College quizbowl 5 years from now...

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College quizbowl 5 years from now...

Postby AuguryMarch » Tue Dec 26, 2006 11:49 am

Hey folks,

In lieu of doing some tedious work, I am instead going to pose a question for you to contemplate, along with my own answer (which is actually an amalgam of the opinions of several "quizbowl luminaries").

The question is, what is the college circuit going to be like in 5 years?

Here are what I see as the main future features of the college game:

1) NAQT will no longer be in the businss of doing SCT/ICT (at least not for Div 1). In fact, I am going to make an even bolder prediction and predict that NAQT will not formally be in the 4 year college game, IS sets aside. The reasons are manifold. For one thing, as many of you know Andrew is going to law school. How many of you think that Andrew is going to stick around to edit for NAQT (or run ACF, but I'll get to that in a moment)? And when Andrew finally does retire from editing things will be like they were before he was editing. It will fall on R's shoulders. I have heard that many people in NAQT think they should get out of the college game; the reasons mostly that its not worth it. They lose money every year; they devote a huge amount of time and resources to it. And what do they get in return? The product, well, we all have our feelings about the product (from our perspective). But more frankly, all they get is you (and me; I'm not calling you guys out) bitching and moaning. Its a huge headache, and I think if R has to shoulder the burden himself for a few years, even R will start to realize that it is not worthwhile. The high school market is exploding. From a profitability standpoint, it seems clear that they should just focus their attentions on HS. Moreover, its not as though the best writers in the game are flocking to NAQT to help them. Which is fine for HS, where we can all agree that NAQT does a good job. Now perhaps many of you see this as a good thing. Personally I am not so sure.

2) "ACF" will no longer exist. By this I mean, a non-masters form of ACF. I'm not sure which of the youth will end up taking it over, but it seems to me that there has been a huge drop off in new up and coming ACF players. (I'm sure there are a few even if I can't name some) I think we would all agree that there are fewer new good writers and players every year. Part of that might be the bar being set higher, but I think part of it is that the old stable of ACF people were people that attracted people to the game. Here is another way to put it. Folks like Subash and Ezequiel (not an exhaustive list!) were responsbile for bringing people into the fold. Think of all the players that respect and admire them, and have been pushed into greater things by them. Now you might argue that all of your QB passion emerged from love of knowledge. That might be true in some cases, but still mentorship is a crucial part of the game. So ask yourselves, top players in the game.. how many players have you mentored? How many players have you brought into the fold? How many young players desire to emulate your example? I am going to go out on a limb here and say, many fewer than the people in the last generation. This argument can be summed up as Weberian (Charisma in institution building and all that)

So without NAQT asserting a strong presence, and without ACF as a unified championship attracting new players, my suspicion is that quizbowl is due for a "dark age". I think things are going to revert back to the way they were in the 1980s. There will probably emerge a very loose Masters circuit, mostly made up of a lot of regular posters here, who within 5 years will not be students anymore, most likely, but still like to play. The extent to which tournaments are becoming more Open (that is, allowing non eligible players to play) is demonstrative of this process underway. In 2001, you wouldn't have needed solo teams and bastard teams to nearly the same extent as you have now. Similar to TRASH, I think that serious academic quizbowl will drift away from undergrads.

If you think this is going to be the case, do you care? What could avert any of this? What am I not taking into account?

Paul
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Re: College quizbowl 5 years from now...

Postby Matt Weiner » Tue Dec 26, 2006 12:27 pm

AuguryMarch wrote: What am I not taking into account?


The constantly increasing standards, horizons, size, and skill level of high school quizbowl. There will always be some people looking for good questions and real competition as they enter college as long as the current trends at the high school level continue.
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Postby AuguryMarch » Tue Dec 26, 2006 12:31 pm

I've thought of this, and my hypothesis is that this washes out, or at least can be a negative as well as a positive.

Specifically, if you are a hardcore high school kid, you are just as likely to have had your fill of quizbowl as you are wanting more in college.
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Postby AuguryMarch » Tue Dec 26, 2006 12:37 pm

also, matt, if your hypothesis is true.. where are all these hardcore freshman and sophomores who were inspired by their high school experiences?
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Postby Matt Weiner » Tue Dec 26, 2006 1:06 pm

AuguryMarch wrote:Specifically, if you are a hardcore high school kid, you are just as likely to have had your fill of quizbowl as you are wanting more in college.


There are certainly many examples of this being true; perhaps it's even the majority case. But we're seeing a shift away from list-memorizing, domineering-coach type programs and towards student-driven, knowledge-based programs as high school quizbowl continues to transform. I think the changes in the past five or so years have been on par with what happened in the college game from the early 90s to 2002 or so, and we've yet to see the full consequences of this important shift.

Overall, I think we're going to see things settle down and finally find normalcy in the college game. I think there actually are enough competent editors ready to scale back their playing time to 2-4 masters events each year and put most of their quizbowl time into producing tournament (if for no other reason than because such people are graduating and getting full time careers, and it's a lot easier to spend a little while each day at a computer editing than spend weekends traveling, especially without university funding). I know that this semester is probably the last time I will play for a collegiate team and I'm planning to take on such a role in the future. I think we're getting to a point where we could see, every year, 4 or 5 really solid invitationals as well as the 3 ACF tournaments produced by a corps of experienced people with the right attitude and a more normal schedule than the odd hours of a college student.

What I mean by that is that good tournaments can start doing something that will be very beneficial and may tie in to your ideas about mentoring and personality. Right now we have certain bad tournaments run by certain not-so-talented editors, which are something of an institution in their regions and attract many of their teams for more social than competitive reasons. You know what events I'm talking about. If the group of people who are currently moving on from full-time playing stay around as editors, we could see things like MLK becoming Ryan Westbrook and Dave Rappaport's annual event, or ACF Regionals becoming Seth Teitler's annual event (Seth probably has a few more years of student play left in him and doesn't really belong in the aforementioned group of impending retirees, but I'd really like to see this happen since we all like his editing and sources tell me he's the Nicest Guy In Quizbowl, and anyway I'm just throwing out some examples). If such tournaments can be established as the pinnacles of the calendar year in and year out and these editors continue to strike the balance between difficulty and quality that they are known for, then there's no reason we can't just move to a new paradigm and continue catering to the vast bulk of players, and let the occasional wannabe-elite player come up as he may. This is, in my view, the best-case scenario out of the realistic possibilities for the next few years and it's what I think people should work towards.

As far as NAQT, I think you're leaving out the big picture. The college program is a loss leader for them. They may not make a huge profit on it if you just look at the costs of producing the SCT and ICT versus the money they bring in from entry fees, but what they are doing is putting the product out there to get customers and writers for the high school sets. It's apparent that the high school questions are a financial success on the high school level alone; NAQT's share of every crappy college tournament run on high school questions is 100% profit, because the expenses are already covered by the high school market. Furthermore, they bring in new writers of the high school questions and new college customers of them for high school tournaments by keeping the brand exposed. Combined with obvious team demand, I doubt there is any reason to expect NAQT to pull out of college from a purely financial standpoint. And I think you overestimate the intangible factors--part of the reason NAQT stayed involved in college for so long when it wasn't making money was because they (or at least R) wanted to be running a national championship tournament; that probably hasn't changed. And dealing with kvetching doesn't bother people who just ignore feedback as a rule, which of course NAQT does. R's cadre really doesn't care what we think, so I wouldn't fret over the possibility of hurting their fragile emotional state.

In the unlikely event that NAQT did pull out of the collegiate game, something similar would pop up to replace it. People want to play for national titles and win big trophies, and they don't want to go bother with College Bowl. Perhaps ACF Nationals will adjust itself to be an ICT-type event, but one way or another, there will be one big national with a lot of meaningless side titles that the majority of teams will regard as "the" national championship.
Last edited by Matt Weiner on Tue Dec 26, 2006 1:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Tue Dec 26, 2006 1:10 pm

AuguryMarch wrote:also, matt, if your hypothesis is true.. where are all these hardcore freshman and sophomores who were inspired by their high school experiences?


Harvard, Cal Tech, UNC, Stanford, Maryland...we saw some interesting new players emerge last year at those schools. It's hard to say what's up this year since the fall semester was kind of uninteresting and a few teams didn't get their act together and go to any tournaments I care about, but I think we'll see some more names pop up as Penn Bowl, SCT, and Regionals go off.
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Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Tue Dec 26, 2006 2:36 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:What I mean by that is that good tournaments can start doing something that will be very beneficial and may tie in to your ideas about mentoring and personality. Right now we have certain bad tournaments run by certain not-so-talented editors, which are something of an institution in their regions and attract many of their teams for more social than competitive reasons. You know what events I'm talking about. If the group of people who are currently moving on from full-time playing stay around as editors, we could see things like MLK becoming Ryan Westbrook and Dave Rappaport's annual event, or ACF Regionals becoming Seth Teitler's annual event (Seth probably has a few more years of student play left in him and doesn't really belong in the aforementioned group of impending retirees, but I'd really like to see this happen since we all like his editing and sources tell me he's the Nicest Guy In Quizbowl, and anyway I'm just throwing out some examples). If such tournaments can be established as the pinnacles of the calendar year in and year out and these editors continue to strike the balance between difficulty and quality that they are known for, then there's no reason we can't just move to a new paradigm and continue catering to the vast bulk of players, and let the occasional wannabe-elite player come up as he may. This is, in my view, the best-case scenario out of the realistic possibilities for the next few years and it's what I think people should work towards.


I more or less share Paul's pessimistic outlook. A few thoughts about this exchange: First, who exactly constitutes this cadre of talented editors with expansive leisure time? Seth won't be editing regionals, or perhaps anything, next year, as his graduate studies will be taking up more of his time. (If I'm wrong about this, I'll be happy to stand corrected.) Dave will be done at Michigan after next year, I think, and I don't believe he has plans to make editing MLK an annual tradition. There are a couple of other people who constantly trumpet their "editing philosophy" in this forum, but they have a decidedly mixed record when it comes to producing actual quality tournaments. Even if you include all of those "usual suspects," though, it isn't a huge number of people. And Paul's concern about "nurturing" is still a valid one. Where are the vibrant programs encouraging young players to develop into competent editors, as was the case at Michigan under Ezequiel's guidance?

Matt Weiner wrote:As far as NAQT, I think you're leaving out the big picture. The college program is a loss leader for them. They may not make a huge profit on it if you just look at the costs of producing the SCT and ICT versus the money they bring in from entry fees, but what they are doing is putting the product out there to get customers and writers for the high school sets. It's apparent that the high school questions are a financial success on the high school level alone; NAQT's share of every crappy college tournament run on high school questions is 100% profit, because the expenses are already covered by the high school market. Furthermore, they bring in new writers of the high school questions and new college customers of them for high school tournaments by keeping the brand exposed. Combined with obvious team demand, I doubt there is any reason to expect NAQT to pull out of college from a purely financial standpoint. And I think you overestimate the intangible factors--part of the reason NAQT stayed involved in college for so long when it wasn't making money was because they (or at least R) wanted to be running a national championship tournament; that probably hasn't changed. And dealing with kvetching doesn't bother people who just ignore feedback as a rule, which of course NAQT does. R's cadre really doesn't care what we think, so I wouldn't fret over the possibility of hurting their fragile emotional state.


I'll risk annoying Matt by noting that I don't speak for NAQT. But I do speak about NAQT, and in this case I'll say that I think the above paragraph is simply wrong. It isn't that NAQT doesn't "make a huge profit" from SCT and ICT. They LOSE MONEY on these tournaments, tournaments which require a substantial investment of time and energy. The "team demand" is irrelevant if NAQT isn't making money, and if they decide that their relatively scarce resources would be better invested in the less troublesome and more lucrative high school market. The "bringing in new writers" and "maintaining the brand" argument seems to me absurd, as NAQT is currently the dominant player on the high school market. With that and its lower-level collegiate questions (the dreaded IS sets, etc.) their existence is sufficiently advertised to potential writers. As it happens, R. does care what people, even Matt, think about NAQT. But that isn't the point. Rather, Paul is suggesting that if NAQT were to draw up a list of reasons for and against continuing to produce the SCT and ICT, the "against" column (the questions consume an inordinate amount of time to produce, given NAQT's other commitments; they lose money on the tournaments; it's becoming extremely difficult to line up hosts; a vocal segment of the community seems to despise them) would overwhelm the "for" column (which, as far as I can tell, would boil down to "prestige" and "a few influential people in NAQT are still committed to the idea of running a decent national championship, regardless of the drawbacks"). I think that's true.
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Postby QuizbowlPostmodernist » Tue Dec 26, 2006 4:48 pm

Paul seems to think that the new generation lacks a core of....quizbowl godfathers, I guess I could call them, who provide leadership and mentoring.

Matt seems to think that so long as there is a core of hard workers who single-handedly work to produce a string of quality tournaments to fill a calendar, then that is all we need.

In either case, one must ask how many people are necessary to carry on? If a handful of people come out of nowhere, is that enough?

I think Paul may be onto something in suggesting that part of this is about the bar being raised too high, and I think that is an avenue for exploration. This may be fodder for another thread, but what is the expectation now for the number of man-hours that a team should devote to writing a packet for a submission tournament where you can say that they team made a reasonable good-faith effort? How much time should people be expected to spend in editing a tournament? Is it whatever it takes to turn out a great product even if it means rewriting every single submitted question, or is there a point where you don't expect an editor to squeeze blood from a stone?

I don't think that the average newbie can reasonably be expected to write a better question now than the average newbie could have written ten years ago. I don't think that the average experienced yet mediocre player can be expected to write that much better than ten years ago, either. If the standard for question quality is raised too high, this puts a lot of stress on editors to change things. Now, the standard should be upheld for tournaments like ACF Nationals, but it feels like there's been a decline in the somewhat acceptably if not outstanding mid-level invitational attended mostly by teams within a couple of hours with ten or eleven rounds and everyone is home for dinner. (Correct me if I'm wrong about that decline.)
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Postby grapesmoker » Tue Dec 26, 2006 4:58 pm

Birdofredum Sawin wrote:Where are the vibrant programs encouraging young players to develop into competent editors, as was the case at Michigan under Ezequiel's guidance?


In my experience, Michigan under Zeke was an anomaly rather than the norm. It's fantastic when a good player is able to come to an established program and raise them to a higher level; this is usually not the case for most schools. Brown didn't have a program until I started one, and I try as hard as I can to get them to write good questions and go to tournaments, but I don't think any of them will be doing significant amounts editing in the next couple of years, mostly because they are freshmen and sophomores. I don't know if there is some non-obvious way that one is supposed to encourage players to develop into competent editors.

As it happens, R. does care what people, even Matt, think about NAQT. But that isn't the point.


You are obviously privy to information we don't have, so I take your word for it. However, I personally have seen precious little evidence of this assertion.

Rather, Paul is suggesting that if NAQT were to draw up a list of reasons for and against continuing to produce the SCT and ICT, the "against" column (the questions consume an inordinate amount of time to produce, given NAQT's other commitments; they lose money on the tournaments; it's becoming extremely difficult to line up hosts; a vocal segment of the community seems to despise them) would overwhelm the "for" column (which, as far as I can tell, would boil down to "prestige" and "a few influential people in NAQT are still committed to the idea of running a decent national championship, regardless of the drawbacks"). I think that's true.


I guess we should ask ourselves whether losing SCT/ICT would really be such a tragedy. It's obvious that the better teams are generally dissatisfied with a lot of the aspects of the system, including question quality, and NAQT loses money on the whole thing. The question then is why continue these events? I'm not convinced that they draw to quizbowl teams that wouldn't ordinarily be part of the circuit anyway. NAQT already does a great job of introducing high school students to the game, which is great since they can go on to form the core of collegiate teams.
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Postby theMoMA » Tue Dec 26, 2006 11:03 pm

AuguryMarch wrote:also, matt, if your hypothesis is true.. where are all these hardcore freshman and sophomores who were inspired by their high school experiences?


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Postby theMoMA » Wed Dec 27, 2006 10:58 am

With my first semester in the college circuit concluded, I'll take a stab at some of the points raised here.

First, let's just talk about what it's like to transition to the college game. It's really hard. My high school competition was played on 90% shit questions...a disgusting combination of Patrick's Press, Minnesota Knowledge Bowl (Weiner's head would explode), Science Bowl, and :chip:. I can count on one hand my high school NAQT tournaments. My experience with academic quiz bowl in HS was competition on short, poorly written questions. And this is not that unusual. Consider that the typical player player transitions from :chip:'s one-liners to competition that views "son of a sailmaker" to be a dead giveaway for Grignard.

How does a player make up for the fact that quiz bowl luminaries like everyone on this board have been playing on long, pyramidal questions, most for at least four years? Most importantly, questions that make the ACF Fall and HSNCT answers seem like kiddie pools? If there is a generation gap in quiz bowl, perhaps consider that the canon expansion of the past few years has something to do with it.

Not that canon expansion alone is a bad thing. There will always be players willing to work hard enough to be good because they enjoy the game. But consider that the high school canon is by nature fairly static because of high turnover and you begin to see the problem of having a college game with a major canonical red shift. Experienced college players who have played through expansion in the answer pool have a major advantage. New players have to begin from essentially the same point they were at in 2002 and go through the canon expansion of the last four years just to catch up.

Consider how much work catching up to the college competition takes. Then consider that many quiz bowl dinosaurs aren't retiring any time soon. The prospect of working for years just to get beaten by old-timers is not an attractive one for many.

There are two problems with college quiz bowl that combine to make it seem to graduating high school players that they came late to the party. First, canon expansion benefits disproportionately those already in college competition. Second, top players tend to linger, and competition rules tend to allow them to linger.

But these two problems are really just one problem: the lingering of top players. They hang around, get bored with the canon, and start expanding it. The expansion soon filters into all levels of college competition, while the high school game remains relatively static due to high turnover.

What can alleviate this problem?
1. Well-run intro tournaments along the lines of ACF Fall. Top college programs should invest time in well-run intro invitationals. Intro tournaments need to be for first- and second-year players ONLY.
2. Make national championships for 4-year players only, or 7-year, or whatever. A hard, fast eligibility cutoff would increase turnover at the championship level and slow canon expansion in the college game. Incoming players should be encouraged to play championship-level quiz bowl.
3. In coordination with #2, an academic open circuit must emerge for players who lose championship-level eligibility, with several regular invitationals and a national championship tournament. Its members can guide and mentor as well as run and edit tournaments for the intro- and championship-level college circuits while still having an outlet to play high-level competition. Championship-level players should be encouraged to play Masters-level quiz bowl.

There are already two loose tiers of college quiz bowl: Intro and Championship. But downward bleeding (players too old for either or both tiers who play there regardless) causes the two main problems in the current game: runaway canon expansion and the discouraging of new players who don't want to face 30-year-olds. Both would be alleviated with a Masters level...the canon expansion there would be sheltered from the championship and intro levels by another layer, slowing it down some (but not halting it...that should not be a goal), and the new level would keep competition between fairly homogenous age groups.

The current atmosphere in college competition for incoming players is by no means a horrible one. I'm not trying to whine or say that the transition should be easier. The problem isn't that the transition is so hard, it's that it's getting harder each year as canon boredom among the top players drives up the answer difficulty in all levels of the college game while the high school game remains fairly static. The transition can't keep getting more and more challenging without scaring off players.

But the transition must remain challenging. It's exhilerating to pass into the the college game, and the fact that it's difficult is what makes it fun and worthwhile. The challenge also shapes good players. To be truly tested, really good high school players should be encouraged to play hard tournaments, not just intro-level stuff.

Finally, new players need to be encouraged to integrate themselves into the quiz bowl community. The forums and the IRC channel are really fanstastic resources for the new player. Which is to say, you guys are really fantastic resources for the new player.
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Postby Mr. Kwalter » Wed Dec 27, 2006 1:16 pm

I have to disagree about the impending demise of ACF. Yes, the godfathers are leaving. Goodbye, Zeke, Subash, Andrew. But I'd like to point out that there are at least 5 people who have signed on to write or edit at least 2 tournaments before ACF regionals (Myself, Matt, Jerry, Ryan, Seth). Hell, Ryan's doing 3. I'd also like to point out that ACF Fall this year had two new editors that showed very serious promise (one of whom is an undergraduate), and Penn Bowl will feature the science talent of noted undergraduate Noah Rahman. I attribute these things to Matt Weiner, whom I have known to exhibit an unabashed dedication to finding at least mostly able and very willing young editors to initiate into the fold. Andrew has also shown great concern for the future of ACF and insists that ACF Fall annually be an event designed to include new editors. In addition, many of us know that there is an unofficial backstage group of editors who more than occasionally brainstorm outside the forums about how to increase the volume and (more often) quality of circuit events, and these people are very dedicated to solving the problems--at least those with ACF and mACF invitationals--that Paul and others have laid out here. I recognize that some of the people I mentioned are in danger of disappearing from prolific editing, but with confident and willing undergraduates like myself, Dave, Noah, and Billy, I think it will survive.

As to theMoMa's (Andrew, is it?) statements about the transition. I have to think that while a lot of us are doing our best to create more intro-level tournaments to improve retention, a lot of these "star" HS players are or aren't going to play regardless. Also, I very much credit theMoma for rising from the depths of utter shit to college enthusiasm, but I'm not sure how much one's background ultimately matters. The stars are those who love the game; some of the "top" players either played minimally/alternate formats or didn't play at all in HS. Addressing theMoMa's concerns, however, should be tantamount, as they seem to me to be very valid. The questions at ACF Fall this year were way too long, we need to fix that. In addition, more of these invitationals need to be slightly less dedicated to absolute HS accessibility. Some late-fall and early-spring tournaments should swing a little farther toward regionals, as otherwise there's a big jump to regionals from the difficulty newer players are used to. Let's see more answers that aren't in the HS canon but often come up in college in these tournaments. Also, I think that while the problem of top players lingering on the mainstream circuit has long been acknowledged, it is getting much less prevalent. I know a lot of us recognize that as it stands now the ACF nationals field this year will be substantially weaker than those in the recent past, largely due to player and/or team retirement. Naturally, these things are cyclical, but I think that with the much-mentioned advent of a more substantial masters circuit this problem will be alleviated in the long term.

Sorry for being so long-winded.
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Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Dec 27, 2006 2:11 pm

Some late-fall and early-spring tournaments should swing a little farther toward regionals, as otherwise there's a big jump to regionals from the difficulty newer players are used to.


Yes.

The best strategy for making sure that new players stick around in any meaningful way is immersion. Expose them to real questions, over and over and over and over again. At first, they will just sit there and perhaps cry. But if they keep coming, eventually they will start to memorize some of those cannonical clues invariably come up over and over again, and before they know it, they'll be decent-to-good ACF players.

That doesn't mean we get rid of juniorbird tournaments, or get rid of NAQT Div II. By no means. But it does mean that we should make those tournaments much more difficult. In my view, what makes a juniorbird/Div II tournament more accessible isn't the ease of questions, but the fact that there is a much less formidable competition (i.e., no Andrew Yaphe, no Charles Meigs, no Jerry, and not even Seth Kendell). That extra accessibility will still be there if the questions get much harder, and it will have the additional value of steeling the player for the day in the future when he WILL need to know who Clodius Albinus was in order to beat Matt Weiner.
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Postby grapesmoker » Wed Dec 27, 2006 4:38 pm

theMoMA wrote:Consider how much work catching up to the college competition takes. Then consider that many quiz bowl dinosaurs aren't retiring any time soon. The prospect of working for years just to get beaten by old-timers is not an attractive one for many.


I guess I'm one of those dinosaurs, as are folks like Matt Weiner, Andrew Yaphe, Seth Teitler, Matt Lafer, Ryan Westbrook, Mike Sorice, and maybe some other players I'm missing.

Consider that list, and now think about the fact that of those people, Andrew is no longer playing national tournaments; Matt is playing his last collegiate season this year, as he is graduating; Ryan Westbrook and Matt Lafer have also graduated and are ineligible to compete for national titles; and both Seth and I, and presumably Mike (though I don't know his schedule) are facing increasing graduate school workloads that are preventing us from playing as much as we'd like.

The simple fact is that the dinosaurs are slowly shuffling off to other pursuits, so the claims that old players are somehow discouraging younger players from getting better is more specious today than it was 3 or 4 years ago (and it wasn't particularly credible then either). The gap between the top and the rest was much greater even two years ago, in my opinion; at least that's how I felt when I was part of "the rest." Yes, there are a few really good players out there, but there are many fewer of them than there were previously, and many of those are getting ready to move on. I personally am now involved in a long-duration project that entails a lot of travel and work over the weekends and I suspect that after this year I will no longer be able to attend more than 2 or 3 tournaments per year, if that.

If you are part of that up-and-coming generation, there is probably no better time than the next 2 or 3 years to fight your way to the top of the pile. I predict that ACF Nationals 2009 isn't going to feature very many teams or players that are considered to be at the top today.

Finally, new players need to be encouraged to integrate themselves into the quiz bowl community. The forums and the IRC channel are really fanstastic resources for the new player. Which is to say, you guys are really fantastic resources for the new player.


I think the community of dinosaurs is much friendlier than we appear on these forums when we are criticizing someone. I have never known any of the top players to turn down a request for advice or refuse to tell someone how to get better. All of us are interested in seeing the game continue, and we're happy to do that by helping newer players improve themselves.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Wed Dec 27, 2006 5:49 pm

I'm not really on board with hard eligibility limits on students for most tournaments and I absolutely do not think that there needs to be a separate division for new players anywhere outside of the ICT, but I do support:

-some sort of gentleman's agreement about what is appropriate participation for tournaments specifically designed for newer players like ACF Fall
-the proliferation of awards for the highest-finishing all-UG or all-D2 team within the overall field
-an end to the trend of letting non-students or true masters teams play in regular-season tournaments
-the expansion of open/masters tournaments to give such people a place to play

The last one is something we've all been talking about for years now, and I think it might finally be realistic, given all the impending retirements and the rousing success of every recent Chicago Open. Are people willing to step up and put on similar events every three months or so, at similar quality levels? Are those who have left school willing to go to such events and forego beating up on new players at regular invitationals?
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Postby No Rules Westbrook » Wed Dec 27, 2006 8:44 pm

Oh, boy, what a great thread. Well, here goes...


Pretty much I'm squarely behind Paul. The lone salient impression of the future of college qb (and I'm speaking just of acf mostly here) to me is: there just aren't enough players around who are ready to pony up and make this thing work. Now, I think that there will still be a number (probably as many as ever) of quality well-written events on the circuit - there are enough individuals who will write those types of events: Weiner, Teitler, Yaphe, myself, Dave, Kwartler, Jerry, Lafer, etc. The issue is - who's left to play them? The fields at most circuit events these days are either super tiny (Ill Open) or have the collective strength of - oh, where's my metaphor - a handful of midgets, a donkey with cancer, the NFC, charles meigs' left bicep? Sometimes, it feels like you need every good player available on the planet just to create the strength of field that tournaments routinely had three years ago. And, with the passing of every year, a few more of those necessary players fade away. Sure, there are a handful of people who will always be there, come hell or high water, the question is - who's gonna be there with them? I don't even mean on a standard university team - the truly solid acf team may hear its death knell after the dissolution of texas a&m and chicago A - I'm even talking about the individual players.

Now, I don't really agree with Paul's charisma hypothesis. Sure, there's no denying that Zeke was a larger-than-life character who brought people to the game (and not just brought them like a lot of people do, but turned them into great players). But, that seems like an anomaly. There are a lot of colorful dominant qb players in the game now, and as mentioned they are more than willing to draw people into the game (even if they don't seek them out as much as they could). Teitler, Jerry, Sorice, Weiner, and others fit this profile - dare I say there's no lack of charisma in today's qb (I don't know, maybe I'm wrong, I'm notoriously demented about these things). What there does seem to be a lack of is desire and work ethic from the promising people coming out of high school. Sure, it's well nigh impossible to accumulate the canon that experienced players have had many years to develop - I'm not looking for that, I'm looking for the dogged accumulation of any canon.

Even Weiner, the standard-bearer for the optimistic side of this argument, admits that the college game will have to shift to a different "paradigm." By this, he seems to mean a paradigm of overwhelming mediocrity (which will necessitate a corresponding change in the standard canon). Maybe that's not terrible, but unless there are some young people ready to eventually bust through that mediocrity towards the level of where the good players are today - it is regression and it is more or less a "dark age."

As a side note, I think it's hilarious when people call me a dinosaur, given I've really only played for 4 years (and I think the average qb career should last about 12 years). But, actually, I think the reason for this is precisely because, when you turn around and look at the qb players younger than me, what you see is a vast desert of mediocrity and umpromising anonymity, with a few bright oases here and there (and I don't mean to offend those oases with this rant). But, that desert is the problem.
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Postby DanTheClam » Wed Dec 27, 2006 11:05 pm

As part of the "vast desert of mediocrity and umpromising anonymity," I would like to voice my opinion that the future of qb life is not as bad as people here would like to claim. This opinion is based on:

1. Incoming high schoolers are getting better with each passing year, both in terms of playing ability and writing ability. As surely as the college canon is expanding, from the indications I get from the things known by our incoming freshmen, the high school canon is also expanding. This is likely due to trickle-down from college players writing for NAQT, and, as NAQT high school questions continue to rise in popularity, will probably only become more common.

2. I honestly think that most of those predicting the eminent demise of SCT and ICT would not miss either. Speaking only for myself, when I attend SCT, I do not expect it to be a good tournament. My only reason for attending SCT is to help qualify a team for ICT, which I hope to be a good enough tournament to merit going, even if it still does not merit the cost.

3. The problem with most club-written or club-edited tournaments today is not a lack of understanding of how to edit/write, but rather a lack of attention to detail and a lack of time put in (which, to be completely fair, is often also not the fault of the editors/writers). The people who are trying to put together tournaments at least know what they are supposed to do; they just, in some cases, don't get it done. This is, in fact, a step forward from what seems to have been prevalent, say, 5+ years ago. If you look through the archives at tournaments more than 5 years old, or get old NAQT or ACF sets, they're honestly not worth reading. If you get the 3 most universally panned packet sets of this year, probably one of those 3 would have been one of the top, if not the top, packet set 5 years ago. The bar for tournament quality has been set almost absurdly high, which has led to the lack of interest in putting together a tournament. Why is this good? Well, people are still writing packets, and people are still editing tournaments, despite all this, and these tournaments will continue to be written. And that means that, no matter how much you may complain, if you go back and look at ACF packets from the early 90s, you will realize just how good we have it today and just how good today's writers and editors are. This brings me to:

4. Ryan's "desert" isn't nearly as mediocre or uncompromising as some elite players like to claim. There are a handful of teams and players, many of whom seem to live on this message board, who consider themselves gods, the only bearers of light in a dark world. Fortunately for them and for the rest of us, this is not the case. There are still decent house-written tournaments and tournaments being edited by younger players around the country who are still somehow part of this "vast desert of mediocrity." It's easy to dismiss these, claiming they're not up to par with the events being put on by other clubs, but are you honestly able to make that judgment so easily? The difference between a horrible tournament and a good tournament is a hair's breadth today, and what was horrible three months ago would have looked damn good three years ago. College tournaments, with the exception of NAQT's events, have on average been getting better with each passing year, and even that exception may just be perception, not reality. Further, there are decent-to-good teams out there who are submitting the packets which are being used in all these packet submission tournaments.

College quiz bowl is held up not only by a few elites, but also by a vast supporting cast of capable players. Believe me, I am well aware that many teams also submit inexcusably bad packets to tournaments, and that, yes, there is a lot of mediocrity out there on the circuit. But there are also a lot of competent people out there ready and waiting to step up and do their part to keep the game alive and strong. In many cases, those same people are bringing up new undergraduates, and in other cases new undergraduates are bringing up themselves. Rumors of college quiz bowl's death have been greatly exaggerated.
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Postby First Chairman » Wed Dec 27, 2006 11:22 pm

I love this thread... partly because it is a great philosophical and prescient discussion. I also think that there is a lot more hope for many of the younger current undergraduates and new graduate students who are in the game, but we do have to make sure we continue to have a nurturing environment that brings new people into the fold. It's important to get a lot of the great players in high school to remain interested to continue the evolution of the game while maintaining the standards that they are entrusted with... but it is also important to get people who may not have had experience with a nurturing high school experience or may be completely new to quiz bowl while in college.
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Postby No Rules Westbrook » Thu Dec 28, 2006 12:40 am

By the way, I should point out - my "vast desert of mediocrity" shouldn't be taken as just an indictment of how much younger players know. It encompasses a lot of things - how much time they put into the game, how many questions they write, how active they are in the community, their desire to get better, etc. - although, of course, these things are often proportional to how much they "know," but not always and it's an important distinction.
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Postby grapesmoker » Thu Dec 28, 2006 5:10 am

Ryan Westbrook wrote:Sometimes, it feels like you need every good player available on the planet just to create the strength of field that tournaments routinely had three years ago.


I want to respond to this because I think Ryan paints an unintentionally deceptive picture of the relative strength of teams in years past versus now. I personally don't think that 3 or 4 years ago fields were stronger, on the average. Some parts of the circuit may have been more competitive, but I don't think this indicates a stronger field but rather a lower level of play in general, which didn't become apparent until teams developed that could just run away from the pack. I think anyone playing in the Midwest those years would have a skewed perspective due to the combined presence of three strong clubs (Michigan, Chicago, and Illinois), each of which could field several very competitive teams. That's a pretty rare thing in most parts of the circuit; usually there are one or two teams that are just way better than everyone else around.

I don't even mean on a standard university team - the truly solid acf team may hear its death knell after the dissolution of texas a&m and chicago A - I'm even talking about the individual players.


I've never seen a team that I was more impressed with in terms of balance than the 2005 Michigan team, but again I think they were not necessarily the norm (except among actual championship teams, which tend to be pretty balanced). I can't claim any personal familiarity with legendary teams of yore, but checking the ACF Nationals stats reveals that most teams seem to be structured around one really good player. That includes people like John Kenney and Kelly McKenzie; when the supporting cast is good enough, those teams usually end up making it to the top 5, though they don't win because one player usually can't do everything.

Teitler, Jerry, Sorice, Weiner, and others fit this profile - dare I say there's no lack of charisma in today's qb (I don't know, maybe I'm wrong, I'm notoriously demented about these things).


I don't think of myself as charismatic; sure, some of us are characters, but I don't really think that's going to attract people to the game that are not disposed to playing in the first place.

What there does seem to be a lack of is desire and work ethic from the promising people coming out of high school. Sure, it's well nigh impossible to accumulate the canon that experienced players have had many years to develop - I'm not looking for that, I'm looking for the dogged accumulation of any canon.


I don't think people are lazier now than they were before. If anything, I've had more success getting questions out of the freshmen on my team than I used to have getting questions out of some of my former Berkeley teammates. Also, the quality of some of the writing is much better than what I produced in my first year.

I think we should just accept the fact that in a good year, an established club will add 2 or 3 members if they're lucky. Even people who were good in high school, upon surveying the collegiate canon, can become overwhelmed. All of a sudden, being good in high school doesn't mean much, and you can't expect to win every game; for people who were "naturals" in high school but aren't interested in working to improve, that's probably a major negative point, more so than personality or whatever. It's always been the case.

In general, it may be true that some of us who started around 2000 or so may have benefited by the relatively small size of the canon back then. It expanded and we grew as players along with it. But I think canon expansion has generally slowed, and there are now many things that are squarely within it, and that core is not harder to grasp today than it was 5 years ago. Plus, good high school players have a wider base these days to start from. So it all comes down to effort and desire, but I don't think that has really changed since I've been around.

a vast desert of mediocrity and umpromising anonymity, with a few bright oases here and there (and I don't mean to offend those oases with this rant). But, that desert is the problem.


We're fooling ourselves if we think that the general level of play has ever been anything other than medicore. Most teams have been and are weekend warriors, and I think we should just accept that as a fact and learn to live with it.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Thu Dec 28, 2006 9:28 pm

grapesmoker wrote:We're fooling ourselves if we think that the general level of play has ever been anything other than medicore. Most teams have been and are weekend warriors, and I think we should just accept that as a fact and learn to live with it.


Indeed. What we need to do is find some way to keep these casual players showing up at good tournaments so those tournaments stay viable, and not fret over the rate of good players emerging. If so many current stars are leaving, the incentive to get better will only rise anyhow.
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Postby Ray » Fri Dec 29, 2006 5:15 am

quiz bowl should become easier
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Postby Matthew D » Fri Dec 29, 2006 11:16 am

Ray wrote:quiz bowl should become easier


Please explain your reasoning this?
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Postby Ray » Fri Dec 29, 2006 4:54 pm

well it's too hard
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Postby grapesmoker » Fri Dec 29, 2006 5:59 pm

Ray wrote:well it's too hard


quit trolling
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Postby Ray » Sat Dec 30, 2006 3:17 am

i'm not trolling, i just thought the point was kind of obvious...maybe you just want me to use proper capitalization, fine

Back in the mid to late 90s, quiz bowl was easy enough so that some random undergrad who paid attention in his classes could go to a tournament and probably get a tossup or two each round, before the giveaway. I think we should go back to this instead of continuing to make every tournament progressively harder.

One trend I've noticed is that people will write a tossup on a reasonably accessible thing but pack it full of incredibly obscure clues until the giveaway and think that this is good because it challenges good players while remaining gettable for perpetual n00bs like myself. The result is that second-to-last clues today are harder than leadins were 5-10 years ago. I wish people would stop doing this. These questions are no more pyramidal than questions composed entirely of leadins, though I suppose they are the less undesirable of the two extremes.

We can continue to have questions like these for ACF Nationals but for your average circuit tournament, I think it's more important to ensure that the field can get a tossup before the giveaway than to ensure that there not be a buzzerrace between two of the very top teams on a leadin. I know that this is going to be an unpopular opinion on these boards, but I really don't care if Matt loses to Jerry on a buzzer race on the leadin of the last tossup of their at a circuit tournament if it means that a weaker team was able to get more questions before the giveaways and have more fun. Besides, they'll meet again in the finals anyway and we can save the incredibly hard, Eiffel Tower-shaped questions for then and keep actual pyramidal questions in the rounds that most teams will be playing.
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Postby grapesmoker » Sat Dec 30, 2006 4:48 am

Ray wrote:i'm not trolling, i just thought the point was kind of obvious...maybe you just want me to use proper capitalization, fine


I was just hoping you'd make an argument or something instead of just going "oh it's too hard make it easy" and then leaving it at that. Since you've done so, I'll respond.

Back in the mid to late 90s, quiz bowl was easy enough so that some random undergrad who paid attention in his classes could go to a tournament and probably get a tossup or two each round, before the giveaway. I think we should go back to this instead of continuing to make every tournament progressively harder.


Every tournament is not progressively harder. I challenge you to point me to the "progressively harder" tournaments on offer this year. ACF Fall? EFT? PARFAIT? BoB? I'm only looking at ones that took place near me, but none of them are harder than your average invitational has been in years past. Teams come and do well on them and everyone seems to be more or less satisfied. We've eliminated lots of dross from question writing, which is as I think it should be.

One trend I've noticed is that people will write a tossup on a reasonably accessible thing but pack it full of incredibly obscure clues until the giveaway and think that this is good because it challenges good players while remaining gettable for perpetual n00bs like myself. The result is that second-to-last clues today are harder than leadins were 5-10 years ago. I wish people would stop doing this. These questions are no more pyramidal than questions composed entirely of leadins, though I suppose they are the less undesirable of the two extremes.


I'd like to see some examples of these allegedly more difficult second-to-last clues. Tossups start with hard clues and end with easy ones, and while there have certainly been questions that have suffered from the "steep pyramid," and such questions are bad, they are definitely not the norm.

We can continue to have questions like these for ACF Nationals but for your average circuit tournament, I think it's more important to ensure that the field can get a tossup before the giveaway than to ensure that there not be a buzzerrace between two of the very top teams on a leadin.


I don't see anything that indicates to me that the two are mutually exclusive. The field can get a tossup before the giveaway, but not on the first clue. Meanwhile, first clues remain hard to distinguish finer levels of knowledge. However, I think it actually is important to distinguish between the two of the very top teams on a leadin, as sometimes that is the only way to do so.

I know that this is going to be an unpopular opinion on these boards, but I really don't care if Matt loses to Jerry on a buzzer race on the leadin of the last tossup of their at a circuit tournament if it means that a weaker team was able to get more questions before the giveaways and have more fun. Besides, they'll meet again in the finals anyway and we can save the incredibly hard, Eiffel Tower-shaped questions for then and keep actual pyramidal questions in the rounds that most teams will be playing.


Again, this sounds like a totally false dilemma to me. There's no reason not to have a leadin that would distinguish between two good teams and also lets teams that are not as good get the question before the giveaway. That's the point of pyramidality and we can satisfy both requirements by adhering to it.

Yeah, quizbowl is a game where you can't walk in off the street and expect to put up 60 PPG in your first tournament. I know that sounds a little like a charicature of your argument, but there's no reason you can't answer a bunch of questions based on stuff you learn in classes and going to practice regularly. I have undergrads who started this year who are picking up 30 or 40 PPG in novice-oriented and mid-level tournaments right off the bat, so your assertion about "random undergrads" not being able to score points is clearly false in my experience. To the best of my knowledge, most of them don't expend any special efforts to get better; they just come to practice and go to tournaments, and sometimes while reading packets I'll share with them some information I know about the question topic. That's basically it.

Look, I scored a grand total of 7 points per game the first time I played in a collegiate tournament. My high school experience would be a joke to even semi-decent high school players today, not to mention championship teams like TJ and Richard Montgomery, who I imagine would have wiped the floor with my varsity team. I didn't write much or put much time into the game for my first 3 years, and I still got better just by hearing many questions and doing some side reading. Really, the amount of effort required to get yourself to the point where you can answer an average of 2 or 3 tossups per game is not excruciatingly great. If you're demanding that quizbowl be the kind of game where you can be good without any effort, then I suppose we have incompatible aims.

One last point I'd like to make is that narrowing the clue space hurts weaker teams. However badly you might have gotten pummeled by Matt Weiner at PARFAIT, I'm pretty sure that on easier questions you would have been pummeled even worse because Matt already knows all the easy clues. Seriously, assuming the question is pyramidal and coherently written and the only difference is the relative difficulty of the clues, you will be beaten by dinosaurs even worse than you get beaten now. Not that long ago, I played Illinois Open 2003 in practice, a packet set that used to be considered hard by those standards, and at one point I probably answered 5 or 6 questions in a row off the first or second clue. I'm not posting that to say how awesome I am, but to point out that anyone who's been around for some time will have heard those clues and new players will be at an even greater disadvantage when playing against dinosaurs if the clue space is kept smaller.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Sat Dec 30, 2006 4:26 pm

Ray wrote:One trend I've noticed is that people will write a tossup on a reasonably accessible thing but pack it full of incredibly obscure clues until the giveaway and think that this is good because it challenges good players while remaining gettable for perpetual n00bs like myself. The result is that second-to-last clues today are harder than leadins were 5-10 years ago.


This is called a "bad question" and does not reflect the stated philosophy of anyone that I know of.
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Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Sat Dec 30, 2006 6:18 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:
Ray wrote:One trend I've noticed is that people will write a tossup on a reasonably accessible thing but pack it full of incredibly obscure clues until the giveaway and think that this is good because it challenges good players while remaining gettable for perpetual n00bs like myself. The result is that second-to-last clues today are harder than leadins were 5-10 years ago.


This is called a "bad question" and does not reflect the stated philosophy of anyone that I know of.


You do know of Ryan Westbrook, right?
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Postby vig180 » Sat Dec 30, 2006 6:54 pm

Like theMoMa, I played on absolutely terrible HS questions (AUK-style). Thus the only QB I knew was stuff I could find in the Stanford and ACF archives, which definitely helped prepare me for the transition. Still, it took me all of last year on playing NAQT DII questions before I finally felt like I grasped the basic canon. I greatly appreciated the chance to adjust before being thrown into the tougher questions and competition.

NAQT attracted (by my count) 169 college teams to sectionals last year (not counting the CC sectionals). ACF had 79. Though the numbers appear to be down from recent years, they show that neither format is on its way out by any means. Since nobody except the players at any given school has control over whether or not that school will go to a given tournament, the best the community can do is invite teams to tournaments, help teams who want help in becoming better teams, and have well-run tournaments that can appeal to all levels of experience. I was pleased at this year's ACF Fall in the Southeast to see teams like Tulane, Alabama and UL-Lafayette who seem to be relatively new to the circuit. While it's not exactly exponential growth, getting new schools involved is always a good sign and that's what having some easier tournaments can help do.

"What we need to do is find some way to keep these casual players showing up at good tournaments so those tournaments stay viable, and not fret over the rate of good players emerging. "
That's what the SCT and ACF Fall function as- tournaments that can appeal to casual players yet still attract top teams and players. The demise of either one would be a grievous blow to younger teams and players.

One of the problems with keeping players interested is that the difficulty jump from ACF Fall to anything beyond is rather large- indeed, the EFT, which was billed as slightly above ACF Fall, seemed more along the lines of Regionals packets that I've read. These tougher tournaments also tend to attract smaller, better fields, which can be disconcerting to any non-circuit teams that happen to wander in. Certainly teams should try to build up experience and knowledge to compete in them, but as was said earlier
"College quiz bowl is held up not only by a few elites, but also by a vast supporting cast of capable players."
Having some easier and some more difficult tournaments just seems like a good compromise that will keep these players interested.

"Some late-fall and early-spring tournaments should swing a little farther toward regionals, as otherwise there's a big jump to regionals from the difficulty newer players are used to."
Unless you establish a separate division for these newer teams, they're not only going to get destroyed by the competition but also not get many questions. Having slightly easier questions at least lets them feel like they have a chance on every question and lets them enjoy playing. Of course, this should not be a crutch that should continue indefinitely, but I think there should be a way to make the transition to tournaments of higher difficulty easier on newer players and teams.

Hopefully NAQT will continue to co-exist alongside ACF as two different alternatives for novice and experienced players alike. While I have little knowledge other than what I read here of the state at the top of NAQT or ACF, from the bottom they seem to be working rather well.
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Postby your mom » Sat Dec 30, 2006 7:18 pm

I don't really agree with Jerry's statement that it doesn't take much effort to get to the point where you can answer 2-3 questions per game. Maybe at ACF Fall or some of the easiest tournaments you could make this claim, but I subit that you still definitely have to know some shit to get your 2-3 questions against any sort of decent competition at a real tournament. I personally pride myself on having worked semi-hard even to get to that point where I can consistently score 20ppg. Mastering categories is hard, there's always new stuff to learn and new clues to stay on top of, and even in the weakened state of the current circuit, there are many good players around to snatch questions away from you. I don't think there's a whole lot of random stuff that a non hard-working player can take away from players who know something about a topic. I guess I just think its important to diffuse the notion that even scoring a few tossups per game in quiz bowl could actually be considered "easy." To be anything but a dead buzzer requires some time and energy, unless you really just happen to be a guy like Kemezis who knows tons of stuff that comes up in quiz bowl without ever dedicating yourself specifically to learning it.
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Postby setht » Sat Dec 30, 2006 7:42 pm

I think many people (including many of the more prolific writers) could do a better job of writing more of their questions with real middle-level clues suitable for the field at the tournament they're writing for. I get the (possibly wrong) impression that the way many people approach question-writing these days is that they go look up a bunch of clues, pick a bunch that they don't recognize, then put them all into a tossup and tack on a giveaway. It feels like people are overly fearful of generating buzzer races in the middles of question, and are not worrying enough about generating buzzer races at the giveaway. Other times, people write tossups on answers that can't possibly have good middle clues for the tournament in question.

I'll cite two examples from EFT: the tossup on Thomas Paine, and the tossup on Novelas Ejemplares. In the first case the answer selection was fine but I thought the clue content looked like several lines of very obscure, lead-in level material followed by "he wrote Age of Reason and Common Sense." In the second case, I think the question was doomed from the start because the answer was just not going to work for an easy tournament. I don't think these two tossups made the tournament terrible, but in both cases I think the question-writers could have avoided the problematic aspects of these questions given a little more thought and time.

So, Jerry, I'll refer you to the Thomas Paine tossup from EFT for an example of a tossup with unreasonably hard pre-giveaway clues. I agree that this is not the norm, but I think it actually happens more often than you might think--perhaps you don't notice because you are able to get many questions before the giveaway.

Matt, as Andrew has already suggested, Ryan seems to have a bizarre writing philosophy largely at variance with the opinions of pretty much everyone else. More important, to my mind, is the fact that most of the people who spend time delineating their writing philosophies online don't always translate their stated philosophies into great questions. When was the last time we heard an experienced editor state that he/she was thoroughly satisfied with the question set they produced? I'm pretty sure Jerry, Ryan and I were not completely satisfied with the EFT set, and in many cases I think that the questions that dissatisfied us most were ones which did not conform to our writing philosophies. I know I mentioned in the discussion thread some bonus questions I wrote that, upon reflection, did not seem to have the sort of difficulty structure I wanted.

I don't really have much to say about prognostications for 5 years from now. Instead, I'll say that I think there is currently a sizable population of active players/writers/editors who are generally very good at picking appropriate tossup answers, writing appropriate tossup giveaways, and doing good research to dig up good tossup lead-ins. I'd say that anyone who wants to improve as a writer should start out by trying to get to that point. I think that those people who feel they are already there should focus primarily on improving the quality of their middle-level clues. In fact, I think people should approach tossup-writing with the mentality that they must be certain that each tossup answer has not just a giveaway, but also a good amount of middle-level clue material available. For almost every tournament, each tossup only needs one lead-in and one giveaway. The bulk of each tossup should be a progression of middle-level clues, shading from hardest to easiest. If more people focused on this portion of their tossups, I think tournament submissions and editing would improve and young and old players would enjoy questions more. I think there's hope that the circuit at large can do a better job of producing more questions, and in particular more quality questions, in the next few years. This can only help the causes of invitational tournaments, ACF, NAQT, and TRASH.

-Seth

p.s.--please feel free to spend less time posting here about how people should write questions and more time writing questions as they should be written for, say, your ACF Regionals packets.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Sat Dec 30, 2006 7:46 pm

I definitely agree that the Mystery of the Missing Middle Clues is a huge practical problem with a lot of tossups these days; I just think that it is a consequence of general lack of time spent on tournament sets, rather than any kind of conscious ideological statement about how questions should be. Everyone who does it wishes he hadn't, or just doesn't know better.
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Postby No Rules Westbrook » Sat Dec 30, 2006 7:56 pm

You do know of Ryan Westbrook, right?


Sigh. Yeah, fair enough I guess, given how I generally tried to write EFT. When I write easier questions, they do tend to stay hard and opaque for a long time with several new clues, but I try awfully hard not to let them drop off the table and turn into a buzzer race for everyone. You can point to some countexamples like the Thomas Paine tu which I agree does this, but by and large, I try to give at least a sentence or two of lower-level canonical material so that better players can get it before the "for ten points."



Meh, now for the other points which less directly concern me. I really don't know what people are talking about when they imply some sort of wild jump from ACF fall to "everything else." Practically every standard invitational around these days (BoB/Parfait/EFT/etc.) - if classified as anything, would have to be "between acf fall and regionals," the very difficulty people are arguing should exist more. And, if I had to pick, those tourneys probably shade more to the fall side than regionals. Anyway, this level of difficulty is about as hard as you can go with most fields in everyday invitationals these days. And, in case it's not obvious - it's awfully hard to write a tournament that's as baseline easy as acf fall. Unless you're crazy creative, you really have to pick the same answers over and over again. And, as Jerry implied as well - you can't just revert to 2002 and use those clues over and over again, the good players (assuming they are playing that tourney) will just munch them up. For the people making this "gradation of difficulty" argument - I really don't see how you can do much more in that way than we're already doing. ACF fall is surely as easy as you can go and still be acf, lots of invitationals are just above that level, then stuff like regs/nats/co/io is harder, but what more do you want?


Responding to the disconnect between Jerry and Dave as to how easy it is to become good enough to get 2-3 tus a game, I think Jerry is probably right so long as you play in a place where most of the teams are not chicago, illinois, michigan, or other random roving experienced players. "Stealing questions" from that lot of foes is a whole different story than I'd imagine exists in several other places where the opponents tend to be more garden variety.
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Postby No Rules Westbrook » Sat Dec 30, 2006 8:01 pm

Heh, I want to point out that I wrote the above response prior to Seth's, knowing someone would cite my Thomas Paine tu. Can we just expunge that particular tossup - I repent for it, honestly. I am not an opponent of gettable middle clues; I'll try to prove it at MLK.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Sat Dec 30, 2006 8:12 pm

Yeah, I seem to recall last year's MLK being an exemplar of finely graded tossups, but I don't have a copy on hand so I can't confirm this memory. It seemed odd to single out Ryan, who seems to suffer the opposite problem from the rest of us--campaigning for harder questions while writing easy ones.
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Postby Mr. Kwalter » Sat Dec 30, 2006 11:53 pm

vig180 wrote:I was pleased at this year's ACF Fall in the Southeast to see teams like Tulane, Alabama and UL-Lafayette who seem to be relatively new to the circuit. While it's not exactly exponential growth, getting new schools involved is always a good sign and that's what having some easier tournaments can help do.

Tulane and ULL aren't new teams, they just usually come west rather than driving east. However, ACF Fall in our region was in Tulsa this year, so it was easier for them to go to Vanderbilt. ULL and Tulane played a hard-fought finals match at SCT 2006 in Austin to determine who got our D2 bid for ICT, and ULL won, later making an appearance at nationals.

Anyway, having concluded that brief history of Louisiana quizbowl, I will now move on to say that the problem with PARFAIT etc is that usually they actually ultimately aim for ACF Fall difficulty, not between. Of course, occasionally you'll also see outrageously difficult tossups, but that's just bad writing/editing. While I commend any and all efforts to create mACF invitationals, the bottom line is that we need tournaments that actually hit that in-between difficulty edited by editors who know what that difficulty level means and can keep it consistent. I really think that's why there's such a huge dropoff in attendance between ACF fall and regionals. Have Penn Bowl and maybe less so MLK take the middle road. If new players can recognize that college quizbowl doesn't immediately shoot from stuff they maybe knew in HS to stuff they've never heard of, they're more likely to stick around.
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Postby setht » Sun Dec 31, 2006 12:27 am

I don't mean to single out Ryan or anyone else. I'll go ahead and make the claim, possibly false, that the majority of the problematic tossups I've heard this fall, or seen in Regionals submissions, were problematic because of a lack of good middle clues. In many cases I've been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the questions I've heard or seen--as I noted above, it seems there's a reassuringly large pool of people that can write reasonable tossups with good answer selection, giveaways and lead-ins. I'm not just talking about ACF editors or people who have been playing for 6+ years.

About tournament level: I agree with Eric that it's not good to have a tournament year consist of 4 ACF Fall-level events and 3 ACF National-level events--it's a lot like the clue content of a tossup. Having said that, I'm not so sure that all the invitationals are really clustering that close to ACF Fall, and leaving the middle-upper levels of difficulty empty.

-Seth
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