exit, voice and loyalty

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AuguryMarch
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exit, voice and loyalty

Post by AuguryMarch » Mon Jan 15, 2007 9:43 pm

Taking a brief respite from this formatting discussion to post a brief meditation on the MLK. (don't worry, no actual questions mentioned)

I enjoyed it, the questions etc.

However, I noticed something frequent at a lot of academic tournaments. There were numerous teams in the bottom half of the field that didn't seem to be enjoying themselves at all. Shocking! But more specificly, I was listening the content of some teams' complaints. Aside from feeling like the questions were too hard (which for half the field, they were... absolute difficulty was roughly ACF Regionals with Nats-level playoffs), I also heard a lot of complaining about how people's questions weren't used (again, a complaint we've all heard a million times).

Usually when we hear such complaints about questions being used we say, "If we let people's questions through then difficulty would be all over the place, even if we rewrite completely and just preserve answers, we are pressed for time and so its easier to replace than rewrite. etc etc." However, let's think a moment about this from a bottom rung player's perspective. They don't know what's hard or not, so to them the dropping of their answers seem arbitrary. Now, in response to that, editors have often given feedback to teams about their questions. Which is a good thing that there should be more of.

But I want to step back and contextualize the problem more broadly. Albert Hirschman, an economist whose work I am fond of, wrote a book about decline in organizations called Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. The basic idea is that when an institution has a problem, people within the organization have a choice about how they can respond. They can use voice, i.e. they can tell people what the problem is. Or they can exit. When people are loyal to an organization, of course, their willingness to stick it out is greater. In the case of quizbowl, then, when people at the bottom feel frustrated, they might talk or they might just quit. My question is... do tournaments/bulletin boards etc provide an environment in which these players are encouraged to use voice? I would argue not, partially because quizbowl is pretty hiearchical and cliqueish, but also because of compounded issues like one's questions not being used, being ignored at tournaments, etc. So this in part explains the exodus. It's not just that the questions are too hard, but more importantly, people don't really feel like they are participating in the activity.I mean, they are their at tournaments buzzing in (rarely), but other than the answers they give, they say nothing else. Seems to me to be a recipe for exit on their part.

So here's the part where I propose a solution to help foster loyalty by amending quizbowl to allow people to feel more like they participate. Except that in this case I don't know what the answer is. As a crusty old fogey, I really do think that some complaints of the bottom end of the game are really not valid, and I worry a lot that older bad players are poisoning the minds of our youth with misrepsentations of acf players. format, questions etc. But that is understandable in my mind, since those players don't really have another voice. What else are they going to say? And I don't think the tournament experience does enough to disabuse misconceptions (especially when they are edited too hard). Of course in established programs there are older folks disabusing like crazy, but.. well.. you've already heard my rant on mentorship.

Paul

p.s. all this might apply to TRASH too! (I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to sort that part out)

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Post by Rothlover » Mon Jan 15, 2007 10:11 pm

Just to post a quick reply:

I think this is a good post that shows an understanding of the problems that can drive new players away. The issue of using/not using answer selection reminds me of the rambling post I myself made after Penn Bowl 04, which was like my 2nd or 3rd packet sub academic event. I think most editors and TD's are understanding of the potential frustration, and try and cope with it as best they can, but I also believe that many of the beleaguered will simply stop playing packet sub because of the difficulty and percieved slights (and, again, there is no shortage of ax-grinders, old and young, who will tell them that the fault lies solely with the editor and the format, instead of trying to neutralize the team's animosity.)

I read Exit, Voice and Loyalty as a freshman (after the class I was supposed to read it for ended...) and think it was good to bring in here. In my case, I have always had a great deal of loyalty to, and interest in, both NAQT and TRASH, and it is part of why I am very critical of the flaws in those formats (same obviously applies to ACF.) I tend to be of the mind that speaking up is the best course of action if you have a problem, even if you might take shit for it, or be laughed out. These new players can learn to take the steps towards making themselves more noticed at events as well as they can learn to use their feet to leave, many of them just need to not be so thin-skinned, and editors and staff should try and make them feel at home, if they aren't already. To that end, that girl from Minn. who hugs everyone should probably be at every circuit event, Sorice be damned.

I am still not 100% sure how all of this ties into the dwindling of team numbers at events etc, since I'm guessing problems like these were around 7-8 years ago? Most editors had to be cutting out the "Who wrote Paradise Lost?" tus even then. Am I off-base?[/i]
Last edited by Rothlover on Mon Jan 15, 2007 10:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by AKKOLADE » Mon Jan 15, 2007 10:27 pm

Rothlover wrote:can a mod edit the italics, was just supposed to italicize "can," and then delete this pointless 2nd post.
You should be able to edit it yourself!

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Post by Captain Sinico » Tue Jan 16, 2007 1:22 am

I've always been big on trying to edit submitted questions as little as possible for the reasons Paul cites. However, this has too frequently resulted in unacceptable sets, so this practice requires (and other of my practices as an editor require) some tweaking.
Now, I was actually thinking about this same issue today, as it happens. I was thinking how a tournament might run if I guaranteed submitters that, if they sent me a question that didn't contain an information collision with another question and fit certain quality parameters, I would keep it with only very minimal editing, e.g. transposing clue order or changing formatting. I thought that might be a way not only to get more questions that fit the parameters I want as an editor, but also to respect my submitters' work and engage them by keeping more of their questions, which looks like a situation in which everyone wins. A problem is that I may then be compelled to keep questions that might not be as good for the players as they might be if I just allowed myself unrestrained license to re-write wholesale as I see fit, assuming I'm capable of producing good questions.
Considering all that, I think this idea may have merit as a solution to the issue Paul has observed. This is especially so if, at an event using this practice, the segment of the field for which question pyramidality is of highest import enrolls with the understanding of what the event is going to be, namely, composed mostly of lightly edited submissions. I'm not sure if it's a good enough idea to risk a tournament on, though.

MaS

Edit: changed second-to-last sentence to mean what I meant to say, rather than nothing.
Last edited by Captain Sinico on Tue Jan 16, 2007 3:20 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by vandyhawk » Tue Jan 16, 2007 3:09 am

These are some issues that I've thought about fairly frequently as well. I heard the same complaints at MLK that Paul mentions, and I agree completely with his assessment of the difficulty of this tournament - regionals for first 10 rounds, nationals for playoffs. As for using questions in general, up until a couple years ago, hardly anything I wrote got used for packet submission tournaments, and it was really frustrating. Like a lot of people, I wondered what the point was of submitting 25/25, if 0-2 of your questions were used. One thing that kept me going was that at least I was learning stuff in the process of writing. The biggest difference for me, though, and I've said this before, was editors providing feedback about why certain things were cut or changed. If you don't know what you're doing wrong, how are you expected to fix it? For most tournaments, it seems that editors offer feedback for those who want it, but I'm wondering how much this actually gets utilized. For example, unless the messages didn't get relayed to me, only one person asked for feedback from ACF Fall, even though many teams who submitted questions had most of theirs get cut. Maybe it's time editors, at least for certain events, provide feedback to everyone even if the team doesn't ask for it specifically. There will be instances where the teams and editors just don't agree on the quality of questions or difficulty of answers, but even so, initiating a dialogue can never do any harm.

My personal preference in editing is to use people's answers as much as possible, even if it means completely rewriting the question, as long as the answers fit the targeted difficulty. Obviously it's best from a writer's standpoint if most of the question gets used as it was submitted, but even if the text is completely different, there's still a small feeling of fulfillment from contributing an answer to the set, and you can see what the editor thought was a better way to ask about that topic. The downside, as mentioned, is that it can take longer to rewrite a question about something with which the editor isn't terribly familiar than to write a new question about something the editor knows better. I think that for a tourney like MLK, these processes could even out if, instead of house-written playoffs, they use freelance packets (I know there were at least 2 used during initial bracketed play) for playoffs, and salvage the submitted rounds for initial play. I would see this being about equal in time commitment, and it would provide more satisfaction to the lower-tier teams and give them more incentive to keep writing and playing. Given all I'm saying here, I should say that not a whole lot of our packet was used this past weekend, but I knew it wasn't one of our better efforts and understand most of what was done to it.

I feel like the whole difficulty debate has been discussed plenty, but just to make a brief point, a lot of "between ACF Fall and Regionals" difficulty tournaments have turned out to be Regionals level or above recently, which can be frustrating for people. I know it's pretty tough to find the balance, and it would be very difficult to produce a set pleasing to both the top and bottom teams, but I feel like easing up the difficulty just a little in certain events would be beneficial to lower-tier teams without upsetting stronger teams or failing to distinguish accurately which are really the best.

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Post by Mr. Kwalter » Tue Jan 16, 2007 3:28 am

A few things.

1) Sorice, your idea for a tournament in which you "promised" people not to cut their answers barring difficulty would only be effective if you were trying to show the misguided writers that doing so results in, as paul said, wildly varying difficulty. The only time I can think of that something like that happened AND worked was MATTE, in which I basically promised not to edit after the tournament had ended. If you look at who submitted, it was by and large the cream of the crop, and most of the players I've spoken to thought that by and large, the set was ok. Barring a certain packet that may or may not have included a tossup on "Florence Syndrome." But that's really evidence; Donald's packet was a valiant and admirable effort, and the fact that (I think) he was only a freshman at the time and submitted an unsolicited freelance packet should be noted. Nonetheless, the packet's answer choices were often either kind of silly or of inappropriate difficulty (either too hard or too easy). It's hard to tell someone that their writing was of value even if you didn't keep even their answer choices. We really have to find a way to convince people that while writing packets definitely does serve the interest of the circuit, in many cases it more importantly serves the interest of the writer.

2) The ACF Fall editing team may or may not have been lax on responding to requests for feedback due to a combination of forgetfulness and editing other tournaments. Since I am obviously not responsible enough to take care of this, please please please email Matt Weiner (find his email somewhere on this board) if you would still like feedback. I can think of a couple of teams off the top of my head, but my memory is sadly evanescent.

3) Matt is absolutely right about the difficulty level. I hope that penn bowl succeeds in providing a set that is accessible and challenging in its answer choices; I guess we'll see this weekend.

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Post by Captain Sinico » Tue Jan 16, 2007 3:59 am

Kit Cloudkicker wrote:..."promised" people not to cut their answers barring difficulty...
I've left open what the criteria for not cutting are. If I wanted to produce a good tournament though, among them would have to be appropriateness of answer, i.e. that that all answers would have to be recognizable, of proper category, and able to support a good question. Operationally, this likely comes down to my own judgment, so the criteria corresponding to that demand would have to be something like "Is it likely that I would encounter this object in an academic survey of the field, in my judgment?" "Will 80% of teams present have heard of this answer, in my judgment?" and "Are there recognizability ordered sequences of uniquely identifying, relevant clues for this object, in my judgment?"
I guess this might seem somewhat superfluous, since you'd say "Well, if I were getting answers like that, why would I change them to begin with?" That is exactly my point. If you guarantee you won't cut a question that meets some criteria, then a writer can get a better idea of what they're aiming for (and the question of whether they can hit their object is the reason editors exist.) A writer can also obtain a kind of instant feedback if their questions were cut or changed since, as long as you're honest, they know this occurred because they failed to meet some of the criteria you set (or because of information collision.) We can claim writers already know this, but the frequency of complaints by new writers belies that.
In short, I think, in so far as is possible, editing should be transparent and based on observable, delineated deliverables. I think this helps engage writers since, even if you do have to make cuts, the writer can start to see why that is.

MaS

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Post by DumbJaques » Tue Jan 16, 2007 4:40 am

I want to preface this by saying that, as a freshman writing a packet virtually by myself, I in no way shape or form expected any of my questions to make the cut at MLK, and was honored to even see my packet on the list. At another tournament, maybe a different story, but I don't think anyone went into MLK thinking the field and, thus, the question quality, was going to be anything other than excellent.

That said, about 2 of my team's questions made it into said packet. Which in and of itself is nothing to complain about, on the basis of what I noted above. What struck me was that I really didn't feel that answer selection in the round departed significantly at all from what I'd used in the original. I went through and mentally picked out two or three questions that I could see were nixed for overlap, but the others didn't seem to have any conflict in that area and, what's more, conformed exactly to the fairly strict distribution and total tossup requirement. I dont mind writing 25/25 with specific distro reqs, I don't mind not having questions used at a tournament that's obviously way, way above my pay grade. But I put a tremendous amount of effort into those questions, because I didn't want to just throw some meaningless crap together at a tournament that I expected would need all the good questions it could get. My packet didn't approach Weiner's, Chicago A's, Yaphe's, Illinois A's, etc. in difficulty, but it sure didn't depart too much from any of the other rounds and I can't imagine it would have been appreciably harder to edit my questions into acceptable range than it would have to sub in entirely different ones. Personally, it wasn't such a slight since I didn't expect to have questions used, but I could see how it would really draw some ire from a lot of teams. Packets that weren't in the aformentioned echelon, from what I understand, contained a lot of Michigan-written questions. I think if you're going to ask for 25/25 from every team regardless of experience, it can't hurt to make a more substantial effort to rework their questions rather than just plugging in your own. The way I see it, it works out kind of horribly for every non-top level team that wrote a packet. Let's say team A just threw some crap together because they needed to and put no effort in. Team A's packet it horrible (though assume not so bad that it merits automatic refusal), isn't used, but isn't returned either. Team B is young, but dedicated, and really goes all out to write a good packet that, alas, just isn't up to par. Team A goes to MLK, sees team B (who might even be from the same school) has no more questions used than A does, and sees that team B's efforts, while costing them time and effort, haven't resulted in anything different and sees this as a sign that their attitude is good strategy. Team B feels screwed and disillusioned that their effort was wasted, or worse, starts think team A has it right. All the while both teams feel further isolated from the higher ups in the field, perhaps even seeing their mere existence as a reason that no effort in question writing on their part is needed.

In an attempt to avoid just noting a problem expounded on by previous posts without offering a solution, I would say that it wouldn't be unreasonable for a TD/chief editor/whatever to actually communicate with the team and get an idea of what kind of experience he's dealing with, and what kind of writing he can expect. I know that's a little more effort, but there are teams that shouldn't be asked to produce more than 10/10, for whom asking that would just encourage situations like the hypothetical one above. Essentially, 25/25 requires a lot of effort for younger teams to write well, so if TDs are going to ask them for it, they should make a considerable effort to incorporate questions that meet the standard and offering feedback on those that don't.

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Post by QuizbowlPostmodernist » Tue Jan 16, 2007 5:02 am

From talking to some people, it's not that their entire packets are going unused, it's that specifically their favorite questions written on their niche topics get edited out. (I never really had that much of a problem because it seemed like my packets always were lightly touched, or not at all, even though I almost always got my questions in early. That always struck me as strange.) For a lot of players, it's not about having heard of all the answers, but about hearing questions on things they love, even if they have to write the questions themselves.

This may be a whole other discussion, but I've always felt that a 20 tossup game was kind of short. I've always been one for testing breadth of knowledge rather than depth of knowledge. My ideal ACF form would be 24/24, with the extra 4/4 coming from current events and other academic questions outside of history/lit/science. (You might find it strange that I don't see pop culture as something I would put in that mix.)

The extra questions provide padding, so that there are enough questions to allow for a meaningful match, while giving enough space for questions on more difficult niche subjects that people want to hear or write about to avoid feeling alienated from quizbowl. Total tossups answered go up, while tossup conversion goes down.

Of course, to responsibly budget for time, some of the tournaments with longer questions may need to cut off an average of 0.5 to 1.5 lines per tossup (and additional savings on bonuses) to shift from 20/20 to 24/24. It also create a burden of more questions to edit for editors and more questions to write for teams.

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Post by vsirin » Tue Jan 16, 2007 12:13 pm

I think this discussion has completely drifted away from the original point of AuguryMarch's post. He was noting an overall problem about participation in the game, and wondering what could be done to make novices feel that they have more of a "voice" in our little community. Instead of discussing that (very real) problem, people are instead discussing whether editors should use more of the crappy questions which are submitted to them. At best, this issue is peripheral to the central question of "voice."

However, this suggestion is truly amazing:
QuizbowlPostmodernist wrote:
This may be a whole other discussion, but I've always felt that a 20 tossup game was kind of short. I've always been one for testing breadth of knowledge rather than depth of knowledge. My ideal ACF form would be 24/24, with the extra 4/4 coming from current events and other academic questions outside of history/lit/science. (You might find it strange that I don't see pop culture as something I would put in that mix.)
Or, to paraphrase: "If we have a problem with people writing crappy questions, perhaps it would help if they wrote 4/4 more crappy questions per packet!" I propose that QuizbowlPostmodernist doesn't take his theory far enough. If a 20/20 packet tests "depth" rather than "breadth," I suggest that it would be better if we switched from a game of 20 tossups of 3-4 sentences each to a (far superior) game involving 80 tossups of one sentence each. Only then would "breadth" truly be tested.

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Post by Captain Sinico » Tue Jan 16, 2007 12:56 pm

vsirin wrote:I think this discussion has completely drifted away from the original point of AuguryMarch's post.
I suppose I disagree. One of the situations that Paul raised as causing the perceived lack of engagement is the fact that newer players tend to get most or all of the questions they wrote cut; he then noted he didn't see a solution to that problem. We're discussing why that is so and what solutions there may be. Merely noting that the majority of questions submitted to tournaments are crappy doesn't fix the fact that the majority of questions submitted to tournaments are crappy and have to be cut; that seems off-topic to me.

MaS

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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Tue Jan 16, 2007 7:46 pm

I'm glad Paul launched this topic, because I'm going to use it as a springboard for an exhaustive and fairly angry post mostly related to the issues discussed. Bombs away.


On using people's packets:

Unlike most people who've posted and whose opinions I know from talking to them, my philosophy with editing questions (as you may have guessed) is that I tend to overhaul questions completely to suit my own taste. Experienced writer or not, if I don't like questions, I don't include them...I'm also obsessively perfectionist, so I will change words and clues to fit my liking. I simply massacre the questions that are sent to me. I think this is a tournament editor's job and - more than that, I think it's about the only way to put on what is thought of as a quality consistent tournament these days (unless you have a field like MATTE, as Eric mentioned, and they all actually write packets). I have a certain standard of quality to be met - if a submitted question doesn't meet it, I ask whether I'd rather fix it or write my own and that's what I do - I don't really have the time or patience to do anything else. My job is to edit the best tourney I can in the time I have to spend, not give a damn about whose feelings get hurt by inclusion or exclusion of questions.

If I didn't take this approach, we'd have the same thing happening now as happened with IO - a bunch of posts saying "boy, you know, all of the good teams wrote fine packets...but the rest were inconsistent and unfit for play...when will someone edit a good tournament!" I'd be flouncing in here, tail between my legs as many editors have, saying "please accept my apology for a subpar tournament." Well, to hell with that.

If this practice is encouraging people to stop writing questions or worse be turned off of qb, that's a gosh darn shame. But, it's real simple - write good appropriate questions and they'll get used! There's your route to having a "voice." I'm sure as hell not rooting against you, it makes my life 90 times easier when you submit good questions and I can just slot them in. If people are then inclined to think "well, my questions won't get used, what's the use of me writing anyway" - that attitude better stop, because that dog ain't gonna hunt for much longer. What I mean is, without sounding egomaniacal, there aren't a whole lot of people running open tournaments who are willing to put the amount of time into fixing and writing questions that I do. And, what we're going to be left with is an endless succession of these opens that feature mostly unedited and thus ad hoc uneven terrible questions - and then Jerry and I can come on here and rant, but it won't matter. It's also frustrating when you get important packets the day before the tourney.

My big point is this - I don't see much hope for successful open submission tournaments if at least a handful more people don't realize that this game is more than showing up and getting to push a buzzer (and then complain that they have no "voice" when that's all they do). It's going to take some effort - learning and acquiring the skills to write questions, actually writing them on time, editing those questions thoroughly, etc. Hey, if a decent number of people seemed actually interested in doing those things, we wouldn't need this discussion!




Difficulty:

I'll start by saying that personally I find calling this tournament regionals-level to be silly. I would call this directly between fall and regionals difficulty - without discussing details of individual questions, I think every tossup answer in the prelims was quite canonical at a fairly low level. Just looking at the number of points certain teams put up confirms this, I think. Perhaps the lack of powers and the fact that I tend to promote dense, clue-filled, and rather opaque questions that give people a sense of ignorance for a long time often contributes to a greater impression of difficulty when I write stuff. As for the playoffs, I think calling that nats level is equally silly - I'd say between nats and regionals and swaying more toward regionals. But, my difficulty gauge has been known to be slightly amiss, so I'll accept disagreement on these issues. Still, designing difficulty for a tourney like this, where the top teams are so much more skilled than the bottom teams, is awfully tough. I'm really not even sure it's possible, or at least it's getting less possible with every passing day.

However...Any time a question was submitted to me and I changed it, I made it easier. And nothing I wrote by myself for the prelims came anywhere close to being too hard - trust me, I'll cite examples later if necessary. If I'd have been more lax about leaving questions in (i.e. what's being implicitly argued for above), there's no doubt the tourney would have been far far far harder and not easier. But I have only so much time and can edit only so much, thank heavens. I really don't see what more I could have done.





If you think I'm missing something, tell me - what would you have me do instead? Keep in most of the questions, and have a tournament that is probably too difficult/of wildly varying difficulty/most likely just objectively bad? Keep a lot of tossup and bonus answers people send and completely rewrite the questions even though that's less than optimal?

I'm being loquacious and edgy in this post as editing this tournament was a pretty frustrating and unrewarding experience for me. It's funny - I found the play of some teams at the tournament (Vandy and Carleton to name two that pop to mind) to be a promising and welcome sight...but the overall process of producing the set certainly made me no more optimistic about the self-imposed direction of modern quizbowl.

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Post by Birdofredum Sawin » Tue Jan 16, 2007 10:02 pm

I find it strange to be saying this, but I'm in complete agreement with Ryan Westbrook. When I'm editing a tournament, I have a well-articulated vision of how the questions should look (by which I mean such things as: overall difficulty level; how hard the hardest part should be in each bonus; the ratio of lead-in to middle clues in tossups). It's safe to say that none of the teams submitting packets for the tournament has a similar vision. Some packet writers are inexperienced, and just can't write good questions at all. Some are experienced, but either don't put their best effort into their questions, or get them in late, or simply don't have the perspective to view the submissions as a whole and get a read on how the tournament is shaping up. If I get questions that are even close to my vision of the tournament, I'll use them, because the effort required to rewrite or produce new questions is so much greater than the effort required to keep or slightly tweak submissions. But I usually end up pouring significant amounts of time and energy into all but a handful of packets at any given tournament, whether it be ACF fall or ACF nationals.

I agree with Ryan that this is basically the only way to produce a tournament set which adheres to the high standards the best players expect nowadays. And, for what it's worth, I think this year's MLK met those standards. But I wonder whether this issue isn't something of a red herring. Is the fact that people's questions aren't used in their original form really such a deal-breaker for younger players? I can only speak from my own experience here, but when I was a freshman and sophomore I didn't give a damn about the questions I wrote. Like almost all underclassmen, I was a wretched writer who knew nothing about how to write a good question. (Though perhaps nobody knew anything about the subject, back in the dark ages of the mid-'90s.) I wrote my share of questions because it was what I had to do in order to play tournaments. I wrote the questions in the same way that I paid $20 to play at summer tournaments for which the university didn't cover my entry fee. If somebody had told me that my $20 had been spent on booze for the tournament director rather than on tournament-related activities, I wouldn't have cared. In the same way, if somebody had told me that the questions I wrote had been tossed in the trash rather than used in the tournament, I wouldn't have cared. For me, question writing was a minor chore which had to be carried out so that I could do what I really wanted, which was compete in tournaments. Was my experience aberrant? Do novice players now really invest themselves so heavily in the handful of questions they write for a tournament?

Note that I'm not saying that tournament directors shouldn't mentor young writers by giving them feedback and encouragement. But if we are right to think that younger players feel alienated at not having a "voice" in the game, it's dubious to single out current editing practices as the chief culprit in inculcating an environment of disenfranchisement.

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Post by williamdix » Tue Jan 16, 2007 11:37 pm

As a freshmen who submitted a packet to MLK, I would agree with Andrew. I submitted the packet knowing it was a cost to play the tournament and as long as I got to play it didn't matter whether the questions were used. That's not to say that I put no effort into writing the packet. I do want to improve my question writing and so some feedback would have been useful. Though, in the end, the burden was on me to get that, and I failed to at this tournament. As long as tournament editors are approachable in the future, I will certainly try to better understand why my packets are or aren't used.

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Post by QuizbowlPostmodernist » Wed Jan 17, 2007 1:38 am

vsirin wrote:
QuizbowlPostmodernist wrote:
This may be a whole other discussion, but I've always felt that a 20 tossup game was kind of short. I've always been one for testing breadth of knowledge rather than depth of knowledge. My ideal ACF form would be 24/24, with the extra 4/4 coming from current events and other academic questions outside of history/lit/science. (You might find it strange that I don't see pop culture as something I would put in that mix.)
Or, to paraphrase: "If we have a problem with people writing crappy questions, perhaps it would help if they wrote 4/4 more crappy questions per packet!" I propose that QuizbowlPostmodernist doesn't take his theory far enough. If a 20/20 packet tests "depth" rather than "breadth," I suggest that it would be better if we switched from a game of 20 tossups of 3-4 sentences each to a (far superior) game involving 80 tossups of one sentence each. Only then would "breadth" truly be tested.
We have to differentiate between questions that are flawed because they have poor clue selection and questions that are flawed because of poor answer selection despite perhaps technically acceptable or easily fixable clue selection (and, of course, some questions suffer from both flaws). When people write questions that have poor answer selection, they are often either trying to write the type of questions they think others want to hear, the type of questions they themselves want to play on, or the type of questions that can be written quickly to fill a distribution. I'm suggesting the possibility that rounds with more tossups can allow for the salvaging of some questions with borderline/poor answer selection which represent players telling editors what sort of questions they want to play on.

As for breadth vs depth, the idea of 80 one-sentence tossups is a ridiculous strawman. I merely point out that there is a clear trade-off between breadth and depth and I would like to see the pendulum shift a bit more toward breadth. I could, however, see experimenting with tossup-only tournaments (3-4 sentences per tossup) where question difficulty is allowed to range as high as the hard parts in current bonuses.

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Post by vandyhawk » Wed Jan 17, 2007 3:10 am

While I stand by my personal preference for using people's answers at least whenever possible, I certainly respect the right of the tournament editor to do what he feels is best to create a solid product, as the MLK set turned out to be. Based on some posts here, I wonder how the average quizbowl player actually feels about this topic, given that most of them don't read this board. I still think that the most important factor, whether the editor dumps a young/bad team's questions or does his best to salvage them, is making an effort to communicate to the team why such massive changes were necessary or highly desirable.

I decided to actually look at some stats to see whose claim of difficulty for MLK was more correct. It seems that overall ppg numbers were up a fair amount this year compared to last and to ACF regionals, but among teams with similar compositions at these various events, bonus conversions were a point or so higher last weekend. I think that indicates that tossups were on average easier, with bonuses only slightly more so. I forgot to clarify this in my first post, but I agree with Ryan that the tossups were plenty accessible. Playoffs were certainly easier than ACF Nats '05, but I'm still not so sure they were any easier than Nats '06 - maybe it was just exhaustion by that point, but who knows. It's really not that important for this event in an isolated manner, but I felt like looking at these numbers b/c I'm interested in the answer to this question: is there any reason ACF regionals needs to be harder than what MLK was? Last year at regionals, no team in the country averaged > 20 ppb, and there were a lot of teams down at like 6-7 ppb. Some people think this is fine, others don't, and I'm not sure I have a strong opinion either way. I don't think people would object to such a change though - or would they?

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Post by vsirin » Wed Jan 17, 2007 3:44 am

QuizbowlPostmodernist wrote:
We have to differentiate between questions that are flawed because they have poor clue selection and questions that are flawed because of poor answer selection despite perhaps technically acceptable or easily fixable clue selection (and, of course, some questions suffer from both flaws). When people write questions that have poor answer selection, they are often either trying to write the type of questions they think others want to hear, the type of questions they themselves want to play on, or the type of questions that can be written quickly to fill a distribution. I'm suggesting the possibility that rounds with more tossups can allow for the salvaging of some questions with borderline/poor answer selection which represent players telling editors what sort of questions they want to play on.

As for breadth vs depth, the idea of 80 one-sentence tossups is a ridiculous strawman. I merely point out that there is a clear trade-off between breadth and depth and I would like to see the pendulum shift a bit more toward breadth. I could, however, see experimenting with tossup-only tournaments (3-4 sentences per tossup) where question difficulty is allowed to range as high as the hard parts in current bonuses.
Hey! This is dumb too. Who the hell knows why people who write bad questions write bad questions. The only thing we can be sure of is that 24/24 rounds, if cobbled together out of packet submissions, would require editors to put in 20% more work per packet than 20/20 rounds require. Or maybe we could all just get used to packets being 20% shittier than they are now. And there's absolutely no way for a tournament editor to intuit which questions are the ones that players want to play on, and not just ones which they wrote lazily or badly.

And there is not "clearly" a trade-off between breadth and depth. Some tournaments have little "breadth" and moderate "depth" -- ACF fall would be an example. Some tournaments have very wide "breadth" AND very wide "depth" -- ACF nationals would be an example. In fact, I think this alleged dichotomy is itself a strawman. By the way, the circuit has experimented with "tossup-only tournaments" for about a decade now. We call them "singles tournaments."

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Post by grapesmoker » Wed Jan 17, 2007 12:28 pm

If you feel like your voice isn't being heard and you think you have some good ideas, by all means bring them up here or with other players you know. I think what creates the impression of new players being ignored is that oftentimes someone will wander in with no background and start going, "ACF is too hard! Ban grad students!" or some other such inanity that we've been over a million times. That would be a person who lacks a frame of reference and us dinosaurs are going to be predictably annoyed by that. This doesn't mean that new players are being ignored; just please, before you bring something up, make sure it's not a retread of an issue that's been covered before.

As for feedback, I'll try to give feedback to everyone who I think needs it after Regionals, whether they ask for it or not. Hopefully this will give people a better insight into how we edit and what we think good questions should look like and so forth.

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Post by BigFlax » Wed Jan 17, 2007 12:45 pm

vandyhawk wrote:Based on some posts here, I wonder how the average quizbowl player actually feels about this topic, given that most of them don't read this board. I still think that the most important factor, whether the editor dumps a young/bad team's questions or does his best to salvage them, is making an effort to communicate to the team why such massive changes were necessary or highly desirable.
When I was an undergrad at Northwestern, there were three years in a row in which the packet we submitted to MLK was hardly used. In 2001 our packet was not used at all; when we complained, we were promised that the following year would be different. In fact, we sent three teams in 2002, and only one-quarter of one packet made the tournament. In 2003, the A team's packet was reduced to three tossups and two bonuses.

I'm not claiming we were the greatest writers in the world. Considering MLK's eventual level of difficulty in those years, there's an excellent chance that the questions we wrote were simply too easy, and I suppose our choice of answers (since those were generally discarded along with the questions) could have had too much overlap with better questions in the field, or have been considered too easy (or perhaps even too niche, in some cases) itself. Then, of course, there's the consideration that you don't need to use every single packet submitted to a tournament - this year's Ann B. Davis, just to use an example with which I'm fairly well acquainted, featured 18 teams but only 13 rounds. Some packets were combined to get everyone in, but obviously if 13 perfect packets were submitted and five mediocre ones came in, it would be much easier simply to toss out the last five, rather than attempt to squeeze them in just to make everyone happy.

My guess is that most people do not, in fact, care that much whether their questions are used or not. Our team was always a little bothered by it because we felt that this was work which we were being asked to do for no real reason - yes, it was the price of attending, but it's not like we weren't still paying 75-100 bucks per team per tournament, in addition to the cost of transportation and lodging.

It should be worth noting that we had much better luck at non-MLK tournaments, so either we weren't as bad writers as MLK made it seem or MLK just had much higher standards and other tournaments let us get away with being mediocre writers. 2002 Illinois Open used the bulk of our packet and only rewrote a handful of tossups; 2002 Deep Bench was something of a mixed bag but kept most of the questions I had personally written intact. 2004 MLK finally kept a significant portion of the A team packet, which you might be able to attribute to the fact that as a senior by that point, I was better as both a writer and editor. (I might also note that I've pretty much never had any problems of this sort at packet-submission Trash tournaments, but I think we all know how much weight that argument is going to carry. Also, I'm better at Trash, which surely helps.)

It's certainly true that writing can make you a better player, but based on my own personal experience, I would say playing makes you a better writer. Even if young teams write bad packets and don't get great feedback, just hanging around will probably help them improve because they'll get more of a feel for how to write. The question, I suppose, was whether or not the lack of packet use would drive them away before that happened. I think someone (at least one person) said that people who want to play aren't going to care that much if their packet is used or not, so hopefully serious packet revision isn't going to hurt fields. That said, TDs could probably be more forthcoming in some cases. I liked Mike and Craig's idea at the Ann B. Davis this year where teams were given a CD featuring all the packets and two steps of revisions, to show where changes were made and why. Not everyone may have time for such steps, and it may or may not prove useful in the long run, but I think it's an interesting effort on their part to improve writing on the part of younger teams.

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Post by your mom » Wed Jan 17, 2007 12:51 pm

I'll take it one step further than Ryan. Though he put in more time and energy than I did for this year's MLK set, I still put in a whole lot, and I think the set was perfectly solid in my areas. That said, we got about two or three packets that had the combination of being both mostly usable with moderate editing and submitted anywhere close to on time (thanks, Chicago). Other than that, our inboxes were filled with completely unusable packets that we truly had no choice but to push aside if we were going to give teams the product they rightfully expect from the MLK set. I'm probably less obsessive than Ryan and more willing to use team submissions, and I still was hard pressed to find anything workable in 80% of the packets we got. Then we found ourselves still missing five packets from very key teams and good writers about five days before the tournament. Come two days before the tournament, we were still waiting on at least three packets. One team didn't even send us a full packet, and we were counting on them to do so. One team whom we were waiting on got us a full packet, but it was less than 48 hours before and full of repeats and questions that frankly weren't good enough and had to be replaced. Let's stop allowing this policy of "this person is a good player/perceived as a good writer, so they should get away with anything." Submit your packets somewhere close to on time, no matter who you are. There's just so much hero-worship in quiz bowl (mostly from Ryan), that there's no pretense of imposing any actual rules about packet submission. That should change. You're not too busy to send in a packet. Everybody is busy. You put editors in a no-win situation. If I've got a packet coming in from a good writer, then I know it should be usable and there's no point in me writing a substitute packet, but then I'm kept in the dark until two days before and then the product that is delivered often doesn't live up to what it should be and I'm stuck with a ton of work right before the tournament. And then the tournament just becomes worse than it should be. MLK this year would have been much better if teams had submitted earlier.

So what do you want then? A shitty tournament that makes everyone happy by using their questions? Fine, I can do that, but then I'll have to listen to all the good players complain about how bad the questions are, something reminiscent of IO. You want a good tournament with good questions and competent editing? Well, that's what you got this weekend, but barely- because of all the inexcusably late and completely unusable packets. And as a result, I don't see Ryan or I editing this tournament next year- at least not with any enthusiasm or anywhere near the same level of effort. Without "super-editors" like Ryan, we get crap tournaments or house-written tournaments (barring an incredible field of writers). The open tournament based on packet submission is dead. And I don't really care.

I'm out.

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Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Jan 17, 2007 1:43 pm

So, assuming that this guy whose book Paul Litvak read is right, what we need to do is either

(a) make players feel they have a voice in quizbowl; or
(b) make players feel like they are part of the quizbowl community.

Can we think up any other ways to do this that wouldn't require editors to sacrifice either their time or the quality of their tournaments? Come on, we're (supposedly) intelligent people, we can figure something else out.

I will leave (a) up to others; in this post I will talk a bit about (b). Now, since Chicago Open (inclusive), I have answered perhaps 5, maybe 10 tossups in total on the circuit. Why? Because I've been playing almost exclusively on teams that either had one extremely dominant player (e.g., Andrew Yaphe or Seth Teitler) who got pretty much every tossup, or on teams that had a player who knows everything I know (e.g., Peter Austin or Will Turner) and has a faster buzzer. When I signed up to play on those teams, I knew that I would be sitting there getting 5-10 PPG and essentially getting my ass kicked. I signed up for those tournaments solely for social purposes; I signed up for them because I enjoy spending my weekends hanging out with Ray, Jared, Andrew, and assorted cool people from Michigan who hang out with Andrew. That's what keeps me coming back to tournament after tournament this year even though I am getting my ass kicked more than I have the past 2 years of my collegiate career.

But other people don't have that to look forward to. They aren't a member of (or aren't tolerated by) the assorted "cliques" of college quizbowl, and tournaments to them have no real social value. And because they aren't going to be getting very many questions, and their questions won't be used in "their" packets, they won't have any "Will to Power" esque reasons to attend a tournament.

One possible solution might be to have a potluck breakfast before each tournament. Every team can bring some kind of food item, such as a roast, or a bowl of mac and cheese, or some sandwiches, and then they can get together in a room and share the food with each other, and presumably socialize while they're at it. And then those people can meet each other, become friends, and everyone will have somebody else on the circuit they can look forward to seeing and socializing with at future tournaments in that area. People who already have friends on the circuit can simply skip this, which will make it more open.

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Post by Susan » Wed Jan 17, 2007 1:53 pm

Bruce wrote:One possible solution might be to have a potluck breakfast before each tournament. Every team can bring some kind of food item, such as a roast, or a bowl of mac and cheese, or some sandwiches, and then they can get together in a room and share the food with each other, and presumably socialize while they're at it.
Well, that mental image just made my morning. What an interesting selection of breakfast foods!

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Post by grapesmoker » Wed Jan 17, 2007 2:08 pm

Bruce wrote:One possible solution might be to have a potluck breakfast before each tournament. Every team can bring some kind of food item, such as a roast, or a bowl of mac and cheese, or some sandwiches, and then they can get together in a room and share the food with each other, and presumably socialize while they're at it. And then those people can meet each other, become friends, and everyone will have somebody else on the circuit they can look forward to seeing and socializing with at future tournaments in that area. People who already have friends on the circuit can simply skip this, which will make it more open.
:w-hat:

I'm not sure the conclusions follow from the premises, and in any case all of those seem like really weird things to eat for breakfast. I do think the idea of more inter-team socialization is probably good, although much of that happens already. I think the problem with this lies in the fact that people have to travel some time to get home from a tournament, even in a dense region like the Northeast or the Midwest. So inevitably you're going to spend lots of time hanging out with your teammates and not so much with other teams.

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Post by Birdofredum Sawin » Wed Jan 17, 2007 2:46 pm

grapesmoker wrote:
I'm not sure the conclusions follow from the premises, and in any case all of those seem like really weird things to eat for breakfast.
Dude, mac and cheese is good 24/7. If Bruce were to make a nice bowl of it, I have to think the circuit would become a much more congenial and tasty place.

Also, I think that Bruce is actually right, at least in theory if not in the potluck particulars. I've known a lot of quizbowlers over the years who stayed with the game because they enjoyed the people involved, liked hanging out with them, etc. Actually, I'm one of those quizbowlers myself. Unfortunately, there's no way to legislate that every team have cool people like Seth Teitler on it.

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I almost never post here, but...

Post by jsagoff » Wed Jan 17, 2007 3:59 pm

I feel that this entire discussion is moot. Given that the tournament was designed to go only ten preliminary rounds, and the editors knew that they were going to get quality packets from Matt, Chicago A, Chicago B, Jerry, Illinois A (whose packet I don't even think was used), Chris Ray (whose packet was used), possibly Illinois B, Carleton A, Lafer, Hilleman, and Gabe Lyon, I really don't see the point of asking any other teams for packets.

If you want to make the argument that writing shitty questions helps shitty players improve, go right ahead, but I doubt that that is the case. I believe that tournament editors know who is going to write them good questions and who isn't, and so packets from Rochester C or Chicago D are mere exercises in futility. If you require packets from every team, or even every non-junior bird team, and beg for freelance packets, the packets from the teams destined to end up in the bottom brackets are destined to end up in the trash. And some of us have other activities and responsibilities outside of college bowl.

I enjoyed the tournament on the whole, though I feel that again the difficulty level exceeded the expectations of the younger crowd. Here's the problem: tournament editors listen exclusively to the recommendations of other tournament editors (or, strong players listen exclusively to the recommendations of other strong players). Every player likes questions that plays to his or her strengths -- and I'm not just talking in terms of subject matter. For a while I enjoyed CBI because I'm a fast buzzer, and I imagine that players with deeper knowledge than I prefer questions that test that knowledge because they have it.

To an average junior-bird team, I'd say that at least 50% of the questions were not gettable before the FTP, while 80% of the questions were not gettable before the penultimate sentence. Given the explosion in question length in the past 2-3 years (from 4-6 to 8-10 lines), this simply cannot stand if we want younger players to truly enjoy themselves at tournaments.

Unfortunately, this problem cannot be easily rectified. Solutions come in two different flavors -- reducing question length or reducing pyramidality. I agree with everyone else on this forum that the latter is not an option. The one quality that identifies a bad question is its non-pyramidality, and it's the reason I quit playing CBI. Reducing question length is an option, but I don't think we're likely to see a reversal of the trend towards longer questions with more and more sentences of lead-in material any time soon.

So, with these faults in mind, I propose another alternative, so radical that I am sure it will meet with rabid hostility: Eliminate the question distribution entirely, at least for tossups. Tossups should no longer belong to any particular discipline (history, biology, literature, pop culture), but should instead incorporate aspects from all of them. In essence, each question should center around a common theme. A very difficult history clue on the theme -- say, "swords" -- should be followed by a slightly easier literature clue, which may be followed by a trash giveaway. The questions should still be pyramidal, and the clues uniquely identifying. But I'm convinced that by making all tossups interdisciplinary younger players will have more fun at tournaments, and questions will test breadth as well as depth of knowledge. Bonuses can remain the way they are for you purists out there.

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Re: I almost never post here, but...

Post by grapesmoker » Wed Jan 17, 2007 4:23 pm

jsagoff wrote:To an average junior-bird team, I'd say that at least 50% of the questions were not gettable before the FTP, while 80% of the questions were not gettable before the penultimate sentence. Given the explosion in question length in the past 2-3 years (from 4-6 to 8-10 lines), this simply cannot stand if we want younger players to truly enjoy themselves at tournaments.
The goal for ACF Regionals this year is to have tossups be an average of 7 lines. I hope that this strikes a fair balance between length and coverage.
So, with these faults in mind, I propose another alternative, so radical that I am sure it will meet with rabid hostility: Eliminate the question distribution entirely, at least for tossups. Tossups should no longer belong to any particular discipline (history, biology, literature, pop culture), but should instead incorporate aspects from all of them. In essence, each question should center around a common theme. A very difficult history clue on the theme -- say, "swords" -- should be followed by a slightly easier literature clue, which may be followed by a trash giveaway. The questions should still be pyramidal, and the clues uniquely identifying. But I'm convinced that by making all tossups interdisciplinary younger players will have more fun at tournaments, and questions will test breadth as well as depth of knowledge. Bonuses can remain the way they are for you purists out there.
I disagree both with the proposal and its conclusions. First of all, tossups like the ones you propose are already being written. The problem is that if you eliminate the distribution, you're changing the game from trying to cover a broad range of topics in an organized fashion to just being all over the place. The current distribution says that I can expect on average 4 history, 4 science, and 4 literature questions per round. Under your proposal, there would be no way of knowing what to expect. Rounds would fluctuate wildly in difficulty (one round would be full of history and art, another have nothing but philosophy) and I don't think that's desirable. The distribution is a way of making sure the major points get hit, and I see no reason to drop this way of organizing packets.

The last point with regards to this is that writing the kinds of questions you're talking about is hard. I'm an experienced writer and it takes me forever to find the appropriate clues in the right combinations when I'm trying to write such an interdisciplinary question. I doubt that it would be easier for new players to do this rather than just write tossups on conventional areas that they are familiar with.

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Re: I almost never post here, but...

Post by BigFlax » Wed Jan 17, 2007 4:24 pm

jsagoff wrote:So, with these faults in mind, I propose another alternative, so radical that I am sure it will meet with rabid hostility: Eliminate the question distribution entirely, at least for tossups. Tossups should no longer belong to any particular discipline (history, biology, literature, pop culture), but should instead incorporate aspects from all of them. In essence, each question should center around a common theme. A very difficult history clue on the theme -- say, "swords" -- should be followed by a slightly easier literature clue, which may be followed by a trash giveaway. The questions should still be pyramidal, and the clues uniquely identifying. But I'm convinced that by making all tossups interdisciplinary younger players will have more fun at tournaments, and questions will test breadth as well as depth of knowledge. Bonuses can remain the way they are for you purists out there.
To be fair, I'm not sure this eliminates distribution so much as juggles what the distribution affects. Just because you don't have five history tossups and five lit tossups, but rather ten tossups that combine history and lit, doesn't mean that the percentage of subjects in a set is really changing, nor should it. If anything, this seems to make it much easier to yank the distribution towards one's preferred subject, which I hardly think is ideal for anyone. Also, these questions seem like they would be significantly harder to write and not any more conducive to breeding good young writers, though since your argument seems to be that ten people should write every tournament's packets, maybe that wasn't factored in.

It is, however, an interesting idea, and one that might be tried at an experimental tournament just to mix things up.

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Post by DumbJaques » Wed Jan 17, 2007 4:42 pm

This might be a dumb idea, but I was thinking about the possibility of having some kind of Division II equivalent at MLK this year. I guess maybe the field wasn't big enough and hey, I've got great reverence to the work put into running a tournament, so I'm not just calling for TDs to get off their lazy asses or anything like that. But if teams even had the option of having an UG division, that could potentially use, say, the 6 or so easier packets and maybe 2-3 others that would require less work than a higher-level packet (though, admittedly, still more work than if this idea wasn't being enacted), it might make things seem a lot less uninviting. I don't know if it would have really made a difference at MLK, but maybe it would solve the question being used problem a little (which I don't think is a horrible problem anyway), and would certainly make things seem more competitive.

Since I can't see any huge reasons not to do this, I'm fairly certain there are several. But I'd be interested in what people think. Personally, I think offering teams the option to play in an UG or top level field can alleviate those concerns, though I don't know how viable that proposal is.

Also, I think that if your team is not so great, and you know your team is not so great, and you drive 500 miles to attend MLK, which is known both for its strength of field and difficulty of tossups, I don't see how it makes any sense to complaing about a) your tossups not being used, b) the field being too strong, or c) the questions being out of your league. Not that such teams shouldn't come to MLK, or that such complaints shouldn't be lodged about tournaments ever, but going out of your way to attend this kind of a tournament doesn't earn you the right to criticize it. The entire circuit is hardly made up of MLKs.

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Post by Matt Weiner » Wed Jan 17, 2007 4:45 pm

I, personally, will always keep answers that are remotely reasonable and any good clues that go along with them, even from the worst packets I get for a tournament. But I will completely overhaul the rest of the question to bring it up to my standards. From talking to various co-editors I've had in the past, this is not so much a matter of clearly defined "how tournaments should be" philosophy as it is personal experience with what is easier. I find it easier to write a replacement tossup when I'm given an answer; others find it easier to write new questions on their own topics.

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Post by e_steinhauser » Wed Jan 17, 2007 5:41 pm

The open tournament based on packet submission is dead. And I don't really care.

This statement speaks volumes about the current state of the circuit.

It's been apparent for a while that the level of questions demanded by the cadre of active, involved players far outstrips the production capacity of the circuit-at-large. Assuming that this as a problem to be resolved, there are three possible solutions: shift production away from the at-large crowd towards those who can write acceptably, improve the writing standards of the at-large crowd, or accept lower standards of writing.

The first solution is now quite common, given the large number of single-source tournaments. ACF's Fall and Regional set production methods might even fall under this heading. The results have been largely positive. The main drawback is the large amount of work placed squarely on the shoulders of a few writers and editors, and the lack of writing experience for newer players.

The second solution has been touted as the way to circuit enlightenment for a long time. As nicely idealistic as it sounds, improving general circuit writing is a long, hard slog with very mixed results. The general writing and research abilities of an average undergraduate leaves a whole lot to be desired; it's even worse when dealing with a format in which they have no real experience.

The third solution seems to be a non-starter for the active, involved players that are so influential to the circuit. Unfortunately, it also seems to me that it's the most reasonable long-term solution to maintaining a healthy, broad-based open submission circuit. Will those tournaments sometimes suck? Sure. But I'd rather have a few sucky tournaments every so often than see the circuit shrink to only including the same faces and places year after year.
--eps

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Proposal for summer...

Post by First Chairman » Wed Jan 17, 2007 8:15 pm

Of course, I've been reading through this thread with some interest. I do think that writing questions is one of the better ways that teams can improve, but I also think that it is essential to get feedback for those students who are not experienced with knowing what appropriately difficult clues or the proper writing style is all about. We have students in high school who are certainly raised on all types of junk-food-like formats; the challenge is to increase the volume of that end of the pipeline and get some new people in the college circuit with little experience to learn how to write questions properly.

So I have been thinking about having some sort of summer "workshop" on question writing and editing. The original goal was to focus the technical aspects of writing questions to high school kids and coaches, but perhaps we should also have something specific for those individuals who might be available to learn about the pyramidal format. Certainly any philosophical discussion on the matter would be welcome, but training students at high school, college, and postbac levels on how to properly use internet or print resources to write questions... we're at a point where I think this discussion is critical for us to maintain this game at the quality level that many of us want.

The concept is that there would be some registration fee, but it would be discounted depending on a certain number of "required" questions that have to be written and submitted ahead of time. (Everyone would have to pay something if I were going to get everyone lunch, for example.) I think it would be fair to have everyone go through and peer-review questions as a group. What makes a question work or not. We could "play" the questions and comment, or something. The best thing is that the end result, everyone will have a set of well-edited questions to bring back to their home institutions for the start of the new year. These questions would provide at least some "standard" for the rest of the year, and we would hopefully have doubled the population of people who at least understand how to write submitted rounds competently.

This is just a concept for now, and I want to see if there would be anyone aside from Weiner et al., ... maybe a few of you who would like to be involved with building more structure to this idea. If a weekend works here at Mason or perhaps at a local venue in DC, we can try to do that this summer.

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Post by Matthew D » Wed Jan 17, 2007 9:21 pm

I know that I would be more than interested in that particular "workshop" if it were to happen and I have a few of my bunch that would be interested in attending just to get better at the craft of writing questions..

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Re: Proposal for summer...

Post by vsirin » Wed Jan 17, 2007 11:14 pm

E.T. Chuck wrote:
So I have been thinking about having some sort of summer "workshop" on question writing and editing. The original goal was to focus the technical aspects of writing questions to high school kids and coaches, but perhaps we should also have something specific for those individuals who might be available to learn about the pyramidal format. Certainly any philosophical discussion on the matter would be welcome, but training students at high school, college, and postbac levels on how to properly use internet or print resources to write questions... we're at a point where I think this discussion is critical for us to maintain this game at the quality level that many of us want.
I can't stop regulating on this thread! The question: Who will teach the teachers? Seriously, how many people are there in the game right now who are widely considered to be top-quality writers and editors, and who can thus be trusted to give advice to impressionable youth? After all, grave doubts have been levied against the recent tournaments produced by some of the most stalwart posters on this forum. I wasn't aware that the Chuckster was considered a world-class writer/editor, or that any of the old school PACE peeps have particularly lofty reputations in this area. So who's left? Leo Wolpert?

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Post by First Chairman » Wed Jan 17, 2007 11:39 pm

Oh, gosh, I would never make a claim I'm a "world-class" writer or editor now or ever. But I would be willing to see that there is a maintained critical mass of that population. This question of the dearth of writing skills has been on the table for quite a while and I don't think we have ever had a more critical reason to do this. But would you want me to invite Mr. Prolific question-writer :chip: ???

Seriously, now, let's really think of a reasonable best-practice remedy before the problem gets to a point where we cannot repair it.

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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Thu Jan 18, 2007 12:47 am

Here's the problem. It's well-nigh impossible to be a good writer without being a decent player. In order to know what kind of clues should be used, where they should fit into a tossup, the types of answers that are acceptable or easy or hard or canonical, etc. - all of these things take experience, and require you to be fairly adept not just at writing but at playing this game. It's not a question of research ability or grammar or linguistics. The tail is wagging the dog here: in order to be a good writer, you have to put in the time and effort it takes to become at least a somewhat knowledgeable player (not necessarily a good/great one), and if we had a wellspring of people willing to do that, the problem wouldn't exist in the first place.

As for another issue, I actually quite actively tried to limit question length in the prelims this year. But, it becomes fairly apparent that today's standards really force you to go about 7 lines on most subjects. Some things - like geography or some science questions, etc - you can do in fewer lines because you can get out a lot of clues fairly quickly and that flows well. But, when writing lit or philosophy for example, trying to keep to anything less than 7 lines is awfully hard. Hell, once you get that opening clue out of the way - which is probably a quote or minor plot line or anecdote from the book or something like that - you've already eaten up 2 or maybe 2-and-a-half lines. Then you still have to fit in a handful of other clues that shade down the pyramid. Like Jerry says, I'll shoot for 7 line tus at regs, just like MLK.

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Post by QuizbowlPostmodernist » Thu Jan 18, 2007 3:31 am

Bruce wrote:So, assuming that this guy whose book Paul Litvak read is right, what we need to do is either

(a) make players feel they have a voice in quizbowl; or
(b) make players feel like they are part of the quizbowl community.

Can we think up any other ways to do this that wouldn't require editors to sacrifice either their time or the quality of their tournaments? Come on, we're (supposedly) intelligent people, we can figure something else out.
Good teams need to take one for the circuit and attend more bad tournaments. They don't need to send their best players, but they should send some representation.

I'm too lazy to look through tournament results right now to see how much of a problem this really is, but I think it does happen now and again. I can't remember the parties involved but I remember someone complaining to me about an established school in the same city not sending teams to an attempted new tournament that was probably going to be horrible. It might have been Boston area in the late 90s. I can't remember the whys of it, but I do remember thinking that it's not healthy for the circuit.

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Post by Matt Weiner » Thu Jan 18, 2007 3:36 am

I can say with confidence that whatever happened in Boston 8+ years ago has absolutely no influence on what today's new players, who were in elementary school at the time, think about the game.

Serious players are, with very few exceptions, too shameless to skip out on nearby tournaments even if they are sure to suck. It's the bad teams that are often conspicuously absent from events held in the same state or even city.

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Post by First Chairman » Thu Jan 18, 2007 8:50 am

There may be valid logistical reasons why a nearby school cannot send a team. It doesn't mean that they wouldn't be interested... just that they can't get there. There is an element of organization that has to support a traveling team, much less a competitive traveling team.

But the point is that some outreach should be done whenever possible. Same issue with the high school circuit...

That said, I do think that it would be a good opportunity for people to actually talk with the "best players" about what would constitute a "good question." We don't have much "mentoring" going on unless you are working within the NAQT or other question-writing companies. Of course, that's where we're going to have the problem of open packet-submission events since very few new kids will write "for free."

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Post by grapesmoker » Thu Jan 18, 2007 11:35 am

Ryan Westbrook wrote:Here's the problem. It's well-nigh impossible to be a good writer without being a decent player.
I don't necessarily dispute this point, but I'd just like to note that we've received some Regionals packets from relatively inexperienced players whose quality surprised me (in a good way). I'll be damned if I wrote anything that good in my first year (in fact, I'm not sure I wrote a regionals packet in my first year at all). What matters a lot is exposure to good questions, maybe even more so than actually being a good player.

As for attending tournaments, the Northeast has been pretty active these last two years; teams are definitely interested and do travel to as many events as they can get to. The only thing Brown didn't go to this year was the tournament run on IS questions at BU, mostly because I didn't feel like it was a good use of our time and money. I think Matt is right. It's not experienced players who shirk tournaments; those people will often travel ridiculous distances to attend some lame events (c.f. my trip by bus, train, and car to Penn Bowl last year). Nevertheless, I think the situation is pretty good where I am right now, and I'm happy to see that many of the clubs in our area have stability and continuity and like to come to tournaments.

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Post by vsirin » Thu Jan 18, 2007 11:51 am

QuizbowlPostmodernist wrote: Good teams need to take one for the circuit and attend more bad tournaments. They don't need to send their best players, but they should send some representation.

I'm too lazy to look through tournament results right now to see how much of a problem this really is, but I think it does happen now and again. I can't remember the parties involved but I remember someone complaining to me about an established school in the same city not sending teams to an attempted new tournament that was probably going to be horrible. It might have been Boston area in the late 90s. I can't remember the whys of it, but I do remember thinking that it's not healthy for the circuit.
Once again, to paraphrase: "I think the reason young players don't have a voice is that good teams don't go to bad tournaments? At least, I think this happens sometimes; I'm too lazy to find out one way or the other. At least, I think I heard about it happening once. Maybe it happened in Boston about a decade ago?"

QuizbowlPostmodernist, your reasoning is actually getting SLOPPIER with each additional post! I would not have thought that possible!

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Post by mmb5 » Thu Jan 18, 2007 12:23 pm

BigFlax wrote: I'm not claiming we were the greatest writers in the world. Considering MLK's eventual level of difficulty in those years, there's an excellent chance that the questions we wrote were simply too easy, and I suppose our choice of answers (since those were generally discarded along with the questions) could have had too much overlap with better questions in the field, or have been considered too easy (or perhaps even too niche, in some cases) itself. Then, of course, there's the consideration that you don't need to use every single packet submitted to a tournament - this year's Ann B. Davis, just to use an example with which I'm fairly well acquainted, featured 18 teams but only 13 rounds. Some packets were combined to get everyone in, but obviously if 13 perfect packets were submitted and five mediocre ones came in, it would be much easier simply to toss out the last five, rather than attempt to squeeze them in just to make everyone happy.
This veers into trash, but it's very germane to what is being discussed. Besides, the original poster said it may, and it does...

The method we used at the ABD this year was we ranked the 19 packets we got from 1-19 and singled out the bottom 8 for combining, since we needed 15. My basic caveat is that you should try to get at least some assemblage of a team's packet into a tournament. There is usually one instance a year where I have to reject a packet outright, and I usually try to explain why I did that.

As far as mentoring, this year Craig and I tried something which we will hope will bear some fruit. After the tournament was over, we gave each of the teams a CD that contained three versions of every team's packet:

*Their original packet.
*The packet after the first edit. This edit gets the packet down or up to the proper question lengths, corrects pyramids, bounces for difficulty, etc.
*The packet after the second edit. This is for cosmetics and repeats. This way, if player X wanted to know why they felt a good question was bounced, they could see it was part of a repeat.

We hope that the teams who played this year went through and saw how their packet morphed into what was used. Also, they can look at other team's packets and see how some packets were pretty much rewritten wholesale, and how much some packets went through with little editing.

Also, once our question embargo is over (we have an early-February mirror), we will be putting up a web page with examples of several questions both good and bad, with an emphasis on what we think is a good question, and how to get your question to that path. Another issue that will be covered is that the answer is the most important part of the question.

Every good writer today was once a bad writer, and if we want to keep this game going, it is sort of our duty to help make the next generation of good writers. Of course, if the teams who need the help don't make the effort to get help, there's nothing we can do.


--Mike

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Post by QuizbowlPostmodernist » Thu Jan 18, 2007 8:03 pm

vsirin wrote:
QuizbowlPostmodernist wrote: Good teams need to take one for the circuit and attend more bad tournaments. They don't need to send their best players, but they should send some representation.

I'm too lazy to look through tournament results right now to see how much of a problem this really is, but I think it does happen now and again. I can't remember the parties involved but I remember someone complaining to me about an established school in the same city not sending teams to an attempted new tournament that was probably going to be horrible. It might have been Boston area in the late 90s. I can't remember the whys of it, but I do remember thinking that it's not healthy for the circuit.
Once again, to paraphrase: "I think the reason young players don't have a voice is that good teams don't go to bad tournaments? At least, I think this happens sometimes; I'm too lazy to find out one way or the other. At least, I think I heard about it happening once. Maybe it happened in Boston about a decade ago?"

QuizbowlPostmodernist, your reasoning is actually getting SLOPPIER with each additional post! I would not have thought that possible!
Oh, fine, if you want names, I believe that Harvard skipped out on BU's Terrier Tussle one year and that BU passed on MIT's Beaver Bonspiel. I didn't think it was necessary to call out certain programs by name when I wasn't sure. Can anyone confirm or deny whether or not those happened and, if so, whether or not there were mitigating circumstances?

And I didn't say that young players don't have a voice because good teams don't go to bad tournaments, I am suggesting that, if bad teams are skipping out on good tournaments and social engagement is a good thing, then more interaction will occur if good teams show up to more than just the very best tournaments.

Moving away from talk of editing, I think that one thing that has hurt participation has been the changing electronic media. The shift from mailing list to message board as a preferred electronic forum may have had a negative effect. Casual people will check their email daily and will at least have a sense of what is going on, even if they are just reading subject lines and only opening message that interest them, but message boards are ruled by diehards who post often. While it seems negligible to most people, there is a higher (non-monetary) cost associated with participating in a message board as compared to an email list, where you can just hit reply. Fewer people are active participants and fewer people are passive participants.

It is better off for there to be a diverse array of electronic forms of communication rather than try to funnel everyone into one place in stifling monoculture.

The Yahoo list has become a place for announcements and not for discussion. I suggest setting up an alternative email list for people who prefer email lists. I also suggest Google Groups, which seems a lot better than Yahoo in my limited use of it. I suggest that any moderation be limited to making people use their real names as their nickname (no gimmick accounts) and stay on topic.

While there is some merit to Sorice's Rules of Blogs, people do use them. I created http://community.livejournal.com/quizbowl/ recently while playing around with some stuff and never got around to deleting it, so it is an alternative. I'll set someone else up as a maintainer.

I suggest non-overlapping control, so if any of these ideas sound useful, they should have moderators who aren't currently moderating this message board or the Yahoo list. I will, however, stop short of suggesting that Matt Weiner start a daily blog which has "Thing of the Week That People Should Stop Writing Questions On" every Monday, "Worst Question Ever of the Week" ever Wednesday, and Friday cat blogging.

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Post by BigFlax » Thu Jan 18, 2007 9:32 pm

QuizbowlPostmodernist wrote:Moving away from talk of editing, I think that one thing that has hurt participation has been the changing electronic media. The shift from mailing list to message board as a preferred electronic forum may have had a negative effect. Casual people will check their email daily and will at least have a sense of what is going on, even if they are just reading subject lines and only opening message that interest them, but message boards are ruled by diehards who post often. While it seems negligible to most people, there is a higher (non-monetary) cost associated with participating in a message board as compared to an email list, where you can just hit reply. Fewer people are active participants and fewer people are passive participants.

It is better off for there to be a diverse array of electronic forms of communication rather than try to funnel everyone into one place in stifling monoculture.

The Yahoo list has become a place for announcements and not for discussion. I suggest setting up an alternative email list for people who prefer email lists. I also suggest Google Groups, which seems a lot better than Yahoo in my limited use of it. I suggest that any moderation be limited to making people use their real names as their nickname (no gimmick accounts) and stay on topic.
One possible problem with this is that further fragmentation threatens to make it very difficult for TDs, or anyone else, to keep track of where they may or may not have posted information about their tournaments. Certainly not all relevant information is cross-posted between here and Yahoo!, and adding another couple of outlets may broaden the possible audience - though I wonder, in this day and age, what percentage of people would really prefer a listserv to a message board - but it has potential to muddy the waters even further.

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Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Thu Jan 18, 2007 11:33 pm

On the LiveJournal Community note:

Somebody should start a global facebook group for quizbowl.

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Post by Rothlover » Thu Jan 18, 2007 11:36 pm

Bruce wrote:On the LiveJournal Community note:

Somebody should start a global facebook group for quizbowl.
I agree.

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Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Fri Jan 19, 2007 1:09 am

OK. I created a group called "College Quizbowl" on Facebook. Please join it.

I will try to invite like the 5 collegiate quizbowl players that I am friends with on facebook to this, but if this is to take off, people are gonna have to join this by looking it up.

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Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Fri Jan 19, 2007 1:11 am

http://uchicago.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2229601429

There's a link to the group.

I know that the url says uchicago in it, but I think that the link will work for any facebook account, regardless of what your primary network is.

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Post by vetovian » Sat Jan 20, 2007 2:42 am

QuizbowlPostmodernist wrote:
vsirin wrote:
QuizbowlPostmodernist wrote: Good teams need to take one for the circuit and attend more bad tournaments. They don't need to send their best players, but they should send some representation.

I'm too lazy to look through tournament results right now to see how much of a problem this really is, but I think it does happen now and again. I can't remember the parties involved but I remember someone complaining to me about an established school in the same city not sending teams to an attempted new tournament that was probably going to be horrible. It might have been Boston area in the late 90s. I can't remember the whys of it, but I do remember thinking that it's not healthy for the circuit.
Once again, to paraphrase: "I think the reason young players don't have a voice is that good teams don't go to bad tournaments? At least, I think this happens sometimes; I'm too lazy to find out one way or the other. At least, I think I heard about it happening once. Maybe it happened in Boston about a decade ago?"

QuizbowlPostmodernist, your reasoning is actually getting SLOPPIER with each additional post! I would not have thought that possible!
Oh, fine, if you want names, I believe that Harvard skipped out on BU's Terrier Tussle one year and that BU passed on MIT's Beaver Bonspiel. I didn't think it was necessary to call out certain programs by name when I wasn't sure. Can anyone confirm or deny whether or not those happened and, if so, whether or not there were mitigating circumstances?
BU had its first annual Terrier Tussle in 1992, and MIT had its first annual Beaver Bowl in 1989 (changing the name to Beaver Bonspiel in 1994). So these were well established tournaments by the late '90s.

But I thought this story did sound familiar. You're probably thinking of this thread about a cancelled Brandeis tournament in 1997. According to my records, Brandeis sent out a cancellation announcement 17 days before the tournament date, after only 5 teams (including at least one from MIT) said they'd play.

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Post by Matt Weiner » Sat Jan 20, 2007 2:53 am

Why are we discussing all this nonsense about who didn't go to a tournament held in the Silurian Period and what the best providers of mailing list services are? What does this have to do with the relationship between packet-submission and player retention? To me it seems like the question of a link requires further empirical investigation and not a lot of circle-jerking over irrelevant issues.

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Post by vsirin » Sat Jan 20, 2007 12:28 pm

QuizbowlPostmodernist wrote:
Oh, fine, if you want names, I believe that Harvard skipped out on BU's Terrier Tussle one year and that BU passed on MIT's Beaver Bonspiel. I didn't think it was necessary to call out certain programs by name when I wasn't sure. Can anyone confirm or deny whether or not those happened and, if so, whether or not there were mitigating circumstances?

And I didn't say that young players don't have a voice because good teams don't go to bad tournaments, I am suggesting that, if bad teams are skipping out on good tournaments and social engagement is a good thing, then more interaction will occur if good teams show up to more than just the very best tournaments.

Moving away from talk of editing, I think that one thing that has hurt participation has been the changing electronic media. The shift from mailing list to message board as a preferred electronic forum may have had a negative effect. Casual people will check their email daily and will at least have a sense of what is going on, even if they are just reading subject lines and only opening message that interest them, but message boards are ruled by diehards who post often. While it seems negligible to most people, there is a higher (non-monetary) cost associated with participating in a message board as compared to an email list, where you can just hit reply. Fewer people are active participants and fewer people are passive participants.

It is better off for there to be a diverse array of electronic forms of communication rather than try to funnel everyone into one place in stifling monoculture.

The Yahoo list has become a place for announcements and not for discussion. I suggest setting up an alternative email list for people who prefer email lists. I also suggest Google Groups, which seems a lot better than Yahoo in my limited use of it. I suggest that any moderation be limited to making people use their real names as their nickname (no gimmick accounts) and stay on topic.
I hate to beat a dead horse, but I have no problem beating down on QuizbowlPostmodernist's tortured reasoning and ludicrous conclusions! Thanks to Matt Weiner for reminding me that this thread was still athrob with idiocy.

First: As Matt nicely points out, if you're complaining about events c. 1997 then you cannot be "calling out certain programs," since NOBODY who was on those teams a decade ago is currently on them. You're just babbling about ancient history for no good reason.

Second: Even if we granted the claim that good teams don't go to "bad" tournaments, which is probably false for the reasons Matt and others have stated, how exactly is the circuit supposed to be benefited by this proposal? Are the good teams supposed to radiate warmth and acceptance merely by the virtue of their presence anywhere? Are we supposing that they will helpfully and constructively point out the flaws in the putatively bad tournament in a way that will endear them to the organizers of said bad tournament? Does this tally with anyone's experiences of quizbowl ever?

Third: Wait, I want to understand this. Seriously, your suggestion is that an online message board is killing participation, but if we had a mailing list everything would be better? THAT'S your bright idea? And the reason is that "It is better off for there to be a diverse array of electronic forms of communication rather than try to funnel everyone into one place in stifling monoculture"? Maybe if that sentence were written in English, this argument wouldn't seem so absurd. But really, how do the two newsgroups constitute a "stifling monoculture," whatever that's supposed to be? And how would a "mailing list" rectify that problem, since presumably its participants would to a substantial extent be EXACTLY THE SAME PEOPLE who already use this board?

I breathlessly await the next phase of the "argument" from QuizbowlPostmodernist.

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