SHEIKH: Thanks and General Discussion

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SHEIKH: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by naan/steak-holding toll »

Thanks for playing SHEIKH, everyone! I hope everyone had a good time playing the set.

Before saying anything else, I’d like to thank my fantastic co-writer Jordan Brownstein, whose high-quality writing taught me a lot of cool new things and kept right with the theme of this tournament. Jordan ended up writing 35.5% percent of the set - he contributed questions in every category and wrote the majority of the pre-WWI US History and British history. I wrote the rest of the set, including the majority of the non-Western, continental European, and classical history.

Inspired by ACF Nationals 2014 and Regionals 2015, I tried to make sure questions in this tournament were not only playable and interesting, but educational. Basically, I didn’t just want to expose people to a bunch of new material, but I wanted people to be interested in going and learning about it after the tournament as well. I took this to something of a “quizbowl hipster” extreme - if I’d heard a zillion questions on a specific topic before, I either didn’t ask a question about that topic or deliberately approached it in a new way or with clues that I hadn’t seen before (though evidently this didn't always mean the clues hadn't come up before, since I definitely messed a couple of things up). You weren’t gonna get another New Zealand history question about Maori conflicts out of me at this tournament - you got one on Chinese immigrants to New Zealand instead.

While writing this tournament, Jordan and I made a few specific design decisions that I wanted to highlight and get feedback on. I’d like to apply any feedback I get here to any future writing projects that I take on, especially high-difficulty ones - I do hold some aspirations of writing/editing for a major national tournament in the future, even though I doubt I’ll have nearly as much free time to contribute to quizbowl in the future as I do now. After this tournament and MO, though, I suspect I’ll be mostly dry of fresh history ideas for some time.

Answerline Difficulty: Some of you may have noticed that I repeatedly edited my description of this tournament’s difficulty in its announcement post. This is because Jordan and I for the most part picked relatively straightforward answers that could easily show up in tournaments of lower difficulty, and which weaker players were likely to be familiar with and definitely able to answer later in the question.

Cluing Control: Jordan and I made a point of asking each other if we thought each of the clues we were using would not only be buzzable, but would be something someone would actually probably encounter if they perused a particular topic in depth. We were reasonably rigorous about this, but for reasons related to time and human fallibility we didn’t catch everything (and admittedly there were probably one or two throwaway lead-ins I didn’t expect many buzzes from). Still, I hope this was noticeable, since hard questions (including many that I’ve written in the past) often pile on information that you probably wouldn’t expect somebody to know.

Historiography Clues: This was mostly my doing. Even outside of the explicit historiography distribution, I deliberately wrote several tossups with the idea of “this is a question mainly about historiography” in mind, the Maya tossup being the most obvious example to my mind. These were largely inspired by my work with Marshall Steinbaum on the Cane Ridge Revival, where he wrote a number of questions I found interesting, but whose playability I questioned. To help increase playability, I tried to pair historiography clues with information that would be distinctly buzzable without the historiographic context - I’d really like to know if this worked.

Shots in the Dark: Jordan and I wrote a ton of questions that we were totally unsure of the playability of, but whose material we were very excited to see play out. For the most part these took the form of “easy answer with new clues” tossups (“Singapore” from social development policy, “Duke of Burgundy” from art history, “Solzhenitsyn” from lectures/speeches as well as books) but we also put in a bunch of stuff we thought people might know but weren’t sure (Aymara, Niall Ferguson). I hope these questions played out reasonably and, even if they didn’t, that you all got exposed to some cool new stuff through them.

Anyways, discuss away and once again, thanks for playing.
Will Alston
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Mike Bentley »

I liked this tournament a lot. I appreciated its restraint in selecting answers. There were very few questions that played poorly. Thanks for writing it.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Cheynem »

This was a good, solid tournament. I was kind of hoping for some nuttier stuff to be honest (like CO History had), but that's an odd criticism.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Ike »

As someone who knows not much about history, but knows when a set is well-constructed, I think this tournament was excellent. I don't have a whole lot to say outside of that - I'll leave that to the real historians.

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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by grapesmoker »

I had a good time playing this set. It seemed like it covered a very good range of topics and pretty much all the questions were solid. A+, would play again.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by 1.82 »

On the whole I enjoyed this tournament quite a bit. The answer selection was interesting and there were a lot of good clues that I enjoyed the opportunity to get points on. In particular I thought the ordering of clues was worth noting, since I thought this did an admirable job of distinguishing between levels of knowledge. Many tossups had eminently buzzable clues right from the beginning and I noticed very few buzzer races.

I did notice that the scattered historiography questions tended to play rather poorly, and even though I'd like to think that I'm a reasonably historically literate person I had trouble coming up with answers at all. The problem with using historians or books of history as answerlines (rather than just using historiographical early clues) is that even among people who study history in an academic context it's difficult to be sufficiently well-informed to get those sort of questions in fields outside one's own area of specialization. Tossups on pop history like Niall Ferguson are fine; tossups on academic history like Black Athena are more difficult.

I also felt like the American history in this set was somewhat easier than the world history. I'm not an Americanist but I found myself buzzing significantly earlier on American questions. This was hardly a major concern, though.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Auks Ran Ova »

Ike wrote:As someone who knows not much about history, but knows when a set is well-constructed, I think this tournament was excellent.
Agreed. I really appreciated the controlled answerline selection; I think it helps non-history-experts like me maintain a feeling of engagement with the tournament (rather than exclusively sitting around waiting for the occasional answer I know something about, I can be engaged in trying to figure things out and piece clues I'm aware of together) in a way that takes particular advantage of the nature of history as a category. I appreciated your approach to historiography for similar reasons.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by naan/steak-holding toll »

Thanks for the feedback so far, guys. I'm glad to hear the answerline control worked out the way we wanted it to. Rob's exactly right that Jordan and I wanted to take advantage of the nature of history as a category to make it accessible to a wide variety of people, including the high schoolers we knew would be playing VCU Open at several different sites. I was especially excited to see superb high school historians like Austin Foos and Bruce Lou take a crack at the set - Bruce in particular deserves mad props for scoring over 50 PPG sitting next to Jeff Hoppes at the Berkeley site.
I did notice that the scattered historiography questions tended to play rather poorly, and even though I'd like to think that I'm a reasonably historically literate person I had trouble coming up with answers at all. The problem with using historians or books of history as answerlines (rather than just using historiographical early clues) is that even among people who study history in an academic context it's difficult to be sufficiently well-informed to get those sort of questions in fields outside one's own area of specialization. Tossups on pop history like Niall Ferguson are fine; tossups on academic history like Black Athena are more difficult.
I had this concern, so I picked things I knew a bunch of people would have heard of (Niall Ferguson because he's well known, Black Athena because it's notoriously controversial, Braudel because the Annales school is super important) based on my instincts since I'm not an academic historian at all, either. The clues in the Japan tossup were selected on a similar basis, since I know the concept of kokutai (which is what the "national character" stuff refers to) and Edo-period kokugaku studies are both important things and Fukuzawa Yukichi is a real-life important guy who appears on Japan's 10,000 yen note. The only historiography question that wasn't my doing was the Victorians tossup - Jordan can speak to that question.
Governor General's Foot Guards wrote:I also felt like the American history in this set was somewhat easier than the world history. I'm not an Americanist but I found myself buzzing significantly earlier on American questions. This was hardly a major concern, though.
I don't think this observation is unreasonable. Jordan wrote more of the American history and I think his questions were a bit easier across the board than mine were. In addition, since I haven't actually written a lot of U.S. history before and it's by far my worst history category (relatively speaking) I was especially conservative with my clue selection, with the exception of more experimental tossups like the one on same-sex marriage.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Cheynem »

I thought the historiography questions were fine.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Excelsior (smack) »

I want to commend the writers of this set for their exquisite use of italics and instructions like "[emphasize]" to help moderators ensure that they don't garble key prepositions. Every set should seek to emulate SHEIKH in this respect.

The questions also seemed like they would've been a lot of fun to play (if I knew things about history). Good job!
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by theMoMA »

I'll add to the praise for this tournament. It was fun, accessible, well-written, and perhaps most refreshingly, extremely concrete and easy to play. I'll expand a bit on the last part: this tournament had lots of great clues and cool ideas, but it didn't write about them in ways that made questions difficult to answer. Perhaps the simplest way to say it is that I was rarely sitting there going "hmm, I know what you're talking about, but I have no idea what you want." In pretty much all regards, this tournament reminded me a lot of Ike's myth tournament from a few years ago; like Ike's event, this tournament's simple answer lines, accessibility, and emphasis on primary material made it extremely playable and fun, even though I'm by no means an expert in the subject matter. I put this on the short list of extremely well-written single-subject events in recent memory.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Jem Casey »

I'm glad to hear that people enjoyed the set. Thanks to everyone for playing, and thanks especially to Will for writing a ton of great questions, serving as an inspirational model of productivity, and being a generous and helpful collaborator and play-tester throughout the writing process.

I'd be interested in any feedback on how some of the questions with "unconventional" answers played out. I ended up writing a lot of common-links for this set (with a few exceptions, such as Will's fantastic "gardens" question, most tossups with pronouns like "this product," "these objects," "these places," etc were mine), many of which were probably far too questionable for anything other than a fun side event such as this one. In an attempt to reward players for knowledge of more conventional history and to cut down on frustrating late-in-the-question buzzer races, I occasionally used middle clues that were incidental to the subject and theme of the tossup, but seemed to point pretty directly to the correct answer. Examples of this included the "peace ship" clue in the Model T tossup, the siege of Mafeking story in the "boy scouts" tossup, and the sentence about David Lloyd George in the "Welsh language" tossup. It's great to hear that Andrew didn't find many tossups to be "difficult to answer," but I also know that I miscalculated the clarity of the clue-answer connections at least a few times; for instance, the "Scottish clans" tossup was, quite understandably, negged with something like "Scottish bands" off the Hugh Trevor-Roper/kilts clue in no less than two rooms at the VCU site. Any other anecdotes about similar issues, or more general thoughts on the advisability of this style of clueing, are greatly appreciated.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Megachile dupla »

I enjoyed this tournament a lot, thanks to Will and Jordan for writing it.

In response to Jordan's question, I didn't really find any of the answerlines too unusual or difficult to figure out. Actually, I thought you did a good job finding fresh clues for well-known answers.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by gyre and gimble »

This was fun. I think you guys nailed the "interesting clues on easy answers" concept. It was also refreshing to play a history set with more centralized editorial control and vision (not to knock the past few CO History sets or CHBs too much, but those sets have always felt less stylistically cohesive to me).

My favorite question was the one on Saladin that seemed like it was exclusively on the Ayyubid-Crusader war.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Wynaut »

Jem Casey wrote:In an attempt to reward players for knowledge of more conventional history and to cut down on frustrating late-in-the-question buzzer races, I occasionally used middle clues that were incidental to the subject and theme of the tossup, but seemed to point pretty directly to the correct answer. Examples of this included the "peace ship" clue in the Model T tossup, the siege of Mafeking story in the "boy scouts" tossup, and the sentence about David Lloyd George in the "Welsh language" tossup.
I personally love this style of writing and I hope to see more people use it.

This tournament turned out to be very different from what I imagined when I read "ACF Nationals-level," and that's a good thing in my opinion. I appreciated how you were able to find different takes on subjects well-established in the quizbowl canon, and how a lot of the answerlines could show up without incident at Regionals-level or even Fall-level.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by naan/steak-holding toll »

Wynaut wrote:This tournament turned out to be very different from what I imagined when I read "ACF Nationals-level," and that's a good thing in my opinion. I appreciated how you were able to find different takes on subjects well-established in the quizbowl canon, and how a lot of the answerlines could show up without incident at Regionals-level or even Fall-level.
Perhaps a more accurate description would be "what I think a good vision of ACF Nationals would be" though I'd say that Nationals could comfortably be made around VCU Open level difficulty, albeit with a bit more difficulty control than that set had. I think the material we used was overall easier than this year's Nationals since we approached it with a different philosophy in mind. It seems to have worked, since this set seems to have been very positively received by a wide audience, which makes me extremely happy.
gyre and gimble wrote:My favorite question was the one on Saladin that seemed like it was exclusively on the Ayyubid-Crusader war.
Here's the tossup:
SHEIKH Packet 8 wrote:20. This ruler had the eunuch Mu’tamin killed for conspiring against him, leading 50,000 African soldiers to revolt in what was called the Battle of the Blacks. The account of Ibn Jubayr’s pilgrimage contains a description of the realm of this ruler, who won the Battle of Jacob’s Ford and sent his brother Turan-Shah to conquer Yemen and Nubia. Some accounts say this ruler had his troops pour water at night in front of thirsty enemies. A force of only a (*) few thousand infantry and a few hundred knights routed this ruler’s forces at the Battle of Montgisard. At the treaty of Ramla, this ruler granted his main opponents a strip of land from Jaffa to Tyre and allowed them to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, a city he captured after the Battle of Hattin. For 10 points, name this first ruler of the Ayyubid dynasty, a chivalrous opponent of the Third Crusade.
ANSWER: Saladin [or Yusuf Salah ud-Din ibn Ayyub]
Most of the clues were about the Ayyubid-Crusader conflict (since that's what people know Saladin for!) but I wanted to use a few clues from other events/people that I hadn't seem up before but which were definitely notable, which I've bolded above. That tossup was meant as a straightforward question about important material - I'm definitely glad it played out that way.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Important Bird Area »

Thanks to Will and Jordan for writing this set. I agree that this tournament did a fantastic job of providing both entertaining real clues about real knowledge and strictly-limited difficulty. Well done!
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