RILKE Discussion

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RILKE Discussion

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Wed Jul 22, 2015 11:27 am

Thank you to all of you who played RILKE. And a big thanks to all of those who staffed the tournament, especially Joe Su for lending his logistical expertise. I hope that you enjoyed the set, which I very much enjoyed writing/editing.

46% of this set was written by Nick Jensen, I wrote 51% of the set, and the remaining questions were adapted from PADAWAN submissions by Caleb Kendrick, Alston Boyd, and Sameen Belal. All questions were edited by me.

Since this came together quickly at the end and there was little time to proofread, there were plentiful typos in the set, which can hopefully be fixed before the next mirror. I hope the moderators were able to deal with these, and it didn't have too large an impact on your experience.

I have already been alerted to the fact that my lead-in for "Asphodel That Greeny Flower" is apparently a very widely quoted line from that poem, and that I screwed up on that one. If you know of any other pyramidality problems that I should fix before the next mirror, please let me know.

My aim with the set was to do a couple of different things: to spend some questions diving deeper into hyper-canonical things, to find fresh clues for some answers that are firmly established in upper canon, and to do some canon expansion. A key aspect of the latter was using common-links to tie together canon-expanding authors and works with more canonical ones. My hope was that this would allow the canon expansion to come at lower cost to the bottom rooms by keeping the answer-lines easier. Based on the feedback I got about some of these questions, it seems that this was the most controversial part of the set, and I suspect that a certain amount of the discussion will focus on this.

This is all that I'll say for now before opening this up for discussion. I have a huge work backlog, and so I may not be able to respond quickly to feedback in this thread, but I'll try to engage as much as possible. I'll likely be doing some more upper-level difficulty literature editing in the near future, and I'd be happy to hear from both the players who were in the top rooms and those in lower rooms about their experiences with the set, to help me adjust my approach if such adjustments are needed.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Cheynem » Wed Jul 22, 2015 1:38 pm

For whatever reason, I wasn't feeling this set most of the day; I can't tell how much of it was fatigue, random gaps in my knowledge, or just plain not playing well. This was a bit odd for me because I liked the seeding packet a lot; perhaps it was just luck of the draw.

There were some fine ideas and overall the quality was there.

Anyway, the common link questions were rather fatiguing for me mainly for two reasons:

1. The pronouns seemed to drop out of the question a bit; I think I saw more confused negs because of this in the bottom room than anything else, although again, fatigue probably played a role here.

2. It's harder to get a mental picture that narrows something down with common link questions, especially with clues coming from such hard early places. With a work or an author, the clues can be assessed almost as a set group that gets more and more specific; with common link questions, you can't think too long about one thing and it may not very helpful in relation to the other clues anyway (because they're entirely different works). Let me be clear in that I don't see anything inherently wrong with this, I'm just saying they at least for me played rather oppressively.

Finally, I've played two of these room structure tournaments and speaking as someone who ends up in the lower room, I think I have more fun playing in a doubles format.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Wed Jul 22, 2015 1:58 pm

I didn't play this tournament and I'm not a good literature player at all, but while reading this tournament I was impressed by (thought not particularly surprised by) the sheer amount of canon-expansion in the non-Western literature distribution. Like other parts of this tournament, the way in which the expansion was executed may not have empirically played out well (since common-links seemed to confuse people often and frequently devolved into buzzer races) but it seemed to me that there was an extremely strong effort to incorporate new material into the world literature distribution, which I've heard many players complain about the staleness of - for example, I think Ike Jose complained about nearly half the submissions for Terrapin 2013 being about Borges stories.

That aspect of this tournament, as well as others, definitely gave me quite a few ideas for future literature submissions I have to write, and I'm glad I got to experience it. Reading for rooms of individual players was also an interesting experience - I'd be interested myself in playing a tournament like this one, though ideally in a subject I'm better or on a set of lower difficulty, since this format seems to not be quite as enjoyable for people who end up dealing with super-hard questions in lower rooms.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Ike » Wed Jul 22, 2015 2:45 pm

I had a lukewarm experience with the set. I was a little bit disappointed, because this was the tournament I was greatly anticipating. I'm going to offer the issues that I have with it, though I will say, I never got to see the set played out in the top two rooms, so it's possible what I'm saying doesn't apply to them.

Very hard common links: The children, British Army, Chinatown, and hunchback questions were examples of stuff that went to the giveaway in rooms 3 and 4 and proceeded to go dead or weren't gotten until the last clue. I am curious as to what knowledge bases are being distinguished with all of these hunchback clues, and why we couldn't go to more famous hunchbacked clues, such as Quasimodo. I didn't recognize any of those Chinatown plays or any of those non-McEwan children clues. I think all of these tossups suffered from a lack of lower middle clues and possibly upper middle clues.

Confusing wording: Two players were unable to parse the hour tossup correctly and proceeded to neg it with "stars." The tossup on friars was worded so that even though I knew exactly what was going on, I said "king" on the first clue. I have heard that some people negged the Harper tossup with Lee. I can't think of any more examples off the top of my head, but moreso than any other tournament I have played, I had trouble semantically analyzing such complex pronoun usage- it doesn't help that many of the moderators were trying to speed through the set so they could play history / catch their flight.

Decontextualization: I have read that interview where Krasznahorkai claims that K. is his hero, but I just don't know the factoid cold. After that clue, the tossup goes down a weird path, and all context is lost with the first clue. If you had started the second sentence with "That character did this and this and this," I probably would have eventually figured it out by piecing the clues together. Quizbowlers rarely use a single clue in isolation to make a buzz; each clue usually builds up some amount of confidence to buzz; once you're above a threshold you go for it. That's why I really didn't like this tournament. E.g., You did write tossups on "hour" and probably arranged each clue in descending order of difficulty, but you sterilized each clue from their context since the only relation with the two works clued was the name, and you didn't even establish a coherent relation from clues drawn from the same source. I'm not saying you have to go for an organic common link, but I think you have to clue in material so that you can establish a sense of context. If the tossup said instead "In a novel named for this period of time..." and then eventually comes around to "At the end of this title period of time, Louise Maillard realizes..." it would feel much more organic and allow the players more context to chew.

Weird difficulty issues: I heard a lot of players complain about them having read something but not being able to get power on a tossup. I liked the Zembla tossup but it cliffed on the Timon of Athens clue such that three people buzzer raced, even though two of us have recently read the book. But what was going on with that second sentence? I believe the first sentence was a clue about its literary history, then you had a very bizarrely worded clue about what I presume was the underground chase that I don't think is really rewarding people who have read that book. I think at a tournament like this it's okay to have a very hard first clue to reward people who have read a canonical work twice (eg, I think Jonathan has read the book at least twice for example), but you have to provide some easier material before going to a plot point that explains the novel's title. The Dwarf tossup was another good example, it was two or three clues of stuff I can't remember, then a pretty well known clue in which I buzzer raced with someone else who may or may not have read that book. I find that a little irksome* because at Chicago Open, whoever wrote that tossup found a clue that anyone who has read the book really can't forget for the leadin. I played in a room with two players who apparently had read the poetry of Joseph Brodsky, but I still buzzed on the title "Elegy for John Donne" before any of them. In that hunting tossup, we have a bunch of really hard clues, many of which are drawn from the Finnish novel The Year of the Hare, and then we get a very basic plot summary from The Interlopers that caused a buzzer race.

Overall, I think the one thing that I would suggest is to just realize that even the best lit players of the game aren't that incredibly well read, nor are they gaming the system as much as this tournament thinks it is: I'm willing to bet that about 65% of the field hasn't read Moby Dick in its entirety; there is no need to be so circuitous with clues to the point that I was surprised to find out that "The Whiteness of the Whale" was being clued right before Zakes Mda's name was dropped, (after which you have a very easy clue on Tashtego.) You can probably write that whale tossup using mostly clues from Moby Dick, and having one leadin sentence about The Whale Caller and then dropping Zakes Mda's name. If you spend three lines clueing in a non-Ways of Dying Zakes Mda work into any tossup, you're essentially putting in three lines of leadin into your tossup. If you'll allow me a bit of snark, it sure would be nice if half of the tournament writers spent time thinking about how this tossup would play out, instead of making a seven line answer prompt on "whales."

It was obvious to me that the question writers spent a lot of time on every tossup digging stuff up from the source material to clue in, so it does pain me a little bit to be so critical. Unlike others, I have no issue with common links in theory, (hell, look at ACFNATIONALS) but I don't like the way they were written in this set. I think it is important to maintain the sense of context that non-common links provide when you're writing common links.

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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Wed Jul 22, 2015 3:42 pm

I enjoyed this tournament a lot. I suspect that I did anomalously well compared to my usual performance on hard lit questions, and that many of the reasons why are in fact the issues Ike raises. The set felt a lot more accessible to me than I expected it to feel, and that's probably because a lot of other (more literature-knowledgeable) players weren't able to buzz as often or as early as they should have been.

I actually disagree with Mike that the common links were especially confusing at this event; if anything, they seemed less confusing than normal to me to try and answer, since many of them had "Warning: Exact English word required" or similar at the top. Some of the choices may have been a little too "artificial" editorially speaking, in that there isn't any actual connection between the "Harper"s beyond having a name consisting of that string of letters, but I think this set's writers usually did a good job ensuring that players were whacked over the head with the specific sort of thing required.
Confusing wording
The most common kind of confusing wording I ran into was the long strings of embedded or chained references to different people/things in one sentence. Since the set isn't clear, I sadly don't have an example that springs to mind immediately, but there were several sentences which looked something like "Another character in this novel tells his best friend's fiancee that the pastor of the church they all attend has gone blind", or what have you...which was often difficult to follow in-game. This was particularly acute when specific character or place names were removed. I know that The John Lawrence Way usually involves being institutionally coy with title drops and character names, often by preventing them from appearing in the first few lines of tossups altogether, but this tournament may have taken it needlessly or unhelpfully far. It's hard to find a clue evocative while one is trying to piece together the relationship between four or five people/things whose names have been removed.

Also, that 7-line-long answer line on the "whales" tossup was overkill.
Last edited by Adventure Temple Trail on Wed Jul 22, 2015 3:49 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by women, fire and dangerous things » Wed Jul 22, 2015 3:44 pm

I have to agree that many of the common links were excessively hard. The vision for this tournament that John laid out was to have common links which would have early clues about works that are worth knowing but that don't come up much, but later clues about canonical works, in order to incorporate new stuff without sacrificing conversion rates. The actual common links in the set often strayed from that ideal.

One example that sticks out is the common link on Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines and Joseph Conrad's The Shadow-Line. The latter is such a minor Conrad work that the existence of this tossup is rather baffling. Then there was the tossup on "angels" where I wasn't even given power for knowing the plot of Harry Mulisch's The Discovery of Heaven. Looking at the rest of the tossup now, the plot of Herta Muller's The Hunger Angel was apparently the pre-FTP clue!
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by vinteuil » Wed Jul 22, 2015 4:17 pm

Ike wrote:I liked the Zembla tossup but it cliffed on the Timon of Athens clue such that three people buzzer raced, even though two of us have recently read the book. But what was going on with that second sentence? I believe the first sentence was a clue about its literary history, then you had a very bizarrely worded clue about what I presume was the underground chase that I don't think is really rewarding people who have read that book.
I actually had no trouble parsing that clue, although I did neg with "Russia" because the first pronoun I'd heard was (I think) "an author writing in this country's language." It's often hard to switch pronoun-gears midstream.
Ike wrote:I have heard that some people negged the Harper tossup with Lee.
I somewhat similarly negged "Fanny" with "Evelina" at the white domino clue (I think there was some construction about "a title character by an author with this name" that I misheard?). You can say all you want (and I do actually believe this) that it's on the player to pay attention to the beginning of every sentence, but when so many of the questions are common links that are half on material that I'm so unlikely to have heard of, it's very easy to start glazing over.

For instance, I think what happened to Evan Adams on the "hour" question was that he recognized a clue about Macabéa, but by the time he buzzed, another sentence had started with something about the _last_ word of another title. Obviously he should have been paying attention (and me too—thank goodness he beat me to this neg!), but it's easy (at least in retrospect) to see how it could play that way.

Anyways, I think Matt Jackson's comment on nested clauses gets much closer to how I felt about the grammar; and Will Alston's comment about the world literature also reflects how I felt about the set's conception—there were a ton of cool ideas and new/interesting material, and I look forward to learning more about them.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Thu Jul 23, 2015 12:23 am

I have a little bit of time this evening, so let me address each of the common complaints in turn. I may not have time to return to this thread for a couple of days:

1. Pronoun Use: This complaint surprises me. The first and only complaint I've ever received about pronoun use was from Andrew Hart in response to MAGNI. Since then, I've been pretty fastidious about attending to this. So much so that most questions that I've submitted have had pronoun tags *removed* by editors. I don't know which questions this complaint could refer to, because if anything I was overly repetitive in placing identifying phrases at the beginning of sentences.

Could this complaint possibly boil down to the fact that many of the sentences were long, rather than to the pronouns being somehow poorly distributed within sentences? I cut quite a few sentences into two, but I'm willing to believe that I should have done more of this.

2. Unclear Common Links: Here again, I'm rather surprised. If they empirically played poorly, then I cannot deny that fact, but I'm not sure what was unclear about the questions.

A good number of the common-links were what might be called "variable-relationship common-links": that is, common links where the relationship of the underlined word to the different clued works varies (e.g. "hour" is the first title noun of The Hour of the Star" and the last title noun of "The Story of an Hour"). I understand that these are, as a rule, harder to parse than what might be called "consistent-relationship common-links". However, "variable-relationship common-links" are very common in quizbowl these days, especially in philosophy and the social sciences, and don't seem to play particularly poorly. And I spent quite a bit of time going over them to make them as clear as possible.

For example, here is that question on "hour":
This is the first title noun of a book whose protagonist is wrongly told by a fortune teller that a rich foreigner named Hans will love her. That book with this first title noun has a protagonist who is repeatedly called a “northeastern girl” by the narrator, and who wakes up every morning and thinks “I’m a typist and a virgin, and I like coca-cola”, until she is run over by a yellow Mercedes. This is the last title word of a story whose protagonist repeatedly whispers “Free! Body and soul free!” while her sister  Josephine begs her to open the door and claims that she will make herself ill. This (*) period of time names a book in which Olimpico has a short-lived romance with Maceba. That book by Clarice Lispector is titled for this “of the Star”. After being told that her husband was killed in a train accident, Louise Mallard has a heart attack when he walks through the door in, for 10 points, a Kate Chopin story titled for what period of time?
ANSWER: hour [or hora]
What here is "unclear" or neg bait for "star"? There are four clues about that book. The later two of them are prefaced by the phrase "this period of time", ruling out "star". The earlier two both have the phrase "this first title noun" right at the beginning, which is wholly unambiguous. I think that this is actually much clearer than the vast majority of the "variable-relationship common-links" that I played at any recent national tournament, about which no one complained.

3. Decontextualization: First, I find Ike's claim "Quizbowlers rarely use a single clue in isolation to make a buzz; each clue usually builds up some amount of confidence to buzz; once you're above a threshold you go for it." to be drastically overstated. That is one of the two styles of playing and writing that were defined in Jerry's recent post here: http://www.hsquizbowl.org/forums/viewto ... 63#p301313. I do not actively seek to punish people that think that way by intentionally obscuring causal links, but I do not actively seek to reward them either by choosing clues that establish them. This may not be your preferred style, but I think that thread established fairly firmly that both approaches are intellectually valid.

Perhaps my choice not to write in as causally cohesive a way places a greater onus on me to pick more evocative clues than someone who has the added bonus of linking those clues more closely. But if so, then I'd prefer to treat the problem as one of needing to find more inherently evocative clues as opposed to one of needing to establish tighter ties.

This brings me to…

4. Unevocative Clues: These tend to be subjective, so I can't really argue with you much, except to say that I disagree with your assessments of the importance and distinctiveness of some of these passages. And these seemed to play fine in the only matches that I observed. (Which is not to invalidate the results of how they played in lower rooms.)

I'll agree that the Pale Fire tossup maybe could have used another clue in between the escape clue and the Shakespeare clue, but I disagree that those initial clues do not reward people who have read the book. In my room, Tommy buzzed-raced on the second line, recognizing the clues, but couldn't quite place it, at which point Magin said the correct answer.

Nearly half of the Brodsky tossup is on Elegy for John Donne, and it contains almost every important image from that poem. If it got to that title, then the opponent you speak of has very little memory of that poem. They may have read widely in Brodsky's shorter works, but those are hard to work with pyramidally, and that tossup was specifically about his two most famous works: "A Part of Speech" and "Elegy for John Donne", both of which were clued rather shallowly.

Etc.

5. Excessively-Difficult Common-Links: Ike's complaints about British Army, Chinatown, etc. and Will Nediger's complaints about the Angels tossup are the ones I would like to push most strongly back against.

We have played against each other at multiple CO Lit tournaments. All of these included hard tossups that went down to the last couple of lines or went dead in every room, including in the top rooms. Not only did these other CO Lit tournaments include some of these questions, they included demonstrably more of these than did RILKE. No one complained. And at either ACF Nationals or ICT, I had a conversation with Ike during which he unironically expressed dismay that I was planning on tossing up fewer impossible authors/works, saying that he felt that these tossups are the essence of what a CO Lit tournament should be about, since they're the only time they can come up.

If the strong criticisms here stem from the fact that some tossups went to the end or went dead, then this is a rather rough application of what is usually a rather lenient criterion for this genre. The specific source of the complaint seems to be that these difficult questions are "common-links". In particular, the gist of Ike and Will's complaints seems to be that given the simplicity of the answer-lines, there are easier late clues that could be found for those answers.

Let us take a simple example: Will complains that the plot overview of The Hunger Angel is the pre-FTP clue of the angel tossup. Now, let me ask: is it ridiculous in itself that the plot overview of that book could occupy the pre-FTP clue of "a CO Lit tossup"? Of course it isn't: works of equal or greater difficulty have been tossed up at every CO Lit. I could have tossed up The Hunger Angel at this very tournament, that clue would have been in that spot or later in that tossup, and nobody would be complaining about its difficulty. Not only that, but the second line of this tossup is something that should never appear so early in a tossup on The Hunger Angel. It is only because this is a common-link that the clues about The Hunger Angel are relatively shallow. In all of these common-links, the clues for each component are easier and appear earlier for each than they would be had I tossed up that component itself.

I myself stated that many of the common-links would connect something harder and something easier, and I stand by the fact that I wrote many questions that take that form. But I also wrote or edited common-links where both components are hard, and here the point of the common-link is one of diversification rather than of decreasing difficulty: to increase the number of works for which reading the book could be rewarded. (Nick and I weren't sure how many people had read hard books X, Y, and Z; so, instead we didn't toss any of them up, and instead took mid-level plot clues from each.) I knew that these questions were harder. I purposely did not include many of them. Then I tagged them as "hard", and I distributed them among the packets, so they didn't bunch up in any one packet.

Will's argument seems to go: "Angels is a really easy-sounding answer, and therefore I should get power for knowing the plot of The Discovery of Heaven, and knowing the basic idea of The Hunger Angel should be an earlier clue". This strikes me as irrational. It seems to assume that because easier answer-lines afford opportunities for easier late clues, these opportunities must be exploited, or the question is somehow flawed. In other words: "(A) This tossup on angels is easier than a tossup on The Hunger Angel, which is cromulent according to the standards of the past few CO Lits (B) This angels tossup could have been much easier rather than just slightly easier than a tossup on The Hunger Angel (C) Therefore, it should have been much easier, and it should be condemned for being only slightly easier than a thing that could have been tossed up".
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Cheynem » Thu Jul 23, 2015 9:21 am

John, the "hour" tossup may be a decent example of something that on paper is very clear but in game speed/context is not so clear. The second sentence runs basically two full lines with the pronoun only appearing once at the very beginning. As you're trying to process that, you're immediately given a clue about another work as the "last title word," something that you can miss as you're thinking of the first clue or that can be swallowed over by a fast reading moderator (as someone else pointed out, several of the moderators at this event read very, very fast)--I can see how it might be easy for people to mix up what's being asked for.

Also, with common links, especially these sorts of common links, pronoun usage is even more important. A tossup on "this work" or "this author" may not require a constantly repeated pronoun, but if it's on a specific word or characteristic, I feel like it should really be stressed more in questions.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by ValenciaQBowl » Thu Jul 23, 2015 10:28 am

I like the way Mike Cheyne phrased it in his first post: I, too, had a hard time "feeling" these questions. It's not that I couldn't tell how much effort was put into them, nor that I didn't "like" them, but somehow I just felt lost much of the time. Now certainly this is overwhelmingly due to my own eroded skills and knowledge set, but still, somehow these questions didn't work as well for me as last year's did. Perhaps the reason there have been some complaints about complicated wording is indeed due to the mental fatigue of players who spent all day Saturday playing CO and then Sunday morning playing the visual arts tournament, but one example that I got lost in is the toss-up on "angels" from the seeding round. I'm sure when I read it I'll see it's all my own fault, but somehow in the clue referring to the classroom scene in Kundera's "Book of Laughter and Forgetting" I had no sense that we were looking for a term. But again, I state this as an observation, not a complaint--I'm responsible for paying attention.

But I do have one concrete question: I wonder why the toss-up on Dewey Dell wanting to get an abortion couldn't just as easily have been a toss-up on Dewey Dell as a character. Granted, I was loopy by the time that one got asked, but the folks in the bottom room were amused by the word salad I spastically spit out after hearing Darl's quote about how he could get Anse to turn the wagon around, and Sorice was cool enough to let me go on till I finally said the words "Dewey Dell" and "abortion." And I know the question warned us we needed a character and an action. But I assume anyone who knows the novel well enough to know the character Dewey Dell knows she wants to get an abortion in Jefferson, so I'm not sure what greater knowledge is found by asking for the abortion part.

Still, I appreciate the hard work that went into these questions, and they way they graphically depicted how much my knowledge base is shrinking as I approach 50.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by women, fire and dangerous things » Thu Jul 23, 2015 10:52 am

I'll take slight issue with two of your premises. One is that you might just has well have tossed up The Hunger Angel (or other works of equivalent difficulty) at this tournament. I can only recall a couple of tossups of similar difficulty at last year's Gorilla Lit, and I recall finding them ill-advised at the time. There were a number at my own tournament, WELD, but only because it was advertised as "wildly experimental." Generally speaking, while hard tossups are perfectly fine at a tournament like this, hard tossups on works should be on things which at least several people in the field are likely to have read, which seems unlikely to be the case for The Hunger Angel (though I may be wrong). Similarly, my complaint about not getting power for knowing the plot of The Discovery of Heaven is not related to how easy the answerline sounded - I don't think The Discovery of Heaven should get tossed up at a tournament like this (perhaps Mulisch could be, but even that's pushing it).

Now of course, you didn't end up including a tossup on The Hunger Angel, but a tossup on the easier answerline of "angels," which is good. This brings me to the second premise, which is that every tossup in a tournament must have a pyramid of the same dimensions, as nearly as possible (in other words, the pre-FTP clue in every tossup should ideally be buzzed on by the same number of people). This is fine in principle, but at hard tournaments where there is a large spread in answerline difficulty, then the difficulty of the tournament will be dictated by the hardest answers, so that tossups that could have accessible middle/late clues lack them, and many more tossups will go to the end. Now, I'm not saying that a tossup on an easy answerline like "Edgar Allan Poe" should be written at ACF Fall level, but there is some wiggle room here. So I do actually contend that writers should take advantage of easier answerlines to soften the middle and late clues - this doesn't strike me as irrational, since it results in more buzzable clues, but if done correctly, doesn't make the questions excessively easy or prone to buzzer races.

I think that you at least unconsciously agree with this principle, because there were plenty of questions in RILKE which had accessible middle and late clues - for example, the excellent tossup on Albertine.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Chimango Caracara » Thu Jul 23, 2015 1:02 pm

women, fire and dangerous things wrote:I have to agree that many of the common links were excessively hard. The vision for this tournament that John laid out was to have common links which would have early clues about works that are worth knowing but that don't come up much, but later clues about canonical works, in order to incorporate new stuff without sacrificing conversion rates. The actual common links in the set often strayed from that ideal.

One example that sticks out is the common link on Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines and Joseph Conrad's The Shadow-Line. The latter is such a minor Conrad work that the existence of this tossup is rather baffling. Then there was the tossup on "angels" where I wasn't even given power for knowing the plot of Harry Mulisch's The Discovery of Heaven. Looking at the rest of the tossup now, the plot of Herta Muller's The Hunger Angel was apparently the pre-FTP clue!
Ike wrote:Very hard common links: The children, British Army, Chinatown, and hunchback questions were examples of stuff that went to the giveaway in rooms 3 and 4 and proceeded to go dead or weren't gotten until the last clue. I am curious as to what knowledge bases are being distinguished with all of these hunchback clues, and why we couldn't go to more famous hunchbacked clues, such as Quasimodo. I didn't recognize any of those Chinatown plays or any of those non-McEwan children clues. I think all of these tossups suffered from a lack of lower middle clues and possibly upper middle clues.
I wrote all of the common links that Ike and Will Nediger have cited, and I would reiterate John's point: While many questions at this tournament were written with the goal of combining canonical works with more difficult ones, another aim was to ask about underexposed but important works of literature in interesting but relatively accessible ways. Sometimes this took the form of a more straightforward tossup. For example, there were tossups on authors such as John Banville and Angela Carter, who are widely read but whose work has been relatively unexplored, to my knowledge, in quizbowl. Another way that we tried to accomplish this was through common links, and the questions on the British Army, Chinatown and Shadow-Line are examples of this (though of course I drew from canonical authors such as Conrad and Katherine Mansfield to write them). I appreciate WIll Alston and Jacob's praise for this aspect of the tournament, because, particularly in World and European Literature, I hoped to use this format to introduce players to interesting, important and often (in my opinion) enjoyable works of literature that they may wish to learn about and read themselves.

In response to your more specific complaints, Ike, I would say that I wrote many questions in the tournament with specific visions. The children tossup was written entirely from McEwan. You might ask, "Why not just write a question on McEwan?" and I would say that I chose not to do so because I thought that the idea of childhood was an interesting recurring theme in his novels, and I thought that the titles of two McEwan novels was a sufficiently easy giveaway for a CO Lit question. The hunchbacks question was written entirely from "classics" of Middle Eastern and Asian literature (just as I wrote the hearts tossup entirely from early classics of European prose and did not tack on a giveaway about "The Tell-Tale Heart"). In my opinion, one of the most widely read stories from the 1001 Nights and a major plot point in The Ramayana were sufficiently easy late clues to make this question viable.

Ike wrote:Decontextualization: I have read that interview where Krasznahorkai claims that K. is his hero, but I just don't know the factoid cold. After that clue, the tossup goes down a weird path, and all context is lost with the first clue. If you had started the second sentence with "That character did this and this and this," I probably would have eventually figured it out by piecing the clues together.
I agree with you here, and I am sorry for this specific question. When I wrote the clue originally, I tried to link that interview to the epigraph to Satantango and then the actual scene it references in The Castle (K. waiting for Klamm and meeting the man in the sleigh, which is referenced later in the tossup), but I felt that it became confusing and unviable, and decided to shorten the clue and include more material from The Castle. In the end, I made a trade-off that didn't work out for you, but perhaps would suit someone else who has read The Castle and also found the scene I used for that part of the leadin memorable. I am happy to hear that you have read that Krasznahorkai interview, though!
Ike wrote:The Dwarf tossup was another good example, it was two or three clues of stuff I can't remember, then a pretty well known clue in which I buzzer raced with someone else who may or may not have read that book. I find that a little irksome* because at Chicago Open, whoever wrote that tossup found a clue that anyone who has read the book really can't forget for the leadin. I played in a room with two players who apparently had read the poetry of Joseph Brodsky, but I still buzzed on the title "Elegy for John Donne" before any of them. In that hunting tossup, we have a bunch of really hard clues, many of which are drawn from the Finnish novel The Year of the Hare, and then we get a very basic plot summary from The Interlopers that caused a buzzer race.
With regard to the Dwarf tossup, I have to say that our experiences of reading the novel were different, and I thought the early clues I used were very evocative when I read it. I was haunted by the Dwarf's description of himself as a visitor to humanity rather than a human being as a summation of his self-loathing for dwarfkind, and I was disturbed by the attempt to forcibly breed him with a female dwarf and his larger revulsion for intimacy (which I tried to capture with the vomiting scene). In the end, I suppose that every reader is different, and what works for one person may not trigger the memory of another.

One of my goals for this tournament was to reward multiple levels of knowledge for each work, and I tried to do this with the whales, angels and hunting questions. I was actually very happy with the hunting tossup (which has no clues from "The Interlopers"). Here is the question:
RILKE wrote:One character evokes this activity’s joys after quoting “a poem, devoted to the flames.” While soldiers engage in this activity at Läähkimä Gorge, a Swedish attaché’s wife fearfully clutches an AWOL journalist’s pet. A day after joining the son of the Officer of the Guards for this activity, a poor relative of Chopin flees to the tropics. Failure at this activity baffles a fishless fisherman whose vast resume of failed jobs includes “coffee-bearer” as he does it in a capsizing boat. Vatanen skis across the Finland-USSR border to engage in this activity illegally at the end of The (*) Year of the Hare. Using an object that “kicks” during this activity gives Valenka’s master a swollen right cheek. General Henrik accuses Konrad of trying to kill him during this activity 41 years earlier in Sándor Márai’s Embers. A sympathizer of serfdom’s toll on the Miller’s wife Arina frequently pursues this pastime with Yermolay. For 10 points, name this central activity of Ivan Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Sketches.
ANSWER: snipe/bear/stag/duck/etc. hunting [accept stand-shooting game or any other clear-knowledge equivalents such as trapping or stalking game; accept sportsmanship or similar answers]
This tossup has four lines of clues from A Sportsman's Sketches and two lines of clues each from The Year of the Hare and Embers (the latter is one of the best novels I have read recently and I strongly recommend it!). Thus, it tests multiple levels of knowledge of a very canonical work of literature, and rewards people who have read The Year of the Hare (which, to my knowledge, is the most famous work of modern Finnish literature, with perhaps Purge as the only other possibility) over those with more cursory knowledge, and rewards people who have read Embers (whose English translation caused a small literary fervor) over those who know its basic plot. In both of the latter cases, the plot clues are fairly shallow and anyone who has read the novels should be able to buzz on them. In contrast, there are deeper plot clues from A Sportsman's Sketches before easier ones, because more levels of knowledge exist for a work by such a major author (especially since the stories can be read in isolation).

The whales tossup is mainly from Moby-Dick, with shallow plot clues from The Whale Caller, to reward people who have read The Whale Caller above those who only know that Zakes Mda, a major South African author, has written a novel called The Whale Caller. As an aside, I'm sorry about the answerline's length, which John warned me might be a source of complaint. I did try to cut most answerlines short by saying things like "accept obvious equivalents," but I thought it would be fun to actually quote the alternate names for whales given in the "Cetology" chapter of Moby-Dick and express some of Melville's penchant for enumeration. I hope that minor irritation was the only negative consequence.

Will, I disagree that cursory knowledge of Harry Mulisch's most famous novel, which is itself probably the most famous work of modern Dutch literature, should be awarded power on the angels question. In my opinion, players who have read any of the (admittedly formidable) novel should be rewarded above those who know the title The Discovery of Heaven and can reason to "angels" from there. The leadin for that tossup is a very basic plot overview of the novel that I wrote in a way I thought was not transparent, so it does not seem excessively obscure to me.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Thu Jul 23, 2015 1:12 pm

I'll also offer the anecdotal evidence that people who have read some of the important but under-asked works that Nick mentions were able to get those common-link tossups quite early. Richard Yu, for example, tells me he's read a bunch of old Chinese literature and he was able to power the tossup on hunchbacks (as well as the one on the Shijing at CO proper).
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by women, fire and dangerous things » Thu Jul 23, 2015 2:03 pm

The Discovery of Heaven may indeed be the most important recent Dutch novel, just as The Year of the Hare may be the most important recent Finnish novel, but given the status of those two literary traditions, it is still very likely that very few players have even cursory knowledge of them.

As it happens, I've read The Discovery of Heaven. My failure to recognize the leadin (which I now remember in retrospect) is obviously my own shortcoming and not that of the question itself. But the point you bring up is a good one - people read books differently, so what is evocative to one player may not be evocative to another. For example, both Ike and I are big fans of Embers, but I take it that neither of us buzzed on the first clue from it in the hunting tossup. Again, that's our own fault, but it should be easy to see how someone who has read Embers less recently than you could fail to place that clue (which, again, I can now place in retrospect).

The overall point, then, is that, when you have so many clues from these underexplored works of literature over the course of a tournament, not just in leadins but throughout tossups, and when only a small percentage of the field will have read any of those works, it's a good idea to be as generous as possible with those clues. You've clued the most important incident from Embers, which is good, but some more context would help in making sure people who have read it less recently than you will recognize the clues. This is difficult to do, for the aforementioned reason that people read books differently, but that's why it's all the more important to err on the side of generosity, I think.

That said, I do appreciate the obvious effort you put into including underexplored works in this tournament, and I enjoyed many of the tossups, including the Angela Carter and heart tossups. It's just that over the course of the entire tournament, I think it ended up with fewer buzzable clues than it could have.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Jem Casey » Thu Jul 23, 2015 2:18 pm

Thanks to the writers for creating what was, for the most part, an excellent set. Not surprisingly, both John and Nick did a great job of consistently finding clues that are exciting to buzz on and engaging to listen to, and a vast majority of the tossups were a blast to play.

That said, I did have some of the same concerns about the common-links that have been voiced above. I too was surprised by how difficult some of the late clues were (Embers is, as Nick says, an important book, but I certainly wasn't expecting to buzz on a plot clue from it so near the end of the tossup), but I was less concerned with the difficulty of the tossups (as John pointed out, CO-level lit questions frequently have equally difficult late clues) than with how the tossups were likely to play out, particularly in lower rooms. The issue is that a number of the common-links, such as the British Army and the Chinatown questions, had huge difficulty cliffs at the giveaway, since they went from describing works that were practically extra-canonical to giveaways which everyone in the room could probably figure out and buzz on. Contrast this with a hypothetical The Hunger Angel tossup, which, although it employs similarly difficult pre-giveaway clues, is far more likely to play well; in a top room, someone who has read or knows plot points from the book will probably have an uncontested buzz in the body of the tossup, while in lower rooms, someone who has heard of the book will probably have an uncontested buzz on the giveaway. If common-link tossups are to have a similarly good gradation of buzzes, they should either 1) have more accessible, quizbowl-canonical late clues, or 2) have giveaways which don't reward points for "figuring it out." I understand that the purpose of the common-links was to explore fresh material while still giving everyone a chance to buzz, but, speaking as a player, I think I'd rather see some tossups go dead than have a ton of frustrating buzzer races on the giveaways. I did appreciate how much of the content focused on books people actually read instead of "stale" quizbowl favorites, but, in several cases, more effort could have been made to service quizbowl-based knowledge, as well.

On an unrelated note, I found it difficult to figure out what a few of the common-links was asking for, though I could just be bad at thinking quickly and processing English. These included the "swimming" tossup and the "converting to Anglicanism" tossup--if I recall the latter correctly, the clue describing the scene where Oscar throws lots to determine whether he'll leave his father used the phrase "this action is symbolized by..." leading me to neg with "gambling."
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Ike » Thu Jul 23, 2015 3:07 pm

My definition of what is hard and what is tossupable are two different things. For example, I support having a tossup on stuff like Religio Medici for a tournament like this, which Jonathan did for CO proper, but I do not support writing a tossup on Pseudoxica Epidemica by Thomas Browne. Yes I like hard things, but that doesn't mean I turn my questions into one-line speed checks. Even when I wrote the CO finals, my one really hard tossup choice~On Being Blue~, theoretically (and pragmatically as it turned out!) had multiple buzz points. I think Will hits it on the head - why not turn your tossup into the greatest pyramid possible? It doesn't seem right to me to have the hunchbacked tossup be a 5/5 out of your difficulty scale.

John, I think you're making a category mistake with the types of common links - especially since ICT, Nats and CO proper had all types of common links though no one really complained about them in either one of those tournaments. To use CO this year, I liked the eagles and topological common link because, first and foremost - they weren't coy with the pronoun, e.g. "this animal" and secondly, the name had relevance to the clues, thus allowing players to connect the clues with the answer.

John and Nick - I'm not the only one in this thread complaining about confusing pronoun usage, or awfully complex wording, others have pointed it out. I really suggest you guys try to be a bit more empathetic on this point; a lot of people were getting really confused. It's possible that we were all exhausted after sleeping in hotels, but I think there was more than that going on, especially since Stephen's tournament didn't confuse me one bit. I think the sentence structure, and pronoun usage in many tossups were tricky to follow; not to mention half of my mental power was built trying to contextualize the tossups.

I think some of the responses in this thread indicate that you two missed the mark with who is playing your tournament. I think its bonkers you're actually telling me that you don't deserve a twenty point power for knowing about / having read Harry Mulisch. I think Will, and then me followed by a distant second, are probably the ones that are the most fond of cray-cray European Literature in this set, but we weren't nailing The Year of the Hare or Sandor Marai (I've read Embers too, long ago, and it was a great book!) the way the question writer intended. Even in a set like this, I would not hesitate to give 20 points for "Sandor Marai's embers is about this activity" because by and large the audience isn't going to get it on that clue! On The Dwarf tossup, I don't really mind if you put in a clue that you find memorable, but I honestly think no one buzzed on that clue because what's going to stick out to you in it is different for most people (I can't keep the morass of weird reflections of humanity straight, but I sure do remember how everything is pretty much like Milan!) Again, I think it was a recurring theme where people had read something, but they weren't able to get a buzz in before someone else who just had plot-summed, title-memorized clues. All I'm saying is, this tournament didn't play as well as either of you intended in the medium rooms, who are filled with what I consider to be knowledgeable people.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by theMoMA » Thu Jul 23, 2015 4:13 pm

John, Nick, and others, thank you for writing this tournament. I found much of this tournament enjoyable, and I appreciate the obvious care that went into writing it. I found (as I gather others did) many of the questions to be dense thickets of self-references and difficult-to-parse language, which made it tougher to track what was being asked for than I would have liked; that was my only real criticism of the set, other than perhaps a few quibbles with what seemed like excessive difficulty here and there. I also found and purchased a copy of Embers at the world's most esoteric garage sale about a month ago, which I wanted to share despite its minimal relevance to this discussion.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Chimango Caracara » Thu Jul 23, 2015 7:19 pm

Will and Ike, you both raise good points, and I know how frustrating it is to only retroactively recognize a clue from a book you've read, especially one you liked. I tried to make all my clues both evocative and interesting, both to help players who have read the works recall them, and to interest players who haven't read them to help them discover new things to read. The downside is that this approach, especially in common links, is that it involves a trade-off between breadth and depth. In the hunting tossup, for example, I wanted to include a lot of Turgenev material, since that is more accessible, so I tried to write brief yet evocative and interesting clues for the other two works. Obviously, they weren't evocative enough for either of you to buzz on the Embers clue, and perhaps if I'd made the clue a bit longer and mentioned Krisztina, you would have been able to buzz early in the tossup. But then I probably would have had to cut context from the Sportsman's Sketches clues to keep the tossup at a reasonable length. So, this question was not perfect, but I think the decisions I made while writing it are defensible, and I hope it's clear that I made an effort to write balanced, pyramidal questions with clear clues, even if I sometimes failed at this.

I am sympathetic to issue that both of you and Jordan raised about common link accessibility, and I recognize that there were a lot of difficult common link answerlines in the tournament that may not have been very accessible or easy to parse while playing. The Shadow Line, Chinatown and British army answerlines were hard, and even if David Henry Hwang, Katherine Mansfield and Joseph Conrad are canonical authors, the questions did not draw from their most famous works. However, John made the decision to include some answerlines that were at the higher end of the difficulty spectrum in order to include important extra-canonical authors like Frank Chin and Frank O'Connor, and I'm not sure, for example, how I could have written an easier drama tossup on Chinatown, even though it was an intrinsically hard answerline. One of the issues with common links is that they may be confusing or, as Matt said, "artificial," and this can be difficult for players. I am sorry that many questions this tournament did not play well for some people, and I think the proportion of common links John and I wrote probably contributed to that.

As Andrew alluded to, writing clue-dense questions can also confuse players despite the obvious advantage of providing more potential material to buzz on, and this may have had a multiplier effect on difficulties understanding common links (particularly "variable-relationship" ones). The tournament was, obviously, difficult, and my goal was certainly not to punish players for not reading obscure novels. However, I hope that even players who found it more challenging than they hoped were able to enjoy it and find some new books to add to their "to-read" list.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by vinteuil » Thu Jul 23, 2015 9:58 pm

Chimango Caracara wrote:Joseph Conrad
I don't want to pick on this particular question too much, but maybe the thought process it reveals reflects on the rest of the tournament. I wrote a question for the seeding packet in last year's Gorilla Lit on "Typhoon," because I'd seen it around a great deal, read it and liked it, and had never heard it come up despite seeming like a famous-ish Conrad work (it of course turns out that it's come up before); still, I thought it might be a bit much for that tournament. On the other hand, I didn't even recognize the title of "The Shadow-Line," and I have to suspect that that was nearly uniformly the experience of everyone else (and it's come up like 4 times, and not recently!). Why did you pick this particular novel for this question? What kind of "extremely deep" Conrad knowledge was it supposed to reward?
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by hydrocephalitic listlessness » Thu Jul 23, 2015 10:02 pm

I enjoyed the set on the whole! My main criticism of the question content is that some of the "canon expansion" resulted in pretty steep pyramids—the set hasn't been released yet, so I can't point to any specific examples, but there seemed to be several instances of new-to-quizbowl/"extra-canonical" authors showing up in the fifth and sixth lines of tossups. I'm sure those people are important writers, but dropping their names didn't really function as a "late middle" clue.

Aside from that, I really, really disliked the format of this tournament. Leaving aside whether it's the best format for determining the best literature player (it seemed to do a decent enough job of that), I think, for a couple of reasons, it results in a significantly less fun playing experience than the traditional format. (Apologies if I'm repeating criticisms of last year's tournament).

First, playing without teammates (even just one) is a bummer—you lose a lot of the small things that add up to make a round enjoyable: congratulating/being congratulated for good buzzes, talking about the game from a shared perspective, etc.

Second, the traditional format provides significantly more variety and excitement. I get the appeal of playing lots of games against others at your level, but for me, it's actually a lot more fun to have a mix of matchups: some in which you're probably going to lose, some in which you're probably going to win, some that are likely going to be close. It's also nice to play against a variety of people, playing styles, and knowledge bases. I was sitting in the fourth room for most of the day, and played against no more than a dozen different people during that time, which ended up making my experience somewhat boring. It's possible, even likely, that the very best literature players will have a different perspective on this, but I'm interested to hear what others think.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Chimango Caracara » Fri Jul 24, 2015 12:07 am

vinteuil wrote:
Chimango Caracara wrote:Joseph Conrad
I don't want to pick on this particular question too much, but maybe the thought process it reveals reflects on the rest of the tournament. I wrote a question for the seeding packet in last year's Gorilla Lit on "Typhoon," because I'd seen it around a great deal, read it and liked it, and had never heard it come up despite seeming like a famous-ish Conrad work (it of course turns out that it's come up before); still, I thought it might be a bit much for that tournament. On the other hand, I didn't even recognize the title of "The Shadow-Line," and I have to suspect that that was nearly uniformly the experience of everyone else (and it's come up like 4 times, and not recently!). Why did you pick this particular novel for this question? What kind of "extremely deep" Conrad knowledge was it supposed to reward?
Honestly, the genesis of that question was that I wanted to ask about Amitav Ghosh and I thought this would be an interesting way to work in a more canonical author. I didn't know beforehand that The Shadow-Line was not as "quizbowl-famous" as something like Typhoon or Under Western Eyes. Before I read it (and I read it after coming up with the idea for the question), my knowledge of it was that it was A) a novella by Joseph Conrad and B) considered to be Conrad's final "good" or "important" work before his reputation declined with late-career writings like The Rescue. I think it's an interesting work because Conrad wrote the original novel very early on and did not publish the final version until many years later, so it certainly merits critical examination for the insight it may give into his vision (and my impression is that it has been the focus of literary criticism in a way that something like The Rover has not). My thinking was that Conrad is such an important author that this would be an acceptable conception for a question at a high-difficulty literature tournament, although I admit that it was one of the hardest answerlines in the set and it was probably a bad idea.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Fri Jul 24, 2015 10:51 am

Ike wrote:My definition of what is hard and what is tossupable are two different things. For example, I support having a tossup on stuff like Religio Medici for a tournament like this, which Jonathan did for CO proper, but I do not support writing a tossup on Pseudoxica Epidemica by Thomas Browne. Yes I like hard things, but that doesn't mean I turn my questions into one-line speed checks. Even when I wrote the CO finals, my one really hard tossup choice~On Being Blue~, theoretically (and pragmatically as it turned out!) had multiple buzz points. I think Will hits it on the head - why not turn your tossup into the greatest pyramid possible? It doesn't seem right to me to have the hunchbacked tossup be a 5/5 out of your difficulty scale.
Ike, you and I have had far too many conversations about tossup structure for you to think that I tried to toss up "untossupable" rather than "hard" things or that I wanted my questions to turn into "one-line speed checks" that don't have multiple buzz points. As I think you know, I spend quite a lot time choosing clues and structuring tossups and I consider that the most important part of quizbowl writing. In every question that I edited, I attempted to design a good pyramid with many buzz points, but in some cases I presumed a kind of knowledge that apparently wasn't there, and as a result there were questions that played badly. The amount of time I spent writing and editing these questions is not an excuse for those that played badly, and I'm not offering it as such, but I don't appreciate having my intentions impugned as if I'm a difficulty fetishist who didn't care about how these would play.

But I'm having difficulty with your rhetoric here, in particular with the inconsistent (even seemingly arbitrary) way in which you are applying the writing principles you advocate, here and in your posting in general. I cannot square your arguments in this thread with anything that you argued for in the Nats 2015 thread, in which you strenuously defended the right of the Nats editors to consciously choose difficult answer-lines, all of which could have been made easier. I cannot square any of these arguments with the fact that you last year celebrated a literature tournament where there were tossups on: The Awful Rowing Toward God, Mating (by Norman Rush), A Frolic of His Own, The Book of Margery Kempe, Forbidden Colors, Gertrude and Claudius, Junkie, Breath Eyes Memory, and The White Album, to which you responded by saying that you "chalk up [your] poorer performances to the question writer's tastes and not to ineptitude", and the set needed to be only "a tinge easier". I was in the top room for those matches, and I saw many of these questions go very late or dead, and neither you nor anyone else complained one peep about those answers being punitively difficult. Nothing that was tossed up in this tournament is anywhere near as hard as those books (or as hard as the hardest tossups at previous CO Lits), or as likely to have been read by exactly no one in the field. But if I let The Discovery of Heaven stand as a middle clue rather than as a lead-in, I'm in for a shitstorm.

It makes no sense to celebrate a tossup on On Being Blue (the fifth most famous work of William Gass), in the middle of explaining that I should go for the greatest pyramid possible. The greatest pyramid possible for the On Being Blue question would have been produced by changing it to a William Gass question. You consciously chose to write on a harder answer-line. These questions are always gambles, because one can't really know how they're going to play, but one writes them in the hope that people knows lots of things about the harder answer and that they will still produce a good pyramid, even though one knows a safer pyramid could be had. Your gamble apparently paid off then (although, seeing as we didn't play those finals, I wouldn't crow so much about the empirical data), some of our gambles did, and some of ours didn't. But worst of all, we just took too many gambles to begin with.

You are arguing as if your opposed categories of "hard" and "impossible" are natural or consistently predictable. Most of the time, they are neither of these things. They're extremely contingent. They're contingent on what a very small group of quizbowl players happen to have read or have bothered to look up on the internet. For the few tossups that were consciously hard, we tried to include plentiful late clues about works we felt confident that people would have read or know about, many of which were quizbowl-canonical, but our confidence was evidently misplaced.

For example, I was very surprised that the question on hunting played poorly. The second clue of the tossup says the phrase "son of the Officer Guards" which is the way they refer to Henrik over and over (at least 20-something times) in Embers, and the constant repetition of which is one of the most remarked upon features of the book. The third clue is a pretty basic plot summary of "Lvov", which is probably the most famous hunting-based story in A Sportsman's Sketches, the most important short story collection in Russian fiction. The idea of this question was to hand a power on a silver platter on the second or third line to someone who had read either work. As it turns out, the people who have read Embers cannot recognize this phrase, and apparently no one has actually read A Sportsman's Sketches either. That's our mistake in assuming that people would have this kind of knowledge. I'm not happy that the question played badly. But the idea that obviously, no one has read or remembers this stuff or knows The Hunchback's Tale from The Arabian Nights (one of the most celebrated and influential tales in the collection), but they know tons of stuff about On Being Blue or Religio Medici is bizarre. I've already admitted that some questions played badly, but I don't think that any of our choices of works were ipso facto absurd given the kinds of extra-canonical things that have been tossed up at recent national tournaments and CO's.
John, I think you're making a category mistake with the types of common links - especially since ICT, Nats and CO proper had all types of common links though no one really complained about them in either one of those tournaments. To use CO this year, I liked the eagles and topological common link because, first and foremost - they weren't coy with the pronoun, e.g. "this animal" and secondly, the name had relevance to the clues, thus allowing players to connect the clues with the answer.


Actually, considering that people are complaining exclusively about what I called "variable-relationship common-links" and not about the "consistent-relationship common-links", in spite of the fact that both of these types of questions were written identically in terms of sentence structure and cluing style, suggests that this distinction did make a difference in which questions played poorly at this tournament. I'm not blaming the type of common-link itself. Regardless, even if you think that this categorization is somehow unhelpful, that's not what "category mistake" means.
John and Nick - I'm not the only one in this thread complaining about confusing pronoun usage, or awfully complex wording, others have pointed it out. I really suggest you guys try to be a bit more empathetic on this point; a lot of people were getting really confused. It's possible that we were all exhausted after sleeping in hotels, but I think there was more than that going on, especially since Stephen's tournament didn't confuse me one bit. I think the sentence structure, and pronoun usage in many tossups were tricky to follow; not to mention half of my mental power was built trying to contextualize the tossups.
I have already responded to this. If the complaints about "pronoun usage" were that the sentences were too long (thus increasing space in between pronoun drops), then I've copped to that already, and said that I'll change that in future. If you mean something else by this, you're welcome to let me know, especially after you have a copy of the set. I don't know what else you want from me, though.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by theMoMA » Fri Jul 24, 2015 11:37 am

Rather than suggesting that no one has good knowledge of Embers, or has read Turgenev's Hunting Sketches (as they're called in my translation), I think that might imply that this question was kind of confusing, and/or that the connection between reading the books and remembering that "hunting" is the what those exact characters were doing at that exact part of a work that you read a couple years ago is harder than it looks on paper. (Even if, as in my case, the version you read is titled for "hunting.")

For my own part, I found several of the questions to be confusing, simply because my attention was flagging and the sentences seemed to expand and sprawl in all directions, like those black snake fireworks, from the initial couple words (like "this activity," for the hunting question) that reminded you what the question was looking for. Part of this was unquestionably my own shortcoming, and I'm sure that other people were able to parse these questions better than I was. I see that John has already noted this above, and hopefully everyone reading will benefit from a discussion of the idea that even perfectly grammatical sentences can occasionally be confusing if they're too complex for players to parse at game speed. (I don't mean to suggest that every question in this set had this issue; I just noticed it a few times.)

In any event, as I said above, I don't doubt the care that went into these questions. My only quibble is that I think they made certain assumptions about a player's ability to pay attention to sprawling sentences (and to a lesser extent, about the knowledge that people have about Chinatowns in literature, and things of that nature) that were not actually borne out.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Ike » Fri Jul 24, 2015 3:52 pm

ThisIsMyUsername wrote: Ike, you and I have had far too many conversations about tossup structure for you to think that I tried to toss up "untossupable" rather than "hard" things or that I wanted my questions to turn into "one-line speed checks" that don't have multiple buzz points. As I think you know, I spend quite a lot time choosing clues and structuring tossups and I consider that the most important part of quizbowl writing. In every question that I edited, I attempted to design a good pyramid with many buzz points, but in some cases I presumed a kind of knowledge that apparently wasn't there, and as a result there were questions that played badly. The amount of time I spent writing and editing these questions is not an excuse for those that played badly, and I'm not offering it as such, but I don't appreciate having my intentions impugned as if I'm a difficulty fetishist who didn't care about how these would play.
I apologize if that's the way I came off. I know you put in a lot of work into the set and I do feel bad that I didn't enjoy it as much as you had hoped. I think what I was a little miffed by was the suggestion that I'm all for writing tossups on completely impossible stuff.
But I'm having difficulty with your rhetoric here, in particular with the inconsistent (even seemingly arbitrary) way in which you are applying the writing principles you advocate, here and in your posting in general. I cannot square your arguments in this thread with anything that you argued for in the Nats 2015 thread, in which you strenuously defended the right of the Nats editors to consciously choose difficult answer-lines, all of which could have been made easier. I cannot square any of these arguments with the fact that you last year celebrated a literature tournament where there were tossups on: The Awful Rowing Toward God, Mating (by Norman Rush), A Frolic of His Own, The Book of Margery Kempe, Forbidden Colors, Gertrude and Claudius, Junkie, Breath Eyes Memory, and The White Album, to which you responded by saying that you "chalk up [your] poorer performances to the question writer's tastes and not to ineptitude", and the set needed to be only "a tinge easier". I was in the top room for those matches, and I saw many of these questions go very late or dead, and neither you nor anyone else complained one peep about those answers being punitively difficult. Nothing that was tossed up in this tournament is anywhere near as hard as those books (or as hard as the hardest tossups at previous CO Lits), or as likely to have been read by exactly no one in the field. But if I let The Discovery of Heaven stand as a middle clue rather than as a lead-in, I'm in for a shitstorm.

It makes no sense to celebrate a tossup on On Being Blue (the fifth most famous work of William Gass), in the middle of explaining that I should go for the greatest pyramid possible. The greatest pyramid possible for the On Being Blue question would have been produced by changing it to a William Gass question. You consciously chose to write on a harder answer-line. These questions are always gambles, because one can't really know how they're going to play, but one writes them in the hope that people knows lots of things about the harder answer and that they will still produce a good pyramid, even though one knows a safer pyramid could be had. Your gamble apparently paid off then (although, seeing as we didn't play those finals, I wouldn't crow so much about the empirical data), some of our gambles did, and some of ours didn't. But worst of all, we just took too many gambles to begin with.
Sure, so I don't look at it like "is this the 7th hardest tossupable answer on Gass*" or not. While I certainly do factor in giveaway difficulty into account, I ask myself if the topic is knowable. Personally, my (gambling) gut tells me that very, very, very few people know anything about Frank Chin, or any of those hunchbacks except the last. On your internal difficulty scale, how hard did you count hunchback or Chinatown? I personally would count those as hard and very hard. I don't mind if you wrote a tossup that went dead on Frank Chin if it were the hardest dead tossup per packet sort of thing - but instead the tossup in room 4, at least, played out such that you gave 10 points to a person who identified what a Chinatown was, and that led to some weird results.

John and Nick, I apologize if I have come off as hostile in this thread, I really didn't mean to, with the exception of the Jensen-trademarked answerline on whale. Personally, I think you guys were making good faith efforts with the set and a lot of the material was cool; I'm just trying to reconcile why I thought the set didn't leave a great feeling for me - I think I outlined that in my first post. I'm not sure if I have much more to say on the subject that won't turn into who yells louder.

*This is probably be best explained using an analogy to other categories, we don't go and ask is the "second most famous model organism (chickens?)" tossupable - we look at the clues we have for it and if people can know about it. Similarly, I don't ask myself is Floyd-Warshall more tossupable than A* by whether or not they are "famous searching algorithms" - I look to see if you can know about them.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Chimango Caracara » Fri Jul 24, 2015 5:20 pm

Ike wrote:Sure, so I don't look at it like "is this the 7th hardest tossupable answer on Gass*" or not. While I certainly do factor in giveaway difficulty into account, I ask myself if the topic is knowable. Personally, my (gambling) gut tells me that very, very, very few people know anything about Frank Chin, or any of those hunchbacks except the last. On your internal difficulty scale, how hard did you count hunchback or Chinatown? I personally would count those as hard and very hard. I don't mind if you wrote a tossup that went dead on Frank Chin if it were the hardest dead tossup per packet sort of thing - but instead the tossup in room 4, at least, played out such that you gave 10 points to a person who identified what a Chinatown was, and that led to some weird results.

John and Nick, I apologize if I have come off as hostile in this thread, I really didn't mean to, with the exception of the Jensen-trademarked answerline on whale. Personally, I think you guys were making good faith efforts with the set and a lot of the material was cool; I'm just trying to reconcile why I thought the set didn't leave a great feeling for me - I think I outlined that in my first post. I'm not sure if I have much more to say on the subject that won't turn into who yells louder.

*This is probably be best explained using an analogy to other categories, we don't go and ask is the "second most famous model organism (chickens?)" tossupable - we look at the clues we have for it and if people can know about it. Similarly, I don't ask myself is Floyd-Warshall more tossupable than A* by whether or not they are "famous searching algorithms" - I look to see if you can know about them.
I question the assumption that what the arbitrary set of people who play quizbowl happen to know should govern what quizbowl asks about to such a large degree. Chinese-American literature is a major area of scholarship, and Frank Chin and David Henry Hwang are two of its most widely-cited authors (Frank Chin, for example, edited the seminal anthology Aiiieeeee!). Should we ignore this field because it is a blind spot for the people who currently play quizbowl? You question how someone "can know" about Frank Chin, and I don't see a high barrier of entry for learning about him. I imagine that students read his work in almost every Asian-American Studies department.

Since you brought up the chicken question I wrote for CRR, I can tell you that chickens are fundamentally important model organisms for developmental biologists, and it is very likely that people who study biology (which is not an unpopular major) know about them. In real-life terms, there is not a major difference in difficulty between chickens and Xenopus as model organisms, but for whatever reason more quizbowl players know about frogs, so no one would have objected to a tossup on them at that tournament. I recognize that I made mistakes with the biology questions at CRR (and I have taken them into account when submitting biology questions for subsequent tournaments) but I don't think that writing a tossup on chickens was one of them, and I don't want to derail this threat by dissecting those flaws.

Obviously, what quizbowl players know does have a bearing on how askable something is, and that's why John and I wrote a lot of common links that used works on par in difficulty with The Year of the Dragon early in tossups while combining them with better-known ones. Only a minority of questions at a tournament should be geared toward this sort of "outsider" knowledge (and this was one of the problems with my CRR questions). But at the same time, I don't see the problem including a few outliers like the Chinatown question (at a tournament whose target audience is the subset of CO attendees who want to play a literature-only tournament) rather than covering Asian-American literature with Maxine Hong Kingston questions until the crack of doom. Writing on Chinatown rather than Frank Chin has the advantage of including material on David Henry Hwang, and thus improving the probability that a player has read a work with clues in the tossup. In my opinion, the best part of quizbowl is its capacity to expand intellectual horizons, and that is what I tried to do with questions like the Chinatown one, while trying to prevent extra-canonical works from overwhelming the entire tournament.

Ike, I apologize if I have come off as dismissive of your concerns and those of others, and I similarly hope that this response does not seem hostile. However, I wish you wouldn't dismissively bring up my CRR questions (in non-literature categories, no less!) as if they have a bearing on my RILKE questions. It is entirely coincidental that I have written two tossups on whales in two different categories at two different tournaments, and I ask that you please respect me enough to not pigeonhole me as someone who writes weird niche tossups on animals because I like them. This attitude is one of the reasons that I have stopped playing quizbowl. For CRR, I wrote a mythology tossup on whales because they are the subject of interesting stories in many diverse myth systems. For RILKE, I wrote a literature tossup on whales because I wanted to ask about Zakes Mda and Moby-Dick, which many, many people consider to be most important novel in American literature.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Fri Jul 24, 2015 5:56 pm

I won't defend much in CRR but I'll defend that question on chickens.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Ike » Fri Jul 24, 2015 6:06 pm

Chimango Caracara wrote:stuff about chickens
Nick, the chicken thing is an example of a model organism that I would argue is famous but not as knowable as other ones we tossup like, say E. coli. As far as I can tell, I was responding to John's point with that example. I don't know why you're even referring to Cane Ridge Revival or think I'm attacking you for writing a tossup on chickens that I don't remember playing.

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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Chimango Caracara » Fri Jul 24, 2015 9:54 pm

Ike wrote:
Chimango Caracara wrote:stuff about chickens
Nick, the chicken thing is an example of a model organism that I would argue is famous but not as knowable as other ones we tossup like, say E. coli. As far as I can tell, I was responding to John's point with that example. I don't know why you're even referring to Cane Ridge Revival or think I'm attacking you for writing a tossup on chickens that I don't remember playing.

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I'm sorry if I made an incorrect assumption about your hypotheticals, but you mentioned "chickens" as an "unknowable" answerline, and "whales" as a "Jensen-trademarked answerline," and I wrote tossups with both of those answerlines for CRR.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by gyre and gimble » Tue Jul 28, 2015 1:31 pm

This was, if anything, a carefully written set with interesting and quality clues. It wasn't exactly the right set for my personal tastes, but that shouldn't reflect as some kind of judgment on the questions. I do have a couple points on particular things about the common link questions I found problematic.
ThisIsMyUsername wrote:2. Unclear Common Links: Here again, I'm rather surprised. If they empirically played poorly, then I cannot deny that fact, but I'm not sure what was unclear about the questions.

A good number of the common-links were what might be called "variable-relationship common-links": that is, common links where the relationship of the underlined word to the different clued works varies (e.g. "hour" is the first title noun of The Hour of the Star" and the last title noun of "The Story of an Hour"). I understand that these are, as a rule, harder to parse than what might be called "consistent-relationship common-links". However, "variable-relationship common-links" are very common in quizbowl these days, especially in philosophy and the social sciences, and don't seem to play particularly poorly. And I spent quite a bit of time going over them to make them as clear as possible.

For example, here is that question on "hour":
This is the first title noun of a book whose protagonist is wrongly told by a fortune teller that a rich foreigner named Hans will love her. That book with this first title noun has a protagonist who is repeatedly called a “northeastern girl” by the narrator, and who wakes up every morning and thinks “I’m a typist and a virgin, and I like coca-cola”, until she is run over by a yellow Mercedes. This is the last title word of a story whose protagonist repeatedly whispers “Free! Body and soul free!” while her sister  Josephine begs her to open the door and claims that she will make herself ill. This (*) period of time names a book in which Olimpico has a short-lived romance with Maceba. That book by Clarice Lispector is titled for this “of the Star”. After being told that her husband was killed in a train accident, Louise Mallard has a heart attack when he walks through the door in, for 10 points, a Kate Chopin story titled for what period of time?
ANSWER: hour [or hora]
What here is "unclear" or neg bait for "star"? There are four clues about that book. The later two of them are prefaced by the phrase "this period of time", ruling out "star". The earlier two both have the phrase "this first title noun" right at the beginning, which is wholly unambiguous. I think that this is actually much clearer than the vast majority of the "variable-relationship common-links" that I played at any recent national tournament, about which no one complained.
I find two things wrong with these kinds of "variable-relationship" questions.

First, it's aesthetically weird and intellectually contrived. I find it a bit disingenuous to compare these common links to something like a philosophy tossup on "mind" or a social science tossup on "self," because those questions link together works that explore the same concept, or at least roughly the same concept. "The Story of an Hour" and The Hour of the Star, on the other hand, don't really have anything to do with each other conceptually. Even if you wanted to construct some kind of literary argument that "hours" are important in the literature of both Chopin and Lispector, this isn't reflected in the tossup. So rather than a tossup on the concept "hour," this is a tossup on the decontextualized word "hour," i.e. a tossup on works with "hour" in the title pretty much arbitrarily jammed together into the same question. Compare this to the tossup on "children." I didn't like that question because I was disappointed that other McEwan works weren't asked about, but I think it was a good question, and after seeing Nick's explanation behind it, a good idea.

Second, these questions are hard to follow. You're asking players to parse through a bunch of clues' worth of material that they probably have never seen before, waiting to recognize something they know, while also remembering that it's not the title of the work they recognize, but the Xth instance of Y part-of-speech in title Z that they need to give as their answer.

I don't think there's really anything to be gained by these questions--the fact that "hour" appears in several literary titles is meaningless to me, and should be meaningless to everyone unless there's some literary theory to rationalize that connection. Meanwhile, a not-insignificant amount of playability is being sacrificed.
ThisIsMyUsername wrote:3. Decontextualization: First, I find Ike's claim "Quizbowlers rarely use a single clue in isolation to make a buzz; each clue usually builds up some amount of confidence to buzz; once you're above a threshold you go for it." to be drastically overstated. That is one of the two styles of playing and writing that were defined in Jerry's recent post here: http://www.hsquizbowl.org/forums/viewto ... 63#p301313. I do not actively seek to punish people that think that way by intentionally obscuring causal links, but I do not actively seek to reward them either by choosing clues that establish them. This may not be your preferred style, but I think that thread established fairly firmly that both approaches are intellectually valid.

Perhaps my choice not to write in as causally cohesive a way places a greater onus on me to pick more evocative clues than someone who has the added bonus of linking those clues more closely. But if so, then I'd prefer to treat the problem as one of needing to find more inherently evocative clues as opposed to one of needing to establish tighter ties.
I haven't followed the other thread, so I don't know how much I'm repeating things, but I'm firmly in the "give the people context" camp. I'll try to illustrate by example. I am currently 60 pages into The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. I had read the line, "His face was drawn but the curtains were real" roughly 2 weeks before CO Lit. (Don't judge me on my reading speed! I had to put it on hold to finish CO Arts.) I immediately recognized that sentence as something I'd read, but couldn't place it. The question then very quickly moved away from the novel into Sherlock Holmes clues. Now it's definitely on me for not being able to place it, but I think that clue deserved some context.

Let's stop and think about how that sentence functions in the novel. Christopher's inability to understand words with multiple meanings is captured there. But in the novel, it's one of a large body of similar notes about Christopher's autism. It's difficult to recognize any one particular illustration of the narrator's condition without contextualization. I would understand if this one is particularly important. (Maybe it recurs later in the book? I don't know yet.) But otherwise, the tossup as-written limits the utility of the clue at "did you stop and internalize the significance of this sentence" rather than "do you understand why this sentence is important." There isn't anything theoretically wrong with either form of knowledge, but empirically, no one is stopping in the middle of reading a mystery novel to contemplate any sentence in particular. On the other hand, it's a pretty memorable sentence, so using context to remind the player why the sentence is memorable unlocks a lot of the clue's utility.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Tue Jul 28, 2015 3:03 pm

gyre and gimble wrote: I find two things wrong with these kinds of "variable-relationship" questions.

First, it's aesthetically weird and intellectually contrived. I find it a bit disingenuous to compare these common links to something like a philosophy tossup on "mind" or a social science tossup on "self," because those questions link together works that explore the same concept, or at least roughly the same concept. "The Story of an Hour" and The Hour of the Star, on the other hand, don't really have anything to do with each other conceptually. Even if you wanted to construct some kind of literary argument that "hours" are important in the literature of both Chopin and Lispector, this isn't reflected in the tossup. So rather than a tossup on the concept "hour," this is a tossup on the decontextualized word "hour," i.e. a tossup on works with "hour" in the title pretty much arbitrarily jammed together into the same question. Compare this to the tossup on "children." I didn't like that question because I was disappointed that other McEwan works weren't asked about, but I think it was a good question, and after seeing Nick's explanation behind it, a good idea.

Second, these questions are hard to follow. You're asking players to parse through a bunch of clues' worth of material that they probably have never seen before, waiting to recognize something they know, while also remembering that it's not the title of the work they recognize, but the Xth instance of Y part-of-speech in title Z that they need to give as their answer.

I don't think there's really anything to be gained by these questions--the fact that "hour" appears in several literary titles is meaningless to me, and should be meaningless to everyone unless there's some literary theory to rationalize that connection. Meanwhile, a not-insignificant amount of playability is being sacrificed.
Stephen, I think you may be conflating two different distinctions between types of common-links. The first one is one that I have introduced in this thread, between "consistent-relationship" and "variable-relationship" common-links. The second one, which I find very helpful, was introduced by Andrew Hart in the VCU Open 2011 thread (http://www.hsquizbowl.org/forums/viewto ... 50#p223614), and is between "organic" and "artificial" common-links. (I'm sorry if this sounds like I'm about to descend into an étude in jargon, but I think these terminological labels greatly clarify discussions like this.)

Variable-relationship common-links require players to pay attention to each individual clue, because the relationship of the new information to the answer-line changes from clue to clue. A consistent-relationship common-link is one in which the relationship between the answer-line and the clued entities remains constant across all the different things clued.

However, the purportedly "aesthetically weird and intellectually contrived" concept that you posit of connecting things via a word rather than a bona fide "important" conceptual concept defines a larger class of common-links: what Andrew Hart calls "artificial" common-links, which connect things via a feature that is incidental rather than "organic".

These two dichotomies cannot be collapsed because many artificial common-links are "consistent-relationship". In music, any question on Symphony or Concerto No. X is an artificial common-link, because happening to be someone's third symphony is not an intellectually significant connection; it's as "meaningless" (as you say) as can be. In science or social science, any tossup that operates on the common last name of particular authors or scientists is artificial. Yet, all of these are "consistent-relationship" common-links.

Likewise, as you point out, it is also not the case that all "variable-relationship" common-links are artificial. A tossup on "mind" in philosophy that clues it from books in which "mind" appears in several book titles in different word positions (e.g. Mind and World Order ["first title noun"] and The Concept of Mind ["second title noun"]) is "variable-relationship", but is connected by the fact that these minds are conceptually related.

Is it fair to say that your criticism is primarily of the tossups that were both artificial and variable, and not truly of artificiality or variability on their own? That is, it seems to me that you are defending things like "mind", even when they're variable. And I assume that you don't object to artificial tossups like Symphony No. 3, which are the foundation of how many other categories are written.

A good test case for this might be whether you object in principle to this tournament's tossup on poets named Robert. That is artificial as heck, since I've never seen a college course or academic monograph on "poets named Robert", but it was presumably not a difficult question to process, since it was always looking for a first name.

If your objection was that those questions were the most confusing because there was neither an organic link nor a consistent relationship to latch onto, and one or the other foothold needs to be there, then I think I understand the criticism and can get on board with it.
I haven't followed the other thread, so I don't know how much I'm repeating things, but I'm firmly in the "give the people context" camp. I'll try to illustrate by example. I am currently 60 pages into The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. I had read the line, "His face was drawn but the curtains were real" roughly 2 weeks before CO Lit. (Don't judge me on my reading speed! I had to put it on hold to finish CO Arts.) I immediately recognized that sentence as something I'd read, but couldn't place it. The question then very quickly moved away from the novel into Sherlock Holmes clues. Now it's definitely on me for not being able to place it, but I think that clue deserved some context.

Let's stop and think about how that sentence functions in the novel. Christopher's inability to understand words with multiple meanings is captured there. But in the novel, it's one of a large body of similar notes about Christopher's autism. It's difficult to recognize any one particular illustration of the narrator's condition without contextualization. I would understand if this one is particularly important. (Maybe it recurs later in the book? I don't know yet.) But otherwise, the tossup as-written limits the utility of the clue at "did you stop and internalize the significance of this sentence" rather than "do you understand why this sentence is important." There isn't anything theoretically wrong with either form of knowledge, but empirically, no one is stopping in the middle of reading a mystery novel to contemplate any sentence in particular. On the other hand, it's a pretty memorable sentence, so using context to remind the player why the sentence is memorable unlocks a lot of the clue's utility.
I don't think that's a good example, because I think that tossup is much more context-rich than the majority of literature tossups that are written in quizbowl, period. Here is the tossup:
NOTE: Exact phrase is required
This phrase titles a book whose protagonist analyzes the sentence “His face was drawn but the curtains were real” to explain why there are no jokes in the book. The protagonist of a book titled for this phrase carries a bottle of red food coloring with him, because he refuses to eat food that is yellow or brown. That protagonist from a book with this title finds a hidden cache of letters that his mother wrote to him every week, proving that his father lied about her being dead. This phrase identifies the most famous “negative (*) clue” in mystery fiction, which occurs in a story in which curried mutton laced with opium was used as part of a scheme to kidnap a racehorse. This phrase names a novel in which Wellington is stabbed with a garden fork, and the autistic boy Christopher sets out to investigate who killed him; that book is by Mark Haddon. For 10 points, name this phrase from the Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze” that refers to the fact that a canine did not bark.   
ANSWER: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time [be generous, and prompt on a partial answer]
In the first sentence, I do in fact tell you "why the sentence is memorable": because the narrator uses it as an explanation for why there are no jokes in the book! How much more context could you possibly expect? The only thing more I could tell you about that passage is that the narrator is mentally incapable of understanding jokes. But that telegraphs too clearly that the narrator has a disability, and would amount to an additional clue. Also, Christopher's inability to understand jokes is a recurring motif in the book, so I'm giving you something that allows you to connect with other moments. This was very much not a line just ripped from the book and presented on its own.

Likewise, the second clue--that Christopher always carries red food coloring with him--also provides you with the reason why this is important: Christopher's aversion to yellow and brown. When you are done with the book, you are welcome to count just how many times Christopher's love of red and hatred of yellow and brown is mentioned; it must be something like a dozen times. The third clue is the turning point of the book. Sorry if you haven't gotten there. The fourth clue tells you exactly why the Sherlock Holmes line became important. And then the remaining clues are plot summaries.

The idea of contextualization that I understood Ike and Jerry to be discussing was contextualization within the tossup: that is, when the various clues work as a progression to build a picture of the kind of thing the tossup is about. The opposite approach is when each individual clue is meant to function as a specific memory trigger, whole unto itself, and if that trigger doesn't work, you move on to the next clue. I admit that I write mostly according to the second approach.

However, although I don't try to contextualize clues with each other, I do work hard to contextualize each clue relative to the work it is about. I pick only clues that I think are either evocative or interpretively significant for the work in question, and I always try to provide enough information about specifically those features that make it evocative or significant. If you have complaints or questions about lack of context in that sense, besides the one you just mentioned, I'm happy to address them, to explain why I picked the clue that I did and phrased it the way that I did.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by gyre and gimble » Tue Jul 28, 2015 5:19 pm

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:Is it fair to say that your criticism is primarily of the tossups that were both artificial and variable, and not truly of artificiality or variability on their own? That is, it seems to me that you are defending things like "mind", even when they're variable. And I assume that you don't object to artificial tossups like Symphony No. 3, which are the foundation of how many other categories are written.

A good test case for this might be whether you object in principle to this tournament's tossup on poets named Robert. That is artificial as heck, since I've never seen a college course or academic monograph on "poets named Robert", but it was presumably not a difficult question to process, since it was always looking for a first name.

If your objection was that those questions were the most confusing because there was neither an organic link nor a consistent relationship to latch onto, and one or the other foothold needs to be there, then I think I understand the criticism and can get on board with it.
I may have conflated the types of distinctions that were both embodied in the "hour" tossup. I'm much more concerned with the fact that "hour" is a meaningless answerline in the context of that tossup, which is also why I found the tossup on "Robert" aesthetically unpleasant. I think the danger with these kinds of questions isn't that there's not enough context, or that it rewards the wrong kinds of knowledge, but rather than it points toward things that aren't important as things that are worth knowing. I don't think quizbowl should emphasize things that aren't academically significant.

I'd probably argue the same about "symphony no. 3," but I'm not willing to do so because I know nothing about classical music and I suppose that "third symphonies" could be used as a benchmark for comparing different composers' stylistic development. For example "first novels" would be an awkward thing to ask about, but from a subject-matter perspective would not be all that bad.

To be brief, I object to both artificial questions and variable-relationship questions separately. But I object to artificial common links categorically*, whereas I think variable-relationship questions could be phrased or filtered to make them playable. For example, a tossup on Virginia Woolf that refers to her as a character and later as an author would be organic but variable. That would be totally fine and even very interesting.

As for my other comment, you're right, that's a bad example and I misremembered the question as jumping from the quote to Sherlock Holmes clues. I don't have the set yet, so I'll wait until I see it again to decide if I want to pursue this point, rather than risk bringing up another unproductive example. For now I'll just say that a frequent point of frustration for me was not being able to place particular clues or only understanding clues I knew after hearing the answerline.

*But perhaps with a higher threshold for artificiality. When there's a reasonable explanation for an "artificial" common link, such as "first novels" or "horses" in mythology--in other words, where it seems reasonable that someone would study the answerline academically in the context it was presented through the tossup--I don't consider it prohibitively artificial.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Wed Jul 29, 2015 9:16 am

gyre and gimble wrote: I may have conflated the types of distinctions that were both embodied in the "hour" tossup. I'm much more concerned with the fact that "hour" is a meaningless answerline in the context of that tossup, which is also why I found the tossup on "Robert" aesthetically unpleasant. I think the danger with these kinds of questions isn't that there's not enough context, or that it rewards the wrong kinds of knowledge, but rather than it points toward things that aren't important as things that are worth knowing. I don't think quizbowl should emphasize things that aren't academically significant.

I'd probably argue the same about "symphony no. 3," but I'm not willing to do so because I know nothing about classical music and I suppose that "third symphonies" could be used as a benchmark for comparing different composers' stylistic development. For example "first novels" would be an awkward thing to ask about, but from a subject-matter perspective would not be all that bad.

To be brief, I object to both artificial questions and variable-relationship questions separately. But I object to artificial common links categorically*, whereas I think variable-relationship questions could be phrased or filtered to make them playable. For example, a tossup on Virginia Woolf that refers to her as a character and later as an author would be organic but variable. That would be totally fine and even very interesting.
While I understand why one might, in principle, have aesthetic objections to artificial common-links (I myself held such objections until about 2011), I think the rest of your statements about the dangers of artificial common-links are unfounded. A good tossup is a pyramidal arrangement of clues that pertain to information worth knowing, with each of those clues rewarding intellectual engagement with an academic subject. End of story. If all the clues in a tossup reward intellectual engagement with something of importance, then it shouldn't matter what connects those clues, unless the weakness of connection actually has a negative effect on playability, as it apparently did in the least successful tossups in this tournament.

If you buzz on a literature tossup, recognizing a clue from a Robert Hass poem that you have read, you have been equally rewarded for that engagement whether you have to say "Robert" or "Hass" in order to get the points. The tossup on poets named Robert is not "about" the fact that these people are named Robert (since the value of their poetry is not about their first names) any more than a tossup just on Hass is "about" the fact that his last name is Hass (since he would be an equally good/worthwhile poet if his last name were not Hass but Schmidt). The answer-line is just the vehicle for the knowledge-testing performed by the clues.

The lingering suspicion towards artificial common-links, even when they are clear to understand and well-executed from the standpoints of pyramidally and good choice of individual clues, remains a setback for the advancement of cluing in tossups, in particular in performing responsible canon expansion and fresh clue-finding at levels of difficulty below "open/CO".

The dilemma of canon expansion works something like this: Let us say there is Author or Work X. X is an intellectually worthwhile thing that a sub-section of the field has engaged with, to a degree that could be successfully distinguished by 3-4 lines worth of clues. Unfortunately, the rest of the field has not engaged with X. If it is tossed up, 5 lines of the tossup will automatically go unbuzzed, and the tossup will go dead in many rooms. Those 3-4 lines of clues about X would not fit in an organic common-link. Without the possibility of an artificial common-link, this is a bad either/or situation. The editor can either sacrificially toss it up, and hope that that one tossup that doesn't play so well "breaks X into the canon" thus ensuring that future tossups on X can play well. Or, the editor can decide not to toss it up, and the field's knowledge of X goes untapped. A good artificial tossup on X solves this problem: 4 lines of clues about X are interleaved with 4 lines of clues about canonical non-X.

This is far from an imaginary situation. For example, at this year's ACF Nationals, there was a tossup on thinkers named Burke, which allowed the editors to include clues on the influential literary theorist Kenneth Burke, while filling out the rest of the tossup with clues about Edmund Burke. I'm sure this played much better than a tossup on Kenneth Burke alone would have. I hope it rewarded knowledge of Kenneth Burke's work in those rooms where such a person was present. (It did in mine.) And I presume that the rest of the tossup played well among people who know only stuff about Edmund Burke. This kind of knowledge could not have been easily rewarded without the use of an artificial common-link, which plays upon the purely incidental fact that those thinkers have the same last name.

In the case of music, I can assure you that "Symphony No. 3" is an entirely trivial connection between pieces, but that tossups like this have done a world of good in opening up the music canon without miring everyone in hard-to-parse technical clues.
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Sam » Wed Jul 29, 2015 12:09 pm

ThisIsMyUsername wrote: While I understand why one might, in principle, have aesthetic objections to artificial common-links (I myself held such objections until about 2011), I think the rest of your statements about the dangers of artificial common-links are unfounded. A good tossup is a pyramidal arrangement of clues that pertain to information worth knowing, with each of those clues rewarding intellectual engagement with an academic subject. End of story. If all the clues in a tossup reward intellectual engagement with something of importance, then it shouldn't matter what connects those clues, unless the weakness of connection actually has a negative effect on playability, as it apparently did in the least successful tossups in this tournament.

If you buzz on a literature tossup, recognizing a clue from a Robert Hass poem that you have read, you have been equally rewarded for that engagement whether you have to say "Robert" or "Hass" in order to get the points. The tossup on poets named Robert is not "about" the fact that these people are named Robert (since the value of their poetry is not about their first names) any more than a tossup just on Hass is "about" the fact that his last name is Hass (since he would be an equally good/worthwhile poet if his last name were not Hass but Schmidt). The answer-line is just the vehicle for the knowledge-testing performed by the clues.
I think there's an implicit argument in supporting these kinds of questions that tossups should test knowledge of the larger field of study, not necessarily what the answer line actually says. No one reads or studies "poets named Robert" (I think!), but they do study "poetry" and the more poetry you have studied the more likely you are to have heard of poets named Robert. In many ways this sounds like the arguments for contextual clues people have been making.

These questions always seem to frustrate people in post-tournament discussion, which may be a sign that from a playability standpoint they are more troublesome than other tossups. Do you have any idea what conversion was like for them, and whether it actually was much lower (or induced more negs, or fewer powers) than others?
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Re: RILKE Discussion

Post by Cheynem » Wed Jul 29, 2015 3:06 pm

My belief is that such questions are not inherently bad or anything but are more mentally grueling to play. In a question on I dunno, Brahms, you may not recognize the early clues but you are forming a mental picture of presumably the types of works produced by this composer, the period that he lives in, etc., so that when you do hear a clue you know, you are confident it is Brahms. For a tossup on "third symphonies," each clue more or less ends up in a vacuum. If you know nothing about Gostorp's third symphony, that will not help you at all to identify the answerline. Now obviously better players can realize what types of answerlines would be repeated or tossupable, but it's still a bit more mentally grueling because it almost becomes like a series of mini tossups.
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