10 Questions for Ken Jennings

Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings on GPS, Mormon Presidents and why geography trounces spelling

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John Keatley / Redux for TIME

Your new book, Maphead, is about geography lovers. Does it bother you that we use maps much less now that we have GPS devices?

I think it's making us dumber. Sure, I have a cell phone, so I don't have to remember everyone's number anymore, but that wasn't really a core part of my brain. If I start outsourcing all my navigation to a little talking box in my car, I'm sort of screwed. I'm going to lose my car in the mall parking lot every single time.

Do you have a GPS in your car?

I do. I have condemned my kids to a lifetime of geographic illiteracy.

Why are certain people fascinated by maps?

There's got to be some DNA component where you're just wired that way. These are the people who can actually follow Ikea instructions because their brains are very good at spatial relationships. For me, it started as a child with one of those little wooden jigsaw maps of the U.S., where there's crocodiles on Florida and apples on Washington State. That was my very first map.

Would it be crocodiles or alligators in Florida?

Oh, you're right. Clearly alligators.

I just corrected a 74-time Jeopardy! champion! My life is complete. Did growing up partly in Korea affect your "mappetite," as you call it?

I think so. You live overseas, you see these exotic places and you want to know about them. But, weirdly, it also made me homesick for all these very prosaic places in America. I would stare at maps of Delaware for hours.

Is it because you're not a product of American schools that you know so much stuff?

Being overseas, my friends and I were starved for American pop culture. We'd pass around Human League music videos just because we were so cut off. It gave me an insatiable need to absorb pop culture, which later led to game-show stardom, I guess.

In the age of Internet search, there's less value placed on the type of broad general knowledge you displayed on Jeopardy! Is this a mistake for us as a civilization?

It worries me a little. When you make a decision, you need facts. If those facts are in your brain, they're at your fingertips. If they're all in Google somewhere, you may not make the right decision on the spur of the moment.

You visited the National Geographic Bee. How do the participants feel toward the competitors in the Scripps Spelling Bee?

There is a vast inferiority complex. Unlike spelling-bee kids, these people have a real skill, one that cannot be duplicated by a word processor. Yet the spelling-bee kids are on ESPN, and the geography bee is on public television. So the geography kids have a beef. It's a Jets-and-Sharks kind of West Side Story thing.

We have two Mormons running for President. Which do you, as a Mormon, think is the better candidate?

Huntsman gave a lengthy interview on Captain Beefheart the other day, so that converted me.

And how are you going to vote?

I'm a hold-your-nose Obama voter. I think we're going to be a big part of his constituency in 2012.