What are clues for?

Elaborate on the merits of specific tournaments or have general theoretical discussion here.
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vinteuil
Auron
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What are clues for?

Post by vinteuil » Wed Jul 27, 2016 5:19 pm

I've been thinking about this a lot over the past year, and had a few discussions with people in passing; I'm interested to see what more people think about this topic.

In previous set discussions, I've put forth various versions of this position: "A tossup clue is supposed to be gettable; if you do not think that it is, then don't include it, even if it satisfies every other cluing criterion." Those posts were from the point of view of someone who likes to cultivate narrow but deep specialties. It can be frustrating to have a clue fly over your head (and everyone else's) and then make the mental calculation that you're one clue closer to a buzzer-race. (Obviously it can be nigh-impossible to figure out what people might know about a subject, and just because nobody gets a clue doesn't necessarily mean that it was ill-advised. For instance, given the process he described in the CO thread, I don't think anybody can say that Matt didn't make a good-faith, serious effort to pick clues that people had a real shot at.)

In response, people have posted various versions of "A clue that nobody gets can still be interesting and/or fun to listen to." There are also positions that boil down to "this question is for posterity," i.e. "I think this topic ought to be more well-known in quizbowl, so I feel justified in tossing it up/cluing it even if nobody gets it." Having now written a bunch of questions that probably had ill-advisedly hard (ungettably so) clues in them (especially for VICO), I think I understand these positions a little better...

On top of these three positions ("clues are for people to buzz on," "we all have to listen to these clues," and "clues are studied by future quizbowlers"), there's also the idea that a hard clue can help a knowledgeable player, even if they don't buzz on it.

That's four things that clues can be for: what are some others? For the various kinds of questions, what do people think is the best balance between these approaches? (For instance: how much of a responsibility do high-difficulty editors have to try to make clues gettable by at least someone? How much "interesting/hilarious but ungettable" is OK at regular difficulty and below?)
Jacob Reed
Chicago ~'25
Yale '17, '19
East Chapel Hill '13
"...distant bayings from...the musicological mafia"―Denis Stevens

15.366
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Re: What are clues for?

Post by 15.366 » Wed Aug 03, 2016 11:42 am

vinteuil wrote: In response, people have posted various versions of "A clue that nobody gets can still be interesting and/or fun to listen to." There are also positions that boil down to "this question is for posterity," i.e. "I think this topic ought to be more well-known in quizbowl, so I feel justified in tossing it up/cluing it even if nobody gets it." Having now written a bunch of questions that probably had ill-advisedly hard (ungettably so) clues in them (especially for VICO), I think I understand these positions a little better...
Alright, Jacob, since no one is answering your question, I'll bite.

I don't play quizbowl for glory or fame (much less for money). I came back to play it after a long hiatus for two reasons, and the one that concerns this conversation is that, at its core, a quizbowl game is forty miniature conversations about things people may like.

I haven't heard it described this way, but it completely fits how people behave. When people are proud of getting a tossup, they want to talk about it some more, especially if it's on a favourite subject or the story of how they learned that clue brings back good memories. When people encounter a cool early clue on an answer line they are familiar with, they may smile, "I didn't know that!" When the option comes up of side event games on things that don't come up often, but that a lot of people enjoy, such as NBA basketball or Tarantino movies, people are excited. Because the desire to exchange information about topics you care about with someone who might care about them too is universal, not unique to quiz bowl. We just happen to be the community that gamified academic gossip.

Seen this way, a non-gettable clue that is still interesting or fun serves a purpose. It is an exchange of information --- the writer has still told the player something the player didn't know, which enriched the player's appreciation of this subject (and, subtly, bonding and appreciation of the writer/editor who included that clue --- or even of the player who happened to beat you to that answer line on that clue, because that hopefully indicates this player also knows and likes things that you like).

That's my somewhat Lewisian take on it.
Tamara Vardomskaya
University of Ottawa '08
University of Chicago '18
Coach, Lisgar Collegiate Institute '03-'08

Adventure Temple Trail
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Re: What are clues for?

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Wed Aug 03, 2016 6:56 pm

Thank you for an incredible post, Tamara. It says something succinctly and clearly that I've seen a lot of players struggle to convey about why they find this game so special.


I think it's pretty fair to say that every clue a player includes should be at least in theory gettable by someone who knows the information it conveys; in practice, particularly at higher difficulties, you do sort of have to make your best guess and hope, because (a) early clues and hard clues are going to introduce new material, which you won't have seen anyone buzz on before (b) you don't necessarily know whether any quizbowl players in reality are subspecialists in the topic you're asking about (c) for sufficiently high values of hardness of clue, it's unfair to deliberately use a clue which you are certain will help a specific player, which drives you toward topics you're less certain of your peers' relative knowledge of. That said, even the best players overshoot or undershoot or misjudge, even after consulting the relevant primary and secondary source material.

I do believe that the "here's something cool" function of a clue, which Jacob listed, is a nice plus when it doesn't detract from other factors such as answerability, uniqueness, etc. I would hesitate to bring up something which I thought was cool if it weren't also in theory gettable as described in the above paragraph; otherwise you run the risk of excessive difficulty and vanity writing. (What's more, it's hard to know what other people will find "cool" up-front unless you yourself have some genuine out-of-quizbowl expertise in the subject area you're writing on, which not all writers do for all categories under their purview. One thing I regret about my relative skill at various categories is that I have roughly no idea what kinds of early clues seem especially cool to science players, and thus can't write them.) I worry that writing a whole question specifically "for posterity," if you genuinely suspect it will go completely dead across the field in the present day, is not a great idea except at high-difficulty opens and vanity tournaments. It strikes me as a sort of bad-faith engagement with the community, based in a pretty artificial theory of how the canon ought to expand. If you can't resist "breaking" something "into the canon" which is genuinely too hard to ever be asked at a given difficulty level, though, consider using it in the bonus-leadin to a bonus on an easier topic, which is guaranteed freebie space for that information to get heard and barely affects conversion (as the bonus part itself can still contain difficulty-appropriate fare).

There certainly are clues which are not very gettable if the literal semantics of the clue are the only thing a player hears, but which provide a lot of context and assistance nonetheless. The example that comes to mind is Eric Mukherjee's discussion of a science tossup in ACF Regionals 2012 which made clear that there were "oxygen molecules rearranging", and thereby narrowed the answer space significantly. In general, I'm not a huge fan of clues whose purpose is merely to reduce the answer space without also providing a genuine shot at someone buzzing in and answering right then, and I'd want to make sure that even a clue whose "primary" function is to reduce the answer space also provides a way for genuinely knowledgeable players to buzz with confidence on a fact.
Matt J.
ex-Georgetown Day HS, ex-Yale
member emeritus, ACF

Sailing away on my copper boat

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