Are trash questions inherently unfair?

Dormant threads from the high school sections are preserved here.
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Are trash questions inherently unfair?

Post by BuzzerZen »

For better or for worse, the non-trash part of the distribution and canon of high school quiz bowl is drawn from approximately the following areas:
  • The canon of Western literature
    Assorted African, South American, and Asian Literature
    Things taught in AP level history classes
    Classical history
    Wars and battles
    Greek, Roman, Norse, Hindu, Buddhist, and Judeo-Christian mythological/religious traditions
    Things taught in AP Bio
    Things taught in AP chem
    Things taught in regular physics
    Math calculation
    Geography
    The canon of Western art up through the 1960s
    Some philosophy stuff
A good player on a quiz bowl team that reliably makes it to the playoffs at good tournaments probably has a legitimate interest in around two to four of these broad categories, translating into perhaps 30 ppg in a TU/B format. Any quiz bowl player can improve in any of these areas by taking a class, reading a book, or playing a lot of quiz bowl. As is frequently stated, because it's pretty obvious, taking the time to learn things is rewarding in a quiz bowl context.

Trash/pop culture questions are different. There are no clearly delineated standards for what trash questions may be about. They may be "mainstream," focusing on sports, rap, and network television. They may reflect the zeitgeist of the quiz bowl subculture, and ask about Internet memes, video games, and obscure indie bands. They may ask about 80s hair bands. They may ask about Cap'n Crunch or the V-Smile or Casablanca or Matt Weiner's head. They may be, in short, about anything from the last 70 years of the modern media culture.

I submit that this immense scope from which one or two tossups out of twenty are drawn makes asking trash questions in a quiz bowl tournament inherently unfair. Up to 80 points around may be determined exclusively by what the players happen to be interested in outside of an academic context. With academic questions, there are things that people who are interested in a subject are going to care about with high probability. Not so with trash questions. As a category in a distribution, "trash" is a failure. If the tournament director likes rap and football, players who like country and basketball are at a disadvantage, and players like me who enjoy indie pop and hate sports are screwed. There's no way of making a given pop culture question distinguish between teams who work hard at quiz bowl, because getting these questions right is based almost entirely on what you like.

Hence, I propose the summary termination of any and all trash questions in the high school distribution, not from the position that trash is unimportant to know, but that it is impossible to know if what you know is valuable in a way unlike the state of affairs with academic questions.

[These thoughts may be worked out more thoroughly when I am not tired.]
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Don't trash all of trash...

Post by pblessman »

I agree that the trash "canon" for hsqb is not well-defined. I would, however, hate to see it disappear completely, as some things "trash" are actually things a well-educated person should know about even though this might not be part of the hs curriculum. Here are some things I think should still stay in:

Classic and Art Cinema: Ran, Citizen Kane, High Noon, House of Flying Daggers are in; Ice Age 2, Dodgeball, any movie starring Matthew McConaughey are out

Classic Rock: Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd are in; 98 Degrees, Britney Spears, Arctic Patrol are out

Classic Sports: Hank Aaron and Larry Bird are in, Shaq and Kobe not yet.

Significant Current Events (not on your list for the hs canon... is this trash?): Six-party talks in, Anna Nicole Smith out

Current Award winning literature: Nobels, Pulitzers etc.

I'm probably forgetting something... so help me out. I do agree that some of the obscure stuff needs to go... it does seem that when it comes to trash people feel comfortable putting in their favorite skater band or C64 video game, even though it would be impossible to anticipate what exactly would be important to know in these areas.
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Post by First Chairman »

I don't know if there is a standard, but if we are talking about "popular" culture, then general popular cultural knowledge (including current events, business, and some cultural things) that people know or should know should be fair game. Granted, the subjective "should" is the tricky part, since I don't know why anyone "should" know various video game characters as opposed to movie actors. One can make the argument that one should know Barack Obama as much as one should know about Daisuke Matsuzaka (or similar sports figs). Areas that I don't have much knowledge but I think should be considered also include artistic expression areas like r&b, hip-hop, and some country music.

Certainly anything that truly adds to historical or cultural appreciation such as <I>Citizen Kane</I> or is innovative (argue Gnarls Barkley or Norah Jones) should be up for consideration. Anything that truly lacks intellectual appeal shouldn't really be included.

I think if everyone knows ahead of time what constitutes this area of General Knowledge or Popular Culture/Trivia, that might make things fairer.
Last edited by First Chairman on Sun Feb 25, 2007 11:54 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Don't trash all of trash...

Post by AKKOLADE »

pblessman wrote:I agree that the trash "canon" for hsqb is not well-defined. I would, however, hate to see it disappear completely, as some things "trash" are actually things a well-educated person should know about even though this might not be part of the hs curriculum. Here are some things I think should still stay in:
Question one - why would high schoolers not know who Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Britney Spears or Anna Nicole Smith are?

Question two - how do Nobel/Pulitzer winners and six-party talks qualify as trash and not academics?

Pop culture questions need to consider what a high schooler is likely to know at the time they are being used. They also need to qualify as non-academic, something that would not be covered in depth by a typical high school class.
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Post by pblessman »

The question was not what do students know, but what should be in a QB tournament. I guess I think that current events, which are generally not taught in hs, should be covered in qb, because some of them are important. Anna Nicole Smith, tragic as her death might be, is not truly important. The same thing applies to fast food sandwiches... I expect 99% of qb players know BK makes the Whopper, but I don't think a question about Whoppers is good quiz bowl.
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Post by AKKOLADE »

pblessman wrote:The question was not what do students know, but what should be in a QB tournament.
You're treating it like what was asked was, "Should trash questions be legitimately asked?" What was asked was, "Can trash questions come from a reliable knowledge base to make their inclusion comparable with academic topics which draw from a certain area of knowledge?" To repeat the thesis statement of the original post:
Hence, I propose the summary termination of any and all trash questions in the high school distribution, not from the position that trash is unimportant to know, but that it is impossible to know if what you know is valuable in a way unlike the state of affairs with academic questions.
If you'd like to discuss if trash questions should be used because they're trashy, a new thread can be started and I'm certain a lengthy discussion would follow. Let's focus on the original post's position in this thread.
pblessman wrote:I guess I think that current events, which are generally not taught in hs, should be covered in qb, because some of them are important.
These questions are covered in a (typically) separate category called "current events." If your (and that's the royal you, not the pblessman you) distrbution combines current events and trash, I believe that practice should be stopped.

Also, I thought civics and other history classes with teachers who realize the importance of current events typically covered important current events?
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Post by Matt Weiner »

1) I think the solution to the originally stated problem is to make sure your tournament is not self-indulgent and sticks to a standard subdistribution. 1/1 trash per round, divided up in a roughly equal fashion among sports, movies, music, TV, and games/other. And kept to things that people will know within those categories. That way you can have a reasonable idea of where the questions will go and select your team lineup accordingly.

2) With that said, it's also important to keep overall trash down because it does compromise the academic nature of the activity to a degree. 1/1 out of 20/20 is the max, and the other questions should not have trash clues ("name this book by Charles Dickens that was adopted into a movie starring Ethan Hawke" is a trash question, not a literature question) nor should they be on borderline nonsense that really is trash but gets shoehorned into academic categories sometimes for no good reason (Ursula LeGuin) or stupid trivia that might as well be trash (aglets, ferrule, blenders).

3) You picked four movies as an example of academic cinema and one of them was House of Flying Daggers? Really?
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Post by Tegan »

I think as long as pop culture is held to a minimum, it shouldn't in theory decide matches, and as such shouldn't be a problem.

In Illinois, we took two major steps this year to combat the problem:

1. Miscellaneous (including sports, pop culture, agriculture, cooking, etc) was cut back by one question-per-round. We added an additional fine arts. In a 30 question round, miscellaneous now occupies only two TU/two bonuses.

2. Miscellaneous questions cannot come within the final three questions of a match. I wanted to opt for more, but this at least keeps them from being the deciding questions (we hope!)

Having just attended an NAQT tourney this weekend (as a moderator), I was pretty amazed at how early the power marks were on the pop culture questions. Personally, I think that this can lead to compounding a problem, given that NAQT has had its detractors say there is too much pop culture. I'm not sure if that's fair or not (perhaps in relation to other subjects, but not overall, IMO), but I think you need to make it a little harder to get power on a pop culture, especially given that , in this format, the other team has no chance t rebound on the bonus. True, it won't decide a match between TJA and Podunk High, but it could make the difference in a match between two evenly matched schools. I don't think any legit player likes to see a match decided on who knows Brittany Spears' hair stylist or Anna Nicole's mortician.
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Post by UERD »

I've lost two NAQT games on a last question or bonus that turned out to be some sort of (to us) obscure trash. I definitely agree that the distrib. should be kept to the 1/1 minimum...standards on subject matter appropriate for those sorts of questions would also be a good idea.
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Post by pblessman »

Matt Weiner wrote: 3) You picked four movies as an example of academic cinema and one of them was House of Flying Daggers? Really?
Alrighty... not to point out the obvious, but I quickly wrote down four examples and did not write down the four "most academic" movies of all time.

I also would be more than happy to acknowledge that actually Amistad and Sahara would be reasonable movies to ask about, even though they starred Matthew McConaughey (that was a joke, that whole part about no movies with Matthew McConaughey being worthy of a question...). My point of giving House of Flying Daggers as an example was that I feel it is worthy of having a question about it.

I might be a bit thin-skinned here, but I was taken aback a bit by both Matt Weiner's and leftsaidfred's tone here...
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Post by BuzzerZen »

Matt Weiner wrote:1) I think the solution to the originally stated problem is to make sure your tournament is not self-indulgent and sticks to a standard subdistribution. 1/1 trash per round, divided up in a roughly equal fashion among sports, movies, music, TV, and games/other. And kept to things that people will know within those categories. That way you can have a reasonable idea of where the questions will go and select your team lineup accordingly.
The crux of my position is that it is impossible to know what people will know in a trash context. Of course, it's impossible to know what people will know about anything, but good question writers will be able to make reasonable assumptions about what is likely to go dead in academic categories. Most questions they write they will have heard in a tournament before. Questions they write that they haven't heard in a tournament before are mostly on topics they can imagine someone familiar with the subject area knowing due to academic interest. The 10% or so of questions that really reach outside the canon help to expand it.

The distribution is much different in a trash context. Perhaps paradoxically, a question writer can assume much less about the pop-cultural experience of players than they can about the academic knowledge of those players. Many quiz bowl players aren't fond of football; many quiz bowl players do not watch reality shows; many quiz bowl players do not listen to rap. Yet all these things are ostensibly part of "mainstream" American pop culture, and thus make up a lot of trash questions. Writing questions based on this assumption of a standard pop-cultural background, or any assumption, creates the principal problem I have with trash: players are rewarded or penalized based on their aesthetic preferences.

I have never gotten a rap question or a hockey question; when I hear them, they make me angry because I find them to be unworthy of the attention of a tossup. So that's just my opinion, right? But the fact is, for every player who answers a trash tossup correctly, there is a player who puts their head down and groans on that question because they can't understand why something that inane is being asked about in quiz bowl.

Why doesn't this come up in academic subjects? If I prefer abstract expressionism to post-impressionism, or kinematics to dynamics, or the Civil War to the Gilded Age, why does the randomness of my encounters with these subtopics not offend my sense of quiz bowl aesthetics? It's because both sides of the aesthetic coin have been deemed important to know in an academic context. If I care about art, or even if I only care on getting the one art question every round in a tournament, I will probably have some knowledge of both Jackson Pollock and Edvard Munch, along with plenty of other things. But, if I want to get the trash question every round, I either have to hope that the question writers like the same webcomics or indie bands or British sitcoms that I do, or I have to spend my time absorbing "mainstream" popular culture to become better at quiz bowl. This makes no sense.

In summary, "things people will know," while reasonable to make assumptions about in any academic area that comes up in quiz bowl, is impossible to make assumptions about when it comes to trash. Assuming that "mainstream" TV, music, and sports are what interests quiz bowl players punishes players who aren't interested in these things not for having insufficient knowledge, but for having non-standard aesthetic preferences. Awarding points based on aesthetic preferences is patently not the province of quiz bowl.

Also, don't have sports as a separate 1/1 category, ever.
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Post by theMoMA »

When you have submitted packets, the questions are written for college qbers by college qbers. Saying that science equals lit in the distribution is just as arbitrary as the trash canon.
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Post by Mike Bentley »

On a sort of different topic, should variability and luck be seen as an enemy to good quizbowl? Does the fact that trash has arguably no established canon (which, by the way, I don't really agree with) make its variability too great, thus giving it the same stigma as short or non-pyramidal questions that promote buzzer races?

There is obviously the inherent variability in the questions that come up in the packet, and that will never change. It will always be possible for a weaker team to get distributions that heavily favor them over better teams, but in my experience this is usually fairly rare. At the college level (from what I've experienced), upsets are usually much more a result of "bad questions" than the questions falling into the few areas where a weaker team has extreme depth in a subject.

Someone brought up an interesting point in one of the topics on the college discussion pages in that it seems like the trend in quizbowl over the past few years has been for the activity to become much more focused on who has the more in-depth knowledge and to always reward the player who "deserves" to get the tossup. I don't disagree with this at all, but it really makes things discouraging for a lot of younger, less experienced players. Going back to one of my high school practices and hearing them play some awful Patrick's Press questions made me glad I'm not doing that anymore, but at the same time I can remember almost quitting freshman year of college because the questions were "too hard" and "too long". The first tossup I got at a college tournament was on Napoleon Dynamite, and all day at that tournament I answered maybe 6 or 7 tossups total. I can't help but feel if acanonical questions like that weren't in the tournament, perhaps I would not have stuck around.

I hate to bring up analogies, but I was reading an article in Game Developer magazine that touched on the issue of luck in games. Is a game really better when the expected outcome can almost always be predicted? Certainly professional games ought to reduce luck as much as possible, as the people playing have honed their skills and would be frustrated when some external factor causes the outcome of the game to change. But these games are often much less popular than games with more luck based systems.

In an interview with Mark Rein of Epic Games he touched on why his game Gears of War has seemingly random outcomes when two players use the chainsaw at the same time. He said something along the lines of, "we were designing this game for mainstream audiences. We have Unreal [a very conventional, straight forward first person shooter that at high levels is very skill based] for gamers who want to compete professionaly." He also went on to talk about how the uber weapon, that is quite deadly in the hands of the professional but nevertheless can result in some occassional undeserved kills, are often turned off in competitive play. This sounds incredibly stupid, but maybe trash questions to some extent are like these such weapons.

I think the elimination of trash from the high school canon would certainly make for less variability in matches against some of the top teams in a tournament. But it would probably also discourage a lot of the lower teams, as the trash answers would probably make up a good portion of what they are more familar with. At the college level, at least, there seems to be a lot of concern these days that the trend in good quizbowl to cater to the top players has led to a lot of the lower echelon players to simply stop playing or go to "lesser" tournaments like NAQT I.S. tournaments and CBI over, say, ACF Regionals.

I think I lost myself a little in the rambling of the post, so I guess here's a summary of what I wanted to say: The elimination of trash arguably reduces the variance in matches, especially amongst the top teams. But this reduction in variance, coupled with the proliferation of pyramidal questions and harder questions (i.e. HSNCT upping its difficulty this year), may have the unwanted effect of driving younger and less experienced players away.
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Post by jbarnes112358 »

I agree with buzzerzen. I also feel betrayed when we are punished for not knowing some obscure trash reference in some area that no one on our team cares about or wants to spend time learning about. Why should we feel like we should study up on sports, rap, reality shows, video games and the like? Perhaps the team should subscribe to the National Enquirer. Forget Jeopardy. Better we tune into Entertainment Tonight for our edification. We are living in a culture bombarded with this junk continually from multiple media. Do we really need to elevate its importance by making it a part of the quizbowl canon?

Some non-trashy pop culture is probably reasonable in very small doses. Of course the problem then becomes definition of "trash." One person's trash is another person's treasure. I am not sure how to define trash, but I know it when I hear it. Some pop cultural references have withstood the test of time to reach our collective cultural consciousness. Some examples were give in previous posts. Heck, even Shakespeare would have been considered pop culture during his day.

I believe the real value of high school quizbowl is that it encourages students to reach out and learn about things they might not encounter otherwise. They cannot help being immersed in plenty of trash. But, if players feel the importance of learning about fine art, poetry, classical music, quality literature, Chinese history, nuclear science or whatever, then they might actually find out that they enjoy some of it on its merits and not just so they get a few points in a game. Learning for quizbowl can lead to the desire to learn for the love of learning. Most great players have insatiable curiosity and love to learn things. The quizbowl experience should direct that learning in desirable directions.
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Post by Stained Diviner »

The open-ended nature of pop culture questions is what I like about them. The idea that you can become knowledgeable about literature or art by spending twenty hours studying about them or by reading old packets is an illusion created by high school quizbowl. It is good to have categories that knock down that illusion.

Some of the frustration with pop culture expressed here may be due to some writers including too much of it--Matt Weiner's distribution suggestions makes sense, but they are not always followed (and I have been among the guilty parties, though far from the worst offender).

If you are not interested in sports and get frustrated that other teams get sports questions against you, the best advice I can give you is to stop being frustrated. When properly done on the high school level, pop culture has the smallest number of questions and the widest variety of material, which means it is the least useful subject to study to get better. I don't want to write a several-paragraph post using economics analogies, but if you nail the Shakespeare tossup that comes up every third round and miss the NFL tossup that comes up every sixth round, then you probably are using your prep time well. If the NFL comes up more than Shakespeare, then write a letter to the question writer.
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Post by the return of AHAN »

OK campers, evaluate the fairness of the following "trash" toss-ups I wrote for a recent, junior high quadrangular meet. Keep in mind, Illinois Jr High format calls for 2 gen. info toss-ups per 30.

GENERAL INFROMATION (SPORTS)
A recent four-game losing streak knocked the Duke mens basketball team out of the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since the end of the 1995-1996 basketball season. Within ten, how many consecutive times had Duke appeared in the AP's weekly Top 25 poll?
Answer: 200 (answers between 190-210 accepted)

I figured that a true sports buff (who reads the sports on a daily basis) would have a chance at this one since there was much discussion of how this ended Duke's chance to beat the all-time mark (221?) held by UCLA, blah blah blah.

GENERAL INFORMATION (TELEVISION)
This television network traces its origins to 1927, but didn't broadcast any of their programs in color until 1962, and waited until 1966 before broadcasting all of their programs in color. Its "eyemark" logo has survived unchanged since its introduction in 1951. Name this network, which is sometimes referred to as the "Tiffany Network", by Late Night host, David Letterman.
Answer: CBS

This one, I figured, gave everyone a chance to answer, given that you can immediately narrow down the possibilities to, what.. three choices?

FWIW, no one correctly answered the Duke question in any of the 4 matches where the toss-up was used, while the CBS q was hit on in 3 out of 4 matches (yes, the failed one was a B match).

I'm interested in hearing your opinions on these and the contrast presented by the frequency of correct answers.
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Post by theMoMA »

I really question the answer selection on the first question. Seems like you could have written a convertable question with the answer being "Duke" and the clue being the 200 thing. It's really unsurprising that no one converted the question.
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Post by DumbJaques »

I think this highlights the real problem. It isn't that trash is inherently bad, or difficult to ask about, or can't be effectively studied. It's that people pick ridiculous answers for trash questions. When this happens in academic categories, there's a simple label: too obscure. But for some reason people are hesitant to say what's "too obscure" in trash. I guess this has to do with there being no real defined canon or not wanting to seem like a loser or whatever. But just because it's hard to say what's too obscure in trash doesn't mean it's not easy to draw a line. For example, if the answer is "Duke," I think it's a reasonable thing to ask about. It's hard to have been alive in this country for 15 years and not have heard of Duke. When the answer is 200, you have a bad question. Likewise, when you start listing random dates random stuff happened in the history of CBS, you have a bad question. You can pick gettable trash answers and have gettable trash clues, just like academic tossups. If your trash answer selection requires you to have seen the third and fourth best-known works of Akira Kurosawa, it sucks. But it's not unreasonable to ask about Ran or Rashomon.

I also wish to dismiss the argument that questions should be based on what we want to direct players to study, and that this excludes trash from ideal canon. There are lots of reasons for this, but maybe if certain people who had posted in the CBI thread had been "directed" to more mainstream topics, quizbowl history might have worked out differently. Maybe not. But again, even if we accept the questionable assumption that questions direct studying, why not "direct" a basic literacy in american and world entertainment? It's not like that's somehow more or less worthy than directing a basic literacy in the reign of Akbar the Great (and I love Akbar).

In summation: Write trash questions that don't suck, and people will like them and they should have no negative impact on college quizbowl. Write trash questions that suck, and you perpetuate the myth that trash is unwriteable.

If people still think trash can't be effectively asked about, I will post the entire trash answer selection of a tournament I wrote last year and all those high school players who have never heard of Dave Chappelle, the fact that there's a first overall pick in the NFL draft, and Kanye West will be free to identify themselves.
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Post by theMoMA »

Solid points Chris.

I'd also like to add that the concept of "elitist trash" is ridiculous. Only write questions on movies that someone decides are "artistic" or have "redeeming value"? I'm sure we'll "know it when we see it" too...

Good college quiz bowl will always involve answers chosen by the packet writers, not some elite cabal of answer selectors. Quid custodiet ipsos custodes? Hey, that's why we bash packets and questions on the internets.
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Post by bdavery »

I agree with theMoMa. The "200" answer is ridiculous. The CBS answer is a good answer, but the dates don't help anyone as clues, especially HS kids.
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Post by ProsperoSMS »

As someone who used to be a "trash" guy and who includes pop culture in a distribution, I would certainly argue to keep it in matches.

I would even question that it lacks value. If a player learns about Anansi from reading Neil Gaiman, or even, quite possibly, seeing a cartoon of Static Shock or Gargoyles, then that starts the player learning about a figure important in several culture's folklore. I agree it's sad that the knowledge of a topic stops at the pop culture point (knowing only Thor from comics, for example), but I would argue that the person who only knows Roughing It because he/she read a list of AmLit titles, or because he/she has heard it come up in other tournaments, is just as limited, and I challenge that knowing that piece of academic trivia is any more valid if it is not from actually reading the lit. If the idea is that there is a certain body of knowledge one would have, then is it less significant to start learning it through pop culture?

I teach at an all-girls' school, and they have questioned the lack of fashion questions in tournaments. Personally, that's not my area, but it is an area that is (pop) culturally significant, and, as such, I have no problem including some fashion questions. One could easily argue it is just as valid as having Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica represent the entire opus of television, as often happens. Along the same gender-distinction lines, I had a complaint a year ago that our tournament's sports questions weren't "real" sports (we've asked women's sports in the past), and that was from a team's "sports guy" who failed to get the question for his team when it did not fall under his MLB/NBA/NFL umbrella.

Picky questions are the ones you don't know, whether they are literary, scientific, or trashy.
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Post by First Chairman »

Not that movies like "The Devil Wears Prada" would be the stimulus for fashion questions, but I know that I try to put a few into the HSCS "distribution" for pop culture/trash (which I make clear is a significant proportion due to the nature of the event). There are some fashion-related questions that clearly have historical significance that come up (seldom) like Bloomers or Tuxedos.

Supermodels on the other hand... maybe once every tournament or every other tournament. There is quite a bit of crossover into other trash areas like sports or music.
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Post by ProsperoSMS »

I can't say we've had any supermodel questions, but we have asked for designers, which I think is valid. Quiz Bowl has an inherent "boys' club" reputation and feel, despite many good female members. I'm happy if my girls want to shake things up with some topics not covered as often. Of course, we've seen entire teams look at their one female player to get one of these (and miss it), just as all boys' teams can miss sports questions. I don't mean to suggest that girls=fashion knowledge, but I think we should keep options open.
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Post by BuzzerZen »

Time for another pronouncement: It is bad for normative gender roles to influence answer selection.
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Post by First Chairman »

ProsperoSMS wrote:I can't say we've had any supermodel questions, but we have asked for designers, which I think is valid. Quiz Bowl has an inherent "boys' club" reputation and feel, despite many good female members. I'm happy if my girls want to shake things up with some topics not covered as often. Of course, we've seen entire teams look at their one female player to get one of these (and miss it), just as all boys' teams can miss sports questions. I don't mean to suggest that girls=fashion knowledge, but I think we should keep options open.
Replying with a nod to Evan's comments, that hypothetical situation is not ideal, just as it's usually awkward when the one Asian Indian on a particular team of four doesn't get the Indian mythology questions. Sure that's something I would rather avoid, but there are people (both boys and girls) that may actually know that information (Indian mythology or Versace).

On the other hand, should canon expansion and question-writing be sensitive to be more inclusive... that's another discussion. But I do think that there should be some room in a distribution for a tournament to be more inclusive, but not exclusively through pop culture.
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Post by ProsperoSMS »

I would never argue to expand the canon exlusively through popular culture, but I see it as one entry point for some other subjects to find their way into questions.
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Post by jbarnes112358 »

I recognize that I am in the minority that want to take out the trash from serious quizbowl competition. That is not to say that there cannot be trash tournaments. They are fun, I'm sure. I enjoy the PACE trash tournament that is held for fun after the actual tournament. People get perverse pleasure from knowing some of this stuff, especially stuff considered cool. They also enjoy making fun of those who know the uncool stuff. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy parts of popular culture like most people. I even admit to being a loyal viewer of American Idol.

Still, it just my humble opinion that the more inane trivial be left out of academic competitions. We are often criticized for learning superficial knowledge in quizbowl. There is a certain amount of truth to that. Do we need to make matters worse by throwing in all sorts of trash and insignificant trivia? We almost lost a game last Saturday because no one on our team knew the last name of Fred and Ethyl, the neighbors from the I Love Lucy Show. For those who argue that a small number of such trash questions should be allowed, how would you feel if you lost an ostensibly serious academic tournament because you did not know the name "Mertz?"
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Post by dtaylor4 »

jbarnes112358 wrote:Still, it just my humble opinion that the more inane trivial be left out of academic competitions. We are often criticized for learning superficial knowledge in quizbowl. There is a certain amount of truth to that. Do we need to make matters worse by throwing in all sorts of trash and insignificant trivia? We almost lost a game last Saturday because no one on our team knew the last name of Fred and Ethyl, the neighbors from the I Love Lucy Show. For those who argue that a small number of such trash questions should be allowed, how would you feel if you lost an ostensibly serious academic tournament because you did not know the name "Mertz?"
My opinion, stated in previous posts, is that you did not almost lose because you didn't know Mertz. Instead of looking at the one trash question your team missed, why not look at all of the other academic questions your team missed? They are far more likely to come up in future matches, and may even win your team a game or two.

I also believe that any trash questions in a packet (which at most should be 1/1) should be in the middle of the packet, or in more concrete numbers, between questions 6-15.
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Post by Stained Diviner »

In my view, if you lose a match by 5 points, then you are allowed to pin the blame on any 5 point opportunity you didn't convert. I think the Mertz question is legitimate because of the role that I Love Lucy played in our society and the centrality of the Mertz family to the show. My guess is that if you were to list all the bonus parts that you missed during the match and all the tossup clues that caused your opponents to buzz in before you that there would be answers less important than the Mertzes even though the other things might fit easier into academic distributions.

As to gender, I do think it is important to include diversity in pop culture, and I think it is different than including it in other areas. If you have questions about Jane Austen or Catherine of Aragon, the boys are as likely to know the answer as the girls. It is different, however, in pop culture.

Here are the pop culture answers from this year's Scobol Solo: Eva Longoria, Lex Luthor, Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey, Reggie White, Florida Gators, Knute Rockne, Meredith Vieira, the Energizer Bunny, Pedro Martinez, Retired Uniform Numbers, Julius Erving, Captain Underpants, The Grinch, Cool Hand Luke, Prairie Home Companion, and Sidney Poitier. There are several items on the list that boys generally know more about than girls, so I tried to include a few items that girls generally know more than boys to even things out. (Maybe Eva Longoria wasn't the best way to even things out.) I know that gender roles don't always hold--I once had a girl who answered every golf question she ever heard--but there are some correlations.

My point is that making academic answers more diverse is done to reflect changes in the academic canon, recognize accomplishments by people who deserve the recognition, and prove that people other than white males are noteworthy. Making pop culture answers more diverse is done to make the game more fair to the people playing.
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Post by the return of AHAN »

theMoMA wrote:I really question the answer selection on the first question. Seems like you could have written a convertable question with the answer being "Duke" and the clue being the 200 thing. It's really unsurprising that no one converted the question.
This is interesting. I wrote the question thinking "what could I do to get an answer out of someone who is TRULY an expert in college basketball? (Clearly none were present that day as no one could answer a question in a different round about who the 2006 NCAA womens basketball champions were)" That is, I thought I'd try to exclude the many people who knew the obvious (in the news < 2 weeks ago) answer. I guess the larger question is, should every question in a match be something that 75% of typical players can answer? Or is there room for the more obscure things? What percentage of questions do you think should be "answerable"?
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Post by Tegan »

BarringtonJP wrote:I guess the larger question is, should every question in a match be something that 75% of typical players can answer? Or is there room for the more obscure things? What percentage of questions do you think should be "answerable"?
I've always strived for 75-80% of toss-ups should be answerable by the average team by the final clue. In bonuses, the average team should sweep maybe 10% of the bonuses, and get 3/4 or 4/5 on another 20-30%. This is hardly universal. There are a lot of people that think bonuses as a whole shold be slam dunks or darn near so most of the time.

I think part of the issue when the sports guy or pop culture gal get upset with an obscure queston is that THAT was the only question they might have had a chance to get, and the question writer "stole" their opportunity to contribute. Of course, if they went out and learned mythology and Ancient history, that might help the team.
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Post by Matt Weiner »

BarringtonJP wrote:This is interesting. I wrote the question thinking "what could I do to get an answer out of someone who is TRULY an expert in college basketball? (Clearly none were present that day as no one could answer a question in a different round about who the 2006 NCAA womens basketball champions were)" That is, I thought I'd try to exclude the many people who knew the obvious (in the news < 2 weeks ago) answer. I guess the larger question is, should every question in a match be something that 75% of typical players can answer? Or is there room for the more obscure things? What percentage of questions do you think should be "answerable"?
100% of tossups should be answerable, and 0% of tossups should be one-clue, nonpyramidal, and about arbitrary trivia rather than a broad topic with multiple possible clues that can be arranged in descending order of difficulty. You need to completely tear down your notions of how to write and build them up again from scratch because that first tossup is bad in every possible way that a question can be bad.
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Post by First Chairman »

Evan's right that in terms of "by the last clue" practically all tossups should be answerable. Of course, whether they are dictates the preparation of the teams and competitiveness of the field. And certainly I know that the pop-culture swerve into a giveaway is definitely not a preferred writing "trick" unless you happen to be on Jeopardy! (or similar game shows which I think help younger writers think such mental calisthenics is totally acceptable).

Bonuses accessibility I think is where there is quite a bit of variety of opinion. Certainly I think that bonus questions are harder because you are working with a smaller number of clues. The question is how hard those clues ought to be. In a standard non-bouncing 30-point bonuses-involved game, I think most teams should be getting at least 10 points per bonus, and more competitive teams getting closer to 20 ppbh.
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Post by Tegan »

Matt Weiner wrote: 100% of tossups should be answerable
But to whom? Ideally, every team is well versed and well practiced, and knows the canon forward and backward ..... but that just ain't true! I had a question on Renee Magritte and had coaches tell me was "unanswerable". Ihad a coach tell me once "Who's ever read Twelfth Night?". I think we can all agree that those are not the teams we should be using as the standard to measure if a question is too obscure.

I base my numbers on the "average team" ..... not the average good team, but the average team. The elite team should be able to get darn near 100% of the toss-ups over the course of several rounds, with 50-75% not waiting until the last clue (given variants on the makeup of really great teams).

That's my opinion ......
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Post by the return of AHAN »

Matt Weiner wrote:
BarringtonJP wrote:This is interesting. I wrote the question thinking "what could I do to get an answer out of someone who is TRULY an expert in college basketball? (Clearly none were present that day as no one could answer a question in a different round about who the 2006 NCAA womens basketball champions were)" That is, I thought I'd try to exclude the many people who knew the obvious (in the news < 2 weeks ago) answer. I guess the larger question is, should every question in a match be something that 75% of typical players can answer? Or is there room for the more obscure things? What percentage of questions do you think should be "answerable"?
100% of tossups should be answerable, and 0% of tossups should be one-clue, nonpyramidal, and about arbitrary trivia rather than a broad topic with multiple possible clues that can be arranged in descending order of difficulty. You need to completely tear down your notions of how to write and build them up again from scratch because that first tossup is bad in every possible way that a question can be bad.
OK, now that you've established that every toss-up should be answerable, what percentage of the general population should get those answers? If I rearrange the question, as has been suggested, such that Duke is the right answer, is this question now 100% answerable? Make no mistake, I actually researched the scoresheets to see which questions were answered and which ones were not. I was just curious, given the "trash" thread, about how my "trash" questions were, knowing that the Duke question was going to be hard, and the CBS question was easier.
In any event, I'd be happy to share some of my toss-ups that wouldn't fall under the trash category, but it sounds like many of you might find junior high level quiz bowl to be a fair amount of "trash!"

Not that there's anything wrong with that, right? :wink:
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Post by theMoMA »

Tegan wrote:
Matt Weiner wrote: 100% of tossups should be answerable
But to whom? Ideally, every team is well versed and well practiced, and knows the canon forward and backward ..... but that just ain't true! I had a question on Renee Magritte and had coaches tell me was "unanswerable". Ihad a coach tell me once "Who's ever read Twelfth Night?". I think we can all agree that those are not the teams we should be using as the standard to measure if a question is too obscure.

I base my numbers on the "average team" ..... not the average good team, but the average team. The elite team should be able to get darn near 100% of the toss-ups over the course of several rounds, with 50-75% not waiting until the last clue (given variants on the makeup of really great teams).

That's my opinion ......
Therein lies the difference between "should be" and "are".
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Post by jbarnes112358 »

DaGeneral wrote: My opinion, stated in previous posts, is that you did not almost lose because you didn't know Mertz. Instead of looking at the one trash question your team missed, why not look at all of the other academic questions your team missed? They are far more likely to come up in future matches, and may even win your team a game or two.

I also believe that any trash questions in a packet (which at most should be 1/1) should be in the middle of the packet, or in more concrete numbers, between questions 6-15.
Well, if we miss a more legitimate quizbowl question then shame on us for not knowing it, or for not buzzing faster. But, there is little shame in not knowing Fred and Ethyl's last name. In a tight game against evenly matched rivals as was the case in this game, it would be a shame if the outcome turned on such a question, no matter when it occurred in the round.

I can, to some extent, buy the argument that "I Love Lucy" is a significant show in the history of television and is hence fair game. It is an example of a pop culture reference that has entered our shared cultural heritage. Like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, the Beatles, etc., it has taken an iconic place in our history and culture. You probably do want students to have familiarity with such pop cultural references, especially after the test of time has validated their importance. I would have felt better about the question if the show's title, or title character had been the answer instead of the a more trivial fact that almost requires that you be a Lucy buff in order to know it.

With all the things we can ask about, I am simply advocating that we try to avoid the more insignificant trivia and trash. How many time have you been reading an old packet from, say, the late 90's and something comes up that has faded from our collective memories because it is not now, and probably never was, important enough to be worthy of a quizbowl question?

Keep the pop culture category for maybe 1/1 questions per round. Just try to use good judgement in what is asked about in an academic tournament. Keep the emphasis on the "culture" part of "pop culture."
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Post by rchschem »

Unless Fred's got a 2 carbon side chain, it's Ethel.

Which, I guess illustrates the point.

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Post by cvdwightw »

I, for one, am an ardent supporter of the continuation of trash in otherwise academic rounds, despite being a horrible trash player and losing an ICT match essentially on one question about modern indie rock. Still, as has been reiterated many times on this board, you do not lose a match entirely due to one single question. I believe trash rewards players for applying the knowledge-seeking skills they have developed through quiz bowl to their interest in movies, music, television, sports, video games, etc.; in other words, things that they might be expected to know regardless of how much effort they put into the game. Just because I am decent at sports questions does not mean I am decent at video games questions in the same way that just because I am decent at history questions does not mean I am decent at philosophy questions. The issue is that no one (except for a satirical Matt Lafer) is asking for the elimination of philosophy questions, despite the fact that I (and I am going out on a limb and assuming other students as well) had essentially zero exposure to philosophy in high school.

We all laughed when Papool suggested moving Bible and other religious questions to trash or eliminating them altogether because people who are of a certain religion will have an inherent advantage on questions regarding in-depth knowledge of those religions. I think this is similar. Unless I'm completely mistaken and all high school quiz bowl players do outside of classwork is sit down with quiz bowl study aids, I would imagine that we all pick up a fair amount of popular culture without having to study it (unlike, say, science). Just because a player who listens to rap has an inherent advantage on those questions over one that does not, does not imply that such questions should be eliminated altogether.

In conclusion, I will argue with anyone who says that things that do not easily fit in a messily defined high school canon do not belong in high school tournaments. If we were to adopt this position, quiz bowl would be no better than Academic Decathlon.
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Post by First Chairman »

And sometimes Academic Decathlon takes weird turns (history of country music).
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Post by jbarnes112358 »

rchschem wrote:Unless Fred's got a 2 carbon side chain, it's Ethel.

Which, I guess illustrates the point.

Eric
You are probably correct on the spelling :oops:

However, I don't remember ever having seen it in print. (no surprise)
I need to go to Wikipedia to check it out, I reckon. :lol:

I must have been thinking of the company whose stock I lost money in a few years ago. (Ethyl Corp.)

Actually, I personally knew the Mertz answer, but I am a former TV junkie from the 50's and 60's. I have an excuse.
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Post by rchschem »

jbarnes112358 wrote: I must have been thinking of the company whose stock I lost money in a few years ago. (Ethyl Corp.)
Sorry to hear about that.

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Post by emactruman »

Personally, I would like to point out that is not up to the tournament director. NAQT allow for such "trash" questions.

As for Sports, I have always felt that it is its own category seperate of the "pop culuture" or "trash" categories. I personally believe statistical leaders and major event winners are fair game i.e. College Football Bowl games, Indy 500 winners, kentucky Derby winners, any league winner in the for basic sports, and anyone to win a tennis or golf major, top points scorers, yard gainers (football), and ect., as well as questions pertaining to the olympics.

As far music, anything billboard top 40 in their genre, or billboard top 200 is fair game, as well as any band with a major milestone, i.e. records sold, anniveries larger than 9. Also. any song/band that trickles through mainstream media, i.e CBS's use of the Plain White T's song (sorry the name escapes me) during their college hoops broadcast Sunday.

Major Cinematic works, i.e. anything taught in a college film class, as well as any long running series (at least 3 parts), and any movie to extremely well at the box office.

That is my own personal beliefs. To avoid contraversy I simply choose to purchase my questions for either PACE or NAQT.
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Post by David Riley »

I don't find trash questions to be inherently unfair, but I am finding more and more students who sleep through questions in the core areas, then light up when they hear a sports question or one on Adam Sandler movies. Coimpetitive teams who notice this behavior will then go for the throat, because they (rightfully, in most cases) assume that said player doesn't know their academic "stuff".

Admittedly, trash questions can be a nice respite, so long as they are few in number (1 per 20 question match) and don't appear as the last question in a match.
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Post by Gunnells »

Trash questions have no place in quizbowl, but not all pop culture is trash.

A Norcross squad once lost an elimination round to a much lower seeded team at a college hosted event rife with trash, with the deciding factor being a final bonus that awarded our opponents 30 points for knowledge of Little Debbie snacks. It was a long ride home.

There is no canon for Little Debbies, and no reason someone should be punished or rewarded for their knowledge of Swiss Cake Rolls. However, there is a canon for pop culture.

I don't mind occasional questions on the pop culture canon. If we lose on Akira Kirosawa, I can honestly tell our players that he is widely considered a great filmmaker who they should become familiar with primarily for general cultural literacy and secondarily because he might come up again in competition. I can't say the same thing if the turning point is Danielle Steele.

For more recent pop culture, I think a determining factor should be longevity/lasting impact on society.

Not to pick on the Scobol Solo (and I doubt he will be much affected by the opinion of a single coach from GA any way), but very few people will be aware Eva Longoria existed 50 years from now. IMO, that's makes it trash, regardless of which gender the question writer believed was more likely to answer correctly.

Fair Game:
Oprah
Knute Rockne
Cool Hand Luke
Prairie Home Companion
Sidney Poitier

Trash:
Angelina Jolie
Florida Gators (assuming it was something related to their championship b-ball team, which was in no way memorable within the context of national champs)
Meredith Viera
Energizer Bunny
Pedro Martinez
The Grinch
Captain Underpants
Julius Erving
Retired Uniform Numbers (unless it was a question based on Jackie Robinson's number being the only retired by every MLB team, in which case it is acceptable because of Jackie Robinson's impact)
Reggie White

Debateable:
Lex Luthor

I have no interest in altering the concept of what is fair game solely to "make the game more fair." It would make the game more fair for some teams to be forced to play with one buzzer.

On a related note, Harrison Bergeron is definitely fair game, especially as an early indicator.
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Post by DumbJaques »

Dude, Prairie Home Companion is in but the Grinch is out? Also, why is Oprah ok but Angelina Jolie not? Oprah hasn't exactly made that many vast contributions to society, Jolie probably has similar name recognition among high schoolers, and does plenty of good works, I guess. Why is Knute Rockne ok to ask about but a tossup on numbers which have been retired (which, one would assume, only includes legendary players) are out? You're basically making personal value judgments about what you deem important. You don't think people will still be watching the Grinch in a few decades? And on that note, the whole concept of pop culture implies that it should deal with current stuff. By that token, should we not ask about current events? It's called cultural literacy. Asking about celebrities you personally like in a packet you wrote is bad, just as asking about a history topic you personally like is bad if that's the only reason you write it; both should be judge on gettability, etc., like all questions are. Eva Longoria might not be a great choice, but the Grinch? The Energizer Bunny? Surely these are institutions of our culture. Also, the Grinch first appeared in 1957, when Oprah Winfrey was 3 years old. It's stood the test of time, so to speak. But that isn't really an issue with pop culture questions. Something doesn't have to have been around for a while to be culturally significant. The Untouchables is a pretty awesome movie, and I've heard and wouldn't ever object to questions on it, it's certainly important in recent cinematic history. It's a lot more significant to players right now than Prairie Home Companion. In short, arguing for a time-test for trash questions makes very little sense, and would add endless subjectivity to an already overly subjective category
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Post by theMoMA »

If people write sucky trash, they'll be called out...Ghost Ride the Whip style. There is no Universal Question Master, just a bunch of people who like to play packets and give feedback in places like this. If you hate questions on Angelina Jolie and the Grinch, by all means complain about it. But don't expect everyone else to line up behind your personal trash preferences. If most people like questions on Jolie, they'll still be asked, and there's really nothing you can do about it.

The only barometer for acceptable trash is the collective will, not some inconsistent personal yes-or-no list.
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Post by Matt Weiner »

Important film that people care about academically (such as Kurosawa) goes in the arts: misc category. It's not trash at all.

Much as with the debate last year over what to do with scifi lit, the answer is: go to a lot of good tournaments and see what they do and you will eventually get a sense of why Sergei Eisenstein is arts and Robert Zemeckis is trash. There's no other way to explain it.
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Post by rchschem »

Gunnells wrote:... the deciding factor being a final bonus that awarded our opponents 30 points for knowledge of Little Debbie snacks.
I would contend this was not the deciding factor. Was there not a tossup associated with this bonus? And your team didn't get it? The point has already been made in this discussion that (most of the time) you shouldn't hang the outcome of a game on one trash question--if the teams were that evenly matched, and the question set was that even ASIDE from the lousy trash question, then the game could have turned on one of the other (n-1) tossups just as easily.

And regarding aesthetic preferences: these, or their relatives, show up all the time in other disciplines. A player may choose not to study as much about the Standard Model but more about magnetism because they like magnetism. Does this mean that it's unfair if team A loses to team B because team B knows more about the Standard Model than team A? You might say, "Well, you dope, that's not the same as knowing about Eugene Debs vs. Eugene Levy", but I would contend that there's not as much difference as you claim. If Levy is fair game, then I lose because I didn't prefer to know anything about him. TJ's 2004 in-house set has a Michael Flatley TU followed by a 30 point "Chicago Entertainer" bonus. That's 40 points I get screwed out of because I know Martha Graham but not Michael Flatley as a 20th century dancer. Is that fair? The question I am hearing begged in much of this discussion is that the canon is not specific enough; that if we had a more specific idea of what questions would be asked we'd all be better players. Well...

What I'm hearing is that trash is only unfair in that it penalizes people who don't pay attention to it. I would counter that quiz bowl questions about Renaissance art, for example, are unfair in that they penalize people who don't pay attention to it. Some tournaments say that 20% of their content is on the fine arts, for example, but don't break it down more. If we say that 10% is trash, is it any more unfair if one of my team members knows a lot about American Idol but not about Adult Swim but another can kill on 20th century art and sculpture but knows bupkus about Botticelli?

The balance of points in this thread arguing low trash rates I agree with. In our in-house tournament we limit trash AND current events to a combined 10%, and this usually favors current events. And one would never find a trash bonus with a trash tossup. Balance in all things. We include trash because it's fun, and frankly, some of the teams I see play need that bone thrown to them to keep their spirits up. It's like playing a terrible round of golf and then sinking a par putt on 18. You forget about how badly you got beat and you go back to practicing and stay in the game. But to start creating lists of what is acceptable trash and what isn't (a) dignifies trash too greatly, and (b) is entirely personal and arbitrary.

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Post by Gunnells »

DumbJaques wrote:Dude, Prairie Home Companion is in but the Grinch is out? Also, why is Oprah ok but Angelina Jolie not? Oprah hasn't exactly made that many vast contributions to society, Jolie probably has similar name recognition among high schoolers, and does plenty of good works, I guess. Why is Knute Rockne ok to ask about but a tossup on numbers which have been retired (which, one would assume, only includes legendary players) are out? You're basically making personal value judgments about what you deem important. You don't think people will still be watching the Grinch in a few decades? And on that note, the whole concept of pop culture implies that it should deal with current stuff. By that token, should we not ask about current events? It's called cultural literacy. Asking about celebrities you personally like in a packet you wrote is bad, just as asking about a history topic you personally like is bad if that's the only reason you write it; both should be judge on gettability, etc., like all questions are. . .
I did not consider name recognition among high schoolers at all in what I thought significant enough to merit inclusion. I certainly thought that was implied, though not stated. I could explain my thoughts on each individual question, but we would just continue to go round and round and probably never see eye to eye on the topic.

My personal opinion was probably more severe when I wrote the original post than it is right now, owing to several hours I'd just spent learning just how trashy open trash tournaments can be. However, I continue to believe that there is a distinction between trash and pop culture, and that quiz bowl should include the latter and not the former.
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