Current Jeopardy! champ James Holzhauer is raking in winnings faster than any contestant before, already posting the show’s top four single-game totals in the course of his first 11 games. After his latest victory in the show that aired Thursday evening, his overall total stood at $771,920 — second behind Ken Jennings, who won $2,520,700 over 74 games of regular-season play.
But Holzhauer may need a refresher course on a Philadelphia statesman-inventor by the name of Franklin.
Among the clues that stumped him (and the two other contestants) in the show that aired Tuesday:
“Beethoven and Mozart wrote for this instrument that Ben Franklin created, which he said gave him the greatest personal satisfaction of all his inventions.”
“What is the glass flute?” responded Holzhauer, a professional sports bettor from Las Vegas who has captivated audiences with his bold wagers.
While traveling in Europe in the mid-1700s, Franklin heard a musician produce ringing tones by rubbing a wet finger around the rims of glasses — a popular pastime of the era that endures today in the hands of bored children at fancy dinner tables.
Inspired, Franklin refined the idea, working with a London glassblower to make a few dozen bowls of different sizes and thicknesses so that he could generate different notes, according to the Franklin Institute’s history of the instrument.
Each bowl was nested inside the next, with a long iron rod running through their centers. The rod was attached to a wheel that could be rotated with a foot pedal while the musician applied moistened fingers to the spinning bowls, producing individual notes and chords.
The word armonica, derived from the Italian word for harmony, appeared to trip up Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek as well.
He pronounced it as if it were spelled harmonica, like the hand-held musical instrument.
Yet Trebek, who recently announced he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, has seemed the same as ever since returning to his hosting duties.
“I’m going to fight this,” he said to viewers in a recorded message.
The armonica clue on Tuesday was one of five in a category devoted to the Franklin Institute in the game’s “Double Jeopardy!” round.
Holzhauer failed to supply a response in two other clues from that category.
One clue asked for the Franklin invention that was prompted by his frustration at switching between pairs of glasses for reading and objects located farther away.
The correct response, supplied by one of Holzhauer’s opponents: bifocals.
Holzhauer also whiffed on a clue involving a dispute between Franklin and King George III over the lightning rod.
But Holzhauer gave the right responses to two other clues in the Franklin Institute category, correctly naming the museum’s Foucault pendulum and identifying the material used to make the Budd BB1 Pioneer Aircraft on display: stainless steel.
His fans include Roger A. McCain, an economics professor at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business who has studied game theory.
Asked about Holzhauer’s winning strategy, McCain said he had not tried to analyze it from a scholarly perspective, but noted that the champ goes for high-dollar clues early in the game. That way, if he lands on a Daily Double square, he has more money to wager — often risking it all.
That requires speed, as well as stone-cold confidence that he knows the material.
As Trebek said of Holzhauer before Thursday’s game got underway:
“He’s good. He’s fast. He keeps things moving.”