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Masters of quiz-show prep

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Karl Coryat has forgotten more "Jeopardy!" questions than you'll ever know. The two-time winner taped hundreds of "Jeopardy!" shows, watched them twice, and wrote down the questions he didn't know in order to prepare for the show. It's an example of how far some people will go to get a spot on - and succeed at - game shows.

An appetite for trivia is buried in American culture, says Steve Beverly, a communications professor at Union College in Barbourville, Ky., and a game-show expert. "We are a society that in large part loves to play games," he says. "We're quizzed all our lives. We had to do it for grades. We had to do it at work to see how much we're helping the company."

Even with all this quizzing, Americans are still bamboozled by how the seemingly average person answers "Jeopardy!" questions in categories like "Those Darn Etruscans" and "Kings named Haakon."

Some contestants, like Mr. Coryat, maintain almost maniacal study habits. The editor of a music magazine, Coryat appeared on "Jeopardy!" in 1996. He says he was never a genius in high school, but he did memorize pi to the 100th decimal as a "party trick," as well as the names of all the bones in the human body. In addition, he compiled a list of 21,000 questions and answers and memorized them all. He also scanned the almanac for relevant facts (all the National Parks in America, for instance).

Coryat's most helpful resource, however, was an out-of-print fact book, "On the Tip of Your Tongue."

But this was no cram session. It took him a year and a half to memorize the facts - and it paid off. Two-thirds to three-quarters of the money value he won was a result of his studying.


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