Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

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Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by The Laughing Man » Fri Feb 20, 2009 12:31 am

At tournaments this year I have felt that literature questions consistently drop famous titles too early, resulting in buzzer races. I recently happened to come across questions in last year's PACE NSC which illustrate my point
12. This author wrote about Albert Corde, who travels to Romania with his wife Minna, in The Dean’s December. Charlie Citrine attempts to fight the modernist forces which ruined the poet Von Humboldt Fleisher in another novel by this author, who fictionalized the life of his friend Allan Bloom in Ravelstein. This author of Henderson the Rain King wrote a picaresque novel beginning “I am an American, Chicago born” as well as a novel about a letter-writing Jewish professor. For 10 points, name this author of The Adventures of Augie March and Herzog.
ANSWER: Saul Bellow [or Solomon Bellows]
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Jonathan Magin is definitely one of my favorite literature question writers, but I would imagine this particular question led to a lot of buzzer races. It seems to me that in a question this short (i.e. almost every high school literature question), the lead in has to be buzzable for a couple of people at a tournament and it follows that the plot description has to be about a relatively famous work. Because the work should be famous, giving the title will inevitably lead to a lot of buzzer races. I would imagine that of the top 10 teams in the country, maybe 2 would buzz on the plot description of The Dean's December, while 6 of the remaining 8 would buzz on the title, leading to a lot of buzzer races.
. In one of his works, Pierpoint Mauler runs a corrupt meat packing plant, which is opposed by the Black Straw Hats. In another play by this author, Shui Ta is the cruel alter ego of Shen The who runs a tobacco factory. He also wrote about Grusche, who refuses to pull the baby Michael out of the title object, leading to the judge Azdak declaring Grusche the true mother. Kattrin, Eilif, Swiss Cheese, and Anna Fierling are title characters of another play by him. For 10 points, name this author of The Caucasian Chalk Circle and Mother Courage and her Children.
ANSWER: Bertolt Brecht
<Gioia>
I would imagine that this question, where the titles are reserved for the end, led to a lot less buzzer races. Maybe its just personal preference, but I think that literature questions in which titles are not given until later in the question generally play much better and lead to less buzzer races. Hopefully Andrew Hart's Bees program will be in use soon so we can have empirical evidence about speculations like these.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Sir Thopas » Fri Feb 20, 2009 12:43 am

I think title loading at the end can sometimes get monotonous, and counterproductive. I see no problem with rewarding cursory knowledge of How Much Land Does a Man Need? over Natasha Rostov's name.

Also, I think that particular Brecht tossup is kind of conducive to buzzer races, since once I hear German names, "play", and Chinese names, what else could it be but The Good Woman of Szechuan?
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by AlphaQuizBowler » Fri Feb 20, 2009 12:50 am

I'm with Guy; I think some actual clues from literature are easier than titles. For example, just because D'Artagnan is a character, you wouldn't drop his name before, say, The Vicomte de Bragelonne in a Dumas tossup. You wouldn't drop Billy Pilgrim's name before the title Mother Night in a Vonnegut TU. So I don't think you can make a hard-and-fast rule that titles come at the end. I think the best you can ask is that writers keep pyramidality in mind.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by The Laughing Man » Fri Feb 20, 2009 1:06 am

An important disctinction to make is that I'm not totally against titles, just against those early in the question and I think that the work description- title construction is not suited to early clues.
AlphaQuizBowler wrote: I'm with Guy; I think some actual clues from literature are easier than titles. For example, just because D'Artagnan is a character, you wouldn't drop his name before, say, The Vicomte de Bragelonne in a Dumas tossup.
Obviously there are some circumstances in which giving titles will provide better pyramidality than just plots. This is especially true when linguistic clues make it difficult to give character names (e.g. its Achebe or Soyinka and a low difficulty tournament.) However, in most circumstances, I think it is possible to give plot clues which are themselves pyramidal and result in less buzzer races because people are buzzing on different character names and such. I'm interested to see what critique you have to offer of a question like this one I just dashed off that I think would be a good example of my literature philosophy
I just wrote: In one of this author’s novels Paul Rayment falls for his caretaker Marijana Jokic after he loses his leg in a bicycle accident. Susan meets Robinson Crusoe in another novel by this author of Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life. In addition to Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship, he wrote a novel in which the Magistrate opposes Colonel Joll’s brutal torture of nomads and another in which literature professor David Lurie loses his job over a sexual harassment charge. In a more famous work, a hare lipped gardener travels to Grand Karoo from Cape Town to bury his mother’s ashes. FTP name this South African author of Foe, Disgrace and The Life and Times of Michael K..
Certainly there will be some buzzer races on Colonel Joll and David Lurie and hare lipped, but altogether less I think than if I had, for example, revealed the title of the first book to be Slow Man and of the second to be Foe.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Sir Thopas » Fri Feb 20, 2009 1:14 am

I mean, I think the common schema of "describe two works, drop two titles" works fairly well as a balance.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by cvdwightw » Fri Feb 20, 2009 1:59 am

I found the 2006 College thread discussing this: viewtopic.php?f=21&t=2881 (originally prompted from a discussion of a Paul Bowles tossup)

Excellent points are made on both sides of the debate. I tend to agree with the Yaphe/Borglum side, largely because I view titles as "middle clues." Let's face it, at the high school level, more people are going to know vague details about My Antonia rather than titles like Alexander's Bridge. To me, writing a tossup on Willa Cather that describes My Antonia before title-dropping Alexander's Bridge is antipyramidal. Obviously, we want to reward the players who have actually read Alexander's Bridge and/or know what it's about, so any description should go before the actual title, but I don't see how moving the title Alexander's Bridge behind a more obvious clue can help anyone.

The second main point against title-loading is that such questions are confusing. As Andrew said much better than I could, "in such tossups, the descriptions tend to run together, causing me to lose track of what is purportedly being described...so that I have no choice but to wait for a trigger word." In other words, by putting all the titles at the end of the question, you run the risk of confusing players with greater knowledge, thus reducing them to the type of player that has to reflex buzz (which is like the whole point of title-loading, in that players who just reflex buzz will get beaten by players with greater knowledge).

There's a thin line between rewarding good knowledge over list knowledge, and trying so hard to do so that the question author runs the risk of confusing the player with greater knowledge. The general circuit convention of "describe two lesser-known works; name them; describe another better-known work or two; give the titles unless those titles are reflex-buzzable; finish with a description of (a) well-known work(s) and name whatever works you haven't title-dropped yet" seems to strike a happy medium at most levels.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Fri Feb 20, 2009 2:45 am

Yeah, I disagree with the premise that lots of teams will memorize who wrote the Dean's December or other really hard titles like that. I only buzzed on the title at PACE because I'd seen the book in a library, and I don't recall Whitman losing a buzzer race to me. I'd definitely suggest you take a longer look at your position as possibly the best high school team in the most competitive year for high school quizbowl ever and reconsider if perhaps that is skewing your view on this matter (I'd hazard a guess it is).
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by magin » Fri Feb 20, 2009 2:45 am

I agree with you that mentioning titles early is tricky, since some titles may well lead to buzzer races in rooms with two very good teams. I suppose I disagree that The Dean's December is too easy to be an early clue for high school teams, though. It's my understanding that there are many Bellow novels more famous than it; it's possible that you just happen to have good knowledge of it.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Deviant Insider » Fri Feb 20, 2009 8:18 am

My team's pretty good, we're in an area where Bellow is popular, and our top player is Jewish, which generally correlates with more Bellow knowledge, and we wouldn't get into a buzzer race on Dean's December. Once you get beyond perhaps the top five to ten high school lit teams in the country, you are more likely to get a buzzer race at the end of the Brecht question than at any point of the Bellow question.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by The Laughing Man » Fri Feb 20, 2009 9:22 am

Let's face it, at the high school level, more people are going to know vague details about My Antonia rather than titles like Alexander's Bridge.
I seriously doubt there are more people who would buzz on "another character worked for Wick Cutter..." (sorry I can't tell if by vague you mean obscure or basic) than who would buzz on Alexander's Bridge. And when it comes to Bellow, basically all I know about the Adventures of Augie March is "I am an American--Chicago born"
there are many Bellow novels more famous than it
Well personally, and I think this is true for most players, I know a hell of a lot more titles than plots. Like, I would buzz on 10 Saul Bellow titles, but even if the most obvious plot clues were given, only on 4 plots. So my point is that if you give a plot that someone might buzz on a lot of people will probably know the title.
I mean, I think the common schema of "describe two works, drop two titles" works fairly well as a balance.
I agree. But I would add that it is often better to drop two titles of works other (and more obscure) than those described.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by cvdwightw » Fri Feb 20, 2009 1:27 pm

The Laughing Man wrote:
Let's face it, at the high school level, more people are going to know vague details about My Antonia rather than titles like Alexander's Bridge.
I seriously doubt there are more people who would buzz on "another character worked for Wick Cutter..." (sorry I can't tell if by vague you mean obscure or basic) than who would buzz on Alexander's Bridge.
By "vague details" I mean stuff like "Bohemian immigrant" and "Jim Burden" - stuff people would likely buzz on without any kind of "real" knowledge about the book. If you're using Wick Cutter as a middle clue, you might as well make the tossup on the work itself, or you're just going to confuse people.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by at your pleasure » Fri Feb 20, 2009 4:09 pm

My two cents:
Most authors are sufficiently prolific that there are too many obscure titles to reliably memorize.
As for the Brecht question: like Guy said, it's not really any harder since it does not take a great leap of the imagination on the part of a sufficiently good team to think "Hmm, they mentioned a meatpacking plant and there's this guy named Brecht who wrote a play called Saint Joan of the Stockyards". It necessarily follows that either:
A) Saint Joan of The Stockyards is sufficiently famous that knowledge of it should not be rewarded with a successful early buzz(in which case the clue is too easy to be a lead-in with or without the title)
or
B) Saint Joan of the Stockyards is sufficiently obscure that, in the words of Dwight Wynne, "you deserve ten point just for having heard of it"( in which case there should be no issue with rewarding title knowlege provided we do so after a description of the work).
I think that this sort of test will show that the chief issue with titles in lead-ins comes from using too-famous titles, rather than using titles per se. One fairly easy solution is use titles of works in areas the author is not as well-known for(say, using the title of a Melville poem in the lead-in of a tossup on him).
EDIT: Clarity and spelling.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by The Atom Strikes! » Fri Feb 20, 2009 4:38 pm

I agree with Guy on this particular issue. Of course, I must say that I would always like to see more literature tossups on works, characters, and the like.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by TheKingInYellow » Fri Feb 20, 2009 5:06 pm

The Laughing Man wrote: I agree. But I would add that it is often better to drop two titles of works other (and more obscure) than those described.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Galstaff, Sorceror of Light » Fri Feb 20, 2009 5:14 pm

TheKingInYelliow wrote:
The Laughing Man wrote: I agree. But I would add that it is often better to drop two titles of works other (and more obscure) than those described.
If you're going to do that, though, you have to make it really clear that the titles you're giving aren't those of the works you've been describing, or you're only going to confuse people. If I hear a description of a work I'm pretty sure is x, then hear titles y and z, I'm going to be confused and not buzz. I'm not sure how much of a problem that would be for people who don't share my problem of convincing themselves they're wrong, but it still sounds like something that would need to be done carefully.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by theMoMA » Fri Feb 20, 2009 6:07 pm

For the most part, I am against describing works and not giving their titles, eventually.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Frater Taciturnus » Fri Feb 20, 2009 6:12 pm

Personally, I am a big fan of dropping titles in the order that the works are described.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Captain Sinico » Fri Feb 20, 2009 6:37 pm

AlphaQuizBowler wrote:...pyramidality...
By which I mean, if people know the title, obviously it shouldn't be before other stuff people don't know. If you're arguing across-the-board that people know titles, YOUR ARE WRONG!
I also don't think cleaving to a "describe, describe, title, title" pattern is good, either. We shouldn't write to any pattern, but just write pyramidal questions.

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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Matt Weiner » Fri Feb 20, 2009 7:01 pm

I think the paradigm suggested by Evan Adams and others for author questions at the high school level makes a lot of sense: If you don't expect anyone to have read The Dean's December, and no one is going to get the title of the Dean's December from anything but list-memorization knowledge (I'm taking these things as true for the sake of the following point because others in the thread are proceeding from these assumptions; I'm not sure if they actually are true), then why include it in the tossup at all? Write a Bellow tossup that contains deep plot clues from Henderson the Rain King, Ravelstein, and Seize the Day, or whatever people actually read. There's no rule that says you need to mention 9 works in every author question; mention 3, make the clues for them longer and more rewarding to those who have read the book, and then you can stack the 3 titles at the end much more elegantly than stacking 9 titles.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by naturalistic phallacy » Sat Feb 21, 2009 2:18 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:I think the paradigm suggested by Evan Adams and others for author questions at the high school level makes a lot of sense: If you don't expect anyone to have read The Dean's December, and no one is going to get the title of the Dean's December from anything but list-memorization knowledge (I'm taking these things as true for the sake of the following point because others in the thread are proceeding from these assumptions; I'm not sure if they actually are true), then why include it in the tossup at all? Write a Bellow tossup that contains deep plot clues from Henderson the Rain King, Ravelstein, and Seize the Day, or whatever people actually read. There's no rule that says you need to mention 9 works in every author question; mention 3, make the clues for them longer and more rewarding to those who have read the book, and then you can stack the 3 titles at the end much more elegantly than stacking 9 titles.
This is a great strategy for high school and some novice questions since it is self-limiting in length.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by TheKingInYellow » Sat Feb 21, 2009 3:50 pm

It's also limiting in knowledge expansion. If all that's going to be asked are the titles and summaries of an author's most/moderately famous works, a high schooler would have no reason to research more deeply in to Saul Bellow, and learn the plot summaries/titles of works like The Dean's December or The Bellarosa Connection
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Terrible Shorts Depot » Sat Feb 21, 2009 4:40 pm

TheKingInYelliow wrote:It's also limiting in knowledge expansion. If all that's going to be asked are the titles and summaries of an author's most/moderately famous works, a high schooler would have no reason to research more deeply in to Saul Bellow, and learn the plot summaries/titles of works like The Dean's December or The Bellarosa Connection
This is true to an extent, but you are making a bit of a logical leap. It is unwise to assume that Novel X will never show up, because it, heretofore, has not, especially if it is the work of a canonical author. Eventually, canon expansion will occur. I would posit that it is inevitable, because people will get sick of writing the same tossup over and over again.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Galstaff, Sorceror of Light » Sat Feb 21, 2009 5:35 pm

TheKingInYelliow wrote:It's also limiting in knowledge expansion. If all that's going to be asked are the titles and summaries of an author's most/moderately famous works, a high schooler would have no reason to research more deeply in to Saul Bellow, and learn the plot summaries/titles of works like The Dean's December or The Bellarosa Connection
So, Graham, your solution is then to write a TU mostly like Matt described above but start off with something more obscure, depending on the difficulty level you're writing for. Having 4 titles in a row is still better than nine. You might even want to insert the title of the work from the lead-in before one of the following descriptions, if it's still harder. It really depends, but there's no reason you couldn't say "this author of x also wrote a work in which..." if it kept the question pyramidal.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by TheKingInYellow » Sun Feb 22, 2009 1:39 pm

la2pgh wrote:
TheKingInYelliow wrote:It's also limiting in knowledge expansion. If all that's going to be asked are the titles and summaries of an author's most/moderately famous works, a high schooler would have no reason to research more deeply in to Saul Bellow, and learn the plot summaries/titles of works like The Dean's December or The Bellarosa Connection
This is true to an extent, but you are making a bit of a logical leap. It is unwise to assume that Novel X will never show up, because it, heretofore, has not, especially if it is the work of a canonical author. Eventually, canon expansion will occur. I would posit that it is inevitable, because people will get sick of writing the same tossup over and over again.
I'm afraid I haven't been exactly clear; I just disagree with the idea that the only knowledge a high school student would have of things like The Deans December is list knowledge. Maybe this is just me, but I appreciate lead-ins being really difficult; it seems like that's one of the best ways to expand the canon and knowledge in general. I know these questions aren't written just for the elite teams, but I don't see why the first clue can't be very obscure.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Terrible Shorts Depot » Sun Feb 22, 2009 2:17 pm

TheKingInYelliow wrote:
la2pgh wrote:
TheKingInYelliow wrote:It's also limiting in knowledge expansion. If all that's going to be asked are the titles and summaries of an author's most/moderately famous works, a high schooler would have no reason to research more deeply in to Saul Bellow, and learn the plot summaries/titles of works like The Dean's December or The Bellarosa Connection
This is true to an extent, but you are making a bit of a logical leap. It is unwise to assume that Novel X will never show up, because it, heretofore, has not, especially if it is the work of a canonical author. Eventually, canon expansion will occur. I would posit that it is inevitable, because people will get sick of writing the same tossup over and over again.
I'm afraid I haven't been exactly clear; I just disagree with the idea that the only knowledge a high school student would have of things like The Deans December is list knowledge. Maybe this is just me, but I appreciate lead-ins being really difficult; it seems like that's one of the best ways to expand the canon and knowledge in general. I know these questions aren't written just for the elite teams, but I don't see why the first clue can't be very obscure.
Oh, ok, this makes sense now. I agree that a difficult leadin is an excellent thing to have, though in moderation. Not every leadin should be the proverbial "MED SCHOOL LEVEL" clue. You're pretty much right about the canon expansion thing. If hard clues exist, people will eventually learn them, and they will become easier.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Sun Feb 22, 2009 2:26 pm

TheKingInYelliow wrote: I'm afraid I haven't been exactly clear; I just disagree with the idea that the only knowledge a high school student would have of things like The Deans December is list knowledge. Maybe this is just me, but I appreciate lead-ins being really difficult; it seems like that's one of the best ways to expand the canon and knowledge in general. I know these questions aren't written just for the elite teams, but I don't see why the first clue can't be very obscure.
How obscure is very obscure? If it has to be harder than leading in with one line about the plot of a Bellow novel I hadn't heard of until this discussion, then the title (note: I'm not a good barometer of lit knowledge, obviously), then you're looking for a line of text that 20% of the top five, say, teams in the nation can buzz on. This is a good difficulty for, say, NSC finals. This is a terrible difficulty for questions intended for over a thousand teams, particularly when probably fifteen percent of them haven't heard of Saul Bellow.

Look, I understand that you want hard leadins: I enjoy hard leadins myself. But is Herzog or Henderson or Augie March tossupable at high school tournaments? I say, yes. Therefore, there are hard clues about those works. Therefore, you can say "In one work by this author" and then you're golden. That's all Matt's model is saying: that internal canon expansion is good too, and that it's perhaps a more valuable direction. (Perhaps five years from now, it'll be as hard to toss up Herzog to high schoolers as it is Hamlet to college novices. That would signal a lot of good knowledge, too.)
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Matt Weiner » Sun Feb 22, 2009 2:31 pm

everyday847 wrote: (Perhaps five years from now, it'll be as hard to toss up Herzog to high schoolers as it is Hamlet to college novices.
No, this will never happen. By the mere fact that high schoolers have at most four years to improve (very, very rare exceptions where high schools and middle schools in the same building can recruit people early aside) and that they come in knowing nearly nothing, as opposed to college students who start off with at least a decent high school education even if they haven't played quizbowl before, there is always a limitation to how large the high school canon can grow or how hard a high school leadin needs to be.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Sun Feb 22, 2009 2:34 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:
everyday847 wrote: (Perhaps five years from now, it'll be as hard to toss up Herzog to high schoolers as it is Hamlet to college novices.
No, this will never happen. By the mere fact that high schoolers have at most four years to improve (very, very rare exceptions where high schools and middle schools in the same building can recruit people early aside) and that they come in knowing nearly nothing, as opposed to college students who start off with at least a decent high school education even if they haven't played quizbowl before, there is always a limitation to how large the high school canon can grow or how hard a high school leadin needs to be.
This is true, granted. (I've always wondered if the same is true for the college canon, if to a lesser extent, because so few players play at the college level for more than ten years and there's really only so much you can learn in ten years.) What I meant, rather, is that internal canon expansion is a positive end unto itself, which I think is in line with what you were saying.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by TheKingInYellow » Sun Feb 22, 2009 2:47 pm

I totally agree about internal canon expansion, but there seems to be only so much you can do with plot details from three books. Having players be able to recognize increasingly minor characters or plot details doesn't seem as valuable to me as introducing new works
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by cdcarter » Sun Feb 22, 2009 3:26 pm

Hey, most of the people in this thread are top tier teams. Top tier teams SHOULD be buzzing on leadins. A normal HS invitational should not be having clues nobody is buzzing on. The first goal of quizbowl is to reward the team with the most knowledge. Remember this. Even if you are putting up 22ppb, the average at some sites on normal level sets is like 10.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Sun Feb 22, 2009 4:17 pm

Yeah, in high school, the purpose of the leadin is emphatically NOT to teach new material to great teams. It is to allow great teams to buzz off the clues they may have heard of if they've studied the subject in depth more than a bunch of other people. You can instead get those questions with harder material reading through college packets in your practices, because if you expect us to write questions where a sentence is new material to the best players, you are going to have questions with a sentence of dead space that nobody is buzzing off of, and making it even harder to write a reasonable tossup. These questions are for playing, not for canon expansion.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by at your pleasure » Sun Feb 22, 2009 4:23 pm

If my opionion is worth anything, I don't even learn as much from leadins as I do from hard bonus parts. However,I agree with the princple that if you want to learn new stuff from questions you really should be playing college questions.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Terrible Shorts Depot » Mon Feb 23, 2009 1:38 am

I am detecting something quite dangerous in this thread: the idea that every tossup has to include something that very few people know. On one level, that is a true statement, because it's a bad idea to lead that Great Gatsby tossup off with something about good ol' TJ Eckleburg. But writers of high school material must not fall into the trap of "hey, I'm a good player and stuff. Using a clue that I've never heard of is an excellent way to begin a tossup, because, it will, like, make sure only the really awesome people will even be tempted to buzz." You have not failed in your question writing endeavor if State College or Charter or MLWGS is buzzing on the leadin. You are rewarding them for the time they have put into improving. Every clue should be buzzable.

Graham advocated harder leadins in this thread. That is, in and of itself, a noble cause, but it really only rewards the top 5% of teams, because lower level teams will most likely zone out or otherwise incapacitate their buzz reflex during these leadins*. I know that, during my freshman and sophomore years, when I was good but hardly excellent and downright poor in everything that wasn't trash or history, I would not pay nearly as much attention during, say, philosophy questions. As a result, my lack of knowledge begat a lack of knowledge. This happens even more with teams that are on a lower level of quiz bowl. So, hard leadins would appear, if my logic is working, to increase the gap between good and bad. I am not intending to advocate some sort of quiz bowl society in which every team has a perfectly equal chance of winning, because the questions have been dumbed down; I am intending to advocate a lack of change in the status quo, as far as high school questions are concerned. I feel that the teams that should win are the teams that go outside of just playing high school questions in tournaments, i.e. the teams that play college tournaments or practice intensively or write questions or what have you. So, what I'm trying to get at is that a "leadin arms race" is a bad thing, because it will harm not good teams far more than it will help good teams. Also, good teams don't need to learn from regular high school questions, because they most likely possess somewhat greater intellectual curiosity or other means for learning things.

For an example of this leadin arms race that I speak of, look at this tossup from From Here to Eternity:
FHtE wrote:2. One lawyer in this case wrote A Fool's Errand and Bricks Without Straw. Chris Cain arrested the plaintiff in it, and David Brewer recused himself from this case. William Rehnquist said it should be reaffirmed and Henry Brown delivered the majority opinion against Albion Tourgee. It occurred because a man who was one-eighth black refused to stay in a blacks-only car while on a train. For ten points, name this decision affirming the "separate but equal" doctrine and was overturned by Brown v. Board.
ANSWER: Plessy v. Ferguson or Ferguson v. Plessy
The leadin to this question is ridiculous. Bricks Without Straw is one of those nutty books that Matt Weiner and others always trot out as an example of something that is way too hard. Who precisely is going to buzz on this clue? No one, certainly not at this tournament, which had, by my count, 0 top 30 national teams. Would the tossup be weaker if the leadin were removed and the Cain clue became the leadin? No. It would be strengthened. To sum all that up in context of this tossup, it really isn't necessary to have a really hard leadin that will make us all learn something deep and important, because there just aren't that many high schoolers who know it. Ideally, every tossup should have a realistic buzz on just about every clue. That doesn't mean that the tossup has to have someone first line it, but it should be possible. The set of high schoolers who know that Albion Tourgee wrote Bricks Without Straw and was involved in Plessy was, before this post, really small, thus leading to no buzzes, which makes the clue useless. If no one knows it**, then is it even worth mention? Sure, people will learn afterwards, but is the learning worth confusing everyone and helping no one until after the fact?

People who are better at this than me/not really sleepy: How's the logic here? Am I missing something crucial?

* Yes, I realize that they shouldn't do this and that not all teams do this. I am merely trying to imply that, if one has no clue what the tossup is about, one might pay less attention than they should, because, hey, they aren't going to answer it here, are they?

** I mean "no one" in the sense of "people aren't going to buzz on it because they out and out don't know it", not in the sense of "people know it, but due to brain farts/confusedness/not paying attention/whatever, they don't buzz"

EDIT: In case this didn't come through, I was vaguely piggybacking on Chris's post and saying that there is no need to cater exclusively to the great teams through very hard clues that will greatly challenge them at the expense of worse teams. Allowing people to get a tossup on the first clue is okay; it is not necessary to smash even the best teams with your leadin.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Ike » Mon Feb 23, 2009 3:01 am

I'm not sure I see what's Charlie's getting at.

While Graham might be advocating this mindset (and its something I can get behind in a partial sense) I think its clearly obvious that most people writing for high schoolers aren't trying to practice canon expansion via leadins. I am pretty new at this, (I wrote my first question in May last year) and have learned since. Around a few months ago, I fully embraced the "quizbowl should teach stuff," but if you had me write a tossup on Plessy v. Ferguson now, there is no chance that I would use that lead-in.

The first time I played a non-NAQT tournament that was tossup bonus was at Weekend of Quizbowl, so I personally think I am a lot "younger," than other individuals in the DC area that could churn out solid questions. I know I went through a Westbrookian phase when I edited the tournament, and I'm pretty sure that at this point, I am starting to finally get a good grasp on how things should be done.

In other words, what Charlie sites from the set is not an arms race, but just a byproduct of inexperience.

Most of the "good" writers who write for the high school level, Guy, Daichi, or anyone at HSAPQ, probably would never do anything like that, and use a much more appropriate leadin. (IE, what Charlie's views are, are pretty much mainstream.)

That said, Lit Singles, is the place to do some canon expansion, so I will be making full use of that opportunity.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by theMoMA » Mon Feb 23, 2009 11:56 am

Also, there are probably at least a couple of high school quizbowlers who know who Albion Tourgee is.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Captain Sinico » Mon Feb 23, 2009 12:45 pm

As I think back over the points in this thread, I think there's some implicit validity to a weaker form of the initial one*. To be more direct: I think that it's probably right to reward certain kinds of learning ahead of others given a set of clues that players know about equally well. Thus, I'd claim that the answer to the question "Do people know this thing better than that?" is not a sufficient question to establish an ordering for clues. In some ways, this is obvious and in wide practice: for example, probably not many people know anagrams for authors' names, but I hope that everyone realizes by now that anagrams ought not be used as clues. In other ways, this is not so obvious: for example, knowledge of titles may reflect sciolism rather than scholarship+ (independent of the difficulty per se of those titles as clues, i.e. the probability that a player hearing them will know the answer because of them.)
I think that's an important secondary feature of good questions that's sometimes overlooked in these discussions. So it is perhaps fair to say the understanding important points about the meaning and import of a work is fundamentally more important- than merely knowing their titles and we ought to privilege the former type of learning over the latter while maintaining pyramidality, appropriateness of clue difficulty, etc.

MaS

*The original point was essentially that buzzer races are often created whenever a title is mentioned, which is, for one, an issue of simple non-pyramidality or bad clue selection where it occurs and, for two, not in my opinion such a problem as has been claimed, even among the very best teams.
+The objection could be raised: well, so could just about anything! That's so, but I think the point still stands, perhaps with the modification that one must consider the likelihood that some given knowledge reflects some important understanding of the underlying topic.
-Obviously, the objection could be raised that the judgment of what constitutes important knowledge is more than somewhat arbitrary. I don't care to debate that point at too great length beyond saying that I think most good writers have something close to a consensus on that point.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Deviant Insider » Mon Feb 23, 2009 1:27 pm

I agree with Mike, and, as to the original point, I think that dropping titles early should be rare because we don't want to encourage list learning of minor titles by writers as a primary way to become a better lit player. I don't mind it happening occasionally, and I don't have a problem with the Bellow tossup, but I would have a problem with a large number of tossups being structured like that one, since it would encourage studying trivia even though there are also significant clues there.

As to whether individual Bellow books make for good tossups at the high school level, I believe that they do not. If you have a tournament specifically geared towards top teams, you can get away with it, but I would be surprised to see a tossup on Herzog or Augie March in an IS or HSAPQ set even though it is not unusual to see a tossup on Bellow. It's a lot easier to name the author of Herzog and Augie March than it is to name the Bellow book about the guy who writes bunches of unsent letters. I would think that such a question would work as the hard part of a bonus.

As to the first Plessy clue, I don't like it because it's too tangential in addition to being unnecessarily difficult. If you're writing a question about one of the most important cases in US History, then keep it relevant to that case. If you want to get into somebody's biography in the question, then get into Plessy's.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by theMoMA » Mon Feb 23, 2009 1:45 pm

Albion Tourgee is an important figure in Reconstruction history, so even if you just know who wrote those works, you've got a big leg up on everyone else. I think it's a fine clue that rewards knowledge that people might actually have.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Mon Feb 23, 2009 1:52 pm

Far too few high schoolers know who Albion Tourgee is to make it work.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Ike » Mon Feb 23, 2009 2:01 pm

Its certainly not tangential.

Tangential is what NAQT did with the tossup on Oliver North that mentioned is popular fiction, that 1.) If you have heard / read Oliver North's novels, its probably not because they are relevant to the Iran-Contra Affair 2.) chances of an HSer knowing his works from the Iran Contra Affair (actual history) is slim as opposed to just reading, (knowing it from trashy lit.)

On the other hand, when I weighted the Tourgee clue, i figured If you know the information, then you probably know it through history as opposed to literature, because chances are you learned it through Reconstruction knowledge.

I know I have Albion Tourgee wrote those things in my notes from playing at a tournament, VCU Open, and I found it interesting, so I really didn't think too much about it being a bad leadin - certainly one that didn't cause this much discussion. If people think it is too hard, than that's fine (I know I have not heard of it outside of QB, but my history knowledge fails me) but if people think its possible to buzz off of it, I'm fine with that too, as it just goes to show, inexperience.

edit: grammar
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Auroni » Mon Feb 23, 2009 2:24 pm

man, if you're going to use Bricks Without Straw as a leadin, you might as well just namedrop tourgee as well.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Ike » Mon Feb 23, 2009 3:01 pm

Maybe I'm being a bit dense, but isn't Tourgee is a stock clue for Plessy v. Ferguson?
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Mon Feb 23, 2009 3:05 pm

Not remotely in high school.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by theMoMA » Mon Feb 23, 2009 4:17 pm

I don't think some parts of this discussion are very productive. Instead of tearing down, I'm going to try to build up a theory of how high school tossups should be written.

First, you need to pick an answer that will be converted at an acceptable rate.

Then, you need to write a giveaway that encompasses the easiest clues that are actually about the answer.

Third, you arrange two or three middle clues in descending order of difficulty. These should be things that you expect a lot of people to know.

Finally, you find an interesting leadin clue.

All of these clues should strive for gentle gradation (i.e. no difficulty cliffs). If you write a leadin that a couple of elite teams buzz in on, and have a second clue that a few more teams buzz in on, you're doing well. If you write a leadin that no one gets, and a second clue that a few teams get, it's still fine; leadins are simply one person's guess about what a very small number of teams are going to get right, and sometimes we're wrong. If you write a leadin that no one gets, and a second clue that a third of the teams are converting, something is wrong.

The Plessy question is fine, because the first clue is important and buzzable, and there's still a gentle gradation between it and the subsequent clues. Now, I'd argue that you'd probably want to decrease the difficulty cliff between "Albion Tourgee" and "one-eighth black," and if you want to eliminate the leadin to do that, it's probably fine. Going straight from Tourgee to that without mentioning Harlan's dissent or the fact that the case happened in New Orleans seems ill-advised. Note that you can easily do this by adding about 3/4 of a line of text, so you can still have the original leadin and fix the difficulty cliff.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Captain Sinico » Mon Feb 23, 2009 4:18 pm

More like Dropping [Albion Tourgee] Titles in Literature [Lead-ins to History] Questions?

MaS
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by aestheteboy » Mon Feb 23, 2009 5:00 pm

Yeah, I definitely agree with Chris and Charlie. There's no point in using clues that people don't know, and an ideal tossup would let the most knowledgeable person playing the set buzz off the lead-in. I think all good writers aim to write tossups where the lead-ins are buzzable by at least one team. The reason that many tossups seem to fail this test is because the cost of underestimating the difficulty of a clue (i.e. buzzer-races) is much worse than overestimating it (i.e. a few seconds of wasted efficiency). All that writers can do is to try to strike a reasonable balance.
With that said, I still think most high school tournaments (Prison Bowl, too) are too difficult. HSAPQ pretty much writes the easiest legitimate sets that I know, and I think their difficulty is just about right for high school.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Down and out in Quintana Roo » Mon Feb 23, 2009 5:20 pm

aestheteboy wrote:With that said, I still think most high school tournaments (Prison Bowl, too) are too difficult. HSAPQ pretty much writes the easiest legitimate sets that I know, and I think their difficulty is just about right for high school.
This.

The original point of the thread though, which finally is starting to make a little more sense, is just because you happen to know a title of a book DOESN'T MEAN it shouldn't be in a lead-in, as long as it's very obscure, it should be fine... however i do agree that GENERALLY titles should be avoided in most lead-in clues, but are totally fine at practically anywhere else in the question as long as they follow the general accepted pyramidal format that we've come to know and love.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Terrible Shorts Depot » Mon Feb 23, 2009 5:23 pm

Everything Andrew said about writing high school questions is right. That's how I want my questions written.

One thing that I found especially pertinent was his mention of answer choice. I would contend that a question can only be as easy as its answer. For example, a tossup on Ernest Hemingway would fly anywhere between middle school and Chicago Open, where as that ultra sweet tossup on Hector Hyppolite would be damn near impossible at any tournament. Thus, it would seem prudent to air on the side of easy answers at a high school tournament. While I don't want a tournament full of answers that would be convertible at an elementary school tournament, that seems better for the majority of teams than a tournament with answers that all trend too hard.

Also, Ike: I wasn't trying to slaughter your tossup. It just struck me when I played it.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by at your pleasure » Mon Feb 23, 2009 5:28 pm

With that said, I still think most high school tournaments (Prison Bowl, too) are too difficult.
After seeing the performance of our(very, very inexperienced) B-team, I am inclined to agree with you that most tournaments are too difficult for the lower-tier teams. My new theory is that part of this problem is that age correlates less with ability then it used to ( I think this is most noticeable in the phenomenon of high school teams placing highly at college tournaments). Therefore, I would like to make the following modest proposal: If certain practical difficulties were ironed out I think it would make a lot of sense to base the division between the HS and college circuits on ability and desire to play at a certain level. This would probably have the effect of drawing the better HS teams into becoming de facto collegiate teams.
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Re: Dropping Titles in Literature Questions

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Mon Feb 23, 2009 5:33 pm

I think it's unfair to expect some high schools to act differently just because their kids are motivated and good.
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