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Record-setting 'Jeopardy' champion Ken Jennings discusses his new book

Seven years ago, he made game-show history, racking up $2.52 million in prize money during a six-month winning streak on “Jeopardy.”

Now, fast-fingered trivia buff Ken Jennings is giving folks a peek into the ever-curious mind that knew all of those answers with his new book “Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks.”

Jennings, 37, will be at the Olympia Timberland Regional Library on Thursday during a special after-hours event that’s free and open to the public.

He said he’ll probably lead a geography trivia game, and read from his book, which goes in search of other like-minded and spatially aware map aficionados, from geocachers and antique map collectors to Geography Bee winners and atlas publishers.

After the event, Jennings also will sign copies of “Maphead,” along with his previous books, “Brainiac” and “Ken Jennings’ Trivia Almanac.”

In a telephone interview, Jennings talked to The Olympian about his new book, his obsession for geography and life after “Jeopardy.” Here are excerpts of the conversation.

Are you living in the Northwest now?

Yes. I was born in Edmonds, and we moved back to the Seattle area about five years ago. A lot of people don’t know I live up here. (Jennings lived in Utah during his time on “Jeopardy.”)

Tell us about your new book.

It’s called “Maphead.” It’s about mapheads and especially the people who love them. I was a map-obsessed kid. I could just stare at maps for hours. I talk about, in the book, how American kids don’t learn geography anymore, and half of college students don’t know where Iraq is on a world map. That does sort of bother me. We’re going to expect these kids to be informed voters.

Most kids save up money for candy or toys. Did you really save up your allowance for an atlas at age 7?

Yes. I recently came across it in a box at my parents’ house. The binding is now shot. It was a Hammond Medallion World Atlas from like 1978. All of these memories came flooding back as soon as I pulled it out of the box. I used to sleep with it at the head of my bed where a normal kid would have a teddy bear.

What do you think it is about maps that draws people into them?

That was sort of the question about the book. I guess the short answer is that they’re an incredibly elegant way to see a little more of the world than we can see with their eyes. For some people, the maps really just come alive. And for other people they are just a source of frustration. They can’t read them, they can’t turn them the right way, they can’t fold them up the right way and put them in the glove box.

Are you writing full time? What else have you been up to?

I write pretty much full time. I do some public speaking at corporate events and campuses. Occasionally I’ll do some TV things, but writing is pretty much the day job now.

How did “Jeopardy” change your life?

I was a computer programmer before “Jeopardy” and not a very good one. “Jeopardy” gave me a second chance to do this thing I love to do, which is write. It also taught me the value of knowing stuff. Nobody likes the guy who knows everything. But “Jeopardy” taught me that there is some value of information and knowledge.

So what’s next?

The next book I’m working on has a parenting angle. My kids are 8 and 4. The idea is to attack these things we tell kids without any idea if they’re true. (For example, he said he’ll investigate the saying, “Don’t crack your knuckles or you’ll get arthritis.”)

And now for a question that Americans want to know: When will we get to see you compete on “Celebrity Apprentice” or “Dancing with the Stars”?

(Laughs.) I was nearly on a popular reality show and the guy I was going to do it with sort of bailed. However, I have never been too hungry for that kind of fame. It’s like the last thing I want. I’m not a big believer in fame for fame sake.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433

lpemberton@theolympian.com

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