CLOSE
Jeopardy! / Photographed By Chris Higgins on His Couch
Jeopardy! / Photographed By Chris Higgins on His Couch

6 Elements of Arthur Chu's Jeopardy! Strategy

Jeopardy! / Photographed By Chris Higgins on His Couch
Jeopardy! / Photographed By Chris Higgins on His Couch

Arthur Chu has made waves the last three nights by employing excellent strategy on Jeopardy! He won first on Tuesday, tied to win on Wednesday, and won decisively on Thursday. Here's a rundown of what makes his play so special.

UPDATE: Chu won again on Friday. Check out our in-depth interview, conducted right before his fourth win aired.

1. Playing to Tie

Chu's most interesting move so far was on Wednesday's show, when he entered Final Jeopardy in the lead...and intentionally wagered so that he might tie with another player, Carolyn Collins.

Chu faced the same problem confronting every dollar leader heading into Final Jeopardy—he wanted to stay in the game, returning the next day to win more dough—but unlike most, he did not bet to win. Instead, he assumed that Collins would bet everything. He proceeded to calibrate his wager so that if Collins bet everything, and answered correctly, and Chu answered correctly too, they'd end up in a rare tie, with both Chu and Collins moving on to compete again the next day.

But this was not the first time Chu had wagered to tie! The night before, on Tuesday, Chu had bet $17,200 in a bid to tie with the returning champion on that show (he had only a slight lead heading into Final Jeopardy). The reason there weren't dual winners on Tuesday is that only Chu responded correctly to the Final Jeopardy clue.

Now, the big question here is why would you play to tie, instead of playing to win? It turns out, in short, "Because game theory suggests that this is smart." A longer analysis comes to us from Keith Williams at The Final Wager, a blog analyzing Jeopardy! wagers. Chu is a fan of the blog, and used the techniques outlined by Williams when planning his tied game. I won't steal his thunder; here's Williams analyzing the tied Chu game (warning—there's some light math in here):

Neat, huh? For much, much more on game theory as it applies to Jeopardy!, check out The Final Wager. (Note that Williams also broke down the wagers in the third game, which wasn't as exciting because Chu went into Final Jeopardy with nearly three times the dough of his nearest competitor.)

2. Knowing His Weakness

In Chu's second game, he scoured the board for Daily Doubles. When he hit one in the $1000 slot of the category IN THE SPORT'S HALL OF FAME, he immediately admitted that he knew very little about sports, and wagered only $5. When the clue was read ("Eddie Giacomin,
Herb Brooks, Conn Smythe"), Chu promptly said, "I don't know," and lost the five bucks as he smiled and the audience chuckled.

This performance is important for several reasons. First, Chu lost hardly any money on the Daily Double; a more aggressive player might have bet a few hundred bucks just because it felt like an opportunity (especially because heading into this Daily Double, Chu was $400 behind the other two players, who were tied for first!). Chu knew the potential for loss in the arena of Sports Trivia outweighed the possibility of gain, and he chose to keep the game moving. The other benefit to this move (attributable to his Daily Double-searching strategy in general) was that he prevented the other players from accessing that Daily Double—they may well have known the answer. (For the record, it was: "What is hockey?")

While some would argue that Chu should have thrown out some random sport's name just for kicks (in the hope he'd win $5), I think his move here was gutsy. Hey, if I got a sports Daily Double, I'd bet almost nothing too, and keep the game moving so there was time to clear the board—and find the remaining Daily Doubles.

(An aside on math: in the third game, there was a whole category devoted to math word problems, and it was poorly received by everyone, Chu included. Chu tweeted, "As this game demonstrated doing actual math is too hard when you're playing." Fortunately, when he had a moment to do his ciphering, namely for his wagers, Chu was just fine.)

3. Mastering Daily Doubles...Mostly

In his first game, Chu wasn't afraid to go for a "True Daily Double," meaning a wager that would double his current winnings if he got it right—which he did. This smart move catapulted him into the lead halfway through Double Jeopardy, which helped set him up for the win.

His performance with Daily Doubles in the second game was mixed; he made a blunder with a clue about paint types and lost his second attempt at a True Daily Double (!). At that point he wagered $4,195, the amusingly specific number left over after his aforementioned loss of five bucks on hockey. But by scouring the bottom of the Double Jeopardy board, Chu quickly racked up another $10,000 and wagered half of that (successfully) on the final Daily Double of his second game—again, very gutsy and in the end, it worked out.

4. Taking Advantage of Others' Mistakes

In his first game, Chu spotted a mistake made by fellow contestant Cesar Perez-Gonzalez. Trying to identify an antelope shown in a video, Perez-Gonzalez said "prog-horn," causing Trebek to take a tiny pause and say, "Oh gosh, no." Chu buzzed in immediately with the correct response, "What is a prong-horn?" That response pushed Chu to $20,000, again in the lead. Whether Chu simply knew the correct answer, or recognized Trebek's implication that "prog-horn" was close to correct is for Chu to explain. But he was fast on the buzzer when Perez-Gonzalez barely missed that one.

5. Talking About His Wife with Trebek

During the interview segments with Alex Trebek, Chu repeatedly mentions his wife Eliza Blair, relating a story about buying her a meteorite, and working to support fibromyalgia research. After Chu's appearances on the show, Blair began retweeting troll comments about her husband, gleefully fanning the flames as Chu lovers and haters sparred online. The most notable exchange is when Blair tweeted a photo of pizza boxes in bed, referring to Kevin Clancy's comment. (If you ready the Clancy/Chu/Blair exchanges, they're actually delightful, although often profane.)

6. Knowing His mental_floss Trivia

Okay, we're biased here, but this was a big moment for the mental_floss crew. The $1000 clue in "THE 'RENT' IS DUE" on Wednesday was: "The Mental Floss History of the World" is this kind of "romp through civilization's best bits." Chu rang in quickly, correctly answering, "What is irreverent?" We salute you, Mr. Chu!

(For the record, that clue refers to this lovely book we put out in 2008.)

Note: We interviewed Arthur on Friday. Look for that over the weekend.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images
arrow
science
Play a Game to Help Scientists Defeat a Cancer-Causing Toxin
Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images
Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images

If you're used to fighting virtual zombies or flying spaceships on your computer, a new series of games available on Foldit may sound a little unconventional. The object of the Aflatoxin Challenge is to rearrange protein structures and create new enzymes. But its impact on the real world could make it the most important game you've ever played: The scientists behind it hope it will lead to a new way to fight one of the most ruthless causes of liver cancer.

As Fast Company reports, the citizen science project is a collaboration between Mars, Inc. and U.C. Davis, the University of Washington, the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. The team's online puzzles, which debuted on Foldit earlier this month, invite the public to create a new enzyme capable of finding and destroying carcinogens known as aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins form when certain fungi grow on crops like corn, nuts, and grains. Developing countries often don't have the resources to detect it in food, leaving around 4.5 billion people vulnerable to it. When people do eat food with high aflatoxin levels unknowingly, they can contract liver cancer. Roughly a quarter of all liver cancer cases around the world can be traced back to aflatoxin exposure.

The toxin's connection to agriculture is why the food giant Mars is so interested in fighting it. By working on a way to stop aflatoxins on a molecular level, the company could prevent its spread more efficiently than they would with less direct methods like planting drought-resistant crops or removing mold by hand.

The easiest way for scientists to eradicate an aflatoxin before it causes real harm is by making an enzyme that does the work for them. With the Aflatoxin Challenge, the hope is that by manipulating protein structures, online players will come up with an enzyme that attacks aflatoxins at a susceptible portion of their molecular structure called a lactone ring. Destroying the lactone ring makes aflatoxin much less toxic and essentially safe to eat.

The University of Washington launched Foldit in 2008. Since then, the online puzzle platform has been used to study a wide range of diseases including AIDS and Chikungunya. Everyone is welcome to contribute to the Foldit's new aflatoxin project for the next several weeks or so, after which scientists will synthesize genes based on the most impressive results to be used in future studies.

[h/t Fast Company]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Nervous System
arrow
Art
Every Laser-Cut 'Geode' Jigsaw Puzzle is One of a Kind
Nervous System
Nervous System

If you haven’t picked up a boxed jigsaw puzzle in a while, trust that they’ve undergone a serious transformation since your childhood. One of the most innovative companies in the category is Nervous System, a self-described “generative design studio” that composes computer programs to create puzzles based on patterns found in nature.

Their latest project, Geode, is a line of jigsaw puzzles modeled after agate stone. Like the rest of Nervous System’s puzzle inventory, it has an unusual and dynamic design; it's meant to mimic the band pattern of actual agate created by trapped gas in volcanic stone.

Several geode puzzles are shown
Nervous System

According to Nervous System’s site: “To create the organic shape of the pieces, we designed a system based the simulation of dendritic solidification, a crystal growth process similar to the formation of snowflakes that occurs in supercooled solutions of certain metallic alloys. By varying the parameter space, the system can produce a variety of cut styles. Each puzzle produced features its own unique landscape of interlocking shapes. No two are alike.”

Though lovely to look at, the puzzles utilize Nervous System's "Maze" piece-cutting method, which results in irregular and distorted shapes that may prove "fiendishly difficult" for some.

The 8.5-inch puzzles are made from plywood and feature 180 pieces. You can grab one for $60 at Nervous System’s online shop.

[h/t MyModernMet]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios