12 Answers! for Ken Jennings, part one

August 13, 2004 | 21 comments
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We are pleased to present Jeopardy! champion and Times & Seasons reader Ken Jenning’s responses to 12 Questions posed by the bloggernacle. The first six are posted below; we’ll post the final six on Monday.

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1. Answer: Late Night with David Letterman and The Tonight Show

Question: What are two programs I generally skip in favor of a replay of The Daily Show?

I had a fascinating chance to closely compare the Letterman and Leno shows, since I taped them only a week apart. Both shows oddly reflect the personality of their hosts and the cities where they operate. Late Night is quintessentially New York: a barely controlled anarchy, where everyone, even the girl bringing the bottled water, is as unpredictable and prickly and funny as the big boss. The Tonight Show is much more California. It’s well-oiled, even micro-managed–my “pre-interview” took over a dozen separate phone calls! And the whole staff is as accommodating and schmoozy and
glad-handing as the host is.

Letterman’s a lifelong hero of mine, by the way, and it was a thrill to meet him. I’m sure Relief Societies across America were a little taken aback to hear me say, “Who gives a rat’s ass?” as part of the Top Ten. A handful of members of my own ward certainly didn’t spare their disapproval. But I didn’t think twice about doing it once they gave me the list. It wouldn’t remotely offend me to say (or hear) it in real life, so why quibble about it in a scripted comedy bit? I saw it as a great opportunity to demonstrate that Latter-day Saints, even Utah ones, aren’t as homogenous or dull as stereotypes might suggest.

2. Answer: Daily Double Strategy

Question: What is something you don’t really need to worry about when you’re already ahead by $20K?

But I kid. I bet pretty intuitively on Daily Doubles, trying to judge how hard the other questions in the category have been. Often I try to assure a correct response would make my score a nice round number, as a show of solidarity with viewers who suffer from OCD. I’ve bet the farm in some cases just because the category seemed tailored to me (“The Academy Awards” or “Shakespeare,” for example). Often I’ll be more conservative on the last Daily Double, since I now know that there aren’t any left for the other two players to find, and the lead is therefore pretty safe. Since I haven’t been all that sharp at Final Jeopardy, I try to use Daily Doubles to lock the game up before the final question (in other words, to double up my nearest competitor) but not enough to lose the lead if I were to get it wrong. Ah, game show strategy. I’m sure many eyes are glazing over.

3. Answer: Brigham Young University

Question: What is a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there?

My wife and I were batting this BYU question back and forth over the weekend. We’re both recent BYU graduates, but neither us have the strong, polarized opinions about the Y that many alumni do, either positive (“Go mighty Cougars!”) or negative (“That’s Satan’s plan!”) I look back fondly on many aspects of my on-campus experience (International Cinema, helping to run a popular intramural and intermural quiz bowl program, seeing Eric Samuelsen’s Gadianton performed for the first time, mastering my illegal campus parking techniques) and a few still leave a sour taste (like the peek behind the bureaucratic curtain that I got when the Honors Department de-funded the quiz bowl program).

I had many proficient, effective professors in both the English and Computer Science departments, though I have to admit that, especially for an institution that focuses so strongly on undergraduate education, there were few who were really great or memorable or life-changing presences in any way. Maybe this says more about me than about anything else, and I should have been paying more attention to class lectures and less to the crossword in the Daily Universe. In any case, because the faculty failed to make much of an impression, the structural unit of my BYU experience was not the class or the department, but the ward. I would guess that many BYU grads share this perception. Despite the transient nature of student life, the student wards I lived in had a cohesiveness and a surprising sense of family and community that far outstrips any family ward I’ve lived in since. And that’s mostly what I came to Provo for anyway: LDS friends and a social scene that wasn’t as alcohol-soaked as what I’d seen elsewhere.

4. Answer: My mission

Question: What was the best six months of my life?

(“Best six months” joke copyright 1990 Earl Cahill, my long-time BYU roomate.) After growing up in Seoul, Korea, I spent my freshman year studying up on Korean for dummies, since I knew very well that I wasn’t very fluent, and that a mission call to Korea was very likely in the cards for me. My Korean was actually getting pretty good by the time my call arrived…to Madrid, Spain.

Spain is incredible, and I had the best time on my mission. It was one of those experiences that’s so dense and intense that you can’t really believe how much happened in such a short time. Even the hard or dull times have acquired a rosy, nostalgic glow in hindsight, just because of how valuable the whole experience was to me. Most specifically, what I took home from my mission was an increased love for and testimony of the Book of Mormon. I was amazed by how differently it read when I was tearing through it like a novel and not sleepily reading a bite-sized chunk every night. I also find it harder to take the Book of Mormon for granted after watching how quickly it can surprise and change the lives of people (investigators, mostly) who didn’t grow up with it like I did.

Those of you who served European missions can probably guess that Spaniards, with their centuries of engrained Catholicism, don’t comprise the most open and receptive culture in which to spread new religious ideas. As the old folks always joked to us, “I don’t even believe in my religion, and mine’s the true one! Why should I believe in yours?” But we still had just enough success to keep us going, and appreciated it more for its rarity. My first trainee and I taught a wonderful pair of Spanish sisters, whom we contacted one day just minutes after we had specifically prayed–the only time on my mission I remembering doing this–for increased faith that our usually-fruitless contacting would actually result in someone to teach. These two knew the church was true almost immediately but wavered for months about baptism. They went through missionaries like missionaries go through suit pants, but were finally baptized a year later. Since I told a faith-promoting Missionary Success story, I guess I should include some Mission Weirdo story as well. Okay, I also had a companion who would spend discussions blowing free-floating spit bubbles into the air and falling asleep, and who now runs a remarkably cracked anti-Mormon website. There you go.

5. Scriptures: Compact, Standard, or Large. Quad or two-volume? Favorite story, passage, prophet, or whatever?

Compact quad, at the moment, but I was a standard quad guy for most of my life. Just goes to show how it’s never too late to change. I never got a missionary plaque, but if I had, the scripture on it would probably be Matthew 11:29-30 (“My yoke is easy, and my burden is light”) or Alma 30:44 (“All things denote there is a God.”)

6. What is your favorite kind of literature? Non-fiction? Favorite authors and books? Ratio of fiction: non-fiction reading?

I don’t read nonfiction at all, I’m sorry to say. Well, that’s not totally true. I made it through the John Adams biography for a book club not long ago, and thought Fast Food Nation was brilliant. And I have O’Reilly’s nonfiction gem Java Servlet Programming sitting open on my desk right now! But most of the time, I’d rather be reading a novel or short stories. I have an unaccountable fondness for the mammoth, ambitious, contains-all-of-human-existence kind of Great Novel…Proust, Moby-Dick, Brothers Karamazov, One Hundred Years of Solitude, that kind of thing. Other favorite authors, in no particular order: Fitzgerald, Woolf, Borges, Joyce, Hardy, Conrad, Graham Greene. Authors I like who are still breathing: Haruki Murakami, Philip Roth, Byatt, Rushide, Atwood, Ishiguro, Richard Russo, Ian McEwan, Updike, Michael Chabon. Those are pretty boring, mainstream choices, I guess, but I was trying to list people where you could pick just about anything they’d written and not go wrong. My real passion is books with pictures: cartoonists old (Winsor McCay, Charles Schulz, Hal Foster) and new (Chris Ware, Craig Thompson, Jason Lutes).

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21 Responses to 12 Answers! for Ken Jennings, part one

  1. Bryce I on August 13, 2004 at 4:26 pm

    Earl Cahill is the person who introduced the concept of the “mileage” joke to me. Looks like 14 years later, you’re still getting mileage out of that one.

    Earl’s pretty much the funniest guy I’ve ever met.

  2. Silus Grok on August 13, 2004 at 4:29 pm

    Ken: if you like epic modern fiction, try out Naguib Mahfouz for size… he’s the first Arab nobel laureate (I believe), and he practically invented the modern Egyption novel. I would try HARAFISH or CHILDREN OF THE ALLEY first.

    For something large, but amazingly intimate, I would suggest Wendell Berry’s oeuvre… most of his fiction takes place within a township in Kentucky — with wonderful cross-overs and a soft lyrical tone.

  3. Silus Grok on August 13, 2004 at 4:33 pm

    *Egyptian

    (When will we get spell-check?)

  4. Aaron Brown on August 13, 2004 at 5:08 pm

    O.K., I ask again: What is it with Times and Seasons participants and Korea?

    Aaron B

  5. Kaimi on August 13, 2004 at 5:16 pm

    Wait, Aaron, you’ve never been to Korea?

    *gets out site-banning gun*

    Zap!

  6. Renee on August 13, 2004 at 5:35 pm

    Yay for _Fast Food Nation_! Excellent book. You should check out _Affluenza_.

  7. Aaron Brown on August 13, 2004 at 5:38 pm

    Hey Kaimi,

    I live in “Koreatown,” like to eat Korean food, and have an adopted Korean sister. But I’ve never actually lived there, which appears to make me an anomaly around here…

    Aaron B

  8. Silus Grok on August 13, 2004 at 6:14 pm

    I’ve never been to Korea (and dislike kimchee)… but my best friend in the MTC (Adam Brown) went to Korea.

    Does that count?

  9. danithew on August 13, 2004 at 6:17 pm

    Silus Grok’s suggestion of “Children of the Alley” is a pretty good one. If I recall it’s quite the allegory. Tolkien didn’t like allegories but I don’t mind them if they’re well written. Give it a shot.

    By the way, Naghib Mahfouz almost got killed over that book. He was stabbed by an Islamic fundamentalist because of it.

  10. Jordan Fowles on August 13, 2004 at 6:31 pm

    Hey- I think you will also find an ueber-abundancy of posters here who went to German missions too!

    (I mean, ueber-abundant as compared to any other language that is only spoken in an area smaller than the State of Texas. And God bless Texas…)

  11. Frank McIntyre on August 13, 2004 at 6:38 pm

    Korea and Germany: two countries that can’t keep it (by which I mean the country) together. So T&S attracts the split personalities in the world? That would explain all the lawyers.

  12. Silus Grok on August 13, 2004 at 8:24 pm

    Not to mention us Geminis.

  13. Matt Evans on August 13, 2004 at 10:31 pm

    Ken Jennings, Adam Greenwood and I all served missions in Spain. Add to that list Kaimi, Greg Call and Aaron Brown, who served missions in areas settled by Spaniards, and I think we have a contingent to rival that of Korea. And that list doesn’t even include Jim F., Nate Oman, Gordon, Julie and Russell Arben Fox, who have all lived in areas that have been territories of Spain. Holy Toledo!

  14. sid on August 13, 2004 at 10:36 pm

    Ken – I’d recommens Salman Rushdie’s book “Midnights Children”, also Richard Russo’s “Straight Man”

  15. Aaron Brown on August 14, 2004 at 12:16 am

    Yes, Matt, but it’s to be expected that we’d have a huge contingent of ex-missionaries from Spanish-speaking countries. With more than 300 million Spanish speakers world-wide, nearly 20 countries where Spanish is spoken as a first language, and such tremendous Church growth in Latin American countries, it’s a no brainer.

    But Korea?

    Aaron B

    Aaron B

  16. Aaron Brown on August 14, 2004 at 12:18 am

    Yes, Matt, but it’s to be expected that we’d have a huge contingent of ex-missionaries from Spanish-speaking countries. With more than 300 million Spanish speakers world-wide, nearly 20 countries where Spanish is spoken as a first language, and such tremendous Church growth in Latin American countries, it’s a no brainer.

    But Korea?

    Aaron B

    Aaron B

  17. Aaron Brown on August 14, 2004 at 12:23 am

    Yes, I just like seeing my name in print, over and over again.

    By the way, I’m sure when Ken agreed to answer 12 questions, he didn’t predict the thread would get hijacked toward a discussion of pointless mission trivia. Sorry, Ken. (I hope this won’t affect our prior arrangement regarding my share of your winnings.)

    Aaron B

  18. Ken Jennings on August 14, 2004 at 2:37 am

    No, that’s exactly why I wanted so badly to do this, in order to see the pointless mission trivia it would produce. I’ll be showing slides of the Prado and El Escorial later in the comments. Cookies and punch will be served.

    Russo’s Straight Man is genius. My wife and I read it earlier this year and I laughed my (redacted because I’m not on Letterman) off.

  19. Matt Evans on August 14, 2004 at 8:44 am

    Aaron B Aaron B Aaron Brown, I’m afraid you’ve fallen for the hyperbolic propoganda that seeks to diminish your regard for your own mission and standing at Times & Seasons.

    Spain dominates T&S like the United States dominates the summer Olympics. Those who say T&S honors belong to Korea are like the Canucks who go on and on about their 14 medals at Sydney. “Well yes America won the most medals,” they say, “but they’re a first class superpower. The real excitement is among the second-tier countries.”

    They forget, however, that modern hegemonies such as the United States at the summer Olympics, or Spain at Times & Seasons, don’t want to run up the score. It’s unbecoming for untouchables to embarrass the competition.

    Having served a mission in Spain and cheered for the US Olympic team, Ken has manifestly taken this principle to heart. In a single Jeopardy episode the world witnessed him graciously allow not just one, but both of his fellow contestants to enter Final Jeopardy with positive scores. Then, in a touching display of magnanimity, his Final Jeopardy wager ensured he would not top the one-day Jeopardy record. And never — not once! — has Ken patted his defeated competitors on the head. Clearly, Ken is a protypical Spanish RM.

  20. matthew allison on October 11, 2005 at 7:09 pm

    you have a very talented and skilled writting. i had a great time reading your comments. life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions: http://www.useful-information.info/quotations/life-quotes.html , ninety-eight percent of the adults

  21. shelly on March 24, 2006 at 7:55 am

    how many times did ken jenning win on jeopardy?

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