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Take the Google challenge

In its latest sideshow, the company is hosting a "Jeopardy" for Web searching. But this quiz sends people hunting into its database for answers.

In its latest sideshow, Google is playing the "Jeopardy" of search engines.

Until Sept. 20, the company is hosting the Google Quiz, a five-question challenge, based on various themes, which sends contestants into its search database looking for answers. Players can test their knowledge of music and art, for example, using the Google search engine as backup. If completed successfully, players can win Google gear, including a $60 messenger bag or branded hat and T-shirt.

The quiz, an encore to another it hosted two years ago on Father?s Day, is just one more illustration of the lighter side of Google, a privately held company said to be courting Wall Street and on an upward trajectory worldwide. For example, the company?s flare for offbeat decor in the office, such as lava lamps and colorful rubber balls, at times touches its typically spare home page. The site has changed logos for random holidays like France?s Bastille Day and for a specially created comic strip by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams.

Google is also fond of presenting challenges to the technology community. Earlier this year, it let the public into its labs to try out experimental technology in its first programming contest. The $10,000 winner had developed technology designed to let searchers find Web pages within a designated geographical area.

As with many such contests, Google?s business engine appears to be the real winner.

Conceived by the marketing department, the Google Quiz contains a "theme" based on the Google Store, its retail outlet that sells company-branded products. The game also keeps visitors on the site for longer periods, or what Internet marketers call "stickiness."

Google spokesman David Krane said that the quiz benefits researchers by helping them learn new skills. "The quiz helps users learn how to create focused queries that bring the desired results to the top of the list."

And the data from the contest will help Google improve its service, Krane said. "We'll likely analyze aggregate user search data from this quiz...The results may provide insight to us on how we can make improvements to our service."

The quiz, which started Aug. 20, is for U.S. residents only.