SCT commentary

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SCT commentary

Postby Chris Frankel » Tue Feb 08, 2005 3:20 am

Since it looks like all the results are in and everything is settling, I'd figure I'd start a thread to see how people felt about the questions, the tournaments, etc.

I'll make the disclaimer that I wasn't able to make it to my region's SCT, although I did get a chance to see a good deal of the questions thanks to the apparently new (and highly appreciated) trend of SCT hosts (at least Maryland) sending out packets to participating schools. But I'll sit back until discussion comes up since I didn't get the experience of actually playing on them.

Reminder: according to R., only D1 questions can be discussed on public forums, so no D2 question discussion.
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Postby mps4a_mps4a » Tue Feb 08, 2005 10:59 am

i'll go ahead and start. i thought the questions were of a pretty high quality: only a few classic terrible NAQT groaners (i won't mention any of the questions b/c i don't want to slip up, but one bonus in particluar was dreadful). I can only speak really authoritatively on the lit questions, but I don't remember any of those that pissed me off.

We had some decent delays in the morning, but they seemed to work themselves out so that we finished sixteen rounds in a relatively reasonable time. so basically, i was pleased both with how the tournament was run, and the questions themselves.
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Postby ezubaric » Tue Feb 08, 2005 12:24 pm

mps4a_mps4a wrote:but one bonus in particluar was dreadful


Do you mean the cigar quotes? That was certainly a Div I question. I'd say that that was easily the worst question of the day.

I felt that Maryland did an admirable job with organization given the number of teams. Despite the initial delays, that we got out when we did with 16 rounds was pretty amazing. My only complaint was that the moderators were rather slow. We (Princeton) only averaged 20.13 questions per round ...
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Postby Dan Greenstein » Tue Feb 08, 2005 2:26 pm

I know there were 24 tossups per packet in D2. How many tossups per packet were there in D1?

The biggest problem I remember as a moderator (in D2) were the repeats. Not answer repeats with different information, although there were those and those are ok. I mean repeats with the whole tossup repeated verbatim. In one round, there were five repeats, so I only got through 19 actual tossups. Thankfully, the game was a blowout and the teams agreed to end it before time ran out, so I did not have to run downstairs to get more questions.
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Postby grapesmoker » Tue Feb 08, 2005 3:03 pm

Overall, I was generally happy with the quality of the SCT questions, and I ordinarily prefer ACF, for what that's worth. I was pleased by the superb organization of the USC folks, who not only kept everything on schedule but got us through an average of 22 or 23 tossups per round. One flaw that I did see in the questions is the lack of pyramidality in some tossups. One particularly egregious example that comes to mind is a question on John-Paul II in which almost all the clues dealt with his literary career. Blah blah blah, bishop of Krakow. There were a couple other tossups that had this problem (notably, one on Ausclepius which mentioned healing in the first sentencee). However, most of the questions were solid and I'm happy that I played.

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Postby Leo Wolpert » Tue Feb 08, 2005 4:04 pm

What I found most irritating were the "computational math in disguise" bonuses. One example was the bonus that was "Given a title, state the number of X chromosomes in a painting." So, it's not enough that we know what a given painting looks like enough to identify it; we have count up the number of men, count up the number of women, multiply the latter by two, blah blah blah.

It would have been funny if someone protested with something along the lines of "Fragonard was really protraying a Klinefelter male in the bushes, so the answer's 5!"

Oh, and that bonus where teams were asked to calculate the amount of time it would take to play x quarter notes with at y beats per minute or whatever blew. Thanks for testing our ability to multiply numbers (of course, we failed that test). If that was under the fine arts distribution, I'll shed a few tears.

Anyway, thanks to CWRU for listening to teams who actually wanted to play more rounds and extending the playoffs. Also, thanks to the readers we had; I don't think we ever went below 20 tossups, despite many rounds in which there was no scorekeeper to go along with the reader. Finally, thanks to Subash for writing many good questions within the constraints of the NAQT format.

Now, the only thing left is for Dave Thorsley to call me a goat-rapist.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Tue Feb 08, 2005 4:58 pm

I'll probably have a more detailed post later, but I think that overall this SCT was a lot better than the 2003 one, with fewer (but certainly not no) patently ridiculous answer choices. Maryland did a very good job in my region; I don't know where they got enough people to have competent readers and scorekeepers in every room for a 24-team tournament, but I appreciate the effort that must have gone in to that.

I will note right now that the person who reviewed Nude Descending a Staircase as "an explosion in a shingle factory" was art critic Julian Street and not, as claimed in a bonus part, Theodore Roosevelt. I don't know how that error happens but it was probably one of the stranger ones I've ever heard.
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Postby MikeWormdog » Tue Feb 08, 2005 5:30 pm

I didn't think the cigar bonus was especially bad. Thomas R. Marshall is probably better known for that quote than for his vice presidency. I don't remember much else from that bonus, though.

As for the computational painting...what's up with the bitching about that? They were simple paintings, and adding 2s and 1s shouldn't be too hard. Maybe if you can't do it, you could ask the guy on your team keeping score (since he's already adding 10s and 5s) to add them up for you.

There were too many straits and bodies of water bonuses. I tend to think if geography were more concentrated on human geography--cities, landmarks, monuments, etc--rather than insignificant political entities like virtually unpopulated islands or S. Pacific quasi-nation states, it would be more worthwhile.

Also, whenever there's a "this, that, both, or neither" question, it'll probably suck. There seemed to be a bunch of them this time around.

Of course, as always with NAQT, there was a ton of 20th century stuff, and I generally think there's a lack of academic non-science tossups (esp. good history and literature--bonuses tend to be better for this), but that's probably just me.

Overall, though, I thought the questions were ok, and the bonuses were generally of the appropriate difficulty.

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Postby Chris Frankel » Tue Feb 08, 2005 6:10 pm

MikeWormdog wrote:As for the computational painting...what's up with the bitching about that? They were simple paintings, and adding 2s and 1s shouldn't be too hard. Maybe if you can't do it, you could ask the guy on your team keeping score (since he's already adding 10s and 5s) to add them up for you.


Well, as I said, I didn't play at the tournament, but I did get to see the bonus in question (and I cringed at it) and discuss it with others. The big issue was the selection of paintings used in the questions. The Swing was fine, and had they stuck with other really famous paintings (say D'emoiselles d'Avignon or Luncheon on the Grass) the bonus would have been tolerable. But choosing Matisse's Dance, a painting whose significance lies heavily in the gender ambiguity of its subjects or Homer's Breezin' Up, a painting that might be recognizable, but is nowhere near the point where you could expect players to memorize that degree of detail off the top of their heads, defeats the point.

It also brings up the question of why the writers couldn't be bothered to just write a simple, straightforward art question and ask for the paintings or the artists or something to that effect. I'm noticing one common theme in that a lot of the criticism I've seen so far relates to the practice of "sneaking" unrelated/irrelevant questions/subjects in at the expense of important academic categories. The chromosome/paintings bonus and the "passing off a biography TU on John Paul II as lit" tossup are two examples; two others I would add are the literary character/taxonomy bonus ("what order is Wilbur in Charlotte's Web?") and the scientific laws bonus that came out of nowhere and asked about Fight Club for its third part.
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Postby Leo Wolpert » Tue Feb 08, 2005 6:24 pm

MikeWormdog wrote:As for the computational painting...what's up with the bitching about that? They were simple paintings, and adding 2s and 1s shouldn't be too hard. Maybe if you can't do it, you could ask the guy on your team keeping score (since he's already adding 10s and 5s) to add them up for you.

I'm not saying it was hard. I'm saying it was stupid. If you want to test a team's art knowledge, you can ask about paintings. If you want to test a team's arithmetic knowledge (more like "ability," which is probably part of why computational math should generally stay the hell out of college quizbowl) you can ask them to add some numbers.

Mixing the two together produces the worst of both worlds. Instead of, say, asking players to identify well-known, somewhat obscure, and difficult paintings in a bonus, it forces the writer to ask for, as you call them, "simple paintings." And instead of asking players to demonstrate in-depth knowledge of mathematics, it asks them to perform the menial task of adding ones and twos three times. In this respect, questions are like casino games; if they rely on gimmicks, they're going to suck.

I'll agree with you about the geography, for what it's worth.

Edit: Beaten. Perhaps the paintings weren't so simple after all. What, exactly, would have been wrong with a straightforward bonus on those three paintings?
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Postby mps4a_mps4a » Tue Feb 08, 2005 6:27 pm

I will note right now that the person who reviewed Nude Descending a Staircase as "an explosion in a shingle factory" was art critic Julian Street and not, as claimed in a bonus part, Theodore Roosevelt. I don't know how that error happens but it was probably one of the stranger ones I've ever heard.


about the TR quote, I think that happens because TR went to the Armory Show and said Nude looked like a "good navajo rug". The shingle factory quote is better, but if people know TR said something about it, I guess the two meld nicely together.

And I totally forgot about the literary character/taxonomy bonus. that was terrible too, even though i think we 30ed it.

Focusing on the few terrible questions, though, confirms that this was a pretty decent set. These guys are the exceptions and not the rule, at least this year.
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Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Tue Feb 08, 2005 6:31 pm

MikeWormdog wrote:Also, whenever there's a "this, that, both, or neither" question, it'll probably suck. There seemed to be a bunch of them this time around.


There were some precious, precious bonuses like that in D2.
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Postby Howard » Tue Feb 08, 2005 6:33 pm

Dan Greenstein wrote:The biggest problem I remember as a moderator (in D2) were the repeats. Not answer repeats with different information, although there were those and those are ok. I mean repeats with the whole tossup repeated verbatim. In one round, there were five repeats, so I only got through 19 actual tossups. Thankfully, the game was a blowout and the teams agreed to end it before time ran out, so I did not have to run downstairs to get more questions.


I think this may have been the fault of the tournament, not the questions. The Maryland House D2 team was in my room for round 14, and Brittany looked at the D2 round 13 questions which were left in the room. She verified that those were not the questions she heard for round 13. I'm left suspecting that their round 13 match used the D1 questions, and thus the repeats.
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Postby MikeWormdog » Tue Feb 08, 2005 6:43 pm

I forgot about Breezing Up, which was a more obscure painting to remember what it looks like. I disagree about the comment on The Dance, which I think is very recognizable.

I understand your point about art and artists. I think perhaps that they feel that major paintings get under-represented in art distributions simply because everyone knows who painted them. Therefore, something else should be asked about them. This way they aren't disregarded in some weird quizbowl way that some other major works tend to be.

As for determining what the distribution is, how can you do so with NAQT, since their distribution is secret? and, to my knowledge, not necessarily consistent from round to round. (like with the bluegrass performer tossup followed immediately by that jazz/blues one, which hopefully was an oversight) John Paul II could have considered been any number of things, I would guess--religion, history, current events, literature, miscellaneous, etc.. It wasn't really a bad question, I didn't think.
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Postby grapesmoker » Tue Feb 08, 2005 6:58 pm

MikeWormdog wrote:John Paul II could have considered been any number of things, I would guess--religion, history, current events, literature, miscellaneous, etc.. It wasn't really a bad question, I didn't think.


It doesn't really matter what category it falls in, it's just a poor question. I can understand using some literary clues on JP2 at the start of a tossup and then going on to other information. I don't think it's reasonable to have a bunch of literature clues and then do a 90 degree turn into "bishop of Krakow." I wasn't playing on this question (we had a bye), but between the two teams I saw playing on it the question became a buzzer race on that clue. It's not pyramidal at all, and hence bad. It's also bad because it gives the mistaken impression, up until the very end, that the question is asking for a writer, which invites negs that seem reasonable.
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Postby MikeWormdog » Tue Feb 08, 2005 7:14 pm

I disagree about the pyramidality of the tossup...if a question becomes a buzzer race, does that mean it's not pyramidal?

You don't seem to be saying that it wasn't really pyramidal, just "step-pyramidal" where everyone knew the same part. The first part was clearly harder than the giveaway. I think elements of J.P. II's literary career are pretty well known, though the question could have been better had it added a theological work, which hopefully would have eliminated the buzzer race. But, had it not, would it still be un- or step-pyramidal?

As a side, why is a pope's literary career off limits? Had the question been about any number of historical popes, an ideal place to start a question would have been with his writings. Also, political/military fiigures such as Benjamin Disraeli, John Burgoyne, and Vaclav Havel have significant literary outputs, and questions about them often include both literary and political/military pursuits.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Tue Feb 08, 2005 7:27 pm

MikeWormdog wrote:I disagree about the pyramidality of the tossup...if a question becomes a buzzer race, does that mean it's not pyramidal?


If the sample size is big enough. If there were more than a handful of rooms across the country that recognized the lit clues, then it's the fault of the players in the other rooms for not knowing that information. If 90% of teams playing that question heard "quack quack quack bishop of krakow" then it's essentially a one-line tossup on the Pope with a lot of pointless verbiage on the front. I don't know which scenario is the correct one without hearing from more people about this question.
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Postby I'm a goff (in case you couldn't tell) » Tue Feb 08, 2005 7:39 pm

Matt Weiner wrote: I don't know where they got enough people to have competent readers and scorekeepers in every room for a 24-team tournament, but I appreciate the effort that must have gone in to that.


Casey and I appreciate all the comments regarding our first attempt at hosting an SCT. One of the Maryland vets (I think it was Adam Fine) noted that it was probably the first timed tournament held in College Park in many many years.

We've got a great core of vets who still stick around and help moderate, and I'm thankful that they're consistently willing to come back and help read. Our other trick was to have connections within Alpha Phi Omega (the national co-ed service fraternity), who provided us with an endless and plentiful supply of volunteer scorekeepers.

I'd noticed that things seemed fairly slow all day as well, as a lot of teams weren't hearing more than 20 tossups per round. I really don't know what the explanation was for this. Were there similar results from the other locations?
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Postby vandyhawk » Tue Feb 08, 2005 8:23 pm

In the Southeast, we also had a couple rooms where you were lucky to get beyond 20 tossups, though the other few were consistently at least 22 or so. I enjoyed the questions overall, though the distribution did seem a bit uneven at times, especially the science - this could very well be the result of having a couple slower readers, though. I remember some science starting off with pretty obvious clues - myoglobin and Laplace transform come to mind at the moment. It also seemed like "major" artists and composers weren't represented quite as much as normal, but I'd have to look through the whole set to see if that's actually true. Anyone else think that baseball was an unusually large portion of the sports questions? I'm not complaining about that, but I imagine some people would. It was a fun tournament overall, and pretty good considering that stuff we're criticizing are fairly minor components of the set.
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Postby mrsmiley4 » Tue Feb 08, 2005 8:51 pm

vandyhawk wrote:Anyone else think that baseball was an unusually large portion of the sports questions? I'm not complaining about that, but I imagine some people would.


We were talking in my room about that very thing-- how baseball seemed to be the New Hockey (i.e. every packet must contain at least one, and possibly more than one, baseball question, with bonus points for obscurity). So, of course, the very next tossup on the next page was on hockey-- go figure.

Re: speed-- I am inclined to suspect that this was a systemic thing, as I am a fairly quick (if sometime slow-of-tongue) reader and I probably got through about 20 questions on average (I think there was one round when I got through the whole packet, but I was helped on that by having to throw out a couple of questions). The tossups didn't seem like they were that much longer than usual, though perhaps the fact that I was reading in D2 contributed to the overall speed of games in my room (fewer early interrupts, more time needed on bonus conferral, etc.).

One thing that I was happy to see as a reader was the proliferation of pronunciation guides, the lack of which, especially in timed tournaments, is one of my pet peeves. There were still a few trouble spots but I thought NAQT did a pretty good job with preventing a number of potential phonetic equivalents of 12-car pile-ups.
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Postby cvdwightw » Tue Feb 08, 2005 10:16 pm

grapesmoker wrote: between the two teams I saw playing on it the question became a buzzer race on that clue. It's not pyramidal at all, and hence bad.


Having played in the game Jerry is referring to, I decided to look up that entire packet. (Round 13 packet if anyone wants to likewise look it up) It seemed like there was one four-question stretch that was just not good. It ended with the Pope John Paul II question but before that was:

A question on Alan Greenspan: we called a timeout after the corresponding bonus, during which the moderator read the rest of the question and tried to figure out why 'irrational exuberance' came up before 'Alcoa Board of Directors' or 'husband of Andrea Mitchell' (I don't know how bad the pyramidality truly was, so someone either second or refute this please).

A question on the phrase 'beep beep' that I do not think was particularly bad but elicited some crazy neg from a Caltech player.

A question in which almost everyone knew the answer was either Sacco or Vanzetti at or before the FTP prompt and was waiting for the giveaway clue of either 'Sacco' or 'Vanzetti' (the latter of which actually appeared as the giveaway; this was a larger buzzer race than the 'John Paul II' question).

That packet also had the "taxonomic order of these literary characters" bonus.

Overall though, USC ran a much better tournament than I initially expected. They got everyone out of there almost ahead of schedule despite early delays and even got through an average of 22+ questions per round in Div I and 21+ in Div II.
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Postby grapesmoker » Wed Feb 09, 2005 12:13 am

MikeWormdog wrote:You don't seem to be saying that it wasn't really pyramidal, just "step-pyramidal" where everyone knew the same part. The first part was clearly harder than the giveaway. I think elements of J.P. II's literary career are pretty well known, though the question could have been better had it added a theological work, which hopefully would have eliminated the buzzer race. But, had it not, would it still be un- or step-pyramidal?


Maybe I wasn't as clear as I could have been in my post. From what I remember, the question was solely about his literary work until it mentioned, right before the "FTP," that he became bishop of Krakow. I have no problems with it being used as a first clue, but let's face it, it's a footnote to his religious career. As such, it ought to be no more than one clue in a question, because it's not as important as the rest of his work.

As a side, why is a pope's literary career off limits? Had the question been about any number of historical popes, an ideal place to start a question would have been with his writings. Also, political/military fiigures such as Benjamin Disraeli, John Burgoyne, and Vaclav Havel have significant literary outputs, and questions about them often include both literary and political/military pursuits.


I never said anything should be off-limits; all I meant to say is that these things should be used as first clues, not as the complete question. How many non-religious papal writings can you name? I can't name a single one, although admittedly this is far from my area of expertise. It's true that all the three people you mentioned above had significant literary outputs, but those outputs are still quite secondary to their principal careers. More secondary for Burgoyne, less so for Disraeli or Havel, but secondary nonetheless. I hope you wouldn't write a tossup on Einstein that talked about nothing but his philosophical writing; why would a pope or a politician be different?
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Postby UFeng » Wed Feb 09, 2005 12:40 am

A question in which almost everyone knew the answer was either Sacco or Vanzetti at or before the FTP prompt and was waiting for the giveaway clue of either 'Sacco' or 'Vanzetti' (the latter of which actually appeared as the giveaway; this was a larger buzzer race than the 'John Paul II' question).


You may have known that its either one of them, but the Sacco fact regarding the ballistics test isn't obscure. I'm pretty sure Incomplete Education mentions it and lots of articles do as well.

As for the JPII, looking back the "translated the Bible into Polish" is something of a pointer where the question's going. I've seen a Teddy Roosevelt question that mentions his history writings early and have to agree with others that the literary clues aren't a bad way to go.
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Postby QuizbowlPostmodernist » Wed Feb 09, 2005 1:04 am

Not to be contrarian, but despite being a piss-poor lit person, I actually did read The Jeweler's Shop before I had even heard of quizbowl.

Not that I have any pull with NAQT, but I wouldn't mind if all of quizbowl went on strike with regards to the writing of hockey questions until the NHL returns.
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Postby grapesmoker » Wed Feb 09, 2005 1:43 am

QuizbowlPostmodernist wrote:Not that I have any pull with NAQT, but I wouldn't mind if all of quizbowl went on strike with regards to the writing of hockey questions until the NHL returns.


I knew something was missing this year, and I couldn't quite pinpoint it, but that's it. There were mercifully few hockey questions (maybe one or two?) for which I am quite grateful.
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Postby Rothlover » Wed Feb 09, 2005 1:45 am

I wouldn't mind if the entire community went on strike from writing ANY hockey questions for the next decade or so.
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Postby NotBhan » Wed Feb 09, 2005 1:56 am

On a somewhat different subject, have any results been posted yet for the North or Northwest sectionals? Or did those even happen?
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Postby jazzerpoet » Wed Feb 09, 2005 2:54 am

The Northwest Sectional did happen. You can find the stats at:

http://www.ams.ubc.ca/clubs/qbc/

Also, are there stats for the Brandeis Sectional, other than the brief results that were posted on the Yahoo! boards?

Thanks.
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Postby Rothlover » Wed Feb 09, 2005 3:10 am

There are, but our stats person is getting rid of a few errors in the stats that were there.
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Postby NotBhan » Wed Feb 09, 2005 1:19 pm

In the Northwest, was that a D1 or D2 field? (More specifically, were y'all using D1 or D2 questions?)
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Postby samer » Wed Feb 09, 2005 3:14 pm

MikeWormdog wrote:As for determining what the distribution is, how can you do so with NAQT, since their distribution is secret? and, to my knowledge, not necessarily consistent from round to round.


If NAQT truly wanted the distribution to be a secret, the packets wouldn't be made available at all. [And there are ways to figure out what the distribution is, if you're willing to put the time into it.]

As far as round-by-round distribution, very few categories have "1/1 per round" quotas, so there's always going to be packet-to-packet variation (as there will at essentially any tournament).
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Postby bsmith » Wed Feb 09, 2005 3:46 pm

NotBhan wrote:In the Northwest, was that a D1 or D2 field? (More specifically, were y'all using D1 or D2 questions?)


Northwest was an interesting situation of a majority D1 field playing on the D2 packet set.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Wed Feb 09, 2005 5:56 pm

samer wrote:If NAQT truly wanted the distribution to be a secret, the packets wouldn't be made available at all. [And there are ways to figure out what the distribution is, if you're willing to put the time into it.]


Given certain cases of trivial or trashy questions being counted in "academic" categories because of minimal academic content, or because they share an answer with a question that could have been academic had every single clue been changed, it's very difficult to reverse-engineer a packet in order to determine what NAQT thinks its distribution is.

As far as round-by-round distribution, very few categories have "1/1 per round" quotas, so there's always going to be packet-to-packet variation (as there will at essentially any tournament).


I bet that geography is one of the categories with a large per-round quota.
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Postby Captain Sinico » Wed Feb 09, 2005 8:31 pm

samer wrote:If NAQT truly wanted the distribution to be a secret, the packets wouldn't be made available at all. [And there are ways to figure out what the distribution is, if you're willing to put the time into it.]

You know what? I'm getting kind-of sick of this bullshit argument. My own attempts at reverse engineering the NAQT distribution resulted in either failure or absurdity. Therefore, by the reasoning implicit in this statement, I must be stupid or deficient in some way. I, and the others who have met with the same result from their time and efforts, find this conclusion unacceptable.
As people who have edited tournaments (to whatever extent,) we ought all to know that the categorization of questions is a very subjective and inexact process. This, coupled with the fact that even what the categories nominally are is generally unknown due to NAQT's refusal to reveal them, renders obtaining the NAQT distribution from a set of NAQT packets a daunting and perhaps impossible task a priori.
Moreover, if your (and NAQT's, though feel free to correct me on this point if I’m wrong and it's conicidental that this question is always met by the same argument from an NAQT member) contention that obtaining the distribution given any set of NAQT packets ought to be trivial, what does NAQT possibly have to gain from not revealing its distribution other than inconveniencing its customers or would-be customers, or ensuring that only the best statisticians have the distribution? I would answer that, as far as I can see, NAQT stands to gain the ability to use whatever distribution or lack thereof that suits NAQT at the moment the packets are assembled, and very little else. If, however, this is incorrect, I strongly encourage you to set the record straight to whatever extent you're allowed.
However, I would really appreciate it if, given that the argument that "anyone who wants to can figure out the distribution" is flawed (and seems condescending besides,) you would please stop using it irregardless of its currency as the party line. If NAQT doesn't want to reveal its distribution, then its members should have the stones to simply say so. If NAQT won't reveal even why it won't reveal its distribution, then just say that, too. Don't negate the hypothesis by responding to honest and justifiable enquiry by saying that I should (or do) already know the distribution over and over again.

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(EDIT: Fixed some grammar)
Last edited by Captain Sinico on Thu Feb 10, 2005 12:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby NotBhan » Thu Feb 10, 2005 11:39 am

Has anyone heard any results from the North SCT in Minnesota? I think that's the only one which hasn't posted any results.
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Postby walter12 » Thu Feb 10, 2005 12:02 pm

As for the North SCT, Hentzel had some urgent business earlier this week and should be posting official results either today or tomorrow. Brief results are as follows:

Division I:
1) St. Thomas (UG)
2) Carleton A (UG)
3) Carleton B (UG)

Division II:
1) Carleton
2) Grinnell
3) Macalester
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Postby QuizbowlPostmodernist » Thu Feb 10, 2005 3:41 pm

ImmaculateDeception wrote:If NAQT doesn't want to reveal its distribution, then its members should have the stones to simply say so. If NAQT won't reveal even why it won't reveal its distribution, then just say that, too.


The following was posted to the then-Yahoo quizbowl group back in 2002 by Eric Hilleman:

Kelly asks why the NAQT distribution is secret. My answer is unofficial -- my own, not the company's.

First, it's only "sort of" secret. It can't really be a top secret thing, because anybody who cares to can pretty much plot our distribution just by looking at some of our sets -- every set we've ever produced remains available. With some caveats: the distribution for our collegiate sets (SCT and ICT) differs a little from those of our high school/novice sets (IS series), and both differ in some ways from our mix for Intramural packets. Also, NAQT's been doing this since 1996, and--surprise--we have altered our distribution quotas in certain ways over that time, as experience has suggested to us. And that, in my opinion, suggests the single most compelling reason for us not to chisel a precise recipe, at least at the more detailed levels, in stone somewhere public. When our recipe is an internal matter -- even though generally transparent to anyone who really wants to analyze our sets -- we are much freer to nudge categories up or down a little as our growing experience (or player feedback) suggests, without having to go through a round of public debate about it. Though created out of and for the quizbowl community circuit, we *are* a private partnership, not a public trust, and wish to make our own judgments about these things without tying our hands.

There are NAQT quotas, minimums and maximums, for all sorts of sub-categories within our major categories. The sub-categories--both their percentages and their very definitions--are more prone to change than are the numbers for the mega-categories, and I think we have no real interest in telling the world how we manage that. As Bill pointed out, we are after all in business competition with other for-profit question-writing companies.

What our general mix is for the mega-categories, however, it seems to me is rather pointless to try to keep secret, as it's pretty transparent to anyone who wants to look hard at a couple of our sets. I think it makes more sense readily to describe that broad outline by way of *advertising* than to act as though that's a dark secret we fear you'll learn. :) How to define where certain things go can remain murky, but anyone who wants to look can freely determine that for our most recent collegiate sets, with 560 total tossups, History, Literature (including Mythology), and Science are each going to get the same number, a little over a hundred each; Geography, Fine Arts, Current Events, and Popular Culture (including all film, old and new) will be at or slightly over 40 each; Social Science and Philosophy/Theology will total collectively in the mid-30s, and Sports and General Knowledge both in the low 20s. Bonuses would be much the same. More precise breakdowns within those categories I think we have no interest in posting, but the evidence for you to draw your own conclusions is out there in the packets themselves.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Thu Feb 10, 2005 4:52 pm

So basically you posted a much longer, repetitive version of"it's easy to figure out the distribution and if you can't, you're dumb" after being told why that's a condescending and false way to address the question?

The reason that one can't figure out the distribution is the same reason that any claim about X number of questions in a set is suspect, and it's also the same reason that the distribution has not been posted: Questions are often counted in the wrong category for tenuous reasons in order to squeeze as much trash, geography, and trivial pseudo-knowledge into the packets as possible, at the expense of other categories. For example, the claim that there were only "slightly over 40" geography tossups at SCT is absurd, as is the idea that there were as many as a "mid-30s" number of philosophy tossups.
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Postby zotlbusy » Thu Feb 10, 2005 5:01 pm

This was disingenuous then, and it still is now. Anybody who's ever played NAQT knows that there's way more Geography (to take one example) than Fine Arts in any of their sets. By throwing in a clue about when some island was discovered, or when a country became independent, NAQT passes off geography questions as "history." By throwing in a clue about the most recent election in a country, NAQT passes off geography questions as "current events." It would be interesting to count the tossup answers in one of last year's sets and see how many were clearly geographical (nations, rivers, mountains, etc.) and how many were, for instance, social science. If the ratio is as low as 2:1 in favor of geography, I'd be surprised. I'd be flabbergasted if it's anything close to 4:3, as Mr. Hillemann suggests it ought to be. (And I'm not even talking about where NAQT chooses to place tossups, since the last two tossups of any round are rarely read, though it would be interesting to see whether any particular categories appear with unusual frequency as question 25 or 26.)
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Postby UFeng » Thu Feb 10, 2005 5:13 pm

So Matt, you've just posted another version of "NAQT sucks, I want to know the distribution" whine. If they posted the distribution and varied from it, I'm sure there'd be a whole thread about that. As for now, there's a general distribution, and like any tournament, variations happen.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Thu Feb 10, 2005 5:20 pm

UFeng wrote: If they posted the distribution and varied from it, I'm sure there'd be a whole thread about that.


Heaven forbid people call out a tournament author for not sticking to his announced distribution. Why must we hold NAQT to a lower standard than every other tournament? And do you not see, in outright dishonesty from NAQT's public statements, a much deeper problem than anyone's personal preferences about the distribution?

Responding to all posts against NAQT, or for that matter, against X, with "you can't dislike X because you're known to dislike X" is not the way to encourage open discussion. I'm sure if we limited the discussion on shortcomings in NAQT only to people who love NAQT, certain people would be more pleased with the result, but that's not how the world works. If NAQT wants to hide behind being a private business and having no obligation to the quizbowl public, then they can take their lumps from consumers like any other company.

And I'd like to know how you write off complaints from people from Illinois, Chicago, Michigan, and Berkeley--aka, the teams that combined have won 7 of the 8 NAQT titles ever--as being from me, even assuming that for some reason I, as an NAQT customer, am not entitled to voice my opinion on the set in the first place.
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Postby UFeng » Thu Feb 10, 2005 5:42 pm

I'm not saying that only people who like NAQT can complain about NAQT but you lose your personal credibility when you complain about virtually every tournament under the sun or by the sea- something that all the NAQT champions HAVEN't done.

As for the distribution thing it's beginning to look circular... I don't think you can complain about them not sticking to the distribution because nobody's officially posted a distribution (the above remarks from Eric Hilleman weren't official) So I fail to see how you can claim they're part of an NAQT lie campaign.
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Postby zotlbusy » Thu Feb 10, 2005 6:24 pm

After saying that it would be interesting to look at the answers from a sample NAQT tournament, I decided to do just that. I've just compiled a chart of the tossup answers from the 2004 sectionals (which was edited by Subash Maddipoti, I believe, and is thus likely to be better than the run-of-the-mill NAQT tournament). In brief: the ratio of geography to philosophy was roughly 4:1, or nothing close to the alleged distribution suggested by Mr. Hillemann. (Though of course we've been told that we're not to hold NAQT to that rough estimate, etc.)

In 18 rounds, I counted 33 geography tossups. They were on: the state of Tabasco; the Northwest Passage; the Wabash River; the Carpathian mountains; El Paso; Germantown; Banff national park; Sakhalin; Brasilia; Whitehorse; British Virgin Islands; Tsushima; Tierra del fuego; Arkansas River; Guam; Berlin; Puget Sound; Anchorage; Damascus; Comoros; Paraguay; Las Cruces; Cumberland River; San Marino; Lichtenstein; places named "Hamilton"; Seattle; Vistula River; Luxembourg; Alice Springs; Limpopo River; Venice; Baltimore.

I did not count as geography tossups on cities where most of the clues were historical ("Petra" or "Cordoba," for instance); nor did I count tossups on countries where almost all the clues were current events (numerous); nor did I count tossups on buildings (e.g. "Monticello"); nor did I count questions on "Plymouth Rock," "Prince Edward Island," or "Cornwall" which I deemed significantly non-geographical.

By contrast, I counted 8 philosophy tossups. They were on: John Locke; Bacon's Organon; Herbert Spenser; Duns Scotus; Schopenhauer; transcendentalism; Thomas Kuhn; On Liberty.

I did not count as "philosophy" tossups on Empedocles, in which every clue referred to literary works about Empedocles, or Montaigne, who seems to me more literature than philosophy. (On the other hand, I did count the "transcendentalism" tossup, even though it only referred to figures who would generally be taken as literary rather than philosophical, and even though it's a pitifully bad question. I also counted Spenser, though he might be social science rather than philosophy. There were, as far as I could tell, no other questions that could even arguably count as philosophy.)

Again, I'm guessing that the amount of academics in this tournament was higher than usual, since Mr. Maddipoti edited it. Even so, the disproportion of geography to philosophy (despite the claims of Mr. Hillemann) is obvious. I suspect that other claims he makes (say, about the ratio of social science to popular culture) would be belied by a close look at this or another set.

Incidentally, I also charted the category to which the last tossup in each game (the most infrequently heard tossup) belonged. The breakdown, for whatever it's worth: 6 history, 6 science, 3 literature, 2 geography, 1 GK. I have no idea whether that means anything.
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Postby zotlbusy » Thu Feb 10, 2005 7:00 pm

I had so much fun comparing geography to philosophy (though I forgot "theology," whatever that means to NAQT: I only know that it doesn't include the Bible, which goes under "literature") that I thought I'd compare sports to social science. Social Science, Mr. Hillemann tells us, will "total in the mid-30s," while Sports will be "in the low 20s." Again, the claim isn't quite borne out by a closer look at the 2004 SCT. I counted 17 sports tossups in that set, as compared to 9 social science. So instead of a 3:2 ration in favor of social science, we have a 2:1 ratio in favor of sports. Again, this being a Maddipoti-edited tournament the numbers may actually be skewed more in favor of academics than if this were a pre-Maddipoti NAQT tournament. (Though I could be wrong to assume that he would push the set more toward academics.)

The sports tossups: Mike Vanderjagt; West Coast Offense; Detroit Shock; Dick Fosbury; Seattle Super Sonics; Arturs Irbe; US Olympic Committee; University of Arkansas (entirely on the football team); Washington Wizards; eligible receivers; Dany Heatley; bobsled; triples in baseball; wiffle ball; walkoff grand slams; Chicago Cubs; Honus Wagner. I didn't count a tossup on "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," though I hope it was meant to be General Knowledge rather than literature.

The social science tossups: Thor Heyerdahl; Richard Leakey; Gresham's Law; Freud; anomie; Alfred Adler; Friedrich von Hayek; business cycles; Wilhelm Wundt.

Aside from the quantitative disproportion, one might note how perfunctory most of the social science tossups are (largely biographical questions on very well-known figures, like Freud and Leakey.) On the other hand, the sports questions tend to be much more inventive (not on Jerry Rice, but on "eligible receivers") and about much more obscure individuals (I'm not sure who the "Mike Vanderjagt" of 20th century psychology would be, but I suspect it would be someone much less famous than Freud or Adler). I don't know whether NAQT has much more inventive question writers in the sports field than in social science, or whether they assume that nobody knows anything about the latter; or perhaps there's another explanation.
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My involvement in this year's SCT

Postby icarium » Thu Feb 10, 2005 7:37 pm

I don't mean to distract from the current discussion about distribution, but I need to set one fact straight. There have been a couple of posters who have alluded to me "editing" this year's SCT. I want to clarify that I only helped edit, and did no more or less than several other individuals who worked on the set. This also doesn't reference the tens of writers and subject editors who made contributions.

On a related note, people shouldn't take my involvement to mean the set was more "academic" than most. Whatever little I did, I did in the interests of making the questions more enjoyable, more pyramidal, and more gettable for the players. In this effort, my goals were the same as all the others who worked on the set and my contribution was a very small part of the whole and shouldn't be lauded over any other. So, if people liked the questions, I deserve no distinctive praise. And, if people disliked the questions, I share in the blame for that.

Thanks,

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Postby QuizbowlPostmodernist » Thu Feb 10, 2005 9:21 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:So basically you posted a much longer, repetitive version of"it's easy to figure out the distribution and if you can't, you're dumb" after being told why that's a condescending and false way to address the question?.


Actually, the relevant portion is why NAQT might not want to reveal its distribution: having flexibility, avoiding the drama of quizbowl internet pseudo-debate, being a private for-profit company with competitors. These may be good reasons, these may be bad reasons. They might sound Coca-Cola protecting its secret formula, they might sound like Microsoft opposing open source software. But it give a plausible answer to part of Mike Sorice's post.
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Postby Scipio » Thu Feb 10, 2005 10:52 pm

Actually, the relevant portion is why NAQT might not want to reveal its distribution ... They might sound Coca-Cola protecting its secret formula, they might sound like Microsoft opposing open source software. But it give a plausible answer to part of Mike Sorice's post.


I disagree. Samer did not sound like Coke or KCF or any other company whose products rely upon a secret formula, because when those companies are asked about the formula, they essentially say "No, we aren't going to tell you". What Samer said was not so much "We aren't going to tell you our distribution, because we're keeping it a secret" and more along the lines of "We've already told you our distribution, moron! Just look at the packets!".(1) It would be as if Coke said "You know, you could figure our formula if you just took the time to run a simple spectroscopic analysis, dumbass!" (2)

To me, this smacks a great deal of what Big Daddy Kane would call "half-steppin'".(3) NAQT does not release the distribution but certain members of NAQT sorta imply that they already released the distribution. I personally have no problem with the organisation keeping their distribution secret, but I wish they would come out and say "We're keeping it a secret".

(1) Not what he actually said, but a paraphrase.
(2) See, that would be kinda ridiculous, because most people don't have access to spectroscopic equipment.
(3) Most notably quoted in "Ain't No Half-Steppin'", from the album Long Live the Kane.
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Postby Captain Sinico » Thu Feb 10, 2005 11:20 pm

UFeng wrote:So Matt, you've just posted another version of "NAQT sucks, I want to know the distribution" whine. If they posted the distribution and varied from it, I'm sure there'd be a whole thread about that. As for now, there's a general distribution, and like any tournament, variations happen.

In the first place, he didn't post the "whine;" I did. If you want to take it up with me, feel free, though I'd advise you to come-up with a better argument than "you complain too much, therefore your concerns are invalid."
In the second place, if NAQT did post a distribution and deviate from it, they should be called to task for it just as any tournament that promises something and doesn't deliver should. In fact, as, by their own admonition (c.f. Hentzel, quoted by de Jesus above) they're running these tournaments for profit and are designed as a moneymaking endeavor, they should be called to account to a greater degree than pretty much anyone else running a tournament. While it may seem absurd, when you advertise something and fail to deliver, the people who bought whatever you're selling aren't going to be happy. This is not limited to "academic" quizbowl, and should not be.
If that "but if they post and deviate, you'll still be mad" thing was meant as a counterargument, I'll submit that is has the following simple resolution: don't deviate from your distribution. I don't know why that should be so hard, since NAQT packets are machine-assembled anyway, from what I can gather. Even such massively disorganized persons as myself can assemble packets that follow a distribution.

QuizbowlPostmodernist wrote:Actually, the relevant portion is why NAQT might not want to reveal its distribution: having flexibility,

I fail to see how this is an issue. The distribution wouldn't even metaphorically be "written in stone" (or whatever Hentzel said 3 years ago;) it would be posted on the Internet somewhere. It could be updated pretty much instantly and on the whim of whomever for each event. In fact, many tournaments do change their distributions every year in minor ways (e.g. the ones I ran or am running) without much or any issue. As a for-profit company, NAQT is free to dictate, announce, and do whatever they like with feedback about their distribution (just as much as they are, for example, to dictate, not announce, and do whatever with feedback about it.) Therefore, I fail to see how a public distribution reduces their flexibility.
QuizbowlPostmodernist wrote:avoiding the drama of quizbowl internet pseudo-debate...

Oh? How's that working out for them? Also, NAQT frequently and vociferously requests feedback from its customers. Therefore, to suggest that their end is to stifle feedback in whatever form seems to be to accuse them of giving the lie, which is not an accusation that you have grounds to make at this time.

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Postby mattreece » Fri Feb 11, 2005 2:16 am

I can't say too much, since I was playing on Div 2 questions (at the Canadian SCT where there were only a handful of Div 1 teams). I didn't realize I was playing on Div 2 questions at the time, probably through my own lack of attention. As a result, I was continually surprised by what I was hearing. In retrospect, the difficulty might have been fairly reasonable for Div 2.

A few things did stand out, though:

- There seemed to be surprisingly few literature questions. In the first few rounds, there generally seemed to be 1 or 2 literature tossups in the first nineteen or twenty questions (all that we got through). These were also overwhelmingly slanted toward one language, century, and genre, but since I'm not supposed to talk about the Div 2 questions I'll leave it at that.

- There was a lot of trash. In one round, out of twenty tossups I counted three trash, two geography, and one somewhat geographical tossup about an animal. Something's not right there. Maybe the trash questions became "academic" later on, but they were all answered at points where they sounded like trash.

- I seem to recall a debate about two years ago after the SCT, about how awful it is to make the first sentence of a tossup a straightforward definition of the answer you're looking for. I know a number of people defended the practice, but, really, it's simple: don't make the first sentence of a tossup the definition of the answer. It's completely counter to any reasonable notion of pyramidality. I don't care if you think the definition is somehow harder than the answer itself. Anyone who seriously knows anything about something should know what that thing is. Right? It's obvious. Really.

Overall, aside from not getting through too many questions, the SCT ran smoothly, though.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Sat Feb 12, 2005 5:21 am

With the discussion now underway, here is my full review of this year’s Sectionals.

The Good:

In general, specificity of tossup leadins was tightened and giveaways of trash in academic questions and general “Nacuties” were way down compared to my last reference, the 2003 sectionals. There were also a lot fewer questions on groaner general knowledge subjects like “Dr. Scholl.” These were some major complaints from people including me over the last two years and I’m glad to see a very positive shift in the right direction on these particular issues.

I noted the following tossups as very good (and, of course, most everything not specifically mentioned as good or bad in this missive as decent): Oscar Wilde, Stalwarts, Matthew Arnold, Portnoy’s Complaint, James Forrestal, Animal Farm, Richard Clarke, Duino Elegies, Syrinx.

I did not feel like any game ended unfairly; ultimately, my team won or lost based on whether or not we knew more about the answers presented than the opponent. I certainly did feel like I won and lost games illegitimately at the 2003 sectionals. Being a subjective impression, it’s hard to demonstrate where such a feeling comes from in the set, but it can only be a good thing as far as I’m concerned.

The Not as Good:

Factual errors: Bonus 26 in packet 1 refers to a game that doesn’t exist and gives information about a character in part C that isn’t true for any game. As previously noted, Theodore Roosevelt did not coin the phrase “exploision in a shingle factory” to describe Nude Descending a Staircase. I didn’t catch any others and I haven’t heard anyone else report anything. NAQT is to be commended for apparently having only 2 such mistakes in 900+ questions.

As has been much covered, there was a LOT of geography this year, seemingly even more so than in past years when similar observartions were made. As always, it is up to each team to decide whether they prefer one distribution over another and the true issue is why the distribution is not available or fake distributions are put out. Moving past that, my question is this: if we take at face value the asertion that NAQT sets reflect the demand, determined via past feedback, of the quizbowl community, then who is demanding all this geography? I know who is demanding trash, and while I prefer less of it in academic events, I understand that this is not a universally held opinio. But in contrast, every single team I talked to at the tournament and every single team I’ve talked to online since then has expressed disdain at the growth of the geography distribution. Are there people out there who simply want five, six, seven, or more geography questions in a 52-question packet? Please speak up if you’re one of them.

I am not one of the people who objects to current events, but I think some of the answer and clue selections of the current events in this particular tournament presented problems. Questions like Finland and Nunavut referred to political events that are obscure at best and turned into geography-based buzzer races. It seemed that the bottom of the barrel was scraped by filling out the CE distribution with such topics (what makes Jim DeMint worth a tossup?), and I am concerned that the current events at ICT will of need be either repetitive of SCT topics or of dubious academic content.

Thinks like the colleges that US presidents once led and the museums that paintings are located in are trivial to understanding actual history, art, etc. I hope they were counted as general knowledge. Similarly, the middle part of the “dagger” countries requires knowledge of a specific obscure Kissinger quote, as either Argentina or Chile could fit the scanty geographical information. Like in the “cigars” bonus, it seems that requiring people to know generally unimportant quotes is annoying to many teams.

Who is still asking for element questions? Every other tournament has moved past these. They included a bismuth tossup, metalloids bonus, iridium tossup, iron tossup, and possibly more. Similarly, flag questions (Nepal, Georgia) are specifically banned from many packet-submission distributions. Are all these tournaments run by active quizbowl players wrong? Are there people out there demanding flag questions?

As noted in another post, trash difficulty seemed to outpace academic difficulty. Three Billy Joel songs that aren’t part of the radio canon is the equivalent of asking for Israel Potter, Redburn, and Pierre from plots, or even worse since Melville is more prominent in the study of literature than Billy Joel is in pop music. Another example is the “MASH” bonus asking for less than the most obvious information about a TV show that went off the air before most people playing this tournament were born. Yet another is “FA Cup,” something that only that rarest type of American, the soccer fan, would ever know. There are at least three better known soccer tournaments, maybe more, but it seems that once again trash dips deep to serve its hardcore fans, while other categories get superficial treatment. Contrast this with such shallow history answers, and correspondingly obvious clues, as “The Byzantine Empire,” “Russia,” and “George III” (the latter being a potentially good answer that, in this case, had a question stitched entirely of biographical trivia.)

Acronym expansion is dubious knowledge and a lazy way to write a bonus. Computer hardware and the first names of famous people came up in this way. On a similar note, the giveaway “whose first names were Arthur Stanley” in the Eddington tossup gives out points for the dubiously real achievement of having heard someone’s name, as does “not very thick” as a clue for “thin-layer chromotography” in the same round

Wait-races such as Sacco (hey, this is either Sacco or Vanzetti…), The Tattler (hey, this is either The Tattler or The Spectator…), and Tyco (“New York”, “company”, “prosecuted”…this could be Tyco but I couldn’t really complain if I buzzed wrongly since there’s no real clues yet) and other tossups that either penalize people for incomplete knowledge or create a situation where eight people are waiting for the one distinguishing clue, are bad. More blatant punishment is the “Amneris” tossup, where someone who recognizes the name “Ramfis” as being from Aida, and assumes that difficulty will remain consistent with the rest of the set and thus the question will not suddenly turn into a tossup on another character from Aida, receives a neg.

Fraudable questions: Getting “sandman” from “a character with mythical qualities who sprinkles children to sleep” in the Hansel and Gretel bonus despite knowing nothing about that opera. “Eight Immortals” from “these five and three others” and “live forever.” Powering Mingus from “played the double bass with Louis Armstrong”—if there’s another jazz bass player who would come up at a tournament of this difficulty level, I’d like to know. I’d feel very cheated if I lost an ICT game on such a question.

The problem of starting tossups on concepts with their definition creeped out of science and into the scant economics questions with the “pure competition” tossup. Where was the rest of economics, anyhow?

Faux science did show up every once in a while, in such forms as the Drake equation, constellations from zodiac clues, ketones powerable from an “Atkins diet” clue, and “crown” as a pre-power clue for ethers.

“Right-wing, anti-immigrant People’s Party” in the Switzerland question is a hose for Austria.

“Celtic languages” are, in fact, often known as “Gaelic languages,” making the “do not prompt” note curious.

“Inuit sea goddess” as a power-zone clue for “Sedna” was dubious placement as pretty much every tournament this past year had a Sedna question with that clue.

Suggestions:

I think that the flaws with NAQT are fixable, and can be addressed without alienating the presumed “silent majority” supporting the current approach. Would any of the presently content customer base be driven off by announcing a distribution, keeping categories separate, and putting a cap of 1-2 per round on “cutesy” questions like the cigar and daggers bonuses? I don’t know any team now ambivalent about NAQT who wouldn’t be satisfied with such measures, or at least feel that they know what they are getting into and have no grounds to complain about anything except a failure to meet the stated goals. I do not know, and thus am asking, whether any team that supports the NAQT status quo with enthusiasm would find their attendance at NAQT events less likely if such changes were implemented.

Overall, as this set was a great improvement on the deeply flawed 2003 sectionals, my chances of going to the ICT are very high. I would like to hear from other partisans of more academic content on how this set impressed you in general, whether it affected your ICT decision, and how you thought this year’s questions compare to the 2003 and 2004 sectionals.
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Matt Weiner
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