Deeper into Jeopardy! XLVII: Oxygen – $1600

Jeopardy! category: OXYGEN (30-6-2015)

$1600 clue: The basic oxygen process, BOP for short, helps turn this “porcine” material into steel

Correct response

The gist: Don’t worry, there’re no pork chops in your stainless steel kitchenware unless you put them there. Pig iron, so called because its ingots were traditionally arranged in row perpendicular to a longer ingot joining them like a row of piglets nursing at a sow, is an intermediate step in the iron and steel smelting process. It’s the result of the initial smelting of iron ore in a blast furnace, which purifies ore of impurities by introducing a flux like limestone. The resulting pig iron has a very high carbon content, making the material too brittle to be used for more than a few very specific purposes. Further refining is necessary to create the much more useful metals, which in the case of steel is achieved through the basic oxygen process. The BOP is called “basic” not because it’s simple (far from it), but because it involves the use of alkali materials (base on the Ph scale) as fluxes. The process involves (among many, other steps that I won’t try to explain here) blowing highly pressurized, very pure oxygen gas over the molten metal, which ignites and oxidizes the carbon impurities dissolved in the metal to form carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. After introducing other elements that complete the alloy, the resulting product is much lower-carbon iron metal, and therefore higher-quality steel. The BOP was developed in 1948 by Swiss engineer Robert Durrer, and it replaced earlier steelmaking methods like the Bessemer process, patented by Englishman Henry Bessemer but in use in the Far East for centuries prior.

Pig iron is also known from the American blues/folk standard “Rock Island Line,” about a wily train engineer who sneaks through a toll gate by declaring he’s carrying “all livestock,” which didn’t have customs applied to it. After passing the gate, the punny engineer turns back to gloat:

I fooled you! I fooled you! I’ve got pig iron, I’ve got pig iron, I’ve got all pig iron!

Originally recorded by American folklorist John Lomax as it was being sun by prison inmates, it was popularized by blues artist Lead Belly in the 1930s. Among countless others, Scottish skiffle artist Lonnie Donnegan, a noted influence on the young artists who would become the Beatles, covered it in the fifties, and Johnny Cash recorded several versions throughout his career (it’s the Donnegan and Cash versions I’ve quoted above).

An 18th century illustration of how pig iron used to look – the central core is the “sow” and the ingots are the “piglets”

The clue: I suppose you can’t just hear “porcine” from this clue and know the correct response, but you don’t need much more than that. As long as you know what porcine means, and you’ve heard of pig iron, anything involving pigs and metal should bring pig iron up immediately. Still, most people aren’t necessarily familiar with intermediate steps in steel smelting, so it’s a reasonable $1600 clue. Maybe a bit on the easy side, but only if you know the answer.

In Jeopardy!: Pig iron’s in just nine clues in the J!Archive, and none of them about the song, either. This is the only time that BOP is mentioned, as well, although the Bessemer process has four clues. Six clues mention steel, and that’s all there really is to Pig Iron. A search for it also gives a few clues about hemoglobin, which is the iron-containing red pigment in blood, and two are about Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, home of Dollywood, which is named for an old iron foundry.

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