Deeper into Jeopardy! LI: Science & Geometry – $400

I just thought this was an interesting idea for a category – take two STEM-y topics and stick ’em together to see what you get.

Jeopardy! category: SCIENCE & GEOMETRY (19-10-2015)

$400 clue: It’s basically a cone, but tornado-producing clouds aren’t called cone clouds but these

Correct response

The gist: Like a cone with a hole in it.

Funnel clouds are often, but not always, the predecessors to tornadoes – most tornadoes are just funnel clouds that have touched the ground. Usually, a funnel cloud will form as a pointy finger-like extension coming out of the bottom of a cumulonimbus cloud, often within a supercell storm. While the structure of the funnel cloud is formed from swirling air, it is most often opaque (and therefore visible) because of the condensed water droplets that the down-flowing air is pulling out of its parent cloud, as well as any airborne dust and debris it’s picked up before it touches ground.

While seeing a funnel cloud is surely a terrifying sight, it can often be a better sign than some of the alternatives – conical funnel clouds, with closed or almost closed tips, usually signify a relatively weak tornado. Stronger tornados, being formed in more violent storms, can begin not as “funnel clouds” per se but as much more imposing-looking broad, open cylinders. Still, if you see either one, you’ll want to get out of the area, and fast.

A funnel cloud forming near Elie, Manitoba, Canada, in 2007

The clue: This one’s confusingly worded, isn’t it? I think it says “cone” and “cloud” too many times, making it sound jumbled and obscuring what it’s actually asking about. Contestant Dean guessed “cyclone” incorrectly, I suspect due in part to the writing. With some time to read it over, it’s more clear that it’s asking for a shape, and Dean should have also kept that in mind since the category involves geometry. Still, there are definitely ways to write this more clearly, especially for a $400 clue: how about “Although cone-shaped, tornado-producing clouds are known as these.”

In Jeopardy!: This is just the humble funnel cloud’s fourth clue in the J!Archive, disregarding two others where the correct response was “waterspout,” a tornado that’s touched down over water. All of them also include the word “tornado,” and some reference to funnel clouds as the beginning stage of their more destructive progeny. Not too likely to appear in any given show, but also not too hard to remember – it’s a pretty descriptive name, after all.

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