3/26/2007

03-26-07 - 2

The "Jeopardy!" buzzer works like this : at a certain point, it is activated and you are allowed to buzz in. After that point, the first person to hit the buzzer gets the question. If you buzz in before that point, you are frozen out and can't buzz in for a few seconds. That point is defined as "when Alex finishes reading the clue", but in practice is just a beat after he end the last word. I believe a light also goes on to tell you the buzzing has opened, but if you wait for that you will never get in first, all the good buzzing contestants do it by timing.

This system is retarded. First of all, it severely favors returning champs who have experience with the buzzer. Someone like Ken Jennings can become a real master of the buzzer. The Jeopardy producers might like this because a long running champ is good for TV but it doesn't make for a fair game. Second of all, the point where the buzzing opens is ambiguous and you have to sort of learn what they expect - it's not something you can go into and do well just by knowing the rules. It's not a well designed game mechanic. It would be okay if you got a practice round to get used to the system, but you don't, and if you don't learn it right away you can get too far behind to catch up.

Oddly, the fix for this is trivial and also makes the game more interesting, and lots of other game shows do this. You just let people buzz in at any point after the clue is shown. If they can read the clue faster, they can buzz in sooner. They can also choose to make a strategic decision and just buzz in immediately and hope to know it without seeing the clue. This takes away the arbitrariness and the need to master some weird skill that you can't know in advance, and makes it more strategic and more fair.

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