ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Magister Ludi » Fri May 08, 2015 3:56 pm

I've spent time thinking about the discussion in this thread and have two points to make. This post is the first.
theMoMA wrote: I'd like to offer the following argument: claims about how hard a tournament was are empirical, and depend on hard data about how many questions were answered and when the buzzes occurred; they are not about how important the topics asked about were, and do not depend on how much importance any particular expert attaches to a particular answer, and similarly, they do not depend on one person's universalization of their subjective feeling of playing the question.
I think this view overlooks the obvious fact that “difficulty” is both an objective and subjective category. It’s determined by concrete stats measuring the number of questions answered and people’s subjective sense for how the questions “felt” to play. Numerical data and personal experience are both valid criteria for appraising difficulty that deserve respectful consideration. While upper-level editors might favor statistics as a metric, I think less experienced teams largely tend to judge difficulty on subjective “feel” more than empirical data. Now, a third-bracket team might answer the same number of tossups in packet six of 2014 Nats and 2015 Nats, but there’s a massive difference in how a dead tossup on Mary Tyrone feels compared to a dead tossup on The Fifth Column. Statistically, they are equivalent in difficulty, but psychologically feel quite different to play. Lower-bracket teams don’t care so much about converting one extra bonus part as much as feeling they have a chance to know some of the answers. This general sense makes even the worst players engaged with a tournament because they know there will be some answers that they’ll recognize. When you don’t know a single answer to a lit tossup for three straight packets, it’s crushing and only natural for a player to disengage. Let’s look at the lit tossups for editors 4, 5, and 6: My Kinsman, Major Molineux, Between the Acts, Leopardi, Makioka Sisters / Dictionary of the Khazars, V, Buchan, Ariel Dorfman’s play / Fifth Column, Candida, Baudolino, and Malaria (from ungettable clues). At this point, the collective effect of so many upper-level difficulty questions “feels” overwhelming to the average player—and apparently several top players as well.

This begs the question: How can an editor predict the subjective “feel” of a tournament? There’s a group of esteemed senior editors who seem to dismiss all personal complaints of this sort about difficulty as entirely arbitrary—outside their control and their responsibility. Editors like Ryan Westbrook, Jerry, and Ike seem irritated that audiences would even deem to judge their questions on this criterion. Andrew Hart offers the most eloquent summary of this view:
theMoMA wrote: I'd venture that, if you posted similar lists of answers from one editors' packet to the next, it would be close to impossible to pick out which ones actually turned out to be more difficult. From a practical standpoint, as I'm sure everyone knows, editors' questions get written in chunks, and there's a lot of chance that goes into how exactly they get clumped together into packets. A particularly hard editors' packet is almost certainly just a difficult-to-foresee outlier. So while the effect of Editors' 6 being particularly tough may have been large, it's hard to blame the editors too much for not being able to predict that that would be the case.
Conversely, I think it’s possible for editors to predict the general difficulty of packets and think it’s important, even essential, for editors of marquee tournaments like ACF Nats and ICT to put premeditated thought into planning the arrangement of answers in the editors packets to have consistent difficulty. Evan has already called attention to the concrete difficulty scale I used to balance the difficulty of my categories at last year’s Nats, but I also took specific measures to program the subjective “feel” of playing the editors packets.

The reason last year’s tournament felt less difficult was because I fastidiously planned the answer selection—and answer arrangement—across the editors packet to create a well-balanced range of answers. I appointed myself as “managing editor” because I wanted ton devote a large chunk of my editing time to molding the “feel” of the tournament. For example, Jerry initially had slated the first three philosophy tossups in the editors packets to be on Hubert Dreyfus, Gettier Problems, and Jerry Fodor's language of thought. Regardless of the other answers in the philosophy distribution, after starting the playoffs with a murder’s row of 20th century philosophy most people’s impression of the category as impossible will already be cemented. Accordingly, I worked with Jerry to replace two of the hardest answers with two easier concept tossups and rearranged the order of the tossups across the first six editors packets so Dreyfus-Gettier-mentalese-ressentiment-master/slave dialectic-thing in itself became Nagel-ressentiment-history-immortality of the soul-mentalese-master/slave dialectic. Now, the second group of answers certainly isn’t easy and perhaps is statistically equivalent in difficulty, but I would argue it feels more accessible since it has tossups on general concepts such as “history” and “the soul” with clues quoting people like Plato rather than hardcore analytic philosophers.

My methodology was to adjust my answer selection to create a semi-consistent difficulty in each packet. In packet five, I saw Jerry was tossing up both Walter Lippmann and Mentalese, so I adjusted the distribution to have three easier lit answers (Stephen Dedalus, Ovid, Enemy of the People) to balance the “feel” of the packet’s humanities. After being introduced to Water Lippmann and Jerry Fodor, I thought many teams might not be in the mood to meet Ryszard Kapuscinski in the same packet. So I switched some answers to bring in Ovid and Ibsen. Moreover, I wanted to avoid the fashionable bias toward obscure, experimental 20th century writers that tends to permeate upper-level tournaments. At the same time, I intentionally placed my hardest painting tossup Diebenkorn in that round, after specifically placing easy artist tossups on Picasso and Velazquez in the previous rounds. I wanted the painting distribution to take a violent shift from Velazquez to Diebenkorn. I wanted to create a sense of dissonance to combat transparency, so players would think “This could be a tossup on Picasso or someone who’s never come up before. This could be Ovid or it could be the Roman-poet-version of Richard Diebenkorn.”

Now, I’m not saying that every editorial decision I made was infallible or that I'm more responsible for the positive reception of last year's ACF Nats than the other editors. But I think last year's set benefited from the fact I spent time thinking about the overall experience of playing the editors packets as a whole rather than just focusing on the discrete experience of playing each question in isolation. I tried to adopt the mindset of someone who is sitting down to play the editors packets straight through, and adjusted my distribution to make this experience more balanced. You have a year to write the editors packets for ACF Nationals. It’s entirely reasonable to ask the editors to put some thought into planning the overall distribution.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by theMoMA » Fri May 08, 2015 5:24 pm

Ted, I don't think either of us knows what kind of packet-to-packet difficulty assessment went on behind the scenes in the 2015 version of Nationals, but I'm pretty sure the answer isn't "none," as you seem to suggest above. Also contrary to Ted's characterization, I didn't suggest that editors should punt on patrolling their packets to ensure that one of them isn't a difficult outlier. I simply offered that it was often random chance that lumped questions together in the first place, and that, regardless of how you choose to reshuffle things, that randomness still a major factor in how the packet comes together (which, I'll point out, accords with Ted's above-stated experience with 2014 Nationals, in which his herculean efforts to standardize difficulty across packets were a result of seemingly random agglomerations whose otherwise potentially disastrous effects had previously gone unnoticed).

Because difficulty assessment is nebulous and hard to get exactly right, even for a group of three or four editors, it's very possible that a tougher-than-intended packet will come together based on pure chance and pass editorial muster of even the most careful and active group of editors. My point is that this is certainly a frustrating result, but the cause is much more likely to be the difficulty in assessing whether one packet is harder than the next than editorial laziness, negligence, or malice, as Ted seems to suggest.

Although probably not born of malice, it is indeed unfortunate that total points in games on editors' packets involving Virginia would range from 475 points to 605 points; that total points in games on editors' packets involving Penn would range from 410 to 615 points; and that total points in games on editors' packets involving Michigan would range from 325 to 605 points. Yes, that average spread of over 200 points at 2014 Nationals is indeed unfortunate, since it's over 30 points higher than the average spread in total points from games involving those teams at 2015 Nationals, whose appalling inconsistencies have so troubled Ted. Of course, there's no need for data, because 2014 has been proclaimed as "feeling" more consistent, but these numbers are perhaps interesting nonetheless.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Ike » Fri May 08, 2015 5:45 pm

I agree with some of this, but I'm hostile to a lot of it. I will say that I find it amusing you think I'm cheapening my intellect when you were praising Auroni for doing "impeccable work" here and then not having enough competence to write a hard tournament like Oppen, when all that I have done here is defended the fact that this tournament is actually easier than every other Nationals tournament in the past. Oh and I mean, in case you didn't read the entirety of the thread - there was actually a subtext that somehow I was fucking over teams by writing hard tossups or something, so yeah you can expect me to "overreact."

We, as editors didn't find out that three of the team packets were going to be used in the playoffs until T minus 7 days from when the set had to be due. We have no way of ensuring that a "murder's row" of philosophy questions would be coming up or not, since at T minus 7 days, we were wrangling with Yale, UVA and Maryland's abominably late packets. Dartmouth's packet was randomly inserted in between editor's rounds 3 and 4, etc. So while it's nice to plan out such things, we can't really do so. As an example, it sure would have been nice if two Plato tossups didn't come up back to back followed by my Xenophon-Socrates bonus - but I can't do anything about that, since the whacky schedule devised by Pinyan is tough to re-jiggle. Who knows how team packets and editor's packets are going to be used next year? We can try to work with the coordinator to figure things out, but between a possibly shifting field and the whole size of the field necessitating a crazy schedule, it will invariably screw up any plans. For what it's worth, if we could blend in editor's and team packets, I would - I think it's more fair, but unfortunately that's not feasible.
there’s a massive difference in how a dead tossup on Mary Tyrone feels compared to a dead tossup on The Fifth Column. Statistically, they are equivalent in difficulty, but psychologically feel quite different to play.
Well, I mean there's a massive difference if you come from the Adams-Gioia school of writing and playing and if you come from the Ike-Carson-Westbrook school of thought. Look, this tossup didn't go dead in every room - Tabitha of Stanford B got it. John Lawrence and Chris Ray both had that "Oh, I should have known that" expression, and I mean, if you don't know what the phrase "The Fifth Column" means...then I think you just need to stop complaining and go learn more things. By which I mean, a response to your tossup on Mary Tyrone might be "Oh look, Ted's here to lecture us again about HOW IMPORTANT THIS FUCKING CORE PLAY IS despite the fact THE EDITOR IS TO STUPID TO KNOW WHAT MORPHINE DOES TO YOUR HANDS" is thus also an equally valid psychological criticism of your question and tournament.
This begs the question: How can an editor predict the subjective “feel” of a tournament? There’s a group of esteemed senior editors who seem to dismiss all personal complaints of this sort about difficulty as entirely arbitrary—outside their control and their responsibility.
Right, because we're totally going to let in another Parson Pendleton question next year. I'll say this again hopefully for the last time: I am receptive to the idea that ACF Nationals should be easier. I am not receptive to the idea that this tournament was significantly harder than any Nats since 2009 (when I started playing.)
Now, I’m not saying that every editorial decision I made was infallible or that I'm more responsible for the positive reception of last year's ACF Nats than the other editors.
I'm pretty much inclined to make Rob's dismissive wanking motion. I mean, Ted, you can sit here and provide an armchair of the analysis of the tournament and that's all fine and dandy, but it's divorced from reality. First of all, look at how many posts came from the same group of people saying this tournament was hard - in fact, like has there been any discussion other than hardness? Any problems 2014 nationals had got caught up with the music mafia. We addressed the problem with the visual arts being very hard - almost every player that I have talked to - including second and third bracket teams liked how the arts was easier this year - but I guess you choose to ignore that constant criticism because the reaction to your tournament was so great. Many teams thought Jerry's philosophy tossups last year were incredibly hard to know more than a few facts about, so I decided to tone the overall tossup answer selection down - though again, I guess you choose to ignore that criticism because your tournament was again, so great. This tournament did a lot of things right, everything that was wrong about last year's nats - across all categories we actually addressed.

And on the topic of criticism in general: I talked with numerous people offline about this tournament including: The Kenyon team, Steve Canning of Washington, Benji, Ankit Aggarwal, Jasper Lee, Andrew Wang, Jarret Greene, Libo Zheng, Seth Teitler, John Lawrence, Shan Kothari, and other great luminaries whose names I may be forgetting. Some of them told me it was the best set they had read / played; a lot of them described the difficulty discussion as "tiresome" / felt like sour grapes. Considering how the 14th round of this year's ICT for example had four tossups and three bonuses on 20th century literature and no one complained about it, you can bet your ass I think it's sour grapes. The truth of the matter is that you can't come on to here and get a correct assessment of how the tournament was received or not, especially since less than 15% of the top bracket has even posted on here at all, and less than half than that has made more than one post.

The ACF Nationals editors did have that hour long skype postmortem about the tournament. At our postmortem, we have no problem making the tournament "somewhat easier" for next year. But be forewarned: all teams are officially put on notice that minor works by major authors can come up, and if you don't think Novalis is core enough for the tournament, you're not going to be pleased. It's not official but this year's editors are all hoping to come back next year with the possibility of a few category swaps.

Edit - grammar things.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Fri May 08, 2015 5:56 pm

You generally want to use spread along with other measures of variance, and Virginia was a very different team in those two years...but I'm pretty sure Ted is talking about stylistic variance rather than the quantity anyway. I'm not sure why you're insistent that the latter captures the former when our data on buzz points is still nonexistent.

EDIT: Everyone knows minor works by major authors can come up. The objection was that the question was stupid and you said you included it as a joke.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by theMoMA » Fri May 08, 2015 6:17 pm

Obviously my statistical jab is both crude and fallible, but I think it serves as an effective rebuttal to Ted's most cartoonish characterizations. Ted would apparently have you believe that 2014 Nationals was lovingly hewn, carved, and polished (by Ted) out of a single block of pure white marble, while the 2015 Nationals was produced by a team of uncoordinated stokers hurling random shovelfuls of questions into each packet. If the truth were really so dramatic, it seems highly unlikely that the ranges would shake out the way they did.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Muriel Axon » Fri May 08, 2015 6:20 pm

Yeah, I also don't buy the reliance on the subjective feel of a small number of people. We should know by now that that's colored by all kinds of situational factors, ranging from how well your particular team is doing to whether the coffee was good at breakfast.

I will say that on the whole, this tournament (including the playoffs) felt like much less of a death march to me than previous years - and I won't pretend that this wasn't influenced by a number of situational factors (e.g. different teammates, different opponents). That packet with tossups on Death and the Maiden, pataphysics, and John Buchan? That was great for me! It's likely that Tommy Casalaspi did great on other packets that didn't favor Minnesota. Isn't that a surprise - when you don't know something, it feels hard! That's why, if you're relying on subjective feel to make a point, you should at least rely on the subjective feel of more than, like, five people.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by theMoMA » Fri May 08, 2015 6:29 pm

Sorry to belabor the point; I've reached heretofore unseen levels of pontification in this thread. But I think Shan's and Matt's posts above illustrate what's great about using hard numbers to make arguments about sets: you can actually argue against them! When someone says that they felt the arts distribution was difficult, what can you say other than "well, I didn't"? On the other hand, if you say that "2015 Nats was not as variable as 2014 Nats, given that games involving teams with relatively consistent lineups had wider average spreads of total points in 2014," Matt can critique the methodology and call for an analysis of variance--which I would totally do if I didn't close my Excel sheet by accident without saving it :(

I think it also does a good job categorizing complaints more accurately. A lot of times, when people say that they thought a tournament was too hard, they extrapolate from a few tossups to an incomplete and incorrect total picture. For example, Eric Mukherjee apparently just calculated that there were 55 more dead tossups in the 2014 Nationals top bracket than in 2015 in the same number of games. It appears that 2015 Nationals was objectively the more accessible tournament, and was less plagued by dead tossups than 2014. Nonetheless, people are still annoyed (and it's not illegitimate for them to be annoyed!) that certain tossups (The Fifth Column, e.g.) were either too difficult or too unimportant or otherwise suboptimal. The great thing about stats is that they hone in on what the problem really is; in 2015, it's apparently that people were dissatisfied with the way that some of the answers were selected (i.e. too "unimportant") or distributed (i.e. "too many 20th-century lit tossups"), not that they were too difficult (although there also seems to be a movement to tone down difficulty to lower the amount of dead tossups even further, which I personally support and don't mean to diminish). Knowing this will help editors write better tournaments moving forward.

Obviously, lots of the data we'd need to make particular claims about things like subdistributions and buzzing profiles of various questions is lacking, and people should remain free to discuss tournaments however they'd like, but I think it's cool and useful to make these hard-data claims when we can.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Fri May 08, 2015 6:42 pm

More stats to follow, possibly, but

ACF Nationals 2014 had 188 dead tossups in the top bracket of playoffs (2.85 per game)
ACF Nationals 2015 had 133 dead tossups in the top bracket of playoffs (2.02 per game)

This was certainly not what I was expected. Other measures might recapitulate Ted's subjective assessment, because I certainly felt like more stuff was going dead this year.

EDIT: Oh fuck, Dartmouth left last year, which fucks up the stats. Stay tuned. Also curse you again, Nick Jensen.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Magister Ludi » Fri May 08, 2015 6:51 pm

Here's my second observation. I think this thread represents the culmination of a certain show-no-weakness style of tournament discussion where editors defend their work in such absolutist terms that they refuse to admit even obvious issues that could be easily fixed. We’ve all been guilty of this practice at some point. When you’re attacked, it’s only natural to be defensive. More than almost anyone, I’ve been guilty of approaching criticism in full-on Terminator destroy-all-opposition mode. But somehow people in the community need to find a way to frame discussion more productively and honestly.
grapesmoker wrote: I also think the idea that Ike specifically or the editors generally didn't take care with their answer selection doesn't stand up to scrutiny. You can take care and still overshoot the difficulty for whatever reason.
I think this statement is objectively incorrect. Twenty-five days before this year’s tournament, Rob—due to over commitment—had completed almost no literature questions for the editors packets nor filled out the answer spreadsheet with planned topics. Accordingly, to catch up Rob outsourced a ton of the editors-packet lit to freelance writers. Ike wrote 14 tossups (including almost all the questions on older, canonical literature requiring more research), Zeke wrote two, and Andrew Hart provided one. So Rob wrote 19 of the 36 tossups in his category: 12 were 20th century, 2 were common links (with mainly 20th century clues), 3 were 19th century, and there was one apiece on Shakespeare and a Marvell poem. I’m not saying Rob shouldn’t be commended for putting in tons of work the last month to produce a solid set of questions. But we can commend Rob for his work while saying the set could have been better with more planning and management. The over-commitment problem should have been spotted and easily could be prevented in the future with a simple rule that bans Nationals editors from editing any other tournaments the same semester they’re working on Nationals. But we condone this recurring problem by refusing to address it publicly.

Specifically, while I thought the literature was generally very strong, I think Rob’s lack of organization lead to two issues that negatively impacted the quality of the tournament:

1- Skew toward 20th century fiction. Questions on these topics are easy to write because they’re filled with flashy, prepackaged quizbowl clues and no one has enough real knowledge to recognize misplaced clues. You can’t write a bad tossup on The Dictionary of the Khazars. No one knows enough about it to tell if it’s bad. It’s immune to buzzer races because no one buzzes. When writing quickly it’s easier to write on Between the Acts than Jane Austen (or even Mrs. Dalloway). Moreover, Rob favored the third or fourth most-famous works of major writers (Eyeless in Gaza, Baudolino, V, The Clown, Between the Acts). This skew favored certain teams and affected the outcome of the tournament.

2- Rushed clue and answer selection. I think there were a number of questions that were unnecessarily difficult, which could have been avoided with more planning. The best example is the ridiculously difficult giveaway to the malaria tossup, which I think Rob would have caught if he had more time to research the topic. Moreover, I think Rob felt pressure to accept every freelance tossup he received, so tossups like The Fifth Column slipped through the cracks even though I doubt Rob would have chosen to write on that topic himself.

But the lack of refinement mainly hurt the set’s quality in subtler ways. The tossup on “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman” offers the ideal case study. This tossup represents the plug-and-chug approach to poetry questions where editors pick a medium-length poem from a famous poet that hasn’t been tossed up recently, regurgitate a couple random descriptions, drop the last line, and mention the opening line as the giveaway. The mentality is: “I want to write a Wallace Stevens question. What poem haven’t I seen tossed up recently?” A better approach would be researching Stevens oeuvre to see what poems and ideas are the subject of extended study. This sort of research would have shown that “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman” is basically only known as a second-rate expression of a recurring theme in his poetry: poetry as the supreme fiction. While few Wallace Stevens fans would recognize anything other than the opening line of “Christian Woman,” every serious reader would recognize the phrase “supreme fiction.” A tossup on the phrase “supreme fiction” would be a fantastic idea that could draw clues from several well-known poems and critical works. Instead we got a tossup that went unanswered and frustrated readers of Wallace Stevens.

Rob’s portion of the tournament lacked this type of maturity and refined editorial vision which has marked ACF Nationals literature over the last five years. Recent editors—Magin, myself, Zeke, Auroni, and apparently Ike this year—have approached writing Nationals as a year-long intellectual project. A vocation more than a job. Accordingly, the literature distributions over the last five years have shown a strong editorial vision, a depth of fresh primary-source clues, and a defined writing philosophy that was missing from this year’s set. Rob’s questions were well-written and interesting, but the difference between a top editor and a very good editor is the excitement that comes from a distinct critical sensibility. Reading one of Rob’s tournaments is like eating at the Cheesecake Factory. There’s a wide array of dishes with no personality. Everything is tasty but nothing is memorable.

I think Rob has the ability and the talent to produce a top-notch set, but doesn’t give himself the time. I am eager to see what Rob will produce when his writing is not hampered by time constraints.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by felgon123 » Fri May 08, 2015 7:12 pm

In response to Shan: I identified those as especially hard answers under the assumption that no one would contest that they are hard. If someone can show me the conversion numbers demonstrating that they were converted at the same rate as anything else, I'll gladly partially retract that statement. I say "partially" because, as I think Jacob pointed out, conversion numbers aren't that useful. Rare is the instance in which the editors choose a tossup answer so hard that the best teams can't answer it. But what about answers so hard that the best teams can't answer them until near the end of the tossup, so that virtually no buzzes across the field are made before the last two or three lines? I think that happened quite a bit this year, but unfortunately there's no way to quantify it, so far as I am aware.

I'll add that I am in strong agreement with most of Ted's new post above.

As for this:
Ike wrote:Considering how the 14th round of this year's ICT for example had four tossups and three bonuses on 20th century literature and no one complained about it, you can bet your ass I think it's sour grapes.
Ah, I see. So the mere existence of a single packet at a previous tournament with the same problem that I pointed out here, in conjunction with my failure to comment upon that problem on a public Internet forum at the time, either disqualifies my right to point it out now or renders it not a problem at all.

Ike, all I can say is this: if all criticisms of this ACF Nationals amount to sour grapes, those are some pretty mild sour grapes, because no one has denied that this tournament was quite good overall, especially your questions. Whatever psychological states you want to attribute to us to deny the validity of any issues we may take with the tournament, those don't even begin to compare to whatever nightmarish state must be afflicting you, to drive you to react to our criticisms with such uninhibited and childish rage. I respect you as an editor, as a writer, and as a player. Grow up, please.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Fri May 08, 2015 7:12 pm

I give Billy Busse three Kleene-Hodge-Michelin stars.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Fri May 08, 2015 7:14 pm

Okay, what are we really talking about here? It's already been empirically established that only the last non-finals packet ("Editors Six") suffered from a lower ppg or tossup conversion rate. So, we're talking about one packet here (on which many important games were played, of course).

I'm still not subjectively convinced that one packet was actually more difficult in any substantive way, but I'm not going to dispute the numbers. It had some answers in weird corners of the canon such as linguistics and Egyptian history, where you either have knowledge or you don't (there isn't much in between area), and I think some of the top teams didn't play all that well on it.



Here's the thing too: sometimes the packet wins.

Sometimes games turn into defensive scrums, the same way that some football or basketball games turn into ugly, defensive contests, even games played between two very skillful teams.

If you opt to go with hard finals packets, I would venture to guess that once out of every three years, the game may be kind of ugly. Once out of every three years, there may be fireworks and lots of good buzzes. And, once out of every three years, you'll have something in the middle. That's just a gut-feeling guess, but that's what I'd predict. And, I'm okay with that.

The packet might beat teams up one particular year - that fact alone doesn't prove that the packet was unfair. As I say that, I know that it's probably bound to kick off a whole new wave of bickering, because I know that I have different views on this stuff than many of my colleagues today.

Now, a packet can be unfairly or unreasonably difficult. Or, it can inappropriately favor certain areas of knowledge over other areas (i.e. science over humanities, or lit over history, or etc.). I'm not at all convinced that this finals packet (or Editors Six, for that matter) was unreasonable or unfair in either of those ways, but reasonable minds can differ. For example, I have a tough time believing that science answers like geostrophy, glass transition, and N.crassa are qualitatively easier than history answers of Guizot, Sardis, and Old Court-NC, or palpably easier than lit answers of High Toned Old Christian Woman, My Brilliant Career, and Eyeless in Gaza. The simple fact that the science answers were converted and some of the lit and history answers were not, in this particular case, doesn't do much to move my opinion on that count. Again, reasonable minds can certainly differ on what constitutes an "unfairly hard" question - but, of the answers that went dead: you'll have a hard time convincing me that Guizot or Sardis or Amana, for example, fall into the category of being hard in an unfair way.

The bottom line is that I'm okay with the understanding that "sometimes the packet wins." That doesn't mean that I'm abdicating my responsibility as an editor to always be watchful that I'm not allowing a particular packet to be unfair or unreasonable. If editors abdicate that responsibility, it will result in packets that are irreversibly fated to be ugly slogs, and that's no good. I don't personally think that either Editors Six or Finals One was destined to be a slog for some of the top teams - it did turn out to be one, and that's a bit less fun to watch, but to some extent - that's just a part of the game.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Magister Ludi » Fri May 08, 2015 7:19 pm

theMoMA wrote:Sorry to belabor the point; I've reached heretofore unseen levels of pontification in this thread. But I think Shan's and Matt's posts above illustrate what's great about using hard numbers to make arguments about sets: you can actually argue against them! When someone says that they felt the arts distribution was difficult, what can you say other than "well, I didn't"? On the other hand, if you say that "2015 Nats was not as variable as 2014 Nats, given that games involving teams with relatively consistent lineups had wider average spreads of total points in 2014," Matt can critique the methodology and call for an analysis of variance--which I would totally do if I didn't close my Excel sheet by accident without saving it :(

I think it also does a good job categorizing complaints more accurately. A lot of times, when people say that they thought a tournament was too hard, they extrapolate from a few tossups to an incomplete and incorrect total picture. For example, Eric Mukherjee apparently just calculated that there were 55 more dead tossups in the 2014 Nationals top bracket than in 2015 in the same number of games. It appears that 2015 Nationals was objectively the more accessible tournament, and was less plagued by dead tossups than 2014. Nonetheless, people are still annoyed (and it's not illegitimate for them to be annoyed!) that certain tossups (The Fifth Column, e.g.) were either too difficult or too unimportant or otherwise suboptimal. The great thing about stats is that they hone in on what the problem really is; in 2015, it's apparently that people were dissatisfied with the way that some of the answers were selected (i.e. too "unimportant") or distributed (i.e. "too many 20th-century lit tossups"), not that they were too difficult (although there also seems to be a movement to tone down difficulty to lower the amount of dead tossups even further, which I personally support and don't mean to diminish). Knowing this will help editors write better tournaments moving forward.

Obviously, lots of the data we'd need to make particular claims about things like subdistributions and buzzing profiles of various questions is lacking, and people should remain free to discuss tournaments however they'd like, but I think it's cool and useful to make these hard-data claims when we can.
Yeah, I'm sure that my post comes across as self-serving, but the general point I'm trying to make is that editors need to put conscious effort into editing/orchestrating the experience of a tournament as a total unit. Looking at the macro perspective of a tournament as a whole rather than just the micro perspective focusing on individual questions would have predicted certain avoidable problems (like the 20th century bias). I think editors would benefit more from adopting a different mindset that's sensitive to both micro and macro trends in their writing. I'm not interested in critiquing how commenters like Andrew Hart use stats to construct arguments in post-tournament discussion, but how to change the scope of the average editor's mentality to foster better editorial judgment.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Fri May 08, 2015 7:20 pm

p.s. That was my Walter Lippmann tossup, Ted!
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Fri May 08, 2015 7:26 pm

double p.s. - Here's a brief post which will express some appreciation for where Ted comes from. This year, I had a slightly shorter window of time for researching and writing my questions than last year - and I do think those kind of time constraints limit how dynamic, thoughtful, and creative your questions will be. A shorter time window will result in fewer questions that feel "exciting" in the sense of being new or fresh or different - and more questions that seem like standard fodder.

This doesn't mean that I endorse Ted's "core subjects" approach. In fact, in many ways, I am diametrically opposed to that approach. But, I do agree that there's a lot to be gained from having the benefit of a slow, thoughtful approach to building a tournament - as opposed to what most editors and writers do with most tournaments (either by their own choice, or for more practical reasons like "I'm working on three different tournaments that badly need my help and there is a rate-limiting constant of hours in the day")
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Ike » Fri May 08, 2015 7:40 pm

felgon123 wrote:As for this:
Ike wrote:Considering how the 14th round of this year's ICT for example had four tossups and three bonuses on 20th century literature and no one complained about it, you can bet your ass I think it's sour grapes.
Ah, I see. So the mere existence of a single packet at a previous tournament with the same problem that I pointed out here, in conjunction with my failure to comment upon that problem on a public Internet forum at the time, either disqualifies my right to point it out now or renders it not a problem at all.

Ike, all I can say is this: if all criticisms of this ACF Nationals amount to sour grapes, those are some pretty mild sour grapes, because no one has denied that this tournament was quite good overall, especially your questions. Whatever psychological states you want to attribute to us to deny the validity of any issues we may take with the tournament, those don't even begin to compare to whatever nightmarish state must be afflicting you, to drive you to react to our criticisms with such uninhibited and childish rage. I respect you as an editor, as a writer, and as a player. Grow up, please.
Okay, I was going to respond to Ted's pretty ridiculous charge first of all, but I want to respond to this first since I think you're reasonable.

First of all, I want to apologize to you, Tommy if I've come off cold, aloof and distant to you over the years. For what it's worth, I respect you a lot as a player across all categories, even though I haven't showed it. Billy, Wangster, and I were going to ask you to play with us for Brian's side tournament so that we could topple that science demon that is Eric, but we're not going to the main site. As a writer, I told MattBo earlier that I think you're one of the under-appreciated writers of our game. Believe it or not, your manifesto did influence the amount of film (though not American!) in this tournament. So whether you realize it or not, I do care about your ideas and criticisms.

As to the sour grapes specifically, we were discussing the subjective component of this tournament's difficulty, so I think it's fair to bring it up. In case you want a reference points - I was thinking about the rage induced posts of 2013, then the glowing review you made in 2014, and then the posts here. I'm just saying, that, to me fits the "sour grape model." For what its worth, I never have called you out for it because everyone brings sour grapes to the table - the only reason why I brought it up is because Ted thinks his tournament is hewn from marble and ours wasn't since he specifically brought up tournament reception.

As to what drives my (childish) rage: The suggestion that the only way to write a tournament is the Gioia-Adams method - you can bet your ass that makes me mad. Any suggestion that I was lazy, or just don't care about questions, - yes that pisses me off. And as I will post later probably, Rob did put a fuck-ton of work into the tournament.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Auks Ran Ova » Fri May 08, 2015 7:41 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote:"I'm working on three different tournaments that badly need my help and there is a rate-limiting constant of hours in the day"
I think even before that delightful flood of Gioialalia I had tried to make it pretty clear that the above was the primary rate-limiting step on my work this year - though it's hardly the case that I just lazily pooped everything out at the last minute. I spent the month before this tournament working on it essentially full time, seven days a week, which was sufficient to produce (I think) acceptable work, though it obviously wasn't conducive to coming up with a lot of clever or unusual ideas, or doing a lot of preliminary reading, both of which are things I plan to devote more time to assuming I'm editing the tournament again next year, as I intend to.

Also, please stop characterizing the decision to include the Fifth Column tossup as "the editors thought it was funny", because that's an uncharitable interpretation of a secondhand version of an offhanded late-night comment I made to Ike. I believe I said something along the lines of "it amused me", not in the "ha ha those jerks are gonna have fun with this one" sense, but in the sense that it was an interesting idea that I wouldn't've thought of writing on. I basically trusted Zeke's judgement in having written it in the first place; empirically, it went dead in a bunch of important games, which was certainly not the outcome I, or I imagine he, wanted. Just gotta do better next time.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Auks Ran Ova » Fri May 08, 2015 7:54 pm

Also, "please don't attribute psychological motives to my posts, which you are probably doing because you are a tantrum-having baby experiencing mental problems(?)", is some killer irony.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Muriel Axon » Fri May 08, 2015 8:21 pm

felgon123 wrote:In response to Shan: I identified those as especially hard answers under the assumption that no one would contest that they are hard. If someone can show me the conversion numbers demonstrating that they were converted at the same rate as anything else, I'll gladly partially retract that statement. I say "partially" because, as I think Jacob pointed out, conversion numbers aren't that useful. Rare is the instance in which the editors choose a tossup answer so hard that the best teams can't answer it. But what about answers so hard that the best teams can't answer them until near the end of the tossup, so that virtually no buzzes across the field are made before the last two or three lines? I think that happened quite a bit this year, but unfortunately there's no way to quantify it, so far as I am aware.
To be clearer, I meant that as a methodological point, not one about the difficulty of those particular questions. For all I know, you could be right that those are questions were among the hardest in the set - though, like you, I wouldn't believe it without conversion stats or some other sort of evidence.

As for the point about questions going to the end - that's fair, but all I can say here is that my impressions differed from yours. And I think it's easy to forget about similarly brutal questions in previous years. Like Ike, I'm sympathetic to the idea that ACF Nationals is too hard, especially if the field continues to expand. But I'm not sure that this year's was harder than it was in previous years.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Fri May 08, 2015 8:46 pm

The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote:EDIT: Oh fuck, Dartmouth left last year, which fucks up the stats. Stay tuned. Also curse you again, Nick Jensen.
Yeah so my hunch was right.

ACF Nationals 2014 had 108 dead tossups in the top bracket of playoffs (1.74 per game)
ACF Nationals 2015 had 134 dead tossups in the top bracket of playoffs (2.03 per game)

P = 0.18 by one-tailed t-test, so not significantly different, though
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Fri May 08, 2015 9:11 pm

Without trying to wade too deep into this discussion, I will say that I played most of 2014 Nationals and listened to most of the rounds of 2015 Nationals via Mike Bentley's excellent recordings. I'm not gonna make empirical claims, but I will echo Ted's sentiment that the former definitely felt more "accessible" and "balanced" i.e. not only did it present a more even mix of "hard" things, "extra-quizbowl" things, and "core" things, but it did (or at least seemed like it did) so by choosing answers that would be more easily answered throughout the entire question (and not just at the end) by more teams.

It's more a question of style than anything else - as Tommy said, for the most part the questions in this tournament were extremely well-executed. I think there's a real feeling among many people who think that Nationals should be written in a way that tries hard to throw a bone to everyone, since it's meant to be the contest for who's the best and it kind of sucks when people have an inordinately bad tournament because of the question content, as opposed to difficulty. That's kind of a hard ask, but then again people in this game are hard to really please to perfection - and in the end it often doesn't matter as long as we feel this game is fair and enjoy playing it.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Fri May 08, 2015 9:18 pm

I don't really understand what this last go-round adds to the previous few go-rounds. I'm on board with the consensus we all more or less agreed to come to a few pages back (as articulated by Rob) that next year's event will have maybe one or two fewer "out-there" answers per round and slightly easier middle and hard parts of bonuses. I'm not sure what else folks are advocating for besides those tweaks, which are likely to be implemented no matter whether it's "Westbrook-style edited" or "Gioia-style edited" or whatever. A bucket of 25 packets of hard questions is going to have a lot of variance no matter who's editing.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Ike » Fri May 08, 2015 10:16 pm

I think there's a real feeling among many people who think that Nationals should be written in a way that tries hard to throw a bone to everyone, since it's meant to be the contest for who's the best and it kind of sucks when people have an inordinately bad tournament because of the question content, as opposed to difficulty. That's kind of a hard ask, but then again people in this game are hard to really please to perfection - and in the end it often doesn't matter as long as we feel this game is fair and enjoy playing it.
I was going to post more rebuttal, but I want to stress that this is something we care about for improving next year. This is the second time I say it, but that's because I think it's applicable to every team! Once you take away all the nonsense that went on here, all the editors in our postmortem agreed we can tone down the hardest tossups in the set, and make some bonuses more consistent, and still determine a national champion. We want more teams at ACF Nationals as much as you do!
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by felgon123 » Fri May 08, 2015 10:26 pm

Auks Ran Ova wrote:Also, "please don't attribute psychological motives to my posts, which you are probably doing because you are a tantrum-having baby experiencing mental problems(?)", is some killer irony.
Wow, somebody get me some ice for that burn, am I right?

Perhaps you didn't notice, but the rhetorical gesture there was simply, "If you really want to play the analysis game, look at yourself." So what you're identifying as the "killer irony" undercutting my comment was, in fact, the whole basis for the comment.
Ike wrote:As to the sour grapes specifically, we were discussing the subjective component of this tournament's difficulty, so I think it's fair to bring it up. In case you want a reference points - I was thinking about the rage induced posts of 2013, then the glowing review you made in 2014, and then the posts here. I'm just saying, that, to me fits the "sour grape model."
This is getting much further afield of the proper grounds of discussion than I would like, but I do feel compelled to answer this charge. As you may have noticed, I almost never post. (I think this thread is a new record.) When I do, it's usually on the discussion thread for a nationals. And even then, I only post negatively when I have systematic problems with how a category was handled. Let's examine the data, shall we? The science for 2013 ACF Nationals was frankly bad, so I made a critical post. I didn't lift a finger against the literature in that tournament, because it was excellent. Then, for 2014 ICT, I had some problems with the science. We won that tournament, remember, but I was very critical anyway. Then there's 2014 ACF Nationals, where I was a big fan of both the literature and the science, particularly the former, so I made a post that was almost exclusively praise, a rare occurrence. Then there's 2015 ACF Nationals, where I liked the science quite a bit, but had issues with the literature, mainly in the editors' packets, so I made a critical post about that, but left the science alone. There were certainly science questions I didn't like at this tournament (e.g. the tossup on "rearrangements"), but overall the category was solid, and I prefer to comment only when I see systematic problems. I don't see anything inconsistent about my behavior as a critic across these tournaments. As Evan said earlier, your refusal to entertain the possibility that we're arguing in good faith, and that we're capable of responding positively to questions that didn't go our way and negatively to questions that did, is incredibly condescending.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Ike » Sat May 09, 2015 7:57 am

I wasn't going to repost in this thread again, but I'm going to because there's something really bothering me.
I think this statement is objectively incorrect. Twenty-five days before this year’s tournament, Rob—due to over commitment—had completed almost no literature questions for the editors packets nor filled out the answer spreadsheet with planned topics. Accordingly, to catch up Rob outsourced a ton of the editors-packet lit to freelance writers. Ike wrote 14 tossups (including almost all the questions on older, canonical literature requiring more research), Zeke wrote two, and Andrew Hart provided one. So Rob wrote 19 of the 36 tossups in his category: 12 were 20th century, 2 were common links (with mainly 20th century clues), 3 were 19th century, and there was one apiece on Shakespeare and a Marvell poem. I’m not saying Rob shouldn’t be commended for putting in tons of work the last month to produce a solid set of questions. But we can commend Rob for his work while saying the set could have been better with more planning and management. The over-commitment problem should have been spotted and easily could be prevented in the future with a simple rule that bans Nationals editors from editing any other tournaments the same semester they’re working on Nationals. But we condone this recurring problem by refusing to address it publicly.
So, this isn't true- Zeke just offered his questions and Rob didn't solicit it, and furthermore, according to the spreadsheet and question documents history, Rob had 26 out of the 40 ACF tossups written and filled for the editor's portion March 31st 2015, 25 days before the tournament. Furthermore, I think it's incredibly piss poor to comment on any editor's private or professional life. Even if ACF Nationals is a poor tournament, no one has any right to probe into an editor's personal life because it wasn't good. You can certainly say things like "This tournament needs more non-20th century lit" but saying something like "Editor X needs to clear up his schedule to make ACF Nationals better" is an incredibly elitist attitude, especially since we're paid near-nothing.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Sat May 09, 2015 11:14 am

Rather than rehash any points already made, can I suggest that people try to be a bit more generous to editing crews in general when it comes to making assumptions about how they operate? These are not slackers who barely lift a finger, these are highly dedicated members of the community who put in uncounted hours to try and bring you a high quality Nationals. If they made some mistakes along the way, by all means you should point them out, but I'm quite uncomfortable with posts that attribute unwarranted psychological motives or unproven laziness to people who, by every account have worked extremely hard on this tournament. What people should keep in mind is that editing a tournament like Nationals is ultimately an exercise in triage and because time is finite, every tournament will have some things that could have been done better. I think everyone who worked on this Nationals is owed a bit of generosity when it comes to trying to understand how and why they made certain decisions.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Bloodwych » Sat May 09, 2015 12:15 pm

grapesmoker wrote:Rather than rehash any points already made, can I suggest that people try to be a bit more generous to editing crews in general when it comes to making assumptions about how they operate? These are not slackers who barely lift a finger, these are highly dedicated members of the community who put in uncounted hours to try and bring you a high quality Nationals. If they made some mistakes along the way, by all means you should point them out, but I'm quite uncomfortable with posts that attribute unwarranted psychological motives or unproven laziness to people who, by every account have worked extremely hard on this tournament. What people should keep in mind is that editing a tournament like Nationals is ultimately an exercise in triage and because time is finite, every tournament will have some things that could have been done better. I think everyone who worked on this Nationals is owed a bit of generosity when it comes to trying to understand how and why they made certain decisions.
I think you'd find that most people are generally appreciative of the amount of effort that goes into this tournament and don't at all have some misguided impression of the editors as slackers; they just don't post about it.

Thanks to the editors for their hard work in putting this together. I certainly enjoyed it.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2015 Discussion

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Thu Sep 17, 2015 9:33 am

Tees-Exe Line wrote:I haven't read Wilentz, and I should
I hereby retract this statement. For more, read here: http://earlyamericanists.com/2015/09/17 ... of-agency/
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