I have retired from individual tournament discussion, but in as much as this seems to be a broader ideological critique, and one specifically aimed at me, I think that this merits comment. However, this post is all that I intend to write in response, as I can't imagine that another extended forum exchange between us could possibly lead to a point of reconciliation.
Magister Ludi wrote: In Auroni’s defense, it’s easy to understand why a writer might go overboard on leadin clues given quizbowl’s discussion culture, especially considering something like John Lawrence’s critique of last year’s ACF Nationals. This thread is probably not the perfect place for this topic, but I don't read a lot of board discussion nowadays so this will have to do. You don’t get any praise when you control line length for tossups, but you get butchered—absolutely fucking ripped apart, limb from fucking limb—when an expert decides you misplaced an early clue in a tossup on an easy answer. We give mixed messages on the board. On one hand we attack Auroni for writing overly long questions while simultaneously in the same thread Jacob Reed calls for more detailed clues. There’s absolutely no awareness of the practical impossibility of meeting these competing demands.
First, it is worth correcting this point. Many people seem to believe, as Ted suggests, that the call for detailed lead-ins is fundamentally irreconcilable with the call for sane tossup length. This stems from a basic misconception that the buzzability of a clue is mostly a function of the difficulty of the thing being described in the clue, when in fact, the degree of detail and clarity with which the thing is described will play a very large role in how buzzable the clue is. People operating under this misconception seem to believe that more clues will automatically lead to finer graduations of knowledge, and therefore to a smoother pyramid. But this is true only up to a point.
At some point, in order to fit an additional clue into a tossup, I will need to trim details from other clues to free up some room. Sometimes, the details that I'm cutting are merely fat worth trimming, and I've improved the tossup through this process. But sometimes, these details that I trim may actually be vital to the buzzability of those other clues; and thus by adding another clue, I've actually made the early clues less buzzable: by watering them down to a state of opacity or insufficient evocativeness, and by clustering the buzz-points later. It is thus sometimes (though not always) the case that a pyramid can improved by cutting
one sentence and using the space granted by this to flesh out the remaining lead-ins and middle clues.
I bring up the John Lawrence example because it illustrates a general point. In last year’s ACF Nats thread, John launched a merciless critique of the set that spent one sentence praising the “conception” of the set and nine paragraphs listing criticisms. (For example, he was disappointed for answering the Tess Durbeyfield tossup on the third line three of a nine-line tossup in an uncontested buzz, because he felt the clue required superficial reading death.) At the end of his takedown, he adds “let me emphasize” that he thought the set represented a good direction for future editing. No. Nine paragraphs speak for themselves about what John wanted to emphasize.
I know it’s a petty narcissistic example. But petty narcissism is the dominant tone of the board, which creates a larger problem. Quizbowl approaches discussion threads as reviewers rather than critics. Reviews relate the subjective reactions of one’s personal experience, while criticism offers a detached analysis of larger general trends. The Lawrence post is the perfect example. I responded to his critique with a long post outlining my editorial philosophy and methodology for Nats, calling for a discussion that would examine the experimental ideas in the whole set rather than focus on the technical flaws of individual questions. I tried a lot of formal innovation in the set—experimenting with how we ask questions rather than what we ask about—and was hoping to spark some ideas about different ways to frame questions in a way to reward different types of legitimate knowledge. But, John didn’t respond.
Now, I don’t think Oppen was a great set and agree with Andrew Hart it suffered from a lack of refinement. Particularly, I think Auroni lacked the depth to pull off some of the more ambitious answer-lines. That being said, I think it would be more productive to focus critique on refining the concept of creativity rather than attacking bad individual questions.
Ted's rhetorical stance here recalls a standard "heads I win, tails you lose" strategy for suppressing criticism. Here's how you play this game: When someone complains about misplaced clues in a tossup, you ask them whether they suffered a buzzer-race against a good player as a consequence of the clue in question. If they did, you then suggest that their complaint is overly colored by subjective personal experience, and is not being argued from sound abstract, impersonal principles; and then, you dismiss their complaint. If they did not, you then suggest that they are complaining about some abstract, invented problem that they can't demonstrate had any negative impact on a match; and then, you dismiss their complaint.
Here's another even easier variant of this game: When someone criticizes your tournament, you check to see if their post focuses on particular questions or if it argues mostly from broad principles. If it does the former, you deem those questions to be "individual questions" (automatic outliers, rather than possible evidence of larger problematic writing trends), and you accuse the critic of missing the big picture; and then, you dismiss their complaint. If it does not, you accuse them of talking in vague, impressionistic generalities that are not backed up by particular questions (which here are
treated as necessary evidence to establish larger problematic trends); and then, you dismiss their complaint.
If you read through Ted's post carefully, you'll catch three out of these four tactics being employed. You'll also find a surprising accusation that my original complaint about his Literature in the ACF Nationals 2014 thread focused on individual questions at the cost of talking about larger trends. In fact, all of the complaints about individual questions were folded into numbered points, each addressing a different larger technical question of tournament philosophy. (The post may be found here: http://www.hsquizbowl.org/forums/viewto ... 80#p280579
) Ted patently ignored and did not respond to any of these points in spite of his claim that he was "calling for discussion". These points represent the heart of my critique of that tournament and explicitly employ many of the guiding principals of my editing philosophy, with which Ted chose not to engage.
Perhaps, the most fundamental difference between us, Ted, is that you place much higher value on concept and I place much higher value on execution (which you dismiss as "technical" matters). This stance is evident in the very thesis of your post, and in your vehement attacks in past on tournaments CO 2010 and THUNDER II that had structurally sound questions that played well for their audiences, but whose idea of canon you found dangerous.
Ted, I think your claim that ACF Nationals 2014's literature questions "employed a lot of formal innovation in the set—experimenting with how we ask questions rather than what we ask about" is not sound. While there were good concepts for questions aplenty, I can't point to a single instance of a new way of asking about things that had not already been done by Magin, Evan, Will, you in your earlier work, or me, and been executed quite a bit better in those other instances. But even if had those things been genuinely novel (e.g. even if I'd never before heard a bonus part asking me to finish a quotation from a poem), they would have been less formative of my experience of that tournament than the basic fact of whether the questions were well-structured, distributed buzzes well, rewarded teams' actual knowledge well on bonuses, etc.
To give an example from Oppen, I very much liked the tossup on "Addie's coffin". I thought it was a creative answer-line on a well-trodden topic, and I thought the clues were well chosen. I would have enjoyed a well-executed tossup just on As I Lay Dying slightly less, but I still would have enjoyed it very much, because it's hard to write a good hard tossup on an easy answer-line like this, at a tournament in which very many people might be expected to have read the book. But I would take a well-executed As I Lay Dying tossup over a structurally-flawed "Addie's coffin" tossup any day. I enjoy cool answer-lines, but finding good clues and putting them together well is worth so much more to me.
You actually illustrated this point very well once, Ted. We were at CO 2011 together, and you remarked that the tournament was obviously being very well-received by everyone in the room, even though all of us were quite opposed to all of Ryan's philosophical spoutings on the forums, and argued with him often. As you noted, whatever our objections to Ryan's conceptual apparatus, he fundamentally knew how to execute, and that made it one of the best hard tournaments of that era. That tournament seems to be praised still primarily for its technical soundness.
We can elaborate endlessly on small question flaws but can barely muster a sentence analyzing a successful question. You never see long multi-post exchanges examining the specific reasons why a good question was good. Tournament discussion is a culture of fear.
For all my critical responses to your post, I do think that this point about our community being stingy with praise stands. I am certainly aware of how much I myself have contributed to the negative culture that exists. And I have apologized for it on numerous occasions, and I am willing to apologize for it again. But I hope you have enough self-awareness to realize that you are one of the most vitriolic tournament commentators this board has seen in recent years, with more hatchet jobs to your name than any of us. I know of other people besides myself who find it ironic that you
are the one condemning the "culture of fear". In all these years, I have never heard you even once own up to your pivotal role in creating the culture that you now decry or apologize in any shape or form.
The one difficulty is that, in the current climate, it seems strange to write a lengthy post in a tournament discussion positively dissecting good questions, and I think that may remain so. I think the "Praise Song" and Top 10 lists have been really good at channeling that stuff. (By the way, Ted, even though you don't visit the boards often, I hope you did read this: http://www.hsquizbowl.org/forums/viewto ... 46#p266459
. Though I still hold last years' Lit as my least favorite I've played at a Nationals, I also routinely speak of your Regionals 2011 Lit editing as the best regular-difficulty Lit editing I've played.) I would be very happy if a tournament-focused "praise song" became a yearly feature rather than something we do only in response to a crisis: if we just got together at the end of the season and talked about our favorite questions, clues, innovations, etc. that happened that season, so they don't get lost in the bustle of normal discussion.
One olive branch: I have no interest in continuing a conversation with you about Literature via the forums, as nothing in our previous discourse leads me to believe that this could be done productively. However, once this year's ACF Nationals is done, I would be happy to talk with you about these matters via Skype or in person (should you manage to attend CO). If you want to each go through a series of literature questions we wrote and talk about how we chose the answer-lines and clues that we did to make our ideas clearer and/or (as a less narcissistic exercise) go through questions by other editors that we liked and discuss why we liked them (perhaps recording the conversation to be shared), I'm quite willing to do such a thing. That might be a productive way to espouse our views without more exchanges of polemic.