Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tech Grad's System Beats 'Jeopardy!'

Roger Craig (left) with host Alex Trebek
Like one of those college computer whiz kids who go to 'Vegas to beat the house, Roger Craig has gone one up on "Jeopardy!" He won the difficult and high-paying "Tournament of Champions" this week, taking home the $250,000 cash prize and finishing on top in a field of 15.

To help the Virginia Tech grad prepare for the tournament, Craig created a computer program custom-built to study more than 200,000 past "Jeopardy!" questions and answers for patterns.  Using statistical processes, Craig was able to group questions by category to figure out which topics were most likely to appear.

“It’s impossible to know everything,” Craig said.  “I wanted to determine which categories were most likely to come up and then find out where there were gaps in my knowledge.” Examples of some of the subjects he brushed up on included geography, Oscar-winning films, and Shakespeare.

Craig from Newark, Del., a 1999 Tech College of Science graduate with two bachelor's degrees (one in biological sciences and one in biochemistry), earned a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Delaware. He credits both of his alma maters for helping him to win. “For 'Jeopardy!' the name of the game is breadth, not depth, of knowledge.” says Craig. “I think the main reason both universities helped so much is that they cover just about all spheres of learning in extraordinary depth.”

Craig first appeared on “Jeopardy!” in September 2010, earning $230,000 as a six-day champion. During his original run, he set a new record for the highest one-day total winnings, $77,000, surpassing the $75,000 record set by Ken Jennings in 2004.

Craig admits his life a changed since he first appeared on the show. “Strangers now recognize me,” he said. “especially when my games are airing.”

While a student at Virginia Tech, Craig was a disc jockey for the university's student-run radio station, WUVT, and a member of the Academic Competition Organization.

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