The woman who ended James Holzhauer’s ‘Jeopardy!’ winning streak actually wrote her thesis on the game show

Emma Boettcher.

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Emma Boettcher.
source
Jeopardy Productions

Emma Boettcher, the 27-year-old University of Chicago librarian who dethroned the “Jeopardy!” champion James Holzhauer in Monday night’s episode, wrote a 70-page thesis about trivia during her time as a graduate student at the University of North Carolina.

The paper, published in April 2016, relied on “Jeopardy!” clues to explore the difficulty of trivia questions – based on factors such as the question’s length, the inclusion of audiovisual media, and noun and verb phrases. Boettcher concluded that “features relating to media, length, and phrases all had significant impact on difficulty.”

“The question I started out with was, ‘How do people perceive what’s difficult, and how can we train a computer to make those same types of predictions?'” she told Vulture. “The ‘Jeopardy!’ board values its clues going from top to bottom. I was parsing the text of those clues for length, the words used in each, the syntax, and whether or not they linked out to audiovisual materials. I gave all of that information to a machine-learning tool and said: ‘If I gave someone just words, is it better than giving someone just length? If I gave someone just audiovisuals, would that be better than having no information at all?’ I was very lucky to find an adviser who completely went with it.”

Boettcher ultimately won a research award at the University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science for her thesis.

Read more: Meet Emma Boettcher, the librarian who took down record-breaking ‘Jeopardy!’ champion James Holzhauer

An avid trivia buff, Boettcher told The Philadelphia Inquirer she had auditioned four times (the first as a high-school student in the Philadelphia suburbs in 2010) to compete on “Jeopardy!” Her preparation included scouring online tutorials about how to wager and focusing on the mental aspect of the game. In an interview with Vulture, she added that her strategy included “Daily Double hunting” and simulating the “experience of playing on the show as close as I could from home.”

“I put my television in one corner and stood as far away from it as possible,” she said. “Sometimes I used a pen as a makeshift buzzer, and sometimes I used a toilet-paper holder. It’s not a close representation, but it’s the best I could do in anticipation.”

She has also written pub-quiz-style trivia questions for the Museum of the American Revolution and for the University of Chicago Library staff day, according to her personal website.

Elisabeth Long, a supervising librarian at the University of Chicago who is a colleague of Boettcher’s, told NBC News that “if anyone could do it, Emma can.” She continued: “She loves ‘Jeopardy!’ and I think has been preparing for this her whole life.”

Boettcher’s studious approach to trivia paid off in Monday night’s episode, when she won a whopping $46,801 and ended Holzhauer’s win streak at 32. She will face off Tuesday against Matthew Swanson, a Ph.D. student from California, and Liz Neal, a graphic designer from New York.

“Just being on ‘Jeopardy!’ was one dream for me,” Boettcher told The Inquirer. “And then to be on and hold my own was another dream. And then to be on and hold my own and then win was just way beyond anything I ever expected.”