Advanced Stats Television: Mental Samurai Episode 1

I’m a huge fan of reality TV and a huge fun of numbers. Shocker I know. When my friend Chris Yeh told me he’d be on Mental Samurai, I knew grudgingly I’d have a new television show I’d be into this year. About 10 minutes into the first episode I actually stopped watching and knew I’d have to record some stats. Maybe I’m broken that way! Anyway let’s talk Mental Samurai stats, strategies and more!

Also, Chris Yeh looks to be recording interviews with contestants of the show on his podcast – “The Chris Yeh Podcast” so subscribe if you haven’t!

The Premise

This game is pretty straightforward, a contestant is strapped into a gyroscopic device (called Ava) and is given five minutes to answer 12 trivia questions. They have to get every question correct. Miss one, and you’re out. The questions are from four categories (we’ll do a bigger breakdown below). After each question, the contestant is moved quickly via the gyroscope to the next. The host is Rob Lowe, and the contestant pool is from a pretty unique group. In the first episode, we get a Stanford dropout, an MLB pitcher, an astronaut, a lawyer, and a trucking expert/drag queen!

If a contestant answers all twelve questions correctly, they win $10,000. They then get four more questions, and a minute and thirty seconds to answer them. They also get any remaining time from the first round. Each correct answer is worth $25,000. Miss a question and you’re done. Answer all four, and you win $100,000 and the title of “Mental Samurai”

More in Depth Rules

The contestant is strapped into a fancy gyroscope called Ava that whips them between four towers. Each tower represents a different category of question type. The first round has three questions from each category. The order these are asked in appears random. The second round had one question from each category. Each question has a title type, and we some types repeat. Contestants have to say “Lock it in” and flip a switch when they answer their questions. Here’s a full rundown of the categories and specific question types in each.


These are basically pop culture questions.

  • Fact Find: Seems like tossup. Choose between two options what this fact applies to.
  • Initial Impression: Use the initials of celebrities to spell another word.
  • Reality Check: Given two images, select which one is the real one. (e.g. an image of the Lincoln Memorial with a photoshopped eagle is shown next to the real one.)
  • Snap Shot: Two images are given that are visual clues. Guess the answer to a category given based on the images. (e.g. which superhero is represented by these two pictures)
  • Special Equation: A math problem but with clues for the numbers (e.g. highest dice roll and number of face cards in a deck of cards)
  • Toss Up: A trivia question with two options is given.
  • True Lies: True or false question.


  • Compound Fracture: Identify a word that completes two compound words. (e.g. class____ and ____mate)
  • Double Crossed: Guess a celebrity’s first and last name based on two crossword puzzle-style clues.
  • Gridlock: Find three words in a letter scramble grid based on a criteria (e.g. tree types, cities)
  • Mirror Mirror: An image (so far only license plates) is shown. Select an image that is the mirror image of the one shown from a list of four.
  • Missing Piece: An image in the form of a jigsaw puzzle is shown with one piece missing. Three possible pieces are shown. Identify which would fill the missing spot.
  • Oddball: Four images are shown, spinning! Identify one that is unlike the other.
  • Wordnado: A word is broken into smaller fragments and animation of the fragments floating is shown. Figure out the word.


  • Alpha Order: Arrange a list of items, usually three, by their alphabetical order. They’ll be shown three images, or the most clever, three numbers, and asked to arranged them alphabetically.
  • Back Order: Given a list of words that appear in a popular text (nursery rhyme on the show), list them in the order they appear.
  • Measure Up: Arrange three items based on their length. (e.g. six inches, two feet, a yard)
  • Record Breaker: Arrange a list of times by a given record criteria. Some examples are cities by the number of skyscrapers, Broadway musicals by the number of shows).
  • Striking Distance: Arrange a list of items by their location. (e.g. three cities from furthest west to furthest east)
  • Time Warp: Arrange a list of items by year. (e.g. arrange three NBA players by their draft year)


  • Chat Attack: A text message or Tweet is shown. Answer a question related to some detail (e.g. what location was mentioned in the Tweet. How many times did a letter or number appear in a text.)
  • Echo Chamber: Contestants have to repeat a sequence of words given to them.
  • Hear Say: Three sounds are played and then you have to answer a detail about them.
  • Memory Blackout: A quick video clip is shown. Then you have to answer a detail about the clip when it’s done.
  • Memory Mind Field: Six pictures in two rows of three are shown for a few seconds. Then the are obfuscated with a number for each location. Contestants then have to list the location of a given picture that was in the original six.
  • Name Dropper: An image of several people is shown, with some name identifier in front of them. Then only the headshot of one of the people is shown and you have to identify them by name.
  • Pay Attention: An audio clip is played and then you have to answer a detail about it.

Basic Strategy

As noted, a gyroscope moves you around between each question. In tracking this (check the stats below), it takes between 7 and 13 seconds. There is no travel time for the first question. That means you can count on roughly 110 seconds “lost” to travel time. That leaves around 16 seconds per question. So if someone is pacing themselves, that is definitely the pace to aim for. Since missing a question is so costly, it’s worth being sure first. We’ll talk a few of the puzzle types in each contestant write up, but it’s also definitely a good idea to talk aloud and knowing as many mnemonic tricks is key as the memory category is a killer!

Meta Notes

Based on some reading and Chris Yeh’s podcast on the first episode, it’s revealed many of the contestants entered this contest “blind” as to the exact challenges. So if the show progresses, it’ll be easier for veterans to game challenges. For instance, the key thing to remember in the Name Dropper challenge is the face. Joey, see below, wisely aloud used key phrases like color of the bowling ball his people were holding, but it was for naught.

I’ll also say I can tell that annoyingly TV probably doesn’t do Ava (the gyroscope) justice. I was wondering how fast it would whip the contestants around. It doesn’t look too bad on the screen, but I’m willing to bet it’s much scarier in person. Not sure going forward a better cinematic way to convey this, but figured I’d throw that thought out there.

Stats Notes

I kept track of each contestant, how long they took on their challenges, and the challenge type. Eventually I may try and do snazzier graphics, bur for my first post, boring tables it shall be. Stats to keep in mind.

  • Travel Time: How much time it took Ava to move the contestant to a tower.
  • Start Time: What the timer was at when the card with the clue is visible to the contestant.
  • End Time: The pillars seem to flash green when Rob Lowe verifies a contestant’s answer. The time when this happens.
  • Category: One of the four categories listed.
  • Subcategory: See above.
  • Time to Complete: I noted this and marked when it took a contestant longer than 16 seconds to answer, as that is the theoretical pace, in theory, to win.

Obviously, this is just me watching and eyeballing it. I didn’t use a stopwatch or go super in depth. In some cases the camera obfuscates the timer, so I did my best in these cases. I’ll note them. Onward.

Megan Gage

25-year-old Graphics Designer. Went to Stanford but flunked out in her last semester.

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Time to Complete
1 Sequence Alpha Order 0 300 287 13
2 Knowledge Initial Impression 7 280 265 15
3 Memory Echo Chamber 5 260 247 13
4 Knowledge Double Crossed 7 240 226 14
5 Knowledge Reality Check 13 213 204 9
6 Sequence Record Breaker 11 193 173 20
7 Memory Mind Field 8 165 152 13
  1. Was to list the order of three balls: baseball, volleyball, basketball.
  2. Jennifer Anniston and William Shatner = JAWS
  3. Repeat a sequence of four words. The words were burger, fries, soda.
  4. Nick Cannon from two crossword style clues.
  5. The Lincoln Memorial with a photoshopped eagle.
  6. Arrange Chicago, Miami, and New York by number of skyscrapers.
  7. An Owl in the #2 position.

Megan kept up a great pace and was well ahead of schedule. She ran into what we’ll discover is one of the cruelest towers and cruelest puzzles: the Memory Mind Field. As I noted, I could see this puzzle being easier to crack if the show sticks around and it stays in rotation, but it definitely knocked Megan off a good run.

Clayton Anderson

59-year-old retired astronaut. He also wrote a kid’s book!

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Time to Complete
1 Puzzles Oddball 0 300 291 9
  1. Identify which of four spinning clocks is unlike the others. The difference is the placement of the hour hand.

Without a doubt the hardest question in this episode. I was shocked by hard this task was, especially relative to some of the others. Chris Yeh on his podcast interviews Clayton and jokes Clayton is TV Trope – the Sacrifical Lion. If Clayton comes back for a redemption arc and goes down fast again, it’ll be the Worf Effect!

Donovan Hand

32-year-old former MLB pitcher. Go Brewers!

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Time to Complete
1 Knowledge Toss Up 0 300 288 12
2 Sequence Alpha Order 7 281 265 16
3 Memory Chat Attack 10 255 243 12
  1. Smokey the Bear prevents forest fires.
  2. Put knife, plate, spoon (based on images) in order.
  3. A Tweet about a vacation has the hashtag #CABO. Misses by guessing they are in Cancun.

A quick exit. Donovan answers a straightforward question too quickly and knows immediately he’s wrong. In Chris Yeh’s podcast Clayton Anderson actually says he cautioned Donovan to take it slow. Dang!

Joey Gutmann

29-year-old attorney. He has also been on Jeopardy and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Time to Complete
1 Knowledge Snap Shot 0 300 290 10
2 Sequence Measure Up 8 282 267 15
3 Memory Chat Attack 9 258 236 22
4 Puzzles Missing Piece 8 228 216 12
5 Memory Pay Attention 7 209 193 16
6 Sequence Time Warp 8 185 166 19
7 Knowledge Toss Up 7 159 151 8
8 Puzzles Compound Fracture 9 142 131 11
9 Sequence Striking Distance 8 123 110 13
10 Memory Name Dropper 9 101 123 18
  1. Stevie Wonder and Woman symbol = Wonder Woman
  2. Six inches, two feet, a yard.
  3. Count the number of Zs in the sentence: “I’m so tired today, I feel like I could snooze all day.”
  4. Missing piece
  5. Sentence with the word “jellyfish” as the first item in the list.
  6. List NBA players in order of draft year: Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James
  7. PIN stands for Personal Identification Number.
  8. Class____ and ____Mate are connected by Room!
  9. Sort from west to east – Cancun, Mexico, Honolulu, USA and Kingston, Jamaica.
  10. Name Mabel. He misses :(

An amazing run and as I noted above, I think had Joey known the specific game, he’d have done even better. In his interview with Chris he even opines had he spent a little more time thinking, he might have figured it out. To rub salt in the wound, I’ll note he was easily up on time. Oh well!

Becky Eldridge

46-year-old writer. Her backstory is she just lost her mother.

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Time to Complete
1 Sequence Alpha Order 0 300 279 21
2 Memory Pay Attention 9 270 250 20
3 Knowledge Snap Shot 8-10? 240-242? 228 12-14
4 Puzzles Wordnado 8 220 213 7
5 Memory Mind Field 10 203 174 29
6 Puzzles Mirror Mirror 8 166  142 14
7 Knowledge Fact Find 7 135 124 11
8 Sequence Back Order 7 117 99 18
9 Memory Blackout 9 90 69 21
10 Puzzles Gridlock 9 60 49 11
11 Knowledge Special Equation 7 42 24 18
12 Sequence Record Breaker 11 13 1 12
  1. List bacon, lettuce, tomato in alphabetical order.
  2. Audio clip where the answer is the boxer’s nickname is “TKO.”
  3. Handmaid’s Tale from three images. Camera obfuscated timer, so estimates above.
  4. Saxophone!
  5. Jump Rope in spot 6.
  6. Mirror image of a license plate.
  7. HOG is the symbol for Harley Davidson.
  8. Put three words from the poem “Jack and Jill” in order they appear in the poem.
  9. Remember a bungie jumper was giving thumbs up in a video.
  10. Find three types of makeup in a letter jumble.
  11. What is the total of highest legal dice roll from two dice plus number of face cards in a deck (24).
  12. List Broadway shows by number of performances (Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, and Mama Mia)

A nail biter where Becky comes up just short. An auspicious honor is that she spent too long, arguably, on half her questions. Still. the first contestant we saw reach the last hurdle.

Sam Durbin

27-year-old Trucking Sales Executive. Is also the hit drag queen Briawna Banana (pronounced bah-nahnah)

He noted he’d never live this down if he got it wrong on Chris Yeh’s podcast.
# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Time to Complete
1 Puzzles Missing Piece 0 300 293 7
2 Knowledge Toss Up 10 283 269 14
3 Sequence Time Warp 7 262 247 15
4 Memory Hear Say 8 239 224 15
5 Sequence Alpha Order 10 214 202 12
6 Memory Mind Field 9 193 178 15
7 Puzzles Mirror Mirro 8 170 157 13
8 Knowledge Fact Finder 7 150 138 12
9 Puzzles Grid Lock 9 129 90 39
10 Memory Chat Attack 9 81 67 14
11 Sequence Striking Distance 8 59 31 18
12 Knowledge True Lies 8 23 13 10
  1. Missing puzzle piece image
  2. Who is married to Daniel Craig? Rachel Weisz.
  3. Arrange drinks by year they were introduced: Cocoa Cola, Mountain Dew, Red Bull.
  4. Played a dog, jackhammer, and a saw. Asked which sound came first (Dog)
  5. List three numbers in alphabetical order (sixteen, seventeen, eighteen)
  6. Police Badge in the 4 spot.
  7. License plate mirror image.
  8. What designer shoes does Cardi B reference in her song?
  9. Find three trees in a letter jumble. Theme is trees.
  10. How many times does the number two show up in a text message? (3)
  11. List west to east: Leaning Tower of Pisa, Acropolis, Kremlin.
  12. Is Krypton on the Periodic Table of Elements? Yes.

An absolutely amazing run. Sam is definitely the most charismatic contestant on this week’s show and keeps up an amazing attitude while playing. He only really got bogged down looking for the word “OAK” in the Grid Lock challenge but was otherwise perfect. Onto the bonus challenges:

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Time to Complete
13 Knowledge Toss Up 0 143 133 10
14 Memory Name Dropper 10 123 57 26
15 Sequence Record Breaker 9 48 26 12
  1. Which river flows south to north. The Nile and Mississippi are options. Answer is the Nile.
  2. Chad!
  3. Arrange in order of box office grosses: Bruce Willis, Johnny Depp, Robert Downy Jr., and Samuel Jackson.

And like Becky, Sam goes down to Record Breaker. He pockets $50,000 and will be back due to being the best performance of the night. Can’t wait!

Summing Up

Alright, there are the “boxscores” of the week for Mental Samurai. Chris Yeh is set to make his appearance April 30th. We got some brief glimpses of him on this week’s show, but no definitive clues as to how he fares. We’ll keep watching and I should be back next week with more stats.