Two Visions of ACF Fall

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Two Visions of ACF Fall

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Mon Nov 06, 2017 6:17 pm

I'd like to use this post to compare and contrast two visions I've seen articulated for the two versions of ACF Fall from recent years, which I hope may be extended into a broader discussion of the role of this tournament within the community.

The first of these visions was articulated by Jonathan Magin in this year's ACF Fall discussion thread:
magin wrote:I'd also like to talk more broadly about the goals the editors had for ACF Fall, and the measures we took to achieve them. I've seen a few comments in this thread about how Fall was easier compared to the last few years; this was by design. Since it's a novice tournament played by many people who have never played quizbowl before, it needs to be as accessible as possible while still being enjoyable for more experienced players. To that end, we spent a lot of time making tossups and bonuses more accessible, and erring on the side of easier answers rather than harder ones. For instance, I thought that many new teams would not be able to answer a bonus part on Pirandello, so we made Waiting for Godot the easy part instead. This may have made the overall bonus seem easy to players familiar with the college canon, but I'd rather have that than new teams zeroing a bonus on an author they've never heard of.
From my experience playing them, I think the 2012/2013 iterations of the set are comparable to 2017 in this regard, though my memory of tournaments from that time is quite poor.

An alternative version of ACF Fall, that of the 2014 set, had a different vision described by Matt Jackson as such:
Adventure Temple Trail wrote:So I read through all of ACF Fall in a pretty detailed manner over the past few days, both as a test to check how my low-level generalism is doing these days and to see how the set turned out. I really liked the set -- I think it's by far the most interesting and well-crafted ACF Fall there's been in years, in terms of creating questions that weren't just 'the millionth novice tossup on cholesterol' or what have you. Much of that came from this editing team's admitted willingness to spice up difficulty a bit beyond the "high school with a small plus sign" of the past few Falls, or to put it another way to view the tournament as a bona fide "introduction to college quizbowl" with more outliers / a larger high-difficulty tail rather than a "farewell to high school". It seems from statistics that the field was largely able to handle this. But it also speaks well of this editing team's ability to go back to the sources, including easy works and basic concepts, and find fresh clues for them which reflect depth of engagement with things that a wide number of teams get exposure to.
Since "regular-minus" sets in the fall have been re-established as a regular occurrence, I feel as though the role of "bona fide introduction to college quizbowl" has been usurped, as that tournament has (As intended) attracted teams that would have been considered "too strong" for any iteration of ACF Fall. That said, I do not think that makes this an invalid way to go about constructing an ACF Fall set, though I don't think anyone is really calling for Fall to be as hard as MFT / EFT / EMT / MUT (and indeed 2014 Fall was a good bit easier than any of these tournaments).

Stepping into the realm of semi-cautious conjecture, here are the general principles I think most of the collegiate community generally agrees ACF Fall should adhere to:
- The tournament should use a college distribution, but with material that (for the most part) would not be out of place at a high school tournament
- The tournament should be a "sanitized environment" for newer players where they aren't getting beat up by elite high school teams and collegiate dinosaurs
- The tournament should be easier than any of the major high school national championships

Wading further into the realm of pure speculation, I do also think that something of an "Eh, it's Fall" attitude persists. What I mean by this is a general sense that ACF Fall is a lesser tournament, or that a lot of complaints you may hear during games of Fall (about buzzer races, etc.) "can't be helped," etc. Some consequences of this can include a lack of tournament vision and inconsistency (2015 / 2016 were noted as being highly disjoint in difficulty) and lack of attention paid to otherwise suboptimal questions ("Could I improve this tossup's structure? Eh, it's Fall."). This sucks for a lot of teams for which ACF Fall is one of the main events they look forward to each year, as it best suits their knowledge levels, and the real editorial craft ends up going elsewhere. I am glad Magin and his team had a vision in mind and put critical thinking into their questions and approach this year, and the reaction to the tournament seems to further indicate that they were successful in doing so. However, I get a strong sense that this attitude is still out there, and could potentially negatively affect a future ACF Fall editing team.

I feel as though this attitude may stem from people regarding Fall as a place mainly for high-school-has-beens to rack up easy points, then move on (or keep coming back each year with the same purpose). Without going into details, I suspect that this can also potentially infect editors' attitudes. If such is indeed the purpose of Fall, is it fair to call it a "novice tournament?" Is it an "introduction to college quizbowl?" Or is it meant to serve up the Nth tossup with has-been clues?

From here, I think it's prudent to weigh the two visions of ACF Fall - presented by the 2014 and 2017 editions - and look at the potential consequences of trying to adhere to each one, and what they mean for Fall's role in the yearly tournament schedule. I don't have a strong preference for one or the other, but I do think it's better to try to pick one to stick to rather than muddle in "farewell to high school-ish" territory. Adoption of a coherent philosophy / approach / vision for ACF Fall can help reduce the "Eh, it's Fall" attitude by clearly defining what the tournament is supposed to be and giving editors a framework and clear set of expectations.

P.S. I don't want to limit us to just these two visions - perhaps there's a third vision for Fall out there I'm not thinking of (or more!)
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Re: Two Visions of ACF Fall

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Mon Nov 06, 2017 7:58 pm

I'm too far removed from the current reality of ACF Fall to offer anything worth saying on those particulars. So instead I will tell two stories from the distant past.

First story is from fall of 2004. I played my first ever college quizbowl tournament: ACF Fall 2004. For weeks prior to this, I had been attending UChicago practices. With Yaphe, Teitler, Subash all in the room (as well as a half dozen other really good players) I wasn't really answering many questions at those practices and I was considering quitting quizbowl. Then, at ACF Fall, as part of Chicago E, I was able to answer many of the easy tossups asked by the set. And though full-strength Michigan A was playing and came close to grailing me, most of the other teams were also novice or non-elite, so we were able to stay in the game most rounds. I even made it on the list of high scorers they posted on the wall during the tournament, leading a member of Chicago B to congratulate me. It was all a big ego boost and helped me decide that, hey, maybe this quizbowl thing was for me anyway. A few weeks later I played Illinois Open and scored like 8 ppg.

Fast forward a few years and I'm now the 14th best player in all of college quizbowl (according to one poll). I am embarking on an editing career as well. What is the tournament I least want anything to do with from the editing side? ACF Fall. I cannot imagine a more grueling task than editing ACF Fall, having to write the millionth tossup on Louis XIV or Vishnu, and not being able to work in some of these awesome new hard bonus parts I'm learning about. I stick entirely to Nationals or Nationals+ difficulty, because this is the most fun for me to write, and offers me the greatest leeway to write about new things.

I guess what I'm getting at is that I think ACF Fall has an important role to play in introducing new players to college quizbowl in a way that doesn't scare them away. But that also makes it boring to produce. People like noted difficulty controller Jonathan Magin, who are willing to produce an easy ACF Fall without going insane (remember, this guy edited multiple ACF Nats and once intentionally wrote one of the hardest tournaments of all time as a side event, so he must surely have been tempted by hard clues for Fall), should be treasured and given all of the awards. Perhaps there won't be a Jonathan Magin available every year, but IMO there ought to be.
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Re: Two Visions of ACF Fall

Post by magin » Tue Nov 07, 2017 9:46 am

Thanks, Bruce. I'm honored and touched.

I'm not exactly sure how to respond to Will's post, but I would like to clarify a few things.

First, the editors attempted to keep difficulty down, but we still left in some tossups on harder material that we thought enough teams would know--Francis I, Ursula Le Guin, Marshall McLuhan, for instance--to keep Fall's status as a bridge to college quizbowl's larger canon.

Secondly, I can't speak for everyone in ACF, but I think that ACF Fall is the most important ACF tournament because of the number of teams that play it and its potential to engage new players with the game. I'm glad that I had the time to work on it this year, and I would encourage whoever helms it next year to consider it more prestigious and more interesting to work on than ACF Nationals.
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Re: Two Visions of ACF Fall

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Tue Nov 07, 2017 10:36 am

To clarify - I don't mean to say that this year's editors were doing things this way, or that this "Eh, it's Fall" attitude was present in this year's editing team, more that I feel that it's still out there in general. Magin's statement here...
magin wrote: I think that ACF Fall is the most important ACF tournament because of the number of teams that play it and its potential to engage new players with the game.
...is, I think, the correct position.
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Re: Two Visions of ACF Fall

Post by Muriel Axon » Tue Nov 07, 2017 4:50 pm

In the Minnesota circuit, ACF Fall and (DII) SCT are the two tournaments that bring a lot of teams that wouldn't come to other tournaments. (More than twice as many teams attended as at NAQT Novice, EFT, or Penn Bowl.) As such, I really quite like the easier approach taken by the editing team this year. I still read / scorekept games where 5-10 TUs went dead, so I don't think it is insultingly easy for many teams. I think part of making Fall friendlier for new teams may also be encouraging strong players to move on a bit faster -- something that, in retrospect, we should have been more careful about at the Minnesota mirror.
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Re: Two Visions of ACF Fall

Post by Gautam » Tue Nov 07, 2017 10:42 pm

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote: Wading further into the realm of pure speculation, I do also think that something of an "Eh, it's Fall" attitude persists. What I mean by this is a general sense that ACF Fall is a lesser tournament, or that a lot of complaints you may hear during games of Fall (about buzzer races, etc.) "can't be helped," etc. Some consequences of this can include a lack of tournament vision and inconsistency (2015 / 2016 were noted as being highly disjoint in difficulty) and lack of attention paid to otherwise suboptimal questions ("Could I improve this tossup's structure? Eh, it's Fall."). This sucks for a lot of teams for which ACF Fall is one of the main events they look forward to each year, as it best suits their knowledge levels, and the real editorial craft ends up going elsewhere. I am glad Magin and his team had a vision in mind and put critical thinking into their questions and approach this year, and the reaction to the tournament seems to further indicate that they were successful in doing so. However, I get a strong sense that this attitude is still out there, and could potentially negatively affect a future ACF Fall editing team.
I don't see the evidence for this attitude. I'll split this out into head-editors/subject-editors.

The last four years' head editors have included me x 1, Gaurav x 3, Richard x 3, Jonathan x 1. Any of us could have chosen to work on harder tournaments if we wished to do so. But neither Gaurav nor I have worked on non-Fall tournaments (after ACF Fall '14), and I don't know that Jonathan has done the heavy lifting either. So I don't think there's a flight of talent among this group (I'm referring to the "real editorial craft ends up going elsewhere" claim.)

Furthermore, if head editors were to take up this attitude, it would EASILY seep into the entire set as well, and you would get super sloppy productions. While there have been some issues with copy-editing reported each year... I don't think those examples even begin to characterize what a set would look like if it truly lacked the attention it deserved.

Re: subject editors:

The head editors have picked subject editors either by soliciting feedback from the community or by reviewing their past product and/or an application process that indicates their past work. If during the editing phase a subject editor is found to not put in the effort commensurate to the needs of the set, we have pursued alternatives. I'm not going to go into specifics... It absolutely sucks to do this, but there is no excuse for slacking off or giving inadequate attention during the editing process.

Furthermore, if the subject editor contributes a "good-enough" product, but the head editor cannot see him/her being a "lead editor" (I'm making up this term) in the quizbowl community, the head editor is able to recommend against giving that editor provisional ACF membership. Note that even if the editor has been deemed worthy, he/she has to contribute to another ACF event to be a part of ACF in the long haul.

Here I see the "flight of talent" argument playing out differently. If I'm reading Will correctly, he's saying:

"Because ACF Fall editors have so much to look forward to after editing Fall, they are not giving Fall the attention it deserves"

whereas to me the causality runs the other way, sort of:

"Because ACF Fall editors learn so much working on a LARGE event (handling packet submission, coordinating with geographically separated teams, sticking to timelines imposed by the head editor, etc.) that they are able to become better editors and contribute to more sets in the future."

As much as ACF Fall is about producing a set for newer players on the circuit, it is also a great avenue for aspiring editors who want some guidance in their early days. I learned a lot from working with Andrew back in '08. My '09 crew learned a lot working with Seth that year. My '14 crew was pretty good when they signed on, but they learned well to communicate with each other and work as a team (I hope I'm not making this up!) While it's worth asking what the vision is for ACF Fall, that vision ought NOT to be limited to "what kind of question set does the audience deserve?" Among the most productive and most well-respected editors in the last 10-12 years got their start with ACF Fall. Of course there are some who found their way without ACF Fall, but it continues to be an important proving-ground for aspiring editors as well. "What kind of future editors can ACF cultivate" ought to be an important part of the vision.

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Re: Two Visions of ACF Fall

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Wed Nov 08, 2017 12:04 am

Perhaps it was unwise of me to go on a tangent in my original post and try to fish out an attitude that (from what I'm told by Jason Cheng) seemed to have been buried this year thanks to
the subject editors' hard work and Magin's vigilance as overseeing head editor. That being said...
Gautam wrote:Furthermore, if head editors were to take up this attitude, it would EASILY seep into the entire set as well, and you would get super sloppy productions. While there have been some issues with copy-editing reported each year... I don't think those examples even begin to characterize what a set would look like if it truly lacked the attention it deserved.
This may be case of selective memory, but I'll make the case that last year's fall was, in fact, a "sloppy production" and widely recognized as such. The fact that at least three people were brought in during the last week to bail the tournament out makes last year's fall set, on its face, a "sloppy production!" However, beyond this, there were a raft of factual errors across the tournament, widely-recognized difficulty inconsistencies across categories, and a number of answerlines that players of widely varying skill and experience levels deemed "ridiculous."

A few examples:
When I was moderating this question at the University of Maryland site, a player buzzed in on the very first clue and said "Kuomintang". The answer line said only "Republic of China", with no other alternative answers listed.

I accepted the answer, in what was probably an abuse of moderator discretion. I could not bring myself to neg this kid. This is a perfect example of what I described earlier as the tournament's "barren answer lines". I would have appreciated guidance on whether or not KMT was acceptable.
The bigger problem with the physics was the ridiculous amount of factual errors. In the 11 packets played at the Northwestern site, I counted 11 (!!) factual errors. I won't enumerate them all, but here are some of the more egregiously bad ones:
Renin - Editors 1 - the question says “renin-angiotensin”, then gives angiotensin.
Molecular Orbital diagrams - editors 1 -"Diagrams that use a combination of molecular orbitals to understand bonding” is in the question text (should be "combination of atomic orbitals" I think?)
Helium - JHU B - Helium is not the product of the triple alpha process - that’s carbon.
Mendelssohn - Editors 3 - “This composer of Lobgesang.” is not a sentence.
Baltic Sea - NYU A/Amherst A - The Amber road was an ancient, not a medieval trade route.
See more here. In an era in which tournaments are widely recognized as better than ever (as Andrew H. noted in the thread) the collegiate tournament played by more teams than any other was arguably the worst collegiate set of the year! If this isn't a "super sloppy production" by today's standards, I don't know what is. Maybe it's a stretch to claim this, but the implication that last year's fall "seemed fine" suggests to me an attitude that Fall isn't as important as other tournaments. Were ACF Regionals to be so riddled with errors, it would be (correctly) lambasted.

This all being said, perhaps the discussion of ACF Fall's vision should indeed include what the role for the editors should be. However, it needs to be emphasized that more people play this tournament than any other collegiate set, and quality needs to come first and foremost. It's not a bad idea to use ACF Fall to train new editors, but I think such an implementation needs to be much more like this year's Fall, with a highly experienced editor overseeing a committed team.

(edited to reflect that ACF Fall is more played than any other collegiate set, as IS-sets get way more players than Fall)
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Re: Two Visions of ACF Fall

Post by Rufous-capped Thornbill » Wed Nov 08, 2017 5:45 pm

Maybe this should be in the main Fall thread but it fits here too, I think.

This year's Fall was the first tournament I read for in a few years, and it was also the first tournament I've ever staffed where the majority of games in my room were competitive and almost every question was answered. I can only remember 3 dead tossups at the very most through the 12 games I read, with five of those rounds coming in the 4th playoff bracket. There were errors and some sloppiness, but on the whole I thought it was a good set and I wholeheartedly endorse Magin's approach to editing Fall. When I ran the OSU club I quickly learned that the first few tournaments of the season are absolutely essential for player retention; getting as many people to play tournaments like the old Collegiate Novice set and ACF Fall, if produced in a way that is both accessible and intellectually stimulating (or, alternatively, "fun"), was the single best method of making sure new club members stuck around past the first semester. I thought that this year's set very much succeeded on those grounds. Most of the players I read for and chatted with were/seemed to be freshman or at least inexperienced, and I never got the sense that I often did at collegiate tournaments that they ever questioned their decision to wake up at 4am to play on a C team. They were engaged, getting questions, being exposed to new topics, and having a good time. Nice work.
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Re: Two Visions of ACF Fall

Post by magin » Wed Nov 08, 2017 10:10 pm

Jarret, that's fantastic to hear. I've talked to the other editors, and we're very pleased the field at your site seemed to enjoy the set so much. Thanks for letting us know!

Also, Will, I understand your issues with past ACF Falls, but I think you're missing a bit of perspective here. If ACF Fall in past years had any structural issues, the blame for that should go towards the leadership of ACF, including me, for not allocating enough resources to Fall. I can personally attest that Gautam and Gaurav put in an enormous amount of work in the past few years to make sure ACF Fall happened--without their efforts, the sets would have been far worse.

Because of the issues you describe, this year, we instituted a model where a head editor oversees all the questions, while a logistics person makes sure everything runs smoothly, and it seemed to work much better than having one person in charge of both roles. By the way, Richard Yu worked very hard on the Fall logistics; without him, the tournament would not nearly have gone as smoothly. He deserves plenty of recognition.

Going forward, the two-person model I described should help prevent any past issues with Fall from resurfacing.
Last edited by magin on Tue Nov 28, 2017 12:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Two Visions of ACF Fall

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Thu Nov 09, 2017 11:05 am

magin wrote:Jarrett, that's fantastic to hear. I've talked to the other editors, and we're very pleased the field at your site seemed to enjoy the set so much. Thanks for letting us know!

Also, Will, I understand your issues with past ACF Falls, but I think you're missing a bit of perspective here. If ACF Fall in past years had any structural issues, the blame for that should go towards the leadership of ACF, including me, for not allocating enough resources to Fall. I can personally attest that Gautam and Gaurav put in an enormous amount of work in the past few years to make sure ACF Fall happened--without their efforts, the sets would have been far worse.

Because of the issues you describe, this year, we instituted a model where a head editor oversees all the questions, while a logistics person makes sure everything runs smoothly, and it seemed to work much better than having one person in charge of both roles. By the way, Richard Yu worked very hard on the Fall logistics; without him, the tournament would not nearly have gone as smoothly. He deserves plenty of recognition.

Going forward, the two-person model I described should help prevent any past issues with Fall from resurfacing.
Thanks for the context, Jonathan - it's good to hear that ACF took note of this, and I hope this setup is used going forward.

It seems there's something of a consensus in favor of the easier approach to ACF Fall - it's good to hear these specific stories of what a tournament like this can do for engaging teams.
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