading it.
   103. Nasty Nate Posted: February 28, 2014 at 04:35 PM (#4664283)
I think the better answer is to let you buzz in as soon as you know the answer, but don't let you answer until Alex finishes (for the folks at home). That way you take away the emphasis on perfect timing, and shift it to figuring out the answer first.


Wouldn't that just shift the buzzer timing battle to an earlier moment? I would think good players would simply buzz at the first possible moment, and then worry about whether they knew the proper response afterwards.
   104. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: February 28, 2014 at 04:46 PM (#4664287)
Wait, what? I didn't think they tape that many episodes that far in advance, and you couldn't know anything of the sort unless you were in the audience or a contestant yourself, but contestants are under NDAs...


Not a contestant, know someone who was. They walked in against a 15 day champ and it wasn't Chu. After the day the champ was up to 20 days.
   105. The District Attorney Posted: February 28, 2014 at 04:47 PM (#4664288)
I also think that, even though the audience is technically getting to process the entire clue in that scenario, they would still not feel like they were "playing along" and wouldn't enjoy it as much.

I should point out for completeness' sake that the math in #88 only applies if 2nd place has at least 2/3 of the leader's score. If 2nd place has less than 2/3 of the leader's score, then the scenario that is "flipped" in #88 by declining to bid the extra dollar -- the one where both players are incorrect -- is still always a win for the leader. (And obviously if 2nd place has less than 1/2 of leader's score, 2nd place can't win at all.)

e.g. leader has $20G, 2nd place has $12G. Leader is betting $4,001. 2nd place's "small bet" would thus be $4G, but it would serve no purpose: Either they're correct and win by less, or they're incorrect and still lose $15,999-$8,000.
   106. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 28, 2014 at 04:54 PM (#4664293)
Wouldn't that just shift the buzzer timing battle to an earlier moment? I would think good players would simply buzz at the first possible moment, and then worry about whether they knew the proper response afterwards.

Maybe.

You could also randomize the delay on buzzer arming.

Right now it is manual. A guy listens to Alex, and then arms the buzzers when he finishes speaking. So the contestent is just trying to get in sync with that guy.

They could easily program the buzzer to lag a random 0.1 to 1.0 seconds before arming. That would effectively eliminate the buzzer as a skill.

I actually suggested that to one of the producers (after I played against Watson in the test matches). He seemed uninterested in making the game less buzzer dependent.
   107. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: February 28, 2014 at 04:54 PM (#4664294)
e.g. leader has $20G, 2nd place has $12G. Leader is betting $4,001. 2nd place's "small bet" would thus be $4G, but it would serve no purpose: Either they're correct and win by less, or they're incorrect and still lose $15,999-$8,000.


In that case, the bet may need to be based on where third is.
   108. Answer Guy Posted: February 28, 2014 at 05:01 PM (#4664297)
I'm not sure Arthur Chu (don't know him, probably know people who do) isn't doing anything on the show itself Roger Craig (personal friend) didn't already do, other than perhaps the play-for-the-tie thing which I think it kinda weird in most circumstances. The difference is all the extraneous stuff - the interviews, the media presence, etc. Neither Roger nor Ken Jennings (know him too, not as well as Roger) come across in quite the same way, and of course theirs runs at the top took place before social media really went mainstream.
   109. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: February 28, 2014 at 05:25 PM (#4664304)
I think Snapper is overestimating how much more trivia savvy primates are over Jeopardy contestants. The contestant application test is not easy, and I say that as someone who's a very good trivia player.

And to be clear, I don't mind Arthur Chu at all, he makes a fun villain. And he's a very good player! But I can see why even though his strategy is optimal (for him) it doesn't make for as good TV. Both can be true at once.
   110. Kurt Posted: February 28, 2014 at 05:26 PM (#4664306)
They could easily program the buzzer to lag a random 0.1 to 1.0 seconds before arming. That would effectively eliminate the buzzer as a skill.


I don't know that replacing buzzer skill with dumb luck is an improvement.

The obvious way to reduce buzzer skill - which they'll never do - is to make the questions harder.
   111. bigglou115 Posted: February 28, 2014 at 05:27 PM (#4664308)
I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't have anybody on the team they could rely on to make that kick.


Nobody will ever know, coach doesn't have his kicker practice field goals. Kicking the ball downfield in any way is just something they've completely eschewed.
   112. Kurt Posted: February 28, 2014 at 05:28 PM (#4664309)
But I can see why even though his strategy is optimal (for him) it doesn't make for as good TV.


The strategy is optimal for everyone. If it makes the show less enjoyable to watch, that's a flaw in the game.
   113. Howie Menckel Posted: February 28, 2014 at 05:38 PM (#4664311)

"The obvious way to reduce buzzer skill - which they'll never do - is to make the questions harder."

How about making a rule that if you get a question wrong, you not only lose that money amount, you also are prevented from getting to answer the next question as well? And if that's not enough, make it two questions.

   114. Nasty Nate Posted: February 28, 2014 at 05:41 PM (#4664313)
They could easily program the buzzer to lag a random 0.1 to 1.0 seconds before arming. That would effectively eliminate the buzzer as a skill.

I don't know that replacing buzzer skill with dumb luck is an improvement.

I think it is.
   115. Davo's Favorite Tacos Are Moose Tacos Posted: February 28, 2014 at 05:42 PM (#4664314)
40. I didn't like Jennings when he was actually on the show every night, but he has had a very interesting career since.


Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Harry Reid (D-NV) both called me back personally in 2004 to try to get me to run for Orrin Hatch's Senate seat.

I am not making this up. Win on a game show and you can apparently run for the US Senate. That was when I realized the Democratic Party was f@#$ed in '04.


Link.
   116. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: February 28, 2014 at 05:46 PM (#4664315)
The strategy is optimal for everyone.


No, it really isn't. If someone isn't comfortable jumping around the categories, it could very well be sub-optimal for that person.
   117. EddieA Posted: February 28, 2014 at 05:46 PM (#4664316)
They walked in against a 15 day champ and it wasn't Chu. After the day the champ was up to 20 days.


With five tapings per day and assuming that each taped day is a show week, I speculate then that if Arthur gets beat on a Monday, that person will have a good ride. David Madden's 19 wins was second to Ken Jennings.

Despite, Tshipman's comment on the selection process
It's not political at all. It's based on who the producers think would do well on camera.
- I thought a higher percentage than normal of the contestants this season were particularly weak (okay, not because their sex, age, appearance, or home were contributing factors to getting them on the show - just because the producers thought they would do well on camera) which greatly increases the odds of winning streaks.

No way Roger Craig and Ken Jennings aren't ruthless competitors.

I've been watching the old jeopardy games on crackle for the battle of the decades. Some of the guys hopped around then, and some would start at the high dollar clues. Nothing new. Think there were definitely many fewer pop culture questions then and a lot more history. Of course, my sample size is only about 12 games that I've watched.


   118. SteveF Posted: February 28, 2014 at 06:11 PM (#4664318)
Think there were definitely many fewer pop culture questions then and a lot more history. Of course, my sample size is only about 12 games that I've watched.

Some of the answers (questions) are trending towards the more obvious. For instance, if the answer is about 19th century vice presidents, the question is very likely going to be 'Who is Aaron Burr?' and even someone like me -- who knows next to nothing about vice presidents of the 19th century -- is going to be able to guess correctly.

That didn't seem to be as often the case in the past.
   119. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 28, 2014 at 06:23 PM (#4664323)
(110) Yes. If all you cared about was testing knowledge, you'd just make it harder.

But that would be lousy TV. The viewers want to know some answers.

The buzzer luck should even out, so you will reward skill. They'll split the easy ones evenly, so whoever knows the hardest, highest value questions would win.
   120. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: February 28, 2014 at 07:17 PM (#4664339)
Semi-cool story, bro: I met Alex Trebek in a book store in Ann Arbor, MI. He was wearing a Toronto Argonauts jacket. We chatted for a few minutes about Canadian football, never mentioning Jeopardy! at all. Oh, and Alex was just a shade shorter than me, so I'm guessing he's around 5'8".
   121. I am going to be Frank Posted: February 28, 2014 at 07:38 PM (#4664349)
I hope it wasn't Shaman Drum - I hated that place.
   122. OsunaSakata Posted: February 28, 2014 at 08:22 PM (#4664360)
   123. stanmvp48 Posted: February 28, 2014 at 08:36 PM (#4664363)
If I am not mistaken, Chu played for a tie tonight and the second place guy didn't take it.
   124. Answer Guy Posted: February 28, 2014 at 09:10 PM (#4664373)
No way Roger Craig and Ken Jennings aren't ruthless competitors.


Sure. But there are some quizbowl personalities who were famously intense and radiated that intensity in an uncomfortable way, and neither of them really fit in that category.
   125. greenback calls it soccer Posted: February 28, 2014 at 09:28 PM (#4664377)
I met Alex Trebek in a book store in Ann Arbor, MI.

Was he hanging out with Jesse Ventura?
   126. Bug Selig Posted: March 01, 2014 at 03:14 PM (#4664572)
Yeah, HS kids who can make 32 yard FGs are probably about as common as HS kids who can throw 88 mph or hit a baseball 400 feet.


Actually, from my experience, kids who can kick a 32-yard field goal are not uncommon at all. Most schools have one. The problem is that you have to have a kid who can reliably (and accurately, and with velocity...) get the ball to the holder, a holder who can reliably get it onto the tee, and 8 guys who can block. The kicking is the easy part.

I say this as the father of the long-snapper:-)
   127. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: March 01, 2014 at 03:51 PM (#4664595)
I say this as the father of the long-snapper:-)


My condolences.

And yeah, I did mean make a 32-yard FG under game conditions. Hell, I could probably still kick a 25-yarder off a tee on an empty field.
   128. Super Creepy Derek Lowe (GGC) Posted: March 01, 2014 at 07:35 PM (#4664691)
Roger Craig must be a polymath. Rushed for the 49ers, popularized the split finger fastball, ran at least one marathon, AND was on Jeopardy? That's Bruce Dickinson territory.
   129. DKDC Posted: March 02, 2014 at 07:45 AM (#4664771)
I don't mind Chu, but it does highlight a little tweak that I've always thought Jeopardy should make: display the name of the category on the screen when the answer is displayed.

Unless I am watching the show with the sound up and zero distractions (so, never), I miss the category 80% of the time when Chu is picking.
   130. Bug Selig Posted: March 05, 2014 at 03:38 PM (#4666838)
My condolences.


Gladly accepted. I love watching him play, except for the long-snapping. That part is a can't-win. It's very hard, based on the global success rate that I see in H.S., and nobody ever says "Holy Crap! What a great snap!" But miss by even a foot on a placement, and suddenly you're a shmoe:-)
   131. Pat Rapper's Delight Posted: March 05, 2014 at 04:24 PM (#4666882)
That's Bruce Dickinson territory.

THE Bruce Dickinson???
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