I've played in quite a number of tournaments now, and without a doubt this was the worst set of questions I've ever had the displeasure of playing on. Really, hands-down worst. That other time, when those other questions were the worst? That was nothing. That was just a warmup to the soulcrushing, mind-obliterating crap that was served up to us at this event.
Let me just say first that I don't blame the Penn people at all. To the best of my knowledge, they didn't know any better. And they were nice folks who were really trying to keep the show running, even though I think about halfway through they realized what an unmitigated disaster every packet was. My public apologies to the one moderator I got mad at. I was stressed and angry; it was my problem, not yours.
I can't emphasize how bad this set was. It was like playing at a CBI event. These packets were objectively awful, by any measure of question quality. I encourage everyone to take a look at them just so you know what not to do.
Of course, some people will respond to my angry, sleep-deprived post by telling me that I should have expected as much, or that I'm an obnoxious asshole, or that I'm just bitter. Those people will be correct; I'm probably the type of guy that will club a baby seal with an endangered panda and then push a bus full of nuns off a cliff. And sure, I'm bitter, but who wouldn't be? And for the "I would have told you so" crowd, well, deep down inside, I knew this would happen. I suspected the questions would suck, but I managed to convince myself otherwise.
Why did I do it? See, I played on Penn Bowl questions in 2003 and 2004. And they weren't awful. They weren't great, but they weren't awful, and in 2004, I even enjoyed myself. I didn't play in 2005, but I got the impression that much of the problem resulted from the fact that Samer had dumped a lot of editing on people who weren't prepared for it. This year, Charlie Steinhice was supposed to be editing, and I thought, what the hell? Charlie's about a million years old, he's been around the circuit, he knows what to do and not to do; maybe he'll get it right. Anyway, he couldn't get too wrong, could he? Not with all the talk that's been going on lately about question quality and a whole thread about how not to write questions. Surely, I said to myself, he could at least hit mediocrity.
But no. You may not believe that anything could suck as much as Heinrich Bowl did this year. Well, believe it, o my brothers. This set was shittacular. It was like every point that I'd made in that question writing thread was taken and reversed, producing a set that consisted of 75% speed checks and giveaways in the first line, vague clues, useless clues, and plain wrong clues. It was like a whole smorgasbord of crapulence all concentrated in a single packet set. You may want examples; I have them:
- I knew this was going to end poorly when the first tossup, to which the answer was Charlemagne, began with the words "This man's biographer, Einhard," or a very similarly-worded clue.
- A tossup on the Venus de Milo began with the clue about its misattribution and the name of its sculptor, who is known for one thing only, the Venus de Milo.
- A tossup on Foucault gave some vague clue followed by something like "this guy studied sex in history."
- Edward Ferrars named in the first clue to "Sense and Sensibility."
- The Intolerable Acts is apparently an "it," not a "them."
- A tossup on Miller-Urey experiment beginning with a description of how gases were contained in an airtight vessel.
- A question on Constable that started off talking about how he did some oil paintings and some other kind of paintings but art critics liked his smaller paintings more or some equally vague bullshit. Not one title; not a single clue that might have placed him in a particular time period or country.
- A tossup on "Paradise Lost" that began with the clue quoting the first line.
And I know exactly who to blame: the editor, Charlie Steinhice.
See, I don't hold it against Shorter College when they submit a packetload of crap. They don't know any better; it's an honest mistake. But an editor's job is to take the questions he got and turn them into something that can be played on in a tournament. Especially considering that a tournament like this will pull in probably around $2500 for UTC, a team, by the way, whose presence I have yet to see at any major nationals tournament. Where does that money go, guys? When you pull in that kind of cash, plus whatever mirroring fees you are charging, a little something, like, maybe, quality, is expected of you. Not the steaming pile of shit that you spit up on us. Especially if you know better, as someone who has been on the circuit for decades clearly should.
Now, I realize that some people will post and say that this was a novice-oriented tournament. I wish to preempt this argument by saying that none of this excuses the awful questions. Novices, as much as anyone, deserve to play on quality questions; perhaps this will serve as an example to everyone of how not to write. ACF Fall gave everyone an example of how a tournament could be accessible and still written well. I wouldn't expect a one-man-edited tournament to be as polished as ACF Fall, with its many editors was, but you can at least look to it for examples.
But from the appearance of this set, Charlie decided essentially to take all the awful stuff that was submitted and just pass it along without any editing whatsoever. Not only that, but to add insult to injury, he took the one quality packet that I submitted to him (granted, it was a little rough around the edges from the parts that my teammate wrote, but there were easily 20/20 usable questions in it) and merge it with an awful Georgia Tech packet (apparently Stephen Webb is also keen on ignoring question-writing criteria; after all, why make an effort when you don't have to?). Good job, chief. It wasn't enough to just pass unedited garbage along to the players; you had to fuck up a quality packet that I spent time writing. It's good to know you took the time to do that instead of, I don't know, EDITING THE GODDAMN QUESTIONS YOU GOT.
Why am I writing this? What do I hope to achieve with this screed, other than to potentially make myself a pariah by attacking someone who apparently "does so much for the game." Or so I've heard. Well, here's the thing: almost everything that I've ever played on that's come out of UTC tournaments has been at best sub-standard. Any good packets were the result of efforts by teams such as Kentucky and Florida; most other things were substandard. Last year, Matt Weiner, Eric Kwartler, and I edited the J'Accuse/BLaST/Moon Pie extravaganza that took place last spring. I'm not going to complain that I didn't see penny one of whatever money UTC made on Moon Pie that year because I never asked for anything. But it would have been nice, speaking strictly for myself, to have received at least a little recognition for taking part in the construction of what I am confident was the best Moon Pie in years. Just a mention in the results page. Just a brief note of thanks to three guys who worked quite hard to make your tournament work and didn't ask any money for it.
I brushed it off at the time, but this set gives me a more complete vision of what UTC does. UTC (and wherever I mention UTC I really mean Charlie, its public face) just sucks. Figuratively it sucks by producing a crappy product, and literally it sucks money and time from teams that play on its events. Given how terrible most of UTC's product is it the case that most teams in the Southeast really don't care and are happy to play of it (in which case you may be happier just going to CBI)?
I refuse to accept that Charlie didn't know what he was doing or that he doesn't know good questions from bad. I refuse to accept that a veteran of the circuit with his kind of seniority could remain ignorant of the changes the game has undergone in the last ten years or so. I can only come to the conclusion that knowing everything that has been written about question quality on this forum, he has chosen to ignore it.
And I'm fucking angry about it. And everyone who played on this set should be angry too. And that's my goal - to make people angry enough not to take this kind of shit anymore. Either you demand quality and vote for it with your money and time, or you will get the kind of crap that I played on today. We hold NAQT writers to a high standard for their work, and we complain vociferously when they don't meet that standard. ACF writers are held to an incredibly high standard, and when it was our turn to stand and deliver, we did, and made every effort to heed your suggestions, falling over ourselves to answer your questions. We hold invitationals to similarly high standards; witness Andrew's and Charles Meigs' comments on WIT and Technophobia. Why shouldn't we hold someone to as high a standard just because they're old? If anything, the standard has to be even higher.
Flame away. I will not regret this post in the morning.