How many lines does a tossup need?

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How many lines does a tossup need?

Postby Cody » Wed Oct 21, 2015 9:48 am

Split off from here --mgmt

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:- Tossups are going to be hard-capped at 7 lines. Every tossup will have some text on its seventh line. Please feel free to submit tossups that are longer than 7 lines, but do not submit any tossups that are shorter than 7 lines, or we will send them back to you.
Hey, this minimum length idea is bad in both regards; enforcing every finished tossup being between at least 6.0000000001 but no more than 7 lines is bad because it's perfectly possible to write a good 6 line tossup. Much worse is that you're threatening to send tossups that aren't >6 lines back; why would you do this??? The editor's job is to bring a question up to snuff, whether because the question is bad or needs more clues. If you're looking to get better "quality" questions, I doubt the minimum length will help that much (instead, people are more likely to throw some BS into the question). You'd be better served by rejecting bad questions outright, which no one would ever consider acceptable; why would this be?

edit: lest the first part overshadow the second part, obviously it's your tournament and you can implement a minimum length however you please (though I find it very much unnecessary; most editors will edit questions to near the line cap anyway). But you shouldn't be forcing a minimum length on teams.
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Re: Global Announcement: ACF Regionals 2016 (01/30/2016)

Postby ThisIsMyUsername » Wed Oct 21, 2015 12:23 pm

Cody wrote:Hey, this minimum length idea is bad in both regards; enforcing every finished tossup being between at least 6.0000000001 but no more than 7 lines is bad because it's perfectly possible to write a good 6 line tossup. Much worse is that you're threatening to send tossups that aren't >6 lines back; why would you do this??? The editor's job is to bring a question up to snuff, whether because the question is bad or needs more clues. If you're looking to get better "quality" questions, I doubt the minimum length will help that much (instead, people are more likely to throw some BS into the question). You'd be better served by rejecting bad questions outright, which no one would ever consider acceptable; why would this be?

edit: lest the first part overshadow the second part, obviously it's your tournament and you can implement a minimum length however you please (though I find it very much unnecessary; most editors will edit questions to near the line cap anyway). But you shouldn't be forcing a minimum length on teams.


I'm not sure what the cause for melodramatic punctuation is, here.

Every single tournament that I have worked on--including those in which I was merely a subject editor and not in charge of determining question length--has had a de facto minimum length requirement that the editors enforced.

Maybe you haven't read the most recent couple of ACF Regionals, but making it onto the seventh line has been the de facto minimum for a while. In fact, almost every question at the two most recent ACF Regionals made it onto the eighth line. I'm making questions shorter, not longer. The minimum that I'm enforcing has been standard practice, even if the fact of being completely transparent about its enforcement is new.

To your second point: Editors do indeed have the responsibility to make questions better. (And I don't think I'm someone who has ever been accused of being lazy when it comes to overhauling questions.) But writers have the responsibility to make a good-faith effort to submit a packet that could potentially be used without further editing. Submitting a packet whose questions are below the normative minimums for Regionals question-length is an inherent violation of that social contract. The writer is submitting something that necessarily needs not merely editing, but more writing.

I'm not under the illusion that the person who writes bad six-line tossups will now write an excellent seven-line tossup. But my experience is that many of the too-short tossups are submitted by very experienced teams, precisely the teams who do know how to write acceptable seven-line tossups once told that this is what is expected of them.
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Re: Global Announcement: ACF Regionals 2016 (01/30/2016)

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Wed Oct 21, 2015 12:33 pm

John's plan seems more than reasonable here and I'm more than happy to keep our packet in line with his standards.
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Re: Global Announcement: ACF Regionals 2016 (01/30/2016)

Postby Cheynem » Wed Oct 21, 2015 2:51 pm

I generally think it's better to write a longer submission than you would normally expect for a tossup; you're providing the editor with a range of clues and ideas that can be chopped down as makes sense. I do think that submitting a good 6-line tossup isn't inherently a violation of some social contract; if it's good, it's good.
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Re: Global Announcement: ACF Regionals 2016 (01/30/2016)

Postby Cody » Wed Oct 21, 2015 4:52 pm

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:Every single tournament that I have worked on--including those in which I was merely a subject editor and not in charge of determining question length--has had a de facto minimum length requirement that the editors enforced.
No tournament I've worked on has ever had an explicit minimum question length, which is what this requirement is. If there weren't already a consensus on the de facto minimum length among editors, imposing a line cap necessarily creates a de facto length close to the line cap: why, then, bar a 6-line question with an appropriate number of clues and gradation? It's hardly far-fetched that a good finished tossup could be between 5.5 and 6 full lines given there's a strict 7 line cap. Consider tossup 20 from the Dartmouth A packet from Regionals 2015, the first packet I opened:

6 lines exactly wrote:20. A 1901 contest to construct one of these buildings in Liverpool was won by Giles Gilbert Scott, who then completed that building with George Frederick Bodley. Bodley himself designed one of these buildings featuring Frederick Hart’s The Creation. One of these buildings in Christchurch was constructed out of cardboard by Shigeru Ban. Ronald Reagan’s state funeral was held in one of these buildings, which were designed with vast windows in the Rayonnant style. "Emmanuel" is the largest of ten huge bells at one of these buildings famous for its chimera statues and located on the Île de la Cité. For 10 points, identify these buildings exemplified by Notre Dame de Paris.
ANSWER: cathedrals [prompt on churches]

Cleaning up, like, two constructions gives:
5.75 lines wrote:20. A 1901 contest to construct one of these buildings in Liverpool was won by Giles Gilbert Scott, who completed that building with George Frederick Bodley. Bodley designed one of these buildings featuring Frederick Hart’s The Creation. One of these buildings in Christchurch was constructed out of cardboard by Shigeru Ban. Ronald Reagan’s state funeral was held in one of these buildings, which were designed with vast windows in the Rayonnant style. "Emmanuel" is the largest of ten huge bells at one of these buildings famous for its chimera statues and located on the Île de la Cité. For 10 points, identify these buildings exemplified by Notre Dame de Paris.
ANSWER: cathedrals [prompt on churches]

Adding "George" in front of "Bodley" gives:
6 lines and 2 words wrote:20. A 1901 contest to construct one of these buildings in Liverpool was won by Giles Gilbert Scott, who then completed that building with George Frederick Bodley. George Bodley himself designed one of these buildings featuring Frederick Hart’s The Creation. One of these buildings in Christchurch was constructed out of cardboard by Shigeru Ban. Ronald Reagan’s state funeral was held in one of these buildings, which were designed with vast windows in the Rayonnant style. "Emmanuel" is the largest of ten huge bells at one of these buildings famous for its chimera statues and located on the Île de la Cité. For 10 points, identify these buildings exemplified by Notre Dame de Paris.
ANSWER: cathedrals [prompt on churches]

If one accepts that this is at least a reasonably okay tossup, the best version is clearly the middle one, in my opinion, despite it being the shortest.

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:Maybe you haven't read the most recent couple of ACF Regionals, but making it onto the seventh line has been the de facto minimum for a while. In fact, almost every question at the two most recent ACF Regionals made it onto the eighth line. I'm making questions shorter, not longer. The minimum that I'm enforcing has been standard practice, even if the fact of being completely transparent about its enforcement is new.
I'm not accusing you of making questions longer; I think a 7-line cap is a good thing.

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:To your second point: Editors do indeed have the responsibility to make questions better. (And I don't think I'm someone who has ever been accused of being lazy when it comes to overhauling questions.) But writers have the responsibility to make a good-faith effort to submit a packet that could potentially be used without further editing. Submitting a packet whose questions are below the normative minimums for Regionals question-length is an inherent violation of that social contract. The writer is submitting something that necessarily needs not merely editing, but more writing.
What I object to is setting a length that a good question does not have to meet and forcing teams to adhere to it; it's essentially the most arbitrary of requirements -- after all, teams aren't even required to submit good questions! I would argue that a team submitting a 5.75 line tossup is very far from submitting a question that is "below the normative minimums for Regionals question-length"; were it a good tossup, it'd be perfectly fine in a final set.

I don't find the distinction between a question needing editing versus more writing to hold much water: all bad questions, by necessity, need more writing. A lot more writing than a good 6-line tossup. Does that mean we should start rejecting packets with bad questions? No.

(not to get to far into this, but it's not the case that "writers have the responsibility to make a good-faith effort to submit a packet that could potentially be used without further editing". When I wrote packets I always subscribed to the idea that I had a responsibility to make a good-faith effort to submit a packet that is as good as possible (for me or my team), a much lesser version of the above statement. But neither statement is an actual requirement for packet writers: they're only required to submit a packet meeting a specified distribution and a few other conditions to receive a discount. No one is required to submit good questions and even good writers do not try that hard to submit uniformly quality questions [now that I view more as a violation of the social contract]).

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:I'm not under the illusion that the person who writes bad six-line tossups will now write an excellent seven-line tossup. But my experience is that many of the too-short tossups are submitted by very experienced teams, precisely the teams who do know how to write acceptable seven-line tossups once told that this is what is expected of them.
I have no qualms with this goal, but I don't agree with this method.
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Re: Global Announcement: ACF Regionals 2016 (01/30/2016)

Postby theMoMA » Wed Oct 21, 2015 5:50 pm

I don't see a problem with having a minimum as well as a maximum question length, although it seems to me that the latter is the more important issue. A very good six-line question will not be harmed with the addition of another half-line or line of clues somewhere, whether it's fleshing out what's already on the page or adding new material somewhere.
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Re: Global Announcement: ACF Regionals 2016 (01/30/2016)

Postby ThisIsMyUsername » Wed Oct 21, 2015 9:30 pm

This is the last post I'm going to devote to this subject.

Every tournament that declares that its tossups will be (and/or submissions should be) between X and Y lines is setting a minimum tossup length. Likewise, every NAQT tossup has both a minimum and maximum length. You've been around too long to convincingly feign unfamiliarity with this practice, Cody.

I assume that you are not a question-length nihilist, and that there is some tossup length that you are willing to declare as categorically too short for any ACF Regionals tossup. Your minimum number of lines is clearly simply lower than mine.

Quite obviously, if I agreed with you that there is such a thing as "a 6-line question with an appropriate number of clues and gradation" for ACF Regionals, I wouldn't be imposing this minimum! So repeating that as if this were an agreed-upon premise gets you nowhere. I agree that such a degree of gradation is appropriate for some tournament, but not for the tournament I am hoping to produce this year. Similarly, ICT tossups are considered long enough by NAQT for the purpose of their national tournament, but most ACF editors (even those who very much enjoy ICT as its own thing) would never allow tossups that short for ACF Nationals. Questions that short would be antithetical to what they want to achieve. Tournament editors choose the levels of gradation that they wish to enforce, according to their vision of the tournament. I have chosen mine.

I actually agree with you that the shortest of the three Dartmouth tossups you showed is the best. But that's because the difference between it and the longer ones is just fat, and not clue content. Now I happen to think that the tossup has a structural problem: it jumps from a clue on a cardboard cathedral in New Zealand that very few people will know to "do you know in what sort of building a state funeral for a president might be held?". (Gee, I wonder…) If I were keeping it as a six-line tossup, I would replace that clue outright. If I were editing it as a seven-line tossup, I might insert a clue between those two lines, and then edit the Washington National Cathedral line to be less transparent. Thus the two different ideal tossup lengths aim for different tossup structures, and produce different tournament styles.

Finally, your point saying "if we don't send back questions for being bad, we shouldn't send back questions for being too short" is utterly ridiculous. Editors already reserve the right to send back questions for formatting issues and minor subdistributional infarctions that have minimal effect on the final product, given that packets are combined. Question length--like these others parameters--is an objectively measurable standard we can hold submissions to and which can be followed by even inexperienced teams. Question quality quite obviously is neither of these things.
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Re: Global Announcement: ACF Regionals 2016 (01/30/2016)

Postby Gautam » Thu Oct 22, 2015 1:37 am

Yeah I agree with what JL is saying. I don't think John's vision is based on a flawed guiding principle. There might be some challenges in the implementation, but... there's hardly a thing we do in quizbowl that is free of such challenges. And I trust John's capability of handling such challenges and in his ability to get his editing crew to deal with those challenges.

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Re: How many lines does a tossup need?

Postby sonstige » Thu Oct 22, 2015 8:49 am

One criterion I've tried to apply when question writing is not as much a line count, but a word count. A reasonably clue-dense, pyramidal ACF-style TU can often be achieved as 150 +/-15 words, IMO.

EDIT: Looking at the examples Cody gave on the "cathedrals" TU, it looks like these are closer to 110 words each. Maybe saying 120 +/-15 words makes more sense for this particular tournament, assuming a word count is imposed.
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