A Jeopardy! "case book"
Quite often, Jeopardy! viewers take to social media to object to some decision that the show's host or judges have made. This persists despite continual efforts exerted by both the show itself and plugged-in fans such as Andy Saunders of The Jeopardy! Fan and myself. Here, I'm compiling examples of how the show interprets its rules to ensure a fair game for everyone who plays it — including some instances in which it falls short of the mark in that respect. An important link to share at this point is 5 Jeopardy! Rules Every Contestant Should Know; I'll make reference to it at points throughout this page.
I'm immensely thankful to the all-volunteer team over at J! Archive for providing the source material for this. Particularly, the "game responses" page for each game enabled me to quickly identify rulings that were reversed or occasioned attention for other reasons. As a result, I was able to find every instance of the judges overruling an original call for the one-year period from February 2018 to February 2019, as well as other rulings. Many of the examples you'll see below come from that period, along with others that stick out in my mind.
Table of contents
- The most common type of judging decision seen on Jeopardy! is the case of a response that was initially ruled incorrect, but that was later found to be acceptable. In some instances, the sheet from which the host reads the clues will indicate an alternative response that the judges have pre-determined either is, or is not, acceptable. But in other instances, that determination has to be made after an initial ruling has been made and the game has moved on. An example of this was "butane" being ruled correct after the fact when "kerosene" was the target response; Alex explained, some forms of butane are rated for their sulfur content — and that was all that was needed to make it correct.
[No. 7920 (February 1, 2019): Double Jeopardy! round, clue 28 — SULFUR, $1600]
- There are, however, limits to what falls within the bounds of correctness. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the most recent game that finished with all three players at $0 (and thus, had no winner). The Final Jeopardy! in that game was looking for Little Rock, Arkansas. The following day, it was pointed out by 500 Questions six-figure winner Steve Bahnaman that a case could be made for accepting Atlanta, Georgia — the response given by Mike Drummond. My recollection is that Drummond was made aware of this and submitted the information to the show, but in any event, he was never invited to return.
[No. 7216 (January 18, 2016): Final Jeopardy! round — STATE CAPITALS]
- Explaining this also allows me to include a response that, more than a decade and a half after it first aired, remains a strong candidate for funniest Jeopardy! response ever delivered. Ken Jennings caused laughter to reverberate around Stage 10 when he answered "what's a ho(e)?" when the judges were going for "rake"; while it's arguable that Ken should've gotten credit, the judges' table didn't see it his way.
[No. 4620 (October 8, 2004): Jeopardy! round, clue 26 — TOOL TIME, $200]
- Less often, it goes the other way — the judges finding information that causes them to reverse a correct response to incorrect. A response of "dime-store novels," initially ruled correct, was reversed to a miss after the judges discovered that "dime-stores didn't come into being until the 1920s," in Alex's words; the clue referenced an author who had died in 1886.
[No. 7902 (January 8, 2019): Jeopardy! round, clue 27 — THE OLD WEST, $400]
- From time to time, the writers don't specify aspects of a category precisely enough… or the host doesn't specify those aspects precisely enough to the contestants. In a category titled "ZZ" MIDDLE, Alex explained that title as "two 'Z's coming up in the middle of each correct response." Virginia Cummings, who would go on to defeat 7-time champion Josh Hill in this game, benefited from the fact that "in the middle" is loose enough to equate to "not at the beginning or the end", vice "the exact middle" as the show had intended; as such, "grizzly" was accepted as a second correct response alongside "grizzled."
[No. 7770 (May 25, 2018): Jeopardy! round, clue 7 — "ZZ" MIDDLE, $800]
- Another example of looseness from the writers happened earlier in Josh Hill's run; a clue referencing the French for "night", to which Hill gave the target response of "Nocturne," resulted in money being restored to one of his opponents who answered "Nuit" (but not being ruled correct, effectively a "clam").
[No. 7767 (May 22, 2018): Double Jeopardy! round, clue 14 — ART & ARTISTS, $800]
- This can also come into play to a player's disadvantage. In a category titled THE B.G.s, a response of "Button" (where "Button Gwinnett" was originally intended) was initially ruled correct, but later deemed to be insufficient, resulting in the removal of the clue value of $1000, but not a further $1000.
[No. 7751 (April 30, 2018): Jeopardy! round, clue 19 — THE B.G.s, $1000]
- If the correct response to a clue is the title of something, then articles definite or indefinite attached to or left off the front, or different from those actually in the title, aren't enough to render a response incorrect. Guest host Dr. Sanjay Gupta explained this to the viewers in the course of ruling on a recent Final Jeopardy! response; there, "A Handmaid's Tale" was accepted as correct on a clue looking for the title of Margaret Atwood's 1985 Booker Prize-winning novel. (The actual title is The Handmaid's Tale.)
[No. 8440 (July 9, 2021): Final Jeopardy! round — 1980s BESTSELLERS]
- The players are specifically briefed on this rule before game play begins; in particular, they are alerted to the exception. If adding, removing, or changing a article yields the title of a similar work, it won't be allowed. The example used to illustrate this in the briefing is that of the 1898 H.G. Wells novel The Invisible Man and the 1952 Ralph Ellison novel Invisible Man; giving one when the other is called for will be ruled wrong. That very situation presented itself in January 2021; in a clue wanting the title of the Wells novel, Zach Newkirk responded "what is Invisible Man?"; accordingly, Ken Jennings ruled against Newkirk, explaining the decision in exactly this manner.
[No. 8324 (January 28, 2021): Jeopardy! round, clue 21 — LITERATURE, $400]
- Changing articles within the title, however, is another matter entirely. "Elf on a Shelf" (vice "Elf on the Shelf") was reversed from a get to a miss — and on multiple occasions, "The Origin of the Species" (vice "[On] The Origin of Species") has not been accepted.
[No. 7797 (July 3, 2018): Jeopardy! round, clue 22 — "F" STOP, $600]; [No. 7903 (January 9, 2019): Jeopardy! round, clue 23 — CHARLES DARWIN, $400]; [No. 7229 (February 4, 2016): Final Jeopardy! round — 19th CENTURY BOOKS]
- A variant on this principle comes into play when it comes to song titles — personally, I think of it as the "Spears Rule." A clue in a "before and after" category was looking for "…Baby One More Time After Time." A contestant gave "…Hit Me One More Time After Time," was initially ruled correct — and as I expected, that ruling was reversed to a miss, owing to the lack of "Baby." But I wondered… did the inclusion of "Hit Me" render the response incorrect, irrespective of "Baby" being included or not? I asked Andy about this, and he alerted me to the principle in play here: additional words in a song lyric do not render a response incorrect, so long as the song's title is given.
[No. 7438 (January 4, 2017): Double Jeopardy! round, clue 16 — TOP 40 BEFORE & AFTER, $400]
- Sometimes, rulings on pronunciation are fairly straightforward. "Numistacist" isn't "numismatist" (the formal term for a coin collector), and ten times out of ten, Jeopardy! isn't going to accept it.
[No. 7929 (February 14, 2019): Double Jeopardy! round, clue 11 — KIND-OF-PERSON MAGAZINE, $1200 (Daily Double, $2800 wagered)]
- If a change of pronunciation results in a change of meaning, the player will be out of luck. A particularly notable example of this was when the difference between "gangster" and "gangsta" caused the judges to overturn a response initially ruled correct by Alex — a ruling that garnered sufficient attention for the show to officially comment upon it.
[No. 7666 (January 1, 2018): Double Jeopardy! round, clue 14 — MUSIC & LITERATURE BEFORE & AFTER, $1600]
- In other cases, however, differences in pronunciation amount to differences in regional dialect — and it has amounted to controversy. For one, "foilage" was rejected as a variant of "foliage"; the player in question was from Tennessee.
[No. 7181 (November 30, 2015): Double Jeopardy! round, clue 24 — WORDS THAT SHOULD RHYME, $1600 (Daily Double, $2000 wagered)]
- Regional pronunciations vs. Standard American English came to far greater prominence nearly two years later — the difference affected 12-time champion and Jeopardy! All-Star Austin Rogers. On a clue calling for "sorbet & sherbet" that specified the two words "end in the same three letters," Austin responded "sor-BAY and sher-BERT" and was ruled incorrect. Austin told Alex, "I'm from New York. That's how we say it" in response. As a native Long Islander, I will attest to that. The show held its ground, going so far as to issue an official explanation of the ruling. Equally firm in its opposition was The Jeopardy Fan, a position supported by a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. Fortunately for Austin, "SherbetGate" didn't prevent him from locking up the game before Final Jeopardy!. Contrast this with a clue from December 2019, for which "sherbert" was accepted; in that instance, there was no stipulation on how the word ended, and so "sherbert" was ruled correct.
[No. 7603 (October 4, 2017): Jeopardy! round, clue 14 — FOOD & DRINK, $800; No. 8118 (December 18, 2019): Jeopardy! round, clue 22 — BASKIN-ROBBINS' 31 ORIGINAL FLAVORS, $800]
The first of those "5 rules" I referred to above
For clarity, I'll quote that rule in its entirety:
Contestants may change their responses as long as neither [the host] nor the judges have made a ruling.This is one area in which I think the show has not been entirely consistent; this may owe to the host initially ruling one way and being immediately overruled by the judges' table. Let's look at some examples.
With all due respect to Fenster and his two opponents on February 1, 2018, I think a football analogy sums this section up best. Whether a response is correct or not is akin to breaking the plane of the goal line — that is, it's within the scope of review. Whether a player's self-correction is before Alex's ruling is his judgment call and not subject to review.
- In one instance, a response of "the King of Spain" was ruled against by Alex, after which the player followed up with "Juan Carlos"; Alex declared the clue dead, not allowing Doug Dworkin's opponents the opportunity to claim a rebound. There appeared to be numerous jump-cuts on that clue, including one to Alex looking in the judges' direction — it may be that he initially gave Doug credit or was inclined to, but the judges directed him otherwise, and by that point, it would be too late to re-open the clue.
[No. 7802 (July 10, 2018): Jeopardy! round, clue 23 — KING OF THE CASTLE, $600]
- Less than two weeks later, a correction from a contestant after Alex had ruled did not result in the clue being declared dead. 7-time champion Ryan Fenster, who came back to the show after an appeal was upheld (more on that later), tried to correct a response of "Trans-Appalachian Trail" to "Appalachian Trail", but was ruled against by Alex simultaneous to the correction. Emily Moore was able to ring in and pick up a rebound; Alex admonished Ryan, "as you discovered earlier this week, Ryan, you cannot change your response after we have ruled against you." (Fenster was similarly ruled against on a Daily Double two games earlier.)
[No. 7810 (July 20, 2018): Double Jeopardy! round, clue 30 — ECO-READER, $1600]
- Similarly, Evelyn Rubin said "stagecoaches" after Alex has ruled against her initial "covered wagons"; after Katie Lombardo also missed with "wagons," Michael Pascuzzi was able to take advantage and give "stagecoaches" himself.
[No. 7829 (September 27, 2018): Double Jeopardy! round, clue 23 — BANDITS, $1200]
- You can't change your response after Alex and/or the judges have ruled against you… or can you? Ryan Vesledahl appeared to have been able to; following an initial response of "tenureship" and a clear "no" in response by Alex, Ryan said "tenure" — and was ruled to "have corrected [himself] in time," a ruling which was not revisited.
[No. 7840 (October 12, 2018): Jeopardy! round, clue 15 — EDUCATION, $800]
… and the second of those rules
Again, to save a click, I'll quote here the rule to which I'm referring:
Correct responses must satisfy the demands of both the clue and the category.
- Because that article was written back in October 2016, it uses a then-recent example to illustrate the point — "goalkeeper" was not acceptable in place of "goaltender."
[No. 7362 (September 20, 2016): Double Jeopardy! round, clue 7 — "TEN"-LETTER WORDS, $1200]
- This concept is applicable to reversals as well; in order for an alternative correct response to be credited, it has to fit within applicable constraints. Two instances in Season 35 where that has redounded to players' benefit were the acceptance of "green market" (vice "greengrocer"; both have 3 "e"'s) and "tin-pot" (vice "despot"; both contain "pot").
[No. 7818 (September 12, 2018): Double Jeopardy! round, clue 10 — 3 "E"s, $1600]; [No. 7891 (December 24, 2018): Double Jeopardy! round, clue 15 — "POT"POURRI, $800]
- There have been occasions where responses have gone to review and constraints precluded a reversal. On a clue containing the phrase "from the Latin word for rainbow," both "opalescent" and "luminescent" were ruled against by Alex, who promised to check both responses. Five clues later, upon the uncovering of a Daily Double, Alex informed the affected players that the original rulings stood because they didn't satisfy that part of the clue (which was looking for "iridescent").
[No. 7774 (May 31, 2018): Jeopardy! round, clue 19 — ADJECTIVES, $1000]
- This also holds in Final Jeopardy!. Going for his sixth regular win, Scott Lord faced a clue in CLASSICAL MUSIC, to which he responded "Scherazade"; an opponent gave the correct response of "Scheherezade." While it didn't get quite as much notice in the wider world, this one triggered fierce debate on JBoard at the time of airing. Said debate centered upon the definition of the word "her" in the clue. The show interpreted it in the context of the category, pinning to the title of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic suite, which is known only by the four-syllable title stated above. The competing interpretation was that "her," standing on its own, could refer to either the symphony OR to One Thousand and One Nights (a.k.a. The Arabian Nights), the collection of folk tales on which the musical piece is based — and whose main character is also known as "Shirazad" and "Shahrazad", which are equivalent in pronunciation to Scott's response. Had it been accepted, Lord would have won the game; I recall it being stated on JBoard that he elected not to appeal, perhaps since with five wins, he was already coming back to play in the Tournament of Champions. I was originally in the camp of those who thought the show got the ruling wrong; long afterward (as in, well after the 2015 ToC), I came around to the other side.
[No. 7121 (July 27, 2015): Final Jeopardy! round — CLASSICAL MUSIC]
Phrasing of responses
- This is one of the most contentious items in the discussion of Jeopardy! that takes place on social media. When it rears its head, I've seen complaints that insistence on proper phrasing is like the calling of traveling in the NBA — that is, the rule exists in the rule book, but it's not enforced. To this, in lieu of a specific example or two, I'm going to link to the search results for "form question" in J! Archive. That term returns dozens of games where a player was ruled against for failing to phrase properly in Double Jeopardy! or on any Daily Double.
The question word given does not have to match the target response. It did in the early days of the NBC version in the 1960s, but it quickly became clear that insistence on "who" for a person, for example, would slow the game down way too much. The show had to issue an official explanation on this point and several others, on account of the phrasing used by late Season 37 champion Matt Amodio. He used "what's" as part of his phrasing on each and every one of his responses, leading many to express unwarranted outrage that he wasn't properly phrasing. (Of course, that's relatively tame as far as this topic of the show goes. After all, those questioning Amodio's phrasing didn't have a scurillous accusation leveled against them en masse, one which was subsequently couched as a kafkatrap…)
In Final Jeopardy!, the standard for a properly phrased response is a question word ("what" or "who", for example) and a response. Neither a copular verb (is/are/was/were) nor a question mark are required. Players are instructed to write the question word during the commercial break between Double and Final; thus, so long as it's still there, a Final response should always be properly phrased. The practice of allowing the question word to be written before the clue is revealed came about in response to at least one match having its outcome decided by a phrasing violation.
Two things should be kept in mind whenever an urge arises to object to a ruling on phrasing. One is demonstrated by something you see in this explanation of how the Jeopardy! signaling device works. If you look at the GIF showing the podium from behind (that is, from the contestant's point of view, opposite the one we viewers at home see), you'll notice that the "timer bar" of red lights is visible to the player. In other words: a player who has gotten in first knows it even before the host calls their name. Why does this matter? Because some players — including, and perhaps especially, some of the greatest to ever have played this game — like to play fast. REALLY fast. This leads to the words forming the question crossing over the host calling on them… which leads me to the second point. Even if your home audio system is top-of-the-line, it still pales in comparison to the production-grade equipment that Jeopardy! employs. The judges can isolate each contestant's microphone and finely parse anything that's said; as we've seen here, a single misplaced syllable that renders a response incorrect can be caught. Trust the judges on this, viewers.
- In March 2021, J! Archive Founding Archivist Robert K S alerted me to an article at Outsider detailing the five dollar amounts that Jeopardy! contestants are banned from wagering on a Daily Double or in Final Jeopardy!. They are: $69 (America's Favorite Quiz Show is fiercely protective of its "TV-G" rating); $666 (the Number of the Beast; also formerly a U.S. Highway in Arizona and New Mexico); and $14, $88, & $1488 (on account of their association with white nationalism, however defined). According to Ken Jennings and confirmed on r/Jeopardy by other contestants, the ban on these wagers dates to 2018.
[Jennings Tweet | r/Jeopardy recap thread, March 14, 2019]
- It does seem permissible, however, to make a wager that causes a player to land on one of those prohibited numbers. One three-time champion, making her initial wager, wanted to show love to the Windy City. She had sufficient funds at the time to bet the the country code of the North American Numbering Plan area, followed by Chicago's classic area code. Unfortunately, she missed — and 1,400 - 1,312 = 88.1 This has been known to be used for other, more wholesome purposes. In the All-Star Games final, Team Colby didn't have a chance to win as the second game of the match went to Final. Colby Burnett's response and wager are revealed, at which point… well, I just have to quote the whole exchange.2
Alex Trebek: You add seven thousand [and one] dollars today. That brings you up to sixteen thousand six-oh-one. Yesterday, you had eight thousand; that brings your two-day total to twenty-four thousand, six-oh-one. Two, four, six, oh, one.
1 [No. 8104 (November 28, 2019): Jeopardy! round, clue 15 — PAMPAS, $800 (Daily Double, $1312 wagered)]
Colby Burnett: Do your hear the people sing?
Alex: Wasn't that Jean Valjean's number in Les Misérables? Ohh.
(Camera cuts to the six finalists not playing the round laughing and applauding.)
Colby: It was but a loaf of bread.
Alex: All right.
2 [No. 7942 (March 5, 2019): Final Jeopardy! round — CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT MATH]
- Robert K S has also alerted me to the fact that there is a category of numbers one cannot wager that would seem obvious on its face, but is in fact codified in the Jeopardy! rule book. A player cannot, in effect, "short sell" Final Jeopardy! — that is, wager a negative amount so that they would benefit from an incorrect response. A Tweet from @SortaBad posited this possibility, and Robert shared with me some Facebook comment back-and-forth between contestants stating that players are told their Final wagers must fall between zero and whatever they have to that point, inclusive. It also mentioned that the rule is given explicitly because a Kids Week contestant tried to do it. I'll second what one of those players said: "that kid is a hero and a champion."
Handling complex overturns, and "asymmetric application"
- If a player's response is reversed from a miss to a get, what happens to responses that follow? Fortunately, the second game of Season 35 enables me to illustrate this in a single clue. A green cell indicates correct, red indicates wrong, and black indicates a "clam" — neither incorrect nor correct. The numbers in brackets indicate the order in which the responses were given.
|Scores after 25 clues||$6,000||$5,000||$1,000|
|Original responses||carriage ||train ||chariot |
|Scores after 26 clues||$6,600||$4,400||$400|
|Entering 2nd commercial break||$7,000||$8,200||$400|
|Revised rulings||carriage ||train ||chariot |
|Revised scores to start DJ!||$7,000||$8,800||$1,600|
As Alex explained, had Becky been initially credited with a correct response, Lori would not have been able to ring in and give an incorrect one — which is why the judges restored the $600 she lost. But wait, you might be thinking — if Becky had been ruled correct, Rick would not have been able to ring in either! Shouldn't he lose the $600 he picked up for "carriage"? Yet he keeps it.
This is what I'm referring to when I talk about "asymmetric application" of the rule on responses subsequent to a reversal — subsequent responses that are wrong are handled differently than subsequent responses that are right. But viewed from different perspectives, the two scenarios are consistent. For one thing, both instances are resolved in the manner most favorable to the player. And for another, a correct response is always credited as such, even if never would have been given but for the judges' mistake.
[No. 7817 (September 11, 2018): Jeopardy! round, clue 26 — GO FLY A KITE!, $600]
- A different type of complex overturn happened during LeVar Burton's first game as guest host, alerting viewers to a stipulation in the rules I hadn't previously known about: if a response is being ruled against because time has expired, the host must explicitly make that clear. The clue in question looked for the name of the Panamanian dictator overthrown by the United States in 1989. Matt Amodio rang in first, struggled to get out "what's Noriega?"; the general's name came after the light bar had gone dark, with Burton accordingly ruling against the response, but by saying "wrong." The clue remained open for a rebound; Kathleen McHugh rang in next and replied "who is Somoza?"; finally, Patrick Pearce said "who is Manuel Noriega?" within the required time. At the contestant interviews, Burton informed McHugh that the $600 penalty for "Somoza" would be returned to her, as Burton's ruling against Amodio could plausibly have misled her into thinking "Noriega" wasn't the correct response.
[No. 8451 (July 26, 2021): Jeopardy! round, clue 9 — HISTORY, $600]
Final Jeopardy!, and being invited back
Spelling and pronunciation
- The fifth of the "5 Rules" is that spelling doesn't count as long as the pronunciation matches the correct response. For example, "Gray's Anatomy" (vice "Grey's") is well within the bounds of acceptability.1 On the other hand, "Emanciptation Proclamation" (vice "Emancipation"), despite being sympathetically received by many viewers, didn't fly during Kids Week in 20132 — and rightfully so.
1 [No. 7926 (February 11, 2019): Final Jeopardy! round — PRIMETIME TV]
2 [No. 6663 (July 31, 2013): Final Jeopardy! round — THE CIVIL WAR]
A more recent infamous example of "does spelling change pronunciation?" happened in just the second game of Mike Richards's tenure as executive producer of Jeopardy!. The correct response to Final in that game was the founder of Motown Records, Berry Gordy. The only player who came up with any response was challenger Betsy Reisz. She wrote down "Who is Barry Gordy?"; that was immediately ruled incorrect by Alex. Upon first viewing, I thought little of the ruling other than "ooh, that's a close miss!" But my perspective changed entirely when I looked at the day's recap on The Jeopardy! Fan. And in his "Thoughts," Andy raged:
In my opinion, this was easily the worst ruling that the judges have made on the show in a great many seasons. To my ear, there is such an insignificant difference between "Barry" and "Berry" that the judges deserve to receive every single last complaint the show gets tonight on social media. Thankfully, this was immaterial to the outcome of the game and she wonít be returned, but still. Betsy should have received credit and this was 100% a terrible ruling by the judges.It all goes to something called the "Mary–marry–merry merger." The "full merger," in which those three words are pronounced identically, is found not only throughout 57% of the United States, but also in all of Canada but Montréal. On the other hand, the "three-way contrast," in which the words have three distinct pronunciations, is found in 17% of America, most particularly in the Philadelphia and New York City areas. Andy is from and remains a resident of Ontario, while I'm originally from Long Island and now reside in the Philadelphia suburbs — that pretty much explains why I detected a change of pronunciation, while he did not.
Notwithstanding the difference in how we hear those words, the fact that the majority of the population of the U.S. considers "Barry" and "Berry" to be identically pronounced is more than enough to bring me into agreement with Andy that the Jeopardy! judges fouled up this ruling; fortunately, as stated in the above quote, there was no impact on the outcome. It didn't help the show's cause that its repeatedly Tweeted response begged the question (as that term is properly used); it assumed the truth of the very point under contention. Reisz notes that she's a Kentucky native and it's "full merger" for her. With that in mind, her grace and humor in handling the moment was impressive.
(Thanks to Robert K S for prompting me to add this to the case book.)
[No. 8237 (September 15, 2020): Final Jeopardy! round — THE MUSIC BIZ]
- You've got to get the whole response down within the thirty seconds allotted to do so, or you're not going to be ruled correct in Final — even if the response is a long one. Twice in a short time span, this was demonstrated. 2017 ToC semifinalist Lisa Schlitt came up two letters short with "Pennsylvania & Massachuset", but it was still ruled against. As I stated at the time: "There's no way you can pronounce Lisa's response as Massachusetts, nor is it an accepted abbreviation. Correct to rule it wrong."1 Exactly a week later, "Lord of the Rings: Return" wasn't close enough to the title of the final film of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy to satisfy the judges either.2
1 [No. 7459 (February 2, 2017): Final Jeopardy! round — THE U.S.A.]
2 [No. 7464 (February 9, 2017): Final Jeopardy! round — THE OSCARS]
- Nine months later, a partial response that was just as incorrect elicited far more sympathy from the viewers, and pushed the show to issue an official explanation. As the article states, "Wilbur [Farley]ís partial response [of "Sgt. Pepperís Lonely Heart"] not only referenced the [Beatles' famed 1967 album] in a way that has never been popularly known, but it also changed the meaning of the title itself."
[No. 7637 (November 21, 2017): Final Jeopardy! round — CLASSIC ALBUMS]
Handling problems in Final Jeopardy!
- Andy of TJ!F invokes the Latin phrase ceteris paribus when explaining how relief is granted in Final; in English, it means "all other things being equal." A poorly-worded clue from 2015 shows this principle in action. The clue was targeting the surname "Collins," but it referred in part to the first manned lunar landing. Astute readers will note immediately that Michael Collins, while part of the Apollo 11 crew, never landed on the Moon, remaining behind in the Command/Service Module. Thus it was deemed that there was, in fact, no correct response to this clue.
In such a case, and with all three players playing Final, you look at each of the eight possible outcomes. The table lists each of them in its own row; the score in italics is the winning one for that outcome. (The fourth one, a solo get by Patricia, was the outcome that actually happened.)
|Scores after Double Jeopardy!||$2,600||$9,400||$10,800|
|Final Jeopardy! wagers||$0||$9,400||$8,001|
Camille won and returned the following day. But because the clue was effectively thrown out, Ashley was allowed to return again as a challenger the day after that, whereupon she won two games. Looking at the table, you notice that in none of the eight possibilities does Patricia have the highest score. That, and that alone, is why she didn't get invited back along with Ashley.
[No. 7202 (December 29, 2015): Final Jeopardy! round — FAMOUS LAST NAMES]
- That was an instance of a Final clue having no correct response. What if it's discovered after the fact that there's more than one? That happened to five-time champion Tom Kunzen, who answered "sari" on Final in his sixth and last game. This was later deemed to be correct. The show sent him an extra $1,000 (the difference between third and second place) but didn't invite him back in regular play — because even with "sari" being credited after the fact, Megan Barnes would've won anyway, having given the originally intended response of "burqa" and having made the standard cover bet.
[No. 6112 (March 22, 2011): Final Jeopardy! round — GARMENTS OF THE WORLD]
- Did you know that a Final Jeopardy! clue manifests in four different forms? They are:
- The full-screen version that appears to viewers while the host is reading the clue
- The bottom-of-screen chyron visible to the viewers during the 30-second response interval
- Shown in the fourth-column, fourth-row monitor on the game board — occasionally seen as the camera pans at the start of "Think!," this is the only text version of the clue the players see
- Read by the host — heard both in-studio and by the viewers
A discrepancy between the third and fourth versions was grounds for a player to be invited back in 2018. Versions 1, 2, and 4 of that Final clue said "this" — but the in-studio monitor said "his," leading Vincent Valenzuela to, surprisingly to viewers at home, cross out "tree hugger" and write "Carl Sagan" instead. He was leading going into Final and bet to cover, so but for the faulted clue, he would've won — hence the decision to bring him back on, which the show explained when he returned. The news of Valenzuela's return broke just three days after his original appearance, and did so after Andy and I had spent a not-insignificant amount of time examining, in nearly Zapruder film-esque detail, what was on that monitor.
[No. 7805 (July 13, 2018): Final Jeopardy! round — MODERN LANGUAGE]
- Very infrequently, the problem with Final Jeopardy! isn't with the clue itself, but with the light pen the players use to write their response. The staff in the control room can see the pen's movements as the players make them, but sometimes, the thing malfunctions entirely. When this happens, a player has a card and a marker on which to write the response. Over a decade ago, this resulted in an unusual outcome. All three players got "Lafayette," but Paul Thomas's pen malfunctioned just before the clock expired, and he wrote it on the card afterward. The response was ruled correct, and he became the new champion — that is, the new co-champion. Though Tom Morris finished with $2 less than Paul, he was likewise credited with a win and returned the following day, as he would've won had Paul not been given the extra time.
[No. 5454 (May 1, 2008): Final Jeopardy! round — HISTORIC NAMES]
Other instances of players challenging again
- In most of the instances where a losing player is allowed to appear on the show again, it was due to a problem with Final Jeopardy!. Very rarely, though, the problem is with an earlier clue. One instance of this involved the aforementioned Ryan Fenster. An incorrect response ("Great Schism," vice the intended "schism") very early in the Double Jeopardy! round in his fifth game was later found to have been acceptable. But that alone wasn't why Fenster was brought back. It was that reversal, AND the fact that Ryan was the only player to respond correctly to that game's Final Jeopardy!, AND that the additional $2,400 would have enabled him to possibly pass the winner's final score (which was $11,899; accepting "Great Schism" would have taken Ryan from $4,200 to $6,400, for a maximum possible of $12,800) that, in combination, amounted to Ryan being sufficiently disadvantaged that he was brought back.
[No. 7690 (February 2, 2018): Double Jeopardy! round, clue 3 — ROAMIN' CATHOLICS, $1200]
- That's a complicated chain of events. The only other instance of which I'm aware of a player being granted leave to challenge again owing to a clue before Final Jeopardy! was much more clear-cut. The late Bob Mesko found a Daily Double on the last clue of Double Jeopardy! (one other clue remained on the board, but the round ended with it unplayed). Bob made a bet sufficient to take the lead if correct, but his "wing" was ruled incorrect. On subsequent review, however, the clue's use of the word "division," an obsolete term in the hierarchy of U.S. Air Force units, was judged to have been potentially confusing. Given all three players were correct in Final, Mesko would have won but for that Daily Double, so he returned nearly three months later, upon which he won two additional games and qualified for the Tournament of Champions.
[No. 4924 (January 26, 2006): Double Jeopardy! round, clue 29 — THE U.S. AIR FORCE, $1600 (Daily Double, $5000 wagered)]
Over the last several years, I've taken to thinking of certain aspects of the game as being appropriate to be associated with particular people. For the most part, I'm introducing these terms for the first time; with one exception, they don't appear in the J! Archive glossary.
- Trebek rule: Only the game's winner keeps their winnings.
Effective: No. 1 (September 10, 1984), the premiere of the syndicated series.
Namesake: Alex Trebek; named after him because this was the most significant and far-reaching change from the Art Fleming-hosted network version. In 2016, Andy Saunders explained why this is. For one: in contrast to Wheel of Fortune, only money earned in the current round is at stake of being lost, not money from prior rounds the player has won. And for two: with the clues in the syndicated version being worth ten times as much as those in the network edition, non-winners keeping their totals might be less inclined to play for the win.
- Day rule: Players may not ring in until the clue is fully read, and any player attempting to signal before the system is armed at that point is briefly locked out.
Effective: No. 261 (September 9, 1985), the Season 2 premiere.
Namesake: Michael Day, five-time champion in Season 1 and 1985 Tournament of Champions quarterfinalist. According to his J! Archive biography, Day continually jiggled the signaling button during the game, enabling him to ring in first most of the time. This is seen in the one game from his original run that's in the Archive — in that game, he got in first on 36 of the 48 non-Daily Double clues played, an astonishing 75%. For comparison, over the entirety of their careers, Ken Jennings signaled first 57.1% of the time, and James Holzhauer 54.1%. (Both those figures per TJ!F)
- Chernicoff rule: Qualification for a Tournament of Champions runs from just after the previous ToC to just before the current one, subject to modification at the producers' discretion.
Effective: No. 2298 (September 7, 1994), the third game of Season 11.
Namesake: Steve Chernicoff, five-time champion and 1994 Tournament of Champions semifinalist. Chernicoff ended Season 10 as a two-time champion; when the next season started, he won three more to retire undefeated. Previously, Chernicoff would have had to wait until November 1995 to play in the Tournament of Champions; with this new rule in effect, he came back in November 1994. The change allowed the show's producers some flexibility in tournament scheduling; they were able to move the ToC out of its traditional November time frame, and eventually the event was not held at all in a few seasons. The producers have exercised their discretion to cut off the ToC qualifying period early on three occasions; for the 2014, 2019, and 2021 events.
- O'Rourke rule: Consolation prizes for runners-up are replaced with cash awards of $2,000 for second place and $1,000 for third place.
Effective: No. 4089 (May 16, 2002), the first game following the Million Dollar Masters.
Namesake: Ronnie O'Rourke, one-time champion in 2002, who would go on to note the wisdom of "STAY CLAM" and found and maintain the short-lived Jeoparchive. O'Rourke was the first player to receive the $2,000 for second place. The awards remain the same as of the end of Season 36 — and in December 2020, that $2,000 has the same purchasing power as $1,381 back then, thanks to inflation. I certainly think it's time to raise those values; $3,000 and $2,000 should be well within the show's means.
- (Former) Blake/Spangenberg rule: Players winning more than a certain threshold are limited to claiming that amount; anything above that figure is donated to a charity of the contestant's choice.
No longer effective, most likely: No. 4365 (July 18, 2003), the finale of Season 19.
Namesakes: Bob Blake and Frank Spangenberg, two five-game winners in Season 6. At the time, the applicable threshold was $75,000. Blake broke Chuck Forrest's winnings record by winning $82,501 early in the season; the last $7,501 was donated to Oxfam of Canada on his behalf. A few months later, New York City Transit Police officer Spangenberg demolished that record, winning $102,597; that meant $27,597 was sent to New York City's Gift of Love Hospice. I'd long thought the rule was retired at the conclusion of that season, given that in the next one, two players won more than $75,000, but the Archive makes no mention of either Mark Born or Bruce Ikawa donating to charity. However, some interesting information has been passed along to me, and I trust its source:
That's true as far as the cap in that amount, but not the cap altogether. From what I recall: At the start of Season 7 the cap was raised to $100,000 and then to $200,000 at the start of Season 14 (I know the latter because I saw a clip of that season's premiere where Alex said that). I believe the cap wasn't eliminated altogether until "sky's the limit" took effect with Season 20.
- "Sky's the limit": Champions no longer retire after five victories; they continue to defend until dethroned.
Effective: No. 4366 (September 8, 2003), the Season 20 premiere.
Namesake: This is the one that's in J! Archive. If I were giving it a name, it might be the "Picard rule," after the final line of Star Trek: The Next Generation, spoken by the captain. I also thought of the "anti-O'Rourke rule," as Ronnie O'Rourke, to this day, remains one of the most ardent opponents of "sky's the limit"; in fact, Ken Jennings going on his tear caused the cessation of the Jeoparchive, which led to the birth of J! Archive.
- Jennings rule: Players are given additional rehearsal time to become used to the signaling device; game play shall not commence until each contestant demonstrates the ability to consistently get in first.
Effective: No. 4616 (October 4, 2004), the first game after the 2004 Tournament of Champions — Jennings's 49th regular win.
Namesake: Ken Jennings, now officially the Greatest of All Time. The first twenty games of Season 21 were taped in April 2004, prior to production breaking for the summer, due to the threat of a Writers Guild of America strike that did not ultimately eventuate. Jennings had been so dominant over the first forty-eight games of his streak that when taping resumed afterward, he was met with the surprise that the show had changed the rules to level the playing field. As Ken put it himself in his 2006 book, Brainiac:
In the abstract, I like these attempts to level the playing field, even though they lead, in practice, to closer finishes—even a handful of games that are still up in the air going into Final Jeopardy. After all, the NBA widened the free throw lane for George Mikan and Wilt Chamberlain. Major League Baseball shrank the strike zone [and lowered the pitcher's mound] to hamper pitchers like Bob Gibson. At least I'm in good company.When Andy of The Jeopardy! Fan first unveiled his performance prediction model in April 2016, he cited this change, as well as the incompleteness of J! Archive, as reasons why 2004-10-04 would be the starting point for the data that inform the model. As recently as May 2020, he reaffirmed that using the model on games prior to that date would not be appropriate.
- Williams-Chu rule: There will no longer be co-champions in regular play; if players are tied for the lead (but not on $0) after Final Jeopardy!, a sudden-death tiebreaker clue will determine a single winner.
Effective: No. 6946 (November 24, 2014), the first game after the 2014 Tournament of Champions.
Namesakes: Keith Williams, 2003 College Champion and author of the web site The Final Wager; and Arthur Chu, 11-time champion in 2014 and 2014 Tournament of Champions first runner-up.Williams debuted The Final Wager at the beginning of Season 30, and over the course of the season, it gained stature in the show's community. Keith posited that under the then-existing rules, playing for the tie was just as good as going for an outright win. (Ken Jennings vehemently disagreed, on the grounds that it was never a good idea to bring back an opponent experienced on the signaling device.) Chu put TFW's advice into full effect; it was particularly noticed in his second win, when he induced an all-in wager from second place. It led to co-champions, but if everyone had missed, Arthur would have been the only player with money left. Given the association of TFW with Chu's long streak, other players sought to put the strategy to use. Keith assembled some data indicating that leaders offering ties became more prevalent in games taped after Chu's original run had aired. In the first eight weeks of Season 31 alone, there were four ties.
This gave rise to two problems, that Andy Saunders is surely sick and bleeping tired of repeatedly pointing out. One is that co-champions in a game mean one less slot for a challenger. A player who has made the trip to Southern California at their own expense doesn't get the chance to play Jeopardy! that they expected to have. The second is much bigger. Let's recall here that the very concept of the game — giving the players the answers — arose from the quiz show scandals of the 1950s. Another effect of those scandals was for Congress to amend the Communications Act of 1934, making fixing of televised contests a Federal crime; the amendment is presently codified at 47 U. S. Code §509. For much of the show's history, the existence of co-champions could be reconciled with that law by precluding players who knew each other previously from playing against one another. (Indeed, in Brainiac, Ken Jennings recounts the story of one of his acquaintances having to wait to play until Ken's run concluded.) With the advent of social media, it was impossible to assure this. Consider the following example that Andy has posited: a player gets The Call from the producers, and Tweets their tape date. Prior to that date, they get a reply from someone else who is taping at the same time. These players have now established contact, and it would be a logistical nightmare for the show to constantly be rescheduling tape dates for this reason. With co-champions, these players might make an agreement that if they were in a position to tie for the win, they would do so. That possibility comes off the table under the current rules, as those players could assure themselves of nothing more than a single-clue buzzer race, with the winner getting their winnings and returning, and the loser settling for $2,000. Whether the production staff recognized this themselves or were alerted to it by Standards & Practices (the external compliance staff), it was deemed to be of such great importance that the rule was changed in the middle of the season — a change endorsed by no less a luminary of the game than Keith Williams himself.
- Holzhauer rule: Inclusion of extraneous material in Final Jeopardy! (such as "shout-outs") is explicitly discouraged by the producers. Disregarding those warnings may be tolerated in small doses, but excessively doing so may cause an otherwise correct response to be ruled incorrect.
Effective: No. 7981 (April 29, 2019), James Holzhauer's eighteenth regular game.
Namesake: James Holzhauer, winner of 32 games and nearly $2.5 million in the spring of 2019, Tournament of Champions winner the following November, and runner-up to Ken Jennings in The Greatest of All Time. Joke responses when nothing's on the line — think Alex Jacob's "ALEVE," Buzzy Cohen's "You aren't rid of me yet Trebek," Jason Sterlacci's "Charles who fixed my tie," and Lilly Chin's "the spiciest memelord" — are one thing. It's a bit of a different thing when shout-outs are inserted alongside intended Final responses. And James Holzhauer put a well wish into his Final response in each of his first seventeen games. Sixteen of those responses were correct, and were so ruled. But on April 27, James announced on his Facebook page that the producers would be clamping down starting the following Monday. From then on, and through both the ToC and the GoAT, there were no more shout-outs by Holzhauer.
So why is this qualified by "excessively" and "may"? Well, because on at least three occasions in regular play subsequent to James's departure, extraneous information was inserted into an otherwise correct response, and that response was not ruled against by the judges. On July 23, 2019, John Myers inserted a shout-out alongside his correct response of "Scrabble." The response was ruled correct, but it was in this instance moot, as Jason Zuffranieri had the lead entering Final, bet to cover, and claimed the third of his nineteen victories. On March 17, 2020, Kris Sunderic responded in Final, "What is China? (And who is going to hire this PhD?)" The correct response was indeed "China," and Kris was credited; in contrast to the previous example, though, neither of his opponents came up with it. And absent being ruled correct, Sunderic would have lost the game. On October 22, 2020, Colin Davy added a happy birthday wish to his sister below his response of "Guernica." Had that wish been held to be a part of his response and led it to being ruled incorrect, he would have been passed by Lindsey Packer.
So exactly how extensively this rule applies remains unclear. It should also be noted that the statement came only from James, and was not commented on, confirmed, or denied by the show. Therefore, this might not even be in the show's rule book at all. Would it be enforced again were a player judged by the producers to be "abusing" the light pen in Final? Or was it, in effect, a "bill of attainder" — that is, a decree applicable only to Holzhauer? Only time may tell.
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