Category Archives: Pop Culture

Advanced Stats Television: Mental Samurai Episode 4

Week 4 and we’re in a groove, so I’ll just be copy/pasting my recap notes if that’s ok. I’m reviewing the reality TV show Mental Samurai but from a box score perspective. Every week I rundown each contestants performance. Since Mental Samurai is a timed trivia game show, the box score is pretty simple – how quick and how far does each player go?

In case you haven’t seen the show — which is streamable at Fox — contestants are strapped into a gyroscope, called Ava, flung around between four towers and asked a series of trivia questions. Answer 12 in a row, win $10,000. Answer four more, win $25,000 per question. Answer all 16, win the title of Mental Samurai. I run down the category types and subcategories that appear in my week one writeup if you’re new.

Also, as always future contestant Chris Yeh’s podcast often has bonus content for the show, so subscribe to that if you haven’t already.

Below is each contestants “box score” with a little analysis. A reminder of the stats I’m tracking:

  • Category: The category of the question – Knowledge, Puzzles, Sequence, or Memory
  • Subcategory: Each category has a selection of types. I list these in depth in my week one write up.
  • Travel Time: How long it takes for Ava to settle the contestant in front of the tower with the question up in front of them.
  • Start time: What the countdown is at (in seconds) when the question is first visible to the contestant.
  • End time: When Ava flashes green or red, signifying the contestants answer has been registered.
  • Answer time: The time between the start time and end time. I note when this is below 18 seconds in green, and above 18 seconds in red, as, in theory, that’s the needed pace to complete the full challenge.

Stephanie Thornton

38-year-old Direcotr of Consumer Insight. She’s a Mensa member, which is how she met her husband. He’s also competing!

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Answer time
1 Sequence Alpha Order 0 300 291 9
2 Memory Blackout 9 282 269 13
3 Knowledge Toss Up 9 260 246 14
4 Puzzles Picture Perfect 8 238 230 8
5 Memory Echo Chamber 8 222 209 13
6 Puzzles Wordnado 9 200 188 12
7 Knowledge True Lies 9 179 166 13
  1. Egg, Ham, Pie
  2. What name is person carving in the photo: Thomas.
  3. What is printed on US currency? “God Bless America” or “In God We Trust”
  4. Duck Face based on an image of a person taking a selfie of themselves in a duck mask.
  5. Repeat “Diamond, Circle, Square, Triangle” with visual and audio play.
  6. Combine floating/moving fragments to spells lemonade. The clue is a beverage and hit pop album.
  7. Doc is the only member of the seven dwarfs whose name does not end in Y. False. Missed Bashful, ouch!

There’s going to be some nice symmetry here. Stephanie answered a trick question too quickly. Her run had been going great and she actually had built up a decent buffer. Some quick back of the napkin math said she had 23 seconds a question (excluding travel time) for the back six. Running through all seven dwarfs would have definitely been worth it. A slight misstep on an otherwise strong run.

Jameson Thornton

32-year-old electrical engineer. As noted, he’s married to Stephanie Thornton and they’re playing for bragging rights. It appears she went first so he got to observe her run, a definite edge. He claims at home his win rate in various trivia games is about 1/5.

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Answer time
1 Sequence Back Order 0 300 289 11
2 Knowledge Toss Up 7 282 269 13
3 Puzzles Wordplay 7 262 252 10
4 Memory Blackout 10 242 183 59
5 Sequence Time Warp 9 174 156 18
6 Knowledge Fact Finder 7 149 137 12
7 Puzzles Mirror Mirror 11 126 105 21
8 Memory Mind Field 7 98 80 18
9 Sequence Alpha Order 11 69 43 26
  1. Put the words “London, Bridge, Falling” in the order they appear in the song “London Bridge”
  2. Fred Flinstone is the father of which child: Bamm Bamm or Pebbles.
  3. Rearrange letters to identify a New York city district: “Wall Street”
  4. How many seconds does Tom Hanks say he’ll be judged on in a clip from the movie Sully (208)
  5. Arrange video game consoles in debut date (early to latest): Atari 2600, Nintendo Game Boy, Microsoft XBox 360
  6. MMA Artists in the UFC compete in what shape of cage: Octogan.
  7. A^2 + B^2 = C^2 chalkboard.
  8. Where is the trophy located? Spot 6
  9. List the Kelly Ripa Co-Hosts alphabetically by first name. Regis, Middle Guy (he doesn’t know his name, neither do I), and Michael.

We get into interesting territory here. Technically Jameson bests his wife by going two more questions than her. However, by spending a full minute on his blackout question, he was in a precarious spot. In fact, by the time his run ended, I can say it was almost impossible for him to win. At 8 seconds, at best, per travel time, he’d need to answer all three of his final questions in 8 seconds or less. Highly unlikely, especially given that some questions take 10-16 seconds at minimum. As I mentioned, a very symetric point. On a multiple choice question, Jameson spent far too long, especially as he’d narrowed the question to two possibilities. Sadly he was downed by Ryan Seacrest!

Leah Khoury

24-year-old accountant. Wants to defy the stereotype that accountants are boring!

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Answer time
1 Sequence Alpha Order 0 300 284 16
2 Memory Blackout 8 276 262 14
3 Knowledge Fact Finder 8 254 248 6
4 Puzzles Wordplay 9 239 218 21
5 Memory Pay Attention 10 208 189 19
6 Puzzles Picture Perfect 8 181 161 20
7 Knowledge True Lies 9 152 138 14
8 Sequence Time Warp 8 130 101 29
9 Memory Mind Field 9 92 68 24
  1. List national toy Hall of Fame inductees alphabetically: Dominos, Hoola Hoop, Slinky. In order!
  2. Study image of balloons and duck balloon carefully.
  3. Kanye West and Rihanna released the song “Fourfiveseconds” with which former Beatle? Paul McCartney
  4. Rearrange the letters to spell “Serena Williams”, the clue is “Professional Athlete”
  5. Which makeup was not mentioned in a sound clip? Blush.
  6. Identify the phrase “In one ear, out the other” by an image.
  7. The Letter “O” in the text acronyms “LOL” and “ROFL” stands for the same word. False!
  8. Arrange these fashion brands by their founding date, oldest to newest.
  9. Where is the butterfly balloon located? 1 spot.

The Mind Field strikes again! Leah was starting to get into time trouble but had an otherwise impressive run. The killer Memory tower is brutal.

Matthew Potts

36-year-old Intelligence Officer in the Marine Corps. Has done seven tours of duty and didn’t come here to lose.

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Answer time
1 Knowledge Fact Finder 0 300 291 9
2 Sequence Alpha Order 9 282 269 13
3 Memory Pay Attention 9 260 240 20
4 Puzzles Missing Piece 8 232 221 11
5 Memory Echo Chamber 7 214 202 12
6 Sequence Alpha Order 8 194 178 16
7 Knowledge True Lies 7 171 146 25
8 Puzzles Double Crossed 9 137 107 30
9 Sequence Measure Up 7 100 88 12
10 Memory Blackout 9 79 56 23
11 Puzzles Oddball 8 48 30 18
12 Knowledge Toss Up 8 22 14 8
13 Puzzles Missing Piece 0 104 93 11
14 Knowledge Toss Up 9 84 72 12
15 Memory Hear Say 11 61 39 22
16 Sequence Time Warp 10 29 7 22
  1. Which is an image of an alpaca? (Middle one)
  2. Bow, Hay, Pin.
  3. What is there a 2-for-1 sale on? Pickled Peppers.
  4. B
  5. Repeat a pattern of green, yellow, red.
  6. Canoe, Kayak, Yacht. Clue is five letter floating vessels.
  7. Singer Lorde released her hit song “Royals” when she was only 16 years old.
  8. Miami Vice from clues: “NFL Dolphins Home” and “Bad Habbit”
  9. Arrange Eggs in order from smallest to largest: Salmon, Chicken, Ostrict.
  10. What wasn’t visible on an image of a burger (pickles)
  11. C has a larger claw that the other three. He’s a damned wizard.
  12. Which Olympics did the US most recently host. Winter, apparently.
  13. B completes puzzle.
  14. Which blockbuster won the Acadamy Award for best picture? Titanic or Avatar?
  15. What was the second sound played? Owl
  16. Place songs: Ice Ice Baby, Baby Got Back, Baby One more Time, Baby in order they hit top 10 on the charts.

True story: Ice Ice Baby was the first cassette I ever owned. Matthew puts up an amazing run and falls just short on a gap in musical knowledge. To be fair, I didn’t realize there was only a two-year delay between Ice Ice Baby and Back Got Back. Can’t wait to see Matthew back on in the finale.

Andrew Ames

35-year-old professional dancer, who has danced with some major names. He’s also scared of heights!

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Answer time
1 Puzzles Picture Perfect 0 300 0 300
  1. Identify the Two-Word phrase represented by an eye in a candy wrapper.

Andrew has some fun records for a televised contestant. He’s the first contestant to spend the full five minutes on a question. Also, as he notes, since he didn’t answer the question, he’s also the only contestant to not get a question wrong or right! Good to be in the record books I guess.

Marlena Gasper

39-year-old Director of Academics. Lost her mother to HIV/AIDS at 15. Dropped out of school to help her mother, but went back and now has six degrees!

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Answer time
1 Knowledge Snap Shot 0 300 291 9
2 Sequence Alpha Order 7 284 247 37
3 Memory Echo Chamber 10 237 224 13
4 Puzzles Wordplay 8 216 207 9
5 Sequence Time Warp 7 200 178 22
6 Knowledge Factfinder 9 169 157 12
7 Puzzles Oddball 10 147 121 26
8 Memory Pay Attention 11 110 90 20
9 Sequence Striking Distance 9 81 68 13
10 Memory Blackout 9 59 46 13
11 Knowledge Special Equation 12 34 0 34
  1. Identify the Two-Word phrase represented by an eye in a candy wrapper.
  2. What Vegas duo is represented by a picture of a Pen and a Teller?
  3. List One, Two, Three, in alphabetical order!
  4. Repeat: “Blonde, Burnette, Blonde, Redhead”
  5. Rearrange the letters to identify a famous dog: Snoopy.
  6. Arrange US Holidays by when the fall in the year, earliest to latest: New Year’s Day, Halloween, New Year’s Eve.
  7. Who played Batman opposite Heath Ledger’s Joker? Christian Bale.
  8. B is missing a ring.
  9. The burger on the soundbite is made of tofu.
  10. Arrange these doctors by body party they specialize in from head to toe.
  11. What was the painting on the wall of? Sailboat.
  12. 99 Red Balloon and 99 Problems from Jay-Z combine for 198.

A very strong run sunk by a gap in musical knowledge. Must be a theme this week. Marlena had already gotten into time trouble by question 11, and was sunk when there was no real way to guess he way through it quickly. Otherwise a great run.

I’ll be back next week with more box scores! Today’s fun meta-analysis fact: of the televised contestants that answered at least 10 questions correctly, we’ve yet to see one fall to the Puzzles tower. Also, we’ve yet to see a contestant fall on question 14. We’ll see if next week changes that!


Advanced Stats Television: Mental Samurai Episode 3

And we’re back! I’m reviewing the reality TV show Mental Samurai but from a box score perspective. Every week I rundown each contestants performance. Since Mental Samurai is a timed trivia game show, the box score is pretty simple – how quick and how far does each player go?

In case you haven’t seen the show — which is streamable at Fox — contestants are strapped into a gyroscope, called Ava, flung around between four towers and asked a series of trivia questions. Answer 12 in a row, win $10,000. Answer four more, win $25,000 per question. Answer all 16, win the title of Mental Samurai. I run down the category types and subcategories that appear in my week one writeup if you’re new. This week we did actually see one new subcategory added:


  • True Colors: Four different words are shown, each of a color word. Each word is in a different color (different from the word color). The contestant is asked to say what color the word was in. Confusing!

Also, as always future contestant Chris Yeh’s podcast often has bonus content for the show, so subscribe to that if you haven’t already.

Below is each contestants “box score” with a little analysis. A reminder of the stats I’m tracking:

  • Category: The category of the question – Knowledge, Puzzles, Sequence, or Memory
  • Subcategory: Each category has a selection of types. I list these in depth in my week one write up.
  • Travel Time: How long it takes for Ava to settle the contestant in front of the tower with the question up in front of them.
  • Start time: What the countdown is at (in seconds) when the question is first visible to the contestant.
  • End time: When Ava flashes green or red, signifying the contestants answer has been registered.
  • Answer time: The time between the start time and end time. I note when this is below 18 seconds in green, and above 18 seconds in red, as, in theory, that’s the needed pace to complete the full challenge.

Kevin Hays

24-year-old Software Developer. He’s a world champion in the Rubik’s cube. He even has a viral video of solving the most Rubik’s cubes underwater!

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Answer time
1 Puzzles Wordplay 0 300 294 6
2 Knowledge Fact Finder 9 285 278 7
3 Sequence Alpha Order 7 271 255 16
4 Memory Chat Attack 8 247 235 12
5 Sequence Back Order 10 225 183 42
6 Memory Blackout 8 175 156 19
7 Puzzles Oddball 11 145 105 40
8 Knowledge Toss Up 6 99 92 7
9 Puzzles Gridlock 9 83 72 11
10 Memory Echo Chamber 9 63 53 10
11 Sequence Striking Distance 9 44 30 14
12 Knowledge Toss Up 8 22 18 4
13 Knowledge Spellbound 0 148 111 37
  1. Rearrange letters to spell a superhero: Wolverine
  2. Where was the Fresh Prince Born and raised, according to the song? You should know this, so I’m not leaving the answer.
  3. Pear, Lime, Corn in order
  4. New Phone — who dis? Which letter was capitalized? He literally said all lowercase except N right before this.
  5. Place the words in the order they appear in the Star Spangled Banner (Twilight, Lights, Fight)
  6. Which tollbooth is not labeled tickets (numbered reverse order)
  7. Uh Oh! Four bikes, front wheel on C has one fewer circle to draw it. This challenge is b.s.
  8. Where is the femur located? Leg.
  9. Find three Grammy Award-winning bands in letter jumble. Wow, in 11 seconds??
  10. Repeat “Winter Spring Fall Summer” with visual clue too.
  11. Order LAX, Ohare, ATL from West to East.
  12. Which animal can live to be 100 years old? Maine Lobster or Atlantic Salmon.
  13. Spell the ten-letter word for the name of the Generation Born Between Generation X and Generation Z.

Kevin advances to the “Circle of Samurai” by nailing the first twelve questions. I will say if I get around to making a “strength of schedule” metric I know it will show Kevin had a ridiculously hard set of questions. Oddball is the toughest question by far. In a cruel twist of fate, Kevin falls on spelling his own generation. Full disclosure, I use Grammarly to edit my posts, and it tells me on a weekly basis my spelling is atrocious!

Marie Criddle

36-year-old stay-at-home mother. She is also a very talented illustrator. She gives Rob Lowe a great journal with a drawing of him surfing on the cover.

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Answer time
1 Sequence Alpha Order 0 300 285 15
2 Knowledge Snap Shot 8 277 266 11
3 Puzzles Wordnado 8 258 250 8
4 Memory Blackout 8 242 226 16
5 Sequence Time Warp 10 216 195 21
6 Knowledge Fact Finder 9 186 178 8
7 Puzzles Mirror Mirror 11 167 154 13
8 Memory Chat Attack 10 144 129 15
9 Sequence Record-Breaker 11 118 95 23
  1. List Cookie, Waffle, Sundae
  2. Identify the author from an image of a shake and a spear.
  3. Form word commander from floating fragments.
  4. Which hand is a snowboarder touching his board with in an image – right.
  5. Place Musicals in order the appeared on Broadway, earliest to latest: Producers, Legally Blonde, Mean Girls
  6. What is Lady Gaga’s First Name? Stefani
  7. Chalk Image of e=mc2
  8. Stu order a pizza with emoji for cheese, bacon, and tomato, but no peppers emoji. Which topping didn’t he want?
  9. Arrange models by Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Covers: Tyra Banks, Kate Upton, Chrissy Teigen.

A very strong run. The question that stumped her, was super hard too, given that the difference between all three models was only 2 — Kate Upton was the most with three.

Frankie “Bam Bam” Bloise

39-year-old retired MMA fighter. He has a samurai tattoo!

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Answer time
1 Puzzles Wordplay 0 300 292 8
2 Knowledge Snap Shot 8 284 0 284
  1. Rearrange the letters of a vegas game of chance: Roulette
  2. What Rock music is represented by an image of a Hall and Oats?

Last week I said I thought Bennett Reeber’s 231 failure on “Elephant in the Room” would hold up as the longest time on a question. Sadly Frankie falls to a similar problem, but arguably much more forgivable. He recognizes what the two images are — a Hall and Oats. But he never puts the two together. The band category Snap Shot challenge is brutal, as it also took down Dr. Ken last week.

Jaimi Alexander

36-year-old Digital Marketing Specialist. She labels herself the “Queen of All Trades.”

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Answer time
1 Puzzles Picture Perfect 0 300 287 13
2 Sequence Striking Distance 8 279 258 21
3 Knowledge Toss Up 10 248 220 28
4 Memory Blackout 7 213 190 23
5 Puzzles Wornado 8 182 172 10
6 Memory Mind Field 10 162 149 13
7 Knowledge Special Equation 7 142 118 24
8 Sequence Measure Up 8 110 79 31
9 Knowledge Initial Impression 7 72 0 72
  1. What image is represented by a man pushing a giant envelope (3 words)
  2. Arrange famous party cities from North to South.
  3. Which direction do Tinder Users swipe to represent they like someone?
  4. What color was the tablecloth in a scene from Dumb and Dumber – tough one!
  5. Identify the word Cosmopolitan from floating fragments. Clue – Drink and Magazine.
  6. Boat in the #2 spot.
  7. Add Dollar Value of Bill featuring Andrew Jackson + Jacksons in Jackson 5.
  8. Arrange professional ball types from small to largest by circumphrence. Golf Ball, Tennis Ball, Base Ball.
  9. Combine these famous people’s initials to name a state capital. Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck, Neil Young. Albany.

Jaimi was already in time pressure when the state capital flubbed her up. Part of the challenge of some of the Mental Samurai challenges is they are two-parters. Step one do this, step two, do that. This can trip people up as their head isn’t in the right space for problem two if problem one knocks em down. Jaimi realized Albany immediately at the end, but I think was too knocked off guard not recognizing a picture of Neil Young. I didn’t know who it was either.

Nathan Gonzales

27-year-old Emergency Medical Tech. His mother was an ER nurse, and he’s getting married soon. I suspect the wedding budget may have gone up recently.

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Answer time
1 Puzzles Wordplay 0 300 293 7
2 Sequence Alpha Order 9 284 261 23
3 Knowledge Toss Up 10 251 244 7
4 Memory Chat Attack 7 237 223 14
5 Puzzles Mirror Mirror 8 215 202 13
6 Memory Blackout 8 194 180 14
7 Knowledge Snap Shot 8 172 158 14
8 Sequence Measure Up 8 150 138 12
9 Knowledge Reality Check 8 130 123 7
10 Sequence Time Warp 9 114 101 13
11 Memory Echo Chamber 9 92 80 12
12 Puzzles Missing Piece 11 69 63 6
13 Puzzles Oddball 0 153 143 10
14 Sequence Time Warp 9 134 114 20
15 Knowledge Fact Finder 9 105 98 7
16 Memory True Colors 11 87 68 19
  1. Rearrange to form a long-running reality show: Survivor
  2. List five letter words: ghost, skull, and witch, in order (from picture clues)
  3. Florida or California, which is the Golden State?
  4. I just got house emoji and the rose emoji I’ve got kiss emoji (x4) for you! How many kiss emojis?
  5. License plate mirror image.
  6. Video of a man skateboarding on diner top. Which hand did he extend? Left.
  7. Which magazine is represented by a picture of a Vanity and a picture of a Fair?
  8. Arrange McDonald’s menu items by calorie count: Big Mac, Small Fries, Large Diet Coke.
  9. Which of these is the Real Sculpture of David by Michaelangelo? Fake has a crown of thorns.
  10. Arrange headlining performers from earliest Superbowl to latest: Janet Jackson, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga.
  11. Repeat a pattern of “Eeenie, Meenie, Mo, Mo, Miney” (visual clues as well)
  12. Missing puzzle piece in a fish image.
  13. Spinning Adventure badges. The odd one is missing a bird silhouette.
  14. SNL Actors earliest to latest: Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones
  15. The TV Show Mad Men was set at what fictional advertising agency? Sterling Cooper
  16. Show four color words, each is a different color. Pink is blue, which is the question.

Mental Samurai may be slightly more lenient than Jeopardy. On question 14, Nathan calls Kate McKinnon – Kate McMahMahMah (or at least that’s what I heard). Regardless the order was still right and easily inferable. Amazing, amazing job! Also, he nailed the Oddball question in 10 seconds! How ridiculous is that? As I noted we see “True Colors” for the first time and this puzzle is a doozy. Nathan still knocked it down easily for the fastest time to win both rounds of Mental Samurai we’ve seen. Will it hold up?

Next week I might start doing some more meta analysis. This week’s crop was a strong group that honestly only got flubbed on “gaps in knowledge.” I will say that is one of the fun aspects of the show. There is an element of luck, because no matter how skilled or knowledgable a contestant is, it’s hard to know everything. This week’s crop was incredibly strong and great great job to Nathan for taking down the crown.

Advanced Stats Television: Mental Samurai Episode 2

And we’re back! Quick recap – Mental Samurai is a new reality tv / game show hosted by Rob Lowe. Contestants are strapped into a gyroscope (nicknamed Ava) and given five minutes to answer twelve trivia questions from four categories. Answer all twelve right, win $10,000 and get a chance to answer four more questions (each worth $25,000) Miss a question and it’s over. I’ve been keeping track of each contestant’s performance and will hopefully be adding more analysis as the season progress. Let’s run down this week’s crop. There were no new categories or subcategories this week, so check out my initial post if you want a more thorough breakdown of the rules.

Below is each contestants “box score” with a little analysis. A reminder of the stats I’m tracking:

Category: The category of the question – Knowledge, Puzzles, Sequence, or Memory

Subcategory: Each category has a selection of types. I list these in depth in my week one write up.

Travel Time: How long it takes for Ava to settle the contestant in front of the tower with the question up in front of them.

Start time: What the countdown is at (in seconds) when the question is first visible to the contestant.

End time: When Ava flashes green or red, signifying the contestants answer has been registered.

Answer time: The time between the start time and end time. I note when this is below 18 seconds in green, and above 18 seconds in red, as, in theory, that’s the needed pace to complete the full challenge.

Brandy Edwards

33-year-old Cosmetology Instructor. She says she went to school to become a teacher and decided it wasn’t for her.

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Answer time
1 Knowledge True Lies 0 300 285 15
2 Puzzles Picture Perfect 9 276 265 11
3 Memory Echo chamber 7 258 245 13
4 Sequence Striking Distance 7 238 220 18
5 Knowledge Reality Check 9 211 202 9
6 Puzzles Double Crossed 9 193 180 13
7 Memory Blackout 8 172 152 20
8 Sequence Alpha Order 9 143 127 16
9 Knowledge Fact Finder 8 119 107 12
10 Sequence Record Breaker 7 100 77 23
11 Memory Name Dropper 11 66 45 21
  1. A million is a 1 followed by 9 zeroes? False.
  2. Four-word phrase by a picture: “Skeleton in the Closet.”
  3. Repeat a four-word sequence using the words: lion, tiger, and bear.
  4. Arrange popular homes from west to east: Playboy Mansion, Graceland, Whitehouse.
  5. Venus De Milo, one image is missing the arms, the other the head.
  6. Common salad ingredient from two crossword clues – Bell Pepper.
  7. How many white stars are in a photo of a family dressed as superheroes – 6.
  8. Birds alphabetically: humming, owl, penguin.
  9. Which “Sex and the City” character ran for governor of New York – Miranda.
  10. Arrange musical artists by number of billboard top 100s – Beyonce, Michael Jackson, and the Beatles.
  11. Police lineup with men holding a number. She misses it!

The memory tower is brutal. This was a pretty solid run before falling to one of the more common pitfalls.

Ken Franklin

64-year-old retired doctor. He’s a big board game lover and has over 325 in his house and regularly hosts game nights. He’s also made some of his own games.

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Answer time
1 Puzzles Mirror Mirror 0 300 292 8
2 Sequence Alpha Order 7 285 273 12
3 Knowledge True Lies 9 264 258 6
4 Memory Blackout 6 252 236 16
5 Puzzles Wordnado 8 228 219 9
6 Memory Name Dropper 9 210 195 15
7 Knowledge Snapshot 6 189 149 40
  1. Backwards nametag of the name “Grace.”
  2. Baby, Bath, Crib.
  3. The Earth Revolves around the moon, true or false? False.
  4. A clip of a hockey goal, with the question of the jersey number of the scoring player – 9.
  5. Combine word fragments to make the word tortilla.
  6. Three employees based on name badge – Rudy.
  7. Two images for the band – The Chain Smokers.

Ken is one of the only contestants we’ve seen that’s taken advantage of answering quickly. It does look like the timer waits until Ava is done saying the question to register an answer. That said, you can answer quickly and go fast. As such Ken managed to stay well ahead of the required sixteen second cutoff speed until he ran into a pop culture question he didn’t know the answer to.

Bennett Reeber

23-year-old student at UC Davis studying political science and international relations. Maybe wants to be a lawyer.

Elephant in the room …
# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Answer time
1 Knowledge Snapshot 0 300 290 10
2 Sequence Alpha Order 8 282 265 17
3 Memory Blackout 11 254 240 14
4 Puzzles Picture Perfect 9 231 0 231
  1. What sci-fi movie is represented by a Clover and a Field?
  2. List chair, chalk, and ruler in alphabetical order.
  3. Image of a mother and a son in the kitchen. Answer that the son is holding cucumbers in front of his eyes.
  4. What phrase is represented by the picture of an elephant in a room?

Bennett will likely hold the distinction, for a while at least, of having the longest answer time. He got stumped on the phrase “Elephant in the room.” Despite almost saying it verbatim several times. Watching Rob Lowe give “Office Style” glances to the camera during this part was hilarious.

The gift that keeps on giving.

Heather Hurley

36-year-old Strategic Planner at the Library of Congress! She’s also a member of Mensa and loves libraries.

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Answer time
1 Sequence Alpha Order 0 300 290 10
2 Memory Chat Attack 8 282 268 14
3 Knowledge Toss Up 9 259 253 6
4 Puzzles Picture Perfect 7 246 239 7
5 Memory Echo Chamber 11 228 217 11
6 Puzzles Wordplay 7 210 204 6
7 Knowledge Snapshot 9 195 187 8
8 Sequence Time Warp 7 180 159 21
9 Memory Blackout 9 150 134 16
10 Puzzles Grid Lock 8 126 81 45
11 Knowledge Fact Finder 8 73 64 9
12 Sequence Measure Up 10 54 36 18
13 Knowledge Fact Finder 0 126 117 9
14 Puzzles Mirror Mirror 10 107 95 12
15 Memory Blackout 8 87 70


  1. Axe, oar, saw.
  2. What punctuation mark was not used in a text? The answer was a period.
  3. Beer is made from grain or grapes? Grain.
  4. Identify the one-word expression from an image of a worm in a book.
  5. Four-word sequence using words London, Rome, Paris.
  6. Rearrange the letters to form the rapper name “Eminem.”
  7. What term is represented by the image of a fan and a boy?
  8. Arrange Starbucks beverages by year the were released: Frappuccino, Pumpkin Spice Latte, and Cold Brew.
  9. What color was the bowling pin in the juggler’s left hand? Yellow!
  10. Find four TV shows in a letter grid.
  11. In which country do people not drive on the right side of the road? Three options, England was the answer.
  12. Arrange these grades of beef from lowest to highest – select, choice, prime.
  13. (Worth $25,000) Mixing the color of Cookie Monster’s fur with the color of Big Bird’s feathers makes which color? Green.
  14. (Worth $25,000) Reverse chalkboard image.
  15. (Worth $25,000) Sum of dice numbers in a casino image. 11 was the answer.

A pretty stellar run to “tie” with Sam Durbin for the best performance we’ve seen. The question Heather was downed with was brutal as she said the correct numbers aloud but then summed them incorrectly. Other than that, a no-nonsense run. Can’t wait to see her back for the Circle of Champions!

Mitch Emerson

40-year-old rideshare driver and karaoke host from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Answer time
1 Puzzles Double Crossed 0 300 274 26
2 Sequence Alpha Order 6 268 255 13
3 Knowledge Toss Up 9 246 209 37
4 Memory Name Dropper 7 202 184 18
5 Puzzles Picture Perfect 8 176 167 9
6 Memory Blackout 9 158 139 19
7 Knowledge Reality Check 8 131 121 10
8 Sequence Striking Distance 8 113 90 23
9 Knowledge True Lies 9 81 65 16
10 Sequence Time Warp 9 56 34 22
11 Memory Hear Say 10 24 4 20
  1. Identify movie: “Purple Rain” from two crossword puzzles.
  2. List Beer, Wine, and Milk in alphabetical order
  3. Victoria Secret models are called Angels or Devils? (Angels)
  4. Year book photos with the correct answer being Betty.
  5. “Paint the Town Red”
  6. Image of a cross on a hand. The ring finger is the correct answer.
  7. Real Great Pyramid of Giza. The fake image has stairs.
  8. Arrange the Alamo, Alcatraz prison, and Independence Hall from west to east.
  9. Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman were high school friends in Sydney Australia. True, apparently.
  10. Earliest to most recent triple-crown winners: Secretariat, American Pharaoh, and Justify.
  11. Which animal sound did you not hear? Bear is the answer.

This was sadly a case of having studied the travel time enough to know that by question 10 he probably had no shot. When his challenge was a “Hear Say”, which requires a decent chunk of time just to hear, I knew he was sunk. A great run by a fun contestant, but fell prey to spending too much time of questions, especially 40 seconds on a toss up.

Carl Sharpe

28-year-old Ticket Sales Manager. His backstory is he ended up in foster care and was raised by his uncle.

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Answer time
1 Sequence Time Warp 0 300 277 23
2 Knowledge Snap Shot 7 270 261 9
3 Memory Echo Chamber 6 255 241 14
4 Puzzles Wordplay 7 234 222 12
5 Knowledge Toss Up 9 213 205 8
6 Sequence Measure Up 9 196 183 13
7 Memory Blackout 7 176 156 20
8 Puzzles Compound Fracture 8 148 136 12
9 Knowledge Special Equation 10 126 28 98
  1. List the Walkman, iPod, and Beats by Dre in order they came out.
  2. What band is represented by a Radio and a Head.
  3. Four word pattern using the words nickel, dime, penny.
  4. Rearrange letters to spell “Ellen DeGeneres”
  5. Which drink traditionally contains champagne – Mimosa!
  6. Bed size from narrowest to widest – full, queen, king.
  7. What is written on the hood of a car in a video of it skydiving? “Good Stuff.”
  8. What word combines Quarter____ and ___Door? “Back”
  9. Add the number of the original US Colonies (13) and the number of candles in a John Hughes movie title (16).

Another case where a pop culture blind spot costs a contestant. Carl was well ahead of schedule before getting stumped here. He thought the movie had 13 candles and spent time trying to guess the US Colonies. Rob Lowe again got to entertain the camera being a former Brat Pack member here.

More Meta Analysis

A reminder that friend of the blog and future Mental Samurai contestant Chris Yeh (@chrisyeh) has his own podcast where he recounts behind the scene insights and interviews with other contestants. So definitely subscribe if you haven’t already!

With two episodes under our belt, I was able to start looking at some aggregate data. First, the average travel time is about 8 seconds (in part because there is no travel to the first stop or after the last), which technically means contestants have about 18 seconds on average to try and answer questions. However ….

As noted, Ken showed that you can jam in the answer super fast and as soon as Ava is done talking it will get registered. Of course, some questions like “Hear Say”, “Pay Attention”, and “Blackout” have a built in lag while you wait for an audio/visual clue to finish. Regardless, that’s a pretty good piece of info that any season two contestant, provided the rules stay the same, should use.

One rough part is that time management is obviously the key to this game, but it’s very hard to keep track of.

A final note, we’re starting to get enough samples to see what is the killer for contestants. Of the 12 “deaths” we’ve seen, six came at the hands of a Memory puzzle, two at the hands of a Knowledge puzzle, two at the hands of a Puzzles puzzle, and two at the hands of a Sequence puzzle. Both the “Name Dropper” Memory challenge and “Record Setter” Sequence challenge have knocked out two contestants. We’ll see if that’s a trend.

Alright, until next week!


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.


Is Janet the Answer to “The Good Place”

First off, spoilers! If you’re not caught up on “The Good Place,” first, why the heck now? Second, stop reading if you don’t want spoilers. On with the show.

The Good Place is an awesome show that deals with morality and ethics. And one of the underlying premises is the idea of if fundamentally bad — or perhaps more accurately put, flawed — people can change. And in season 3 of the Good Place, Michael, a demon, and an all-knowing judge are involved in an experiment to test just that. Let’s do a quick “last week on the Good Place” just for context.


In the universe of the Good Place, there is a system that tracks all actions of humans on earth. At the time of their death, the sum of their actions dictates if they were a good or bad person and whether they go to the Good Place or the Bad Place.

There are multiple good and bad places (called neighborhoods), and each neighborhood has an architect that builds them. Each neighborhood has, what seems to be kind of an operating system, called Janet, that runs them and can also work as an informational database. Janets are sentient. More on them soon.

Michael is a Bad place architect that has built a neighborhood designed to torture four humans psychologically. The trick is they are supposed to believe they are in the Good Place, but due to their contrasting personalities, they will torture each other.

This plan fails as the humans realize they are in the Bad Place and bond with each other. One of the humans, Chidi Anagonye, is an ethics professor and teaches the humans how to become better.

Michael, having failed at his plan, teams up with the humans. Their new plan is to become better people (and demon) and get into the Good Place.

They meet a judge, who decides who can go to the Good Place, and convince her to let the humans go back to earth in an alternate timeline. If they can prove they can become better, they will go to the Good Place. As of season one of episode three, it appears to be going poorly. Michael is convinced this is because the humans improved each other and need each other to become better people. I have a contrasting theory. The reason the humans got better in the Bad Place was because of Janet!

More on Janet

As mentioned Janet is the operating system that runs the subsection of both the Good place and the Bad place. However, there are two flavors it seems. The Good Place Janet is friendly and designed to help people, even to her detriment (think Asimov’s laws of robotics). The Bad Place Janet is mean and cruel and seems designed to antagonize humans.

Because his neighborhood was a ruse, Michael stole a Good Place Janet to run it. And I think that’s key. Here’s some more information we glean about Janet as the show goes on.

When Janet’s are rebooted, they gain more knowledge and abilities. Over the course of the show, Michael keeps rebooting the neighborhood as the humans discover they are in the Bad Place. By the time he joins forces with them, the neighborhood has been rebooted over 800 times. This leads our Janet to believe she may be the most advanced Janet ever.

Good Place Janets are designed to help humans, possibly even to a fault. At one point our heroes have to sneak through the Bad Place in disguise. Janet’s disguise is to be a bad Janet. To test her, they ask her to refuse to help. Their initial simple task is to ask for a glass of water. Janet struggles to do this.

Our Janet also doesn’t know she is in the Bad Place initially. Michael convinced her she is in a Good Place neighborhood, that is just different than ones she is used to.

Our Janet has feelings, a subconscious and memory, even after she is rebooted. One storyline has Janet marry Jason Mendoza. However, when all the humans’ memories are wiped and Janet is rebooted, seemingly no one remembers, except, of course, for Michael. Jason winds up in a new relationship with Tehani Al Jamil. Through sitcom logic, Janet winds up being a relationship counselor for Jason and Tehani. However, she starts glitching, and we realize it’s because she is jealous of Tehani because she’s in love with Jason. She also develops a close friendship with Michael.

Putting it Altogether

While it’s very straightforward, let’s put our pieces together. Janet is designed to help humans, and our humans are bad people. Because she is rebooted so many times, she becomes increasingly advanced. Even if she can’t consciously remember, she subconsciously knows our humans are in the Bad Place and have to become better people to escape (as does Michael) In the first episode of season three, we see Michael nudging the humans after their initial tries at becoming better fail. However, what’s essential is Janet is there with him monitoring the humans. And Janet nudges Michael.

As I mentioned, Michael has a theory that the humans can become better people. And his theory is that instead of torturing each other, the humans helped each other, and so the solution is to bring the humans altogether, which happens at the end of episode one of season three. However, I’d argue that the one constant for the humans has been an increasingly improving Janet. And from the beginning, she’s been helping the humans. In the first iteration of the neighborhood, she gets them a train to the Medium Place. She passes Elanor a message from her previously reboooted self. She even learns to act badly to save Michael, who is then able to argue to the judge on behalf of the humans. My theory is that it’s not the humans’ bonds with each other that is making them better. I argue it’s the sentient operating system designed to help them. And in an era of Black Mirror style sci-fi arguing the perils of ever-increasing technology, I actually find something optimistic and encouraging about Janet. At least for now, we’ll have to see where season three takes her!


Is “Major League” the best “Based on a True Story” Movie?

I’m a huge fan of sports movies. And, of course, many sports movies take their cue from reality. One of the most infamous types is the “Based on a True Story.” Of course, how accurate any of these vary. And regardless of how true the story is, many edit or inflate the story to add dramatization. There is one movie, that is “pure fiction” though that has so many true to life elements, I just had to talk about it. That movie, as you know from the title, is “Major League.” Major League tells the story of the Cleveland [Seriously it’s been 20 years they’re still called this?] baseball team and their owner Rachel Phelps. Here are three ways Rachel Phelps is “Based on a True Story.”

3.) Rachel Phelps is Billy Beane … a decade early

Alright, Billy Beane didn’t become general manager of the Oakland Athletics until 1998 and Major League came out in 1989. So, it’s hard to say it was based on reality. That said the plot of the two is very similar. A team in a depressed market struggles to compete against teams with larger payrolls. By acquiring undervalued assets that don’t look like conventional players, somehow a scrappy team is able to compete, but sadly unable to win in the playoffs. And, it turns out this was actually the “original script” to Major League. The plot we are given is that owner Rachel Phelps plans to tank the Cleveland season for nefarious reasons — we’ll get back to that shortly. However, that’s just a line she feeds the boardroom. Her team is actually cash-strapped, so the only way to compete is to look for undervalued players. There was a scene originally in the movie about this, but it didn’t screen well with audiences so it was cut.

Speaking of that scene

2.) Rachel Phelps is Herb Brooks

Another one of my favorite “Based on a True Story” movies is “Miracle. We’re told the thrilling tale of how the 1980s US Hockey team defeated the unbeatable Soviets. Part of the story is that the US players have a lot of animosity towards each other as many are from rival colleges. Of course, the US is also having a lot of strife at the time, so it’s hard to get the players to gel. US coach Herb Brooks decides the best way for his team to get along is to have a common enemy — him! He is cold and distant to the players, and sometimes sadistic, including making them do sprints after a disappointing exhibition game. Rachel Phelps, who we already know is on the team’s side, is the same way. She’s overtly antagonistic to the team. She seemingly does spiteful things like restricting access to the team plane and take away equipment. The team unites around proving Phelps wrong, so the plan works! The scene showing how this works doesn’t age well though …

1.) Rachel Phelps is Clay Bennett

Admitted this is the weirdest entry. As mentioned, the original ending to Major League was changed after test screenings. As such the plot we’re given is Rachel Phelps inherits a team in a market she doesn’t like. She plans to tank the season so bad that a clause in her contract allows her to relocate the team to Miami. As this was a feel-good movie, of course, that doesn’t happen. Reality can be much crueler. Clay Bennett acquired the Seattle Supersonics and said he planned to keep them in Seattle. However, he then traded away their good pieces and demanded stadium renovations from Seattle. When, shockingly, Seattle didn’t want to pay money for a bad team, Clay relocated the team to his home state of Oklahoma. And oddly, Clay’s real-world story starts drifting into Major League’s universe even more. In Major League II, despite being a contender, Cleveland’s money woes cause them to lose one of their stars. Because Bennett relocated to OKC, he ended up letting James Harden go over money. At least both Cleveland and OKC did make the finals once in their respective universes.

Did Major League Predict the future?

When I set about to write this piece my thesis was of course how much Major League copied reality. Of course, date checking everything shows it’s the other way around. I guess I’ll go rewatch the movie to see what else I should expect! Anyway, until next time.


Why “The Empire Strikes Back” destroys the Star Wars Universe

Pop quiz time, what’s the best Star Wars movie (so far, don’t let us down Abrams!)? Did you say Empire? You probably said Empire.

If you said any movie in episodes I-III, please leave.

If you said any movie in episodes I-III, please leave.

Alright, so Empire Strikes Back shows that either the Empire, who is striking back, is either dumb or that there’s a major problem with the entire Star Wars mythology.

Let’s start, at one point Darth Vader is having a discussion with Admiral Ozzel via Skype. Darth Vader gets upset and chokes Ozzel, as you do.

Worst performance review ever.

Worst performance review ever.

In Episode VI, Darth Vader says something, which at the time seems silly.

The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

In Star Wars, we see Darth Vader choke a guy with his mind, while in the same room. Mind you, this happens after we see him choke a guy with his hands, so it’s essentially just wireless choking. We also see him have a weak sword fight with an old man. And he also gets hit by his wingman. So, this line seems downright foolish when we see the Death Star blow up a planet. Of course, the Death Star is slow moving and easy to destroy.

But let’s get to another important scene in Empire, they have drones. They have drones, with cameras.

Viper Probe Droid

The Empire is scattering these droids across the galaxy in the hopes of finding proof of the rebel’s base. Once the droid sends video back to the Empire, the Empire sends a giant army of large slow tanks on four legs, for some reason.


You know a better idea? Just send a bunch more probes with cameras and have Darth Vader kill the rebels with his force powers over the camera. No casualties, no major loss of equipment. No lead time for the rebels to escape!

In Empire Strikes Back we see Yoda lift a spaceship with the force. We see Darth Vader make a storm of large objects fly at Luke. And apparently this is all doable if the force user has a line of site, even a camera, at their target! The Empire has the most dangerous weapon in the galaxy. Any place there’s a camera, Darth (or the Emperor, who can also use the force) can kill people using the force. They can even move large objects around. The Empire insists on sending large armies to attack the rebels … just because?

The original Star Wars trilogy was already the story about the scrappy underdogs beating overwhelming odds. But Empire Strikes Back makes it worse. The rebels are essentially fighting an omnipotent being wherever there are cameras. How many times do the Emperor or Darth Vader have a video channel to a major event? Every one of those scenes should end with the rebels being choked or their ships crashing into each other. All I can conclude is that the Empire is idiotic. After all, they’d have to be to be defeated by an army of teddy bears.

NerdCast: WMAC Masters

WMAC Masters

This Week’s Show

Andres Alvarez (@nerdnumbers) and his brother Daniel are back to discuss a TV show from their childhood: WMAC Masters! The world’s best martial artists are all competing for the ultimate prize on a Saturday morning show that tries to blend wrestling, G.I. Joe, and Street Fighter. Did it work? Tune in to find out our thoughts.


  • Andres Alvarez (@nerdnumbers)
  • Daniel Alvarez. He’s not on Twitter, but he did also do the editing of the show!


You can also subscribe to Channel NerdNumbers on YouTube

Video Show

Show Notes

Surprisingly a show cancelled in the mid-90s due to low ratings has never been released on DVD or blu-ray. You can find the entire show on YouTube(for now) here

I normally try and leave highlight of our train of thought on the show. We hop all over the place though. I say just enjoy the show. If you watch the video show, Daniel splices in lots of clips from the show to prove we didn’t just make all of this up. Don’t worry, I’ll add some random footnotes too.

The Wikipedia entry on this show is quite comprehensive and worth checking out if you were a fan of the show.

A Trope I mention is called Stage Whisper, where characters discuss private and important information in a very obvious fashion.

Herb Perez, aka Olympus, ended up becoming a city council member in real life.

More tropes this show used: “Remember the New Guy?” and “Lampshade Hanging”

Correction, Erik Betts is a helicopter pilot in the movie “Ant-Man” not “San Andreas.”

A goal of this show was clearly to sell action figures. This failed spectacularly. A byproduct? The toys from the show are now rare and expensive.

Retail $129.99

Retail $129.99

We talk a bunch about season one’s feud between “Great Wolf” and “Tiger Claw”, which was the conversation we had that lead to us actually making this podcast episode.

Despite having a women’s division, WMAC Masters ignores their female characters (reminds me of the WWE) Out of twenty-six episodes, only seven feature womens’ fights. And many times these fights are shown in highlight flashbacks or even just characters telling each other what happened.

The idea any of these fights could happen is silly. Here’s a clip of Herb Perez in the 92 Olympics, where the fighters wear full pads, and he knocks a guy out with a kick.

With that, I’ll leave you with, in my opinion, the best dialogue in the show

“It was an accident” – Olympus
“No, YOU’RE an accident” – Chameleon

Behind the Scenes from a Contestant on “Pop Quiz, Hot Shot”

Remember that episode of “The Critic”, where he excitedly goes to show his family his college indie film and then has to conclude: “It stinks.”? Yeah, “Pop Quiz, Hot Shot” from Channel Awesome felt like that. I’ve been a big fan of the Nostalgia Critic and other Channel Awesome shows. I was “lucky” enough to be a contestant. I was not in the pilot episode. I am, I believe, one of the contestants in one of the other five episodes they’ve recorded. As it has been over a month since the pilot was released, there’s a good chance my episode never sees the light of day. I wanted to give some insight into what I saw as a contestant and some general thoughts.

I Enjoyed the Experience

Pop Quiz Hot Shot

Let’s start with the following. I did not contribute to the Indiegogo campaign. I did not expect to win any prizes by agreeing to be on the show and was more excited about the experience. I live in Wisconsin. I have friends in Chicago. I enjoyed taking a day trip up to Chicago. I got to see the Nostalgia Critic’s studio. I got to meet and talk with Doug, Rob, and Barnie Walker in depth. Tamara showed up to record her scenes, and it was great to meet her as well.

In spite of some of the issues surrounding Channel Awesome lately, I’ve still been a fan for a while. It was fun to meet the crew. And the “game show” was fun as well. It was akin to getting a chance to play Trivial Pursuit with a TV personality you like. My excitement at the experience of that probably clouded what should have been some obvious issues with the show itself.

Background the Show Story

The show attempts to use a narrative to explain the show. A tactic that doesn’t quite hit the mark. But let’s review it.

Brad Jones, a Channel Awesome personality, wanted to host a game show. After being turned down by the Nostalgia Critic, he decided to make his own game show. With the help of his henchman General Anaesthetic, he kidnaps Ms. Stockholm to be his lovely assistant. He now kidnaps various contestants to be on his show. If they win, they get fabulous prizes! If they lose, they die!

Background the Show Format

Popquiz Hot Shot

The show consists of five rounds. The pilot did a horrible job of explaining the rules of scoring. Hopefully, this helps.

Round one is a “physical challenge.” In the pilot, this was a game of Hasbro’s “Let’s go Fishin’” and in the episode I was on, it was a game of Hasbro’s “Don’t Break the Ice.” The winner of this round gets four points. Again, this was never explained on the show that aired. And we’ll get back to some more issues with it later.

Round two is a trivia round. Each correct response is worth a point. Each incorrect answer costs you a point. For the show I was on, the theme was 80s trivia.

Round three is another “physical challenge.” In the pilot, the contestants had to solve a giant maze. In the episode I was on, we had to spell the names of a bunch of actors from their pictures — the hook being all of the actors had hard to spell names. Also, spoiler, I did horrible at this! The winner of this round gets four points.

Round four is another trivia round. The same rules apply, a correct answer is worth a point, an incorrect answer costs you a point. For the show I was on, the theme was 90s trivia.

The person with the most points after the four rounds gets to face the Nostalgia Critic head to head! Brad asks the Critic and the contestant six quickfire questions. In the pilot, it was Disney love songs. In my episode, it was cartoon theme songs.

If the contestant beats the Critic, they get a $100 gift card. In theory, this prize rolls over if the competitor loses. By the time I filmed, they weren’t sure. Spoiler, the Critic won, so we never found out.

One note, for our taping in the trivia round, we were told we had to wait until Brad finished reading the question before buzzing in. As we saw in the Pilot episode, there was an issue with one contestant spamming the buzzer. Also, the negative point for an incorrect answer was added. Again, this was to help alleviate the issue of just spamming in and guessing.

With all the background, let’s get to some of the issues with the show. Fish in a barrel, I know.

Scheduling Issues

I listened to a podcast with some former Channel Awesome employees. They had some hope that maybe the quality of the show would improve, as the pilot was a disorganized mess. The sad news that it hasn’t.

It appears a major issue for the show has been scheduling conflicts. Malcolm Ray was not around to shoot when we were there. I believe this is why Fard Muhammad was brought in to play General Anaesthetic. Except, he too had some scheduling conflicts. Barney Walker wasn’t sure Fard would be around for filming, so he purchased a “Dictator” costume so he could fill in if need be.


This is who Barney is supposed to be.

Barney then took the name of Colonel Klink, a character from Hogan’s Heroes and spoke with a German accent. Of course, Fard was able to make filming, so both are inexplicably filmed, to the confusion of everyone!

I answered a casting call that Doug put on the tail-end of one of his episodes on Avatar. I was told to arrive for filming at 12:30pm. I then spent a lot of time waiting. As I mentioned, I didn’t hate this too much as I got to hang out in the Channel Awesome studio. But it was still somewhat troubling that a scheduled recording took quite a while to get going.

I also know both weather and sickness have caused some scheduling issues of previous episodes. But the big takeaway should be that even several episodes in, they hadn’t gotten to the point of being able to schedule a taping. Somewhat troubling given their goal is forty episodes.

General Disorganization

The show itself still had some organization issues. Remember the physical challenges? Well, neither myself or the other contestant had ever played “Don’t Break the Ice.” but they just started the timer and away we went! We played it incorrectly it turns out. I’ve also heard the contestants aren’t playing “Let’s Go Fishin'” with the correct rules either.

I mentioned the trivia rounds were broken into two categories, 80s and 90s. Well, it turns out that the cards got shuffled up and some of the 90s trivia made it into round one! Oh well!

After the show was over, my wife and I went and grabbed some food nearby. We ran into both Barney and Fard from the show. We were actually told our episode had recorded the quickest they’d seen yet. Not the best sign.

I should note, this was recorded in October! I sent an email to the Channel Awesome Game Show email account when I was done to ask about airtime. I never heard back.

Audio/Video Quality

I can’t speak to the audio/visual quality of our episode. But as far as I can tell, no new camera or microphones were added between the pilot and our episode. So, if they continue to air the episodes, it’s unlikely they’ll get any better. There were no updates to the set either, so don’t hold your breath there.

There was some hope that things improved since the pilot. I believe I was in the third or fourth round of taping. So, unless they scrapped all their initial episodes and went back to the drawing board, don’t hold your breath.

The Show Doesn’t Know What it Wants to Be

Alright, one of the big issues with this show is it has no idea what it wants to be. The trivia rounds are essentially “Jeopardy”. The physical challenges are supposed to be reminiscent of “Double Dare”. The final round with the Nostalgia Critic is meant to be like “Win Ben Stein’s Money.” Ms. Stockholm, I think is supposed to be a joke Vanna White or Bob Barker assistant. The show’s set is “Saved by the Bell” themed. The Brad Jones background story is supposed to be something. But in the end, none of it works together. Tack on the editing in the final cut of the first show, and it does, unfortunately, come out a big mess.

Indiegogo thoughts

Channel Awesome - Indiegogo

I’m really conflicted here. The biggest complaint I hear about the show, repeatedly, is “Ninety thousand dollars! Can you believe they stole ninety thousand dollars?” I’m going to try and be a little nice to Channel Awesome for a second. But just to avoid any anger while you read the next few paragraphs, I have to be clear. After reviewing the Indiegogo campaign, and observing the state of things first hand, there is no way to say Channel Awesome hasn’t royally screwed up here.

I’ve found in the age of Patreon, Kickstarter, etc. that many people take on the role of shareholder when they find out how much a creator collected. Except, most of these collection techniques aren’t the same as owning stock in something. Additionally, many people that don’t contribute, take it upon themselves to explain what the creators owe.

And, in general, I find people don’t get finances. Things like Kickstarter take a cut of the profits. What’s more, some pledges don’t pay. And many reward tiers do require some cost to fulfill. Then, of course, there are taxes, etc. to be considered. So I find people think there’s a bigger stack of money than there is.

Now, even with all of that said….this ended up a major cluster. Let’s be clear about a few things. First, their initial budget was absurdly stupid from the get go. At the amount they reached ($89K and change) they promised:

  • 40 episodes of the Pop Quiz, Hot Shot game show.
  • 52 Episodes of a Comic Book Show
  • 40 Episodes of a “Gaming Gauntlet Show”

That’s 132 episodes! Even if they had the full budget, that’s $681 an episode! As of the pilot release they said they’d spent $47,767.67 of the funds they’d collected. In the same notes they said they’d filmed ten episodes of Pop Quiz Hot Shot — that’s assuming they count the five test episodes.

Now, I have no idea of the communication Channel Awesome has had with their backers. As per Indiegogo’s FAQ, transactions are non-refundable once a project is successfully backed. You are allowed to contact the seller directly – see their FAQ here.

The basic thesis of Doug’s initial video was essentially that with the money Channel Awesome would:

  • Improve the quality of their equipment for recording.
  • Build more sets. Note, I had not seen any built when I visited in October.
  • Use the new equipment and sets to make new shows.
  • Produce new content quicker and with better quality.

The reality is that almost two years after the campaign finished, they are over halfway through their budget and less than ten percent of the way to their goal. And that’s ignoring the whole improved quality issue as well. A lot of the criticism of the show is the poor quality of the set, recording, and editing.

The truly rough part about this is that, in theory, they should have been able to do better. A big reason I’m sure many people gave money was because of how quickly shows like Nostalgia Critic were released with mostly good quality. The number of mistakes that have been made are hard to take. Especially, as in the original video, Doug talks about many of them. You can’t say, for instance, you want to improve the quality of your recording equipment and then have issues with soundproofing.

On the one hand, I can kind of sympathize. I’ve definitely decided to take on a project, invest in some equipment and then never go anywhere. The issue is, I did this with my own money. I have absolutely no idea the best way forward here for Channel Awesome. They need new sets, and a faster turnaround. But that’s what they said two years and $50,000 ago! Is it likely with less time and less money they’ll actually accomplish it?

They’ve burned a lot of goodwill. In short, I’m sorry if you contributed money. The show is every bit the trainwreck you imagined. That said, I had a fun day playing trivia with a guy that makes funny videos on the net. Since then, it’s been sad to realize that Channel Awesome has a lot of issues that make it not-so-awesome.

A Sad P.S.

The Giddy Owl has a fun rundown of the pilot episode. They also posted a mini-update from Rob Walker about the show. First, the update promises corrections and fixes. Second, it mentions an episode with Fard as host should be coming out “this month”, which refers to April. Finally, they say Brad should be filming four new episodes in the first week of May. The show with Fard as the host, to my knowledge, did not appear in April. If they are filming new shows then I’d say it’s fair to say they scrapped the other episodes, which means that Channel Awesome is back to square one. Again, I’m sorry to all the Indiegogo backers.

Why “The Cat’s in the Cradle” is a Silly Song

The song “Cat’s in the Cradle” is an emotional song that pulls at the heart strings of fathers and sons. The basic gist is a man has a son, but is too busy with work to spend time with his son. Meanwhile, his son idolizes him, repeatedly saying “I’m gonna be like [my father]”. When the man finally has time to spend with his son, his son is an adult and doesn’t have any time to spend with his dad. What tragedy! Except, here’s the “ironic” end to the song.

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

Ok, the narrator is trying to show a parallel. Basically, he’s using the same 1980s drug message. Anyone remember these? “I learned it watching you!”

But there are two important parts to the message. The son says, “the new job’s a hassle”, which does signify he’s a workaholic like his dad. Except, he immediately follows it up with “and kids have the flu.” His son is indicating he’s deciding to focus on his job AND his children. He’s not being like his dad here; he’s acting the opposite. He’s choosing to focus on his kids instead of his dad.

Now, even the ignoring the kid seems off to me. The first verse has a key phrase in it:

My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say “I’m gonna be like you, Dad
You know I’m gonna be like you”

The narrator seems to be a workaholic in part to pay the bills, which we’d assume includes his new son. It’s not like he’s neglecting his son for terrible reasons. And, in fact, we only get four major points in his son’s life according to the song:

  1. His son’s birth, which he can’t attend.
  2. His son’s tenth birthday, which he does attend. However, he doesn’t have a lot of time to play with his son.
  3. His son’s college graduation, where his son would rather borrow the car than hang out with his son.
  4. And finally, the last moment is when his son is an adult and has his a family of his own.

In only one of these cases is he gone, and he gives a good reason for it — he has to pay the bills. And his son oddly sees the father enough to want to be like him. And it seems this strategy paid off. His son graduates from college and grows up to have a (we assume) good job and a family of his own.

In general I kind of hate the “busy parent” trope that shows up in a lot of movies and songs. This song is no exception. The real thesis of the song could be – I didn’t have a lot of money when my son was young, so I couldn’t spend as much time with him. I wish I’d spent a little more because he’s busy now. And, while that certainly is a decent message, it’s not the tearjerking “ironic” yarn the narrator has been lamenting. At least, that’s my two cents.