Ken Jennings won a record 74 games on television's "Jeopardy" trivia show, but he often makes deliberate mistakes to make people happy when they test him.
Jennings made $2.5 million from the U.S. game show in 2004, enough money to quit his job as a computer programmer, and become a minor celebrity in the process.
In his new book, "Brainiac," Jennings tells his story and takes a look at the history of trivia and its devotees.
He said in an interview that whenever he goes out, someone has a question to try to stump him.
"I guess people wander around with a really hard trivia question in their heads, in case they meet me," he said.
Once he was speaking to a group of school children, and a teacher asked him a question: What was the name of the apartment building that Clark Kent lived in on the "Superman" television series?
"I always try to get the question wrong, because it's easier for me, and people seem happier that way," he said.
"But this time I really didn't know. When I told him he said, 'Of course you don't! It's in only one episode!' It made him so happy that I didn't know that."
‘Everyone likes feeling smart’Jennings has a sponge-like brain when it comes to trivia. He knows the pasta whose name means "little turnips," even though he doesn't speak Italian. He knows which actress appeared on the first cover of People magazine.
He is not unique: There is an international subculture of trivia-philes, the sort who compete in university quiz bowls, play pub trivia games and compulsively watch TV game shows.
People have been fascinated with unusual facts since at least the Victorian age, when almanacs began including obscure facts that had little practical use, Jennings wrote.
So why do some people lust after the obscure? What is the joy in knowing the northernmost world capital, or which team is the only publicly owned major league sports franchise in the United States?
"Everyone likes feeling smart, feeling like they have easy answers to hard questions. It's very appealing to be an authority on something," Jennings said.
There is satisfaction, he says, in knowing ravioli is Italian for "little turnip," Mia Farrow was on the cover of the first issue of People, Reykjavik is the northernmost capital and the Green Bay Packers are publicly held.
As for the name of Superman's apartment building? Jennings still does not know.