I’ve come up with a new idea for this blog, which I’m hoping is something that I can sustain writing about more than once every couple months. Among the most amazing things on the entire internet must sit J!Archive, a fan-created and -maintained database of (nearly) every Jeopardy! clue, game, contestant, wager, slang term, and anything else you could possibly want from that show, going back 30 seasons September 10, 1984, the first episode hosted by Alex Trebek. There’s even a Chrome extension that lets you play through the archives games as if you were watching them. But the website’s pertinent feature as far as we’re concerned here is that it’s searchable – put any word into the search bar and it will spit back every clue that word’s appeared in (in part or in whole).
So anyway, my plan for these posts is to taken a category that appeared on Jeopardy! recently*, and dive deeper into one of the five clues every day Monday to Friday. We’re going to look at both the trivia itself and the subject’s history on the show. It should bring up some interesting information, be of some help to Jeopardy! hopefuls like myself, and most importantly, I won’t have to think of topics myself. The correct response will of course be in the explanatory paragraph (in italics), and it will also be below the clue in the same colour as the background – highlight just after where it says “Correct response:” to see it. By looking at how Jeopardy! has used certain bits of trivia in the past, I’m hoping to show how the bits don’t exist by themselves, but relate to all sorts of other topics as well. So let’s launch into the first one with a category that appeared Friday, January 17, 2014: Battles!
Double Jeopardy category: BATTLE NATIONS
$400 clue: Marathon was fought in this present-day country in 490 B.C.
Correct response (highlight to see): GREECE
The gist: While this clue doesn’t make explicit reference to the very first marathon race – when Pheidippides, an Athenian soldier, ran from the plains near the city of Marathon, Greece, to Athens, to announce the stunning Greek victory over the invading Persians – I suspect that’s the path of least resistance to the correct answer for most viewers. The Battle of Marathon was a decisive turning point in the Persian War, and possibly the first point in the war that your average Greeks could have thought without deluding themselves that they might not fall under Persian tyranny. Athens and its ally city Plataea sent around 10 000 soldiers under the leadership of the generals Miltiades and Callimachus to face perhaps two and a half times as many Persians fighting for their king, Xerxes I. Thanks to some clever tactics and, perhaps, the cockiness of the Persians, the Greeks outflanked the larger Persian force and defeated them. (Sparta, who had refused to send troops because of a religious festival back home, arrived the day after the battle, took a look at the battlefield, and congratulated the victorious soldiers.) The Persians boarded their ships and sailed directly for Athens, but on finding that the Athenian army had beaten them to the city, sailed back east. They left Greece alone for ten years, and, having never forgotten their defeat by the Athenians, invaded again in 480.
In Jeopardy!: While “marathon”appears in the J!Archive 134 times, most of those are about athletics – only 16 of them are about the battle, and several of those mention both (interestingly, a couple clues give different distances for Pheidippides’ run, from 23 miles to 25). Ten of the 16 also mention the year 490 B.C., and the number 490 hasn’t appeared in any clues not about Marathon, so if the clue is about a place (or a race) and mentions 490 it’s a safe bet it’s Marathon. Of course, this particular clue just wants you to know a little bit about the origin of the race, since most people are more familiar with that than with the battle.
Two clues about Marathon also mention Aeschylus, the Athenian tragic playwright best known for the Oresteia trilogy, which included Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides. These plays told the story of Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks in the Trojan War, who returned to his palace at Mycenae only to be murdered by his treacherous queen Clytemnestra, who was in turn murdered, along with her lover, by their son Orestes with help from his sister (their daughter) Electra. That family was a tangled mess (don’t think there isn’t more to tell there, either), but Aeschylus is said to have fought for the Athenians at Marathon, so he shows up in a couple clues about it. His plays show up in many more, though, so don’t forget about him.
* You are watching every episode, right? No? Well, if you’d like to start, I recommend www.ustvnow.com, which lets you store a few hours of TV online, and the free package includes two episodes of Jeopardy! a day (one new, one rerun) that you can watch at any time – but you need to be outside the States or able to trick the internet into thinking you’re outside the States to use it. If you’re not and you don’t have a TV, there are other, less scrupulous ways to watch it, which I trust you can figure out on your own.