Distribution: Origins, Motivations

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Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Mechanical Beasts » Sat Dec 27, 2008 9:55 am

I'd rather have titled this "Distribution: Where Does It Come From, What Is It, Where Is It Going?" but the topic length limit is staunchly opposed to my use of Gauguin comedy subtitles.

I'm partly inspired by the discussion in the high school thread between whether an answer space constructs a distribution or vice-versa. At the college level of the game, there is a (minor, infrequently voiced) conflict over the ACF distribution: some players (mostly, regrettably, players who are pretty good at computer science) want computer science to be better represented (or, to avoid my considerable bias on the subject, more extensively represented) in the distribution.

A conversation I think Silby and I had with Matt to this end ended with Matt making a very important point. In order to have the larger answer space that Silby and I were pushing for, we would have to go through a very slow expansionary phase, because the CS distro is currently so low that expansion would have to happen on the order of one topic every several tournaments. This isn't because anything in the CS canon is inherently less askable (as had been my reading of an argument Matt had earlier been making). Rather, the current distribution makes it proportionally easier to change the subdistribution of various categories, as well as to expand that subject's canon.

Therefore, I think in the ongoing debate in the other thread, over whether our distribution is somehow "naturally correct" because it fits with the answer space, or if the answer space evolved to match the current distribution, it's important to accept that it's very much both. It's plain that if people started from a hypothetical minimal-knowledge quizbowl state (Fred recently used the example of 1970s Wyoming), where everyone was pretty familiar with exactly two pieces of literature and exactly two pieces of music, the powers that be could make decisions to guide the distribution, and with it the answer space, into a four to one ratio either way. But we have to reason in terms of the current state, not another state, and Dwight's recent post relating the ICT's new distribution to the ACF distribution certainly suggests that academic quizbowl has reached a distribution consensus, for the most part, and I infer that the real given answer space that we work with today (lest we completely disregard difficulty) falls into proportions pretty close to what ACF has set down, not because it's in any way naturally correct, but because it's been around.

What is your ideal distribution? How does it deviate from the NAQT and/or ACF distributions? If you favor including 4/4 geography, why do you believe that geography is as academically important a subject as literature? If you favor reducing history to 3/3, what subdistribution would take most of the hit? Should matches be some different length to accommodate your quirks?
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Mike Bentley » Sat Dec 27, 2008 10:55 am

I've considered expanding packets beyond 20/20 questions in the past to make more room for things that don't come up as much in the past. I typically edit packets so that the distribution is something like:
4/4 History (1/1 American, 1/1 European, 1/1 World, 0.5/0.5 Ancient history, 0.5/0.5 Your Choice)
4/4 Literature
4/4 Science (1/1 Physics, 1/1 Bio, 1/1 Chemistry, 1/1 Minor Science)
2.5/2.5 RMP (1/1 Myth, 1/1 Philosophy, 0.5/0.5 Religion)
2.5/2.5 Art (1/1 Painting/Sculpture, 1/1 Music, 0.5/0.5 Minor Art or More Painting SCulpture)
2/2 Social Science (generally around 1 economics question, the rest evenly split)
1/1 Trash/Geography/Your Choice

or, alternatively
1/1 Social Science
1/1 Geography/Current Events
1/1 Trash/Your Choice

If packets were expanded to 22/22, I think we could do a better job including the following areas that don't have much room in a 20/20 packet:
Geography
Legit Current Events
Minor Science and Biology (as lots of people seemed to think Biology was pretty important in the science distro thread)
American History (I think it's more important than the 1/1 it usually gets, it could be more on the 1.5/1.5 range)
Social Science in tournaments that use the 2nd distribution
Mythology
Minor Arts

Additionally, I'd be curious to see someone at least try to write a packet where topics that are considered relatively unimportant in modern quizbowl are emphasized. Particularly:
-Biography style questions - These would be questions that emphasize the life of a person more than their works. I realize why the decision has been made to generally not include such clues in regular quizbowl, but nevertheless I've found that many classes, books, and what have you on writers, artists, composers, etc. often talk a great deal about a person's non-works life. I think it would be interesting to see a good writer try to take on this challenege.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby ... and the chaos of Mexican modernity » Sat Dec 27, 2008 11:41 am

I agree that it would be good to include a 22/22 packet with extra subjects not represented.
Last edited by ... and the chaos of Mexican modernity on Sat Dec 27, 2008 1:04 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby cornfused » Sat Dec 27, 2008 12:04 pm

Bakery, State, and Utopia wrote:I agree that it would be good to include a 22/22 packet with extra subjects no represented.

What?

Andy Watkins wrote:stuff

Mike Sorice, Carlo Angiuli, and (sort of) I discussed CS distro at a tournament a week ago. One suggestion was to pull math/cs to 1 question per math, leaving bio+chem=3. So that would be 3 Bio+Chem, 2 Phys, 1 Math+CS, 1/1 other science. I'll leave the actual content of the conversation to one of them, as I was mostly just listening.

But I'll admit that a 22- or 24- question distribution would really be more ideal. Is there any way to use that without either a) switching to an NAQTish variable-distro-in-each-packet or b) actually extending matches?
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Mechanical Beasts » Sat Dec 27, 2008 12:15 pm

I've always been personally tickled by the notion of an "academic thought" distribution, largely because social science is often restricted, at the majority of tournaments, to the same old subjects. I think it would be interesting to experiment with liberating philosophy from RMP and creating 4/4 SS/phil. There's certainly the room to work with (tons of things with names) and there would be much more potential for exploring interesting subfields (having a literary criticism tossup or whatever no longer means that your social science is half literary criticism, so you're not risking too much, so to speak).

While RMP is usually edited down to 2.5/2.5 or 2/2, I'd be pretty happy if the resultant RM category stood at a true 2/2. As for subdistributing that, I would actually classify a lot of the religion people write as mythology, so I'd be happy with 1.5/1.5 being myth. (The only myth/religion distinction I think is meaningful is the distinction between questions on beliefs, practices, ritual observances, et cetera and questions on stories. A tossup about stuff that happens in the book of Joshua is as much mythology as a tossup on stuff that happens in the Eddas; a tossup about samsara is as much religion as a tossup about transubstantiation.)

Actually, I've been thinking, and based on that definition, the categorization of mythology with literature is by no means nonsensical, and it does help allay any confusion about what the Aeneid should be considered (since there ought to be no structural difference that I know of between a lit tossup on the Aeneid (or characters therein) or a myth tossup on the same). That said, it's important that packets don't end up with either more or less myth than you'd get from having two separate categories for the two; it's no more than a convenient way to think about the two categories.

And in response to Greg, who just posted: I don't see why a number greater than 20/20 requires (a); I don't see how a number greater than 20/20 won't result in (b). i'm curious about this science distro, though, since it doesn't actually seem to give greater time to CS or anything, unless the 1/1 other science could also include CS. (That is, the 1/1 other science that typically ends up in a final packet will often have to cover math, cs, earth, astro; splitting two questions four ways allows CS to be marginalized, and presumably splitting one question two ways would do the same.)
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Ondes Martenot » Sat Dec 27, 2008 12:23 pm

I've always thought 3/3 for RMP is too large, where as math should have a larger distribution
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby naturalistic phallacy » Sat Dec 27, 2008 1:36 pm

everyday847 wrote:I've always been personally tickled by the notion of an "academic thought" distribution, largely because social science is often restricted, at the majority of tournaments, to the same old subjects. I think it would be interesting to experiment with liberating philosophy from RMP and creating 4/4 SS/phil. There's certainly the room to work with (tons of things with names) and there would be much more potential for exploring interesting subfields (having a literary criticism tossup or whatever no longer means that your social science is half literary criticism, so you're not risking too much, so to speak).

While RMP is usually edited down to 2.5/2.5 or 2/2, I'd be pretty happy if the resultant RM category stood at a true 2/2. As for subdistributing that, I would actually classify a lot of the religion people write as mythology, so I'd be happy with 1.5/1.5 being myth. (The only myth/religion distinction I think is meaningful is the distinction between questions on beliefs, practices, ritual observances, et cetera and questions on stories. A tossup about stuff that happens in the book of Joshua is as much mythology as a tossup on stuff that happens in the Eddas; a tossup about samsara is as much religion as a tossup about transubstantiation.)


I would endorse such expansion and conflation of SS/P, with clear guidelines for including economics, of course, since at times it is difficult to classify a thinker/work as one or the other. (Habermas, anyone?) I also am fond of having 2/2 for RM, and your distinction between religion and mythology is an excellent one that leads to more interesting material being inserted into both canons. Someday I shall expound upon your definitions and write a tract about religion and mythology.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Sat Dec 27, 2008 2:10 pm

I still disagree with the majority's definition (which Andy outlined) of what is "religion" and what is "mythology", but I don't want to argue that point here. In fact, I think the "mythology/religion" distinction is over-emphasized, and the distribution should be seen as 2/2 "religion or mythology", rather than 1/1 religion and 1/1 mythology. I think Ryan Westbrook has voiced this opinion elsewhere.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby cchiego » Sat Dec 27, 2008 6:54 pm

This is a good discussion to have. I'm all in favor of opening up the canon but understand how having so few opportunities constrains the answers that can be asked about. Something like what Mike is suggesting would be very interesting and would allow the answer space for those smaller categories to be opened up significantly. Based on feedback from those tournaments, other tournaments could adjust accordingly. Heck, if someone wanted to run a regular tournament (i.e. not a super-tough side event) that emphasized a certain distribution (like 5/5 RMP, 4/4 social science, 3/3 US History, etc.), I'd be interested to play in that too since it would force me to bone up on a particular part of the canon and introduce new answers to a wide audience.

On another note, I see no problem with NAQT and ACF having significantly different distributions. I like the additional fine arts and RMP in ACF and the extra geography and current events in NAQT as well as the use of powers. I'd prefer less trash in both formats (i.e. for ACF choosing more general knowledge, current events, or something else other than trash as the "extra" stuff in packets), but I like having two different distributions to play on since they both open up a broader answer space overall.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby SnookerUSF » Sat Dec 27, 2008 9:02 pm

everyday847 wrote:I've always been personally tickled by the notion of an "academic thought" distribution, largely because social science is often restricted, at the majority of tournaments, to the same old subjects. I think it would be interesting to experiment with liberating philosophy from RMP and creating 4/4 SS/phil.


I would be well beyond "tickled" at such a change, in fact a slight tumescence would be the order of the day. But I think as a result of the sentiments I have expressed, it seems to me that initially we would need to consider what sort of metrics, justifications, etc. would be appropriate for determining how and where the distribution changes.

I say this for two reasons:
1) Given the fractious nature of the NAQT debate in some other threads, it is clear that one point of contention is the lack of transparency and accountability created by the somewhat obfuscated personnel structure of NAQT set over and against the kind of coerced consensus inducing discourse that ostensibly occurs on this message board regarding the community's quizbowl aesthetics. To wit, if we make transparent the rationale that goes into determining these issues, then the claims of treason and plot can be possibly minimized.

2)I hold that it is fairly evident that for this conversation to be productive, such rationales ought to be discussed or it will just devolve into pet topic boosterism, as illustrated by my initial comment.

Finally, I think that one of the other points of contention that the recent debates in the High School sections of the forum has revealed is that there is a standing accusation out there that NAQT sees itself a competitor to the community as such, and not as an active and organized contributor. I think there is some evidence for this: I don't know how often if ever, major figures (Seth T. and Andrew Y. aside) within in the organization contribute to this board, when there is not a direct or indirect attack on the organization or the organization's policies/questions/tendencies. It would be interesting to see what the subject editors and others within NAQT think about Andrew's suggestions, not for the sake of or as representatives of NAQT but for the sake of hopefully improving "good" quizbowl. Not only would it be an act of good faith, but perhaps would enlighten many who are generally perplexed about the manifest differences between NAQT's philosophy (though in no way do I believe NAQT's philosophy is hypostatized or consistent through the organization) and the kind of tournaments/aesthetics that are produced and lauded by active posters on this board.

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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby the return of AHAN » Sun Dec 28, 2008 12:31 am

uga_chris wrote: Heck, if someone wanted to run a regular tournament (i.e. not a super-tough side event) that emphasized a certain distribution (like 5/5 RMP, 4/4 social science, 3/3 US History, etc.), I'd be interested to play in that too since it would force me to bone up on a particular part of the canon and introduce new answers to a wide audience.

My $.02...
I tried this for a middle-school tournament I ran last year (declaring the literature questions would be Caudill Award Winners and current nominees) and I was blistered by posters on this board for limiting the literature answer space. I did this because non-Harry Potter lit goes dead too often at the MS level and figured this could motivate kids to, you know, read. Of course, others criticized any inclusion of middle school lit on the basis that it's, well, middle school lit. Apparently, some feel that middle schoolers as young as 6th grade should be reading Catcher in the Rye and Pierre et Jean to prepare them for the rigors of varsity. :roll:
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Mechanical Beasts » Sun Dec 28, 2008 12:41 am

Woody Paige wrote:
uga_chris wrote: Heck, if someone wanted to run a regular tournament (i.e. not a super-tough side event) that emphasized a certain distribution (like 5/5 RMP, 4/4 social science, 3/3 US History, etc.), I'd be interested to play in that too since it would force me to bone up on a particular part of the canon and introduce new answers to a wide audience.

My $.02...
I tried this for a middle-school tournament I ran last year (declaring the literature questions would be Caudill Award Winners and current nominees) and I was blistered by posters on this board for limiting the literature answer space. I did this because non-Harry Potter lit goes dead too often at the MS level and figured this could motivate kids to, you know, read. Of course, others criticized any inclusion of middle school lit on the basis that it's, well, middle school lit. Apparently, some feel that middle schoolers as young as 6th grade should be reading Catcher in the Rye and Pierre et Jean to prepare them for the rigors of varsity. :roll:

I feel like writing a tournament with a different distribution is a manifestly different thing than declaring that there are exactly forty possible literature answers. I'm not (necessarily) saying that it's not a fine thing to write a tournament with answerable literature questions, and I have honestly zero idea what middle school kids typically read, but that has little to do with digging deeper into the social science distribution.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Sun Dec 28, 2008 12:48 am

So I'll use this thread to revive my idea of replacing the "current events" distribution with a "modern world" distribution, which I brought up a few years ago only to meet with mass ridicule.

One issue I have with current event questions is that for something to come up in that distribution, it has to make the news. Plenty of things that make the news stop being important shortly thereafter -- frequently even before the tournament in which the question would appear. This makes for limited or no playability. Many things that are important are only "latently" important and do not make headlines. My proposal for a "modern world" distribution would ask about things that are objectively important in the modern world.

Assume, for the sake of argument, that the Su-27 fighter jet is important, and that a person with an informed understanding of the modern world should know about it. Under the "current events" standard, the Su-27 will never come up, as it rarely makes headlines. Under "modern world", it would come up. Likewise, if, say, France is an important company, but does not happen to do anything specifically newsworthy in the runup to a tournament, a question on recent French politics would still be valid as a "modern world" question.

I think the "modern world" idea gets rid of a lot of the annoying things about current events and might be more suitable for mACF use than "current events", via the "1/1 Your Choice" back door.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Council of Trent Reznor » Sun Dec 28, 2008 1:37 am

If enough people want to add literary criticism to the distribution, perhaps it could be worked in as part of the lit distribution rather than the SS distribution. It could be slowly worked in as a .5-per-packet thing, since I'm not sure how widely known literary criticism is in the broader circuit. We might also want to keep it out of ACF Fall and equivalent-level tournaments, since not many high-schoolers are exposed to literary critics (at least not at regular-difficulty high schools; perhaps this is different at the upper end of the academic spectrum.)

I'd like to add my voice to those who are calling for a redefinition of RMP/SS. Philosophy (and the corresponding 1/1) should be merged into SS, since the difference between philosophy and many of the categories in SS can be quite sketchy at times. Likewise a mythology is a religion that has been drang nast osten-ed into obsolescence, token pagan traditions such as carrying your bride over the threshold notwithstanding. (I'm sure I'm not the first person to make these arguments.) I support keeping the 1/1 division betwixt religion and myth just to ensure a balance between the contemporary and the dated.

I'd also like to see more current events. Although it is true that most of the interesting stuff took place in the past, we should still be encouraging people to keep track of stuff that's going on around them. Zimbabwean cholera epidemics, Canadian political crises, the Lisbon treaty, Nicholas Sarkozy's three-ring EU presidency circus, that amusing Greek law forbidding the 5-0 or the army from entering campus buildings - all these are much more important (and certainly more relevant to day-to-day life around the world) than some of the social science, most of the philosophy and all the mythology (at least in the "myth-as-obsolete-religion" sense) that comes up.

Also, I think trash should be dumped entirely from ACF. It seems kinda pointless to have it in an academic tournament, not least when such worthy (and actually academic) fields as CS, Current Events and a half-dozen flavors of social science are going begging.

EDIT: I left halfway through typing this, and came back to notice that other people have made the same people I made about Current Events. Glad to know I'm not alone. And nobody should EVER be expected to have read Catcher in the Rye; I'm pretty sure that qualifies as a human rights violation in some more enlightened parts of the globe.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Sun Dec 28, 2008 1:50 am

My $.02...
I tried this for a middle-school tournament I ran last year (declaring the literature questions would be Caudill Award Winners and current nominees) and I was blistered by posters on this board for limiting the literature answer space. I did this because non-Harry Potter lit goes dead too often at the MS level and figured this could motivate kids to, you know, read. Of course, others criticized any inclusion of middle school lit on the basis that it's, well, middle school lit. Apparently, some feel that middle schoolers as young as 6th grade should be reading Catcher in the Rye and Pierre et Jean to prepare them for the rigors of varsity. :roll:

Actually, it seemed like the big problems with what happened was that you specifically preannounced what all of the literature questions would be on, which then allows people to specifically study those particular things and (to my mind) get an unfair advantage over people who are good at other categories, which seems to unfairly swing the balance of a game. Yes, it is hard to figure out what lit is acceptable in middle school since so many different people are taught so many different things, but at the same time there are lots of low level academic literature topics (sidenote: I don't know that I appreciate the grouping of The Catcher in the Rye, a work that is taught in plenty of schools and is read by a decent number of middle schoolers, with Pierre et Jean, a work that would be an unacceptable tossup answer at high school nationals, as part of your argument about impossible literature or whatever.) Off the top of my head there are lots of things that I think middle schoolers could know in lit like major Dickens works, major Shakespeare works, Mark Twain, stuff like that, that it seems inappropriate to so severly restrict the literature of your tournament to stuff that is surely less academic (and like I said, the much bigger problem people had was that you allowed what in other situations would be called cheating to go on).
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby rylltraka » Sun Dec 28, 2008 1:51 am

I, too, think this could indeed be a fascinating discussion, although perhaps a bit too broad. My opinions on the subject of mACF(note that I'm a history partisan, if that matters):

-Religion and Mythology need to remain linked; if you want to amalgamate them in name, go ahead (2/2 recommended). They're the same thing, separated by perception and time. Philosophy should stand apart as a separate subject, with its own 1/1, but probably nothing more.

-Social Science, if you're alloting it in all its facets 2/2, should not be increased. I'm not sure who loves economics questions, and I wouldn't give them more than .5/.5, if that.

-Current Events continues to be a headache. My question is "What does it reward?" Scanning CNN each morning? Matching senators to states? If that's academic knowledge at all, it's a totally different sort than the rest of QB rewards. CE tends to include ephemeral, unimportant things, and the only justification I can imagine is that it rewards "future history", i.e., what people ~20 years from now should know. Problem is, most of those things would be quite obvious to us in the now. I'm in favor of scrapping the category completely, unless its relevance is more clear. I'm also not in favor of calling the Su-27 "important" enough for more than a third bonus part.

-The concept of the "academic thought" distribution is an interesting one, that I'd considered a while back, but would need to be well bounded and defined before it could be introduced to the discourse.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby cchiego » Sun Dec 28, 2008 3:21 am

rylltraka wrote:Current Events continues to be a headache. My question is "What does it reward?" Scanning CNN each morning? Matching senators to states?


No, that's what ridiculously bad current events questions reward. A good current events question could be written on, say, Hamas that ends by talking about the recent offensive Israel launched. Other good CE question topics off the top of my head from the current news: white farmers in Zimbabwe, the Greek university riots, United Auto Workers, the Minnesota recount, the Lord's Resistance Army, the bailout, etc. Find things that are important and would make good tossups and don't run off and play "given some random senator, match him/her to his/her state" unless it's say, what recently happened in Alaska (you could do a bonus with Palin/Begich/Murkowski/Stevens/Young/etc. as answers).

rylltraka wrote:CE tends to include ephemeral, unimportant things


The concept of current events questions shouldn't be "ripped from the headlines" news, but rather "these are important entities/recent events that were in the news recently, so if you were paying attention to the news you'll probably know more about this question." This is similar to Bruce's idea of a "modern world" distribution and isn't too far away from simply "Modern History," but I'd argue that we should know a good bit more about the world that goes on around us right now than stuff that happened in the distant past.

If someone would like to see more examples of what I'd consider "good" CE, I'd be happy to write CE questions or even a full side packet for an upcoming tournament and see what people think.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby AlphaQuizBowler » Sun Dec 28, 2008 4:39 am

uga_chris wrote:This is similar to Bruce's idea of a "modern world" distribution and isn't too far away from simply "Modern History," but I'd argue that we should know a good bit more about the world that goes on around us right now than stuff that happened in the distant past.

My question is, where does history end and CE begin?Couldn't a TU on Hamas be counted under the appropriate history subdistro. I guess my contention is this: the non-"ripped from the headlines" CE that you talk about is, in fact, "Modern History", and should be counted as such.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Down and out in Quintana Roo » Sun Dec 28, 2008 9:52 am

AlphaQuizBowler wrote:
uga_chris wrote:This is similar to Bruce's idea of a "modern world" distribution and isn't too far away from simply "Modern History," but I'd argue that we should know a good bit more about the world that goes on around us right now than stuff that happened in the distant past.

My question is, where does history end and CE begin?Couldn't a TU on Hamas be counted under the appropriate history subdistro. I guess my contention is this: the non-"ripped from the headlines" CE that you talk about is, in fact, "Modern History", and should be counted as such.

This is why i really like Bruce's "modern world" idea.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Matt Weiner » Sun Dec 28, 2008 12:24 pm

AlphaQuizBowler wrote:My question is, where does history end and CE begin?Couldn't a TU on Hamas be counted under the appropriate history subdistro. I guess my contention is this: the non-"ripped from the headlines" CE that you talk about is, in fact, "Modern History", and should be counted as such.


One could also feel free to write a Hamas question for history and use some current events clues. I for one would not object to that, as an editor.

Bad ideas in this thread: The concept that anything written in book form is "literature" (the distributional issue with the proposal to write all of your literature questions on the stuff that gets young readers awards is that almost all of those books are actually part of the "trash" category), the idea that ACF doesn't ask about computer science, the idea that the current line between religion and mythology is unclear to most experienced writers (if it's a story about deities and their antics, magic possessions, or cool halls, it's mythology even if people still believe it; if it's ethical theology about how one should behave, questions about scriptures, questions about holidays, or the history of religious conflicts and such, then it's religion even if it's on the Popul Vuh or something else from a belief with no more adherents).
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Mechanical Beasts » Sun Dec 28, 2008 1:00 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:Bad ideas in this thread: The concept that anything written in book form is "literature" (the distributional issue with the proposal to write all of your literature questions on the stuff that gets young readers awards is that almost all of those books are actually part of the "trash" category), the idea that ACF doesn't ask about computer science, the idea that the current line between religion and mythology is unclear to most experienced writers (if it's a story about deities and their antics, magic possessions, or cool halls, it's mythology even if people still believe it; if it's ethical theology about how one should behave, questions about scriptures, questions about holidays, or the history of religious conflicts and such, then it's religion even if it's on the Popul Vuh or something else from a belief with no more adherents).

Empirically, there are many tournaments with only two or three CS questions, implying that while ACF obviously does cover CS, it does not do so very much. I'm not having this argument; I merely cited the conversation we had as one example of the way that distribution creates answer space (as well as vice-versa).

As to the religion/ mythology distinction, I've heard more than one different definition and I've seen rounds that either had zero religion questions or that did not operate by that distinction. It's possible that an "experienced writer" wasn't responsible for that, but if it's something that can be so easily confused by an inexperienced writer, it bears reiteration (and I'd say it's easily mistaken, since colloquial ideas of 'religion' and 'mythology' frequently distinguish between 'the old, wrong supernatural beliefs' and 'the new, correct supernatural beliefs,' which is dumb.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Matt Weiner » Sun Dec 28, 2008 1:13 pm

Suffice to say that I am not convinced in the least by the actual arguments I have seen for expanding the CS minimum, and am satisfied with the current policy of allowing anywhere between 0 and X questions on CS per packet-submission tournament, where X is the number of packets. Write a good CS question that's not on something like "the Knuth-Morris-Pratt algorithm," so that more than 2 people in quizbowl will be able to answer it, and any science editor will be happy to use it. It's not like there's some surplus of good science submissions out there that people have the luxury of discarding.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby naturalistic phallacy » Sun Dec 28, 2008 1:33 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:
AlphaQuizBowler wrote:My question is, where does history end and CE begin?Couldn't a TU on Hamas be counted under the appropriate history subdistro. I guess my contention is this: the non-"ripped from the headlines" CE that you talk about is, in fact, "Modern History", and should be counted as such.


One could also feel free to write a Hamas question for history and use some current events clues. I for one would not object to that, as an editor.

Bad ideas in this thread: The concept that anything written in book form is "literature" (the distributional issue with the proposal to write all of your literature questions on the stuff that gets young readers awards is that almost all of those books are actually part of the "trash" category), the idea that ACF doesn't ask about computer science, the idea that the current line between religion and mythology is unclear to most experienced writers (if it's a story about deities and their antics, magic possessions, or cool halls, it's mythology even if people still believe it; if it's ethical theology about how one should behave, questions about scriptures, questions about holidays, or the history of religious conflicts and such, then it's religion even if it's on the Popul Vuh or something else from a belief with no more adherents).

I would hope that nobody would object to writing a Hamas tossup with historical and CE clues. It certainly is something that one should know.

Also, that is a very good working distinction of religion and mythology for the purposes of quizbowl. Everyone who objects for some reason needs to remember that quizbowl does not define things in the same way that scholars in the real world do.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Mechanical Beasts » Sun Dec 28, 2008 1:34 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:Suffice to say that I am not convinced in the least by the actual arguments I have seen for expanding the CS minimum, and am satisfied with the current policy of allowing anywhere between 0 and X questions on CS per packet-submission tournament, where X is the number of packets. Write a good CS question that's not on something like "the Knuth-Morris-Pratt algorithm," so that more than 2 people in quizbowl will be able to answer it, and any science editor will be happy to use it. It's not like there's some surplus of good science submissions out there that people have the luxury of discarding.

I think that's a fine and defensible policy. I was merely recalling the argument that you used, one that convinced me that CS canon expansion is infeasible in the short term since it doesn't come up much. (And of course, in order for that to happen, good CS needs to be written and to make it into tournaments. That's largely my job.)
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Sun Dec 28, 2008 4:01 pm

AlphaQuizBowler wrote:
uga_chris wrote:This is similar to Bruce's idea of a "modern world" distribution and isn't too far away from simply "Modern History," but I'd argue that we should know a good bit more about the world that goes on around us right now than stuff that happened in the distant past.

My question is, where does history end and CE begin?Couldn't a TU on Hamas be counted under the appropriate history subdistro. I guess my contention is this: the non-"ripped from the headlines" CE that you talk about is, in fact, "Modern History", and should be counted as such.


In the two all-history tournaments I've written, I did include a fair bit of "current events" -- e.g., tossups on Hugo Chavez. I limited these to things I thought would be significant to future historians.

One thing that "modern world" could take care of are things and people that are significant in our day, but not likely to be significant for future historians. For instance, many Senators are important to know about if you want to understand modern American politics, but are not likely to be well-known as historical figures in the future. Under the "modern world" standard, you can write a tossup on one of those Senators, even if they weren't up for election recently or haven't done anything headline-grabbing in the past few months.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby the return of AHAN » Sun Dec 28, 2008 5:49 pm

Jeremy Gibbs Free Energy wrote: (sidenote: I don't know that I appreciate the grouping of The Catcher in the Rye, a work that is taught in plenty of schools and is read by a decent number of middle schoolers,

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I hold your opinions in high regard, but surely you jest, Mr. Dees, I don't know of any middle school that teaches Catcher in the Rye. Not to say that middle schoolers would never read it on their own; I was reading Robert Byrne's Once a Cathlolic, which is far more explicit, in junior high. Having not ever witnessed HSNCT, I'll take your Maupassant criticism at face value. I was just trying to think of two major works with adult themes that would make a school board sit up and take notice if your taught in your 6-8th grade classroom.

Anyhow, you'll be pleased to know I dropped the idea of defining the lit answer space for this year's tourney. Frankly, the response was a bit tepid. A few liked it, but just as many coaches said their kids did nothing to prepare for it. Oh, a few kids on the serious teams pored over as many books as they could and "powered" some toss-ups, but I can't say game results were turned on their ear, as the usual suspects advanced and took trophies. And I can't really call it cheating when every team got a few months notice of this definition of the literature questions. And half of the questions weren't simply titles and authors, so THAT foiled some kids that simply studied in lieu of actually reading.
The answer space suggestions you made are largely good for middle schoolers, but so many times we get questions about Newbery Medal winners (Q Galore's work) and such that I wouldn't be doing my job as a coach if I didn't prep the kids for such an answer space.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Sun Dec 28, 2008 6:14 pm

No, actually, I'm not jesting. I can't obviously scientifically prove this, but in my experience there are lots of middle schoolers who have read the Catcher in the Rye, either on their own, or from a teacher/booklist recommendation. In my 7th grade english, The Catcher in the Rye always showed up on the list of books to choose from, and lots of other reading lists for kids that age I've seen include it. Going off that, I would say it is actually a safe bet that some middle schoolers would be able to tell you who JD Salinger is, and in any case there are even more accessible works of literature like the ones I listed above that I think could be asked at the middle school level. maybe ask your school's english teachers for some reading lists of theirs to get ideas from.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby at your pleasure » Sun Dec 28, 2008 9:21 pm

if it's a story about deities and their antics, magic possessions, or cool halls, it's mythology even if people still believe it; if it's ethical theology about how one should behave, questions about scriptures, questions about holidays, or the history of religious conflicts and such, then it's religion even if it's on the Popul Vuh or something else from a belief with no more adherents).

I concur with this. I would like to propose the following distinction between lit and myth: if the question is events in a specific work, it's lit, if it mixes works/traditions, its myth. For instance, an Odysseus tossup that only mentions things that occur in the Odyssey would be lit but a tossup that mentions things from both the Odyssey and the Aeneid would be myth.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Jeaton1 » Mon Dec 29, 2008 3:56 am

To muck up the whole RMP distro dispute a bit, I'd like to advocate the addition of a minor folklore distribution. Now I'm not implying that we set aside X/X of a packet (or even a tournament) to include folklore, but I'd like to encourage writers to write about some of the many untapped (and accessible) answer selections that could arise out of world folklore.

I would claim that much of the world's folklore is significant in both its inherent academic value and its influence on literature and the arts and thus, could be used as an interesting alternative in the RMP distribution. I also would think that including topics such as fairy tales, folk legends and superstitions could help to breathe new life into a category (that while one of my personal favorites) is beginning to feel like a repetition of the same old gods and the same old sects time after time. While potential topics such as 'vampires' or 'variations on the Cinderella story' may sound hokey and NAQT-like at first glance, I'm certain that experienced writers could pull off excellent and interesting questions of this sort.

Just a thought.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Mon Dec 29, 2008 4:03 am

I put some folktale clues and even answers in RMPFest, and have not heard any complaints about this. There was a tossup on vampires in the tiebreakers somewhere, a tossup on elves that used a lot of folkloric clues, etc. Also, I think folklore clues come up a lot in common link TU's, especially on animals.

Speaking of additions to the RMP distro, what about medieval epics?
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Brian Ulrich » Mon Dec 29, 2008 2:40 pm

Whig's Boson wrote:I put some folktale clues and even answers in RMPFest, and have not heard any complaints about this. There was a tossup on vampires in the tiebreakers somewhere, a tossup on elves that used a lot of folkloric clues, etc. Also, I think folklore clues come up a lot in common link TU's, especially on animals.


NAQT includes folklore under mythology, though there's no set "1/1" folklore per tournament, and I don't think much gets written except for the occasional King Arthur question or some questions on djinn I wrote a few years ago.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Mon Dec 29, 2008 2:47 pm

Well, I continue to be bored with arguing over whether "Answer X" really qualifies as literature or myth, or myth or religion, or religion or history, and so on. But, I agree with Weiner that it's pretty clear which category most things fall into - not because those things are unquestionably and exclusively "history" or "religion" or whatever, but just because we've chosen to call them that within our current framework. Once again, I think the most important rule is just that you be reasonable with your distribution - if you think there's a neglected area or some exciting answer space/clue space out there to explore in a given topic, by all means, go ahead...noone's going to stand in your way. In fact, if you lead and it turns out well, others will probably follow.

Contrary to what Yaphe seems to argue in the other thread, I think the typical mACF distribution we have now (as outlined by Bentley above) has done a pretty good job of justifying itself, such that it's not really some arbitrary thing at all. I'm obviously someone who spends a lot of time imagining what new things we could potentially write on...and in my experience, there aren't too many subjects out there which seem to be absolutely screaming with unplowed answer/clue space. In other words, there aren't too many times where I could see myself saying "man, if the distribution were different, we might have really explored these topics in a different manner, in greater depth or breadth, etc." Sure, there are always more topics that we could possibly explore, but I'm rarely convinced that they are at least as academically relevant/important/interesting/workable and feasible/whatever as the topics we're currently exploring. As such, even if the distribution we have today came about through complete serendipity, I think we can still look back and say that we made a wise choice - perhaps wiser than most any other choice we might have made.

That long digression aside, I would probably tweak my ideal distribution based on a few factors. At higher-level events, I'm in favor of going to 2/2 social science per packet, as I think that there are lots of advanced social-sciencey-type things that become askable in clues/bonuses/tossups when you get to higher levels - whereas at low levels, you're just stuck with Margaret Mead redux. Again, I'm not too concerned with the boundary between philosophy and soc sci, as long as you're reasonable - don't write two tossups on very similar subtopics for one packet, etc. I still don't see current events as sufficiently academic to merit anything but a stray question here and there.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Mon Dec 29, 2008 3:29 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote:Contrary to what Yaphe seems to argue in the other thread, I think the typical mACF distribution we have now (as outlined by Bentley above) has done a pretty good job of justifying itself, such that it's not really some arbitrary thing at all. I'm obviously someone who spends a lot of time imagining what new things we could potentially write on...and in my experience, there aren't too many subjects out there which seem to be absolutely screaming with unplowed answer/clue space. In other words, there aren't too many times where I could see myself saying "man, if the distribution were different, we might have really explored these topics in a different manner, in greater depth or breadth, etc." Sure, there are always more topics that we could possibly explore, but I'm rarely convinced that they are at least as academically relevant/important/interesting/workable and feasible/whatever as the topics we're currently exploring. As such, even if the distribution we have today came about through complete serendipity, I think we can still look back and say that we made a wise choice - perhaps wiser than most any other choice we might have made.


I'm not saying the current distribution is "unjustified," only that it is arbitrary, and that its arbitrariness affects many of our beliefs about what is "askable" or "important." Go back to my music vis-a-vis lit example, and compare the "askability" of topics related to (say) Johann Sebastian Bach with topics related to (say) Henry James. There are probably at least 30 James-related answers which come up in the game: himself; at least his 10 best-known novels; at least his 5 best-known short stories; at least his 10 best-known characters; and a couple of things related to his non-fiction or to criticism on him. By contrast, how many Bach answers come up with any regularity? I just ran a search on Arnav's archive for "Bach" and got a total of 19 hits, most of which were to mentions of him in tossups on e.g. Berg and Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand. I see tossups on the Coffee Cantata, the Goldberg Variations, and a bonus on Goldberg Variations/Mass in B Minor/Art of the Fugue. To my mind, that's representative of how deeply quizbowl chooses to approach a hugely important figure like Bach. I'd argue that there a lot more we could be asking about, if we ever felt inclined to do so. (I'd further argue that because a packet writer only has to write 1/1 on classical music, there's rarely any pressure to dig deeper into the work of any particular composer.)

Consider the following list of significant Bach-related topics:

The Cello Suites
St. Matthew Passion
Well-Tempered Clavier
The Cantatas (as a whole, not just the "Coffee" one)
The English Suites
The French Suites
The Magnificat
The Musical Offering
The Christmas Oratorio
The Orchestral Suites
The Sonatas and Partitas for Violin
The Two and Three Part Inventions
St. John Passion
The major works for organ (e.g. the "Toccata and Fugue in D minor")
The Partitas
The Motets

How many of these ever come up in the game? Then there are questions related to Bach scholarship (from Schweitzer to Wolff), or on Bach interpreters (from Landowska and Gould to Herreweghe and Hewitt). As far as I know, basically none of this stuff comes up in the game with anything close to the regularity with which comparably in-depth questions on the works of Henry James comes up.

Ryan's Whig interpretation of the distribution notwithstanding, I'd argue that the reason we barely scratch the surface of Bach-related topics while exhaustively delving the world of Henry James-related topics is, in fact, because the distribution significantly dictates our thinking about what is "askable." (I think it's simply not true that the Bach-related things I mentioned are less "academically relevant/important/interesting/workable" than the Henry James-related things I mentioned, and I further think that this isn't an outlier -- you could generate similar comparisons with regard to a number of major topics in classical music, or in a number of the categories which get scanted because of the distribution's quirks).

Again, I'm not arguing that the current distribution "must be immediately revised"; I'm not even saying I dislike it. I'm saying that it's a mistake to treat it as obviously the "correct" way to prioritize various fields of knowledge, and I'm arguing that it influences the way we think about what is "important."

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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Matt Weiner » Mon Dec 29, 2008 3:53 pm

I think it's simply not true that the Bach-related things I mentioned are less "academically relevant/important/interesting/workable" than the Henry James-related things I mentioned


They're neither less academically relevant, nor less important, nor less interesting, but they certainly are less workable. Writing a tossup on "Bach's English Suites" strikes me as more difficult than writing a tossup on "The Spoils of Poynton," just due to the inherent difficulties in finding good clues for the quizbowl format on instrumental music v. literature. As whatever tempo marking clues or anecdotes about first performances are used up in the first two or three instances of such a tossup, it then becomes even harder to write a question that doesn't boil down to "did you hear the last question on this topic", compared to the easy task of swapping in a fresh plot incident in the leadin of a lit tossup.

It's not music's fault that music is harder to write than literature, nor is it the fault of packet authors or distribution creators; but that is the way things are, and I can't imagine an expanded music distribution would lead to anything but a lot of bad questions. In this particular example, I think Ryan is on the money with his anthropic principle of quizbowl.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Mon Dec 29, 2008 4:46 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:They're neither less academically relevant, nor less important, nor less interesting, but they certainly are less workable. Writing a tossup on "Bach's English Suites" strikes me as more difficult than writing a tossup on "The Spoils of Poynton," just due to the inherent difficulties in finding good clues for the quizbowl format on instrumental music v. literature. As whatever tempo marking clues or anecdotes about first performances are used up in the first two or three instances of such a tossup, it then becomes even harder to write a question that doesn't boil down to "did you hear the last question on this topic", compared to the easy task of swapping in a fresh plot incident in the leadin of a lit tossup.

It's not music's fault that music is harder to write than literature, nor is it the fault of packet authors or distribution creators; but that is the way things are, and I can't imagine an expanded music distribution would lead to anything but a lot of bad questions. In this particular example, I think Ryan is on the money with his anthropic principle of quizbowl.


This seems dubious to me. It strikes me that the same kind of thing you're saying about music tossups could also be said of, e.g., chemistry questions. It's inherently difficult to find good clues on chemical reactions and the like, and as clues about ylides and whatnot are "used up" it becomes very challenging to write a question that doesn't boil down to "did you hear the last Wittig tossup."

Because science is an integral part of the distribution, and because we have a bunch of creative science writers on the circuit, people have been inventive about finding new ways to write such questions. (They didn't just give up in advance, as you seem to be advocating here.) Similarly, I can imagine people finding ways to write good questions on a field as interesting and important as instrumental music. For instance, one could write about significant performances and recordings, using such things as liner notes and reviews. (I'm guessing that most of the "action" in generating interesting new questions could come from this source alone -- there's much more here than mere "anecdotes about first performances.") One could write about academic interpretations of pieces, along the lines of the lead-ins about studies and experiments we get in science questions or the lead-ins on critical essays we get in lit questions. One could even write about textual scholarship, new editions of works, etc., which is even more important in musicology than it is in literary studies.

To return, once again, to my point about the distribution: Because music happens to come up so much less frequently than lit, there is no motivation for people not to complacently write another "composer from works" or "very well known composition" question. There's no reason to invest effort in being creative, because the distribution doesn't put pressure on writers to branch out in the way that it does in, say, lit. I'm arguing that the incentives for inventiveness in quizbowl are, to a large extent, structured by the happenstance of the distribution. Saying "we don't currently know how to write good questions on this admittedly important topic, so it can't be done" would if anything seem to reinforce my argument.

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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Mon Dec 29, 2008 7:00 pm

Yeah, I think Weiner's right here - and I should have emphasized how important the workable/feasible part of the equation I put forth was. I don't think it's just that we "don't currently know how to write good questions" on the topic - rather, I think that plenty of experienced writers know very well how hard it is to write such questions, and why it's hard, and that it would be hard no matter what distribution we had chosen for ourselves in the first instance. Even people who know a lot about classical music often remark on this board about how hard it is to find unique, concrete, identifiable, realistically-buzzable clues for questions on instrumental music pieces...it's even harder for someone who doesn't have much experience with classical music (as opposed to someone who hasn't read a book - they can pretty quickly ascertain who seem to be the major characters/what seems like the main plot of the book through various sources - and then they can quickly find other clues and make a pyramidal question).

You can't get around the fact that there are certain limiting paramaters inherent in the structure of quizbowl as a game - it's not an essay examination where you can just pour out every thought that can be expressed in language. Rather, it's a game where you have to realistically be able to buzz off of a finite number of hopefully-helpful clues in a paragraph.

Your organic chemistry example is very misplaced, I think. It's comparatively quite easy to write tossups on lots of chemical reactions (maybe even too easy, hence their arguable overrepesentation in the game) - because they often have several named variants, analogous reactions, specialized reagents, mechanisms, and all sorts of other pretty recognizable clues. Further, there are roughly a fucktillion (Seth coined this term, right?) named chemical reactions and we could just keep progressing to the next one in order of importance for a very long time.

By the way, on your Bach example - I know I've seen at least a few mentions of The Well-Tempered Clavier, Musical Offering, St. Matthew Passion, and Toccata and Fugue in quizbowl. This isn't surprising to me, because those things have the most distinctive names of any of the things you listed - and they seem like they'd be the easiest to construct a pyramidal tossup on. This would indicate that, under the current distribution scheme, we do usually go into such topics when they prove workable.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Captain Sinico » Mon Dec 29, 2008 7:07 pm

To generalize Andrew's point (or perhaps just to re-state and agree with it?) it seems to me clear that the distribution has significant bearing on what we consider "difficult to ask about," etc. Consequently, attempts to treat such things as principles with an existence entirely outside the distribution will miss a lot of important behavior.
I'll further posit that the converse is likewise true to some extent. At least for the people who framed or changed the distribution, if they were judicious, the distribution and their view on it reflect (or, at least, reflected) what they consider or considered "difficult to ask about," etc. and the former has a significant bearing on the distribution. However, I don't think either influence is causal.
To adduce what I'm saying, I'll offer as an example the number of single-subject tournaments that have been written to this point. These seem to testify to the fact that many, many subjects can be asked about in much more significant depth. I grant that such tournaments tend to be relatively difficult and short, but I don't find that a strong argument against what I'm saying: generally, even removing the most difficult questions would leave several tournaments' worth of questions from the subject area. In other words, they argue for the idea that there are many more things askable, at least in some areas, than the distribution reflects.
Or, to look at it another way, I am confident that the relatively free market for good quizbowl questions on a given subject could shift its supply upward to meet a demand created by the distribution. That's Keynes' law working... for you!

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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Mechanical Beasts » Mon Dec 29, 2008 7:53 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote:Even people who know a lot about classical music often remark on this board about how hard it is to find unique, concrete, identifiable, realistically-buzzable clues for questions on instrumental music pieces...it's even harder for someone who doesn't have much experience with classical music (as opposed to someone who hasn't read a book - they can pretty quickly ascertain who seem to be the major characters/what seems like the main plot of the book through various sources - and then they can quickly find other clues and make a pyramidal question).

Couldn't this experience itself be a function of the distribution? You hear a lot more about Masterplots on this board than you do about great music resources; I've learned more about how to write tossups on poems than I have about how to write tossups on sonatas. I'd fall comfortably into class of people who don't know crap about music theory. In a game with 4/4 music and 1/1 lit, this couldn't possibly be the case. There would be more talk of sources for good music clues (particularly because I agree with your overall observation that music has special barriers to entry; the first thing you'd have to tell most novice writers would be how to make sure that he doesn't have 16/16 okay and 4/4 shit) and more examples of tossups with more music clues. There would be more creativity in music questions (and more kinds of clues) because they would come up inevitably.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Mon Dec 29, 2008 8:37 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote:Yeah, I think Weiner's right here - and I should have emphasized how important the workable/feasible part of the equation I put forth was. I don't think it's just that we "don't currently know how to write good questions" on the topic - rather, I think that plenty of experienced writers know very well how hard it is to write such questions, and why it's hard, and that it would be hard no matter what distribution we had chosen for ourselves in the first instance. Even people who know a lot about classical music often remark on this board about how hard it is to find unique, concrete, identifiable, realistically-buzzable clues for questions on instrumental music pieces...it's even harder for someone who doesn't have much experience with classical music (as opposed to someone who hasn't read a book - they can pretty quickly ascertain who seem to be the major characters/what seems like the main plot of the book through various sources - and then they can quickly find other clues and make a pyramidal question).

You can't get around the fact that there are certain limiting paramaters inherent in the structure of quizbowl as a game - it's not an essay examination where you can just pour out every thought that can be expressed in language. Rather, it's a game where you have to realistically be able to buzz off of a finite number of hopefully-helpful clues in a paragraph.


This seems pretty off-base to me. I have no idea why the "quizbowl as an essay examination" straw man enters into this discussion, as I was suggesting several ways (off the top of my head) in which quizbowl questions exactly like the ones we currently have could be written on something like instrumental classical music. Moreover, I think you are assuming that "experienced writers" have already been down this road, ascertained its futility, and have wisely decided not to beat a dead horse further, which (I would argue) could not be further from the truth.

Think about the development of the lit tossup over the last decade. Lit tossups used to be much tamer -- lots more biography, a smaller canon, etc. Then, as people got tired of hearing the same old topics and the same old question types, they got much more sophisticated, interesting, and wide-ranging. Things like the (deservedly popular) "tossup on an author from descriptions of increasingly well-known works" really didn't exist in, say, 1996. That kind of tossup evolved over time. Part of what fueled that evolution, I would argue, was a need to fill so large a part of the distribution. (Or, part of an explanation of "why people got tired" of hearing "the same old" lit questions is that people were hearing so many more of them than they were hearing music tossups.) Categories like music were able to languish, by contrast, because they come up so much less often. There is much less pressure for canon expansion in them, and people seem content not to be bothered with trying to generate formal innovations which would be appropriate to the peculiar content of the discipline. (That is: If a music subject lends itself to being treated as if it were a work of literature, then great: we apply the techniques we've learned to use to write good lit tossups to that music subject. Thus, opera questions have gotten better -- because you can treat an opera as if it were a novel -- but we haven't bothered to try to figure out how to write equally good tossups about musical works which don't lend themselves to the literary analogy.)

Also, I might note that your whole counter-argument is one about the difficulty of constructing well-written tossups on these subjects; it doesn't explain at all the comparative lack of in-depth coverage of (e.g.) musical subjects in bonuses, where the "workability" objection simply doesn't apply. (It's easy to write a bonus part on Bach's English Suites without any deep knowledge or the other worries cited in this thread.)

No Rules Westbrook wrote:By the way, on your Bach example - I know I've seen at least a few mentions of The Well-Tempered Clavier, Musical Offering, St. Matthew Passion, and Toccata and Fugue in quizbowl. This isn't surprising to me, because those things have the most distinctive names of any of the things you listed - and they seem like they'd be the easiest to construct a pyramidal tossup on. This would indicate that, under the current distribution scheme, we do usually go into such topics when they prove workable.


It really isn't saying much when you claim to have seen "at least a few mentions" of some of the most important works of arguably the most important composer in the Western musical tradition. I still don't see any reason to accept the view that "we" have somehow surveyed in advance the possible range of important topics, and that we have somehow tacitly arrived at a final sense of what is "workable" in quizbowl.

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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Mon Dec 29, 2008 8:44 pm

It's entirely too easy to just declare "hey, that's how you feel now, but maybe your view is colored by the current state of things!...you'd feel differently if you lived in a different universe, unplagued by your bias of the present!" Yeah, and everything I say on this forum might be in some way colored by the fact that I'm an undersexed misanthropist. But, I think it's far less speculative and more explanatory to point out that some topics simply have natural properties that severely hamper their askability within the game of quizbowl, under any reasonable set of circumstances.

This is no surprise, it happens with any game - okay, I watched Password last night...some passwords are really tough to guess in that game because there's simply not any one or two words which someone can give that will reliably lead a person to say the right answer. Sometimes, the circle just won't fit into the square, because it really is a circle.


Oh, and this doesn't exactly respond to Andrew's most recent post, maybe I'll get to that in a bit.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby theMoMA » Mon Dec 29, 2008 8:50 pm

I wonder if the music/literature swap thought experiment is actually useful. The distribution represents years of discussion and evolution; the numbers and subsequent ratios actually mean something, so flipping them around and seeing what a whacky world it would be seems unjustified. Maybe that ratio doesn't represent something specific, but I think it approximates this reality: there are more literature answers than music ones, literature sources are more available than music ones, literature clues are more specific than music ones, lit questions are easier to write than music ones, there are more students of literature in academia than students of music, and there is no analogue to character/plot detail tossups in the musical canon.

I'm not sure what the comparison between James and Bach shows. Bach's output is one of the most tossup-able in the classical canon. I think Andrew is mistaken to say that things like the St. Matthew Passion, Well-Tempered Clavier, Magnificat, Musical Offering, and Toccata and Fugue in D minor come up without regularity, and obviously things like the Brandenburg Concertos, Goldberg Variations, Mass in B minor, and Art of Fugue are some of the most common classical music answers at the regular difficulty level. How many composers have a more tossup-able body of work? I would argue only two are on par: Mozart and Beethoven. But even Mozart's askable output pales in comparison to possible Shakespeare tossups. Dickens, Tolstoy, Ibsen, James, Melville, Hugo, Dumas...these guys all have huge bodies of tossup-able answers. Is there a similar collection of classical music stalwarts? Even with giants like Brahms or Mahler, it's hard to get past a half-dozen possible tossup answers. I can think of at least ten answers for tossups based on the corpus of less prolific authors like Garcia Marquez, Conrad, Achebe, Hardy, Twain, etc.

Perhaps others will argue that this is a function of the possible answer space in the distribution, but to me it doesn't seem that simple. If you write out a list of composers with multiple tossup-able ACF Fall answers (which is the level at which we attempt to approximate what well-educated people, not necessarily quizbowl-savvy people, have heard of) it's going to be a lot shorter than that list for authors. The comparison between James and Bach is much less illuminating when you consider that James is one of a dozen authors with similarly huge bodies of work, while Bach is one of three composers who can even come close to equaling that.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Mon Dec 29, 2008 9:18 pm

theMoMA wrote:I wonder if the music/literature swap thought experiment is actually useful. The distribution represents years of discussion and evolution; the numbers and subsequent ratios actually mean something, so flipping them around and seeing what a whacky world it would be seems unjustified. Maybe that ratio doesn't represent something specific, but I think it approximates this reality: there are more literature answers than music ones, literature sources are more available than music ones, literature clues are more specific than music ones, lit questions are easier to write than music ones, there are more students of literature in academia than students of music, and there is no analogue to character/plot detail tossups in the musical canon.


But my whole point has been that this "reality" is itself largely a result of how the distribution structures the game. I'm not disagreeing with the propositions that there are currently more lit than music answers, or that lit questions are easier for us to write than music ones. I'm saying that one of the major reasons why these propositions are true is because the distribution is the way it is.

And I don't mean this to be a dumb "Always historicize!" argument. My point is that being aware of the arbitrariness of the distribution might make us less complacent about the "realities" Andrew mentions here. And then, instead of assuming (as Ryan does) that we've somehow already concluded that it's basically impossible to write tossups on substantial fields like instrumental classical music, we might wonder if our failure to write questions on such fields might be indicative of a certain laziness on our part (a laziness which may be easier to indulge because the distribution puts pressure on us to be inventive in some areas but not in others). And then we might try to experiment with ways of addressing that failure.

theMoMA wrote:I'm not sure what the comparison between James and Bach shows. Bach's output is one of the most tossup-able in the classical canon. I think Andrew is mistaken to say that things like the St. Matthew Passion, Well-Tempered Clavier, Magnificat, Musical Offering, and Toccata and Fugue in D minor come up without regularity, and obviously things like the Brandenburg Concertos, Goldberg Variations, Mass in B minor, and Art of Fugue are some of the most common classical music answers at the regular difficulty level. How many composers have a more tossup-able body of work? I would argue only two are on par: Mozart and Beethoven. But even Mozart's askable output pales in comparison to possible Shakespeare tossups. Dickens, Tolstoy, Ibsen, James, Melville, Hugo, Dumas...these guys all have huge bodies of tossup-able answers. Is there a similar collection of classical music stalwarts? Even with giants like Brahms or Mahler, it's hard to get past a half-dozen possible tossup answers. I can think of at least ten answers for tossups based on the corpus of less prolific authors like Garcia Marquez, Conrad, Achebe, Hardy, Twain, etc.


Yeah, but this is exactly my point. I'm saying that Bach is probably the most important composer of Western music, and yet what quizbowl deems his "askable" output "pales in comparison" to that of a number of authors who, though enormously important, are not of comparable importance to him. I take it Andrew agrees with this, as an empirical observation. There are two possible inferences one can draw from this observation: 1) classical music is "inherently" less "askable," so even the #1 most askable composer of all-time will unavoidably be less "askable" than, say, the #10 most askable author of all-time (the numbers are fake, but you get my drift); or 2) there's something weird about our notions of "askability." I'm suggesting the latter; I'm further suggesting that the weirdness is partly an artifact of the way our distribution has led us to construct the world of askable answers; and I'm additionally suggesting that we might consider doing something about it (say, by experimenting with the kind of tossups on instrumental classical music which I contemplated in an earlier post).

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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby grapesmoker » Mon Dec 29, 2008 9:40 pm

There is at least one way in which the literature distribution is accessible to non-specialists in a way that the music distribution (or, indeed, the science distribution) is not. That is, to write a good literature tossup one need not be particularly knowledgeable about literature or literary theory or have an education in the subject. Indeed, any book is accessible to anyone as a writer of questions because, assuming we are all literate and reasonably intelligent, we can just pick up the book or information about it and read that. This is much harder to do in music and science because those fields have a specialized vocabulary that is not nearly as accessible to the non-expert as the vocabulary needed to write a literature question. I personally feel this rather acutely, since I possess a specialist vocabulary in one field (science) but not the other (music), so it's quite hard for me to put together legitimate musical clues that uniquely identify the answer, are pyramidal, etc. I don't have any particular affinity for the "composer from works" question, but if that's one question I can write well, I would rather stick to doing that well than writing some other type of question poorly (obviously there are other questions I can write well, but questions on specific works are very hard for me). This obviously leads to a certain conservatism on my part when it comes to writing on these topics, although of course I would love to learn how to write music questions better (albeit not in a way that requires me to learn a whole mess of music theory).

None of this is to say that the distribution we have today is the ideal or is somehow "more justified" than some other reasonable distribution. It's possible to make a legitimate argument for increasing the arts slightly at the expense of literature; I personally wouldn't mind splitting philosophy off from the RMP category and attaching it to the Social Science category while increasing that R/SS part of the distribution to 3/3. I think there is some logical stopping point too; for example, 1/1 literature vs. 4/4 music distribution would look quite weird to most people who don't have any specialist interest in music. But I'm perfectly happy to hear suggestions for how the distribution might be tweaked to accommodate the evolving game.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby at your pleasure » Mon Dec 29, 2008 10:58 pm

As an alternate thought experiment, I'd like to propose comparing painting and literature. However, the answer range of non-common link tossups are quite limited. For instance, one rarley hears tossups on works of Piero Della Francesca, the Pesaro Madonna, or the Galatea fresco, despite their great siginficance in the history of painting. This may be because there is neither as much need to go deeper to fill 1/1 a packet nor enough incentive for people to study painting in depth for quizbowl purposes. However, if there were 4/4 paintings a packet, it would be necessary for writers to go deeper and for people to study art history in greater depth. Moreover, this does not have the barrier to entry that music has, since it is as easy to write a decent tossup on the Galatea fresco as it is to write a decent tossup on, say The Aspern Papers.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby grapesmoker » Mon Dec 29, 2008 11:15 pm

Anti-Climacus wrote:As an alternate thought experiment, I'd like to propose comparing painting and literature. However, the answer range of non-common link tossups are quite limited. For instance, one rarley hears tossups on works of Piero Della Francesca, the Pesaro Madonna, or the Galatea fresco, despite their great siginficance in the history of painting. This may be because there is neither as much need to go deeper to fill 1/1 a packet nor enough incentive for people to study painting in depth for quizbowl purposes. However, if there were 4/4 paintings a packet, it would be necessary for writers to go deeper and for people to study art history in greater depth. Moreover, this does not have the barrier to entry that music has, since it is as easy to write a decent tossup on the Galatea fresco as it is to write a decent tossup on, say The Aspern Papers.


It's probably true that if you expand the distribution allotted to a particular area, you will see more and deeper questions in that area. However, I would say that there are plenty of tournaments that would allow you to submit a tossup on Piero Della Francesca; certainly as a hard bonus part he wouldn't be out of place at either Winter or Regionals, to say nothing of Nationals. I think it's important to take stock of who is writing tossups on The Aspern Papers and in what context those tossups appear (I personally have yet to hear one, by the way); those are tossups that tend to show up at rather difficult tournaments in the first place and they are typically written by a small number of teams. Tournaments of a more regular difficulty tend to have questions on Henry James instead, as would any random packet submitted by most teams.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Kevin » Tue Dec 30, 2008 1:19 am

Religion/myth: I'd argue that 1/1 for each undervalues religion, if we distinguish between the two by defining "religion" as "stuff that is widely believed and practiced today" and "mythology" as "stuff that isn't." My guess is that the average packet probably has one question on classical (Greco-Roman) mythology and one question on everything else (Norse, Sumerian/Babylonian/etc., Japanese, etc.). Likewise, the religion breakdown is probably about 50% Judeo-Christian and 50% everything else (Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.). As a classicist and a Christian, I'm not one to complain about the obvious Western bias here--it's present in every topic in quiz bowl, and whether it's warranted or not is a separate subject (I think it is, and judging by the established distribution, so do others, but that's beside the point).

What I do have a problem with is the fact that a subject like Islam comes up roughly as often as Norse mythology (if I had to guess, I'd say Norse mythology comes up more). I think the former is more significant by any measure--about 1.5 billion people are Muslims, it has had an important influence on world history and continues to do so today, etc. And academically, I think the average college student (or average quiz bowler) is far more likely to take a course on world religions than on worldwide comparative mythology. The same arguments can be made in favor of Hinduism or Buddhism over, say, Babylonian or Japanese mythology.

Music: it's already been mentioned how much more difficult it is to write a music clue than a lit clue. Similarly, visual arts clues are easier than music clues for a few different reason. First, you can look at a painting and immediately be able to describe it visually, while listening to a symphony would take at least a half-hour or so. And while a non-specialist can describe a painting very accurately, describing a piece of music with words is much more difficult. That said, I feel like the music clues I've come across at the tournaments I've played this year (EFT and ACF Fall) have been quite good. And I'd say that music's place in the ACF distribution is fair, so it's not as if we need tons more music questions. I'd agree that there are fewer possible tossup answers than there are for literature, but I don't see that as a huge problem. Yes, Bach is more important than most writers who have had roughly the same number of different tossup answers come up, but so what? I'd agree that it's related to the distribution, and that the distribution causes people to focus on delving more deeply into the big three subjects than into the others, but again, why is that a problem? If the difficulty of music questions in a given tournament is appropriate for the people playing that tournament, who cares if the questions aren't "comparably in-depth" to the literature questions being asked?
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby theMoMA » Tue Dec 30, 2008 9:15 pm

My response to Andrew is to ask whether Bach's askability reflects something unique to quizbowl, or a reality of knowledge in general. I think it's mostly the latter. There are fewer scholars of music than literature, and the study of literature is one of the core tenets of secondary education in this country. Surely some of the reason that music is less represented in quizbowl than literature has to do with the way that quizbowl works, and maybe if we were forced to write five music tossups per packet, we would figure out how to do it better. But at the same time, it's easy to imagine that a group of reasonably well-educated people could name more works of Shakespeare, Austen, Ibsen, Twain, etc. from the most essential information about those works than could do the same with prolific composers like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner, etc. People come to quizbowl with a lot more knowledge of literature than music, which is the primary reason for the ratio between those categories.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Tue Dec 30, 2008 10:55 pm

Well, we can talk all we want about how much a "hypothetical intelligent person" knows about figures like Bach, Twain, and so on - but I don't really see how that's relevant to their askability within the framework of quizbowl (and its inherent limitations as a game). I submit that there are probably lots of worthwhile academic topics underrepresented in quizbowl (topics both inside and outside the current distribution) because there just isn't a very good way to write tossups and/or bonuses on those things.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Tue Dec 30, 2008 11:27 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote:Well, we can talk all we want about how much a "hypothetical intelligent person" knows about figures like Bach, Twain, and so on - but I don't really see how that's relevant to their askability within the framework of quizbowl (and its inherent limitations as a game). I submit that there are probably lots of worthwhile academic topics underrepresented in quizbowl (topics both inside and outside the current distribution) because there just isn't a very good way to write tossups and/or bonuses on those things.


Ryan, this isn't even a pretense of an argument; it's just more of you saying "I stipulate that there is no possible way to write good questions on certain subjects. Which subjects? Oh, the ones on which we haven't hitherto made any real effort to write good questions." Against this, I've a) offered a somewhat detailed argument as to why we presume that certain topics aren't "askable"; and b) suggested some concrete ways in which we could try to write good tossups on a particular underrepresented-yet-important area. I also like how you elide the point that the argument from "workability" only applies to tossups, since it is possible to write good bonuses without too much effort on almost anything (including, e.g., a bonus on "Bach/never-asked-about-but-important instrumental work by Bach/somewhat-better-known work by Bach").

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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Postby millionwaves » Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:13 am

I just can't stop doing this! I have split the discussion of middle clues that apply to more than one answer from this thread. You can discuss that here.
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