SALT LAKE CITY — When you sneak away from a busy work day for just a few minutes in the afternoon to play the mobile app game HQ Trivia, there’s a good chance Ken Jennings is playing right along with you.
When you rush through your dinner or pause a show to play HQ Trivia at night, there’s an even better chance Ken Jennings is playing right along with you.
Because for Jennings, who lives in Seattle, evening HQ Trivia — which typically draws in more than 1 million trivia fans, also known as “HQties” — falls right at dinnertime at 6 p.m. So when the game-time notification pops up on his phone, Jennings and his 15-year-old son are able to quickly transform the dinner table into a frenetic trivia party — you only have 10 seconds to answer each question, after all.
“My wife gets really annoyed when my son and I are playing,” Jennings said with a laugh. “It’s definitely bonding between me and my son — except when we’re playing against each other and he doesn't like that I win more than he does.”
Jennings said he’s correctly answered all 12 questions and won HQ Trivia five or six times, making his grand total winnings somewhere around $29.
“It’s a big comedown after ‘Jeopardy!,’ I got to say.”
That’s a comical understatement, as after 75 appearances and 74 consecutive wins on the TV game show, Jennings walked away with more than $2.5 million.
His record winning streak came to a shocking end on Nov. 30, 2004, but as seen with his HQ Trivia fervor, Jennings has remained active in the world of random facts. He’s written books about his experiences on the game show, and trivia in general, and, most recently, attended bar trivia with his son — incognito, of course.
Sitting with his son and his son’s friends in an all-ages bar, Jennings donned what he called a “Clark Kent disguise,” wearing a hat and pair of glasses.
“(My son) got tired of not winning, so he had me come last week,” Jennings said. “So I played bar trivia for the first time in like 10 years. It’s less anonymous than HQ. It’s kind of tricky for me to be playing trivia in a bar; it’s not good if I win, it’s not good if I lose. Nobody’s happy.”
They did win, but Jennings prefers sticking to his phone for future trivia pursuits. In addition to HQ Trivia, he’s a frequent player of FleetWit and has even consulted with the game on trivia questions.
“A lot of those (games) actually do kind of simulate the real-time quiz show very well,” he said. “… I think the main difference is that somebody like (HQ Trivia host) Scott Rogowsky seems very friendly and forgiving. Alex Trebek is a much kind of cooler, sterner presence. He’s more intimidating. … I have a little man crush on Scott.”
Jennings spoke with the Deseret News about his upcoming book, "Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture," but also took the time to share with fellow trivia lovers some tips to help succeed in an increasingly trivia-saturated world — HQ Trivia and FleetWit are just two of many apps quizzing and challenging people daily.
Google can be your friend
Fast typers certainly have an advantage when it comes to these types of games, and the fastest of typers might even be able to type the entire question and get an answer in the fleeting time allotted for each question.
But Jennings, who said he’ll only play if he’s sitting at his computer when the notification on his phone pops up, has another googling tip: Start with the answer, not the question.
“With HQ, you actually can google in time ‘cause Google autocomplete is so fast,” he said. “If you see the three choices and you see one that looks good … if you’re like, ‘A group of vultures might be a venue,’ you can type ‘venue of vultures’ into google and see if it autocompletes and if it does that might be the right answer.”
Think of the question writer
Questions are the essence of trivia, and great thrill comes from answering them right — and winning money. But Jennings advised quiz whizzes to not just think about the question, but to also think about the writer behind the question and get into that person’s mind. Doing so could help players eliminate wrong answers.
“The secret of trivia is it’s also psychoanalysis,” he said. “You’re trying to read the mind of the person who wrote the question. So it’s really like a duel of wits — it’s not you against the question, it’s you against the question writer.”
Split answers when possible
There’s strength in numbers when it comes to HQ Trivia and other apps. Although Jennings has yet to get his wife on board with playing the game at dinnertime, he and his son will often team up when uncertain about the answer to a question. Playing on their own phones, Jennings and his son will select different answers to a question in an effort to increase the odds of one of them staying in the game — just make sure the person you’re teaming up with is on board with splitting the game winnings.
Don’t slouch3 comments on this story
Good posture is always something parents encourage in their children, but turns out that it can also help when it comes to trivia. Playing such a fast-paced game on a phone can sometimes be tricky, and Jennings admitted to having accidentally selected an incorrect choice even when he knew the right one.
“I definitely play standing up with the phone right in front of me,” Jennings said. “If you’re kind of slouched over or playing at a weird angle … I’ve hit the wrong answer before, which is the worst.”