‘Jeopardy!’: The Simple Way Writers Determine Whether or Not a Clue Is Too Difficult

This. Is. Jeopardy!

The classic game show is all about trivia. Contestants compete to win the affection of hard-to-impress host Alex Trebek, They hope to beat out their competitors for a chance to return to the program on their way to becoming a Jeopardy! champion. To make it on the long-running show, it all comes back to the clues in each category. Players have to answer as many clues as possible to beat their opponents.

Alex Trebek at the 'Jeopardy!' Season 28 premiere in 2011
Alex Trebek at the ‘Jeopardy!’ Season 28 premiere | Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

But how is it determined a clue is not too difficult, not too easy, but just right to include on the game board? That particular job is up to the Jeopardy! writers. Keep reading to find out how they decide whether or not a clue is too challenging to feature on the show.

‘Jeopardy!’ writers have to come up with 14,030 clues every season

Currently on season 36, the writers responsible for producing content to fill every game board with trivia for every single episode of Jeopardy! have to churn out lots of clues and categories. And we mean a lot

As the official Jeopardy! website says, writers have to come up with clues and categories for an as astounding 230 games each season. That means they create 14,030 clues per season.  

Billy Wisse, a head writer for the show, shares on the Jeopardy! website those charged with filling up the game board “should typically be able to come up with two to three categories (14 to 21 clues),” on any given day. However, when the program is being taped — it gets taped 46 days a year — or when games are being reviewed, the writers may churn out fewer clues and categories. 

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Considering thousands of clues have to be created, it’s no wonder the writing staff has to truly enjoy coming up with questions. Not only that they take inspiration from just about anywhere. But how do they gauge when a clue is simply too difficult? 

They quiz each other on clues that might be too difficult 

In a 2019 interview with Vulture, Jeopardy! head writer Michele Loud opened up about what she and the rest of the writers do when a piece of trivia is could be too difficult.

After admitting “the toughness factor” often “comes from experience,” she shared the simple thing the writers do to determine if a clue is too difficult to put on a game board. They ask each other. 

“If none of the writers can correctly answer it, we feel like, ‘Well, how can anyone else have heard of it?’ If it’s too obscure for all of us in the room, there’s no point in asking it,” Loud said. 

Believe it or not, the writers don’t want the clues to be too difficult to answer. 

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“We’re not out to stump the contestants and the people at home,” Loud said. “That’s not an interesting show.”

When none of the writers know the correct answer to a clue that signals to Loud, “There’s always something better that you can write about.”

Clues that are too difficult make for ‘a boring game’ and ‘bad television’

Loud knows what makes for a good game of Jeopardy! having been working on the show for decades. She once called a show where no contestants give the correct response to a clue “a boring game” and “bad television.”

She added: “It’s much more satisfying to have someone give the correct response to a clue.”Next time Trebek is quizzing contestants on trivia, know the Jeopardy! writers don’t intend the clues to be too difficult. Also, be aware there are times on the show when Trebek and the writers have to dumb down a category.

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