It was the Double Jeopardy round of the semifinals in this summer’s “Jeopardy!” Teen Tournament, and Alan Koolik was on fire. The Pine Crest student, 17, was scorching through one of his favorite categories, mathematics. The base 10 logarithm of 10,000? Four. The radius of the circle x squared plus y squared equals 100? Ten. The name of the x coordinate in Cartesian geometry? The abscissa, of course.
Koolik nearly swept the category on the July 30 broadcast, moments after correctly an-swering questions—or, in Jeopardy parlance, correctly questioning answers—on everything from Looney Tunes and Greek mythology to the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe.
Speaking to Koolik in his family’s spacious Boca Raton living room, Koolik remembers little of this. “Jeopardy!” is a thinking person’s game that doesn’t leave much time to think. When asked to recall some his most notable responses, he draws a blank, likening his experience to an athlete being “in the zone.”
“You just have to focus on the questions and on Alex [Trebek’s] voice, and on the buzzer,” he says. “There’s no time to think about anything else. Between the time of the taping and the airing, I remembered nothing—maybe four different clues.”
Like most “Jeopardy!” savants, Koolik has his weak spots, notably pop culture—a category that, not surprisingly, turns up with frequency on Teen Tournament game boards. “I checked the Billboard Top 40 before I left,” he says.
His preparation paid handsome dividends.
Koolik’s victory in this semifinal round was one of four appearances he made on the nationally syndicated game show in a two-week period, a journey that took him all the way to the finals. He nearly captured the entire tournament, concluding the final round in a tie against New Jersey’s Jeff Xie—the first such climax in the Teen Tournament since 1996. A single tiebreaker question, on the Civil War, de-cided the winner; Koolik knew the answer, but Xie buzzed in first with the correct response.
“It’s all in the buzzer,” he says. “But Jeff played an amazing game.”
Koolik still walked away with a $54,200 second-place prize, the culmination of a process that was not easy—one that required patience, knowledge, personality and a bit of luck.
For more, pick up the December issue of Boca Raton magazine.