You Don't Know Jack (video game series)

You Don't Know Jack (video game series)
You Don't Know Jack
You Don't Know Jack XXL.jpg
Developer(s) Berkeley Systems, Jellyvision
Publisher(s) Sierra On-Line, THQ, Jellyvision
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows, Macintosh, PlayStation, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Nintendo DS, iOS
Release date(s) 1995–2000, 2003, 2011 (on physical formats)

1996-2000 (via netshow on, 2001 (via AMC web game), 2007-2008 (via online beta)

Genre(s) Party game
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer
Rating(s) ESRB: Teen (T)
USK: Free for all
Media/distribution Various

You Don't Know Jack (commonly abbreviated YDKJ) is a series of computer games developed by Jellyvision and Berkeley Systems, as well as the title of the first game in the series. YDKJ, promoted as the games "where high culture and pop culture collide", combine trivia with comedy. While primarily a PC and Mac-based franchise with over two dozen releases and compilations for those platforms, there have been a few entries released for consoles: two for the original PlayStation, and the 2011 release (commonly referred to as "YDKJ-2011"), with versions on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii.



In 1991, Jellyvision's former identity, Learn Television, released the award-winning film The Mind's Treasure Chest, which featured lead character Jack Patterson. When Learn Television sought to use new multimedia technologies to create a more active learning experience, the company teamed up with Follett Software Company and developed "That's a Fact, Jack!", a reading motivation CD-ROM game show series covering young adult fiction, targeted to 3rd through 10th graders. The game would give a title for a child to read, and then ask questions related to that title.

The idea for You Don't Know Jack began while That's a Fact, Jack! was still in development. Jellyvision's website has this explanation as to why You Don't Know Jack was made:

"Way back in the early 90s, Jellyvision decided to test the waters of mainstream interactive entertainment by beginning a partnership with Berkeley Systems, of "Flying Toasters" fame. Berkeley Systems asked us if we could apply the concepts of a game show to an adult trivia game. Since no one at Jellyvision at the time actually liked trivia games, we tried to figure out how to make trivia questions fun and engaging to us. When we realized that it was possible to ask about both Shakespeare and Scooby Doo in the same question, YOU DON'T KNOW JACK was born."[1]


The game can be played by one, two, or three players. (The game can be played up to four players on the tabletop version and the console versions of "YDKJ-2011", but is limited to two players in the PC version.) All versions of the game feature the voice of an off-screen host who reads questions aloud, provides instructions regarding special question types, and pokes fun at the players.

The game usually opens with a green room segment, in which the players are prompted to enter their names and given instructions for play. The audio during this segment includes rehearsing singers, a busy producer, and a harassed studio manager/host. The only graphics are a large "On Air/Stand By" sign in the middle of the screen, visual representations of the players' button assignments, and a box for name entry.

Most versions of YDKJ offer the choice of playing a 7- or 21-question game; some versions offer only 15 questions (Netshow, LFF, 5th Dementia, Mock 2), and others offer only 13 questions (The Ride) or 11 questions (HeadRush, "YDKJ-2011"). In a 21-question game, there is a brief intermission after the tenth question. Most questions are multiple choice, with some occasional free-entry questions, or mini-games.

Before each question, one player is given a choice of three categories. Each has a humorous title that has some connection to the topic of the corresponding question. After a short animated introduction, which is often accompanied with a sung jingle about the question number, the host asks the question. Typically, the question is multiple choice, and the first player to "buzz in" and give the correct answer wins the money for that question and gets to choose the next category. If a player answers incorrectly, he or she loses money, but not before the host wisecracks about it. There are occasionally other question types offered (see below).

In multi-player games, each player is allowed one chance to "screw" an opponent in each half of a full game, or once in an entire short game. Using the "screw" forces the opponent to give an answer to a question within ten seconds. If the player who is "screwed" answers correctly, he or she wins the money while the player who "screwed" him or her loses money. This basic design has changed slightly in some versions of the game. For example, in the teen spinoff HeadRush, the screws are replaced by pairs of false teeth, so players "bite" their opponent instead, and in The Ride, instead of just forcing an opponent to answer, players engage in "FlakJack", where they launch multiple screws into the screen (partially or totally obscuring the question), then force another player to answer the question, even though it may be unreadable.

In the previous games, different category options were worth differing amounts of money, which was revealed after a category was chosen. This amount indicated how difficult the question would be. Amounts included $1,000, $2,000, & $3,000, and were doubled during the second round of questions. However, early volumes of the series occasionally featured questions hosted by guests spawned from Fiber Optic Field Trips and Celebrity Collect Calls; these were worth $5,000 and appeared as the first question of the second round. Later games in the series opted not to give players three randomly generated questions; now giving a set amount of questions in a set order. Instead of random questions, players 'buzz in' to set the amount of money the question is worth. Some questions may only be worth a few hundred dollars, while some may be over $10,000.

Some of the volumes have a feature called "Don't Be a Wimp", which is activated if one player has a very large lead. If no one answers a question, the host may deride the leading player, calling on the audience to shout "Don't be a wimp!", and forcing the leader to answer the question.

In some volumes, the host also punishes a player who buzzes in too early; the question and possible answers disappear, leaving the player with ten seconds to type the answer. For The Ride, this is replaced by a different punishment: the player is forced to pick from a list of four answers, all of which are wrong. This punishment is only triggered if a player buzzes in at the very instant that the question appears on the screen. In both instances, the player that buzzed in CANNOT "screw" the other players.

Question types

The majority of You Don't Know Jack questions are multiple choice, with four possible choices. Some questions are fill-in-the-blank, requiring a typed response.

Special questions are also played during the game. Each version of YDKJ has its own different types of special questions, but some of the most common are:

  • DisOrDat: Featured in all versions except Vol.1 and Sports, the DisOrDat is only played by one player (except in YDKJ-2011, where the other player(s) can steal the money if you get it wrong), with a 30-second time limit. The player is given two categories and seven different subjects, and it is up to the player to determine which category the subject falls under (or, in some cases, whether the subject fits both or neither categories). For example, a player might have to determine if Jay Leno was a daytime or a nighttime talk show host, or if orecchiette is a type of pasta or a parasite. Money is added for every correct answer, and deducted for every wrong answer, as usual; any questions not answered before the 30 seconds expires are treated as wrong, and penalized accordingly.
  • Gibberish Questions: Featured in all PC versions except HeadRush. Players are given a mondegreen: a nonsensical phrase that rhymes with a more common phrase or title. For example, "Pre-empt Tires, Like Crack" could be the gibberish to The Empire Strikes Back. The first player to buzz in and type the correct answer wins the money. Clues are given as time passes, but the amount of money the player can win decreases by 5% of the initial starting value with every 1.5 seconds that elapse.
  • Anagram Questions: These exist only in 5th Dementia and The Lost Gold, and follow the same rules as the Gibberish Questions; however, instead of trying to figure out a rhyme, players must rearrange the letters given into a saying, name, or other group (as in the famous example of "genuine class" being an anagram of "Alec Guinness"). Unlike in other question types requiring a typed-in answer, the answer to an Anagram Question must be spelled exactly right to win the money.
  • HeadButt: Only existing in HeadRush, these also follow the rules of the Gibberish Questions. Players are given a word equation such as "color of pickles + opposite of night" and have to put it together to form a name or other group (in this case, the color of pickles is "Green", and the opposite of night is "Day", so the answer would be "Green Day").
  • Fiber Optic Field Trip: These only exist in Vol.1, Sports, Vol.2, and Movies, and only appear in full-length (21-question) games. A random person is called from out of the phonebook and asked to come up with a trivia question. Fiber Optic Field Trips are initiated during the first half of the game, and the trivia question hosted by the special guest is the first question of the second half.
  • Celebrity Collect Call: These exist in Vol.2 only and follow the same basic format as the Fiber Optic Field Trips. The host calls a celebrity who is asked to come up with a question. Celebrities include Tim Allen, Florence Henderson, and Vanessa A. Williams. Sometimes, the conversation between the host and the celebrity lasts a very long time.
  • Pub Quiz: This replaces the Fiber Optic Field Trips and Celebrity Collect Calls in the British edition of the game. Instead of calling a random person in a city, the host calls a bartender in a random pub within the UK to host the question.
  • Trash Talkin' with Milan: Only existing in HeadRush, "Milan the Janitor" (voiced by Igor Gasowski) hosts a standard multiple choice question about grammar.
  • Bug Out: This exists only in 5th Dementia. The goal is simple: Bugs will crawl and display a choice. When you see a choice that does not match the clue, buzz in. If you are right, your opponents pay you money. If you are wrong, you pay your opponents.
  • Fill in the Blank: Instead of having four answers to choose from, you have to type the answer out.
  • Sequel Question: Some questions have questions that refer to them and are guaranteed to appear immediately after them. When this happens, all three selectable categories will refer to the sequel question. In The Ride, 5th Dementia, Mock 2, YDKJ-2011, and the iOS version, all questions are arranged into 'episodes' whose questions always appear in the same order. This allows for a question to refer to any previous question, and for running jokes to be made. In YDKJ-2011 as the question sets are set into episodes, you will get questions that are 20 or 30 questions after the first. ('A Harp out of Harp' related to Cookie's party episode.)
  • Pissed About A Question: A special kind of sequel question. This exists in both Offline volumes. Jellyvision creates new questions about angry letters they have received from irritated players. Each of these question is based upon a letter from a viewer who complained about the previous question.
  • Road Kill/Coinkydink: Exists in The Ride (as RoadKill) and Mock 2 (as Coinkydink). In this fast-paced question type, you are given two clues. A series of words fly by and you have to buzz in when the word that connects the two is on the screen. A bonus is given at the end if the commonality of all the answers is selected.
  • Jack BINGO: This exists only in The Ride. Here, you are given a five-letter word followed by a series of clues. Your job is to buzz in when the first letter of the answer is lit up. If you collect all five letters, you get the bonus prize.
  • ThreeWay: Found only in Vol.3 and the first PlayStation version. Players are given three words that have something in common and several clues that only relate to one of the words. Players must match the clues to the proper words.
  • Wendithap'n: This only exists in Louder! Faster! Funnier! and Mock 2 and follow the same rules as the ThreeWay. In this question type, you are given an event, followed by several more events which you have to decide when it happened in relation to the main event: before, after, or if it never happened at all.
  • Guest Host Question: Someone else hosts and gives a question. Only appearing in Vol. 3 and The Ride.
  • Impossible Questions: Only appearing in Vol. 3 and the first PlayStation version, Impossible questions are worth very large amounts of money, but as the name implies, they are almost always very, very difficult. An example of an impossible question is one which asks the players what the word 'pyrrhic' means. The Lost Gold had a variation of this question as well, but it was more Pirate-oriented questions, for example "What was the name of Blackbeard's Parrot?"
  • Super Audio Question: A sound will play, and you will be asked questions about it.
  • Whatshisname Question: In this question, the host is trying to remember a certain someone's name. They'll give you a bunch of clues and you have to buzz in and type in the name. In HeadRush, this question type is known as Old Man's Moldy Memories and the character of "Old Man", voiced by Andy Poland, hosts the question.
  • Picture Question: In this question, you are shown a picture and then asked a question about it.
  • Who's The Dummy?: Exclusive to YDKJ - 2011 and the iOS version, the host has taken up ventriloquism, and asks a trivia question by way of his ventriloquist dummy, Billy O'Brien. As the host explains, he has difficulty pronouncing consonant sounds such as B's, P's, and M's (which become D's, T's, and N's, respectively, and are translated as such in the text of the question and the answer choices), which adds a minor layer of difficulty to the question.
  • Cookie's Fortune Cookie Fortunes (with Cookie "Fortune Cookie" Masterson): Exclusive to YDKJ - 2011 and the iOS version, these round appear randomly, and include trivia questions inspired by cliche fortune cookie messages. For example, the fortune "You have a magnetic personality." leads to a question regarding which metal-based fictional character might be most attracted to him.
  • Funky Trash: Exclusive to YDKJ - 2011 and the iOS version, Funky Trash requires the player(s) to identify a famous person based on key items the host picks from a bag of trash. For example, a World War I ambulance driver's license and a can of ointment for 6-toed cats would be clues to Ernest Hemingway.
  • The Put The Choices Into Order Then Buzz In And See If You Are Right Question: Exclusive to YDKJ - 2011 and the iOS version, the host gives up to four items and the player has to buzz in to the corresponding correct answer. The question is multiple choice, meaning that, technically, the player does not have to put the answers into the right order himself but rather just pick the right order out of the four possibilities. Whoever gets it right is awarded an extra $1,000, however, the extra money is not lost if a player is wrong.
  • Nocturnal Admissions: Exclusive to YDKJ - 2011, the host tells the player about a dream he had, which is based on a movie. The player then has to tell which movie that dream was about. The characters of the movie are replaced by the host's cats and his mother, which often makes it difficult to figure out the correct one. For example, the host tells of a dream in which he transferred his mind into a fake cat body so he could learn the culture of his two cats. He does this to help with his mother's research, but falls into love with the cat world and is therefore attacked by his mother's troops. The correct answer to this dream would be James Cameron's Avatar.
  • The Wrong Answer of the Game: Not a question in and of itself, The Wrong Answer of the Game is exclusive to the 2011 version of You Don't Know Jack. Before the beginning of the game, the host announces a satirical sponsor for the episode; If a player manages to buzz in with the wrong answer associated with the sponsor, they win $4,000 (double in Round 2) and a 'prize' from the sponsor, instead of losing cash. For example, in the episode sponsored by 'Blood Co.', answering with the incorrect answer 'Dracula' awards cash and a bucket of human blood.

The Final Round

The final round of the game, called the Jack Attack also known as the HeadRush in HeadRush, is a word association question. A clue is given, which generally describes the desired correct answers (such as "movie stars") and after that a word, phrase, or name appears in the middle of the screen, to which the contestant must find an associated word or phrase that fits the overall category. For example, Star Wars might be the associated word, and the correct answer fitting "movie stars" could be Harrison Ford. Other possibilities offered might include actors not in that film, or other objects or concepts related to the film but which are not stars of the movie. For each associated phrase, seven potential matches appear on screen one-at-a-time for only a few seconds each before disappearing, and only one is correct. The topics and/or potential answers are sometimes humorous.

Players win money ($2,000 in most YDKJ volumes; $5,000 in HeadRush, $4,000 in YDKJ - 2011) if they buzz in when the correct match is displayed on the screen. An incorrect guess deducts money from the player's score—not just once, but every time the player buzzes in incorrectly (it is possible to buzz in incorrectly multiple times while the same incorrect answer is shown). Multiple players play simultaneously, playing to the same words. The words that are not matched will be cycled back in once all seven words have been attempted at.

Jack Attack ends after either (1) all seven phrases are correctly associated with their clue, (2) 10 total phrases (including cycled words) have been shown in the middle, or (3) all phrases are either matched or attempted twice.

The running total of each player's score is not shown anywhere on the screen during Jack Attack. This creates tension between players because of the uncertainty of ranking.


One of the unique features of the game takes place after it has ended. Before you start a new game, you can choose to listen to YDKJ staff performing parodies of various radio commercials. The commercials vary in absurdity, selling products such as scented suppositories or foreign language cassettes to help you learn how to speak American.

They also featured phony news stories about everyday things. Examples: "Oxygen: Gas of Life? or Secret Military Death-Vapor?" or "People are falling unconscious for 8 hours every night. What is the 'sleeping disease'? Do you have it? Find out tonight."

Most YDKJ games feature recurring characters like "Chocky the Chipmunk", a breakfast cereal mascot with the catchphrase "Pink and tartie!" or "Xenora: Queen of Battle", a parody of Xena, Warrior Princess that gets involved in overtly erotic situations. Others are "The Movie Ending Phone", "1-800-me4-sale", "Cancer Stick", "Momma's Pride Human Breast Milk", "Buster's Bait Shop" and parodies of public service announcements from the fictional "United States Department of Condescending Paternalism".

The first CD-ROM for The Ride features a CD of a selection of these commercials from the previous games in the series. The Disk was titled You Don't Hear Jack and has since been released as a separate product on CD.


There have been many different hosts of You Don't Know Jack over the years. The following is a list of hosts and the games they appear in.

  • Nate Shapiro (voiced by Harry Gottlieb) – Nate Shapiro was the first host of the series. He hosts Vol. 1, the Netshow, the tabletop game, and hosts for part of YDKJ: The Ride. He is not to be confused with "Nate the Intern" from the Flash incarnation (voiced by Production & SQA Coordinator Nathan Fernald).[2][3]
  • Guy Towers (voiced by Andy Poland) – He appears in Sports, Sports: The NetShow, and part of The Ride.
  • Buzz Lippman (voiced by Peter B. Spector) – This host has appeared in two versions: Vol. 2 and The Ride, the latter which he only appeared in briefly.
  • Cookie Masterson (voiced by Tom Gottlieb) – He is one of the most well-known of the hosts, and is currently the most recent. He originally served as the sign-in host, taking down players' names in the opening green room segments of Vol. 1, Vol. 2, and Sports. He hosts Movies, Vol. 3, the Netshow, the first PlayStation version, part of The Ride, Offline, YDKJ-2011, and the iOS version. He also hosts the webshows and daily DisOrDats that appeared on the YDKJ website from December 2006 through September 2008, (With one special episode in November 2010.) Gottlieb was also the announcer for the short-lived YDKJ TV show in 2001.
  • Josh "Schmitty" Schmitstinstein (voiced by Phil Ridarelli) – Josh Schmitstinstein, or "Schmitty", is the most recent of all the American CD-ROM hosts. He hosts in TV, part of The Ride, The Netshow, Louder! Faster! Funnier! (a second Offline game), 5th Dementia, Mock 2 (the second PlayStation game), & The Lost Gold. He also hosted one particular question in Cookie's volume of Offline.
  • Bob (voiced by Andy Poland) – The host of HeadRush.
  • Jack Cake (voiced by Paul Kaye) – The host of the only British version of YDKJ.
  • Quizmaster Jack (voiced by Axel Malzacher in Vol. 1 and Kai Taschner in Vol. 2, 3: 'Downward', PlayStation, & 4)  – The host of the German volumes.
  • Troy Stevens (played by Paul Reubens) – The host of the 2001 YDKJ TV show.

Game list

This is a list of the You Don't Know Jack games released:

  • YDKJ (Vol.1) – 1995
  • YDKJ Question Pack – 1996 (YDKJ Vol. 1 must already be installed to play)
  • YDKJ Sports – 1996
  • YDKJ Vol.2 – 1996
  • YDKJ the NetShow – 1996-2000
  • YDKJ Movies – 1997
  • YDKJ Sports NetShow – 1997
  • YDKJ Vol.3 – 1997
  • YDKJ TV – 1997
  • YDKJ Vol.4: The Ride – 1998
  • Headrush (a teen spin-off game) – 1998
  • YDKJ Offline (the best of the NetShow on Disk) – 1999
  • YDKJ (PlayStation, has similarities to Vol.3) – 1999
  • YDKJ Louder! Faster! Funnier! (2nd Offline game) – 2000
  • YDKJ 5th Dementia (1st Online playable game) – 2000
  • YDKJ Mock 2 (2nd PlayStation game) – 2000
  • YDKJ about MonsterFest (AMC web game) – 2001
  • YDKJ Vol.6: "The Lost Gold" – 2003
  • YDKJ (Online beta game on the You Don't Know Jack website) – 2007–2008
  • YDKJ - 2011 [4]
  • YDKJ (iPhone/iPad) - 2011[5]

There is also UK version, a French version, a Japanese version, and these German versions:

  • YDKJ Vol.1 – carbon copy of U.S. Vol.2 in German
  • YDKJ Vol.2 – carbon copy of U.S. Vol.3 in German
  • YDKJ Vol.3: 'Downward' – carbon copy of U.S. Vol.4 ("The Ride") in German
  • YDKJ (PlayStation)
  • YDKJ Vol.4 – carbon copy of U.S. Vol.6 ("The Lost Gold") in German


There are also several YDKJ collections, which bundled different games into one box. These include:

  • YDKJ (Vol.1) XL – Vol.1 and Question Pack together in one installation
  • YDKJ XXL – Vol.1 XL + Vol. 2
  • YDKJ HUGE: XXXL – Vol.1 (sorry, not XL) + Vol.2 + Vol.3
  • YDKJ The Irreverent Collection – Vol. 1 + 2 + 3 + The Ride
  • YDKJ Jack Pack – Sports + TV + Movies
  • YDKJ JUMBO – Vol.1 (sorry, not XL) + Vol.2 + Vol.3 + The Ride + Offline
  • YDKJ 2001 – Both Offline games in one package
  • YDKJ Snack Pack – Vol.1 (sorry, not XL) + TV + Movies + The Ride
  • YDKJ 5th Dementia Party Pack – 2 copies of 5th Dementia
  • YDKJ Quiz Pack – the German Vol. 1 + 2
  • YDKJ Free V! – TV + 2 others chosen by buyer
  • Not Ready for the Future – Vol.1 XL + 2 + Sports, certified not run on Windows Vista
  • The Best of Cookie – Vol.3 + The Ride + Movies
  • Mega Pack – Vol.1 XL + Vol.2 + Vol.3 + The Ride + The Lost Gold

Other media

During the 2000 presidential election, Sierra On-Line president David Grenewetzki challenged the presidential candidates to play a political version of YDKJ. The game had been distributed to a few radio stations, and was described as a "litmus test" of the candidates' political knowledge.

YDKJ also appeared as two books: You Don't Know Jack: The Book and You Don't Know Jack: The TV Book. Both were published in 2001.

There was also a Tiger Electronic Table-top game of You Don't Know Jack, voiced by Nate Shapiro. It featured question cards with a number code on it and a grey button to open a sliding door to show the answers. It was the first game to features 4 players insead of 3 players. There were also, "Sports", "Movies", and "TV" question packs that were sold separately.

An actual television show version of You Don't Know Jack had a brief run on ABC in prime time during 2001.[6] It starred Paul Reubens (the actor and comedian best known for his character Pee-Wee Herman) as over-the-top game show host Troy Stevens, with Tom Gottlieb's 'Cookie' as the announcer. The show lasted only six episodes, as it received very little buzz and most YDKJ fans weren't even aware of its existence until long after its cancellation.

After the You Don't Know Jack TV show ended, another show from the makers of YDKJ called Smush aired on USA Network. It was a game of taking two or more words and combining them into one long word. The show started late at night, but was later pushed to later and later times, even up to 3:00 A.M.; until it was eventually canceled.

In 2001, AMC released You Don't Know Jack about MonsterFest, an online game on their website hosted by Schmitty, and the MonsterFest movie marathon was hosted by Clive Barker and Carmen Electra, who gave clues for the game.

In 2002, during the "Global Color Vote" (to choose the new color for M&Ms candy) the M&Ms website had a game called "You Don't Know Color", mostly based on the same game used for the MonsterFest game. It was hosted by Billy West as the Red M&M and you played for points, not dollars. At the end of the game, after finishing the "Color Attack", you made a choice between the 3 colors to vote for.


External links

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