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What is "People who are not Ken Jennings"?: Other Notable Jeopardy! Contestants

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Four years ago today (June 2, 2004), an unassuming Mormon with boyish good looks and a pistol-quick reaction on the buzzer began his famous winning streak on Jeopardy! When his original appearance ended, Ken Jennings won $2,520,700 (the highest total winnings in non-tournament play) in an unprecedented 74 games. Additionally, Ken holds the record for the longest winning streak in the game show's history, and the most money won in a single game: $75,000. Since making his mark, Ken appeared on the Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions, landed several endorsement deals, wrote books, and garnered the greatest prize of all: writing a regular column in mental_floss magazine.

Undeniably, Ken Jennings earned his place in the Jeopardy! Hall of Fame, but other contestants (pre and post the era of Jennings) have demonstrated amazing intelligence and hefty winnings themselves.

Frank Spangenberg: The Top Cop
frank.jpgUntil 2003, Jeopardy! winning streaks ended after five games. Frank Spangenberg, a New York City cop with an intimidating physical presence and a moustache that lives in its own time zone, holds the record of winning the most money in five regular appearances: $102,597. During his run in 1990, Jeopardy! also had a $75,000 limit for regular season winnings, and if a contestant happened to win more in five games, the surplus went to charity. So, Spangenberg made a hefty donation, and after that the rules changed to cap winnings off at $100,000. In 1997, the cap was increased to $200,000, plus a pair of cars for five time champions. Spangenberg returned to the Jeopardy! scene to compete in several tournaments, perhaps to prove once and for all that he didn't keep the answers hidden in his magnificent moustache.

Not a Boys Club
Intimidating ladies who mastered the buzzer also hold records in Jeopardy! history. Rachael Schwarz, who credits her success to her love for reading, was the first woman to win the Tournament of Champions (in 1994), and she competed in future tournaments, impressively in all. Robin Carroll, a homemaker from Georgia, won her original five games as shutouts in season 16, and became the 2001 International Champion after previously winning the 2000 Tournament of Champions.

Mad Memory Skills
Not so much a record as an incredible feat of memory skills and intelligence, Eddie Timanus, a five-time-champion in 1999, was the first legally blind contestant to compete on the show. Before game play began, Eddie received the category names written in Braille and a computer keyboard to type out his response to Final Jeopardy, but no other special favors. He was invited back to the annual Tournament of Champions (like many five-time winners) and made it to the semifinals.

A Three-Way Tie!
On March 16, 2007, millions of fans were shocked when the first time in Jeopardy! history, a three-way tie resulted after all three contestants answered Final Jeopardy! correctly. All three contestants won $16,000 and came back to compete the next day as winners. The odds of this happening on Jeopardy!? One in 25 million. The factoid that led to this surprise finish:


The clue: WOMEN OF THE 1930s.
The answer: "One of the men who shot her realized when he saw her body that she'd often waited on him at a cafe in Dallas."
The question: "Who is Bonnie Parker?" [of Bonnie and Clyde fame]

Biggest. Winner. Ever.
The record for highest total winnings on Jeopardy! now belongs to Brad Rutter. In 2004, Jeopardy! held a 15-week-long Ultimate Tournament of Champions, inviting more than 100 champions from years past to compete. Ken Jennings had a bye until the Finals. On May 25, 2005, Brad Rutter—a previous five-time champion himself and the first player to win a million dollars at the Masters Tournament in 2002—took the title, defeating Jennings and Jerome Vered, who held the record for one-day winnings ($34,000) for ten years. Brad's grand total: $3,255,102.

prisoner-of-trebekistan.jpgWhat is, "I do"?
Bob Harris, a five-time-champion and competitor in the Masters Tournament and the Ultimate Tournament of Champions, authored Prisoner of Trebekistan, a part memoir, part "how-to" account of succeeding on the show. (He also has some exhaustive theories about The Sopranos finale.) One fascinating anecdote from the book talks about the time Harris presided over the wedding of fellow champion Dan Melia on the Jeopardy! soundstage. While Alex Trebek sat in the audience, Bob stood at the sacred podium. The bride, groom, and their parties stood at the contestant's podiums. The game board featured wedding-themed categories and answers, and the music consisted of Jeopardy!'s opening theme and the "think music."

Under WEDDINGS for $200, the answer read: "A man customarily says this if he should consent to have this woman to be his wedded wife." Question? "What is I do"? Alex Trebek was the official witness.

Sara Newton is an occasional contributor to Her last story was an interview with Peter Sagal, host of NPR's 'Wait Wait"¦Don't Tell Me!'

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


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