Deeper into Jeopardy! XXIV: Dinosaurs – $800

Jeopardy! category: DINOSAURS (21-07-2014)

$800 clue: The first dinosaurs appeared during this period named for the division of rock strata into 3 units

Correct response

The gist: It started after yet another extinction event, the Earth’s most severe in its history, and signaled the planet’s recovery after the Permian. The Triassic period (not era, as one contestant had the misfortune of saying), lasted from about 250 to 200 million years ago. It was characterized by a very hot and dry global climate, as well as the beginning of the gradual splitting of the supercontinent Pangaea into northern continent Laurasia and the southern continent Gondwana. The opportunity for lizards to evolve into dominance on land followed the extinction of nearly all multicellular aquatic species and well over half of terrestrial vertebrates. The first group of reptiles to get a major foothold on land were the archosaurs, which would eventually include the dinosaurs, the equally ancient non-dinosaur crocodilians, as well as all those aquatic and airborne reptiles that pedants are so fond of reminding you “weren’t really dinosaurs” (never mind that “dinosaur” isn’t really a very good taxonomic term to begin with). The other major group of terrestrial vertebrates was the Therapsids, from whose ranks all mammals have evolved.

Unfortunately, the Triassic ended much as it started, with the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event, which cemented the land dominance of the dinosaurs for the next 130-or-so million years. Together, the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods make up the lifespan of the dinosaurs, as well as the Mesozoic era. (And just because a dinosaur was in Jurassic Park doesn’t mean it’s from the Jurassic period – in fact, many of the most famous dinosaurs, like Triceratops, T. Rex, and Velociraptor, were from well after, in the late Cretaceous.)

The Earth during the Triassic. The huge “bay” on the right side of the map is the Tethys Sea.

The clue: Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous – I’d have known the order immediately if I was only eight years old again. But anyway, although the Triassic of course isn’t the most famous of the dinosaurs’ three periods (thanks to Mr. Crichton and Mr. Spielberg), as long as you’ve heard of it this clue gives enough to figure out the correct response. Knowing that it gets its name from three of something should start you thinking about “tri-” right away.

In Jeopardy!: The Triassic is the least popular of the three dinosaur periods, with just 11 clues mentioning it in the J!Archive. Surprisingly, only two of them, including this one, mention dinosaurs. Another two mention the Mesozoic, and it’s also in two categories with “TRI” in quotes. Not much in the way of patterns for clues about the Triassic, but if you remember Triassic-Jurassic-Cretaceous (from oldest to most recent), and the Mesozoic, you probably won’t have any trouble if it’s the correct response.

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