Ken Jennings


July 10, 2006

One hundred and twenty-eight of you submitted answers to the first installment of Tuesday Trivia (it’s not too late for newcomers to hop on board for week 2; sign up here) and an appalling 32 of you (exactly one quarter) knew all six of the first six answers. Even worse, thirty players knew the answer to the supposedly brain-bruising (and non-Google-able) seventh question! I will clearly have to be more devious on tomorrow’s quiz.

The seventh question asked what literary characters Charles Darnay, Tom Brown, Jane Bennet, and Fyodor Karamazov had in common. The most common answer given had to do with literary siblings (probably cued by the Bennet sisters vs. The Brothers Karamazov) but that’s not correct: Fyodor is the murdered Karamazov father, not one of the brothers. Others hopefully tried dull answers (they’re all 19th-century, they’re all still in print, they’re all dead by now), funny answers (all Simpsons guest voices, all left-handed, none created by Shakespeare) and others used a little lit-crit (all suffered for the wrongs of others, all were “egoists a la Ayn Rand,” all came from families with “absentee fathers,” etc.)

If you didn’t get it, don’t feel bad: my editor at Random House says that the Modern Library editors he consulted were stumped too. It’s a little trick: all four share the first name of their respective author. Charles Darnay was created by Charles Dickens, Tom Brown by Thomas Hughes, Jane Bennet by Jane Austen, and Fyodor Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. If anyone can suggest any additions to the list, feel free. It would help improve further iterations of the question.

My favorite answers showed plenty of soap-opera imagination. All four committed suicide. All had look-alike doubles. All were murderers. All went to prison and were executed. What do answers like these have in common? If true, any one of them would dramatically improve the plot of Pride and Prejudice! Just imagine: Elizabeth Bennet’s snottiness to Mr. Darcy has doomed her sister Jane’s marriage to Mr. Bingley. And as Lizzy lies in bed that night, smiling condescendingly to herself about the silliness of Regency-era courtship, Jane again sees those self-satisfied arched eyebrows and that frightening Keira Knightley piranha-stuffed-with-Chiclets grin, and this time something snaps inside her, and so she gets up to fetch her father’s hedge-trimmers…

Full answers to the quiz will appear in tonight’s e-mailing.

Someone asked if I intended Internet resources to be allowed on the seventh question. I pondered this for a few minutes, but I think the answer is no. The final what-do-they-have-in-common? questions will be designed so that no quick Google search can break them, but also to be possible (albeit tough) to answer with off-the-top-of-your-head knowledge. No obscure stats or who-cares minutiae required. So hours of web research might well help you stumble on the right answer, but to get the points honestly, you will need to come up with answer unaided. “USE YOUR NOODLE!” as they used to say on Mathnet.

The thirteen players who went 7-for-7 (and are therefore in The Lead, whatever that means) after our first week are, in order of response: Raj Dhuwalia, Robert K S, Hugh H. Davis, Mathew Laird, Helen Meehan, Rosalinda Reyes, Megan Meyer, Bonnie Farrier, David Prechtl, Andy Phelps, Gavin Priebe, Ney Rios, and Elizabeth Yow. Congratulations, and good luck on the next quiz.

Posted by Ken at 11:47 am