15 Brainy Secrets of Jeopardy! Winners

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Millions of people watch Jeopardy! religiously—the game show has been popular since it first aired in 1964. But even if you never miss an episode, there’s a lot you might not know about what the winners do behind the scenes. We talked to a few previous Jeopardy! winners about betting on Daily Doubles, learning how to time the buzzer, and surviving awkward small talk with Alex Trebek.

1. THEY DON’T GET MUCH TIME TO REST.

Because of Jeopardy!’s tight filming schedule—five 30-minute shows are taped in a row, with minimal breaks—winners don’t have much time to bask in victory after conquering their competitors. “You only have about 10 minutes between winning your first show and appearing in your second,” explains Jelisa Castrodale, who won a 2010 episode. Castrodale tells mental_floss that winners are taken backstage to change clothes and get makeup reapplied, then they begin taping the next game.

“When I won, I honestly almost passed out from the shock of it (I had just beaten a seemingly unstoppable six-time champion) and was still so unsteady afterwards that I swear I almost had to ask a member of the production crew to double-check the spelling of my name for me when I wrote it down again,” Castrodale says.

2. SOME OF THEM SPEND YEARS PREPARING FOR THE SHOW.

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Some contestants spend years studying before they even try to qualify. After passing an online test, aspiring contestants are invited to an in-person audition. If they do well, they may be invited to appear on the show. In the interim, some winners prepare by watching Jeopardy! each night and making flashcards to memorize facts about everything from U.S. presidents and state capitals to ancient Greek gods and Shakespeare’s plays. Others study J-Archive, a fan-created database of prior clues, answers, and contestants.

3. IT'S ALL ABOUT TIMING THE BUZZER.

 

Even if a contestant knows the answer to every question, that knowledge won’t do them any good unless they press their buzzer at precisely the right time. “So much of the game comes down to buzzer speed and skill. I think that's hard to appreciate unless you're actually on the show,” David Walter, the winner of Jeopardy!’s 2007 Teen Tournament, explains. Contestants must buzz in as soon as Trebek finishes the question, when lights flash on the side of the game board. “Buzz in too early, and you’re locked out of ringing in again for a crucial split-second. Buzz in too late ... and, well, you’re too late,” Walter says. Because timing the buzzer is a crucial part of winning the game, prior winners have written in-depth articles offering advice on how to master it with proper thumb placement and hand position.

4. IF YOU’RE ON A WINNING STREAK, IT HELPS TO BE AN INTERESTING PERSON.

Whether you love or hate the show’s small talk segment, in which Trebek spends a few seconds chatting with each contestant, Jeopardy! winners need to have a new, interesting anecdote to share for each game they play. "Coming up with ideas for that portion of the show is probably the hardest thing about being on the show,” Julia Collins, who won 20 shows in 2014, revealed in a Reddit Q & A. One month before taping, coordinators for the show send potential questions to contestants to determine interesting facts about them. On show day, Trebek chooses which fact to ask them about for the segment, which airs after each episode’s first commercial break.

5. THEY’RE COMFORTABLE WITH BETTING.

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Whether they bet all their money on Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy! or are more cautious, winners need to be okay with wagering large sums of cash. Because making smart bets can mean the difference between winning and losing, some contestants approach the game with a math script, knowing how they’ll bet no matter what happens in the game. “Because I had this scripted play, I wasn't making the big decisions, I was just doing the math. I knew what the play was supposed to be … Other people were still making the decision. I think a lot of times, it made people think I was more confident in the category than I was,” Jeopardy! champion Arthur Chu told mental_floss in 2014.

6. THEY REHEARSE IN REALISTIC CONDITIONS.

Walter attributes his win to practicing with a mock buzzer for a few months before the taping: “I would stand up in front of the TV with a pen in my hand to simulate the buzzer. That got me used to the rhythms and speed of Trebek’s speaking voice, and made me less nervous around the buzzer during my actual tapings.” Other winners have practiced by shining a bright light in their faces (to simulate TV studio lights) and playing along with a group of friends watching, to mimic the added pressure that an audience brings.

7. THEY DON’T ACT LIKE TYPICAL GAME SHOW WINNERS.

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Contestants on game shows such as The Price Is Right and Wheel of Fortune are demonstrative: they often jump, shout, and clap when they win. “The contestant coordinators at Jeopardy! want enthusiasm, but they know they’re hand-picking the nation’s smartest academics, tech geeks, and librarians ... generally introverts, in other words. So they lower their expectations and just ask winners for big smiles,” Jeopardy! superstar Ken Jennings (of the mental_floss Kennections quiz) explains.

But some contestants struggle to find the right balance between showing too much emotion and not showing enough. After Josh Hager won an episode in 2014, the show’s producers came over to him once the episode had wrapped and told him not to be afraid to show his winning smile. “Apparently my endeavor to stay composed was too successful and they wanted just a little more emotion,” Hager says.

8. SOMETIMES THERE IS NO WINNER.

Although one of the three contestants in each episode almost always wins, several episodes have ended with no winner. Most recently, in January 2016, all three contestants answered incorrectly in the final round, losing all the money they had earned during the first two rounds. Because there was no winner, the next episode—with no returning champion—introduced three new players.

9. THEY HAVE TO KEEP QUIET UNTIL THEIR EPISODE AIRS.

Most episodes don’t air until several months after they’re taped. This lag time means that winners need to stay quiet about how they performed, and it can force repeat winners to habitually lie to their coworkers, family, and friends. In 2004, Jennings taped 48 shows before his first episode aired, so he had to keep his commute (every few weeks) from his home in Utah to Los Angeles a secret. “My boss told my co-workers a series of increasingly implausible lies about my whereabouts every other Tuesday and Wednesday. You think computer programmers are all geniuses? No one ever caught on,” Jennings writes on his website.

10. THEY DON’T GET PAID FOR A WHILE.

After patiently waiting for their first episode to air, winners must also wait months after their show’s air date for their prize money. And yes, they have to pay taxes on their winnings. Hager reveals to mental_floss that he got paid about six months after his episode aired. And although he won $27,100, he netted approximately $20,000 after federal tax, California tax (where the show is taped), and North Carolina tax (where he lives).

11. SOME OF THEM CAN BUY A HOUSE WITH THEIR PRIZE MONEY.

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Big winners can earn tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, which may allow them to pay off student loans, put a down payment on a house, or travel abroad. Even winners of more modest amounts can benefit from the extra cash, putting it toward a family vacation or college fund for kids. Hager, for example, used his prize money to pay off almost all of his student loans, and he and his wife moved out of their studio apartment into a spacious house. “Jeopardy! really did change my life and I can't be more grateful,” he says.

12. FEEDBACK FROM JEOPARDY! FANS CAN BE MIXED.

Thanks to social media, winners face public scrutiny over everything from their appearance to the questions they answer incorrectly. Many internet commenters criticized recent winner Buzzy Cohen for his seemingly smug attitude and flippant responses in Final Jeopardy!, while others liked his sense of humor. Although some winners face a stream of harsh words on Twitter, they may also receive praise. “Lots of people on the internet compared me to Fred Armisen, which I take as a compliment,” Sam Deutsch, the winner of Jeopardy!’s 2016 College Championship, tells mental_floss.

13. WINNING THE SHOW PROVIDES LIFELONG PERKS.

Some winners include their Jeopardy! win on their resumes and LinkedIn profiles, hoping it will make them stand out to potential bosses and colleagues. After winning the show 74 times in a row, Jennings published a series of books, read a Top Ten list for David Letterman, and appeared on Sesame Street. “But the most gratifying thing lately has probably been the letters I get from kids … They all seem so smart! I'm doing my part for the nerd-ification of America’s youth,” he says.

14. WATCHING THE SHOW MAY STRESS THEM OUT.

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Chu says that while he was studying for the show, his life centered on watching and reading about Jeopardy! to the detriment of his other activities. But after winning, he stopped watching the show to give himself a mental break. And Jennings admits that winning so many episodes has changed his reaction to seeing it on TV. “I find that I have a hard time sitting on my couch and lazily shouting out answers at Trebek, like I used to. Everything about the show—the music, the graphics, the sound effects—causes some fight-or-flight adrenaline spike in my blood and I become hyper-aware of every detail of the show. Maybe I have post-traumatic stress disorder,” he says.

15. THEY CAN’T ESCAPE THE CATCHY THEME SONG.

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According to Terry O’Shea, who won first place on the show's 2014 College Championship, winners can’t escape the show’s instantly recognizable theme song. “When you go on Jeopardy!, people WILL taunt you with the theme song. It's an unavoidable fact of life. If you do well enough, this will persist for several years afterward,” O’Shea explains. After appearing on the show, other winners face unrealistically high expectations about possessing encyclopedic knowledge. “I always watch [the show] with my friends, and they love teasing me when they know something I don’t,” Deutsch admits.

15 Delicious Facts About Pizza Hut

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iStock.com/RiverNorthPhotography

For more than 60 years, Pizza Hut has been slinging hot, cheesy pies to hungry consumers all over the world. (There are more than 16,000 locations worldwide.) Whether you're a meat lover or vegetarian, here are 15 things you should know about the popular pizza chain.

1. It was founded by two brothers who were still in college.

Dan and Frank Carney borrowed $600 from their mother in 1958 to open a pizza place while attending Wichita State University. The name was inspired by the former bar that they rented to open their first location.

2. Pizza Hut franchising was almost instant.

A year after the first location opened in Wichita, Kansas, the Carney brothers had already incorporated the business and asked their friend Dick Hassur to open the first franchise location in Topeka, Kansas. Hassur, who had previously gone to school and worked at Boeing with Dan Carney, was looking for a way out of his insurance agent job. He soon became a multi-franchise owner, and worked to find other managers who could open Pizza Huts across the country.

Once, when a successful manager of a Wichita location put in his notice, Hassur was sent in to convince the man to stay. That manager happened to be Bill Parcells, who had resigned his Pizza Hut job in order to take his first coaching job at a small Nebraska college. Of course, he later went on to coach numerous NFL teams, including leading the New York Giants to two Super Bowl victories. "I might have been wrong there," Hassur said of trying to convince Parcells his salary would be better as a manager than as a coach, "but I'm sure he'd have been successful with Pizza Hut, too."

3. There was a mascot in the early days.

image of vintage Pizza Hut restaurants featuring mascot Pizza Pete
Roadsidepictures, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Before the iconic red roof logo was adopted in 1969, Pizza Hut had a mascot named Pizza Pete who also served as its logo. The mustachioed cartoon man wore a chef’s hat, neckerchief, and an apron while serving up hot meals to hungry customers. Pizza Pete was still used throughout the 1970s on bags, cups, and advertisements, but was eventually phased out.

4. Pizza Hut perfume was a thing that existed.

It was announced late in 2012 that Pizza Hut had plans to release a limited edition perfume that smelled like "fresh dough with a bit of spice." One hundred fans of the Pizza Hut Canada Facebook page won bottles of the scent, and another promotion around Valentine's Day gave American pizza lovers a chance to own the fragrance via a Twitter contest. The packaging for the perfume resembled mini pizza boxes, and a few later surfaced on eBay for as much as $495.

5. They struck gold with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

image of people dressed as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

When a group of crime fighting turtles that love pizza become huge pop culture icons, it's a no-brainer that a pizza company should do business with them. Domino's was featured in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in 1990, but ads for Pizza Hut were included on VHS when the film hit home video. Pizza Hut also reportedly spent around $20 million on marketing campaigns for the Turtles during the 1990 "Coming Out of Their Shells" concert tour and album release. The partnership continued all the way up to the 2014 release of Michael Bay's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

6. Pizza Hut Easy-Bake ovens were also real.

Children of the '70s were lucky enough to own small toy ovens shaped like the restaurant in which they could bake tiny little Pizza Hut pizzas under a 60-watt light bulb.

7. Their vintage commercials are star-studded.

An 11-year-old Elijah Wood got his start flinging potato salad at his co-star; Ringo Starr and the Monkees marveled at the stuffed-crust pizza; and former Soviet statesman Mikhail Gorbachev had a very odd, political pizza pitch, appearing along with his young granddaughter in a Russian Pizza Hut (though the ad was not set to run in Russia).

8. The Book It! program is 35 years old.

In 1984, Pizza Hut kicked off the BOOK IT! program, an initiative to encourage children to read by rewarding them with "praise, recognition and pizza." It was such a success that First Lady Barbara Bush threw a reading-themed pizza party at the White House in 1989. The program is now the "longest-running corporate-supported reading program in the country" and has reached over 60 million children.

9. They were early to the pan pizza create.

image of someone removing a slice from a personal pan pizza
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Pizza Hut introduced pan pizza in 1980, nine years before their competition, Domino's, added the style to their menu. In 1983, they introduced personal pan pizzas, which are still the coveted prize of the BOOK IT! program and the only pizza option at smaller Pizza Hut cafes (like those inside Target stores).

10. They were also early to online ordering.

In 1994, Pizza Hut and The Santa Cruz Operation created PizzaNet, an ahead-of-its-time program that allowed computer users to place orders via the internet. The Los Angeles Times called the idea "clever but only half-baked" and "the Geek Chic way to nosh." And, the site is still up and running! Seriously, go ahead and try to order.

11. Pizza Hut pizza has been to space ...

image of the International Space Station hovering above Earth
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In 2001, Pizza Hut became the first company to deliver pies into space. Before being sealed and sent to the International Space Station, the pizza recipe had to undergo "rigorous stabilized thermal conditions" to make sure that it would be still be edible when it got there. Pizza Hut also paid a large, unspecified sum (but definitely more than $1 million) to have a 30-foot-wide ad on a rocket in 1999.

12. … but not to the Moon.

In 1999, Pizza Hut's then-CEO Mike Rawlings (and current Mayor of Dallas) told The New York Times that an earlier idea for space marketing was for the logo to be shown on the moon with lasers. But once they started looking into it, astronomers and physicists advised them that the projected image would have to be as large as Texas to be seen from Earth—and the project would also have cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars. Better to stick with Super Bowl ads.

13. They once offered pizza engagement packages.

image of someone proposing marriage
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What's the perfect way to pop the big question? In 2012, Pizza Hut suggested that grooms- (or brides-) to-be order the engagement party package that included a $10 dinner box, a limo, a ruby ring, fireworks, flowers, and a photographer, all for $10,010. In keeping with the theme, only 10 of the packages were offered. But, to be clear—if you bought a Pizza Hut engagement package, you would have spent $10 on food and approximately the cost of a wedding on the proposal.

14. Pizza Hut accounts for three percent of U.S. cheese production.

With all those locations and cheese-stuffed crusts, Pizza Hut needs a lot of dairy. The company uses over 300 million pounds of cheese annually and is one of the largest cheese buyers in the world. To make that much cheese, 170,000 cows are used to produce an estimated 300 billion gallons of milk. Something to think about the next time you order an Ultimate Cheese Lover's pizza with extra cheese.

15. There are a lot of repurposed Pizza Hut locations.

An empty, former Pizza Hut building
Mike Kalasnik, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Franchise locations of companies are not always successful, and when they close, the buildings are often left untouched by their new owners rather than being demolished and replaced. Because the hut-shaped stores have become synonymous with the company, their former locations are easy to spot. The blog "Used to Be a Pizza Hut" has an interactive map of more than 500 ex-huts submitted by people all over the world. There is also a successful Kickstarter-funded photo book—called Pizza Hunt—documenting the "second lives" of the restaurants.

5 Fast Facts About Sake Dean Mahomed

Today's Google Doodle will be many people's first introduction to Sake Dean Mahomed, a noted traveler, surgeon, author, and entrepreneur who was born in Patna, India in 1759. Though he's been left out of many modern history books, Mahomed left a profound impact on Western culture that is still being felt today.

In honor of the 225th anniversary of the publication of his first book—The Travels of Dean Mahomed, a Native of Patna in Bengal, Through Several Parts of India, While in the Service of the Honorable the East India Company—on January 15, 1794, here are some facts about the figure.

1. He was the first Indian author to publish a book in English.

In 1794, Sake Dean Mahomed published The Travels of Dean Mahomet, an autobiography that details his time in the East India Company's army in his youth and his journey to Britain. Not only was it the first English book written by an Indian author, The Travels of Dean Mahomet marked the first time a book published in English depicted the British colonization of India from an Indian perspective.

2. His marriage was controversial.

While studying English in Ireland, Mahomed met and fell in love with an Irish woman named Jane Daly. It was illegal for Protestants to marry non-Protestants at the time, so the pair eloped in 1786 and Mahomed converted from Islam to Anglicanism.

3. He opened the England's first Indian restaurant.

Prior to Sake Dean Mahomed's arrival, Indian food was impossible to find in England outside of private kitchens. He introduced the cuisine to his new home by opening the Hindoostane Coffee House in London in 1810. The curry house catered to both British and Indian aristocrats living in the city, with "Indianised" versions of British dishes and "Hookha with real Chilm tobacco." Though the restaurant closed a few years later due to financial troubles, it paved the way for Indian food to become a staple of the English food scence.

4. He brought "shampooing" to Europe.

Following the failure of his restaurant venture, Mahomed opened a luxury spa in Brighton, England, where he offered Eastern health treatments like herbal steam baths and therapeutic, oil-based head massages to his British clientele. The head massages eventually came to be known as shampoo, an anglicized version of the Hindi word champissage. Patrons included the monarchs George IV and William IV, earning Mahomed the title shampooer of kings.

5. He wrote about the benefits of spa treatments.

Though The Travels of Dean Mahomet is his most famous book, Mahomed published another book in English in 1828 called Shampooing; or, Benefits Resulting from the Use of the Indian Medicated Vapour Bath.

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