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Monday, November 21, 2011

How One Man Played ‘Moneyball’ With ‘Jeopardy!’

My buzzer doesn’t work in the Double Jeopardy!

“It wasn’t even about the money,” Craig says. “I felt that my systems and my methods were sort of validated.”

That system? A computer program unlike any other, custom-built to study Jeopardy! for patterns.

Craig says it works like Moneyball — a reference to the book and movie about the statistical techniques used by legendary Oakland Athletics coach Billy Beane to build a winning baseball team. Craig’s system also relied heavily on statistics.

“I actually downloaded this site called the Jeopardy! Archive, which is a fan-created site of all the questions and answers that are on the show.”

“Something like 211,000 questions and answers that have appeared on Jeopardy!,” says Esquire writer Chris Jones, a self-proclaimed “game-show nerd” who’s familiar with Craig’s tactics.

Using data-mining and text-clustering techniques, Craig grouped questions by category to figure out which topics were statistically common — and which weren’t.

Repoz Posted: November 21, 2011 at 01:44 AM | 33 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: announcers, media, sabermetrics, television

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   1. PreservedFish Posted: November 21, 2011 at 02:04 AM (#3998121)
There was an entertaining This American Life piece about the guy that cracked Press Your Luck.
   2. Monty Posted: November 21, 2011 at 02:06 AM (#3998122)
Using data-mining and text-clustering techniques, Craig grouped questions by category to figure out which topics were statistically common — and which weren’t.


Mostly what he did was find out the common categories and where the Daily Doubles are most often placed. Neither of those are particularly difficult, especially when you're starting with the Jeopardy! Archive, which has done a lot of the work for you.

He did some fairly basic research, which I think was probably not as important as knowing a whole bunch of stuff. It's not like he's Michael Larson here.
   3. bobm Posted: November 21, 2011 at 02:07 AM (#3998126)
FTFA:
Roger Craig poses with Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek after winning $250,000 in last week's Tournament of Champions


But, can he throw a split finger fastball?
   4. AndrewJ Posted: November 21, 2011 at 02:09 AM (#3998130)
There was an entertaining This American Life piece about the guy that cracked Press Your Luck.


He came to a sad end, though.
   5. JimMusComp likes Billy Eppler.... Posted: November 21, 2011 at 02:19 AM (#3998135)
There was an entertaining This American Life piece about the guy that cracked Press Your Luck.

He came to a sad end, though.


Did a Whammy get him? They seem devilish!
   6. Der-K: at 10% emotional investment Posted: November 21, 2011 at 02:48 AM (#3998172)
Was anyone else looking forward to the movie that was pitched about Larson?
Bill Murray + '80s game show = sold.
   7. Stormy JE Posted: November 21, 2011 at 03:23 AM (#3998214)
Alex Trabek should never have invented that game show.
   8. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: November 21, 2011 at 04:09 AM (#3998276)
Potent Potables are the new market inefficiency.

.Mostly what he did was find out the common categories and where the Daily Doubles are most often placed. Neither of those are particularly difficult, especially when you're starting with the Jeopardy! Archive, which has done a lot of the work for you.


When Ken Jennings was defeated by the IBM computer Watson, he said the biggest advantage Watson had was seemingly being able to find where the Daily Doubles were.
   9. John DiFool2 Posted: November 21, 2011 at 03:06 PM (#3998410)
Alex Trabek should never have invented that game show.


He didn't-Art Fleming did.
   10. PreservedFish Posted: November 21, 2011 at 03:15 PM (#3998420)
When Ken Jennings was defeated by the IBM computer Watson, he said the biggest advantage Watson had was seemingly being able to find where the Daily Doubles were.


Uh, the biggest advantage was obviously Watson's ability to win the buzz-in on virtually every question.
   11. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: November 21, 2011 at 04:33 PM (#3998501)
Alex Trabek should never have invented that game show.

He didn't-Art Fleming did.


No, Art Fleming invented penicillin.
   12. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: November 21, 2011 at 04:54 PM (#3998524)

Uh, the biggest advantage was obviously Watson's ability to win the buzz-in on virtually every question.


Yes, I shouldn't have said "biggest advantage", but it was a big advantage Jennings cited as the computer was able to find the DDs and maximize the earnings.
   13. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: November 21, 2011 at 04:59 PM (#3998532)
Uh, the biggest advantage was obviously Watson's ability to win the buzz-in on virtually every question.

Not true. Depends how fast it retrieves the info. I played against Watson when they were testing him.

On the contrary, that was perhaps Jennings greatest advantage. He literally built a mock buzzer at home, and practiced chiming in for ~1 year before his appearance.
   14. just plain joe Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:05 PM (#3998545)
On the contrary, that was perhaps Jennings greatest advantage. He literally built a mock buzzer at home, and practiced chiming in for ~1 year before his appearance.


This cries out for a mothers' basement joke but I can't think of a good one at the moment.
   15. Nasty Nate Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:19 PM (#3998569)
I have a vague memory that back in the 80's a player could buzz in before the 'answer' was completely read, and give the 'question' at that point - and if he/she were wrong the rest of the clue would be read for the other contestants. Am I making that up? Am I thinking of other game shows?

Also, are the contestants on the show able to read the clue or do they have to rely on listening to Trebek? Playing at home I can often know the 'question' before the whole clue is read if I can read ahead.
   16. Swoboda is freedom Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:19 PM (#3998571)
Alex Trabek should never have invented that game show.

Actually Merv Griffen did. His wife came up with the idea of the reverse answer and questions.
   17. Biff, highly-regarded young guy Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:30 PM (#3998589)
Also, are the contestants on the show able to read the clue or do they have to rely on listening to Trebek? Playing at home I can often know the 'question' before the whole clue is read if I can read ahead.

They can read the clue but can't buzz in until after Trebek finishes reading. It's not so much a speed race as it is a timing race, since there's a small delay after Trebek finishes reading before a player can buzz in.

(I was in the contestant pool for Jeopardy a couple years back but wasn't selected. Next online test is January.)
   18. phredbird Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:38 PM (#3998597)
there was a great segment on NPR about this guy yesterday. his take is 'you study the game before you play'. he just took it to the extreme. good for him.
   19. SOLockwood Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:47 PM (#3998604)
I have a vague memory that back in the 80's a player could buzz in before the 'answer' was completely read, and give the 'question' at that point - and if he/she were wrong the rest of the clue would be read for the other contestants. Am I making that up? Am I thinking of other game shows?


The first season of the revival, players could buzz in instantly -- Alex wouldn't recognize them until he finished reading the question though. After the first season, it was changed so that the buzzer wouldn't be activated until Alex was reading the last syllable of the last word. If a player buzzes in too early, his buzzer is locked out until he releases it for at least 1/2 second. When I played in 1987 there was a light on your console that lit up when you were locked out and you had to wait until it went off for your buzzer to be active.

In College Bowl and It's Academic (the high school version in the DC area) players can buzz in instantly and the moderator will stop asking the question and recognize the buzzer for the answer.
   20. Random Transaction Generator Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:52 PM (#3998609)
Brad Rutter might have beaten Ken Jennings in the ultimate Jeopardy tournament of champions, and "Watson" might have smoked him in the man vs machine tournament, but until someone else runs off 74 wins in a row, he's still the greatest of all time.

Also, from interviews, articles, chat sessions and blog postings, he comes across as a very humble and very funny guy.

I think the big advantage this Roger Craig guy got was using his data mining skills to produce the gaps of knowledge he needed to fill in.
   21. Biff, highly-regarded young guy Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:57 PM (#3998615)
Brad Rutter might have beaten Ken Jennings in the ultimate Jeopardy tournament of champions, and "Watson" might have smoked him in the man vs machine tournament, but until someone else runs off 74 wins in a row, he's still the greatest of all time.

Well, Rutter didn't have a chance to run off 74 wins in a row. It is true that he wasn't as dominant in his initial 5-game run, but it's possible he would have settled into a groove like Ken did, and Rutter won his own TOC, Million Dollar Masters, and the UTOC. I'd have to go with him for greatest of all time.
   22. Nasty Nate Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:57 PM (#3998618)
The first season of the revival, players could buzz in instantly.....


Thanks. I would think that if it was a category that you were even halfway confident with, that you should buzz right away and take your chances.
   23. Random Transaction Generator Posted: November 21, 2011 at 06:05 PM (#3998623)
Thanks. I would think that if it was a category that you were even-halfway confident with, that you should buzz right away and take your chances

This is what Ken Jennings did to destroy his opponents (except he waited for the appropriate amount of time to buzz in).
   24. Nasty Nate Posted: November 21, 2011 at 06:08 PM (#3998625)
This is what Ken Jennings did to destroy his opponents (except he waited for the appropriate amount of time to buzz in).


Right, but he would at least get to hear the whole clue.
   25. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: November 21, 2011 at 06:10 PM (#3998627)

Also, from interviews, articles, chat sessions and blog postings, he comes across as a very humble and very funny guy.


I follow his twitter feed and he is no doubt funnier that a lot of comedy writers. He is also much raunchier than I expected, although I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.
   26. Random Transaction Generator Posted: November 21, 2011 at 06:44 PM (#3998663)
Right, but he would at least get to hear the whole clue.

Good point. That's another 2 or 3 seconds to ponder.
   27. Gaelan Posted: November 21, 2011 at 06:45 PM (#3998664)
Did you guys know that Snapper is a Jeopardy champion? Still the most impressive accomplishment of any primate.
   28. JJ1986 Posted: November 21, 2011 at 06:51 PM (#3998668)
Still the most impressive accomplishment of any primate.


A former major leaguer posts here.
   29. Good cripple hitter Posted: November 21, 2011 at 06:58 PM (#3998673)
Still the most impressive accomplishment of any primate.


I don't wanna turn this into a primate dick measuring contest, but Chris Dial invented the "Engineered Materials Arresting System, a 200-foot-long stretch of pavement injected with air bubbles designed to collapse under the weight of an aircraft as large as a Boeing 737 jet traveling as fast as 50 knots."

Only problem is that his invention saved A-Rod's life, and that might hurt his Value Over Replacement Primate score.
   30. kthejoker Posted: November 21, 2011 at 07:16 PM (#3998695)
I guess it's bragging, but I am also a Jeopardy champion. Still not as impressive as ChadBradfordWannabe getting an actual MLB job.
   31. Nasty Nate Posted: November 21, 2011 at 07:22 PM (#3998710)
By the way, a few weeks ago on Jeopardy the very first clue was something like "this Italian volcano erupted in 79 A.D." and the contestant answered with "Mount Vesuvius" - missing a once-in-a-lifetime chance to answer with "What is 'Suvius" a la Rosie Perez in White Men Can't Jump.
   32. Cblau Posted: November 22, 2011 at 03:06 AM (#3999143)
Craig's computer program didn't give him the giant cojones you need to bet everything on two straight Daily Doubles. And how does a guy who lost 24 games for the 1962 Mets win the Jeopardy ToC, any way? Talk about a reversal of fortune.
   33. Something Other Posted: November 23, 2011 at 04:13 AM (#3999961)
Amazin' how elusive artificial intelligence has been.

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