Deeper Into Jeopardy! XXXII: Continents – Final Jeopardy!

Jeopardy! category: CONTINENTS (8-11-2005)

FJ! Clue: This continent has the lowest high point & the highest low point, less than a 7,500′ difference

Correct response

The gist: It’s mostly flat. 

The highest point on Australia is the 2228-metre Mount Kosciuzsko in the country’s southeast corner, near the border with Victoria. Its lowest (natural) point is Lake Eyre in South Australia, which dips down to just fifteen metres below sea level. Mt. Kosciuzsko (named for Polish patriot and American Revolutionary fighter Tadeusz Kościuszko, and also known by several Aboriginal names that mean “Table Top Mountain”) is a peak in the Great Dividing Range, Australia’s most substantial mountain range. It runs along the coutnry’s eastern shore, and is most prominent in the southeastern portion. At just about a quarter of the height of Mount Everest, reaching the summit of Kosciuzsko isn’t much of an ordeal, and it even has chairlifts and walkways to support climbers. Lake Eyre (or Kati Thanda in the local Arabana Aboriginal language) is the deepest part of its namesake Lake Eyre Basin, and as such collects rainfall from the Basin’s 1 200 000 square kilometres of land. But even with that much area the lake rarely fills, as average rainfall in the central Australian is just a few inches (from about four to about twelve, depending on where exactly you’re looking) per year. Some years there is so little rain that no water reaches the lake at all, and it remains dry throughout the year. Still, a few times a decade it will reach depths of a few metres, and in strong La Niña years it can reach about six metres. When wet it rapidly gains salinity, and resulting algae gives the water a distinct pink hue. The continent managed to end up so flat because its major tectonic and volcanic activity took place way back in its Gondwana days, about 500 million to 180 million years ago, meaning there’s been plenty of time for erosion to wear down the mountains, and silting to fill in the valleys.

A relief map of Australia, with the Great Dividing Range in the southeast and Lake Eyre in the dark green spot in the middle

A relief map of Australia, with the Great Dividing Range in the southeast and Lake Eyre in the dark green spot in the middle

The clue: This isn’t the sort of FJ! clue that you’d normally just know. Instead, it’s one you might be able to work out in your head – although only one of the contestants got it right. First, it’s probably going to be a smaller continent, since the larger the landmass the more varied its terrain, and the more likely there is to be variations in altitude. Second, if you’ve got any idea of how tall a mountain like, say, Everest of Kilimanjaro are (over 20 000 feet), you can easily eliminate their continents, plus any other continents where you’re familiar with the highest point – Mount McKinley in Alaska is another well known one. Finally, even without knowing any specific mountains, you should be able to eliminate most of the continents – you probably know that the Andes in South America, or Europe’s Alps, can get pretty big, and probably bigger than 7500 feet. The way I see it, that process leaves Australia and Antarctica – both of which were given by a contestant. I’m fairly certain I’ve seen pictures of big mountains in Antarctica, so that might have eliminated it for me, but to be honest I’m not entirely sure if or how I’d settle on Australia on the show.

In Jeopardy!: Australia is in many, many clues in the J!Archive, so we’ll focus on Mount Kosciuzsko and Lake Eyre instead. “Kosciuszko” is in six clues, four about the Polish patriot and two about the mountain. Both of the latter have Australia as the correct response, as do all five clues about Lake Eyre. If you’re interested in learning some Australian geography, much better to start with the states and capitals than concentrate on its geology too much.

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