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Test your ‘Jeopardy!’ chops

This two-time alumnus held the nation’s attention for 39-straight episodes and then shared some insights with us. (Answer: Who is Matt Amodio?)

Is it coincidence that Matt Amodio ’12, ’13 MAS is both a two-time alum of Ohio State and a history-making “Jeopardy!” contestant? As he would have answered on the show, “What’s nope.”

Amodio’s 38-game winning streak came to a bittersweet end in October, but his awestruck grins and aw-shucks charm have won him fame and, yes, $1.5 million-plus.

Part of his strategy was beginning all of his answers with “what’s” instead of choosing a pronoun that matched the clue. It’s within the “Jeopardy!” rules, and it’s one less thing he had to think about when giving an answer under pressure.

Smart thinking, which obviously comes naturally to this Buckeye.

Many of us followed his winning streak from our sofas, and now we can revisit some of Amodio’s greatest hits — Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy! clues among them — to see whether we can match the champ.

Source: “Jeopardy!” YouTube channel

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Fictional places

A savage people called Zapoletes are contrasted with the inhabitants of the title place of this 16th century work.

Fictional places

A savage people called Zapoletes are contrasted with the inhabitants of the title place of this 16th century work.

What’s Utopia?
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1970s movies

Writer Dan O’Bannon based a scene in this film on his own Crohn’s disease, which felt like things inside him fighting to get out.

1970s movies

Writer Dan O’Bannon based a scene in this film on his own Crohn’s disease, which felt like things inside him fighting to get out.

What’s “Alien”?
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Mythological animals

After being born, this creature would bring the remains of its forebear to Heliopolis and put them on the altar of the sun god.

Mythological animals

After being born, this creature would bring the remains of its forebear to Heliopolis and put them on the altar of the sun god.

What’s a phoenix?
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1930s America

Unpopular at the time, the man for whom it was named wasn’t invited to the Sept. 30, 1935, dedication of this landmark.

1930s America

Unpopular at the time, the man for whom it was named wasn’t invited to the Sept. 30, 1935, dedication of this landmark.

What’s Hoover Dam?
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History of the 19-teens

Saying he ignored warnings of enemy vessels, the British admiralty sought to blame William Turner, this ship’s last captain, in 1915.

History of the 19-teens

Saying he ignored warnings of enemy vessels, the British admiralty sought to blame William Turner, this ship’s last captain, in 1915.

What’s the Lusitania?
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Before and after

Late-summer arts festival in the desert that’s a basement hangout with TV and beer.

Before and after

Late-summer arts festival in the desert that’s a basement hangout with TV and beer.

What’s Burning Man cave?
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Movie time

This legendary Italian composer was 87 when he finally won his first competitive Oscar for “The Hateful Eight.”

Movie time

This legendary Italian composer was 87 when he finally won his first competitive Oscar for “The Hateful Eight.”

What’s Ennio Morricone?
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Authors

In addition to knowing many languages and making up his own, he also taught language at the universities of Leeds and Oxford.

Authors

In addition to knowing many languages and making up his own, he also taught language at the universities of Leeds and Oxford.

What’s J.R.R. Tolkien?
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Colorful pro sports teams

One in the NBA and one in the NHL, these two pro sports teams are “golden.”

Colorful pro sports teams

One in the NBA and one in the NHL, these two pro sports teams are “golden.”

What’s Golden Knights and Golden State Warriors?
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African monarchs

Some devotees of this emperor who died in 1975 trace his lineage to King Solomon and the queen of Sheba.

African monarchs

Some devotees of this emperor who died in 1975 trace his lineage to King Solomon and the queen of Sheba.

What’s Haile Selassie?
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Science fiction

Arthur C. Clarke’s “Rendezvous with” this isn’t about a Hindu god but rather a spooky craft that’s entered our galaxy.

Category: Fictional places

Arthur C. Clarke’s “Rendezvous with” this isn’t about a Hindu god but rather a spooky craft that’s entered our galaxy.

What’s Rama?
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Asia

This country became independent in 1946; in 1964, it officially switched its independence day from July 4 to June 12.

Asia

This country became independent in 1946; in 1964, it officially switched its independence day from July 4 to June 12.

What’s the Philippines?
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A challenge seeker by nature

In hindsight, Matt Amodio sees he had been training for his appearance on “Jeopardy!” just about his entire life. His family watched the show together while he was growing up in Medina, near Cleveland. And he’s had a lifelong approach to hobbies that puts the term “deep dive” in perspective.

Take, for example, baseball. Amodio played it in high school, and he played softball while at Ohio State. But playing wasn’t exactly enough. Amodio needed to go deeper.

“So I’m analyzing the right pitch to throw in this situation and the percentages on how to organize your fielders,” he says. “That’s just how I enjoy something, by analyzing how to do it the best you possibly can.”

That’s an inclination Amodio honed at Ohio State, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Actuarial Science in 2012 and followed up with a Master of Science in Applied Statistics in 2013. From Columbus, he went to the University of Wisconsin, earning another master’s degree in 2015, this time in artificial intelligence.

Now a doctoral candidate at Yale University studying artificial intelligence, Amodio won 38-straight “Jeopardy!” games, the second-longest winning streak in history, in episodes that started airing in July 2021. He’ll likely appear again on the show’s Tournament of Champions in 2022.

We spoke to Amodio after the dust had settled a bit and he was no longer shuttling back and forth between Connecticut and LA. He was focusing on the home stretch of his doctoral research and planning to lend his new star power to the “Game Theory $1,000,000 Challenge” fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital on Nov. 30.

People think of “Jeopardy!” as being a trivia game, about trivial facts. What do you think?

When I’m learning them, they don’t feel like trivia. I think it’s important to know how the world works, so I study history. Because I really want to know. People always reference history, and I say to myself, is that true? Were people really taller or shorter after the Middle Ages? When I’m doing it, it’s answering questions that feel important in the moment.

You’re doing important work right now, too. How do you describe what you do?

I build new neural network models. They’re a type of mathematical model. I take biological data from samples of patients, analyze their genes and build new neural network models with high-dimensional data. Neural networks were inspired by how the brain works, but in the end, they’re just a complicated math operation.

For my dissertation, I’m writing about a particular class of neural network model called a generative adversarial network. What we try to do is build a mathematical model that replicates a given set of data. That might not sound useful — why would we need to replicate it if we have a model? But we can perform hypotheticals: Instead of this person having a lot of B cells in their sample, what if we could make it with fewer B cells? We can answer these hypotheticals by plugging them into a model rather than needing to design an experiment.

My advisor is in the genetics department, so almost all my research is tied toward understanding biology better. The math problems are very fun to work with, and then I collaborate with people on the medical side who tell me if what I did was useful or not.

How did you choose Ohio State?

I’m from Medina, so I knew about Columbus, and I liked it a lot. I’ll admit it’s not very romantic, but I did well in high school and got financial aid for being valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar. Choosing where to go, I wanted to make sure I would be challenged. My Ohio State accelerated calculus program is still, to this day, the hardest class I’ve ever taken. I met some of my best friends in the math program.

Ohio State is, by the numbers, a huge place. But it also can feel personal and tightknit.

I found it very intimidating at first. I felt that bigness. But as soon as I found my friends, I felt the smallness, too. I loved Ohio State. I was a nervous kid going to college for the first time, not sure if I made any of my decisions correctly. I just look back so fondly on my time there. I enjoyed everything, and it also turned me into the person I am now. I loved it.

About the author

Portrait of author

Kristen Schmidt

Kristen Schmidt is an editor, consultant and founder of Wordschmidt Consulting LLC. She was previously associate editor of Ohio State Alumni Magazine and editor of Columbus Monthly and Columbus Alive. She is pursuing a certificate in diversity, equity and inclusion at Ohio State and lives in Worthington with her husband, an Ohio State professor, and their daughter.