Who got himself in a bit of a fix recently for describing Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek as a robot ? The answer, in case you're not up on trivia, is Ken Jennings, who earned a burst of celebrity in 2004 when he won a record 74 straight competitions on television's longest-running trivia show.
A self-described nerd, Jennings was a software engineer, a devout Mormon and a quiet family man who suddenly found himself talking to David Letterman and Barbara Walters about his game show prowess. A national watercooler phenomenon, he appeared on television so often that his one-year-old son began calling him Ken Jennings! instead of Daddy.
Jennings recounts the whole roller-coaster experience, and more, in Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. Though he includes snippets of his trivia-crazed youth, his college quiz bowl triumphs and his success on Jeopardy! Brainiac isn't really a memoir but a broader look at the culture of trivia competitions.
We'll take software engineers for $200, Alex. Despite the fact that he made a living programming computers, what engineer managed to write a funny and engaging book? The answer, of course, is Jennings himself, who shows a pleasantly nerdy sense of humor throughout (he describes the contestants on the 1960s televised G.E. College Bowl as four heavily Brylcreemed white people with big ears ). Woven into the narrative are 170 trivia questions, with solutions at the end of each chapter. And, just like watching Jeopardy! you don't have to know all the answers to be entertained.
Now, what's all this about a feud with Trebek? As it turns out, Jennings saw very little of the host during the show's tapings, but found him a little chilly, with a tendency toward saltine-dry impartiality. Jennings says a post on his blog implying that Trebek had died and been replaced by a robot was a misunderstood bit of satire. And a good piece of publicity for a smart new author.