Deeper Into Jeopardy! XIV: The Far East – $400

As our last geography category was on the Pacific Islands, we’ll just inch a bit westward this time to take on that far bit of Asia (if your vantage point is Europe and you’re taking the Silk Road, that is).

Jeopardy! category: THE FAR EAST (15-04-2014)

$400 clue: Venomous snakes are “milked” of their poison twice daily for snakebite antidotes at the Pasteur Institute in this Thai capital

Correct response

The gist: Louis Pasteur, French Nobel Prize-winning scientist, inventor of the rabies and anthrax vaccines, pioneer of the germ theory of disease, and developer of his eponymous pasteurization technique, lends his eminent name two dozen world-class research institutes spread all over the globe. As far as I can tell, however, he doesn’t lend it to any in Thailand – not anymore, at least. 

In 1913, the Pastura Institute (a Thai rendering of Pasteur’s name) was opened in Bangkok, capital of Thailand (then Siam), by King Rama VI on the advice of his uncle, the autodidact Prince Damrong, whose daughter had died of rabies. In 1917 it was renamed the Pasteur Institute. In late 1922, however, the institute was moved to a new home on land donated by Rama VI, and reopened as the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute, named for the King’s mother who had died three years earlier, and it (seems to) still operate under that name today. So, sorry, Jeopardy! writers, I think you may have made a boo-boo on this one.

But anyway, let’s talk about the snake farm. It was established at the new location by its director Dr. Leopold Robert in 1923 in order to research and manufacture antidotes to snake poison. Antivenom is produced by injecting diluted venom into animals, which causes them to produce antibodies to combat the venom, and then harvesting their antibody-rich blood to inject into other affected people or animals. That means, of course, that you need a safe way to gather (“milk”) the venom from the snakes in the first place, which takes place at the farm. It houses thousands of species of venomous snakes, many of which can be seen alive on display. But more exciting than that are the daily shows, when handlers and scientists take the snakes out of their vivariums to show them to visitors. Highlights include the king cobras and the albino boa constrictor, which guests are invited to meet up close and receive the gentle hug it likes to give its visitors, despite its violent name. Aside from being (reportedly) a top-notch tourist attraction, the Institute continues to perform important research and manufacturing activities around snake venom, despite no longer bearing Pasteur’s famous name.

A pair of cobras posing for their handler at the snake show

A pair of cobras posing for their handler at the snake show

The clue: Even if it seems to be somewhat inaccurate, I like this clue – in essence it’s simply a world capital question (of which we’ll see a couple more this week), but it presents it as a little fact, and gives a shout out to the Pasteur Institute (if wrongly), which is certainly deserving of mention for its work.

In Jeopardy!: Like any world capital, Bangkok appears plenty in the J!Archive – upwards of fifty. Naturally, the most common theme is it being Thailand’s capital. Seven clues mention its nickname as the “Venice of the East” (for its many canals), one Rama or another is mentioned in six, and The King and I, the musical story of the romance between Englishwoman Anna and King Rama IV (aka Mongkut). Like any world capital: know it.

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