Jeopardy! category: ’99 (13-4-2015)
$600 clue: Great idea–he decreed in 1699 that the new year would begin in Russia on January 1, not September 1
The gist: A great change to a great calendar by a great man. Peter the Great became the unlikely Czar of Russia in 1682, at just ten years old. His predecessor, his older half-brother Feodor, had died after an uneasy six-year reign due his chronically poor health. His other surviving elder half-brother, Ivan V, was of unsound mind and body, and so a council of Russian nobles decided to enthrone young Peter instead, with his half-sister Sofia as regent, until she was forced to enter a convent and power was wielded by his mother Natalya Naryshinka. When she died in in 1696, Peter was finally able to wield power on his own, at 24 years old – by which time, incidentally, he’d grown to his fully impressive 6″8′ stature.
A great reformer with influences from the early Enlightenment of Western Europe, Peter made it his priority to bring his kingdom, then still largely stuck in the Middle Ages, into the modern world of his time. He reformed the military along Western European lines, and built the first true Russian navy, including conquering and building new ports, perhaps influenced by his love of boats as a child. He attempted to court the other European powers as allies against his greatest threat, the Ottoman Empire to his south, but found them more concerned with their own matters, in particular the question of succession in Spain. Still, he traveled extensively, learning arts such as architecture, fashion, the arts, bringing them back to Moscow and imposing them on the Russian aristocracy. He based his great new capital city, Saint Petersburg, on modern urban design principles he learned in England, particularly in Manchester. He would go so far as to place taxes on the wearing of beards and robes that were until then favoured by the old-fashioned upper crust. As part of his efforts to bring his nation up to par with the rest of Europe, he instituted a calendar reform, changing the year from 7207 (counting from the Orthodox reckoning of the date of Creation) to 1700.
The clue: Well, it’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that one would know who was in charge of Russia around the end of the 17th century, or at least that one could make an educated guess based on the Czars they’ve heard of. Still, the big hint in this clue is a little more sly, the “Great idea” that opens it up. But still, Catherine was great as well, so knowing that she was an 18th century Czarina makes this a sure thing rather than a 50/50 guess.
In Jeopardy!: No stranger to the game, “Peter the Great” appears in over a hundred clues in the J!Archive (although I sadly don’t have the time to sift throuh them and determine which actually just use “Peter” and “great” in some other way). In any case, this is the only clue that’s about his calendar reform, which is admittedly not the most exciting thing he did. Of course, the most common things that are mentioned are Russia and “czar,” in well over 50 of the clues each. Saint Petersburg is in around 20 clues. He also had his own category in a 2010 game. But overall, he’s a varied and interesting figure, with many different aspects for Jeopardy! to ask about – I recommend you read up.