Trivia maven Jennings, who won millions and broke records on Jeopardy, puts his knowledge of all those worthless factoids to good use.
The former software programmer from Utah and self-proclaimed information geek, has produced a test considerably easier to take than you might expect. Naturally, it is stuffed with challenges to the reader to identify ephemeral curiosities, esoteric records, odd information and all sorts of historical detritus. (Answers at the end of each chapter: no cheating!) But Jennings’s prose is competent enough to keep even the trivia-impaired turning the pages in this survey of his nerdy avocation’s lore and history. Once upon a time in the pursuit of odd facts, newspaper archives were called upon and public librarians were accommodating, more or less. Then there were the cartoons of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and radio’s Information Please! Now, of course, there’s the Internet to provide a proliferation of solid information and false facts. Jennings chronicles the evolution of game shows. He discusses the current state of the trivia business, the proper composition of questions, the role of nostalgia, the uses of mnemonics and the neurotic dedication of a true competitor. Are all those disparate pieces of information just useless esoterica hiding under your Snapple caps, or are they more? Does “knowing all your state flowers and the kings of Saxony . . . the longest book in the Bible and the shortest Shakespeare play” really constitute cultural literacy? Is that your final answer?
A report from the contestant’s podium of particular interest to anyone who endeavors to become a human equivalent of Google.