Jeopardy!, Problem-Solving Strategies, and Keyboard Puzzles

July 20, 2017 at 11:51 am Leave a comment

My father-in-law was a three-day Jeopardy! champion in 1967. Some 50 years later, he is still a devotee of the show, and he and his wife watch religiously every evening. It’s not uncommon for them to call us at 7:25 p.m. to share that day’s Final Jeopardy question. One night recently, this is the question they shared:


QWERTY Keyboard

QWERTY Keyboard

I like the question well enough, but what really intrigued me was my mother-in-law’s problem-solving strategy. In what could best be described as guess-and-check, she would randomly name a state and then test it. “How about Delaware? Does that work? No, the E is in the top row,” she’d realize. “What about New Jersey? No, that’s not it, either.” And so she continued for several minutes.

My sons, on the other hand, asked to borrow my smartphone. “You can’t just look up the answer,” I told them.

“We’re not going to,” Alex said. “We just need to see what a keyboard looks like.” They weren’t sure which letters were in each row.

They immediately realized that there are no vowels in the bottom row of the keyboard, so that wouldn’t work. They also noticed that there are four vowels in the top row, so that could involve a lot of searching. So they decided to focus on the middle row, whose only vowel is an A.

Are there any states with only A and no other vowels? Yes, in fact, there are four of them: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, and Kansas. And maybe there’s a fifth, depending on whether you consider Y as a vowel; if not, then Maryland has only A’s, too.

It’s left as an exercise for the reader to determine which of those is the answer to the Final Jeopardy question.

Alaska Flag

Here’s a keyboard-related joke:

A math professor asked one of his graduate students to step into his office. “I need someone to type a bunch of letters for me,” the professor said, “so I’m going to give you a test.” The professor then pointed to a desk with a computer on it, handed him an article from a local newspaper, and told the grad student to reproduce the article. The grad student open Microsoft Word but, not wanting to become a secretary for the professor, proceeded to type very slowly, hunting and pecking with one finger at a time, and making deliberate errors. The professor stopped him after a few minutes. “That’s perfect,” said the professor. “Come back tomorrow morning and I’ll give you the assignment.”

“But aren’t you going to check my work?” the grad student asked.

“Nah,” said the professor, smiling. “You’re the first one who didn’t open Mathematica as soon as you sat down.”

And here are some other keyboard-related questions:

  1. What’s the longest word that can be typed using the letters from only one row of a keyboard?
  2. What’s the longest word that can be typed using only the left hand?
  3. What’s the longest word that can be typed using only the right hand?
  4. Nearly 90% of humans are right-handed, but our left hands do more of the work when using a keyboard. On average, what percent of letters are typed with the left hand?
  5. What is the third-most used button on a computer keyboard?
  6. If you type 10,000 words on a QWERTY keyboard, approximately how far will your fingers have traveled?
  7. Worldwide, approximately how many times is the space bar pressed every second?
  8. According to Ray Tomlinson, the inventor of email, what was likely the body of the first email message ever sent?


  1. typewriter
  2. stewardesses
  3. polyphony (half-credit for lollipop even though it has one less letter, since it’s far more common than polyphony)
  4. 56%
  5. backspace (behind e and the space bar)
  6. about a mile
  7. 6,000,000, according to Keyshorts
  8. QWERTYUIOP, as part of a test email that Tomlinson sent to himself

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Our Library’s Summer Math Contest The Two Things

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About MJ4MF

The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

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Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks is available from Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, NCTM, Robert D. Reed Publishers, and other purveyors of exceptional literature.

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