Pyramidality and novice leadins

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Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Important Bird Area » Wed Jun 24, 2009 5:22 pm

Or, rewrite your A-series history tossups here.

Over in the other thread Charlie argued that many of NAQT's A-series leadins are too hard, leading to difficulty cliffs and the frustration of teams at all levels of play whether novice or experienced.

So I thought I'd examine some of the A-series tossups I wrote last winter and see what needs to be done to them to eliminate cliffs.

I've selected some examples that fall into three basic categories:

A. Cliff! leadins that are really, obviously, too hard for the field:

"This city signed the Treaty of Ninfeo with the Byzantine Empire, allowing it to rule the Crimea from its trading post at Kaffa. In the 16th century Andrea (*) Doria made it an ally of the Spanish Empire. For 10 points--what capital of Liguria was the birthplace of Christopher Columbus?"

"One member of this group, Robert de Nobili, preached to the Tamils. The bull ~Dominus ac redemptor~ of Clement XIV (*) suppressed them after their humane treatment of Native Americans angered Spain. Georgetown University is run by--for 10 points--which Catholic order founded by Ignatius Loyola?"

Both of these have serious cliffs, to the point of "bad, lazy question writing." Mea culpa.

Solution: expand them into tossups for harder levels, because effectively no A-series players will know the clues in the power zone, no matter how desperate IS #84A may be to fill that need in Italian history.

B. Cliff? I thought these were fine when I wrote them, but they perhaps have cliff problems. Like the Visigoth tossup that started this discussion.

"This people's kings included Reccared, who converted them to Catholicism. Although they ruled Spain for almost three centuries, they first entered the (*) Roman Empire over the Danube. For 10 points--name this barbarian group who sacked Rome in 410, the former neighbors of the Ostrogoths."

Solution: massive rewrite, because the second sentence doesn't really work well without the first to pin it to a specific group. Try this: "One leader of this people was Fritigern, who defeated and killed the Emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople after they crossed the Danube into the (*) Roman Empire...."

"Israel Richardson was killed leading the Irish Brigade's attack on the Sunken Road during this battle, which also saw fighting around Miller's Cornfield and (*) Burnside's Bridge. For 10 points--name this September 1862 battle, after which Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation."

Solution: probably zap Miller's Cornfield, replace with something like " ... ended the Confederate invasion of Maryland" just before the FTP.

"For his role as chief of artillery in the disastrous Penobscot expedition, this man was court-martialed; seven years earlier, Samuel Prescott had completed his journey to (*) Concord. For 10 points--name this silversmith honored by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for his April 1775 "midnight ride.""

Solution: so famous for just one thing that maybe this just needs to be a bonus part at low levels?

C. Fine: I think these are still perfectly ok for high school novices, even after going over my question archive looking for possible cliffs. If they have cliffs anyway, please post and let me know so I can write better material for IS #87A.

"This man collaborated with Robert Stockton during the Bear Flag Revolt, after earning his nickname on an expedition with Thomas Fitzpatrick and Kit Carson that reached the (*) Columbia River. For 10 points--name this "Pathfinder" who, in 1856, became the first Republican candidate for president."

"This man suggested a "vanguard party" in his 1902 pamphlet ~What is to Be Done?~. After returning to his native country via a "sealed train," he used the slogan "peace, land, bread" and overthrew the (*) Provisional Government. For 10 points--name this Bolshevik, the first leader of the Soviet Union."
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Pilgrim » Wed Jun 24, 2009 6:24 pm

bt_green_warbler wrote:Solution: massive rewrite, because the second sentence doesn't really work well without the first to pin it to a specific group. Try this: "One leader of this people was Fritigern, who defeated and killed the Emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople after they crossed the Danube into the (*) Roman Empire...."
I'm pretty sure this has been done before, but I think it is a bad idea since Fritigern was a leader of the Thervingi, and there is a lot of scholarly contention over whether the Thervingi were the sole ancestors of the Visigoths.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Deviant Insider » Wed Jun 24, 2009 6:35 pm

I prefer the Revere question to the Fremont question. I would put Fremont in the category of being a better bonus part answer than tossup answer, certainly at the novice level and possibly even at the regular high school level.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Wed Jun 24, 2009 6:42 pm

Really? He comes up an awful lot, and in what I think are pretty good questions sometimes. He did a lot of things that can be used as clues unlike Revere.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Down and out in Quintana Roo » Wed Jun 24, 2009 11:17 pm

Mmhm, as much as i dislike A-sets, if you're going to have a really short pyramidal tossup on Fremont, that was a pretty good one.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Deviant Insider » Wed Jun 24, 2009 11:32 pm

I overstated my case a little bit when I said to keep him out of normal difficulty tossups, but I don't see any novices answering that Fremont question before the FTP, and I am not criticizing the way that question is written.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Awehrman » Wed Jun 24, 2009 11:37 pm

The Penobscot expedition is pretty tough for Revere. A better leadin for Revere might be that he created a detailed map of slain bodies that was used as evidence in the Boston Massacre trial but is better known for his sensationalized engraving of the event. Then one could quickly move through his silversmithing and midnight ride. Revere did plenty of stuff that could be asked about even in A sets.

I don't like the word "collaborated" in the Fremont question. You could buzz with just about anyone involved with the Revolt at that point (Kit Carson, Stephen Kearney, etc.). I would prefer something more specific like "He served as major under Robert Stockton..."

I'm not a fan of battlefield geography in any context, so that one needs some major revision in my mind, but I think the Lenin question is quite good.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Important Bird Area » Thu Jun 25, 2009 12:49 am

Awehrman wrote:I don't like the word "collaborated" in the Fremont question. You could buzz with just about anyone involved with the Revolt at that point (Kit Carson, Stephen Kearney, etc.). I would prefer something more specific like "He served as major under Robert Stockton..."
Good point. I've made the change in our archive.
Awehrman wrote:I'm not a fan of battlefield geography in any context, so that one needs some major revision in my mind
Care to elaborate? I'm well-known for liking questions about both battlefields and geography, but I think this one is defensible in that the clues mattered to the outcome of the battle and test the depth of a player's knowledge about military history. (That is: I wasn't just dropping placenames for the sake of dropping placenames.)
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Awehrman » Fri Jun 26, 2009 2:06 pm

I've discussed why I feel that questions on military battles are over-represented in quizbowl questions in the past. I think, in general, that this has been recognized by question writers and that they have attempted to limit the numbers of such questions, but the problem still exists. I also do not mean to say that battle questions should be completely eliminated or that they cannot be well-written.

My problem with your Antietam question is that, like most battle questions, it not only offers clues that few modern historians teach or study but also does little to deepen our understanding of the battle or of war itself. Every battle has a marked tree, creek, road, field, or other particular geography. But what does knowing those minute specifics really tell us about anything? The rhetoric of military history is too heavily based on the testimonies of people whose livelihood is dependant on the outcome of battle. Thus, formations and lines are rarely broken, soldiers follow orders, and everything can be boiled down to a few symbols on a battle plan. But this is not how soldiers experienced battles and leaves out numerous other potentially important details. Geography is important to battles but so, for instance, is food. Which army was hungrier at the Battle of Waterloo? Which one had soggier shoes? Why should battlefield geography be any more important?

Each of those things is important for the outcome of a particular battle, but tells us little about history itself. War and violence are ways of solving problems generated by economics, ideology, politics, cultures, demographics, etc. Individual actors are motivated by race, gender, class, fear, etc. Most current history departments view history in this way: that it is better to train students in the overall historical experiences of people (ordinary and elite) than it is to funnel everything into the military dimension of that experience.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Important Bird Area » Fri Jun 26, 2009 2:21 pm

Awehrman wrote:War and violence are ways of solving problems generated by economics, ideology, politics, cultures, demographics, etc. Individual actors are motivated by race, gender, class, fear, etc. Most current history departments view history in this way: that it is better to train students in the overall historical experiences of people (ordinary and elite) than it is to funnel everything into the military dimension of that experience.
I'm all in favor of this stuff, both as a matter of scholarly practice and re: using the social history of warfare as a source for high-level quizbowl leadins. But:
Awehrman wrote:But this is not how soldiers experienced battles and leaves out numerous other potentially important details. Geography is important to battles but so, for instance, is food. Which army was hungrier at the Battle of Waterloo? Which one had soggier shoes? Why should battlefield geography be any more important?
1. Because quizbowl tossups will always shows a bias towards identifiable things with names. (This is less true of bonuses, where you can take a sentence to set up some kind of context without worrying about individual clues being able to stand on their own.)

2. Because battlefield geography is simply more knowable by novice high school players. I think it's entirely straightforward that a new high-school player who's a Civil War buff is more likely to buzz on "The Irish Brigade attacked the Sunken Road during this battle..." than if I went trolling for leadins about soldiers' letters and the experience of battle from John Michael Priest's book.

This is, I think, a bit different from the related argument that military history takes up too much space in the distribution (and, say, that this should have been a tossup on the Emancipation Proclamation instead to reflect Antietam's greatest impact on American society).
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Cheynem » Fri Jun 26, 2009 3:21 pm

As a historian, I agree with the importance of social history, cultural details, and other ways of making military history move beyond just rote battles. But quiz bowl is not the study of history and it is implausible, in my opinion, to use the ways of writing good history monographs and apply them to writing good questions. Certainly, very good histories have been written on food and daily military life (I enjoyed ICT answer Drew Gilpen Faust's book on Civil War death), but a quiz bowl question must quickly and concisely offer up specific buzzable information. Describing how hungry an army was after a particular battle, unless couched with specific names or incidents, is probably not a buzzable piece of information.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Awehrman » Mon Jun 29, 2009 11:09 am

Because quizbowl tossups will always shows a bias towards identifiable things with names. (This is less true of bonuses, where you can take a sentence to set up some kind of context without worrying about individual clues being able to stand on their own.)
This is definitely true. I was not arguing that battle tossups should necessarily include things like food and footwear but that those things along with cornfields, stone walls, and tree stumps are similarly trivial in my mind. With regard to the Antietam question, I do not think that this question made the best use of named things. The Irish Brigade fought at Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and a dozen other battles. There is a famous sunken road at Antietam, but there were also sunken roads that saw action at Fredericksburg and Shiloh and likely others. Many Civil War battles were fought in or around cornfields (not Miller's cornfield of course, but my source for the Civil War, James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, lists it only as "cornfield"). Burnside's Bridge was known as Lower Bridge when the battle was fought, and only became Burside's well after the battle. I think better-known and unique Antietam landmarks (which would probably help with the pyramidality problem) would be Dunkard's Church, Bloody Lane (it has the same problem of being named after the battle, but it would be a nice clue for an A-series question on the bloodiest battle of the Civil War), and the town of Sharpsburg itself. For my part, when I think about Antietam, the geography of the battlefield is not what comes to mind. It's Lee's overconfidence, the failure of McClellan to pursue him, and the ghastly number of fallen soldiers. This question does not address any of those things, so that's why I feel it may have played poorly. Including the bit about ending the Confederate invasion of Maryland would help, as Jeff suggested.

I'm not so much offended by this question in particular, which is on a very famous and important battle, but when questions on relatively minor battles (Pea Ridge or some such) contain the same sorts of overused trivial clues.

Besides the more social and cultural stuff mentioned above, I would also like to see a move towards at least some questions on military history apart from the battlefield (Geoffrey Parker type stuff). I'd like to see more questions on weaponry (the "brown bess" musket, bayonets, etc.), general strategy, fortifications, mobilization and recruitment, military manuals, medicine, uniforms, and etc. These may be more appropriate for higher level events than the A-series, but I think history questions have suffered from a lot of lazy writing on the same old topics. Unlike many other subjects, history (especially US and European) rarely suffers from a lack of named material.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Cheynem » Mon Jun 29, 2009 1:42 pm

While I admit to not being a Civil War buff or historian, I have to disagree about Burnside's Bridge. That's one of the most important things about Antietam and at least to the casual student/player, I think it's far more memorable than Dunkard's Church or Bloody Lane, regardless of its actual importance within Civil War history.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Awehrman » Mon Jun 29, 2009 2:05 pm

Well, yes, if you're going to write about the field of battle at Antietam, the bridge should likely be included. I was just pointing out that calling it Burnside's Bridge in that context is anachronistic. Perhaps others don't have a problem with that, but I would rather see something like ..."and Lower Bridge, now named for Ambrose Burnside." I think that would serve a couple purposes. First it would privilege players with a deeper knowledge of the battle, and secondly clue in players that this wasn't just any bridge but one where General Burnside fought. As it stands it does not clearly indicate that the bridge was named for the Civil War general and not some town or farmer named Burnside.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by ClemsonQB » Mon Jun 29, 2009 2:29 pm

Awehrman wrote:Well, yes, if you're going to write about the field of battle at Antietam, the bridge should likely be included. I was just pointing out that calling it Burnside's Bridge in that context is anachronistic. Perhaps others don't have a problem with that, but I would rather see something like ..."and Lower Bridge, now named for Ambrose Burnside." I think that would serve a couple purposes. First it would privilege players with a deeper knowledge of the battle, and secondly clue in players that this wasn't just any bridge but one where General Burnside fought. As it stands it does not clearly indicate that the bridge was named for the Civil War general and not some town or farmer named Burnside.
Yeah, writing that out would be nice in theory, but the writer doesn't really have the space to write "and Lower Bridge, now named for Ambrose Burnside" in an A-series question...
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Mon Jun 29, 2009 3:27 pm

ClemsonQB wrote:
Awehrman wrote:Well, yes, if you're going to write about the field of battle at Antietam, the bridge should likely be included. I was just pointing out that calling it Burnside's Bridge in that context is anachronistic. Perhaps others don't have a problem with that, but I would rather see something like ..."and Lower Bridge, now named for Ambrose Burnside." I think that would serve a couple purposes. First it would privilege players with a deeper knowledge of the battle, and secondly clue in players that this wasn't just any bridge but one where General Burnside fought. As it stands it does not clearly indicate that the bridge was named for the Civil War general and not some town or farmer named Burnside.
Yeah, writing that out would be nice in theory, but the writer doesn't really have the space to write "and Lower Bridge, now named for Ambrose Burnside" in an A-series question...
Which really ought to be taken, by NAQT, as an argument against such ridiculous character limits.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Cheynem » Mon Jun 29, 2009 4:08 pm

Well, sure, character limits by themselves are kind of inane in my opinion, but I really don't see that dramatic an improvement to the question made by changing "Burnside's Bridge" to "Lower Bridge, now named for Ambrose Burnside." I just don't see the gigantic uptick in rewarding deeper knowledge that the latter grants as opposed to the former, and i certainly don't see any potential confusion between "this could be the farmer Burnside, not the general Burnside." The question would definitely benefit from some expanded clues and the Burnside's Bridge clue could perhaps mention what happened at the bridge and then mention Burnside, but I don't think just saying "Lower Bridge" is the answer.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by at your pleasure » Mon Jun 29, 2009 4:34 pm

There is a famous sunken road at Antietam ...Bloody Lane (it has the same problem of being named after the battle, but it would be a nice clue for an A-series question on the bloodiest battle of the Civil War),
These are the same thing.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Self-incompatibility in plants » Mon Jun 29, 2009 6:01 pm

Anti-Climacus wrote:
There is a famous sunken road at Antietam ...Bloody Lane (it has the same problem of being named after the battle, but it would be a nice clue for an A-series question on the bloodiest battle of the Civil War),
These are the same thing.
Antietam had the bloodiest single day. The bloodiest battle was Gettysburg.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by DumbJaques » Wed Jul 01, 2009 4:26 pm

Geoffrey Parker
Ha, nuts to that. Enjoy TIT 2010's 1/1 John Brewer distribution!

In all seriousness, I don't think Andy's valid points are incompatible with good military history questions. Yes, you need to include named things, but you can frame those things in ways that draw from a much more complex historical narrative. As Andy correctly points out, the Irish Brigade is not really a great way to frame a clue about the Sunken Road, even if it was specific to Antietam (which, as Andy also notes, it is not).

I'm not much of a civil war buff so my capability to provide a specific counter-example is limited, but I would think you could discuss something about the Harper's Ferry raid and the battle plans in clues using the geographic locations from which troops approached the battle. I know a bit more about Gettysburg than I do about Antietam, and I'd posit that the approach vectors by the troops at Gettysburg were both incredibly consequential to the outcome of the battle and shaped by the broader historical situation. There's also some interesting historiography regarding the sequence of events that triggered the battle (Gettysburg, that is) that I included in one of my TIT tossups.

But really, the issue is that it's hard to write clues like this. It requires a real deep level of research to synthesize information like that (I think I'd have to spend an hour reading about Antietam to feel as though I could do it properly in a longer question), and writing geographically-based military history tossups is easy. But I think in lots of cases, people really do put in the research time to construct great tossups, and sometimes people simply assume that because battle tossup X has lots of geographic entity clues in it, it's lazily written or not really historically relevant. I personally have a poor memory for orchard names, and am used to getting most of my military history buzzes by framing the clues in my knowledge of a battle's place in history. I don't think the fact that a tossup might reward over that kind of buzz someone who has so completely studied a battle that he knows where the major division camped out on the preceding evening is a problematic thing.

What isproblematic, of course, is trying to do any of the things described above in a question saddled with an A-series length cap (or for that matter, a regular NAQT length cap). I really think that's the number one problem behind this whole discussion, and many of these problems would be greatly reduced if it were addressed (I also submit that you can write a relevant, academically historical tossup on a battle if you have 10 lines and collegiate difficulty to work with, and that this shouldn't even be an issue in college sets).

Additionally I think you can solve all these problems with A series tossups on Gonzalo de Cordoba.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Important Bird Area » Wed Jul 01, 2009 5:36 pm

DumbJaques wrote:Enjoy TIT 2010's 1/1 John Brewer distribution!
Do this for real and I will fly to DC to play your tournament.
DumbJaques wrote:I'm not much of a civil war buff so my capability to provide a specific counter-example is limited, but I would think you could discuss something about the Harper's Ferry raid and the battle plans in clues using the geographic locations from which troops approached the battle.

...

But really, the issue is that it's hard to write clues like this. It requires a real deep level of research to synthesize information like that

...

What isproblematic, of course, is trying to do any of the things described above in a question saddled with an A-series length cap (or for that matter, a regular NAQT length cap). I really think that's the number one problem behind this whole discussion, and many of these problems would be greatly reduced if it were addressed.
I'm not sure how that's different from this:
IS #64, packet 7 wrote:Three days before this event there was an engagement at South Mountain; two days beforehand the garrison at Harpers Ferry surrendered to Stonewall Jackson. A. P. Hill's division arrived in the afternoon from Harpers Ferry and repelled (*) Burnside, ending this battle's major action. The Confederates retreated across the Potomac without further violence after--for 10 points--what bloodiest single-day battle of the Civil War?
I'm open to the suggestion that synthesizing academically relevant clues under a length limit leads to difficulty cliffs in the middle of the tossup, but I don't think it's been demonstrated that it's impossible to write such clues into questions at the existing HSNCT and ICT limits.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by DumbJaques » Thu Jul 02, 2009 7:30 pm

I actually think I'll be trying my hand this coming year at writing some serious military history (mainly from the reference frame of my military history classes at Maryland, in which we read Brewer, Parker, Keegan, and a series of commentaries on Clausewitz/Mahan). I can't promise anything specifically at TIT, but hey, flights are cheap.

In regards to the IS question though, while a Harper's Ferry leadin would be appropriate for an A-series set (as I understand them, they are geared toward teams who have little to no quizbowl background), I don't think you can put that in the second clue of an IS tossup and certainly not an HSNCT question. I wouldn't want that information in the first half of a college tossup on Antietam, either. So no, I don't think you can make this kind of exposition (the kind that's really necessary so that you're not just name-dropping locations) fit into the current character limits. Is that ok for sets geared toward new teams? Probably. It's not ok for the HSNCT or SCT/ICT, though.
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Re: Pyramidality and novice leadins

Post by Rufous-capped Thornbill » Wed Aug 19, 2009 2:11 pm

DumbJaques wrote:I actually think I'll be trying my hand this coming year at writing some serious military history (mainly from the reference frame of my military history classes at Maryland, in which we read Brewer, Parker, Keegan, and a series of commentaries on Clausewitz/Mahan). I can't promise anything specifically at TIT, but hey, flights are cheap.

In regards to the IS question though, while a Harper's Ferry leadin would be appropriate for an A-series set (as I understand them, they are geared toward teams who have little to no quizbowl background), I don't think you can put that in the second clue of an IS tossup and certainly not an HSNCT question. I wouldn't want that information in the first half of a college tossup on Antietam, either. So no, I don't think you can make this kind of exposition (the kind that's really necessary so that you're not just name-dropping locations) fit into the current character limits. Is that ok for sets geared toward new teams? Probably. It's not ok for the HSNCT or SCT/ICT, though.
I hope you do this. It's an extremely interesting subject that I feel should be better-represented.
Jarret Greene
South Range '10 / Ohio State '13 / Vermont '17

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