Deeper into Jeopardy! XXV: Critters – $400

And here we go! Welcome to the first installment of the second series of Deeper into Jeopardy!, as well as the 25th ever, which is a nice perfect square number to start on. Anyway, I hope you’re as excited as I am as we kick the series off with a tried-and-true category for any trivia game, CRITTERS. If you remember back to the last series, that one ended on DINOSAURS, so this isn’t too far from that – but this is the internet, and the internet loves pictures of animals, so I don’t think anyone is going to argue. And remember that, this being the first week, there’ll be a new post every weekday, a schedule that may or may not continue

Jeopardy! category: CRITTERS (17-09-2014)

$400 clue: Indian gray is one species of this cobra killer that’s tolerant of the snake’s venom but not totally immune

Correct response

The gist: It’s like how a muskrat isn’t a rat and a guinea pig isn’t a pig.

Mongooses (or mongeese) are not, despite their name, geese of any sort. Instead, they’re most of the species in the family Herpestidae, little weasel-like creatures* native to Africa, southern Asia, and southern Europe. They’ve also been introduced to several Caribbean islands as well as Puerto Rico and Hawaii in an attempt to control pest populations, with fairly disastrous results – they quickly developed a taste for any and all small native species, not just the ones they were meant to eat. Thanks to Disney’s The Lion King, the most famous mongoose species in the West has got to be the meerkat (that’s what Timon is), which conveniently also has a confusing name, not being a cat (or a kat). As the clue says, mongooses are famous for their ability to withstand snake venom, a trait that has to do with their modified acetylcholine receptors, which is how snakes themselves are immune to their own venom as well – although when possible the mongoose will just avoid being bitten altogether by way of its fur coat and speedy footwork. Their supposed valour in snake-fighting was memorialized in a short story in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, where Rikki-Tikki-Tavi bravely protects a charming colonial British family from the brutish Indian wilderness, personified (animalified? is there a word for that?) in the cobras Nag and Nagaina.

The mongoose Rikki-Tikki-Tavi faces down one of his nemesis serpents

The clue: If there’s one thing people know about mongooses, it’s probably their penchant for snake-fighting, making this clue more about the cobra than about the “Indian gray.” It strikes me as pretty difficult for a $400 clue – I probably would’ve switched it with this category’s $800 – but it’s not such an egregious misplacement. The mention of India might be another small hint, if you’re familiar with the Jungle Book story. Hopefully you don’t spend enough time watching internet videos so as to get the mongoose confused with that other famous snake-fighter, the honey badger (somewhat NSFW video there), which is actually itself not a badger, but is closer to weasels.

In Jeopardy!: Mongooses are no strangers to Jeopardy!, appearing in 24 clues in the J!Archive. Their fraught relationship with snakes (especially cobras) is a common theme, showing up in 12 of the clues. Kipling’s diminutive hero appears in 13 itself , many times naturally overlapping with the snake issue. Ill-fated attempts at pest control are also mentioned, appearing in three clues (one each for Martinique, Jamaica, and Hawaii). There’s also a reference to the “Mongoose” vehicle in the Halo video game series, and a rather bizarre clue about performance art. As far as the show is concerned, remember Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’s story and you’re unlikely to miss a mongoose clue.

* But not weasels. Those are Mustelidae, and mongooses are actually more distantly related to weasels than they are to hyenas and cats. I happen to be personally fascinated by the evolution of Carnivorans – did you know the hyena is more closely related to cats than to dogs? – which you can spend hopefully a lot less time reading about than I did over here.

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