VCU Closed discussion

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VCU Closed discussion

Post by Matt Weiner » Sat Feb 02, 2013 3:19 am

Packets have been sent out. As there are no delayed mirrors of this tournament, feel free to praise/denounce/express your neutrality towards the set in this thread as soon as the last site posts that it's done on Saturday.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Matt Weiner » Sat Feb 02, 2013 2:54 pm

By the way, I'll be reading this whole tournament in IRC a few packets at a time at around 9 PM each evening, starting on Monday.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by madviking » Sat Feb 02, 2013 9:47 pm

I am not a fan of the preponderance of military history in the history questions. However, I haven't been playing nearly long enough to know whether this is a feature of regular difficulty tournaments. But from my pretty limited experience, Fall tends to have a lot more non-military history history in it, which I like. I would like if there was a place in the history distribution for a dedicated military history question along with European/American/World history, or a more passive emphasis on writing more non-military history questions. IMO, it becomes a bit irritating when there's another tossup on a general/battle/war. I would definitely like to see (again, this is all just my opinion) more questions on kings, politicians, historical polities/regions, dynasties, legislation, etc.. I'm not arguing for an abolishing of military history, but a trimming back on it through either of my suggestions.

I thought the packets got more difficult as the day progressed. I'm not entirely sure whether this was caused by my deteriorating physical condition throughout the day, or they were actually getting harder. I think this was especially true of the bonuses. There were some near the end that were pretty asinine to physically and mentally tired Ron. Again, I haven't been playing long enough for my opinion to matter, but if there's something being asked about on a bonus on something I never even heard of, it's a bit frustrating since I can't help my team out even the supposed easy part. Moreover, there'd definite be some bonuses where you definitely could get 20/30 on and some where we were lucky to get even the easy part.

Obviously I'm criticizing as if I was expecting a packet that was embronzed and on a silver platter; this is just my $0.02.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Cody » Sat Feb 02, 2013 11:33 pm

madviking wrote:I thought the packets got more difficult as the day progressed. I'm not entirely sure whether this was caused by my deteriorating physical condition throughout the day, or they were actually getting harder. I think this was especially true of the bonuses.
I'm sure this is probably just a psychological thing, as I basically picked the order of packets at random, so any sort of cohesive difficulty increase would be quite difficult (excepting the very last two rounds).
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Marble-faced Bristle Tyrant » Sun Feb 03, 2013 12:04 am

madviking wrote:I am not a fan of the preponderance of military history in the history questions. However, I haven't been playing nearly long enough to know whether this is a feature of regular difficulty tournaments. But from my pretty limited experience, Fall tends to have a lot more non-military history history in it, which I like. I would like if there was a place in the history distribution for a dedicated military history question along with European/American/World history, or a more passive emphasis on writing more non-military history questions.
Actually, ACF does limit military to 4 of the 5/5 history per packet.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Ike » Sun Feb 03, 2013 1:27 am

I thought this tournament was very good and want to thank Matt Weiner and Eric Mukherjee for the work they put into the set. I pretty much enjoyed every tossup in the set, despite an occasional misplaced clue here and there.

Things that irked me a little bit:

1.) Some of the bonuses had fluctuating difficulty within and across categories. Sometimes I felt some easy parts were a bit rough for "regular difficulty," such as demanding Look Back In Anger as an easy part.

2.) I don't have that characteristic hatred of typos typical of the likes of others, but sometimes there were a few errors in accuracy, which is unfortunate.

3.) I, too, don't mind hard finals questions, but it would be nice if writers could get it so that the topics are somewhat uniform in difficulty. I felt the science was much easier in those packets then other topics.

If other things cross my mind later, I will post about it. Thanks once again for the editors hard work.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Sun Feb 03, 2013 11:34 am

So I'm going to burst Ike's bubble a bit, because I was disappointed in this tournament. The set is best described as "only fair," which was a pretty big letdown given how it was advertised/overhyped to be a model for regular-difficulty sets going forward. There was a lot of variability from packet to packet - you'd be hard-pressed to get a 20 in several bonuses of the Virginia/Rutgers packet, while on the other end the Chicago C+South Carolina and Chicago B+Yale B packets seemed a lot easier at least to the experienced teams who played them. Instead of a tightly-controlled standard difficulty of ACF Regionals 2008-12 or Penn-ance, we got what appeared to be editing with a very light hand, resulting in a far more haphazard experience than "constructive quizbowl thought" advocates for nowadays. I'm not sure what to think when I ask an editor whether the editors' packets are supposed to be harder, hear the response "no", and play through 8-liners on the author of the book Field of Dreams, a Kleist story, and the winner of the 1918 AD battle of Megiddo as an example of what "regular" is meant to be through the ages. As Ron alluded to, there also seemed to be little concern for balancing subdistributions across the set, leading to things such as two 20th-century Middle Eastern war tossups in the Rutgers/UVA packet alone and a raft of mathematical economics/finance across the set. I'm glad I played, and it was a fun experience on par with how sets actually do look these days, but given the advertising that this would be better (and the intense strictures accompanying it) I was hoping for a set that would rise above decent.

I'm not the most qualified person to talk about this, but I found that the mandatory history of science component was a failed experiment and should not be repeated within the science category; I anticipate that less experienced editors than Eric will largely do an even worse job. In particular, the questions on horses, Calvin Cycle Calvin, and the Challenger (deep) expedition seemed to rely on a raft of overhard and/or dumb clues and a giveaway which made the room groan (again, this isn't my area, so I could be wrong about this and will let the science players speak for themselves - usually bad things happen when I try to speak for them - but who cares that a dude cried during Calvin's lectures? Seriously, someone else chime in.) I'm not sure what quizbowl wants the term "history of science" to mean, but we need to think much harder about how much of it we want in the game, where in the distribution it should go, and what the appropriate answer selection is for such questions.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by The Toad to Wigan Pier » Sun Feb 03, 2013 1:22 pm

RyuAqua wrote: I'm not the most qualified person to talk about this, but I found that the mandatory history of science component was a failed experiment and should not be repeated within the science category; I anticipate that less experienced editors than Eric will largely do an even worse job. In particular, the questions on horses, Calvin Cycle Calvin, and the Challenger (deep) expedition seemed to rely on a raft of overhard and/or dumb clues and a giveaway which made the room groan (again, this isn't my area, so I could be wrong about this and will let the science players speak for themselves - usually bad things happen when I try to speak for them - but who cares that a dude cried during Calvin's lectures? Seriously, someone else chime in.) I'm not sure what quizbowl wants the term "history of science" to mean, but we need to think much harder about how much of it we want in the game, where in the distribution it should go, and what the appropriate answer selection is for such questions.
As the author of the Challenger Expedition tossup, I feel should respond to this. With the exception of the Christmas Island clue, which I included to make the clue about John Murray being a key member of the expedition a little less boring, the clues I used were not "dumb." These are in fact essential and/or knowable things about this really important event in the history of science. For example, If you ever look at late 19th century or early 20th century drawings of oceanic life, you'll see stuff by Haeckel which should get you thinking about oceanic expeditions on the "Huxley and Haeckel's primordial slime" clue. I don't know why you would groan about the giveaway, the space shuttle was named for H.M.S. Challenger because of the expedition's role in opening a totally new scientific frontier, which seems like a pretty legitimate thing to mention.

In regards to the other two tossups you named, I loved the horses question. Horses were at the center of evolutionary studies and debates for a long time. If you ever study the history of evolutionary theory, you will in fact encounter these investigations over and over again, which helps to make it a good answer-line for testing knowledge of the history of biology. While I was a little hesitant to buzz on some of the clues in this tossup, it was not because the clues were bad, but because I didn't trust my memory. There wasn't anything wrong with the question content. I didn't love the Calvin question at the time I heard it, but I didn't find it horrible.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Ringil » Sun Feb 03, 2013 1:42 pm

I think the science history experiment worked out okay, but I'd prefer in the future that it was considered academic other instead of classifying it under the science distribution. The questions were reasonably interesting and were relevant, though I felt the oceanic Challenger seemed pretty hard! I felt the tossup on Calvin was pretty silly though.

Otherwise, I felt this tournament was quite a bit harder than advertised, but it worked out okay because I felt that the tournament was fairly consistent in tossup difficulty throughout (except the finals which went insane!) and it wasn't like a single subject was the source of all the hard tossups either. The bonuses, however, did have a lot more variance than would be optimal. I pretty much agree with Matt Jackson though that this tournament can only be described as average.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by madviking » Sun Feb 03, 2013 1:53 pm

SirT wrote:
madviking wrote:I thought the packets got more difficult as the day progressed. I'm not entirely sure whether this was caused by my deteriorating physical condition throughout the day, or they were actually getting harder. I think this was especially true of the bonuses.
I'm sure this is probably just a psychological thing, as I basically picked the order of packets at random, so any sort of cohesive difficulty increase would be quite difficult (excepting the very last two rounds).
Okay, yea, since then I heard the last two packets were aberrations from the norm. S'all good.
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madviking wrote:I am not a fan of the preponderance of military history in the history questions. However, I haven't been playing nearly long enough to know whether this is a feature of regular difficulty tournaments. But from my pretty limited experience, Fall tends to have a lot more non-military history history in it, which I like. I would like if there was a place in the history distribution for a dedicated military history question along with European/American/World history, or a more passive emphasis on writing more non-military history questions.
Actually, ACF does limit military to 4 of the 5/5 history per packet.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Chimango Caracara » Sun Feb 03, 2013 2:06 pm

I wrote the horses question, although I wrote it for the earth science/paleo subdistribution rather than history of science (it may have been altered slightly and used in the latter subcategory). Many of the clues were things we discussed in the evolutionary bio class I'm currently taking, so I think it was a legitimate question. I wanted to toss up something other than a geological period and I thought it was a gettable answerline that had a lot of important material, so I hope it wasn't too disappointing for most people.

On the other hand, I agree with Matt that I'm not a fan of the history of science idea if it's cutting into the actual science distribution. I would have liked to hear more chemistry questions rather than bonuses on substances that people used to think existed. Given that this tournament's idea of history seemed to be extremely military-bent, I think it makes sense to promote greater creativity within the history distribution that includes history of science rather than using endless tossups on battles and wars.

I also agree with Matt about this set's variability. When we wrote our packet, my team had the impression that the "mean answerline difficulty" for this tournament was going for was going to be slightly higher than it was, and we also wrote longer questions than most teams apparently did (I know at least one moderator complained about the length of questions in our packet). With regards to question length, I think a lot of bonuses in other packets felt unnecessarily terse, which could be confusing. Variability in bonus difficulty was extreme. Compare the (criminally boring) high school-level bonus on keystone species/predators/ecosystem engineers to the (very cool but quite difficult) bonus on FOXP2. These are the sorts of disparities that I think the editors should have addressed further.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Sun Feb 03, 2013 2:12 pm

Just a small correction to Matt's post:
RyuAqua wrote: two 20th-century Middle Eastern war tossups in the Rutgers/UVA packet alone
The history tossups in the final packet were the following: the Israeli War of Independence, the Greek Civil War, Christopher Columbus, and York. I don't think two of those are "20th-century Middle Eastern wars" unless Greece is classified as part of the Middle East. I'm also still unsure which middle parts you thought were really unreasonable, except perhaps this linguistics bonus and some of the science; I'd be happy to hear, though.

I wouldn't go so far as Matt and say I was "disappointed" in this set--I perhaps selfishly thought the editors' packets were awesome--but our team did think some packets, particularly the editors'/finals/whatever packets, let more EDGY tossups in than others. We're fine with a couple of very hard answers here and there but they didn't seem to be included in a balanced way, and numbers across sites look pretty depressed. Basically difficulty could have been controlled more tightly, but at least the difficult answers tended to be exciting, and we had a lot of fun.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Ike » Sun Feb 03, 2013 2:24 pm

I'm not the most qualified person to talk about this, but I found that the mandatory history of science component was a failed experiment and should not be repeated within the science category; I anticipate that less experienced editors than Eric will largely do an even worse job. In particular, the questions on horses, Calvin Cycle Calvin, and the Challenger (deep) expedition seemed to rely on a raft of overhard and/or dumb clues and a giveaway which made the room groan (again, this isn't my area, so I could be wrong about this and will let the science players speak for themselves - usually bad things happen when I try to speak for them - but who cares that a dude cried during Calvin's lectures?
I thought some of the elements of science history was enjoyable, such as the tossup on John Snow. As a corollary, I think there were some rounds with no science history, (due to 1/1 being removed) and there were more other science questions. I enjoyed that, as I think it is a good thing to include more of the other science distribution, (math and engineering specifically)
I anticipate that less experienced editors than Eric will largely do an even worse job.
This is what I most fear. If I recall correctly, the majority of science history questions were on biological discoveries - Calvin, Snow, horses, the bonus on Galen etc. I suspect that Eric wrote these because he was familiar with them and thought they were accessible. But even then, some of these questions have problems. If you look at some of the other science history bonuses in other categories, such as the one where the Mach principle is a medium part.

I won't quote them, but there have been two users who posted about a particular science history tossup in response to the complaints about science history in general. Personally, those two tossups (horses, Challenger voyage) played out terribly in the games I played them, and other people at our site complained about them too. The two arguments defending these tossups are something to the extent of "these clues are totally important in contexts of what classes study," etc. It doesn't matter if that's true for whoever wrote them, because it's not what the majority of the people for whom you are writing encounter in their intellectual pursuits. As such, it just leads to situations where two decent teams buzz on "FTP, name this species called Equus." I am not saying that the topics themselves are illegitimate, but I hope the next time people write on these topics, they can provide more clues so that you provide a good distribution of buzzes for all of the quizbowl populace, instead of rewarding the small percentage of people who know about this subject.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Sun Feb 03, 2013 2:36 pm

Vernon Lee Bad Marriage, Jr. wrote:Just a small correction to Matt's post:
RyuAqua wrote: two 20th-century Middle Eastern war tossups in the Rutgers/UVA packet alone
The history tossups in the final packet were the following: the Israeli War of Independence, the Greek Civil War, Christopher Columbus, and York. I don't think two of those are "20th-century Middle Eastern wars" unless Greece is classified as part of the Middle East. I'm also still unsure which middle parts you thought were really unreasonable, except perhaps this linguistics bonus and some of the science; I'd be happy to hear, though.
Lest I risk a derail into what would work better as a private conversation: my brain somehow conflated the Beirut tossup into your packet and shunted the Greek civil war tossup elsewhere; oops. In terms of "bonuses", a lot of these could have been Rutgers's, but the ones that stuck out to me were wh-movement and traces (both in intro linguistics classes but hard to know about otherwise), samizdat and Zhdanov (both important but hard), Thomas Middleton (within reason at this level but not the middle-est; I guess your mileage may vary depending on how historical your English classes are), and Choctaw with few clues (presuming Butterfield was hard).

Looking through the packet, I enjoyed the (rather tough) tossup on buffalo, which reminds me that the myth and religion questions at this tournament were on the whole exciting and good. I take it philosophy ended up at .5/.5 per packet, though, because I remember hearing like one philosophy tossup all day (on Euthyphro; the packet split might have affected this).
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Fond du lac operon » Sun Feb 03, 2013 2:45 pm

I didn't play the tournament, but I read at the Emory site. I think the fixed 5/5 science distribution in general was a noble experiment that didn't work out that well. People have already mentioned their problems with the mandatory science history (and I'll add that there at least two bonuses on pseudoscience/hoaxes/stuff that isn't science, which -- since it isn't science -- should maybe not be in the science distribution). It also seemed to me that there were a larger than usual number of bad questions and wrong clues in math and CS. (For instance, a clue in the tossup on "zero" claimed that the sphere has an Euler characteristic of 0, which is wrong; its Euler characteristic is 2. There was also an incorrect definition of compactness in the "Borel" bonus, and a few other incorrect or confusing clues that I didn't catalogue.) In literature and history, we give teams room to write a little extra on things they like and are more likely to know about; it's probably a good idea to keep science that way as well.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Ike » Sun Feb 03, 2013 2:59 pm

So I basically have a couple of criteria to determine whether or not a tournament was good or great. The most important of which is basically does the tournament ask about things that an educated person cares about and does the tournament use early middle clues to late middle clues that people can buzz on?

I personally felt the literature was on topics that people care about and actually study in a class. The painting used accurate clues and actually described things in a way so that it isn't "on the right of this painting is some dude in red" but rather incorporated great background information and contexts into the descriptions so that people who have read a book on the topic can buzz. I can't speak for the music, but I think Aaron Rosenberg enjoyed it. The history had a lot of interesting ideas, although I can't speak for its execution. The science (not counting the history debacle) had buzzable clues that people in their respective disciplines and science generalists.

Unfortunately, that's not something you can expect when you go to your average quizbowl tournament, which is why I am happy to play and praise any set that meets those criteria.

Sure bonus difficulty is important to calibrate, but as long as you aren't making so that "everyone is getting 10's or 0's" I think it's a little less important than making sure that what you are writing on important and making sure your clues are buzzable.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Auroni » Sun Feb 03, 2013 3:01 pm

I've only seen a few packets of this set, but one thing that's immediately clear to me is that there are lots of bonuses that lack easy parts that 90% of the field should be expected to answer. Another thing is that the Editors' packets are two orders of magnitude more difficult than the submitted packets. Even if that was intentional, I don't think that that much of a difficulty increase is good practice.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by The Toad to Wigan Pier » Sun Feb 03, 2013 3:02 pm

Ike wrote: I won't quote them, but there have been two users who posted about a particular science history tossup in response to the complaints about science history in general. Personally, those two tossups (horses, Challenger voyage) played out terribly in the games I played them, and other people at our site complained about them too. The two arguments defending these tossups are something to the extent of "these clues are totally important in contexts of what classes study," etc. It doesn't matter if that's true for whoever wrote them, because it's not what the majority of the people for whom you are writing encounter in their intellectual pursuits. As such, it just leads to situations where two decent teams buzz on "FTP, name this species called Equus." I am not saying that the topics themselves are illegitimate, but I hope the next time people write on these topics, they can provide more clues so that you provide a good distribution of buzzes for all of the quizbowl populace, instead of rewarding the small percentage of people who know about this subject.
I wrote the Challenger Expedition tossup knowing that it was going to be a difficult question, but there are in fact different buzz points corresponding to varying levels of knowledge in the tossup(people who know a lot about the challenger expedition, people who don't know the specifics of the expedition but know the major ideas of the history of biology/oceanography in 19th century, people who know the basic idea of the expedition, people who know what the deepest point in the ocean is, people who have heard of its 20th century successor in space, etc). The tournament guideline did say that there was to be "a few questions in each packet being noticeably below or above that."
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by women, fire and dangerous things » Sun Feb 03, 2013 3:11 pm

Could someone email me a copy of the set? Thanks!
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Muriel Axon » Sun Feb 03, 2013 3:15 pm

I would also like a copy, please. (quercusacerifolia [at] gmail [dot] com)
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Matt Weiner » Sun Feb 03, 2013 3:16 pm

People are free to move the questions around if they want, but I will be posting a version without all of the embarrassing mechanical errors in about a week on the TDB.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Sun Feb 03, 2013 3:24 pm

I'm writing a post on the larger issue of science history in this tournament, but I want to point out a couple things.

1. The Horses tossup I changed to history because the clues seemed to be about the history of studies of the horse in evolutionary biology. I know that the evolution of the horse was a huge deal, so I thought it'd make an appropriate science history question.

2. Will submitted the Challenger question. This was an example of a history of science question that came more from the history side than the science side. I know its important, I liked it, that's fine. I'll defend that question on something new and interesting that needs to happen. As for the giveaway, it's like writing a tossup on the Faraday effect where you end with other things Faraday did. I'm completely fine with it.

3. I wrote the Melvin Calvin question, and I'll defend it. It was inspired by the fact that my introductory biochemistry class showed a picture of Calvin's 2-D chromatograph of Calvin cycle intermediates; upon further inspection, the experiments he performed were both really elegant and important to later work in biology. When I was asked to write science history, part of that subject to me was the history of famous scientists and their experiments. This includes experiments learned about in higher level classes, like Calvin's stuff, Anfinsen's stuff, Hayflick breaking into his own laboratory, etc. The person who cried in the Calvin lecture was another dude who was important to the history of photosynthesis, and I thought it was a fun anecdote.

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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Sun Feb 03, 2013 4:14 pm

Chimango Caracara wrote: Compare the (criminally boring) high school-level bonus on keystone species/predators/ecosystem engineers to the (very cool but quite difficult) bonus on FOXP2. These are the sorts of disparities that I think the editors should have addressed further.
So the reason that happened is that quizbowl collectively doesn't have as much evolutionary biology experience over molecular biology experience; as someone who studies evolutionary biology, that might seem disparate to you, because its more in your wheelhouse. The comparison between forkhead motif (hard)/ T cells (easy)/ vitiligo (middle), verses keystone species (medium)/predators (easy)/ecosystem engineers (hard) doesn't seem that disparate to me because both forkhead and ecosystem engineers are something covered at somewhat higher levels than quizbowl's mean biology experience, vitiligo and keystone species seem equally difficult to me, and the easy parts are easy. Am I missing something?
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Chimango Caracara » Sun Feb 03, 2013 4:43 pm

Ike wrote:The two arguments defending these tossups are something to the extent of "these clues are totally important in contexts of what classes study," etc. It doesn't matter if that's true for whoever wrote them, because it's not what the majority of the people for whom you are writing encounter in their intellectual pursuits.
I don't want to derail the thread, but this argument is patently absurd. The majority of quizbowl players are not going to encounter Bronisław Malinowski, the H-R diagram, Gaetano Donizetti, or Huitzilopochtli in their non-quizbowl intellectual pursuits, but that doesn't mean these things aren't important or that quizbowl shouldn't ask about them. In my mind, a primary function of quizbowl should be not only to reward people for knowledge of the academic topics they study but to expose them to those that are studied by people of other disciplines. It is completely arbitrary to claim that the history of evolutionary theory is less important than the classification of feldspars, yet although both rely on relatively specialized knowledge the latter is a universally accepted topic for novice tournaments.

If you are an intellectually curious person, you have probably visited museums in your life, and "the evolution of the horse" is a very common trope of science museums. Darwin and Gould are widely read by non-scientists. I don't think that I wrote an egregious, impossible-to-answer-before-the-giveaway tossup. If you don't study biology or medicine, you probably know next to nothing about acetylcholine or sonic hedgehog or Arabidopsis, but I don't hear anyone complaining that these are illegitimate tossup answerlines.
The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote:So the reason that happened is that quizbowl collectively doesn't have as much evolutionary biology experience over molecular biology experience; as someone who studies evolutionary biology, that might seem disparate to you, because its more in your wheelhouse. The comparison between forkhead motif (hard)/ T cells (easy)/ vitiligo (middle), verses keystone species (medium)/predators (easy)/ecosystem engineers (hard) doesn't seem that disparate to me because both forkhead and ecosystem engineers are something covered at somewhat higher levels than quizbowl's mean biology experience, vitiligo and keystone species seem equally difficult to me, and the easy parts are easy. Am I missing something?
All three of the things in the ecology bonus are covered in high school units on ecology, but you would never study the forkhead domain in high school. I really liked that bonus, and I think it was very appropriate for this tournament difficulty-wise. My only complaint is that ecology bonuses (like this one) are almost all about ecology topics that are covered in high school. I think something like keystone species (easy; if a high school biology class does an ecology unit you're going to learn this) / community importance (hard) / sea otters (medium) or predators (easy) / handling time (hard) / lynx (medium) would be a better fit for this tournament because they include hard parts that you are not likely to know if you haven't taken a college class related to ecology (as I think is true for the forkhead bonus part.) I don't think ecosystem engineers is a hard part. I learned that in high school. It comes up all the time in quizbowl (probably in at least 20% of all quizbowl ecology bonuses).
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Sun Feb 03, 2013 4:45 pm

I actually kinda liked the science history (make jokes as you will). Both the horses tossup and the Challenger Expedition tossup got late, but respectable buzzes in the games we played, and they were cool, so I didn't really see a problem with these.

Matt: The others you mentioned weren't ours, but I don't know if I see a problem with having "samizdat" as a middle part. Maybe it's harder than I expected, but I thought the usual criterion for middle parts was "something significantly more difficult than a tossup answer, but that you can get with a moderate amount of knowledge;" maybe it's a little harder than average but middle parts are generally supposed to be somewhat challenging. Anyway, not a huge deal, and more of a private matter anyway.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by kayli » Sun Feb 03, 2013 5:38 pm

Can someone also e-mail me the packet? E-mail should be in the side-bar.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Ike » Sun Feb 03, 2013 7:54 pm

I don't want to derail the thread, but this argument is patently absurd. The majority of quizbowl players are not going to encounter Bronisław Malinowski, the H-R diagram, Gaetano Donizetti, or Huitzilopochtli in their non-quizbowl intellectual pursuits, but that doesn't mean these things aren't important or that quizbowl shouldn't ask about them.
You completely missed my point, which you can find at the end of that paragraph you quoted. My point is that we should not ask about these questions, rather my point was that these questions, as written, were not answered by the vast majority of teams until very late into the tossup and that's non-ideal. Questions that incorporate material into the other topics you mentioned don't do that. The next time you want to write a question on a cool topic, I hope you consider that you need to ask about it in a way that provides a better distribution of buzzes.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Sun Feb 03, 2013 7:57 pm

Ike wrote:
I don't want to derail the thread, but this argument is patently absurd. The majority of quizbowl players are not going to encounter Bronisław Malinowski, the H-R diagram, Gaetano Donizetti, or Huitzilopochtli in their non-quizbowl intellectual pursuits, but that doesn't mean these things aren't important or that quizbowl shouldn't ask about them.
You completely missed my point, which you can find at the end of that paragraph you quoted. My point is that we should not ask about these questions, rather my point was that these questions, as written, were not answered by the vast majority of teams until very late into the tossup and that's non-ideal. Questions that incorporate material into the other topics you mentioned don't do that. The next time you want to write a question on a cool topic, I hope you consider that you need to ask about it in a way that provides a better distribution of buzzes.
Ike, I sympathize with where you're coming from, but you haven't actually shown that these questions had an unacceptable distribution of buzzes. Anecdotal evidence from one game, or secondhand anecdotal evidence from one site is insufficient to make an empirical case.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Muriel Axon » Sun Feb 03, 2013 9:47 pm

Multiple people I talked to negged the question on Ma Vlast with From My Life because of the clue describing the piercing high E harmonic on the violin. I don't remember the former very well, but the latter does have a piercing high E harmonic in the violin part.

EDIT: Also, the Cantor function is continuous, just not absolutely continuous. I think this was a result of a linguistic ambiguity in the question as I submitted it.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by kayli » Mon Feb 04, 2013 2:38 am

Vernon Lee Bad Marriage, Jr. wrote:
Ike wrote:
I don't want to derail the thread, but this argument is patently absurd. The majority of quizbowl players are not going to encounter Bronisław Malinowski, the H-R diagram, Gaetano Donizetti, or Huitzilopochtli in their non-quizbowl intellectual pursuits, but that doesn't mean these things aren't important or that quizbowl shouldn't ask about them.
You completely missed my point, which you can find at the end of that paragraph you quoted. My point is that we should not ask about these questions, rather my point was that these questions, as written, were not answered by the vast majority of teams until very late into the tossup and that's non-ideal. Questions that incorporate material into the other topics you mentioned don't do that. The next time you want to write a question on a cool topic, I hope you consider that you need to ask about it in a way that provides a better distribution of buzzes.
Ike, I sympathize with where you're coming from, but you haven't actually shown that these questions had an unacceptable distribution of buzzes. Anecdotal evidence from one game, or secondhand anecdotal evidence from one site is insufficient to make an empirical case.
Can an empirical case ever be made? I'm going to guess no.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Matt Weiner » Mon Feb 04, 2013 1:49 pm

I agree with most of the criticisms in this thread and appreciate a reasonably good discussion which will provide help to myself and other editors in constructing tournaments in the future.

Some notes on submissions and philosophical choices that were made, for further thought:

*The average quality of the submissions was higher than I expected. Every packet had at least some questions that required either no editing or nothing beyond removing quizbowlese. Most people are getting the idea of selecting reasonable answers then using real, helpful clues about those answers. In the primary vein of "encouraging more people to write such that more normal collegiate tournaments are written and written well," I think this tournament was a success.

*There was a great deal of Chinese mythology submitted and I chose to keep just about all of it as well as my planned question for the finals. This was a conscious decision to try to start tapping a myth system that I think people have real-world knowledge of and that quizbowl hasn't yet plundered all the interesting leadins from. It came at the expense of boring questions on Egyptian and Japanese things. I generally hate writing on both of those because there's not a lot of good stories and because in the Egypt case in particular, everything has to be qualified with "this is only true in Memphis and not elsewhere" or "some book says that this god is 'the same' as this other god in some mysterious and unspecified way, whatever that means."

*I asked for 1/1 current events per packet and kept 1 question in every final packet. I didn't hear any complaining about this. Some people still need to learn how to write CE, since it's a skill not often asked of college-level writers, but I think this was worth doing. Also, for some reason, five teams wrote questions on the 2012 South Korean presidential election; other than questions pertaining to the recent Israel-Gaza conflict, there weren't any other repeated topics in the submissions. Not sure what if anything this means.

*Some teams severely departed from the instructions on what submitted packets should look like, including a team who didn't write any mythology or geography at all, a team whose history was all American and modern European, and a team that randomized and numbered their packet. I didn't generally look at packets at the moment they came in for things like this, so I couldn't find an appropriate way to reject the packets, but in the future I will be doing so and I suggest that other editors follow suit. There's no excuse for this happening.

*One team left their hilarious internal notes to each other in the packet, including this gem: "Please no Jews in this packet. I’m not trying to be anti-semitic, but quiz bowl has too much Jewishness."

*People still need to work on http://www.qbwiki.com/wiki/Quizbowlese ; perhaps just going through that article as a checklist of things to eliminate before you submit your packet is the best suggestion. The biggest manifestation at this tournament was pointlessly and repeatedly describing everything in the world as a "figure." From real people to characters from fiction to mythological characters, there were some packets that probably used this word 50 or more times. It's always better to use "this king," "this woman," "this god," "this character," or whatever the case may be, and then switch to "he.." or "she..." pretty quickly.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Auroni » Mon Feb 04, 2013 8:04 pm

Chimango Caracara wrote:I don't think ecosystem engineers is a hard part. I learned that in high school. It comes up all the time in quizbowl (probably in at least 20% of all quizbowl ecology bonuses).
I'd just like to take a second to respond to this. You must have gone to a pretty good high school, since my fairly decent high school with a pretty good AP Bio class, much of ecology was basically an afterthought. I don't think most people (even most biologists) get as much exposure to ecology nearly as much as you think that they do. In general, some person claiming that a certain bonus was too easy because that person learned all the parts in high school is a bad argument.

I don't remember any other parts on ecosystem engineers, and I'm usually pretty bad at telling whether something has come up or not, but I dispute the notion that it "comes up all the time in quizbowl." Even if it did, the frequency something comes up should not be the factor that determines whether something is a middle or a hard part; that factor should alone be the percentage of the field that the writers think will convert the part.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Auks Ran Ova » Mon Feb 04, 2013 8:30 pm

Chimango Caracara wrote:I don't think ecosystem engineers is a hard part. I learned that in high school. It comes up all the time in quizbowl (probably in at least 20% of all quizbowl ecology bonuses).
This may be true, but it would require that there have only ever been five ecology bonuses in quizbowl, since it's been an answer exactly once (on the public archives, at least). Regardless, it's always good to remember that your personal experience (especially regarding a specific thing you covered in a high school class) is not necessarily generalizable.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Chimango Caracara » Mon Feb 04, 2013 9:02 pm

Tokyo Sex Whale wrote:
Chimango Caracara wrote:I don't think ecosystem engineers is a hard part. I learned that in high school. It comes up all the time in quizbowl (probably in at least 20% of all quizbowl ecology bonuses).
I'd just like to take a second to respond to this. You must have gone to a pretty good high school, since my fairly decent high school with a pretty good AP Bio class, much of ecology was basically an afterthought. I don't think most people (even most biologists) get as much exposure to ecology nearly as much as you think that they do. In general, some person claiming that a certain bonus was too easy because that person learned all the parts in high school is a bad argument.

I don't remember any other parts on environmental engineers, and I'm usually pretty bad at telling whether something has come up or not, but I dispute the notion that it "comes up all the time in quizbowl." Even if it did, the frequency something comes up should not be the factor that determines whether something is a middle or a hard part; that factor should alone be the percentage of the field that the writers think will convert the part.
Okay, looking back on my post I probably sound unnecessarily harsh. Eric, I enjoyed many other biology questions at the tournament, such as the one about kleptoplasty and the proteasome one (although I preferred the protein-centric biology of Penn-ance to the disease-centric biology of VCU Closed) and in general I think you did a fine job as editor.

My view of how well ecology is known in quizbowl may very well be skewed, but I do think that how often something comes up should be a factor in determining whether it is considered a hard part. I have heard many bonuses (often from easy tournaments) that include "ecosystem engineers" as the hard part of their token ecology bonus. It's a memorable phrase, and when it's used frequently then people who have no knowledge of biology can just memorize it and get points. My assertion that there is a disparity between the difficulty of the bonuses I mentioned is based on the fact that I could 30 the ecology bonus without any knowledge from college biology classes while I could 30 the forkhead bonus only because I've learned about it in college biology classes.

Ecology was an afterthought in my high school biology classes too, but ecosystem engineers was one of the things we covered. Along with keystone species, succession, biomes and trophic levels, it seems like a basic ecology topic commonly covered in high schools. My sister goes to a different high school than I did, but she also learned about ecosystem engineers (I remember her asking me about them; they were talking about elephants). I never learned about the Lotka-Volterra equations before college (and I imagine that's pretty typical), but that's a common enough easy part for ecology bonuses in quizbowl. Maybe my experience is atypical. Auroni, thanks for your input; I'd be interested in hearing from other players (in particular other biology majors) what their basic ecology background is like.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Matt Weiner » Mon Feb 04, 2013 9:30 pm

Chimango Caracara wrote: I have heard many bonuses (often from easy tournaments) that include "ecosystem engineers" as the hard part of their token ecology bonus.
I assure you that either you have not, or that I would be very interested in acquiring the cache of secret packets that you practice on that are not included in my very extensive archive, which mentions "ecosystem engineers" two times, once as a clue in a delightful tossup in the unused questions file from ACF Regionals 2006 on "the American pika."
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Mon Feb 04, 2013 11:06 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:once as a clue in a delightful tossup in the unused questions file from ACF Regionals 2006 on "the American pika."
And there you have the original sin of quizbowl, because the day the American pika tossup wasn't used was the day quizbowl veered irrevocably to the realm of the ordinary.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Unicolored Jay » Mon Feb 04, 2013 11:07 pm

The Eighth Viscount of Waaaah wrote:Multiple people I talked to negged the question on Ma Vlast with From My Life because of the clue describing the piercing high E harmonic on the violin. I don't remember the former very well, but the latter does have a piercing high E harmonic in the violin part.
I did this too (although I changed my answer to something completely different because I got thrown off by the earlier clues and failed to think of Ma Vlast as a possible answer)! I think the clue was meant for players to realize the answer the work was by Smetana, but it seems like it didn't play out well. It seems to have negbaited a lot of people, but it can't be any worse than that because the preceding clues don't apply to From My Life at all.

I'm a microbiology major and I haven't heard of ecosystem engineers, although I never took AP Environmental Science at my high school (it was offered there) and the closest thing to ecology I've taken in college was a class on evolution last semester. My AP Biology experience was heavily focused on molecular and human biology, so I can't say I've learned anything ecology-related from that either. I think the biggest problem with your argument, Nick, was that you were using one piece of empirical data (yourself) to judge this one bonus as too easy; if I had to hypothesize right now based on what I've read in this thread, I'd say that you're the exception in this particular case.
Matt Weiner wrote:...a delightful tossup in the unused questions file from ACF Regionals 2006 on "the American pika."
That packet on the whole was...pretty interesting, I'd say.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Rufous-capped Thornbill » Mon Feb 04, 2013 11:16 pm

Overall I enjoyed this tournament, but I would agree with a lot of folks in that it was about average. Mostly good, but nothing extraordinary.

However, that tossup on Stalin using clues on biographies on him was pretty awful and turned into a buzzer race at the giveaway. A lot of the poetry bonuses seemed to have the format "medium part on a work mostly utilizing lines/author of that poem/harder poem by that author" which made the bonus harder than it probably should have been. I've both read and enjoyed "A Season in Hell," but I wasn't even close to pulling the bonus on it because I didn't recognize the lines that were given without any context.

Those are my only quibbles. I really enjoyed the history in this set, and everything else seemed fine as well.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Muriel Axon » Mon Feb 04, 2013 11:38 pm

Speaking as an aspiring ecologist, I had only vaguely heard of ecosystem engineers in high school (and I studied much more ecology than most high schoolers) and even in my ecology classes in college, except for one paper I was assigned to read on Galapagos tortoises. Maybe they're a quiz bowl thing, but judging by the comments of others, I'm guessing not.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Chimango Caracara » Mon Feb 04, 2013 11:54 pm

Okay, I retract my criticism of that bonus. I feel like I have heard it as a bonus part in a lot of packets, but perhaps this perception can be attributed to the misinformation effect.

However, I do think that bonus variability was a problem at this tournament. One example that comes to mind is the bonus on "September 1, 1939" / W. H. Auden / "The Unknown Citizen" (I think these were the parts), which seemed extremely easy to me in comparison to something like The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith / Thomas Keneally / Amon Goeth. I'm not saying the Auden parts can't work as hard/easy/medium, but the first part told you that it was about a specific date, and this poem has certainly been tossed up before.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Auks Ran Ova » Tue Feb 05, 2013 12:05 am

Chimango Caracara wrote:However, I do think that bonus variability was a problem at this tournament. One example that comes to mind is the bonus on "September 1, 1939" / W. H. Auden / "The Unknown Citizen" (I think these were the parts), which seemed extremely easy to me in comparison to something like The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith / Thomas Keneally / Amon Goeth. I'm not saying the Auden parts can't work as hard/easy/medium, but the first part told you that it was about a specific date, and this poem has certainly been tossed up before.
I imagine that the Auden bonus, if it is as you describe, was actually intended to go medium/easy/hard.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Muriel Axon » Tue Feb 05, 2013 12:12 am

I don't think anyone's disputing that there was quite a bit of bonus variability in this tournament, although I don't know if your examples are the best. I would single out the univocity of being / haecceity / Duns Scotus bonus as being absurdly hard. (I wrote a Duns Scotus / haecceity / Leibniz bonus for MO, and I'm pretty sure the reason it was cut was for being too difficult.) Other bonuses had easy parts like "acids."

It was far from a tournament-ruining problem, but I remembered thinking at several points in the day that some bonuses were much harder or easier than the mean.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Tue Feb 05, 2013 1:40 am

Chimango Caracara wrote:proteasome
The irony is that was a science history bonus.
Chimango Caracara wrote:although I preferred the protein-centric biology of Penn-ance to the disease-centric biology of VCU Closed)
I'd have to agree with you.
Chimango Caracara wrote:Ecology was an afterthought in my high school biology classes too, but ecosystem engineers was one of the things we covered. Along with keystone species, succession, biomes and trophic levels, it seems like a basic ecology topic commonly covered in high schools. My sister goes to a different high school than I did, but she also learned about ecosystem engineers (I remember her asking me about them; they were talking about elephants). I never learned about the Lotka-Volterra equations before college (and I imagine that's pretty typical), but that's a common enough easy part for ecology bonuses in quizbowl. Maybe my experience is atypical. Auroni, thanks for your input; I'd be interested in hearing from other players (in particular other biology majors) what their basic ecology background is like.
My ecology background almost solely comes from AP Biology, and even then it was an afterthought; we did talk about climax communities, succession, competitive exclusion, and keystone species, but never about ecosystem engineers. High school biology classes have a way of being extremely variable in the difficult things they teach; my AP biology class actually taught us the parts of an EKG and what the Nissl substance is, for example. I never really had any engagement with ecology in college. At Brown, you're not required to take evolutionary bio or ecology to get a degree in biochemistry (though various aspects of evolution would come up in genetics and so on), and it still bugs me when taxa come up in quizbowl for this reason.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Brian McPeak » Wed Feb 06, 2013 5:19 am

I think I'm with the naysayers regarding science history, at least as a replacement for chemistry. While much of it is interesting or relevant, I don't see a really good reason for making space by taking something else out-- most of the science history we had could plausibly fit under some other part of the science or history distribution.

Was the apparent lack of philosophy in this set intentional, accidental, or a figment of my imagination?
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Matt Weiner » Wed Feb 06, 2013 2:30 pm

The 20/20 regulation section of each packet had 1/1 myth and 1/1 that was always split between 1 religion question and 1 philosophy question.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by The Bold Ideas of Bernie Sanders (I-VT) » Wed Feb 06, 2013 6:18 pm

Inkana7 wrote:that tossup on Stalin using clues on biographies on him was pretty awful and turned into a buzzer race at the giveaway
I concur but feel like this was mainly due to methodology than writing. How often do historiography tossups pop up in sets?
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Matt Weiner » Wed Feb 06, 2013 6:22 pm

Not too often. I feel that the amount of historiography should be roughly equal to the amount of literary criticism and other second-order things; i.e., 1 question per tournament.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Wed Feb 06, 2013 6:59 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:Not too often. I feel that the amount of historiography should be roughly equal to the amount of literary criticism and other second-order things; i.e., 1 question per tournament.
At the risk of opening up a different can of worms, I think historiography could stand a good deal more than one question a tournament. I liked the Stalin question and the historiography at History Bowl last year and hope it is similarly reasonably well-represented this year. Furthermore, it is much more an academic subject worthy of critical treatment and integration into the quizbowl canon than, say, how the Seljuks went around the side at Manzikert. As you've shown, it can be done well.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by Unicolored Jay » Wed Feb 06, 2013 7:10 pm

Minor error I found while reading through the packets: I remember being confused on a bonus part because it said Zadig by Voltaire is a play; it is not one.
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Re: VCU Closed discussion

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Sun Feb 24, 2013 5:55 pm

Yesterday, a bunch of UK teams played through 7-8 packets of VCU Closed. This was the first time I heard any questions from this tournament. I was very disappointed in the quality of questions in this tournament (perhaps moreso than Matt Jackson). But I was hesitant to post in this thread just to voice criticisms, because the thread has been dead for about three weeks. But both Eric Mukherjee and Matt Jackson have encouraged me to voice these opinions, so I shall.

For me, this tournament fundamentally failed in its goal of promoting the packet-submission tournament. More than any tournament I've played recently that I can name, this tournament showed all the fingerprints of packet submission. This felt like the least edited tournament I've played in a long time. I don't use mean this term as a substitute for "bad". Very few questions in this tournament were outright bad taken individually. But they reflected so many mutually contradictory ways of writing a tournament that cannot possibly form a cohesive whole when formed together. No recent tournament I've played has left me with precisely this feeling. I don't pretend to know how much time and effort was put into rewriting the submissions, but playing this, the questions consistently felt like they were reflecting all of the different approaches of their writers and no single cohesive approach of the editor. The benefit of packet-submission tournaments, besides their contributions to the health of the circuit, is indeed a certain variety in the questions that stops one aesthetic from dominating. But this is not a question of different aesthetic approaches, but rather of fundamentally alien means of writing questions. I'll go into this in more detail below.

Things that fed this impression of insufficient editing:

1. Fact-Checking: The tossup on Ma Vlast includes the most famous clue about From My Life. This clue does not apply to Ma Vlast at all; this is literally just a clue about one piece in a tossup about another piece! I do not know who was responsible for editing the music, but whoever you are, if you really do not have the repertoire knowledge required to recognize the most famous clue for a completely different important piece, then you obviously do not have enough music knowledge to be trusting your personal knowledge as a guide for editing this category! I'm not at all saying that I think you shouldn't edit this category. I'm saying that when confronted with clues you don't know: check them to make sure they are accurate and helpful. There is no shame in this. Frankly, this should be general policy regardless of how knowledgeable you think you are. No editor's command of his subject is so great that he will know every clue that is submitted to him within his category. I probably have the best music knowledge of any editor right now, and even I check the majority of music questions submitted to me. And you know what: without exaggeration, the simple majority of theory/notational clues submitted to me have been completely wrong.

In our criticisms of tournaments, we tend to focus on the ordering of clues more than on the accuracy or quality of clues themselves, when frankly the latter is primary. It doesn't matter how well-ordered your clues are if they are wrong.

Take another example; every clue between the end of power and the "For 10 points" marking in the Palestrina tossup is wrong. None of the things listed are his ideas. They are ideas common to every single composer of that era, none of which he invented; he was simply the most famous composer of this era. This is the equivalent of claiming Shakespeare invented the Shakespearean sonnet. Now, I don't expect whoever edited the music to know this, but if he did not recognize the clues, he could have googled this. The first link is the Wikipedia page that explains everything I just said in more detail. I am completely sympathetic to the idea that editors are not specialist scholars in their fields and do not know everything contained in the tossups submitted to them. But I am unsympathetic to editors that cannot be bothered to check up on clues they don't know in cases where even Googling will suffice.

2. Basic Pyramidality: This was largely good in this tournament, and I don't have major complaints. But the lead-in of the tossup on The Idiot is the most famous scene in the entire damn novel! Once again, even if you have not read this book, it takes very little time to just Google the book and find out what scenes in this book are or are not famous!

3. Answer-Line Problems: Weeding out dumb ideas. The tossup on "en pointe" was a truly horrible idea, poorly executed. No editor, no matter how well versed in the subject of ballet, could have saved this question. It does not take deep knowledge to realize that a ballet common-link on dancing on the points of your feet is going to have major cluing problems!

I shouldn't need to go into detail about wild difficulty swings because this is an obvious point, and one people make about nearly every tournament. But this tournament suffered from this more than any regular season tournament I've played except Penn Bowl 2012. I can make this point in one stroke; here are the four lit tossup answer-lines for the Michigan B / Yale A packet: Tartuffe, Fuentes, Margaret (common-link drawing upon North and South, Richard III, the poetry of Hopkins, and Howards End), and Ordinary People. Those four tossups run the entire gamut between ACF Fall (Tartuffe) and Nationals+ (Ordinary People, i.e. that largely forgotten book on which a popular film in the 90's was based).

A good regular-difficulty tossup produces a wide distribution of buzzes across the tossup, because it is a topic of which people have varying levels of knowledge. So, to be clear, my main argument against Ordinary People is not the fact that it's a famous film and a not-famous book, but rather that there is no good reason to suspect that a wide range of knowledge about the novel exists in a regular-season "closed" field. Likewise, tossups like the one on Comoros strike me as equally misguided. Is there really a wide range of knowledge about the geography of Comoros in a field such as the one that played this tournament? Why the hell at this difficulty was the tossup on "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" not rewritten as a tossup on Sam Peckinpah, preserving some clues? These are just fundamentally bad ideas at this level.

5. What Is a Lead-In / Middle Clue?: This is the point I want to spend the most time on, partly because I don't think this has been articulated well recently, but also because I think this was maybe the chief problem of this tournament for me.

Picking a difficulty-appropriate answer-line for a tossup and writing a pyramidal tossup that has appropriate depth relative to the answer line alone is no guarantee of a difficulty-appropriate question. The reason for this is that some answer-lines are acceptable at a wide range of difficulties and what makes a good lead-in or middle clue for them varies by the difficulty of the tournament.

Let's look at the following tossup on John Irving:
This author wrote of the Yale-graduate Michael Milton, who writes “I want to be your lover” on a questionnaire to his graduate advisor Helen, in a novel that opens by describing the movie theater assault of a soldier by Jenna Fields. After Rose Rose stabs her father Arthur in a novel by this man, Homer Wells takes over the orphanage of Dr. (*) Larch, a decased abortionist. In another of his novels, the title character hates the German short story “The Poor Fiddler” by the Austrian author of The Jewess of Toledo but names his masterpiece “The Pension Grillparzer” anyway. He set novels such as A Widow for One Year and The Hotel New Hampshire in his home state. For 10 points, name this American author of The Cider House Rules and The World According to Garp.
ANSWER: John Irving
The answer-line is difficulty-appropriate and the clues are pyramidal and clearly-written. However, The World According to Garp is itself an acceptable answer-line at this difficulty. The second most important and buzzable character in that novel is Jenny Fields (not Jenna Fields, as the tossup claims). In any well-written tossup on that novel at regular difficulty, Jenny Fields will be in the last line or penultimate line. The fact that the answer-line of this tossup is Irving rather than Garp does not change how many people know the information "Jenny Fields is a character in The World According to Garp by John Irving". So long as this is all the information that a certain clue tests, that clue should be in approximately the same general area of a regular tossup regardless of what the actual answer-line of the tossup is. (So, to clarify, if this were a common-link on "nurses", then obviously Jenny Field would be in an entirely different place in the tossup, because the clue now tests who knows what profession Jenny Fields holds, which is a completely different piece of knowledge.)

This is the fundamental point I'm articulating, so I'm putting it all in bold: Whether a clue is a lead-in, middle clue, or giveaway is determined as much by or more by the difficulty-level of the tournament as a whole than it is by the answer-line itself. A pyramidally-written tossup on a difficulty-appropriate answer line can still be completely inappropriate for a particular difficulty if the clues are in the wrong place in the tossup relative to the tournament as a whole.

To contextualize this in VCU Closed, I had two first-line literature powers in this round. One was on this tossup, the other was on As You Like It. To first line As You Like It, I had to recognize a completely random insult from the play, which I was only able to do because I had read the part of Touchstone aloud in a reading of the play. To first line this Irving tossup, all I needed was to know was the names of any of the most famous characters in John Irving's most famous novel.

Broadening out to the rest of the packets I played, we can see how this problem running rampant in the literature distribution: the second line of the Pinter tossup is the main plot of Betrayal; everything before power in the Nabokov tossup is a famous moment from Pnin and Pale Fire; the second line of the Gordimer tossup is the main plot of Burger's Daughter; etc. These lead-ins are from a completely different tournament from: a Tennyson tossup where the only stuff in power is from The Promise of May and Harold: A Drama; a Flannery O'Connor tossup where everything before power is from The Violent Bear It Away (untossupable below CO-level); a Fuentes tossup where the early clues are from Destiny and Desire; etc. And these sure as hell all don't belong in the same tournament that has tossups on The Real Thing and The Hairy Ape! What in God's name is the latter in particular doing below Nationals difficulty?

Conclusion: This to me was a poor promotion for packet-submission tournaments, because its wild inconsistencies in writing made its packet-submission origins far too evident, in ways that made playing this tournament for me an incoherent and confusing experience. I don't in any way oppose the idea that there should be more packet-submission tournaments. It is because I agree with this that I am so vociferous in these criticisms. Maybe when general writing standards improve, a packet-submission tournament can be edited with something closer the loose, laissez-faire attitude that the final product of this tournament seems to suggest. But even with improved writing standards, I think the editors of these tournaments need a much clearer and firmer philosophy guiding their editing decisions to produce tournaments that are cohesive.
John Lawrence
Yale University '12
King's College London '13
University of Chicago '19

“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.” - G.K. Chesterton

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