Jeopardy star Ken Jennings comes to Portland

Want to know how to become a multimillionaire? Simple. Spend your childhood obsessing over world geography, sleeping with a world atlas next to your pillow in the same way most people have teddy bears, and then grow up to win 74 straight editions of the TV quiz show Jeopardy.

The last guy to take that route to fame is coming to Portland next week for a talk at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall.

Ken Jennings (photo courtesy of USM)

In a day and age when many American school kids are blasted by educational reports for not being able to locate the 50 states on a map, Ken Jennings used geography and cartography as an intellectual gateway to a well-rounded knowledge of the world, its history and its cultures.

And then he flattened every Trivial Pursuit weekend warrior who made it onto Jeopardy for nearly six straight months.

Now, he’s second only to Alex Trebek in terms of public association with Jeopardy and he still holds the American game show record with $2.52 million in winnings.

If anybody made fun of him as a kid for sleeping next to his atlas — which he admitted to doing in his latest bestselling book, “Maphead” — he can now dab away his residual tears with $100 bills.

Jennings will sign copies of “Maphead” in the Hannaford Hall lobby at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 10, and then give a free 6:30 p.m. lecture titled “Cartophilia: Navigating the Strange Appeal of Maps.”

According to an announcement by USM, Jennings’ latest book “recounts his lifelong love affair with geography and explores why maps have always been so fascinating to him and to fellow enthusiasts everywhere.”

For those of us who were similarly obsessing over the batting average of Red Sox outfielder Ellis Burks have not gone on to win any significant prize money based on that knowledge.

A little more on Jennings’ upcoming talk at USM, as provided by the school:

[After Jeopardy], Jennings went on to be a guest on popular talk shows such as “The Tonight Show” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.” He also co-invented two trivia games and wrote two previous books, with his 2006 publication “Braniac” becoming a national bestseller. …

USM’s Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education, is hosting the lecture, which is part of the International Visual Literacy Association’s annual conference. Jennings’ visit is made possible thanks to the Osher Map Library’s Mattson-New York Times Lecture, which was established by the New York Times Foundation in 1994 to honor their retired president, Walter E. Mattson, a graduate of Portland Junior College (one of USM’s predecessor institutions).

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.