Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
I love trivia. In some ways, it’s more important to me than… Well, actually, we don’t really have a word for the grand sum of human knowledge that actually has some bearing on your day-to-day life. “Importants,” maybe?
The point is, my brain is much happier rattling off random facts about the French Revolution or the history of the Mario games than, say, the details of my various streaming service passwords. Why remember a loved one’s birthday when you can, instead, give a thoughtful explanation of all the ways astronauts have been forced to deal with poop in space? Or a chronological ranking of all the cinematic Jokers? Or any of the millions of others dumb facts that constantly threaten to drown out fiddly little details like where I’ve left my keys?
Take it as read, then, that I consider Jeopardy! the greatest game show ever created. God bless Merv Griffin for, once upon a time, creating a place for all these useless, irresistible, beautiful facts to go, a place where pleasant people with shiny hair will offer me cash money for knowing the names of all my bones, and won’t care if I’ve forgotten the answers to the various security questions attached to my health insurance accounts. It is my highest aspiration in life—sorry romantic partners, family members, employers, etc.—to one day go on the show, and hopefully not completely humiliate myself with my understanding of 13-letter words that start with “U”.
Until then, I’ve got J! Archive, a web site that has eaten up dozens of hours of my life over the last few years, slaking my thirst for trivia mastery, and scratching that “I’d like to play some Jeopardy!” itch better than any number of more official licensed products from the show.
As the name implies, J! Archive is one of the great repositories of human knowledge in existence: An archive of every single episode of Jeopardy! released since the show’s daily syndicated version debuted in 1984 with an episode featuring questions about Thriller, Biblical rivers, and delicious blintzes. That includes not just every question contestants got to during regulation play, but also who got what right or wrong, and even any of Alex Trebek or the show’s other host’s little interjections. It is, in other words, an absolutely staggering effort of meticulous nerdery that is beautifully, perfectly in the spirit of the show itself; it’s not for nothing that the rotating set of testimonials from former champions on its intro page also contains a line from famed nerd-dunker Trebek when he was told about the site in 2011: “Come on, people. Get a life.”
It is also—because this is a gaming column—a hell of a game. The simplest way to “play” J! Archive is solo, of course, simply scanning category by category, episode by episode, answering as many questions as you can until it is very late and you’ve made yourself sick to death of Ivy League college questions. But it’s a perfect way to kill time with other people if you, like me, have a socially awkward brain that would rather solve riddles about words hidden inside world capitals than have a conversation. It’s also the easiest way to toss together an impromptu trivia tournament among your friends, or in case you end up in a rumble between a bunch of former Knowledge Masters or Academic Quiz Bowl kids and want to resolve it without bloodshed—making the whole project an inarguable public good.
And, again: It’s free, it doesn’t have any awkward ring-in mechanisms, and it’s functionally infinite—making it the best online trivia game in the world, including any number of officially licensed Jeopardy! titles. What could be more important than that?