The Jeopardy! Buzzer and its Elusive Sweet-Spot.

You’ve seen the frustrated contestants, spazzing-out, their thumbs blurring in vain, faces rippling into masks of insanity.  They know the answer but never get the chance to say, “Who is Roald Dahl,” and accumulate $300 for knowing the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Buzzing-in causes considerable grief for many players, and the condition seems to worsen the more a contestant falls behind.



Time to consult the pros.  Ken Jennings, who won a whopping 74 Jeopardy! matches and amassed $2.52 million, says it best:

“…victory goes not to the biggest brain—it goes to the smoothest thumb.”

Ken’s keen observation adds a physical dimension to an intellectual game.  And success evidently has nothing to do with speed.  As with most sports, hitting the sweet spot is a matter of timing.

More from the pros, Michael G. Dupee, a 1996 Jeopardy Tournament of Champions contestant, offers a nifty little formula:

  1. Don’t let Alex read to you–read ahead and determine the answer.
  2. Buzz-in only after Alex’s last word.  The system locks up when a contestant buzzes in too early, both Jennings and Dupee report somewhere around 1/5 of a second (this is when the contortions begin).

The delicate dance between Alex’s last word and signaling freedom is represented by a beat.  While imperceptible to some, feeling this beat is the key to victory.  Contestants generally know the answers, which makes knowledge secondary–an interesting thought, considering Jeopardy! is one of the most cerebral shows on TV.

And how about that Johnny Gilbert?!  What a guy.

And he sings, too!

Thank you, Johnny Gilbert.

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One Response to The Jeopardy! Buzzer and its Elusive Sweet-Spot.

  1. Tori Nelson says:

    I have a feeling I would be the one contestant in the show’s history to be a champion buzzer… who never knows the correct answer 🙂

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