Tegan wrote:As a duly deputized sub-administrator of hsquizbowl.com, I am proud to say that the upcoming rant by Styxman is brought to you in part by a grant from the Pew Charitable Fund, the letter "f", and the number "3".
HEYYYY YOU GUYSSSSSSSSSSSSS!
That makes me smile, a considerable bit.
BarringtonJP wrote:Mid-Suburban League (Fremd, Hoffman, Buffalo Grove, Etc.) uses Avery questions for varsity and The Question Bank for frosh/soph.
Since I didn't coach varsity matches this year, I can only critique the frosh/soph sets... The questions were pyramidal only some of the time, and the difficulty varied wildly from set to set. For instance, we defeated Schaumburg 395-85 one week, while the very next week saw a 135-95 naibiter with Conant.
Coach Price - join the party. Shoot me an email - styxman42 AT gmail DOT com.
And now, my official list of complaints... Question Quality and You.
So, the question quality at Regionals was bad. This is long, but important, and it’ll likely save you from having to post your own horror stories – but please do! :)
Complaint #0 (more like Back-Handed Compliment #1): Question length was the most acceptable I’ve ever seen from IHSA, with only a few one-clue questions. Some questions were a little on the long side, and there weren’t any real multi-clue AND short questions - all the shorter questions were of the old-fashioned one clue variety.
From the Department of Terrible Question Writing Practices…
Complaint #1: The one-clue tossups that were present were abysmal. A question labeled Misc., Agriculture offered someone’s random quote relating to grass, then asked (minor paraphrasing) “who was this man, who was US President in 1862?” Simply unacceptable. Additionally, the “Identify the word from its definition” tossup reared its ugly head once more with the “feral” tossup, and it’s cousin, the “#-letter word beginning with the letter __” lead-in came up twice in questions about polygons. Hey everyone – start memorizing that kite has 4 letters and parallelogram has 13!!!
However, it has been said that those clunkers definitely stood out as truly exceptionally bad, so moving on to other points…
Complaint #2: Cutesy leadins. A tossup on Consumer Education, answer: lien, started “It may make you think of meat with little fat…” A tossup on Computer Programming, answer: scope, started “It may make you think of mouthwash…” This is also simply unacceptable. Those responsible for writing these questions should be put on probation from writing questions. Those responsible for editing should have done their job.
Next up: The “language arts” category was uniformly disgusting. There was, to my recollection, one quality literature tossup – the Walden tossup – so that makes, what, 23 unacceptable tossups? The non-literature LA questions were poor, especially the anti-pyramidal vocabulary, like the “feral” tossup. Also…
Complaint #3: Literary criticism does not a good clue make. A colossal number of literature questions consisted of vague clues regarding an author’s style or other vague, non-uniquely identifying information. The William Faulkner tossup was a minor offense here – stream of consciousness + American + the South = Faulkner – but other major offenders included the Henry James replacement tossup – “Oh wow, really, an American who lived in Europe?” – the Leo Tolstoy tossup – “blah blah fought at Sevastapol blah blah blah three minor works War and Peace” with no mention of any plots or Anna Karenina – and the Mark Twain tossup – blah blah great American writer blah Ezra Pound quote blah Adventures of Huck(buzzer race). Literary criticism is not at all helpful to most players, mostly because it is not uniquely identifying. If it is uniquely identifying, the likely reason is that the clue has been done to death and therefore isn’t a good clue to write anyway. These authors wrote novels with plots and settings and characters, most of which have really significant – and most importantly, uniquely identifying – NAMES. Write questions with those names.
Complaint #4: Quotes do not belong in tossups. They are not clue dense (more on clue density to come), and they often are not concrete clues because they have no names in them. If a quote is so significant for a person, then it’s probably easy enough to be a giveaway, and you can always, always write a more concise giveaway than a quote. If a quote is harder than a giveaway, it’s probably not going to get buzzed on anyway, so don’t waste the moderator’s breath with a long laborious quote. Excerpts from literary works are slightly better than this, and that’s proportional to the brevity of the excerpt. Last but not least about the literature…
Complaint #5: The longer tossups all too often suffered from abysmal clue density. This is along the lines of literary criticism complaint, but also extends to other subjects. The Vivaldi tossup talked about work with children, but it dwelled on that subject without giving any additional information for roughly three lines of text. The one-clue tossups also fall here as well, because they often ran to four or five lines of empty verbiage before (or in some cases, after) the only clue. One notable question that suffered from poor clue density was the Anne Bradstreet question, although I’m pointing that one out for another reason: Tenth Muse came up 3 lines into the question, with another 7 (!) lines to go. That’s a giveaway, folks, and it ain’t exactly in the giveaway position.
So, the total sum of these last four complaints leads into a general gripe…
Complaint #6: The literature distribution was almost 90% authors, and combined with the overwhelming helping of literary criticism clues, it created a literature distribution I felt to be the worst of any pyramidal tournament I have ever seen. You want to win at Sectionals? Go read the biographies of the notable authors that didn’t come up at Regionals. You don’t have to be familiar with their works, because those were the giveaways that you should already know, a la War and Peace or Adventures of Huck Finn. Of the sparingly few questions that weren’t on authors, I was disappointed, although <sarcasm> I’d like to officially welcome Daphnis and Chloe to the Regional-level canon. You’re definitely easy enough to be answered by people who can’t top 100/900 total points! </sarcasm> Moving on now past (specifically) literature…
Complaint #7: The answer selection for other tossups was poor. This really bounced around a bit between categories, so I don’t think it’s really the fault of anyone in specific. There were just some questions that had no place in Regionals-difficulty matches (the aforementioned Daphnis and Chloe, etc.) or Scholastic Bowl at all (Toastmasters, etc.). (Please, add in your own experiences here. I'm sure there's more.) Also, we’ll get to the answers in Miscellaneous categories such as Industrial Arts and the like later on, because they truly do deserve their own complaint sections.
Complaint #8: Some questions, with one in particular, completely ignored the concept of math questions giving unusual constraints at the very beginning of a question. For example, TU #30, Round 0 asked: “Jim can paint a house in 3 hours, while John can paint a house in 7 hours.” – I, and likely very many other people buzz in right here, because the formula’s easy to do in one’s head. 3*7 divided by 3+7, so 2.1 hours, right? Wrong, here’s the rest of the question: “…in 7 hours. How long does it take them to paint four houses?” It is entirely plausible that some senior’s Scholastic Bowl career ended as a result of the question writer not putting the “four houses” bit at the beginning of the tossup. This is exactly the same as “fractions versus decimals versus mixed numbers versus improper fractions” or “slope intercept versus general versus standard forms,” except you can’t protest “But the question usually asks for only 1 house!” This is absolutely an unacceptable hose. In other math related information…
Complaint #9: One calculus question in 4 rounds is unacceptable. Teams banking on upper-level math superiority for the victory were shot down by algebra question after algebra question. Seriously, the boundary line of an inequality? You mean, the line itself? Also, I give 10 cookie points to the writer of the “general computation, but with funny random words like persnickety and sprocket” bonus, but minus a million, because after all, brevity is…wit, and that bonus lasted forever. I understand that some of these teams might not be good enough for calculus, but this is a varsity sport. Seniors play this game, and those questions truly reduced us to the lowest common denominator of math ability.
Minor complaints from the Department of “Well, you asked for it in your distribution…”
Complaint #10: State of Illinois fluff. The canon for this category is created simply for this tournament, and so it thankfully never comes up anywhere else…but because it never comes up anywhere else, should it actually come up in IHSA? I felt so crummy studying the official State Knick-Knacks as a player, and I felt crummier 20’ing a bonus I knew nothing about except that it was by and large irrelevant.
Complaint #11: Miscellaneous garbage. The bonus on types of pliers made me cry. Surprise surprise, that got zeroed. I’m still waiting patiently for the first pasta shapes bonus of the year, and let’s not forget that classic Driver’s Ed bonus: Name the four exceptions to the no <18 year old passenger rule for Graduated Driver Licenses! (For those that did not hear it, it’s sibling, step-sibling, child, and step-child! Whoooo!)
Complaint #12: 3 and 5 part bonuses. Every time a 3 part bonus comes up, teams are rewarded a little extra for no extra knowledge with a partially correct response. Every time a 5 part bonus comes up, a team is rewarded slightly less for an equal quantity of knowledge. Go ask Decatur Lutheran if they got 2 or 3 out of a 5 part bonus, and if they’d like to have those 2 or 3 additional points for the tie or win. A total of 15 games (11 Class A, 4 Class AA) prior to Thursday’s matches ended with a margin of 5 points or less. We wouldn’t have variable total point bonuses, and I don’t feel that variable part bonuses are entirely fair, either.
To be completely honest, this set of questions was not
the be-all, end-all of terrible questions that I’ve made it out to be. There are writers producing sets much worse than these, and of course, anything pyramidal at this point is an improvement over years past. Still, these complaints, and others, must be addressed.