2015 Regionals: General non-specific thoughts and discussion

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2015 Regionals: General non-specific thoughts and discussion

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Sat Jan 24, 2015 9:11 pm

If you have overall thoughts about the set, I.e. difficulty, execution, relative quality of stuff compared to other stuff either within or outside the set, etc. please post them here. I will have a characteristically long post with some of my own thoughts posted here within the next day or two or three, but since it's not done yet I may as well maintain the premise that it's good to let other people get their thoughts out unskewed by what I have to say.

Here is the category breakdown of who edited what:

Matt J: American history, World history, Religion, Philosophy
Sarah: all Literature
Tommy: Biology, Music, Other Arts
Trevor: Mythology, Social Science, Geo/CE, Trash
Stephen: Physics, European/British/Canadian/Australian/Classical history, Painting
Sriram: Chemistry, Other Science
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Re: 2015 Regionals: General non-specific thoughts and discus

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Sun Jan 25, 2015 4:07 am

I thought this set was fine and was pretty glad that it was my first tournament of the year, as well as the first I really got to play as a sort of generalist. The questions were pretty solid and there were no glaring errors. I think the editors did a good job of producing a set of roughly equal difficulty and quality to last year's ACF Regionals - probably a bit harder than ideal, and a bit harder than the widely-acclaimed 2011 and 2012 editions of the set. I still definitely enjoyed playing the set, and it's good to be back in the game again.

I thought the execution of the American and world history was really good, with both categories exploring a lot of relatively untrodden territory and using some interesting answers that I hadn't seen before. In particular, I liked the understanding of American civics that was highlighted in a number of the American history questions, as opposed to simply on legislation or political actions, and I appreciated the focus on the 20th century. The world history was a bit more Americas-centric than I would have liked, but there were a lot of interesting approaches to topics, and the question on the Ottoman harem that was slotted as a replacement packet was pretty sweet.

The religion, myth, and philosophy were also pretty well done across the board, in terms of difficulty, subject diversity, and execution. In particular, just like last year, Matt's philosophy did a great job rewarding conceptual understanding - things like the "late capitalism" bonus part, for example, rewarded you for understanding of Marxist thought even if you weren't familiar with the term "cultural logic of late capitalism" as a term for postmodernism, and the "knowledge" bonus part rewarded you for knowing what Gettier problems actually are all about. I really appreciated this, since I've been trying to learn about these categories a lot more recently, and playing this tournament's questions on them was very rewarding.

To take a little detour from the subjects I know best: The chemistry seemed very difficult, especially compared with the physics and biology, a sentiment that was shared with several other players at the site. My non-high school background in physics consists of a two-course honors intro sequence in mechanics/special relativity/electricity/magnetism and a small amount of reading of fluid dynamics, which was enough for our team to get mostly 20s on physics bonuses. Charles, my biology major teammate, was able to do well on the bio bonuses as well. I would contrast this with the chemistry; Charles has taken intro chemistry, two honors organic chem courses, and biochem, but I think we only 20d one or two chemistry bonuses on the day.

In addition, though I'm a pretty bad literature player, I feel like found myself going "geez, that's rough" at a lot more bonuses in literature than the other humanities categories. The other categories were pretty solid in general. I didn't like the number of tossups on economists as opposed to economic concepts, but I suppose those questions are easier for teams to write for packet submission, so I'm okay with that.

Thanks for working on the set, everyone, and I really hope to get to play more of Matt's tournaments in the future!
Last edited by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea on Sun Jan 25, 2015 2:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 2015 Regionals: General non-specific thoughts and discus

Post by vinteuil » Sun Jan 25, 2015 12:13 pm

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:In addition, though I'm a pretty bad literature player, but I feel like found myself going "geez, that's rough" at a lot more bonuses in literature than the other humanities categories. The other categories were pretty solid in general. I didn't like the number of tossups on economists as opposed to economic concepts, but I suppose those questions are easier for teams to write for packet submission, so I'm okay with that.
Well, I think the literature was definitely more possible to 30 than last year's, and it felt roughly the same difficulty as the history to us. I completely agree with Will about many (not all) of the chemistry and other science bonuses being pretty tough to even 20, let alone 30.

I really enjoyed this set—as Will points out, it was both very easy to understand and as close to error-free as I'm capable of detecting—and even sometimes fun to listen to. Minus the bonus quibbles above, and the fact that the literature tossups were often a good bit easier than many of the other categories (mid-tossup title drops that often resulted in multiple-way buzzer races), I think this is a great set.
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Re: 2015 Regionals: General non-specific thoughts and discus

Post by Pilgrim » Sun Jan 25, 2015 4:54 pm

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:I didn't like the number of tossups on economists as opposed to economic concepts, but I suppose those questions are easier for teams to write for packet submission, so I'm okay with that.
There were four economics tossups in this set, two on economists and two on concepts. From what I could tell, both of the economist tossups (which essentially kept the clues from submitted tossups by Maryland and WUSTL) did an excellent job of asking about important things that economics students actually learn about.

You might be counting the Kahneman tossup, but I considered that a psychology/popular social science tossup which had the added bonus that economists could probably buzz.
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Re: 2015 Regionals: General non-specific thoughts and discus

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Sun Jan 25, 2015 5:10 pm

Pilgrim wrote:
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:I didn't like the number of tossups on economists as opposed to economic concepts, but I suppose those questions are easier for teams to write for packet submission, so I'm okay with that.
There were four economics tossups in this set, two on economists and two on concepts. From what I could tell, both of the economist tossups (which essentially kept the clues from submitted tossups by Maryland and WUSTL) did an excellent job of asking about important things that economics students actually learn about.

You might be counting the Kahneman tossup, but I considered that a psychology/popular social science tossup which had the added bonus that economists could probably buzz.
Personally, as an economics student in a pretty strong program who's almost done with his major, I had the exact opposite reaction to the tossups on Tobin and Samuelson (I didn't hear the Kahneman question and I don't think I heard the other conceptual tossup you're mentioning). I had heard of basically nothing in those tossups in class and could only answer them from outside/quizbowl knowledge. I'm fine with this since it's good to reward amateur knowledge and understanding the history of ideas (re: what I do for all other "thought" related questions) but it was still personally pretty frustrating. I guess I'm going into the weeds a bit here, but the tossup on "elasticity of demand" was much more interesting, even though I negged because I couldn't figure out what the prompt on my answer of "price elasticity" was looking for (when we did calculations using the Marshall-Lerner condition in macroeconomics class, it was never mentioned in class that the elasticity was of demand specifically. That's on me, obviously.)
Last edited by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea on Sun Jan 25, 2015 5:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 2015 Regionals: General non-specific thoughts and discus

Post by gyre and gimble » Sun Jan 25, 2015 5:32 pm

I'm glad to hear this set was well-received. Matt was an excellent head-editor. He created an editing environment that I think really felt like a team, and having immediate feedback on my questions from other editors who I know are experienced and competent was invaluable to my ability to produce at my best level. I think that the overall quality of this set, in particular the evenness in question playability and difficulty, is very much owed to Matt. At the same time it seemed like everyone was making a conscious effort to explore interesting clues and topics that are important and under-asked (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in the fine arts distribution! La Haine!). The attitude that my co-editors brought to this project always provided more than enough encouragement for me to spend a little extra effort to find better clues or rethink answerlines. I'm grateful to have been able to work with them.

As for my questions, I edited European History, Physics, and Painting. My editing philosophy was to try to exclusively use clues of the type that I'm used to learning in class, as opposed to from old quizbowl questions. In painting, for example, I tried to avoid obscure works by famous people that people generally don't talk about, in favor of works that might show up in a professor's powerpoint for a lecture in a history, literature, or art history class, or in favor of general descriptions of the body of work for an artist who I feel is important but somewhat new to quizbowl. I'd like to elaborate on that a bit--a lot of those artists are people whose work is difficult to describe on an individual basis, meaning it's quite discouraging to try to write an entire tossup on them, without sounding vague or transparent. I took the opportunity to devote only sentence-long clues on them, either describing them generally or picking works that are emblematic of their style, to avoid that issue while still making sure that they are represented in quizbowl. Examples of these people that appeared in this set include Marcel Broodthaers, Agnes Martin, Billy Childish, Barbara Kruger, Nicholas Roerich, and Jean Dubuffet. Some of these people have certainly come up before, of course, but I don't think they should be reserved for hard parts at Nationals or CO just because they haven't come up a lot before. Visiting art museums or taking some relevant art history classes would tell you immediately that they are real, important figures in art history. That said, I'm not sure how this strategy ended up playing out. My hope was that these clues were still buzzable, and I sincerely thought they would be.

Sort of a side effect from this editing strategy was that I was unable to use a lot of submitted clues, so I apologize if you were a bit disappointed that your questions were heavily edited or completely replaced in my categories. I did try to keep clues where I could to ensure appropriate pyramidality and difficulty. For example, my favorite submission (in terms of clue quality) was Maryland's tossup on the Crimean War, which I hardly edited at all. That wasn't the only one, of course. There were plenty of submissions that were fine and I thank everyone who did submit for thinking up interesting and fresh answerlines.

Anyway, thanks for playing this set. As time permits, I'd be happy to review any of the questions in my categories, but please offer some specific questions or criticisms rather than just saying "this question/clue was bad," because I don't really know how to respond to that. (Oh, and I guess do that in the question-specific thread).
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Re: 2015 Regionals: General non-specific thoughts and discus

Post by Jem Casey » Mon Jan 26, 2015 9:22 am

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:In addition, though I'm a pretty bad literature player, I feel like found myself going "geez, that's rough" at a lot more bonuses in literature than the other humanities categories.
Although I'm sure you're referring more to hard and middle parts, I'll jump off this to note that a number of the lit bonuses had very rough easy parts. "Easter 1916," "The Open Window," and Hemingway without reference to his novels are not easy parts (there were other examples that are escaping my memory at the moment). This is not a problem specific to this set, for it seems to be becoming more and more common for easy parts to be authors and works which, although elementary to an experienced player, are far too unlikely to be converted by teams less versed in the canon. While lapses like these are barely noticeable to many teams, I would guess that there are few aspects of the game more frustrating and discouraging to new players.

In any case, congratulations to all the editors on what was largely a well-written and fun set.
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Re: 2015 Regionals: General non-specific thoughts and discus

Post by vinteuil » Mon Jan 26, 2015 10:32 am

Jem Casey wrote:
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:In addition, though I'm a pretty bad literature player, I feel like found myself going "geez, that's rough" at a lot more bonuses in literature than the other humanities categories.
Although I'm sure you're referring more to hard and middle parts, I'll jump off this to note that a number of the lit bonuses had very rough easy parts. "Easter 1916," "The Open Window," and Hemingway without reference to his novels are not easy parts (there were other examples that are escaping my memory at the moment). This is not a problem specific to this set, for it seems to be becoming more and more common for easy parts to be authors and works which, although elementary to an experienced player, are far too unlikely to be converted by teams less versed in the canon. While lapses like these are barely noticeable to many teams, I would guess that there are few aspects of the game more frustrating and discouraging to new players.

In any case, congratulations to all the editors on what was largely a well-written and fun set.
Actually, I was pretty happy that this set was willing to have easy parts that would differentiate the bottom 10-15% of teams, and I assumed that that was systematic—generally these were extremely real-world famous things like "Easter, 1916," i.e. stuff that it's perfectly likely that quizbowl novices would still know. Sometimes I think the execution was a bit off (I remember a bonus where The Guns of August was the easy part?), but I like the idea.
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Re: 2015 Regionals: General non-specific thoughts and discus

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Mon Jan 26, 2015 11:40 am

Jem Casey wrote:
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:In addition, though I'm a pretty bad literature player, I feel like found myself going "geez, that's rough" at a lot more bonuses in literature than the other humanities categories.
Although I'm sure you're referring more to hard and middle parts, I'll jump off this to note that a number of the lit bonuses had very rough easy parts. "Easter 1916," "The Open Window," and Hemingway without reference to his novels are not easy parts (there were other examples that are escaping my memory at the moment). This is not a problem specific to this set, for it seems to be becoming more and more common for easy parts to be authors and works which, although elementary to an experienced player, are far too unlikely to be converted by teams less versed in the canon. While lapses like these are barely noticeable to many teams, I would guess that there are few aspects of the game more frustrating and discouraging to new players.

In any case, congratulations to all the editors on what was largely a well-written and fun set.
Actually, I was referring to a lot of the easy parts as well. If I recall correctly, in the game we played the Saki bonus, our opponents were a relatively new team that got boned because they knew who Saki was and could recognize things he wrote, but wasn't familiar with the plot details of any of them; they got completely screwed. If people have basic knowledge of a topic (as they clearly did) then they should get points at regular difficulty, and they shouldn't have to have to use clever thinking to get to the answer (I would have gotten "The Open Window" only from "go through the title object" since I've never read it).
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Re: 2015 Regionals: General non-specific thoughts and discus

Post by Cody » Mon Jan 26, 2015 11:51 am

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:If I recall correctly, in the game we played the Saki bonus, our opponents were a relatively new team that got boned because they knew who Saki was and could recognize things he wrote, but wasn't familiar with the plot details of any of them; they got completely screwed. If people have basic knowledge of a topic (as they clearly did) then they should get points at regular difficulty, and they shouldn't have to have to use clever thinking to get to the answer (I would have gotten "The Open Window" only from "go through the title object" since I've never read it).
While I thought that bonus was too rough, this mode of thinking is very wrong. Having teams come up with Saki's most famous short story is, in my opinion, too much for an easy part, but it definitely is not an instance of requiring "clever thinking to get to the answer", and such claims are very unhelpful to tournament discussion. The clues pointed anyone who'd heard of it to the correct answer (such as yourself) and very clearly were not meant to be "lateraled".

The question also becomes what constitutes basic knowledge of a topic? Sure, in this case I think "basic knowledge" of Saki should count as 10 points, but that threshold is unsustainable across an entire set (compare an easy part on Saki vs. an easy part on George Washington (both appropriate at Regs level): they shouldn't be of wildly different difficulty, but they would be under such a criteria).
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Re: 2015 Regionals: General non-specific thoughts and discus

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Mon Jan 26, 2015 12:02 pm

I suppose you're right: "basic knowledge" does indeed vary depending on the topic at hand, as your example illustrates.
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Re: 2015 Regionals: General non-specific thoughts and discus

Post by Guile Island » Mon Jan 26, 2015 1:40 pm

In regards to the literature: tossup lines in literature in particular seemed to do a great job in being answerable to a pretty large chunk of the field. The only ones I remember thinking "this is maybe a bit on the hard end for Regs" were the tossups on Constantine Cafavy and "The Mask of Anarchy."
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Re: 2015 Regionals: General non-specific thoughts and discus

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Mon Jan 26, 2015 5:50 pm

Alright, the time for the mega-post has come.

I’m pleased and honored to see that the set has been so well-received thus far. I’m even more pleased to see that many of the positive remarks thus far, both here and off the forums, have in some ways anticipated or deduced some specific editorial goals I had in mind for the set, even before I came here to post about them.

Acknowledgements/gratitude

My co-editors

First of all, I want to give some profuse words of thanks to my co-editors, without whom this set would not have been accomplished at all, much less in any noteworthy or interesting directions. Sarah, Tommy, Trevor, Stephen, and Sriram were all fantastic to work with, in that they assumed responsibility, reported in professionally when they anticipated a scheduling snag on the horizon, and weren’t afraid to stand their ground on issues that mattered to them. Furthermore, each of them had a pretty strong conception not just of the rote-mechanical task they were assigned (get n/n questions per packet up to acceptable standards), but of what they wanted to do with it beyond mere duty so as to move their category in interesting new directions and share cool ideas with this tournament’s field. Beyond that, all of them went the extra mile to draw on real-life scholarly work and quick research skills. I feel like I have learned a huge amount by going through this process with them, not just alongside them. On most sets, it’s an incidental fact that the editing task generally tends to increase one’s store of memorized clues. On this set, though, I feel like I really learned from my co-editors; hearing their justifications for the editorial choices they wanted to make, even when arguments got heated, has earnestly expanded my academic horizons and curiosities. It’s my hope that they can all say the same, and I’m honored by Stephen’s similar sentiments above.

The best writing and editing is always a collaborative project. I’ve thought for a while now that the vaunting of the best works of writing as strokes of individual genius has always been something of a myth. The best court rulings are drafted and revised by judges’ clerks; philosophers and academics produce better work through objections and replies to objections; even the zaniest or most reclusive poets sent letters and snippets to their friends, etc. etc. And even when new work is utterly monumental or transformative (I make no such claims about this tournament, let’s be clear), it’s almost always in response to, or anxious about the influence of, past hallmarks of genius. Quizbowl tournaments are no different in this regard. So beyond my own editing team, whose collaborativeness was a huge factor in this set’s final product, I also want to thank Evan Adams for bringing me onto last year’s ACF Regionals and setting a strong example, without which I would likely have declined this opportunity. And I’ll also single out Trevor for the guidance he provided as a past Regionals Head Editor, including leading by example via hitting the proper target difficulty almost exactly without guidance or assistance. His past experience helped guide the tournament we made this time.

Playtesters and commentators

This year’s ACF Regionals was also extensively playtested in the weeks before it ran; with much cajoling and many reminder emails, we managed to read out every packet, tiebreaker, and extra question to a decently-sized and rotating crowd of retired/ineligible college quizbowl veterans. In particular, thanks to the following playtesters who came to a large number of the sessions: Sam Bailey, Billy Busse, Rob Carson, Doug Graebner, Jeff Hoppes, Selene Koo, Jonathan Magin, Evan Nagler, Tejas Raje, Aaron Rosenberg, Joelle Smart, Bernadette Spencer, Seth Teitler, Matt Weiner, and Ryan Westbrook. Thanks also to Mike Cheyne, Matt Lafer, Andrew Hart, Susan Ferrari, Dan Passner, and Cody Voight, who also showed up when they could.
Every single one of the people listed above had helpful comments which was an amazing bonanza for making the set a lot more cohesive and less rough than it otherwise could have been. The college quizbowl community is getting established enough now that it’s lucky to have literally dozens of retirees who are glad to look over questions and provide useful advice; it was an absolute honor that so many people were willing to take time out of their own lives to help The Next Generation find its footing in its time of need. In the spirit of gratitude, I’d be happy to return the favor if any of the above people are working on future sets, and will remember to keep myself available more generally to help playtest stuff as the years go on.

I’d like to extend extra thanks to Kevin Koai, who combed through all the music questions clue-by-clue at Tommy’s request (though he only needed to make about four minor suggestions), to Joelle Smart, who did a similarly thorough review of the biology questions, and to Sam Bailey, who looked over the economics and made sure it was coherent and actual to help cover a knowledge gap on the editing team proper. Seth Teitler and Selene Koo also went far-and-beyond the confines of the playtesting sessions to help with toning down some of the (even) more egregious science questions at the first-pass edit stage, and helped ensure that Tommy, Stephen, and Sriram used clues which were maximally-helpfully-worded.

Further comments / thoughts

Will Alston’s first post in this thread
scooped a lot of things I was planning to say. But I’m glad those things were noticeable and appreciated. In particular, I’m excited that the history and RMP felt like they were all “of a piece” even though each of those top-level categories had two editors working on it; I know I was particularly excited to see the art history clue in the Ganymede tossup and the bonus parts on “trickster gods” and “axis mundi” make the final set.

Breaking down the “science player”/”humanities player” divide a bit
I’m a non-science major who has been sneered at many a time for correctly answering science questions at tournaments. As such, I’m primed to dislike like the prevailing idea that “science players” are these magical fruit that drop from heaven on teams lucky enough to be bestowed with one. It’s my opinion that, much like other categories, science can be learned, and science players are made through hard work, rather than born or anointed. Similarly, the skills to edit science properly can be learned even by those who aren’t currently majoring in the science they’re editing. Having more editors in quizbowl who can bridge the apparent science/non-science gap is very important, both in ensuring that sets are consistent across the board and ensuring that the raw number of people who do edit science is high enough to sustain a full year’s worth of tournaments without overworking anybody. Stephen and Tommy, by virtue of having a hand in the science and a hand outside it, both helped provide a very good perspective in terms of getting science difficulty and editing style into harmony with the rest of the set. I hope that their example encourages more people with some amount of raw science knowledge and editorial skill to reach out and take a similar risk for future events -- making sure, of course, to be as methodical and careful as these two were about the uniqueness and usefulness of clues.

Chemistry and Other Science
Ended up somewhat harder than the rest of the set. Sorry about this. Again, I defer to Sriram if he wants to address this specifically. In any event, I was impressed by his dedication to bringing out underasked but academically-hot topics in his categories, including his ensuring that inorganic/general chemistry and biochem/pharmaceutical topics each got some mentions within the chemistry distribution, since those areas are both part of the standard chemistry major’s course load.

Re-using extremely important thinkers/authors multiple times across a set
Multiple editors on this set retained, and then kept as a matter of deliberate policy, several mentions of the same thinker using different work or different contexts at different places within the set. For example, Kant appears three times (categorical imperative tossup, time bonus, aesthetics bonus), and I was okay with that much Kant because he’s just that important to the history of philosophy and has a foundational influence on basically every philosophical discussion still happening today. Heracles appears three times, as does Picasso. I know in the music that Tommy kept multiple non-repeating mentions of J.S. Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven to serve this same purpose of ensuring that the most important contributors to Western concert music get their fair shake.
I think it’s worth mentioning this as part of a small excursus on what repeats actually are and why we think they’re bad. A repeat of the worst kind is an error in which the same question is posted twice in different packets (e.g. the finals of ACF Nationals 2013). If not caught or addressed, this is obviously not okay, since teams can just get points for having been awake earlier in the day, rather than because they know something. A repeat of the less-bad kind is an error on the editors’ part, in which a substantive clue or piece of information is used in multiple distinct questions. These are still bad for the same reason as oops-we-pasted-this-twice repeats; they deflate the expectation that each new question will require teams to show their knowledge. But in situations where clue repeats are obviously not happening (e.g. three Kant-related questions whose answers literally come from the three separate Critiques), it seems rather silly to me to complain that the same person is coming up more than one time in utterly different contexts throughout the day. And it seems even sillier as a player to assume that you’re not going to hear anything more about Kant of any stripe once you’ve heard his name go by once. (Or that there can’t be five different questions with the answer “China” across multiple categories in a 25-packet set, as has happened at a past PACE NSC or two.)
That said, this privilege to re-use famous people or things should be exercised cautiously and only for the very most important people and things -- it would be anomalous to include three questions all mentioning Carlos Fuentes across a 17-packet set, for example. (Or even Isabel Allende or Oscar Wilde.) And it may well be the case that this supposed “editorial choice” is just me rationalizing/confabulating after receiving lots of repeat-heavy packets and snap-judging “urgh, we have a repeat on that but this question is much better than the alternatives; let’s go with it” (a sort of desire to save energy) more than anything else. Regardless, I think that it is a good way to reward what teams actually have in-depth and variegated knowledge on if future tournaments are more okay with not-quite-repeats of this sort. I’m curious if this rose to the level of annoying anybody or felt anomalous in either a good or a bad way compared to other tournaments.

Submission quality - striking a balance between respecting the submissions vs. set-wide cohesion
I am a very persnickety editor when it comes to, well, a lot of things. Many of my co-editors are of a similarly persnickety temperament when it comes to length, difficulty, subdistribution across rounds, etc. Perhaps because of that, about a third of this tournament (30 to 40 percent; haven’t computed the exact number) was written by editors outright, which is about on par with what I’ve seen from other packet sub events I’ve worked on. If you factor in full-rewrites on submitted answers, or instances where all but one part of a bonus (or all but the “general theme”) is scrapped, I’d say about 60 percent of this tournament was a product of the editors. What’s more, we tried to correct for past complaints (mostly about Fall) by combining as many good packets as possible so something gets used from every earnest packet-sub effort.

This meant that a lot of interesting ideas got left on the cutting room floor, which in some ways is as it must be. Sometimes time pressure means we just can’t be shackled to the expectation of using every submission if we want to get a good tournament out there quickly. If the choice is between respecting submissions vs. maintaining a consistent difficulty, quality, and length throughout, I’m going to choose the latter every time. That said, I do think there is still a lot of value in packet-sub and I’m glad that ACF tournaments such as this one still employ that model. Teams have ideas that the editors, no matter how creative, just won’t have themselves due to blind spots in their knowledge or lack of interest in a given topic. Even if a given question doesn’t get into the set, its “general theme” often inspires the editors. Team-submitted questions which are usable right “out of the box” are a huge boon to the set, and this set wouldn’t have gotten done if the remaining submissions weren’t good.

I did some things to try and get more submissions used in some way. One such thing was to “bonusify” tossups (or less commonly, “tossupify” bonuses) when there were two good questions of the same question type and category within the submissions clumped for a final packet, or when switching the question type would result in better execution for a good idea. Examples of questions that emerged from switching the question type of a submission include the Your Choice heraldry bonus and the bonus on Biblical homosexuality (Penn A + Louisville + Waterloo B), the “incommensurability”/philosophy of science bonus (Maggie Walker + Yale A) , the Manchus tossup (LATech + Hopkins A + RIT), the Jewish prayer bonus (Bellarmine + Columbia A + ULL), the fire bonus and the conservatism bonus (Maryland A + Minnesota), the Spain bonus (Chattahoochee + Columbia B + Toronto B). Additionally, if repeats were preventing me from using a good question, I did what I could to try and ensure that the editors’ replacement was on a similar topic or part of the world. I encourage future editors to try these things.

There were also times when a glut of decent submissions came in on a topic that just wasn’t conducive to producing the sort of tournament we wanted. For a particularly worthwhile example, almost all of the passable social science submissions we received were on pretty old “dead white guys” and books from the first half of the 20th century or earlier. It’s my opinion that we could have kept a slate of social science questions with 14/14 or so dead white guys or outdated works, but doing so (as has been discussed many times on these boards) just doesn’t reflect what social science actually is anymore, and would give an undue advantage to people who memorized packets in 2007-10 or who who write their packets “just to improve”. There were some instances where Trevor or I or both just decided we weren’t going to indulge another tossup on, say, The Golden Bough, or that we’d rather ensure that some contemporary “hard” linguistics got into the set for distributional purposes (for which reason I wrote the tossup on “zero” phenomena and the syntax bonus posted elsewhere), and in those cases I’m not goign to apologize for the approach we took.

Perhaps future packet-sub editors can do a bit more to explicitly proclaim what they’re looking for in an excellent submission, or point to specific questions and packets from past tournaments to indicate what they’d like to see or what they’d like to avoid, beyond the standard “look at the past seven ACF Regionals sets” instructions that we issue now. I realize that some of the issues I present here boil down to “teams didn’t read my mind enough,” which can get unfair quickly.

Related to the above: Difficulty of submissions

We received a huge gamut of average difficulties in packet submissions, ranging from packets which were functionally no different from high school questions to insane ten-line monsters with never-before-seen clues for the majority of tossup text. I guess I'd like to remind teams that announcements say "please consult past ACF Regionals sets" for a reason, which is to warn teams not to write stuff that is well off-kilter in comparison to past precedent.

To the experienced teams who made their packet submissions balls-hard: Stop making your packet submissions balls-hard! Over-hard questions are just as unusable in submitted form as over-easy questions, and it actually takes more effort to ratchet back an over-hard submission than it does to add hard clues to a submission which is too easy. You know who you are if this applies to you -- the point of submitting a packet to Regionals isn’t to improve for Nationals, nor is it to show off how good you are at niche areas, nor is it to shoehorn a super-hard topic into the Canon in the hopes that a chain reaction of imitators will hand you an easy first-line a few years down the road when that super-hard topic has become commonplace. It’s to submit a packet to Regionals. Adjust accordingly for your future writing and editing. To some extent many teams which write very easy packets are just new or don't have as wide a store of knowledge or quizbowl expertise to draw on yet. You have no such excuses.

Tipping people off that seemingly arbitrary things are actually important
Did we do this too much of this? Was it annoying? I’m thinking in particular of clues which “don’t sound unique” to somebody who doesn’t actually know the clue, but which actually are unique. Like the following clue:
tossup on Isolde, Chattahoochee+Columbia B+Toronto B wrote: The composer paired an orchestral version of this character’s final aria with the opera’s prelude as a promotional concert piece, which is still popular today.
Also thinking about the following inset from a Kipling bonus, which explains why a particular short story of his (which would be too difficult to ask as a standalone part) has important in the study of colonial stuff:
DartmouthA wrote:[10] This author of Gunga Din showed a reversal of colonial power structures after a white falls into a ravine full of native cholera victims in "The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes." He wrote The Man Who Would Be King.
I think that, ideally, most clues would make clear why they are important just through the text alone, or just leave it implicit that they’re important if they’re there. Sometimes this isn’t possible, and you have to go to a bit more length to show players why you included something. I think a sprinkling of this is justified on occasion, particularly if you have a new leadin or second clue like “NAME composed a concerto for this instrument”, where the answer is unique but it just doesn’t sound that way as it flies by without an additional modifier. I think many of Tommy’s arts questions display an understanding of this issue, and pulled off this process of addressing it very elegantly without going overboard.
That said, I think that a world where every sentence of every question has “famous” or “notably” plopped in as a verbal tic, completely irrespective of the level of a thing’s fame or note, would be a grim dystopia indeed. Indeed, the above paragraphs could well serve as an excuse for less experienced writers to just throw in whatever clues they want and then complain “But I appended famously to it! How dare you!” when something gets cut. This whole section is probably a sidebar for experienced editors only, and I still caution new writers to just write maximally-concise clues without adding a bunch of extra fluff. In some sense, constantly declaring how “famous” everything is is a pretty common new-writer problem; I suspect that it only becomes a solution to other problems again at a pretty high level of knowing what one is doing.

Literature
This was both Sarah’s first time and my first time editing Literature at regular collegiate difficulty, and this tournament was very much a trial by fire for both of us. In the end, I’d like to think we produced a Literature distribution which was at least solidly playable by most teams, even though it’s the category where the variance and number of outliers in either direction was probably the highest. If we’d had a bit more time, it might have been good for us to put more emphasis on looking back through old packets to ensure that early clues weren’t too basic, or to subdistribute more in each packet rather than defaulting to using the best submissions out of the bunch. I will say despite the above that I think Sarah displayed a strong command of literary history in putting this set together, and did a good job of zeroing in on the most important images, characters, and plot points from the texts we asked about. In particular, I appreciate her emphasis on ensuring that some tossups and bonus parts taught teams something about the history of literature, and its relation to the history of history -- e.g. the lit part on Jonathan Edwards, Kipling being the first “airport literature” of a sort through his profitability being sold in train stations, mentioning the connection between A Dance of the Forests and Nigerian independence celebrations -- rather than merely summarizing books.

I will say, even despite some shortfalls in head-editing the Literature here: Between working on this tournament and some other recent experiences, I am currently interested in trying my hand at editing collegiate Literature again in the near-future. I may as well tip my hand all the way and say I’m pretty interested in house-writing all of, or most of, an entire tournament’s Literature distribution (and perhaps another category or two) for an event running in the fall semester of 2015. I suspect you’ll hear more from me once the scheduling (reform) discussion for next year begins in earnest after Nats.

Related discussions of easy-ness of easy stuff

In the preceding argument about the ease of easy parts, I side more with Will Alston than with Jacob Reed, in that I think the threshold for a part being “too easy” is at a much lower difficulty than experienced players are often inclined to assume. And we often bungled that somewhat at this tournament. There are still teams who could well miss a part on Ernest Hemingway even if we added For Whom the Bell Tolls to the current part, and it’s actually very rare that adding some very easy clues to an easy part actually ups conversion from 90-95 percent to 100, or results in a part roughly equivalent in difficulty to the proverbial “[10] Find your ass with your hands”. A huge part of ensuring that regular difficulty works for all teams requires actually seeing what easy parts look like in play among lower-level teams, rather than writing them off as teams to be “distinguished” out of even getting 10s on bonuses. And insofar as we didn’t consider shades of ease enough as part of our editing process, I take full credit and apologize for that oversight.

Jacob R.: I wonder how much of the multi-way buzzer racing in your experience was a function of the strength of your site, versus an issue with the clues we were using before the title-drops. I did try to be pretty title-phobic in my final edits to this set (with one or two exceptions; in the Chattahoochee+ColumbiaB+TorontoB packet, I kept the title Athalie in the middle of line 3 of the Racine tossup), except for works which really are pretty obscure. If we really live in a world now where it’s impossible to drop a title before the giveaway without teams complaining about “buzzer races”, the game has gotten even more title-phobic than I could have ever anticipated, and I’d like to know so I can adjust accordingly. Moreover: If you’re really advocating for a world where no titles in (regular or above difficulty) lit questions are ever dropped until the giveaway, please put all your cards on the table by saying so. In the meantime, I am an advocate of reading books to get tossups earlier, which will continue to be a better strategy than waiting for the first title-drop. Additionally, I would caution you that past attempts to deduce how many buzzer races there actually were at a given event, rather than merely perceived, have often been inaccurate or unfalsifiable. I also suspect that some Loftus-esque phenomena start to factor into recollections of this sort. At any rate, I would like to hear more, either here or in the specific questions thread, about particular trouble spots that played out poorly.

Harder outliers in the tossups
We kept some, deliberately, in part so that some interesting submissions could make it in, in part so as to see if teams knew real-world famous things that hadn't been focused on a lot before, in part to keep teams on their toes (so nobody is saying "well, at this difficulty it HAS to be a tossup on X -- Y and Z are too hard"), and in part because we just didn't tone everything down quite as much as perhaps we should have. I think it's fairer to characterize this as "keeping hard outliers here or there" than as an appeal to some sort of "bell curve." I'll enumerate the list of tossups that seem to have served these functions, either intentionally or not, in the specific questions thread after I handle the backup of requests.

A minor point about discussing subdistribution in packet-sub tournaments
When a local site samples 10-14 of the 17 packets in a set, and not all bonuses get read every game, it’s easier to draw the conclusion that the set was misdistributed than that you’re likely committing a sampling error. I realize it’s hard to directly demonstrate otherwise, given the uncleared nature of the set, but I’m also willing to paste the entire list of answers in a given category within this forum if that is something folks are interested in discussing / verifying / falsifying.

Interesting geography
We tried this out. In the end there was about 7/8 geography across 17 packets, so a little less than .5/.5 per packet (as part of the same 1/1 with Current Events and Trash). Somehow about four of these questions relied on clues about local food production or cuisine, which was maybe a bit much. Other stuff we tried out in this part of the distro included: wildlife/pest control (New Zealand tossup), public transportation (Atlanta, Copenhagen TUs), public policy/politics in sort of a CE merger way (Indonesia deforesting ban, Macedonia-Greece dispute), indigenous people doing stuff with water (cenotes and Maracaibo bonus parts), a bit of geology/meteorology (Pineapple Express and K-T impact parts), and “human geography”/”culture” (Georgia TU, Macedonian wireless Internet clue). Hopefully these questions were fun to play and show something of a way forward for the category.

Some last unsolicited feelings and a slightly overwrought metaphor

When I first took this job, I was very apprehensive that I wouldn't be able to give it the attention it deserved, or that I'd end up phoning in a subpar tournament at least in my share of categories, or that I'd hate the experience and never want to do it again. To my pleasant surprise, all of the above worries turned out to be wildly false, and this is now close to the top of the list of the quizbowl experiences I'm most proud to have been a part of, both in process and product.

I think it was Jonathan Magin who first compared watching two teams “play[ing] the shit out of” a question set to watching a virtuosic concert performance. And he’s right -- there is something almost aesthetic about watching two dedicated teams tear apart a packet. If I might be allowed to extend his metaphor a little, I think I know why that is now. To some extent, it’s not the composition that makes a great performance great -- though of course that shapes and determines the outlines of a performance -- rather, it’s the execution of actually playing the notes on the page with style and aplomb. The level of determination, gutsiness, skill, etc. that I saw at the UVA site this past weekend, not just in the admittedly-impressive Top Team games but also among mid-level and bottom-level teams, was very inspiring, and facilitating it while reading such that I could also be its audience was a great sort of quizbowl experience in its own right. All we do is put the notes on the paper. It’s your playing that really makes it music to my ears.

Thank you all again for attending. Discuss away.
Matt J.
ex-Georgetown Day HS, ex-Yale
member emeritus, ACF

Sailing away on my copper boat

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Cody
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Re: 2015 Regionals: General non-specific thoughts and discus

Post by Cody » Mon Jan 26, 2015 6:07 pm

Matthew Jackson wrote:A minor point about discussing subdistribution in packet-sub tournaments
When a local site samples 10-14 of the 17 packets in a set, and not all bonuses get read every game, it’s easier to draw the conclusion that the set was misdistributed than that you’re likely committing a sampling error. I realize it’s hard to directly demonstrate otherwise, given the uncleared nature of the set, but I’m also willing to paste the entire list of answers in a given category within this forum if that is something folks are interested in discussing / verifying / falsifying.
I'm glad you brought this up, but I don't think it's a minor point at all: rarely do accusations of wonky subdistributions hold up once an entire category's answers are posted. Given that many editors (in general and specifically on this set) put a lot of care into managing subdistributions, I hope people think twice about this point when phrasing subdistributional complaints.
Cody Voight, VCU ‘14. I wrote lots of science and am an electrical engineer.
VCU Tournament Director ‘13-‘17. HSAPQ President ‘15-16.
Hero of Socialist Quizbowl Labor (NSC ‘14). “esteemed colleague” of Snap Wexley, ca. 2016. Stats Hero (Nats ‘16).
Quizbowl at VCU

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Re: 2015 Regionals: General non-specific thoughts and discus

Post by vinteuil » Mon Jan 26, 2015 7:14 pm

Matthew Jackson wrote:I’m also willing to paste the entire list of answers in a given category within this forum if that is something folks are interested in discussing / verifying / falsifying.
Is this really that much more secure than just distributing the packets to people who played the tournament?
Jacob Reed
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Yale '17, '19
East Chapel Hill '13
"...distant bayings from...the musicological mafia"―Denis Stevens

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Re: 2015 Regionals: General non-specific thoughts and discus

Post by bmcke » Wed Jan 28, 2015 1:52 pm

It was very clear that the tournament had some "scholarship" to it, more than most tournaments. I don't know if this hurt new teams at all (comparative stats might show that), but it certainly made the questions more meaningful. The bonuses were very good at asking about the content and significance of things, rather than just asking about the names of things.
Brendan McKendy
Secretary for Ontario Quizbowl Association
University of Ottawa 2011

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