Not surprisingly, Ken Jennings, the “Jeopardy!” celebrity who won a record-shattering 74 consecutive games in 2004, competed on Brigham Young University’s quiz bowl team when he attended that school.
But as he admits in his new book, “Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs” (Villard, 2006), he was out of practice when it came to collegiate quiz bowl tournaments. So while he was researching his book, he decided to visit what he calls the “placid pioneer town of Northfield, Minnesota, just to find out how rusty.”
In other words, he visited Carleton in spring 2005 and hung out with the school’s winning quiz bowl team. He describes this visit in a chapter of “Brainiac” appropriately titled “What is Erudition?”
Jennings calls Carleton’s “one of the best college quiz bowl teams in the country, with 31 tournament wins for much of the last decade.” And he credits much of the team’s impressive success to its coach, Eric Hillemann, College archivist, whom Jennings had known in his own quiz bowl days. “Eric is a genuine coach,” he writes, “and he works his team hard.”
Hillemann, displaying as much humility as Jennings does throughout Brainiac, just says, “We haven’t fallen back on the pace,” referring to a recent weekend when the team enjoyed an unexpected win against the University of Chicago.
As for Jennings’s inclusion of Carleton’s team in his book, Hillemann could not be more pleased. “I can’t wait for a student to join the team in the future and tell me that he attended Carleton because he read about the quiz bowl team in Ken Jennings’s book,” he says. “It’ll happen.”