ACF Nationals aftermath/discussion

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ACF Nationals aftermath/discussion

Postby Chris Frankel » Mon Apr 04, 2005 10:37 pm

Now that ACF Nationals is over, I figured I'd just start the usual post-tournament commentary thread. For the most part, I'm going to wait a little bit before trying to go over specific questions, but I'll begin with some cursory observations.

- The questions were very well-written, very thorough, very clue dense, and very hard. After seeing even Michigan and Chicago 0 bonuses with some regularity and watching top playoff bracket teams struggle to break the 200 point barrier, I'd be interested in seeing how the teams in the other brackets did.

- Every moderator we had did a great job. Logistics went well, although the late finish was the obvious low point. I think the post-tournament all star game the TD's were considering would have been fun if time had allowed it.

- Michigan, Chicago, and to a lesser extent, Berkeley, are really in a whole other league. In my experience at least, we finished fourth, played all the other highly ranked teams competitively, and yet got thoroughly demolished by the above 3. I wish we could have seen how Illinois or a full-strength Rochester would have fared.

- Props to Texas and Virginia (and Chicago C if applicable) for showing that being a D2 team doesn't mean you can't do well and compete with the veterans at ACF Nationals.

- One issue I did have with the set is that the number of "common link" questions seemed a little excessive, particularly in mythology. I see what was being done (and admitedly writing high level mythology without descending into obscurata or reviving stock clues is tough), but I got tired of answers like "crowns," "cows," "ghosts," and "spiders" coming up.

All in all, I thought the questions, competition, and staff were all excellent, and made for a very enjoyable national tournament.
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Re: ACF Nationals aftermath/discussion

Postby Matt Weiner » Tue Apr 05, 2005 1:20 am

Chris Frankel wrote:- One issue I did have with the set is that the number of "common link" questions seemed a little excessive, particularly in mythology. I see what was being done (and admitedly writing high level mythology without descending into obscurata or reviving stock clues is tough), but I got tired of answers like "crowns," "cows," "ghosts," and "spiders" coming up.


I, for one, think that this kind of tossup needs to be used even more. For example, in "crowns" (from my packet) I was able to use a clue about Balinese mythology. Even at ACF Nationals difficulty, there is no way to write a question that seeks any topic whatsoever from Balinese mythology as the answer. Because the only thing I can expect more than 0-1 players at a tournament to recognize about Bali are non-myth clues, it would be misguided even to write a mostly-mythology tossup with "Bali" as the answer. The only way to reward this knowledge is to write a question like "crowns" that includes the Balinese myth clue and then goes on to discuss easier Christian, Greek, Egyptian, etc clues as that tossup did. Tossups like this are a great way to expand the canon and reward underrepresented knowledge without lowering conversion percentages or having the question go dead or in a buzzer race at the end.

Overall, the tournament met my expectations; the tossups were very well done, and the bonuses were clearly polished but might have been a little easier. If I remember the displayed statistics, the top teams were converting around 15 PPB; that ought to be at least 20. The information was very much there and there were copious examples of new and interesting clues popping up for easy answers on the tossups. It's no secret that some previous ACF tournaments felt a little rushed, but that was really not the case this year; the set had a unity and an effort to it that most invitationals do not achieve, and this coming week will have a lot to live up to in terms of overall solid academic material.

Props of course go to Michigan and Chicago. After seeing a bunch of blowout finals at prior nationals I've attended, the extended two-game barnburner was riveting and a good display of what elite teams can do on these questions.

Special thanks to Justin and Colby from Northwestern for going above and beyond the call of tournament host duty to get me crash space for the weekend and thus enabling me to maintain a my largely hypothetical team budget through next week's festivities.
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Postby Larry Horse » Wed Apr 06, 2005 12:58 am

You best believe Chicago C was Div 2. I think we thirtied only one bonus. The highlight of my ACF national experience was seeing Matt Weiner asleep in the basment of Colby's frat. Truly a thing of beauty.

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Postby suds1000 » Wed Apr 06, 2005 11:19 am

Considering how good a player Matt Weiner is, I'm surprised he could only muster 135 PPG, with less than 9 PPB. This set must be either really bad or really hard, and, considering the editorship, I'm definitely inclined to guess the latter and not the former.

I agree with Matt's comment that the top teams should be averaging around 20 PPB...the fact that not one of them cracked 15, despite having (at the very least) seven or eight of the top 15 players in the nation playing in the tournament, seems a little suspect to me.

So somebody tell me...how hard were they?
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Postby grapesmoker » Wed Apr 06, 2005 12:00 pm

suds1000 wrote:So somebody tell me...how hard were they?


This was certainly the hardest tournament I've ever played in. To me it seemed even harder than Manu.
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Postby MLafer » Wed Apr 06, 2005 12:03 pm

Considering how good a player Matt Weiner is, I'm surprised he could only muster 135 PPG, with less than 9 PPB. This set must be either really bad or really hard, and, considering the editorship, I'm definitely inclined to guess the latter and not the former.

I agree with Matt's comment that the top teams should be averaging around 20 PPB...the fact that not one of them cracked 15, despite having (at the very least) seven or eight of the top 15 players in the nation playing in the tournament, seems a little suspect to me.

So somebody tell me...how hard were they?


Well, for some perspective: in the last three matches we played (vs. Berkeley, and the two vs. Chicago) there were

two bonuses 30'd
thirteen bonuses 0'd

A lot of the bonuses were too hard. Some of this low conversion rate is misleading, though, since oftentimes the first part of the bonus had a rather easy answer but contained clues that might have fit in the middle of a tossup on that answer rather than at the end. I definitely thought the tossups were of appropriate difficulty, although some of the packets were unbalanced between different subjects: for example, the finals packets had literature that was easy enough for me to actually get before Zeke ("End of the Affair," "Mother Courage" and other easy ones like Candide and Tennyson) while the science included such gems as the Rackett Equation, S matrix, and the fluctuation-dissipation theorem (all of which went dead).

I read for a lower bracket game on our packet and I think around 12-13 tossups were converted in what was probably one of the hardest packets, toss-up wise, which isn't too bad considering the same packets are being used to distinguish between the top teams in the country, but the bonuses definitely need to be adjusted for next year.
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Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Apr 06, 2005 12:10 pm

I'd certainly call Manu harder. I mean, Manu did not have a bonus on the first man from the mythology of Madagascar, but the tossups at ACF Nationals were a lot more accessible, at least to me.

One thing I found sort of cool were the common theme questions (crowns, spiders, etc.) They do require the sort of higher brain function that I am not necessarily capable of after waking up early for a tournament, but I see their merit nonetheless, especially the ones about types of music. I could see myself liking that if I were a music guy.

Also, although I was cheering for the other team, it brought me great joy to see Michigan win the title on a Richard M. Johnson tossup. Those are sadly rarer than they should be.
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Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Wed Apr 06, 2005 1:28 pm

I don't want to pre-empt discussion of the tournament, but I thought I'd offer a perspective on the issue of difficulty before this whole discussion is swept aside by the perennial post-ICT hullaballoo.

Clearly, the bonuses at this year's ACF nationals were hard. In fact, they were much too hard. Instead of lingering over mea culpas, I want to offer an explanation of how this can come to pass.

It seems to me that the most important task for an editor is to get the tossups right. They need to be pyramidal, which for a tournament like nationals means that extensive time has to be invested in research and rewriting. They also need to be largely answerable by mid- and lower-tier teams, since (in my opinion) the worst kind of game is one in which most of the tossups go unanswered by either team. That means that even good tossups on obscure topics frequently need to be revamped (e.g., a tossup on Schoenberg's "Gurre-Lieder" gets rewritten as a tossup to which the answer is "Schoenberg"). Ideally, they also need to be interesting and readable. All of this takes an unbelievably long time, but it has to be the top priority of an ACF editor.

The next priority, I think, is to equalize bonus difficulty. It's terrible to have a buzzer race on a poorly-written tossup (e.g., one which mentions the protagonist of a work in the first few words). But it's almost as bad if the bonuses are wildly uneven in difficulty, with very easy 30s popping up like oases in a wilderness of 10s and 0s. Ideally, one would level off the bonuses so that they would end up being at the tournament's desired difficulty level, but that's almost impossible in practice. When you're editing packets as they come in, all you can do is even out the questions in each round as you receive it.

The next priority is raising or lowering the overall difficulty of the bonuses in a tournament. In my opinion, this has to take a back seat to the first two concerns, because they involve issues of basic fairness. If the tossups are seriously flawed or the bonuses are seriously uneven, the inferior team is liable to win a game thanks to the vagaries of the packet rather than their own skill. If the bonuses are too hard, the scores will be deflated but the better team is still going to win, albeit with a reduced score.

This isn't to say that making bonuses easier isn't a priority for me. It is a priority, only it takes a back seat to what I consider more important issues of fair and consistent play. The bonuses are going to end up being too hard if a number of packets are submitted late; if those packets require a lot of work; if those packets contain a number of very hard bonuses already; if the editors want to get any sleep at all the week of the tournament. If I'd had another two days to work on nationals, I would have drastically simplified 10-12 hard bonus parts in every packet. But time ran out, and the tournament was too difficult. I really do feel bad about that, and I hope it didn't sour any teams on ACF permanently.

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difficulty

Postby mreece » Wed Apr 06, 2005 4:04 pm

I was afraid "fluctuation-dissipation theorem" was a bit on the hard side, but I was trying to come up with non-obvious stat mech / condensed matter questions to offset my personal bias toward particle physics / field theory, and the theorem does seem to be among the more important results in statistical mechanics. Sorry for my bad judgement there.

But S-matrix is too hard? I must be getting too out of touch; do people not learn what an S-matrix is in quantum mechanics courses?

My apologies for any other overly difficult physics. I at least tried to cull the difficult-but-boring questions of the form: "Here's an obvious law you know well; what you didn't know is that it has a name. Name it."
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Postby MLafer » Wed Apr 06, 2005 4:15 pm

But S-matrix is too hard? I must be getting too out of touch; do people not learn what an S-matrix is in quantum mechanics courses?


I really have no idea how hard this is on an absolute scale since I've never taken a quantum mechanics course. I'm only basing the hardness on a) that i've never seen it come up in a quiz bowl game before, and therefore it is inaccessible to non-science majors (of course, this isn't a bad thing, I think it's great) and b) that Seth Teitler, who has taken quantum mechanics courses, wasn't able to come up with it. I had no problem with the question in general since it seemed important, I was just surprised to see its placement next to gimmes like "Candide".
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Postby ezubaric » Wed Apr 06, 2005 5:38 pm

But S-matrix is too hard? I must be getting too out of touch; do people not learn what an S-matrix is in quantum mechanics courses?


It's been three years since I took quantum, and I couldn't associate S-matrix with any concept I remembered upon reading this post. When I looked on page 66 of Griffiths, though, I saw a hand-written note saying "learn this for midterm." I obviously didn't. :grin:

It seems important enough to be fair game, though, despite its rarity in QB.
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Re: difficulty

Postby grapesmoker » Wed Apr 06, 2005 6:11 pm

mreece wrote:I was afraid "fluctuation-dissipation theorem" was a bit on the hard side, but I was trying to come up with non-obvious stat mech / condensed matter questions to offset my personal bias toward particle physics / field theory, and the theorem does seem to be among the more important results in statistical mechanics. Sorry for my bad judgement there.

But S-matrix is too hard? I must be getting too out of touch; do people not learn what an S-matrix is in quantum mechanics courses?

My apologies for any other overly difficult physics. I at least tried to cull the difficult-but-boring questions of the form: "Here's an obvious law you know well; what you didn't know is that it has a name. Name it."


Matt,

I've taken the standard undergrad QM at Berkeley, as well as the undergrad and graduate statistical mechanics courses. I'd say that all of those classes were quite in-depth and difficult, and I've only heard of the S matrix due to the fact that I currently work in an accelerator physics group. There was no way that I would have come up with it on the tossup. The "fluctuation-dissipation" theorem question totally confused me as well, although I was not playing on it. It may be something out of non-equilibrium stat mech, which I have not taken, but if so it seems beyond what someone even at this tournament would know.

I don't want to carp on this issue. I think overall the science was very good and I'm happy that we had someone of your knowledge editing it. With regard to these questions, I'm sure they were good, but they were just too hard even for this field.

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Postby setht » Wed Apr 06, 2005 7:09 pm

I learned about the S matrix in a terrible quantum mechanics course I took 2 and a half years ago. From what I could tell at the time, it seemed like an important concept, but I'm not really sure, because the class, as mentioned before, was terrible. Anyway, my guess at the end of the tossup was "transfer matrix." I don't have the text of the question in front of me right now. I'm sure there were many, many clues that uniquely identified it as the S matrix, but all I could think of at the end, which I think said something about before and after potentials, was the transfer matrix. Having just looked things up, I feel somewhat better about my guess; 2.5 years and a very long, draining day of quiz bowl after my terrible QM class, I dredged up something related. I'm not sure I would have been able to distinguish correctly between S matrix and the transfer matrix one month after finishing that QM class, to be honest.

The fluctuation-dissipation theorem rated a passing mention in a physical chemistry class. To be honest, nothing I heard in the question triggered any sense of recognition, but again, this was at the end of a very long and draining day of quizbowl.

Playing on a science-heavy team, it was frustrating to lose two very close matches where it felt like our science advantage was effectively neutralized. In the first final match, 4 tossups went dead; 3 were science, one was myth. The only science tossup answered was some CS tossup which Michigan got. In the second final round, 2 tossups went dead; one was science, one was social science. We got HPLC, Michigan got hyphae and picked up a tossup on Mobius that (as far as I can recall) was devoid of useful science content between "barycentric calculus" near the start and "twisted a strip of paper" at the end.

So the science tossups didn't break our way, but that's at least partially, and possibly entirely, our fault. The science bonuses (except the bio bonuses) were, like most of the bonuses, ridiculously hard. I don't remember the science bonuses so well, but, with the exception of bio, it felt like there was little point in having science people around for the science bonuses--if the bonus had an easy part, the team might 10 it, the rest of the points were only there in theory. I know we 10'd an astro bonus and an earth science bonus because I felt bad that I wasn't able to pull more points; I don't know how we did on chem, physics, or math bonuses, or if we even had any in the last two rounds.

Well, this post seems much longer than I wanted it to be, so I'll stop now. I felt tired and frustrated at the time, which is almost certainly coloring my perception of the questions; they were probably fine.

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Postby grapesmoker » Wed Apr 06, 2005 7:42 pm

setht wrote: a tossup on Mobius that (as far as I can recall) was devoid of useful science content between "barycentric calculus" near the start and "twisted a strip of paper" at the end.


This was my biggest gripe about the science questions. There were three science tossups on physicists or mathematicians who did their most important work in the 19th century: Gibbs, Doppler, and Mobius. I don't object to science biography per se, but I do object to questions in the vein of, "this guy wrote some article and talked about some general stuff blah blah blah giveaway." For example, the Gibbs question, which I'm sure is uniquely identifying from the beginning, contains the following gem: "During the early 1880s, this man worked on a modification of the quaternion which he thought could be adapted into a new system of vector analysis, but it had little impact." If it had little impact, in what possible context could one have learned about it? Certainly not in the context of an actual physics class. What's even worse about that question is that "Elementary Principles of Statistical Mechanics" appears midway through the tossup; I can only name one thing by Gibbs, and that's it. Most of the clues before and after that one (except the "American physicist known for his namesake phase rule") are totally empty of any science content that one actually learns about in a science class. Same with the Doppler question, which has nothing but biographical clues until the giveaway; at least "namesake broadening" or something like that could have been included. The Mobius question has already been discussed.

I don't know if these questions were submitted or written by editors, or if this was editorial oversight or intentional. I'm especially unhappy with the Gibbs question because I submitted for that packet a tossup on Liouville's theorem and one on Pell's equation, both of which I thought were pretty decent. Perhaps they were excluded due to repeats, but I think these biography questions were a poor replacement.

In terms of question quality, this was my only complaint. The way I see it, if you are going to write science biography, include clues about stuff that bears that person's name instead of useless biographical details. If you can't find at least 3 things named after someone, perhaps you should rethink writing a tossup on him.

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Postby Chris Frankel » Wed Apr 06, 2005 8:48 pm

Since we're getting into category disscusions, I'll throw out my feelings on fine arts topics, which I tend to follow a lot in QB. I'll add that my background comes mostly from independent reading, research, and listening, so I won't try to pass myself as a scholar or expert.

First off, I enjoyed many of the art tossups. The questions on Brancusi, Velasquez, and Gainsborough, for example, did a great job of taking easier answers and making them both challenging and pyramidal on a high level. I also enjoyed seeing a tossup on Et in Arcadia Ego. However, the harder end of the answers seemed way too hard. I have never heard of Domenichino, and only vaguely recognized the name Albert Pinkham Ryder (i.e. wasn't able to match the answer with the clues); both seem like they would have been fine for a 30 part on a bonus, but definitely not as tossup answers. And while the Marriage of St. Catherine seems to turn up a lot of results on google, I can say that as someone who has recently studied most of the artists mentioned in that TU (e.g. Parmigianino), I have never seen that subject ever come up in class or on slides. Effectively, it became a hagiography TU rather than an art one, and went dead in our room since nobody knew the spoked wheel thing.

Bonuses were generally consistent with the difficulty, although that translates to say that they could have been toned down a notch. I didn't write down all the answers like with the tossups, though I remember hearing bonuses where the "giveaway" parts were on people like Caillebotte and Chardin, which I would be hesitant to have, even in an ACF Nationals set. I did pick up a certain skew in the topics as far as time/nation/style goes, but I'll wait until I see the packets before confirming my inkling.

Music was generally solid, although my annoyance with common link tossups was building up by the end of the day. The tossup on clarinet works was good, but I didn't care for Te Deum's, Second Symphonies, and ballades, especially when considered as elements of a collective set. Since people disagree with me on the trend, I'll briefly explain my frustration (I can probably go into this more in another post) by saying that for players who do recognize the early clues, it adds an annoying puzzle factor of trying to figure out what's being asked for rather than saying straightforwardly what's wanted. Also, to make the leadins hard there has to be a lot of reliance on super-obscure clues early on, with little in the way of transition to the medium ones, and the result is often a "quack-quack buzzer race." I would have just liked more questions on specific pieces in their own context. I also don't recall any tossups on operas or ballets. I do like to see the shifting of the trend away from using opera to make the music category "literature lite," although I think it's a little too extreme not to have any opera/ballet tossups at all.

I don't remember much of the music bonuses, so I take to that to mean that I found them satisfying with no major objections. I was glad to see Mignon come up in a bonus, even though a dumb neg prevented me from getting to answer it.

I also bring up these categories because I'm working on a side project of writing a fine arts subject tournament and would be interested to see how people recieved the difficulty/topic selection this past weekend.
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Postby grapesmoker » Wed Apr 06, 2005 9:00 pm

Chris Frankel wrote:First off, I enjoyed many of the art tossups. The questions on Brancusi, Velasquez, and Gainsborough, for example, did a great job of taking easier answers and making them both challenging and pyramidal on a high level. I also enjoyed seeing a tossup on Et in Arcadia Ego. However, the harder end of the answers seemed way too hard. I have never heard of Domenichino, and only vaguely recognized the name Albert Pinkham Ryder (i.e. wasn't able to match the answer with the clues); both seem like they would have been fine for a 30 part on a bonus, but definitely not as tossup answers. And while the Marriage of St. Catherine seems to turn up a lot of results on google, I can say that as someone who has recently studied most of the artists mentioned in that TU (e.g. Parmigianino), I have never seen that subject ever come up in class or on slides. Effectively, it became a hagiography TU rather than an art one, and went dead in our room since nobody knew the spoked wheel thing.


I agree completely with the above. I'm also an art fan, not an expert, though I did take art history a long time ago. I was pretty happy with the art, though I've never heard of Domenichino or the Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine, and they're not in the Janson art history book either. A teammate of mine figured out St. Catherine from the wheel clue but there was nothing in the question overtly pointing to marriage so it went dead.

I sure like to avoid work by discussing quizbowl.
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Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Wed Apr 06, 2005 9:47 pm

I wanted to speak to the complaints about science history. First of all, I should note that I am entirely responsible for the science history in this tournament. I edited or wrote all the questions on it, and I included them in the set despite the complaints of some of my co-editors who also dislike the subject.

The basic objection to these questions seems to be "we don't learn about this stuff in real science classes, so it shouldn't come up." To a certain extent, I sympathize with this. But if you're making this complaint, you ought to be consistent. For instance, you can get a Ph. D. in philosophy in this country without ever reading a philosopher born before the year 1900, and yet I don't recall ever seeing any protests against the number of philosophy tossups that are essentially biographies of long-dead thinkers. To the best of my recollection, the English department at the University of Chicago has never offered a course on "Amusing Anecdotes About American Authors," and yet nobody seems to have a problem with the occasional tossup on Cooper. To be consistent, you might argue that every question should correlate to whatever is taught in the better schools nowadays, in which case other categories should be treated in the same way. (But be careful what you wish for: If literature questions were written along the same lines as today's science questions, the percentage of literary-critical clues would have to shoot up dramatically.) Alternatively, you might concede that if you don't object when the occasional philosophy or literature question is on the biography of a dead writer, then it should also be acceptable for the occasional science question to be on the biography of a dead scientist. (Also, note that we are talking about an "occasional science" question -- there were at most 1/1 science history questions in any given round at nationals, and more often there was only 1/0 or 0/1 out of at least 4/4 science.)

One might also note that there are, in fact, classes in which the history of science is taught. At the University of Chicago, for instance, it is possible to receive a Ph. D from the "Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science." The history of science is intrinsically interesting and important, and it is studied in universities. As it happens, it isn't always (or perhaps often) studied by the same people who go on to graduate school in physics or biology, but that doesn't make it trivial.

Finally, I want to look at a particular example. Here's the maligned "Doppler" tossup (which I wrote, so don't blame the Texas team in whose round it appeared):

His major work was criticized by Joseph Petzval on flimsy mathematical grounds. His assumptions were also criticized by a Dutch metereologist who created the first experiment to provide verification of this man’s work. One of the conclusions drawn by this man seemed to be supported by an astronomical Catalogue published by Benedict Sestini, but it wasn’t until William Huggins introduced more advanced spectroscopic methods that research could proceed. He was under the impression that all stars were white and only emitted light in the visible spectrum, which led him to draw dubious conclusions about double stars. One version of this man’s best-known observation was famously taken up by Fizeau, while he didn’t believe that his principle could be applied to transverse vibrations of light. FTP, name this Austrian scientist who in an 1842 paper showed that the observed frequency of light and sound waves changes with the relative motion of the source or observer of those waves, an “effectâ€
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Postby mattreece » Wed Apr 06, 2005 10:06 pm

Andrew,

I don't want to "try to mount a general argument which would explain why history of philosophy, history of literature, etc. also have no place in the game," because I think that's clearly not right. It's also clearly not right that history of science has no place in the game.

On the other hand, I generally prefer questions about science to questions about the history of science, and also questions about literature to questions about the history of literature. My main objection to history of science questions it that they detract from the quota of questions about science itself in a match.

So let me make a tentative suggestion: what if one had an "intellectual history" distribution that could be filled with history of science, history of literature, history of philosophy, and so on? One could then declare that these topics are not allowed in the actual science, literature, philosophy, etc. distribution. It's not clear to me exactly how one would want the numerical breakdown to look, but this strikes me as maybe a more satisfactory approach, and a more uniform way to approach these issues from packet to packet.

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Postby jewtemplar » Wed Apr 06, 2005 10:30 pm

Pardon my hubris for chiming in, but to take the example of philosophy, there is a very clear reason why philosophy biography and history are more well accepted than science biography and history. While qualitative descriptions of "real," "important" science can generally be clearly stated in common language, the same is not often true for philosophy. The options are usually massive generalizations that fail to specify the particular concept or work (concerning the existence of knowledge independent of experience...), inscrutable jargon / quoting (concerning the teleological suspension of the ethical... [there are more obscure examples, I'm sure]), or catch phrases that everyone has heard that often totally misrepresent the actual answer (sometimes considered an extension of the golden rule...). While conceptual philosophy tossups can be written, some questions are often much more interesting when placed in the context of thought. For a simple example: reading Hegel is infinitely more boring than reading about Hegel and his influences on Marx, or his extension of Kant's ideas, etc.

Often science is the other way around. There are far too many fundamental laws of physics, for example, confirmed by spectroscopy. Maybe I should know about this Huggins character, but clues like that, which are the bread and butter of many science history questions, are often rather unsatisfying. The other thing about science is that there is usually as clear progression of accuracy in scientific thought. While people the world over still can't agree on Plato, they're pretty sure that Aristotelean physics is just wrong, and that special relativity is almost perfectly right. Science is unique in the regard that the current, or currently applicable is inestimably more interesting and significant than the past. Literature, fine arts, humanities, and most nonscientific fields are much better understood (and much more interesting) historically.

Sorry for the ramble.
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Postby Important Bird Area » Wed Apr 06, 2005 10:40 pm

Matt, I wonder if your proposal might not create more distribution problems than it solves. There seems to be a widespread perception that history of science and history of literature are more accessible to the nonspecialist than science and literature proper. If anything, the reverse would be true should we set up a "history of history" sub-distribution. (This year's ACF nationals is the only tournament I can think of that actually did this, with tossups on The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy and The New Science. Although I suppose the latter might be a philosophy tossup, both of these are regularly assigned in historiography seminars here at Berkeley.)

I'd like to briefly dissent from the consensus that the nationals bonuses were harder than those at the Manu. To take as an example the bonuses on seventeenth-century England: I thought the Manu bonus that ended with the "Humble Representation" was significantly more difficult than the nationals bonus asking teams to identify various Parliaments. My impression was that I was capable of scoring thirty points significantly more often last weekend than two weeks ago. (Although, when "significantly more often" is a grand total of perhaps seven or eight bonuses all tournament, we can tell we are dealing with two events of exceptional difficulty indeed.) Take this with the obvious grain of salt that most of the complaints about excessive difficulty seem to refer to science questions. And I sleep through science questions of anything greater than high school difficulty.

Thanks again to Andrew and his fellow editors for an excellent tournament set. Offhand the following were also outstanding and memorable: The League of Cambrai, Burmese Days, Ain Jalut, the bonuses on Katanga, the Synod of Dort, Nathanael Greene, Carl Schurz, and Benedict Anderson.
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Postby mattreece » Wed Apr 06, 2005 10:55 pm

Jeff,

I had in mind a small distribution for this "intellectual history" category -- certainly not enough to start subdividing it into history of science, historiography, and so on in each packet. So sure, I would think historiography could fit in there, but it wouldn't come up very often, particularly if people don't want to write it as often as other sorts of intellectual history. I think the point is, too many questions on "the history of X" would bother people pretty much independently of what X is, whereas everyone tends to agree that such questions do have a place. As it is now, people can write literary history in the literature distribution, science biography in the science distribution, and historiography in the history distribution, if they want. A packet in which people did all of those things would probably bother a lot of people. But if all of those things are pooled into one new distribution whose size can be limited, you can control them better. It would be up to individual teams to decide whether to submit their questions on history of science or of literature or of history. The responsibility for ensuring the tournament isn't historiography-heavy (or too heavy in any of the other subcategories) would fall to the tournament editor.

Is that clearer?

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Postby vandyhawk » Thu Apr 07, 2005 12:09 am

While I'm not the biggest fan of science bio either, I can take history of science much better than history of a scientist, which I would define as the "Born in some town, he studied somewhere and then taught somewhere else" type question that Andrew mentioned, though it wouldn't necessarily have to be as poor as that. If the question contains information about the scientific discovery process, then there's a decent chance a "real" science student would have heard about it in some class, either a "real" science one or a history of science course.

As for the rest of the set, I would have to agree with most of the comments already made. The tossups were great, if a little long at times - at least in the middle bracket, most questions went pretty far before being answered, but they were indeed answered most of the time. It actually became kind of fun toward the end as we were getting pretty drained to celebrate any bonus points, though we did manage to 30 a couple early in the day - diffraction and Carl Rogers I think. Anyway, I think that's been covered pretty well, so I'll just thank the editing and tournament staff for an overall fun day.
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Postby AuguryMarch » Thu Apr 07, 2005 1:54 am

A few related random thoughts,,

While if pressed, I'd probably agree that there isn't some kind of in principle rationale for wanting less history of science (one that doesn't extend to other categories, like philosophy, for example), I don't think that much matters. Point is, science players (and I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that most players in general) don't like science biography. Its a category that fell out of disfavor, people don't write them, and I don't think it should be the place of editors to insert a category wholesale against the general will of the people. By contrast, in philosophy, people seem to both submit and not mind questions on philosophers. (I don't think Andrew himself, for example, would prefer fewer biographical questions on philosophers). So in my mind, the standard is wholly pragmatic. Judging by the reaction of players, science biography does not pass the test.

The same pragmatic standard applies to both question difficulty and pyramidality. if the community of players finds a bonus too hard, its too hard, regardless of whether 2 people might know the answer, or its relative importance to people who study that in school. If the vast majority of players can't buzz on the tossup until the end, then its a "quack quack speedcheck" tossup. One of my concerns is that sometimes certain tossups lack middle clues that differentiate knowledge among more than 1-2 players at a tournament.

Also, if topics of questions deviate too much (which is not to say that this was the case on the whole at ACF Nationals at all) from what has previously come up, then ACF becomes like a dark mirror of CBI. The philosophy of ACF is that study can help you. Study for most has come to mean previous packets. While its important to reward people for having in depth knowledge about a topic, its important to preserve the aspect of ACF (and non-CBI quizbowl in general) which rewards preparation. By contrast, in NAQT I think it sometimes goes too far in the other direction, with question topics being too closely predictable from previous sets. Its a delicate balance.

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Postby No Rules Westbrook » Thu Apr 07, 2005 3:04 am

Well, let me throw in my two cents, and then probably reconsider these hastily thrown together 2-in-the-morning observations later...

Firstly, sorry about Domenichino, he was mentioned in a history of art class I took and I thought he was more famous than he apparently is. I was trying to be original and part of the problem is that he has very few uniquely identifying works.

As for science bio, I guess I'm just a little more detached than most of y'all. I certainly don't think that more that 1 or maybe 2 tossups a game should be any kind of straightforward science bio, but I think that they should be there (and, this doesn't have to mean "this guy was born here, moved here, went to this school, and likes eating Cheerios, now let's buzz on the giveaway clue...it can be better). Granted, my science knowledge is pretty shaky past chemistry and geology. But my long-held stance has always been "who cares if it's important or real or used by actual people, it's knowledge - so let's remember it". If i had to guess, I'd theorize that my attraction to this game is based on the feeling that it is removed from the "real world" (which I detest) and whatever is important "down there" (where people do unsavory things like get jobs and get married). I know I'm in the (probably extreme) minority in this position.

As for difficulty, I'd say the bonuses were harder than the Manu and the tossups probably easier. I have no problem with the bonuses as they were, even given my putrid 6-plus conversion rate. What do frustrate me are "oases" or bonuses that are quite 30-able or even 20-able in this tourney. Ferromagnetism/hysteresis/Barkhausen effect comes to mind. The Tanzania bonus was an easy 20. I liked that the trash was just as tough as the academic bonuses. But, giving away 30 points on a bonus without them having ultra-deep knowledge is just crushing in this type of tournament.

Some other hasty feelings - too much social science and philosophy. It probably was distribution, but oh deity did it seem like more. Not enough geography and the stuff that was there was iffy - here I go into the minority again. Wasn't wild about the classical history. Also, I'm not much of a fan of these "linking" tossups...not that they don't have a place, they were just used too often. I thought "cow" and "crown" were well-written, but I tired of others like "oracles" and most of the music ones. I see the arguments in favor of this but I prefer to concentrate on one answer and not be constantly diverted. Admittedly, I'm being hypocritical since I kind of did the same thing with Creusa...I don't think that's as bad because it sticks solidly to Greek myth.

Lastly, I think a lot of you point to the ever-active dichotomy between rewarding "actual knowledge" and rewarding "knowing clues". I sense that many of you consider these two things to be farther apart than they really are. There is a tension and there should be a balance between them, but I think many people are all too willing to label the knowledge that we have as "fake" or superficial when it can be quite the opposite.

Overall, great tournament with a great ending. Well, look at the time, let us throw back a Nyquil chaser, jerk off, and pass out on the bed.
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Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Thu Apr 07, 2005 12:51 pm

I want to dissent from my esteemed colleague Paul. Until we conduct a scientific poll of the entire community, all we can say for sure is that a few vocal science players have made a habit of denouncing science history questions on this board. Against this, at least one player (i.e. me) likes science history, and several teams opted to submit science biography questions to ACF nationals. So it's not as if I decided to impose a new category (like 1/1 questions on, say, fly fishing) out of the blue.

Another point I'd like to make: It seems that science has become a category in which many of the questions are only answerable by people who have taken advanced courses in various subjects. This is not the case with any other category of the game. Consider this recent discussion about the "S matrix," whatever it is. Can you imagine a parallel discussion of any literature tossup? An equivalent would be, say, Ezequiel posting "Yeah, I really liked that 'Signifying Monkey' tossup, but I thought that the Greenblatt clue came too early in the 'Harsnett's Declarations of Egregious Popish Impostures' question." Those are the kind of books that get read in advanced English courses, but we don't write tossups about them because only English grad students (and some very advanced undergrads) would have a prayer of answering the questions.

Basically, I'm concerned that a few science players have decided that only they should be able to answer questions in their category, and have tried to shame the rest of us into not asking questions on things that might be answerable by people who haven't done advanced coursework in science. To take Paul's example: From one point of view, I would love it if all philosophy tossups were on the kind of thing that gets covered in advanced philosophy programs, because I would have a virtual lock on the category. A lot of people can buzz if the answer is "Hobbes" or "Aristotle," but if every tossup were on "Naming and Necessity" or "Jaegwon Kim" I would have a field day. Obviously, I think the latter topics should come up occasionally, but it would be selfish of me to insist that the former be banned from the game.

I never intended this tournament to be some sort of Las Navas de Tolosa of science history, in which the reconquista of the science distribution by biographical tossups would at last be accomplished. Nobody is asking for a total ban on "S matrix" tossups. But complaints against science history tend to take the form "there's no place in the game for anything but real science, the kind we science people learn in our classes." I'm arguing that this is a case of special pleading (other people aren't clamoring for similar treatment) and that it is detrimental to the game (if other people were to start clamoring for equivalent questions in their own pet categories, difficulty would go through the roof and this year's nationals would look like a walk in the park).

Andrew
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Postby setht » Thu Apr 07, 2005 1:41 pm

Birdofredum Sawin wrote:Another point I'd like to make: It seems that science has become a category in which many of the questions are only answerable by people who have taken advanced courses in various subjects. This is not the case with any other category of the game.



I felt that the science this past weekend was generally not over the top (at least in the tossups) until the last rounds. I don't know how the non-scientists at the tournament felt about the science questions, but I thought most of the tossups were things people could get by the end. The bonuses were often very hard, but I think that was true in other categories as well.

I also felt that the myth, at least, had some similarly incredibly hard questions, such as Aengus. Come to think of it, many other categories also had incredibly hard questions here and there (e.g. Domenichino).

Perhaps the science really was too frequently too hard for non-scientists, but my impression is that the level of the science questions in the first 14 rounds wasn't signifcantly different from the level of the questions in the other categories.

Finally, I don't think most science players have any objection to people writing science questions on things that are taught in high school courses or introductory college courses, as long as said questions conform to the same standards of pyramidality as the questions in other topics.

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Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Thu Apr 07, 2005 2:56 pm

Chris Frankel wrote:Music was generally solid, although my annoyance with common link tossups was building up by the end of the day. The tossup on clarinet works was good, but I didn't care for Te Deum's, Second Symphonies, and ballades, especially when considered as elements of a collective set. Since people disagree with me on the trend, I'll briefly explain my frustration (I can probably go into this more in another post) by saying that for players who do recognize the early clues, it adds an annoying puzzle factor of trying to figure out what's being asked for rather than saying straightforwardly what's wanted. Also, to make the leadins hard there has to be a lot of reliance on super-obscure clues early on, with little in the way of transition to the medium ones, and the result is often a "quack-quack buzzer race."


I'm in a posting frenzy, but no doubt I'll soon return to my habitual dogmatic slumbers. I wanted to respond to this point, because I completely disagree with it. Basically, I don't understand the objection to what Chris calls "common link tossups." Consider the following questions from this year's nationals (in the interests of full disclosure, I'll note that I wrote both of these tossups):

He warned a friend that “man-woman is not woman-manâ€
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Postby Nathan » Thu Apr 07, 2005 6:00 pm

I don't really have the time to be getting into this...but a quick note before Andrew is awaken by the Marilyn McCord Adams tossup someone is sure to write (actually, she'd be a very legit lead-in):

I think one problem is that within other fields "history of" is to some extent a recognized discipline within the field...you will find historiography classes within history departments, history of philosophy classes (or at least "readings in so and so") within philosophy departments, etc. Not so for science. I read Bernard Cohen's superb "Science and the Founding Fathers" in a grad history class...I doubt it's ever shown up in a science course. I suppose C.P. Snow could have explained all this but in the meantime you do have science majors making a special pleading, well, because, science departments are different. Nonetheless, history of science is a legit discipline and belongs somewhere within the canon...the distribution has been around for a while...why change it?
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Postby kws » Thu Apr 07, 2005 6:18 pm

I must be getting too out of touch; do people not learn what an S-matrix is in quantum mechanics courses?


They are much more likely to learn one of the other S matrices (overlap matrix) that pops up in an introductory QM class going over simple Hartree-Fock theory.
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Postby grapesmoker » Thu Apr 07, 2005 8:42 pm

I've been away for a while and I want to address all the points that have been made so far with regards to my previous post.

Birdofredum Sawin wrote:The basic objection to these questions seems to be "we don't learn about this stuff in real science classes, so it shouldn't come up." To a certain extent, I sympathize with this. But if you're making this complaint, you ought to be consistent. For instance, you can get a Ph. D. in philosophy in this country without ever reading a philosopher born before the year 1900, and yet I don't recall ever seeing any protests against the number of philosophy tossups that are essentially biographies of long-dead thinkers.


You would know better than me about getting a philosophy degree, but as far as I know, Berkeley, for example, offers philosophy classes on topics ranging from Plato to the most contemporary stuff out there. The possibility of getting a philosophy degree without studying pre-1900 thinkers does not mean that this is the fact. I would bet most people do in fact take a wide range of philosophy classes. As a physics major, on the other hand, you take physics and you almost never cover the history of it (except in anecdote form).

To the best of my recollection, the English department at the University of Chicago has never offered a course on "Amusing Anecdotes About American Authors," and yet nobody seems to have a problem with the occasional tossup on Cooper.


I'm not opposed to a tossup on a scientist that begins with a humorous anecdote. I wrote one on Pauli that began with that sort of clue. I'm not even opposed to tossups to which the answer is a scientist, but I would like for the clues to be something that a scientist could reasonably expect
to know. For an example, consider the Bethe tossup in this same tournament. I forget what the first clues were, but I got it on the mention of his explanation of the Lamb shift, which is an extremely important sort of thing that you learn about as a physicist. That's the kind of context
in which Bethe's name might be mentioned prominently. On the other hand, at no time in any of my science classes have I heard anything about Doppler's history or the history of the discovery of the effect.

There's a crucial difference between writing about long-dead philosophers and authors and writing about scientists. The difference is that in studying the humanities, including literature and philosophy, it's impossible to divorce oneself from the historical context. The study of Shakespeare and his literature is at least in part a study of his particular place in history; the
historical elements here are unavoidable. By contrast, in scientific disciplines, the facts of whatever is being studied hold regardless of any particular historical context within which they were discovered. Therefore, only in the case of revolutionary discoveries like Einstein's is the historical context at all emphasized, in situations where there was a significant shift in our understanding of the world. Doppler, though his accomplishments were important, did not bring about such a shift; therefore, hardly anything is ever mentioned about him personally in science classes. One can study Newtonian mechanics and not ever have read the Principia, which is why a tossup on it seems quite odd to me. The only kind of person who could have read that work other than just for fun and have been aware of its contents would be a historian of science, and I don't think there are many such people in quizbowl. What happens in these questions, and what happened in our round, is that all the clues go unheeded and the question degenerates into a buzzer-race at the end. Even if I had to grant your other points, I'd still view this as an essentially bad thing.

To be consistent, you might argue that every question should correlate to whatever is taught in the better schools nowadays, in which case other categories should be treated in the same way. (But be careful what you wish for: If literature questions were written along the same
lines as today's science questions, the percentage of literary-critical clues would have to shoot up dramatically.)


There have already been plenty of literary-critical clues, I think, especially in the last two tournaments. I have no objection to such clues, and in fact, no objection to a little more literary theory. A little more, but not too much more, because after all, the study of literature, in my view, is about the actual literature, and only secondarily about what other people wrote of
said literature.

Alternatively, you might concede that if you don't object when the occasional philosophy or literature question is on the biography of a dead writer, then it should also be acceptable for the occasional science question to be on the biography of a dead scientist. (Also, note that we
are talking about an "occasional science" question -- there were at most 1/1 science history questions in any given round at nationals, and more often there was only 1/0 or 0/1 out of at least 4/4 science.)


I disagree with this point for the reasons pointed out above. I just don't think the comparison made here is valid. Again, unless the questions contain the sort of things that a scientist would know, such questions result in buzzer-races on the giveaway. What's more is that a humanities
person who does not study the history of science would probably not know the answer off the hard clues either. What such questions do is effectively render the science knowledge of a team useless because they don't contain clues on the actual science.

One might also note that there are, in fact, classes in which the history of science is taught. At the University of Chicago, for instance, it is possible to receive a Ph. D from the "Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science." The history of science is intrinsically interesting and important, and it is studied in universities. As it happens, it
isn't always (or perhaps often) studied by the same people who go on to graduate school in physics or biology, but that doesn't make it trivial.


I never said it was trivial. But until historians of science are a significant contingent in quizbowl, I think these kinds of questions shouldn't appear once in a round, they should appear at most once or twice throughout the tournament.

[quote]His major work was criticized by Joseph Petzval on flimsy mathematical grounds. His assumptions were also criticized by a Dutch metereologist who created the first experiment to provide verification of this man’s work. One of the conclusions drawn by this man seemed to be supported by an astronomical Catalogue published by Benedict Sestini, but it wasn’t until William Huggins introduced more advanced spectroscopic methods that research could proceed. He was under the impression that all stars were white and only emitted light in the visible spectrum, which led him to draw dubious conclusions about double stars. One version of this man’s best-known observation was famously taken up by Fizeau, while he didn’t believe that his principle could be applied to transverse vibrations of light. FTP, name this Austrian scientist who in an 1842 paper showed
that the observed frequency of light and sound waves changes with the relative motion of the source or observer of those waves, an “effectâ€
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Postby grapesmoker » Thu Apr 07, 2005 9:18 pm

Birdofredum Sawin wrote:I want to dissent from my esteemed colleague Paul. Until we conduct a scientific poll of the entire community, all we can say for sure is that a few vocal science players have made a habit of denouncing science history questions on this board. Against this, at least one player (i.e. me) likes science history, and several teams opted to submit science biography questions to ACF nationals. So it's not as if I decided to impose a new category (like 1/1 questions on, say, fly fishing) out of the blue.


While I'm not aware of any scientific polls being conducted on this issue, this has been a long-standing issue that science people in quizbowl have been harping on for some years. I don't know how often you read these boards, but going back to the first Science Masters tournament, we had a limit on the number of biography tossups and their content was circumscribed by the constraint that they include clues based on actual science. When I edited Science Monstrosity last year, I enforced the same requirements; this year for BLaST, I'm sticking to it. It's certainly been a point of discussion more than once, and I suspect that the reason players from other disciplines don't have much input in this matter is because most of them just don't care that much.

Another point I'd like to make: It seems that science has become a category in which many of the questions are only answerable by people who have taken advanced courses in various subjects.


That's the nature of science. It relies on having a lot of experience with the subject matter and covering a lot of groundwork material, so the entry barrier is higher. I don't know what you could do about that, but without looking at all the questions, I can think of at least two questions that were answerable either by non-scientists or by someone with freshman physics under their belt. Those are the "superfluid" question and the "Quantum Hall Effect" questions. However, both questions are written with advanced clues so as to reward real science knowledge.

This is not the case with any other category of the game. Consider this recent discussion about the "S matrix," whatever it is.


For the record, I think the consesus was that the S-matrix question was too hard, even though at least two of us had a class in which it was introduced.

Can you imagine a parallel discussion of any literature tossup? An equivalent would be, say, Ezequiel posting "Yeah, I really liked that 'Signifying Monkey' tossup, but I thought that the Greenblatt clue came too early in the 'Harsnett's Declarations of Egregious Popish Impostures' question." Those are the kind of books that get read in advanced English courses, but we don't write tossups about them because only English grad students (and some very advanced undergrads) would have a prayer of answering the questions.


A brief survey of the undergraduate offerings in English at Berkeley for next year reveals the following course titles: The 20th Century Novel, the Contemporary Novel, Shakespeare, the Age of Jonson, the English Novel, Victorian Period, Milton, and English Drama. I would fully expect anything that falls within the domain of those courses (among others) to be fair game

Furthermore, I would conted, based on some of the questions that came up this year, that there's been a great deal of expansion of the literature canon in quizbowl within the last two years. Charles W. Chesnutt was a bonus part that came up just once before a tossup on him this year. I've never heard of "Blue Flower" before it came up this year either, or of Thomas Otway before Manu. I consider myself a modestly well-read person, though of course lacking the breadth that a grad student in English might have. Should I then complain that these questions are answerable only by specialists in the field?

Basically, I'm concerned that a few science players have decided that only they should be able to answer questions in their category, and have tried to shame the rest of us into not asking questions on things that might be answerable by people who haven't done advanced coursework in science. To take Paul's example: From one point of view, I would love it if all philosophy tossups were on the kind of thing that gets covered in advanced philosophy programs, because I would have a virtual lock on the category. A lot of people can buzz if the answer is "Hobbes" or "Aristotle," but if every tossup were on "Naming and Necessity" or "Jaegwon Kim" I would have a field day. Obviously, I think the latter topics should come up occasionally, but it would be selfish of me to insist that the former be banned from the game.


Well, I'd guess that you probably have a lock on the philosophy category anyway, but that's not the point. No one, so far as I know, has advanced the claim that science majors somehow deserve to answer science questions. It's just that the science category should be about science and questions about the history of science should contain science clues. That's how the game works. As I've already pointed out, many of the questions are answerable towards the end by people who have not had advanced science courses, but they are answerable by science majors first because they have actual knowledge. And when it comes to ranking the importance of different types of knowledge, I would argue that direct knowledge of a topic is better than secondary or meta-knowledge (i.e. what someone else said about the topic). Ideally, a question will first reward someone with deep primary AND secondary knowledge, then someone with only primary knowledge, and finally those with secondary knowledge and otherwise well-rounded individuals. I think that ought to be the case not just for science but for all the other categories too.

Also, there are not a "few" of us. There are a few, like myself, who argue this issue in public fora but there are many science majors on the circuit. My team was 3/4ths scientists. Chicago A featured 3 scientists and an ex-scientist; Michigan A had 2 scientists. We're hardly a few, and I've spoken to enough people to get the sense that most scientists are not thrilled with the science biography written with non-science clues.

I never intended this tournament to be some sort of Las Navas de Tolosa of science history, in which the reconquista of the science distribution by biographical tossups would at last be accomplished. Nobody is asking for a total ban on "S matrix" tossups. But complaints against science history tend to take the form "there's no place in the game for anything but real science, the kind we science people learn in our classes." I'm arguing that this is a case of special pleading (other people aren't clamoring for similar treatment) and that it is detrimental to the game (if other people were to start clamoring for equivalent questions in their own pet categories, difficulty would go through the roof and this year's nationals would look like a walk in the park).


By all means, let's have some science history, provided it's full of science clues. The reason that other people don't clamor for the same thing that we clamor for is because the stuff that comes up in quizbowl actually reflects what they learn in school. An excessive amount of science biography (and in my opinion, 1 of 4 tossups is excessive) prompts people like me to complain precisely because it does not reflect our background.

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Postby Scipio » Fri Apr 08, 2005 12:00 am

The discussion of science and science history/science biography has interested me a great deal; indeed, I have often expressed semi-privately many of the same opinions I have seen coming up. I admit I am biased here, because I also genuinely enjoy science history questions (one of my minor doctoral fields is the history of Ancient technology). That slant having been disclosed, a couple of points occur to me.

The first is that the thought that "other people" - such as historians, for example - "don't clamor for the same thing that <scientists> clamor for is because the stuff that comes up in quizbowl actually reflects what they learn in school" is not entirely accurate. For example, if ACF were to mirror the topics I actually study, and, more importantly, were to ask about them in the way that would be truly relevant to my field, than you'd get a lot of tossups like this one on a favorite Roman of mine:

"The definitive work on this man was written by Thomas Carney, who not only produced the most recent scholarly biography but also wrote how Plutarchs Life of him drew its depiction from propagandistic sources which did not reflect contemporary thought of him, as his mentions in Cicero illustrate. Emilio Gabba also did work on aspects of his career, but P.A. Brunt questioned Gabba's description of him as a champion of the Italian Allies, and Gabba clearly misses the significance of his reforms by assuming they were only designed to "proletarianise" and not solve the Roman manpower crisis. FTP name this Roman _novus homo_ whose most significant action was to enroll the _capite censi_ into the legions".
(I leave the answer as an exercise)

Not terribly accessible, is it? Yet this Roman is fairly well-known, and actually came up at Nationals. A question written like this would guarantee that until the very end only those truly familiar with Roman history would get it (and maybe even talented players would not be able to get it past the "giveaway"), and would reflect exactly the way he is "studied", but it runs into the enormous problem that it is barely answerable beyond that subset of quizbowl players.

As far as I know, the ACF philosophy has never set it out that only scientists or science players (to the extent that those are the same people) be able to get science questions, nor that science questions be tailored to ensure that fact (and likewise historians/history players, students of literature/literature players, etc.). Rather, ACF has always in the past demanded that a) the question be academic in nature, and b) that the question reward the player with the most knowledge. Beyond that, questions which can be answered by the many rather than the few seem like better questions, as long as the first two provisions are not violated.

Hence, I think science history is a good thing, so long as it is written in such a way as to make sure that it guarantees that the person with science knowledge can get it first before the clues make it more broadly accessible. I think the same should be true for all disciplines; I'd prefer to answer questions on Philip II with clues geared so that I would have a crack at it first than answer questions on Jason of Pherae, which only two or three people in the tournament could answer.
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Postby Important Bird Area » Fri Apr 08, 2005 12:41 am

"Then why isn't it part of the history distribution?"

Jerry's question indicates something of what I (perhaps clumsily) tried to convey in my previous post: lumping tossups that use historical methods into the history distribution logically leads towards 1) a greatly expanded history distribution, at the expense of other disciplines or 2) a reduction in the number of questions on topics currently classified as "history" due to the arrival of such refugees from other parts of the distribution. I think everyone will agree that the first would not be a positive development, while it's possible that the second might lead to historians feeling as disenfranchised by history of science as some science players are now. Matt's proposal above for a small but limited "intellectual history" distribution seems a quite reasonable compromise; it would be an interesting experiment to replace the 1/1 "more big three" in the existing nationals distribution to cover this.

I fully concur with Seth's comments about the distinction in content between difficult history questions accessible to advanced undergraduates and historiography questions that would more faithfully reflect the curriculum found in graduate programs. The bonus I wrote on reformation anticlericalism was hard, but not as hard or as marginalizing as something like "name these revisionist historians of Stuart politics from works," which would probably be easier for grad students. Another argument against the claim of "grad student bias" in quizbowl...
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Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Fri Apr 08, 2005 12:48 am

grapesmoker wrote:There have already been plenty of literary-critical clues, I think, especially in the last two tournaments. I have no objection to such clues, and in fact, no objection to a little more literary theory. A little more, but not too much more, because after all, the study of literature, in my view, is about the actual literature, and only secondarily about what other people wrote of said literature.


I suspect that this discussion isn't going to get much further, but I'll offer one further salvo. Imagine if I said "There are plenty of scientific clues in tossups. I have no objection to a little more scientific theory, but not too much more, because after all, the study of science, in my view, is about the whole history of science, and only secondarily about current notions regarding said science." If I said that, I'd be laughed out of the forum, because my opinion would only demonstrate my ignorance of the actual nature of a scientific education.

Alas, the statement about "the study of literature" quoted above is equally false. If you take a graduate course in literature at an American university, you will spend most of your time reading literary theory and criticism. If you take an advanced undergrad course, you will also spend a lot of time reading theory and criticism. If questions on literature were structured along the lines of questions on science, there would have to be many more tossups on literary theorists and literary critics. Not only that: literature players would be justified in demanding that most of the clues in tossups on literary works refer to criticism of the work (i.e., the kind of stuff we learn about), with only the giveaway offering some characters and the author. When you take an advanced class on, say, "Cymbeline," you don't sit around and discuss the plot ("wasn't it cool when Cloten got decapitated? Yeah, that was great"). Rather, you discuss various interpretations of the play -- a Marxist reading, a New Historicist reading, whatever. You see almost nothing of that in the game (the few literary critical clues that come up are usually tangential or ornamental, such as the "Auden liked ..." clue in the Tennyson tossup I quoted earlier). Certainly, you see nothing to compare with the barrage of "real" science clues which are expected in most every science question.

It should also be noted that a lot of the things that people complain about as obscure literary answers aren't things that you would be likelier to get by dint of being a student of literature. "The Blue Flower," for instance, isn't much taught. You might know about it because Penelope Fitzgerald is one of the most popular British authors of the last 50 years, and her books were perennial Booker Prize finalists. You wouldn't know it because you read it in a class. Similarly, I've never read Chesnutt in a class, but there is an entire Library of America volume devoted to his work, so "common readers" might be expected to know who he is.

My point, yet again, is as follows. To argue that "all science questions should primarily feature information that comes up in science classes" is to indulge in a kind of special pleading. In other disciplines -- and I speak ex cathedra, as someone who has taken far too many advanced courses in philosophy and literature -- there is very little relation between the material covered in coursework and the material that comes up in questions. In the past, literature people have accepted that this is the case, and that we aren't going to rack up points based solely on the stuff we cover in our classes. (Having a love of literature, in the sense that you read widely and are familiar with all sorts of works, and being a successful student of English are two very different things.) I'm suggesting that science people recognize that they already have it much better than the rest of us (in terms of having a number of questions more or less to themselves, as things they will get because of courses they have taken) and stop complaining about the occasional science history question.

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On Art History

Postby QuizbowlPostmodernist » Fri Apr 08, 2005 1:09 am

There are three major art history texts, from what I have gathered, Gardner's Art Through the Ages, Stokstad's Art History, and Janson's book, whatever its title may be. As you may guess, I own the first two (tenth edition picked up for three bucks and revised edition, volumes one and two which I used in a two course art history intro sequence) but have not gotten around to buying Janson, mostly because I am too cheap to buy it at full price. I also have a few other assorted art books, although not the Oxford History of Art, which seems to have come the closest to being a fourth major text.

Domenichino appears in Gardner, almost certainly the text Mr. Westbrook used, but not in Stokstad. Ryder appears in both, represented by Death on a Pale Horse (The Racetrack) in Gardner and Jonah in Stokstad. (An amusing anecdote, since he was mentioned. Parmagianino was one of the artists in my textbook who was not on the list of slides we had to memorize. When it came time on the final to analyze a painting uncovered in class, it happened to be his Madonna with the Long Neck. I instictively wrote down the artist, title, and century before realizing that wasn't what I was supposed to be doing.)

Obviously, people tend to write questions based on what they have heard of, a potential problem evident whenever someone writes a lit tossup on a modern novel that is perhaps obscure but happens to be by a professor's particular passion. (I recall one team's packet where the half the lit questions seemed taken from the syllabus of a class from modern feminist literature.)

The most accessible art questions will be those relating to artists or concepts found in all three of the major texts (Gardner's, Stokstad, Janson). At the same time, the danger is assuming that the work shown in the text you use is the giveaway for the tossup or necessarily tossupable or that the title is exact and unique. I have a suspicion that past packets are biased towards information from Gardner's, to the detriment of knowledgeable people who took intro classes using other texts. If you're looking for topics to write on, I suggest getting more than one text book and finding things that have entries in the indexes of multiple books rather than trying to find new clues to things that have come up before, perpetuating a selection bias. If you want an easy way to study, go to your library and photocopy the indexes of several art books.

A similar phenomenon exists in literature. The authors who are most accessible are those represented in prominent anthologies (Harper's, Norton, etc) that are used as texts in various survey courses.

P.S. Not having seen it, it is possible that the St. Catherine question is one of iconography, not hagiography.

Anthony, whose art questions were always a bit strange because Art History 101 was a survey course on pre-Renaissance art.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Fri Apr 08, 2005 1:26 am

Something I have not seen brought up: Keeping science questions focused overwhelmingly on conceptual science as opposed to science history also forces people like me to learn some conceptual science in order to write a proper question. If I hadn't imposed a firm rule on myself against writing any science history (outside of those odd distributions that specifically mandate it) I would know even less than I do about science, and one of the primary purposes of quizbowl would be lost.

I, for one, am perfectly willing to let science stay targeted towards gained-in-class type knowledge as long as history stays the same. The critical flaw in the "doctoral students in humanities learn literary criticism/historiography while doctoral students in science happen to learn conceptual science" plank is that undergraduates do, in fact, mainly learn the substance of the historical timeline and read books at face value while doing conceptual science. If the game is to remain accessible to teams composed of something other than four doctoral students in four fields that are heavily represented in the distribution, then it is the set of undergraduate curricula from across the country, not graduate, that must roughly govern the potential answers.
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Postby Scipio » Fri Apr 08, 2005 1:40 am

Something I have not seen brought up: Keeping science questions focused overwhelmingly on conceptual science as opposed to science history also forces people like me to learn some conceptual science in order to write a proper question. If I hadn't imposed a firm rule on myself against writing any science history (outside of those odd distributions that specifically mandate it) I would know even less than I do about science, and one of the primary purposes of quizbowl would be lost.


That's a good point, but I think that the same thing can be accomplished by limitations on science history without mandating an absolute ban. This would have the dual effect of helping writers learn about conceptual science while enabling those who haven't also to be able to answer some science-related questions towards the end, presumably after those with more science knowledge had either negged or had a lapse in memory.
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Postby grapesmoker » Fri Apr 08, 2005 2:39 am

In the interests of ending this discussion, I'm happy to agree to disagree on this issue. In the end, it will always be the prerogative of the individual tournament editors to decide what goes in the packet, and if reasonable people differ about it, that's the way it is.

Best of luck to everyone going to ICT.

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Postby solonqb » Fri Apr 08, 2005 6:41 am

Is the Roman guy Marius? Just guessing.
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Postby Nathan » Fri Apr 08, 2005 12:28 pm

as a dinosaur who has not taken anywhere near as many advanced humanities classes as Andrew, but who has taken more than most --

"My point, yet again, is as follows. To argue that "all science questions should primarily feature information that comes up in science classes" is to indulge in a kind of special pleading. In other disciplines -- and I speak ex cathedra, as someone who has taken far too many advanced courses in philosophy and literature -- there is very little relation between the material covered in coursework and the material that comes up in questions. "

Hoc verum esse.

btw, any law student on this forum will tell you that there is no correlation whatsoever between qb law and what they study.
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Postby Scipio » Fri Apr 08, 2005 1:54 pm

Hoc verum esse


I think you might want to include a finite verb here ("credo", "Adfirmo", or "scio") if you want this to make sense and leave "esse" in the infinitive; "concedendum" world also work if you wished to make this a concessive. Otherwise, you'll want to change the infinive to the third person singular (esse" to "est") for a declarative sentence.
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Postby mreece » Fri Apr 08, 2005 2:34 pm

I don't really feel like getting involved in this argument. I've made a suggestion that might or might not prove acceptable, and I have little else to offer. But I do want to say one more thing, briefly: I think a straw man is being attacked in some of the posts here. How many science players make the argument that science questions should only (or even mostly) reflect what they learned in class? I don't make that argument; in fact I've explicitly argued against it at various times. Partly this is because I tend to think that physics curricula are poorly constructed, but generally it's because the techniques and background material one must learn in undergraduate classes are often boring and technical. If you are a science player and you do want to argue that science questions in quizbowl should reflect your undergraduate education, I suggest you rethink the idea. (In part because it really would make science different from any other category in quizbowl, in part because I think it would result in awful questions.) If you are a non-science player and are trying to argue about what science questions should look like, I think you should try not to characterize the opinion of science players on the circuit as being that the questions should reflect undergraduate curricula. (Unless, as might be true, I am just not at all representative here.) Whatever tendency my ACF nationals questions may have had to be too difficult lies in my bad judgement about what is well-known, rather than any desire on my part to try to reflect curriculum.
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Postby Nathan » Fri Apr 08, 2005 4:51 pm

Seth is, of course, right.

demonstrates the ineptness of my sleep-deprived, alcohol-addled faculties.

Hoc verum est.
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Postby vsirin » Mon Apr 11, 2005 12:51 am

mreece wrote:But I do want to say one more thing, briefly: I think a straw man is being attacked in some of the posts here. How many science players make the argument that science questions should only (or even mostly) reflect what they learned in class?


jerry wrote:I'm not even opposed to tossups to which the answer is a scientist, but I would like for the clues to be something that a scientist could reasonably expect to know. For an example, consider the Bethe tossup in this same tournament. I forget what the first clues were, but I got it on the mention of his explanation of the Lamb shift, which is an extremely important sort of thing that you learn about as a physicist. That's the kind of context in which Bethe's name might be mentioned prominently. On the other hand, at no time in any of my science classes have I heard anything about Doppler's history or the history of the discovery of the effect.


jerry wrote:For example, the Gibbs question, which I'm sure is uniquely identifying from the beginning, contains the following gem: "During the early 1880s, this man worked on a modification of the quaternion which he thought could be adapted into a new system of vector analysis, but it had little impact." If it had little impact, in what possible context could one have learned about it? Certainly not in the context of an actual physics class. What's even worse about that question is that "Elementary Principles of Statistical Mechanics" appears midway through the tossup; I can only name one thing by Gibbs, and that's it. Most of the clues before and after that one (except the "American physicist known for his namesake phase rule") are totally empty of any science content that one actually learns about in a science class.
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Postby ValenciaQBowl » Mon Apr 11, 2005 9:54 am

Andrew wrote:
[there is very little relation between the material covered in coursework and the material that comes up in questions. In the past, literature people have accepted that this is the case, and that we aren't going to rack up points based solely on the stuff we cover in our classes.

As an English prof (though in my case at a CC), I absolutely agree with everything Andrew said about the institutional study of literature. As a student I don't recall ever being tested on plots or characters, and I don't do so with my students (with some small exceptions in survey classes, but even then it's only a small fraction of their work). The relationship between what we do in literature class and the way literature is written for QB is tenuous at best, but that's fine with me: the game is the game, and does not, in my mind, have to match up with coursework.

The literature questions in the game don't give nearly as much advantage to the lit professor/student as the science questions do for the science professor/student. Some evidence of this might be some of the results from the Chicago Singles tournament last July, where Seth Teitler reached the finals. I'm sure we all agree Seth is an excellent player overall, but imagine, say, Seth Kendall or myself making the finals of an all-science singles tournament. Not very likely. Heck, even Sorice whupped me in a literature match, and though Mike is probably a better overall player than I, I'm pretty certain I've read a lot more fiction, poetry, and criticism than he, if only because I'm more than a decade older.

Anyway, I have no worthwhile opinion on the inclusion of science history other than to say that I see no good reason that one such question per round shouldn't be counted as part of the science distribution rather than the history.
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Postby Steve Kaplan » Mon Apr 11, 2005 10:55 am

Here are a few of my minor insights about the above discussion.

I read a novel by Charles Chessnut for a high school english class. As a result I've mentally noted instances when he has shown up in questions. I'd estimate there have been about four instances (at tournaments I've played in or practiced on) in the last six years where he has come up (a bonus at ACF Regionals 2002 is the only one I can cite directly). Having him come up at a tournament geared to a very high level of difficulty seems appropriate.

On Nathan's point about law questions: There are relatively few law questions to begin with, as I would consider a fairly high proportion of questions with law aspects to actually be history questions. Of the remainder, most indeed have virtually nothing to do with what is studied in law school classes. Of course since undergraduates are essentially barred from actual law school classes, covering that material would eliminate over ninety percent of the players from having a reasonable shot at the question prior to the giveaway. As a result, I think most law questions that actually reflect law school knowledge are answered almost immediately by law students and either at the very end or not at all by everyone else. An example would be the "estoppel" question at the ICT. I hypothesize that every law student at the tournament (barring a strange situation like two on the same team or two playing against one another) powered that question. I would also guess that very few other players answered it.

More generally, I think there is some danger in focusing too much on what is covered in classes. I think many people have adequately made this point with regard to graduate studies (to reiterate what I think the point is: most players are not grad students thus focusing on that curriculum is likely to compound the experience advantage already possessed by older players). Even with regard to undergraduate classes, we may want to think about what a focus on class study would create. While I personally dislike questions on military history very much, it seems like a fairly high number of people like them and continue to write them. Having taken something like fifteen undergraduate history courses on various topics I can only recall one instance where the mechanics of a battle were taught (this commander made this move... this flank was pushed back over this river etc). Unless my experience was unrepresentative a refocus on curriculum would probably eliminate a staple of the history distribution that many people like. I'm confident that the quiz bowl canon similarly distorts the undergraduate curriculum in many other categories, but we ought to be cautious in pushing questions into areas not easily accessed or written by those who have not taken classes in the field.
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Postby grapesmoker » Tue Apr 12, 2005 5:22 pm

Two things:

First, I just wanted to say that the pop-culture questions at Nationals rocked my socks. I believe I managed to answer almost all the pop-culture questions that I heard (excluding "Whitesnake") which is totally unprecedented for me.

Second, after doing some research on the Hampson-Linde cycle, I discovered that one major difference between the Siemens cycle and the Linde cycle was the replacement of an expansion machine with a Joule-Thomson stage. The question mentioned a throttling process in the second line, which I think might have been neg-bait for Joule-Thomson (as, indeed, it turned out in our room). Perhaps Joule-Thomson should have been mentioned explicitly to prevent confusion, or one should have been prompted on it.

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Postby vsirin » Wed Apr 13, 2005 12:20 am

grapesmoker wrote:Two things:

First, I just wanted to say that the pop-culture questions at Nationals rocked my socks. I believe I managed to answer almost all the pop-culture questions that I heard (excluding "Whitesnake") which is totally unprecedented for me.


I'm with Jerry on this one. I wasn't answering many tossups at Nationals, but I did enjoy the many excellent pop culture questions. The tossups on "21 Jump Street" and "Folsom Prison" were particularly memorable. Also, the bonus on Chris Romero's favorite movie -- I think it was "Sorority Boys". It made me wish the ACF people would produce their own ACF/pop culture tournament, which would be much less lame than real trash tournaments.
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Postby Chris Frankel » Wed Apr 13, 2005 2:28 am

vsirin wrote:
grapesmoker wrote:Two things:

First, I just wanted to say that the pop-culture questions at Nationals rocked my socks. I believe I managed to answer almost all the pop-culture questions that I heard (excluding "Whitesnake") which is totally unprecedented for me.


I'm with Jerry on this one. I wasn't answering many tossups at Nationals, but I did enjoy the many excellent pop culture questions. The tossups on "21 Jump Street" and "Folsom Prison" were particularly memorable. Also, the bonus on Chris Romero's favorite movie -- I think it was "Sorority Boys". It made me wish the ACF people would produce their own ACF/pop culture tournament, which would be much less lame than real trash tournaments.


Agreed. I'm opposed to making trash a fixture in ACF rounds, but when done sparingly, and done well, as was the case at Nationals, it was actually amusing. The key was in making the answers recognizable (i.e. actually writing on material that ~20 year old college students would have been exposed to while growing up), but also appropriately challenging to prevent the "oasis" effect and the chance that the presence of a trash specialist could determine the outcome of a match. In non-national tournaments, I'm certainly not opposed to a 1/1 trash distribution, provided the questions are well-structured and not automatically shut off to anyone who was born after 1980.

It seems to me that most of the contempt held by academic partisans towards the local trash tournaments and the trash in NAQT packets is an issue with the quality of the writing, and not the subject itself. I, too, would strongly consider attending a trash tournament if the packets were held to the same standards that the ACF editors use.
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Postby No Rules Westbrook » Wed Apr 13, 2005 3:26 pm

Even given the fact that I am a terrible trash player, I would absolutely love to see trash get an ACF makeover. There is no reason that a tossup on Howard the Duck shouldn't be as pyramidal and well-written as a tossup on Ortega y Gasset. Trash doesn't have to be (and shouldn't be) the goofy, semi-retarded cousin of academic trivia. Pop culture is just as "serious" and legitimate as academic stuff; it's knowledge...and it shouldn't be relegated to the just-for-fun kiddy table of quiz bowl (which is, I think, the stigmatic reputation that it often has). Of course, I also think that it has earned this reputation for itself, so what better remedy than to ACF-ize trash. My only question would be - is there a realistic audience for this? I sense that we have a group of "grown-ups" who want to get as far away from the kiddy table as possible, and a group of kiddies who are quite happy eating play-doh...is there really an in-between? Is this the bridge to the 21st Century? Or will Rocky and Bullwinkle finally get sodomized by Sherman and Mr. Peabody?
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