A Theory: John Hancock Would Kick Ken Jenning’s Ass at Jeopardy

John Hancock, Champion

I am not a scientist, but as I understand it, science works like this: you first come up with a theory, and then set out to test it (as objectively as possible, of course).

That said, I propose a theory: The Jeopardy contestant who writes their name the largest is disproportionately likely to win the game.


I started to notice this a few years ago, but kept it to myself. After all, I’m not a regular watcher of the show, or any game show for that matter. Eventually, I began boldly predicting the winners before games started, and was enjoying an unusual amount of success in doing so.

After catching the show quite a few more times over the years, I can say that while it’s certainly not a sure thing, I’m willing to bet that the largest-name player wins measurably more often than the one-third of the time that randomness would suggest.

John Hancock, Champion

“I’ll take US history for $800, Alex.”

Writing this post has caused me to consider my definition of a “large” signature. Unscientifically, this is based partly on perceived size (taking into account “big” style and flamboyance), as opposed to sheer surface area, width or height.

If I’m correct, what is causing this phenomenon? Is it a matter of confidence? After years of being the smart kid—the dweeb, the outcast, the nerd—these individuals find themselves standing in the one place in the world where their eggheadedness is overtly celebrated. Overwhelmed with a sudden cathartic pride, perhaps these individuals decide that it’s time to stop downplaying their brilliance. “My name? I’m Jill, goddammit. I worked hard to get here. J-I-L-L. Underline.” In contrast, perhaps the ones with the tiny, understated signatures are those who stare out at the expectant crowd, hearts pounding and vision fading, thinking, “What am I doing here? I only got a B in AP History. Oh my god, look how big Jill wrote her name.”

In fact, maybe I should revise my theory to state that the person with the smallest signature is the least likely to win.

Anyhow, to make science, one needs data. I set out on an Internet oddysey to find information on Jeopardy. Given the nature of the show—and therefore its fanbase—I wasn’t surprised to quickly find the J Archive,  an extensive fan-curated history of the series, complete with painstaking details about every episode.  Though I could easily locate information about each episode’s winner, I was unable to find any screen captures. After more fruitless searching, I tried to match a few random Google image search results with their respective episodes on the J Archive, but was unable to do so (and such a small data set could surely imply causality when none was to be found). So as not to taint the good name of science, I gave up on my quest.

So, until the J Archive gets their act together, my theory shall remain a theory. However, the next time you sit down in front of the television for your nightly date with Alex, I encourage you to place a friendly wager against anyone who dares take you on.

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