MO Lit packets and discussion

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MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by theMoMA » Tue Dec 09, 2008 4:50 pm

Hey, thanks to everyone who played this tournament. I apologize for the room reservation fiasco, and also for the somewhat shoddy job that I did in writing and editing the tournament. I was disappointed with the quality of some of the questions, and with the overall difficulty of the set, which was much harder than even I would have liked. I hope it was enjoyable regardless.

Packets will be linked to here whenever Chris puts them on quizbowlpackets.com

Please discuss away...
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Tue Dec 09, 2008 5:25 pm

Between tossups on "footnotes to The Waste Land" and Paul's Case, I was very happy with the set. I wasn't too affected by difficulty because my literature knowledge would have allowed me to get the stuff I know very well either way and to pick off low-hanging fruit either way. It was cool.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by DumbJaques » Tue Dec 09, 2008 5:56 pm

While I think there is a need to identify and point out some issues with this set that, in my view, are things that side events really need to be careful about, I certainly have immense respect and admiration for the job Andrew and co did with it, particularly considering that they were already faced with the quite formidable task of assembling the exemplary MO proper set. So, while I do plan on talking about some negative things, I'd like to emphasize that this is more a concern I have regarding side events in general, that I can only imagine the competing stresses the MO lit writers were dealing with, and that the vast majority of the questions were excellently written. Similarly, there was hardly anything Andrew or anyone else could have done about the room situation, so I see no point for criticism there.

I played this tournament with Ted, and while it was a while ago and very much at 1 in the morning, I think I recall us having many of the same critiques, so I'll try to reproduce the central stuff we talked about during the event:
- Answer selection in terms of difficulty in a canon set. Clearly, side tournaments are the best place to expand the canon, so there should be some questions in each round that push it (perhaps even off a cliff, once or twice per tournament). The problem I saw with this set was not that these things existed, but that they were rather plentiful in the six rounds I heard. Things like For Colored Girls or name this Somali writer may very well belong in this tournament (I don't know enough about literature in an academic sense to say either way, really), but I don't believe they've come up in quizbowl before (maybe there's some post-nationals third part lurking around). I'd say that if your answer has never come up in quizbowl before (again, perhaps I'm just ignorant about these things, but I felt like a number of tossups at MO Lit fit this bill), then it should be the one or so questions in the set. Since most subject tournaments are all tossups, in a way the canon-pushing has to be a bit tempered by the need for accessibility. That's not to say stuff can't be very difficult, but I think it's very important to impose strict, Maginesque difficulty scales that allocate most of the harder distribution to stuff that has at least been seen in difficult bonuses. I truly enjoyed hearing a tossup on All Aunt Hagar's Children, which in my mind seems like the right kind of very difficult question - Jones was a tossup at Andrew's excellent IO lit set last year, and has been the subject of an ACF nats bonus at the very least. Perhaps the crunch with MO and everything affected difficulty, or perhaps I just happened to hear the six harder packets; in any event, I think this is a concern for side tournaments to watch out for whether or not it was a holistic issue with MO lit. I'd go so far as to venture that the best side events have a preponderance of answers from a pool that would be acceptable at regular season events, but I think that's easily debatable.

-The above issue was probably compounded by the 15 tossup thing. I think I recall MO lit's announcement saying 20/0, so I assume this was a most understandable symptom of MO drawing the lion's share of editing attention, and that's perfectly fine. But I also remember last week's Asian lit announcement planning out 15/0, so I'd like to submit that people writing side events simply should not have fifteen tossups. Fifteen tossups and bonuses is fine, twenty (or more!) tossups is fine, but fifteen tossups is just too small a sample set to get a good game between the top people who assuredly are participating. Particularly when the answer set ends up being difficult, and you have rooms with some very good people that have 2-5 questions go dead, that makes the sample size so small that a fluke of the distribution or a few buzzerraces or one silly neg can frequently decide the outcome. I'd rather play fewer games of 20 tossups than more games of 15 - I suppose there's a counter argument to this one, but I'm not sure I understand why anyone would choose to have games of just 15 (unless, of course, there's a last minute crunch and it's unavoidable, but that isn't what I mean).

-Answer selection that is unnecessarily more difficult than it has to be. I'm all for interesting tossups that create a variant on well-known answers (I choose you, "Socialism with a Human Face!"), but it seems like having a question on "light the kettle" or whatever is just going to drive down conversion on something that could have been one of the relatively limited easier answers at the tournament. Similar things like asking for a character from Lady Windermere's fan are going to lead to situation like we had, were Ted curses his way through the tossup because he knows it's from the play from the first line but can't pull the character and I mock and poke him like a trapped animal while gazing stupidly at the reader. While you'd never make that argument that you should never ask about characters or anything absurd like that, if you choose to write a tossup that's on a character or something else from within a work (or any topic), I'd submit it needs to meet this criteria:
1) Is the new answer established enough as a clue/connection relating to the first answer? That is, does it come up enough that it's a variant that won't severely impact answer percentage (or, if it is, I suppose accept that if you must but rate its difficulty appropriately). I'd say something like "Light the Kettle" probably fails this because it requires reading the play or at least studying it quite closely to even get the tossup by the giveaway.
2) Is the original answer selection (ie The Dumbwaiter, LWF, whatever) "tired" enough that it's worth making a variant? I'd say difficulty is a prime measure here - there's simply no point on writing tossups on Azaro when tossups on The Famished Road are pretty damn far from ubiquitous within quizbowl. Could you make the case that LWF or The Dumbwaiter are too easy for this? I don't think so, although perhaps the latter is close; really, I guess this comes up to answer frequency. Regardless of your opinion on tossing up "Socialism with a Human Face," Prague Spring comes up a metric fuckload as a tossup answer, so I can see trying to create a variant for it.
3) (And I think this is the most important point): Does changing the answer add anything? A tossup on Humbert Humbert will have different clues than a question on the novel Lolita; while the latter could incorporate information about Humbert, it by definition couldn't be as expansive on one of the most famous characters in literature and would have to devote much space to other characters or events, even given his central role in the novel. Tossing up Humbert enables you to delve further into relevant character biography and bring in more criticism focusing on just that character. I'm not convinced that questions on characters from Lady Windermere's Fan really do that. If you're using the exact same set of clues that you'd use to write a tossup on the larger work or on Prague Spring or whatever, then all you've done is made the answer unnecessarily more difficult, and I see no positives to that.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Auroni » Tue Dec 09, 2008 6:07 pm

I was really pleased with the set, and was content with the amount of actually impossible stuff that was present. I enjoyed the tossups on The Catch, Children of Gebelawi, I Will Marry When I Want, and petals.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Cheynem » Tue Dec 09, 2008 6:12 pm

Chris' post raises interesting and very good points about the nature of side events. I wonder if it should perhaps receive its own thread, but I am not sure as to the amount of discussion it would generate. I am especially interested in hearing people's thoughts on how obscure side events should delve into and what the general format for side events (toss-up + bonus, just toss-up, how many questions) is preferred. I did not play MO lit, so I hesitate though to spill that discussion into this thread.

For the record, though, I like to have fairly accessible side tournaments. I mean, yeah, you're obviously writing for a more specialized topic and like Chris said, there can be at a few "way outside canon" tossups a round, but there's no fun in playing something that is 100% obscure. For a positive example, I thought the RMPFest this year was a good balance--Myth and Philosophy are not my strong suits, but I recognized the toss-ups and clues, I just usually couldn't recognize them on the harder clues. That's good.

I also generally like toss-ups and PLEASE MAKE FUN OF ME BECAUSE I SPEAK NEITHER LATIN NOR ENGLISH, but only if the subject field is broad enough to allow it (so, the "lotsa-Japan lit" singles thing coming up would have a problem doing this). Like, 5-7 packets of toss-up and PLEASE MAKE FUN OF ME BECAUSE I SPEAK NEITHER LATIN NOR ENGLISH are fine, in my opinion, while 10+ packets of just toss-ups are also fine. Obviously, time is a factor and side events should never take time away from better things. JECHT this year was, in my opinion, an extremely well constructed "small number of packets" side event this year.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by magin » Tue Dec 09, 2008 6:22 pm

I'd like to thank Andrew and all the writers for again producing a very enjoyable tournament with lots of well-written tossups. I especially appreciated the tossups replete with fresh clues about easy answers (like Piers Plowman and Anna Karenina). I don't see having 15-tossup rounds as a huge negative; 20-tossup rounds are preferable, for sure, but 15-tossup rounds are better than no tournament altogether.

Instead of praising this tournament's many strengths, I'll discuss a few things it could have improved upon. I think the difficulty was a little too much for the field. Certainly, it was cool to hear tossups on Mba and Black Rain and "The Steeple-Jack," but I think accessibility matters when writing a tournament like this, and many of the answers could have been more accessible without compromising their rigor.

Secondly, there were a few tossups whose answer lines were a little vague; "lying face down in the mud" and "light the kettle" are examples. For the former tossup, it was hard to figure out what the clues were pointing to, and I'm not sure the answer was uniquely identifying; for the latter tossup, I don't know that "light the kettle" is so well known that we can ask about it rather than, say, writing a tossup on Ben or Gus. Also, I was debating whether to say "light the kettle" or "light the gas," since Ben and Gus argue over which phrase is correct; I figured out that it was "light the kettle," but since "light the gas" is probably just as important to the play, asking about "light the kettle" seems sort of arbitrary. I'd prefer tossups like the well-written one about "the conversion of the Jews," where lots of works mention/are named for that phrase.

In any event, I enjoyed this tournament greatly, and hope that the people behind it write more such tournaments in the future.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by cvdwightw » Tue Dec 09, 2008 7:10 pm

As someone currently involved in writing 15-tossup subject rounds, I'm going to disagree with Chris. I don't know that anyone is particularly concerned with winning a subject tournament, or even really learning anything from the tournament, they're just going to have fun by hearing some (hopefully) awesome questions and playing a bunch of people. Because I'm pretty sure that "playing a good game" is better than "winning a good game," I don't think a random fluke neg affecting the outcome of a single game would overall detract from a tournament - certainly not in the way that a hose or a poor question would. Obviously there are things like pyramidality that are necessary to the definition of "awesome," but I think that having a few questions on off-the-wall answer choices is part of what makes the tournament awesome. Just, as Mike said, you don't want to drive people away by having a significant number of questions that they have no chance at.

In short, I think that subject tournaments should not be subject to the constraints of a standard quizbowl tournament, except in those instances where disregarding constraints defeats the purpose of the tournament.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Matt Weiner » Tue Dec 09, 2008 7:20 pm

cvdwightw wrote: I don't know that anyone is particularly concerned with winning a subject tournament, or even really learning anything from the tournament
Wrong on both counts, my friend!
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Tue Dec 09, 2008 7:25 pm

Well, there's a few issues here...and as you might expect, I'm going to offer a limited defense of high-difficulty side and masters events.

First off, I'm not enthralled by the idea of obscure niche side events - I don't want to see a world where everyone just writes on the one or two tiny topics that they like...for one thing, that's counterproductive to the notion of going out and learning stuff about other interesting things. Obviously, a literature tourney doesn't fit this description, though. Secondly, unlike Dwight, I am quite wary of having rounds with just 15 tossups - I understand, of course, if there's a time crunch and that's all you can do. Certainly, it's way better than nothing. But, it does make things awfully unpredictable, especially when the difficulty is high so that a significant number of tus go dead.

In an ideal world, if possible given time constraints and the like, I think it might be good for packets like these to have more than 20 tossups (25, maybe...30 if they're kind of short, since 30 perhaps take an objectionably long time to complete just one round). This way, you could avoid flukey results even if a handful of tossups may possibly go dead. I like this solution better than a broad injunction to control difficulty because, even though Chris makes some good points about not creating "difficulty solely for difficulty's sake" (I agree), I think there's a lot to be gained from consistently exploring the boundaries of the canon at events like these (assuming you have a good enough field to do it).

I think that these sorts of events are great forums for the handful of (often elite) players who play them to discover all kinds of new and exciting things. There are just so few events per year where you can, in completely good conscience, write that tossup on the Songs of Maldoror. Then, the packets can be released and hopefully the information will slowly start seeping down so that more and more people know it, and it can be tossed up at other events. I think these side and masters events can serve as a sort of "safety gasket" for people to explore the canon in a quasi-experimental environment, instead of doing it at other events...and just to blow off some steam and get out of the box, instead of going loony from writing that billionth tossup on the Arrhenius Equation or something.

In addition, I enjoy the generally ramped-up difficulty of some questions at events like these because I think it involves a unique quizbowl skill. There's just something a little bit different about having to actually pull hard answers...having to actually remember what certain things are really called...having to actually imagine that "Thing X" could even possibly be the answer - it's just a little bit different test of breadth and depth than you get at an everyday event.

Over the objections of people like Magin, I continue not to believe that certain questions are intrinsically better than other ones just because they're accessible - it's all in the execution, tossups can be written well or really poorly regardless of what they're on. Tossups on really easy things often fall prey to certain problems (transparency is a big one), and tossups on really hard things often fall prey to certain problems (difficulty cliffs are a big one). Again, I agree with Chris that it's silly to just take an easy answer and make it hard, if you'd use the same set of clues for both. But, there are lots of good ideas out there, and I think these events can serve a terrific function by exploring those ideas.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by cvdwightw » Tue Dec 09, 2008 7:39 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:
cvdwightw wrote: I don't know that anyone is particularly concerned with winning a subject tournament, or even really learning anything from the tournament
Wrong on both counts, my friend!
Aha! Here is where my argument falls apart!

If people really want 20-question rounds at Science Non-Strosity, then where do people want the extra 5 tossups? I think I have enough collaborators that getting 200 questions would be possible. Perhaps that discussion should go on the actual tournament thread instead of this one.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by magin » Tue Dec 09, 2008 7:46 pm

Over the objections of people like Magin, I continue not to believe that certain questions are intrinsically better than other ones just because they're accessible - it's all in the execution, tossups can be written well or really poorly regardless of what they're on.
That's not exactly what I believe; certainly, I don't believe that an easy tossup is intrinsically better than a harder one. However, you have to look at the difficulty of the whole tournament, not just one tossup, in order to examine how accessible it is for its audience. My argument is that many of the tossups in MO lit, as a percentage of the whole, went unanswered by the field, and probably should have been more accessible. Note that I am really unsympathetic to Ryan's argument about transparency here. In literature, especially, there are a jillion bazillion clues to use for tossups on lots of answers; Is He Dead? is better as a clue for a Mark Twain tossup that lots of players can answer by the end than a tossup which only a small percentage of the field can answer.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Tue Dec 09, 2008 8:23 pm

I was not the most enamored of this set, I think for a lot of reasons Chris stated. I felt like last years IO lit and Magin's 2 tournaments (especially 2007) really did their job a lot better than this one. I thought the difficulty was just out of control, and that combined with some questions that were absolute duds made a mediocre playing experience for me. If you had thrown in like 5-10 more tossups that were on more accessible things per round, I think it would have fared a lot better. Even with what you had, there were some tossups that I think could have used better giveaways - the Don Juan tossup really sticks about because as I remember it, it ended with a clue about him going to hell, but nothing else in the question really screamed "Don Juan" (say, the Byron poem or Man and Superman) so I understand in rooms that included mine it just got a bunch of buzzes guessing people in hell. Also, maybe this is just me but it seemed like there just were a lot of things asked that weren't very interesting. I thought that the 3 other events I listed did a better job of asking on interesting things in interesting ways than this one. It still qualifies as a good tournament in my mind, but not an outstanding one, and I would like to see this set become, for lack of a better word, less frustrating in the future when it's written again.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by vcuEvan » Tue Dec 09, 2008 8:27 pm

I've only heard parts of the set but I liked the parts I heard and thought they had a pretty good mix of difficult and accessible. Reading some of these comments though it seems I've dodged some of the most difficult answers.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by cdcarter » Tue Dec 09, 2008 8:35 pm

http://collegiate.quizbowlpackets.com/a ... it2008.zip

I think I enjoyed playing this set but I was more dead than I was at CO Lit. So my comments are pretty much "Holy shit this tournament had a TU on Nurrudin Farah that's awesome", and "Why the fuck did this tournament have a TU on Nurrudin Farah? How did I get it on the second line!?"
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by yoda4554 » Tue Dec 09, 2008 11:17 pm

Jeremy Gibbs Free Energy wrote: Even with what you had, there were some tossups that I think could have used better giveaways - the Don Juan tossup really sticks about because as I remember it, it ended with a clue about him going to hell, but nothing else in the question really screamed "Don Juan" (say, the Byron poem or Man and Superman) so I understand in rooms that included mine it just got a bunch of buzzes guessing people in hell.
I'm not sure quite what you mean.
I wrote:This work’s opening monologue praises tobacco, “whatever Aristotle, or Philosophy” may say.” At one point, a beggar is offered a gold coin to take the Lord’s name in vain, while later, its title character’s exaggerated hospitality to Dimanche keeps him from having to pay a debt. Pierrot saves that title character from his capsized boat, only to see him charm the peasants Mathurine and Charlotte. At the start of Act V, Louis appears and is falsely told his son has reformed, but after that son does not heed the warning of the Specter of Time, the valet Sganarelle mourns his lost wages, because his master gets swallowed by the earth at a statue’s command. For 10 points, name this Moliere play, which shares its subject with a work of Tirso de Molina.
First, though it doesn't get asked about nearly enough, Don Juan is certainly not less that the third most important Moliere play, behind Misanthrope and Tartuffe. (It's certainly more discusses in literature and philosophy, in my experience, than The Miser or the Imaginary Invalid, which come up all the time). Furthermore--I mean, maybe this is just me, but is "gets sent to hell by a statue" not a really, really clear indicator of Don Juan/Giovanni? (This is not to mention, either, that Tirso de Molina was tossed up at CO Lit over the summer, and even beyond that, "rich Spanish duded who appears in multiple things" seems a big pointer too).
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Tue Dec 09, 2008 11:25 pm

Yeah, I think it's just that the end of that tossup looks a little funny, cause I don't think Tirso de Molina is any kind of giveaway and it seems weird to put it after mentioning the statue. You don't have to talk about Byron or "Man and Superman" - in fact, I wouldn't cause the tu is on the quite famous Moliere play. But, I would have ended the tossup "FTP, name this play by Moliere in which the titular dude gets sent to hell by a statue" or something - and put the Tirso clue just before the FTP. That probably would have reduced confusion.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Tue Dec 09, 2008 11:29 pm

It seems to me that a true Don Juan giveaway would not be Tirso de Molina, it would involve either Byron or Man and Superman, and I honestly don't understand how that is debatable. These are literary clues that increase the certainty of people buzzing in with the right answer. I know that I was personally thinking "this sounds like Don Juan" when the tossup was read but my teammate beat me to a buzzer race and said something else that I don't remember, but I heard from other people that our room wasn't the only one to have this tossup go dead and it seems to me it's better to throw in a bone or two that would make sure people aren't questioning it's Don Juan. As it is, you are right, it sounds like Don Juan, but I think with the given clues unless you KNOW it its a lot easier to question whether something else is the answer, especially when the easiest clue is not in the giveaway.
EDIT: kind of what Ryan posted.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Magister Ludi » Wed Dec 10, 2008 1:40 am

I thought the questions were generally fine at the tournament, but I think this tournament highlights several dangerous trends in writing literature questions. The first trend is writers allowing the impulse to write a new and fresh question cloud their judgment. The second trend is the abuse of the common link tossup. I believe the use of the common link tossup for literature questions needs to be completely re-evaluated.

This tournament suffered from many ridiculously poor answer choices that I think derives from a misguided attempt to be innovative. I worry that many writers feel a greater sense of pride by executing a question on a new topic than writing an equally good tossup on an easier subject. Somehow writing interesting common link tossups is a ticket to the cool club. This is certainly a dangerous mindset. For example people see that in the last few tournaments there have been several tossups on Ngugi and A Grain of Wheat. In an effort to be different, someone wrote a tossup on I Will Marry When I Want. The same issue applies to the "light the kettle" and "Miss Erlyne" tossups and myriad others in this tournament. I think this trend has two negative consequences: it leads to confusing tossups that often end up as hoses and it also leads to inappropriate difficulty escalation. This needs to be stopped right now before it gets out of control. I am not saying there shouldn't be canon expansion, but I am arguing that people should try to honestly evaluate whether the subject of their tossup is going to translate into a good question. For example I would never write a tossup on Mrs. Elvsted in Hedda Gabler because I know it would lead to pointless negs from people with knowledge on the subject.

The second issue I want address is the common link literature question. I think as a community we need to re-evaluate what are appropriate subjects for common link literature questions. I believe a subject of common link literature tossup must meet two criterion. First it must have significant literary importance and be a plausible area of study within the study of the literature. Second it must be feasible as a good, unconfusing quizbowl question. This tournament had many laughable questions on subjects like the infamous "face down in the mud", "white teeth", "machine" or any tossups on various animals, colors, or random words are just not important in the study of literature. No one reads about all the appearances of the geese in literature. Conversely, tossups on countries or ideas such as "Conversion of the Jews" are important because people might study the history of those subjects in literature. I think the only way a common link tossup on a random object meets the criterion of literary significance is if it serves as a symbol in some individual author or group's work. For example the image of "hawk" could be a tossup in answer in the context of Robinson Jeffer's poetry or the image of blue flower in German poetry is viable. However these tossups would be very difficult to write and probably would best be avoided. The second half of my criterion would cut out tossups of great literary importance that just would not translate into good tossups. Questions like the prefaces of Henry James won't make good questions and probably lead to confused buzzer races as it did in my room.

I have several more things to say about the difficulty of the this tournament and the intended goal of these subject area tournaments, but I will save that for a post tomorrow.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Matt Weiner » Wed Dec 10, 2008 2:18 am

Surely we all agree that confusing questions are bad, and questions which lead to difficulty cliffs by including unimportant appearances of a word from a text search in Masterplots followed by a title-based giveaway are also bad. But, I disagree entirely with the proposal that a concept has to be studied on its own to make for a good common-link answer. Asking for appearances of, e.g., "geese" in literature can be a fine way to serve the best use of a common link question, which is to reward very specific or noncanonical knowledge earlier in a tossup without actually writing a tossup on something that's impossible for most of the field. Questions on "geese" or "Brazilian people" or "bicycles" can accomplish this, even if no one has ever taken a class on "bicycles in literature." I'll grant that writing a good question like this is somewhat harder than writing a good question on Anna Karenina, but, just like other things that newer writers should not try to tackle (pre-Socratic philosophers, elements, computer programming languages) we should not entirely bar better writers from these questions out of an unjustified sense that their bad versions are any more bad than any other type of bad question.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by theMoMA » Wed Dec 10, 2008 2:34 am

It seems to me that a recent trend in packetset critiquing has been to call a small subset of the questions indicative of some horrible trend in quizbowl writing, instead of just labeling them as what they are: a small portion of the questions that flopped, in this case, in an admittedly avant garde tournament. I apologize for questions like "lying face down in the mud," which was confusing and didn't pick out a single answer right away. I'll try to do better next time.

But as Matt says, there's no reason to go hell-bent on destroying common link questions because of this. I distributed so there was one hodgepodge common-link per packet (there were occasionally other common-link structured tossups, like the ones on the Thames and a dream deferred, which were lumped in with American/British/Euro/World), and I tried to toe the line between what traditionally happens in common-links, and crazier things that I thought could work; some of them didn't, and again, I apologize for this.

Also, I don't really see the problem with stuff like "I Will Marry When I Want" as a tossup answer. The areas that I attempted to expand into are things that I've noticed coming up a lot in tossups that don't get a lot of play by themselves, just like "Too Late the Phalarope," which came up at my previous lit tournament. There were no answers that I selected in the hopes of introducing something completely new to the quizbowl canon; all of the traditional-answer stuff has come up in some form before.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Auroni » Wed Dec 10, 2008 3:06 am

to be fair and totally unbiased, people do know I Will Marry When I Want, which has come up as a clue multiple times and even as a bonus answer. On the contrary, the lying face down in the mud thing just confuses people and is just less defensible.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Ike » Wed Dec 10, 2008 3:42 am

Since I'm going to be writing a literature tournament soon, I just thought I'd offer a few of my opinions on the topic of common links. I know I'm only in high school and I don't grasp the canon that well, like when I submitted a Bel-Ami tossup to Minnesota Open, but I just wanted to see if people agree.

I personally think common link tossups are pretty interesting, and as long as they don't go overboard 's. I felt that "face down in the mud," was nebulous, and I've had three people say that they've read A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, and still not get that question. Unless all three read it sciously, (which they didn't, I presume) that shouldnt be happening. But, I think Matt has a point about common link , they require specialized knowledge to answer, so they test some solid knowledge, and they play a big role in internal canon expansion - which I think Andrew Hart is a big fan of.

I can see where Ted is going with his argument, and I like it too. Although the tossup on "eating a heart," did not suffer from nebulousness, I personally felt it was ill conceived. The natural smoothness of the difficulty curve becomes more jagged when you write common link tossups on stuff that isn't very common. And I don't meant to poke at Andrew Hart, because I enjoyed this tournament, but I almost feel he wrote that tossup to spread his wings.
Questions like the prefaces of Henry James won't make good questions and probably lead to confused buzzer races as it did in my room.
The leadin mentioned the second to last of these essays...and what really is a shame about a tossup on this is that even if you have read that particular essay, (doubtful, in my opinion) you can't figure out what they are going for, unless you have the hard copy version they are looking for. I have The Sacred Fount, and I didn't read the preface, but assume that its preface gets mentioned in the second or third line of that tossup, I would be confused. I mean Henry James wrote more than 24 novels or so, and there are only eighteen prefaces in that particular collection, (I think)...its just too confusing. I have had several people mentioned that his prefaces are real literature, but wouldn't be just as effective to write a tossup on The Preface to The Portrait of a Lady?
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Important Bird Area » Wed Dec 10, 2008 4:07 am

theMoMA wrote:tossups that don't get a lot of play by themselves,
[edit: refuses to post picture of flying phalarope. Just go here.]
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by fleurdelivre » Wed Dec 10, 2008 11:23 am

cdcarter wrote:I think I enjoyed playing this set but I was more dead than I was at CO Lit. So my comments are pretty much "Holy shit this tournament had a TU on Nurrudin Farah that's awesome", and "Why the fuck did this tournament have a TU on Nurrudin Farah? How did I get it on the second line!?"
Nurrudin Farah?! Oh, to have been there...
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by yoda4554 » Wed Dec 10, 2008 11:31 am

Questions like the prefaces of Henry James won't make good questions and probably lead to confused buzzer races as it did in my room.
Ike wrote:The leadin mentioned the second to last of these essays...and what really is a shame about a tossup on this is that even if you have read that particular essay, (doubtful, in my opinion) you can't figure out what they are going for, unless you have the hard copy version they are looking for. I have The Sacred Fount, and I didn't read the preface, but assume that its preface gets mentioned in the second or third line of that tossup, I would be confused. I mean Henry James wrote more than 24 novels or so, and there are only eighteen prefaces in that particular collection, (I think)...its just too confusing. I have had several people mentioned that his prefaces are real literature, but wouldn't be just as effective to write a tossup on The Preface to The Portrait of a Lady?
I wrote:13. The second-to-last of these claims that the novel is “the most independent, most elastic, most prodigious of literary forms.” In one of them, the author admits his “predilection for poor sensitive gentlemen,” and another describes a Christmas meeting at Edward Benson’s mansion where it is agreed that stories of the supernatural have been “washed by a laboratory tap.” Collected into The Art of the Novel with the author’s other essay “The Art of Fiction,” they claim that an author must seek characters who are the best “reflectors” for the subject, while secondary characters are, like party attendants, are only part of the “treatment,” such as Henrietta Stackpole. For 10 points, name these landmark essays in novel theory, appended to the New York Edition of their author’s complete works, which include In the Cage, The Spoils of Poynton, and The Ambassadors.
ANSWER: The Prefaces to the New York Edition of the Complete Works of Henry James

I'm not sure what either of these are arguing either. Look, it's a hard question--the only really hard one I wrote, as most of the rest of mine were of the Anna Karenina and Emily Dickinson type--but it's not like a whimsical, random thing that no one cares about like some of the other common-links. The New York Prefaces--taken as a whole--are incredibly important critical documents, both for scholars of James as well as for theorists of narrative and novel theory. (I see no way at all in which a question on a single Preface, which has considerably less importance than the whole, would be at all better.) Nor do I see where confusion could set in: it is made clear at multiple points that this is a group of essays; the New York Prefaces are a group of essays, and everything else written by Henry James is not. The only way "confusion," I think, occurs, is if you hear "hey, that's Henry James stuff, that means I should know what this is"--but that's incidental. It's a tossup on criticism, and if you're not familiar with it as criticism, it's difficult to convert--I don't see how that's any different from the Judith Butler or Mimesis tossups, which I suspect some rooms did not convert, but probably without people having the feeling that they should know the answer. This is, I think, somewhat more convertible than those, too, because it's possible to at least figure out what the answer is based on canonical knowledge.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Magister Ludi » Wed Dec 10, 2008 11:53 am

Matt Weiner wrote:Surely we all agree that confusing questions are bad, and questions which lead to difficulty cliffs by including unimportant appearances of a word from a text search in Masterplots followed by a title-based giveaway are also bad. But, I disagree entirely with the proposal that a concept has to be studied on its own to make for a good common-link answer. Asking for appearances of, e.g., "geese" in literature can be a fine way to serve the best use of a common link question, which is to reward very specific or noncanonical knowledge earlier in a tossup without actually writing a tossup on something that's impossible for most of the field. Questions on "geese" or "Brazilian people" or "bicycles" can accomplish this, even if no one has ever taken a class on "bicycles in literature." I'll grant that writing a good question like this is somewhat harder than writing a good question on Anna Karenina, but, just like other things that newer writers should not try to tackle (pre-Socratic philosophers, elements, computer programming languages) we should not entirely bar better writers from these questions out of an unjustified sense that their bad versions are any more bad than any other type of bad question.
I disagree with this. Common link literature tossups on random subjects are different than any other type of literature question. They don’t test depth in an important subject. For example I can prepare for any question on Arthur Miller by reading all of his plays and all the important criticism about Miller. I can be certain that I will be able to convert any question on Miller and his works. Conversely there is no way for anyone to prepare for a question on the color "yellow" in literature. These questions usually reward people who know titles and have artificial knowledge. At EFT my team consisting of myself and Dan Puma played Chris Ray's team during the Julia common link tossup. No one buzzed on the first few sentences of the tossup, yet when the description of Aunt Julia and Scriptwriter was read the whole room buzzed. Chris won that buzzer racer and got that tossup even though both Dan and I had read the novel. This is an experience I have over and over again with common link literature tossups. I hear many question on topics which are impossible (and pointless) to gain real, encyclopaedic knowledge about. Is anyone really interested in the occurrences of the color yellow in the history of literature? No one is interested in this subject. However maybe someone could be interested in the occurrences of the color yellow in a narrower field such as the poetry of an individual poet. Have I clearly explained the difference between tossing up the color "yellow" in the context of all of literature versus tossing up "yellow" in the context of a specific writer or group? If a subject is so unimportant to the study of actual literature that no one could really know that subject thoroughly, then it shouldn't be a question.

I am not trying to say that a concept must be studied on its own to be a valid common link answer. I am arguing that a tossup needs to meet the basic criterion of literary importance. Similarly, I feel like too many common link questions are created with the wrong mindset. A good common link literature tossup should evolve naturally when a writer realizes "There are certainly lots of poems addressed to Orpheus. This is an important subject that someone could conceivably know a lot about. Therefore I will write this tossup." I worry that too many people type in words to masterplots and just use whatever comes up regardless of their actual literary importance. Let me use a tossup on poppy that Matt wrote for VCU Open to illustrate my point. Literally on the ride up to this tournament with the Minnesota folks I finished reading Night of the Iguana. In addition to reading the play I also keep a diary in which I take notes on every piece of interesting dialogue, anecdotes, or imagery all the plays I read. I do this both as a chance to reflect on the play, but also to help me remember the details of works that will come up in quizbowl. I really liked Night of the Iguana and had three pages of notes about it including every possible clue I thought could come up in a quizbowl context. On the ride back from VCU on Sunday night, 36 hours after I read the play, I heard this question line: "Harry gives Larry Shannon a tea made from it in The Night of the Iguana." I didn't pull this clue as it was so unimportant that I didn't write it down. This tossup perfectly illustrates my concerns about the ways common link literature tossups are conceived. Instead of picking something of real literary importance people think of some ostensibly interesting answer choice and then search through masterplots for clues to fill out the question.

In short, I think we need to re-evaluate what makes appropriate answers in common link tossups. I am not saying there shouldn't be common link tossups in literature. However, I think that a common link tossup subject must meet some basic criterion of literary importance. These over-generalized common link tossup answers on any type of animal, color, or random word need to be stopped.

EDIT: Typos
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Wed Dec 10, 2008 12:13 pm

Magister Ludi wrote:I hear many question on about topics which are impossible (and pointless) to gain real, encyclopedic knowledge about. Is anyone really interested in the occurences of the color yellow in the history of literature? No one is interested in this subject. However maybe someone could be interested in the occurences of the color yellow in a narrower field such as the poetry of an indiviual poet. Have I clearly explained the difference between tossing up the color "yellow" in the context of all of literature versus tossing up "yellow" in the context of a specific writer or group? If a subject is so unimportant to the study of actual literature that no one could really know that subject thoroughly, then it shouldn't be a question.
I think this is an important paradigm. As an academic competition, ideally you shouldn't have to deviate too far from your normal mode of academic study to earn points. (I say "too far" because quizbowl inherently can't test my lab skills (thank god), but it does test the reactions I use in lab. Similarly, quizbowl cannot test a historian's ability to write, but it can test that historian's familiarity with an era in history, or a certain figure, et cetera. You're still learning in the same "mode" that you learn academically.) But I've yet to see an academic analysis of poppies in literature, so I don't know if they're really an academic subject.

And how do these common links accomplish internal canon expansion, anyway?
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Dec 10, 2008 12:23 pm

everyday847 wrote:
Magister Ludi wrote:I hear many question on about topics which are impossible (and pointless) to gain real, encyclopedic knowledge about. Is anyone really interested in the occurences of the color yellow in the history of literature? No one is interested in this subject. However maybe someone could be interested in the occurences of the color yellow in a narrower field such as the poetry of an indiviual poet. Have I clearly explained the difference between tossing up the color "yellow" in the context of all of literature versus tossing up "yellow" in the context of a specific writer or group? If a subject is so unimportant to the study of actual literature that no one could really know that subject thoroughly, then it shouldn't be a question.
I think this is an important paradigm. As an academic competition, ideally you shouldn't have to deviate too far from your normal mode of academic study to earn points. (I say "too far" because quizbowl inherently can't test my lab skills (thank god), but it does test the reactions I use in lab. Similarly, quizbowl cannot test a historian's ability to write, but it can test that historian's familiarity with an era in history, or a certain figure, et cetera. You're still learning in the same "mode" that you learn academically.) But I've yet to see an academic analysis of poppies in literature, so I don't know if they're really an academic subject.
I know nothing about literature, but I intervene in this thread to (re)state my view that quizbowl tests knowledge about important things with names, and does not serve to supplement, encourage, reward, or complement any kind of formal academic activity except by coincidence.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by millionwaves » Wed Dec 10, 2008 12:25 pm

I usually don't weigh in on these discussions, but I'll agree with Ted in this case: I often find myself frustrated when hearing literature common link questions on what seem to me to be random subjects. It seems to me that they can reward knowledge so specific as to be trivial in some cases - for example, knowing the specific plant from which one character from an arbitrary play makes another character tea doesn't strike me as the important knowledge that well-written questions reward.

Note that I'm not arguing (here, anyway!) that common link questions are inherently bad, because I've certainly heard some good, interesting, and fun to play on common link tossups. I just agree with Ted in that we're taking this in the wrong direction, and I agree with what Mike said in an earlier thread when he noted that we sometimes don't apply the same editorial standards to common link questions as others.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Dec 10, 2008 12:25 pm

everyday847 wrote: And how do these common links accomplish internal canon expansion, anyway?
The theory is that common link tossups allow the mention of clues that otherwise would not have a place to come up. For instance, an obscure work by an obscure author is unlikely to be mentioned in a non-common link TU because the author is unlikely to be a TU answer; but if the obscure book contains a donkey, it can come up in a common link TUs about donkeys in literature.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Wed Dec 10, 2008 12:36 pm

Whig's Boson wrote:
everyday847 wrote: And how do these common links accomplish internal canon expansion, anyway?
The theory is that common link tossups allow the mention of clues that otherwise would not have a place to come up. For instance, an obscure work by an obscure author is unlikely to be mentioned in a non-common link TU because the author is unlikely to be a TU answer; but if the obscure book contains a donkey, it can come up in a common link TUs about donkeys in literature.
So this is the way to get obscure authors into the canon, because we already have a way to get obscure works into the canon (i.e. through author tossups)? And this terminates the chain nicely, because there's no such thing as an obscure color or barnyard animal or whatever: that does make sense.

But I'd like to take issue with this:
Whig's Boson wrote:I know nothing about literature, but I intervene in this thread to (re)state my view that quizbowl tests knowledge about important things with names, and does not serve to supplement, encourage, reward, or complement any kind of formal academic activity except by coincidence.
What people seem to be saying is that the manifold occurrences of yellow (or whatever) in literature should be asked about precisely when they are important (and thereby in some sense "have a name:" that is, blue flowers in German poetry). But there's a difference between a common link on poodles and a common link on blue flowers in German poetry: the latter "has a name" and is important; the former does not and is not itself important to the study of literature. If the clues in it are important, as surely they are, I hope that there's a better way--through the question text of a bonus part, perhaps--that can somehow incorporate non-canonical authors.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by vcuEvan » Wed Dec 10, 2008 12:41 pm

Magister Ludi wrote: I really liked Night of the Iguana and had three pages of notes about it including every possible clue I thought could come up in a quizbowl context. On the ride back from VCU on sunday night 36 hours after I read the play I heard this question line: "Harry gives Larry Shannon a tea made from it in The Night of the Iguana." I didn't pull this clue as it was so unimportant that I didn't write it down.
I don't really get this argument. Couldn't that kind of clue appear early in a tossup on Night of the Iguana just as easily? I agree that common link lit tossups that reward filling in the title are bad, but if they use clues culled from the plots and details of actual works they seem fine to me.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Magister Ludi » Wed Dec 10, 2008 12:46 pm

theMoMA wrote:It seems to me that a recent trend in packetset critiquing has been to call a small subset of the questions indicative of some horrible trend in quizbowl writing, instead of just labeling them as what they are: a small portion of the questions that flopped, in this case, in an admittedly avant garde tournament.
This is a trend that I have seen evoloving in the last few months, I am not trying to just make sweeping generalizations. I've been thinking about making a post about this subject ever since the summer and my experience editing ACF Fall and T Party has only reassured me that these are very real trends in literature writing. I have at least 10 examples from Fall and a few from T Party that show younger writers trying to write on unnecessarily difficult subjects or odd common link answers because they see these types of questions produced in tournaments produced by people like Andrew, which exert great influence on younger writers. Instead of executing a great tossup on something simpler they try and consistently fail to write a "fresh" tossup. I dont want to discourage people from writing on new subjects, I just want to encourage people to show far greater scrutiny about their answer selection in literature questions.

Also, I am not critiquing a "small subset" of this tournament when I say "I worry greater sense of pride by executing a question on a new topic than writing an equally good tossup on an easier subject." This statement clearly applies to the whole tournament. At a tournament where "Wreck of the Hesperus" and Some Prefer Nettles are apparently classified as a one on the difficulty scale, I feel that my comment on misguided mindset is incredibly salient. I thought that a one on the difficulty scale corresponded to high school tossup difficulty? You didn't use Magin's 1-6 metric, so maybe one meant ACF Nationals tossup answer with everything else going up from there. My point is that this tournament represented a negative trend in quizbowl writing when writers are constantly trying to push the boundaries by picking an answer that is always one step to difficult for any given field. In this tournament, questions like "1887" or "Savonorola Brown" clearly would of been better as questions on Shropshire Lad and Beerbohm. And this tendency to always try to push the canon of an event permeates down to the lower levels. The best example I can find from ACF Fall comes from the USC packet (much of which went unused). The literature in this packet was really well written with good clues. However every literature tossup was unusable because it was consistently one step too hard. Great questions on Beyond the Horizon and "The Ideas of Order at Key West" were thrown out because they were a bit too hard for ACF Fall. There are countless examples of this from Fall. This trend of writing on books that are always stretching the desired difficulty of a tournament is dangerous. I worry that people don't write at the target difficulty of an event. Even a masters lit tournament has a target difficulty and can't have too many impossible answers. While a few crazy difficult answers are fine there is no need to stretch the canon pointlessly when a toned down answer will accomplish the same effect. The Somalian writer is fine as a tossup answer because there is no way to ask about him otherwise, but asking about Saturday Night and Sunday Morning just seems like it would be better served as a Sillitoe question.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Dec 10, 2008 12:50 pm

everyday847 wrote: What people seem to be saying is that the manifold occurrences of yellow (or whatever) in literature should be asked about precisely when they are important (and thereby in some sense "have a name:" that is, blue flowers in German poetry). But there's a difference between a common link on poodles and a common link on blue flowers in German poetry: the latter "has a name" and is important; the former does not and is not itself important to the study of literature. If the clues in it are important, as surely they are, I hope that there's a better way--through the question text of a bonus part, perhaps--that can somehow incorporate non-canonical authors.
The proper way to think of that kind of common link tossup, imo, is not as a tossup on whatever comes after ANSWER. Rather, the proper way to think of that kind of common link tossup is to envision it as a series of miniature tossups, one after another in order of difficulty, each of which tests knowledge of one particular important thing with a name.

So a common link TU on poddles tests you on book with poodle a, book with poodle b, book with poodle c, book with poodle d, etc. These are all, in themselves, valid things to ask about, even if "poodle" is not. Thus, a common lit tossup on poddles does not violate my definition of quizbowl.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Wed Dec 10, 2008 1:00 pm

Whig's Boson wrote:So a common link TU on poddles tests you on book with poodle a, book with poodle b, book with poodle c, book with poodle d, etc. These are all, in themselves, valid things to ask about, even if "poodle" is not. Thus, a common lit tossup on poddles does not violate my definition of quizbowl.
Aha, and here's our problem. If I wrote a tossup on book with poodle a that had a bunch of uniquely identifying clues of the style "someone has a poodle," "someone else's coffee is said to be 'very warm, oh my'," and "one character sighs after walking to the mailbox," you've written a tossup about things that are probably not very important and not very memorable (as with Ted's example of the poppy tea in Night of the Iguana). So this is reducible to a series of unimportant tossups. A tossup on the blue flower in a specific German poem would be perfectly cool by this argument.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by swwFCqb » Wed Dec 10, 2008 1:34 pm

everyday847 wrote:
Whig's Boson wrote:So a common link TU on poddles tests you on book with poodle a, book with poodle b, book with poodle c, book with poodle d, etc. These are all, in themselves, valid things to ask about, even if "poodle" is not. Thus, a common lit tossup on poddles does not violate my definition of quizbowl.
Aha, and here's our problem. If I wrote a tossup on book with poodle a that had a bunch of uniquely identifying clues of the style "someone has a poodle," "someone else's coffee is said to be 'very warm, oh my'," and "one character sighs after walking to the mailbox," you've written a tossup about things that are probably not very important and not very memorable (as with Ted's example of the poppy tea in Night of the Iguana). So this is reducible to a series of unimportant tossups. A tossup on the blue flower in a specific German poem would be perfectly cool by this argument.
Well, isn't the point of pyramidality to begin a tossup with clues that aren't so memorable?? It pretty much defeats the purpose of having a multi-line, pyramidal tossup if a lot of people know the first clue of the question. I don't think he's arguing for all clues in a common-link TU to be as unmemorable as, for example, the aforementioned scene from Night of the Iguana (I honestly can't say for myself...never read it), so your argument doesn't really hold water (at least with me) given that example.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Magister Ludi » Wed Dec 10, 2008 1:50 pm

Adamantium Claws wrote:
Magister Ludi wrote: I really liked Night of the Iguana and had three pages of notes about it including every possible clue I thought could come up in a quizbowl context. On the ride back from VCU on sunday night 36 hours after I read the play I heard this question line: "Harry gives Larry Shannon a tea made from it in The Night of the Iguana." I didn't pull this clue as it was so unimportant that I didn't write it down.
I don't really get this argument. Couldn't that kind of clue appear early in a tossup on Night of the Iguana just as easily? I agree that common link lit tossups that reward filling in the title are bad, but if they use clues culled from the plots and details of actual works they seem fine to me.
The fact that the tea is made from poppy is not important to the play, the circumstances surrounding Hannah's conversation with Larry while she is serving the tea are vital. The scene in the play which I think this question is referencing (because the question is actually factually incorrect as Hannah gives Larry the tea and not Harry) is when Larry is tied up. Larry has been tied up in a hammock because he has suffered a "crackup" and has threatened to "swim to China" which is his euphemism for suicide. Hannah tries to calm Larry's nerves with the tea, so she can try to convince him to continue struggling on with life. This is a great scene to write a leadin about, but I disagree with Evan's argument that this clue as it stands now would make a good leadin. The leadin "The protagonist of this play is served poppy tea at the end of the third act" is bad in my opinion. The fact he is served tea is unimportant, but if it was rewritten to include clues about the context of their conversation while drinking tea the question would be fine.

While I think that common link tossups on random things should be abolished, if people must write them at least pick things that are important to the plot of a work, so I disagree with Evan's assertion that this poppy seed plot detail makes a good clue in a common link tossup. This clue also appeared in the middle of the question, which highlights another issue. If you are just writing common link tossups out of masterplots sometimes these summaries don't really highlight what is important in a work. Because Night of the Iguana is a relatively well known play, I think Matt decided it would make a good middle clue in the tossup. Sometimes it is difficult to evaluate the importance of various details you want to include in your common link tossup from masterplots. Therefore, this leads to the problem in the Julia question where often people who read are penalized because they will miss questions that include meaningless details from works they've read, forcing them to buzzer race on the stock clue at the end.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by setht » Wed Dec 10, 2008 2:13 pm

swwFCqb wrote:Well, isn't the point of pyramidality to begin a tossup with clues that aren't so memorable?? It pretty much defeats the purpose of having a multi-line, pyramidal tossup if a lot of people know the first clue of the question. I don't think he's arguing for all clues in a common-link TU to be as unmemorable as, for example, the aforementioned scene from Night of the Iguana (I honestly can't say for myself...never read it), so your argument doesn't really hold water (at least with me) given that example.
I strongly disagree with the idea that the goal of a lead-in (or any other part of a question) is to reference something unmemorable. I think the proper goal of a lead-in is to reference something that is not widely known within the target audience, which is a very different goal. I think a not-widely known (to the quizbowl community) clue on X-wind theory could make a fine lead-in, because X-wind theory seems memorable to me and it's actually important to the area of study where it comes up; an unmemorable lead-in referencing the 8th page of Shu et al. (1996) misses the whole point of quizbowl, in my opinion. You're certainly right that a lead-in that lots of people know "defeats the purpose of having a multi-line, pyramidal tossup," but I would argue that having a lead-in (or any other clue) that no one knows because even people that study the subject in question can't be bothered to remember the clue similarly defeats the purpose. I don't know for a fact that the poppy tea example from Night of the Iguana fits this bill, but I rather suspect it does.

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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by vcuEvan » Wed Dec 10, 2008 2:25 pm

I guess I agree with Ted that insignificant and unmemorable facts shouldn't be put into common link tossups(or any questions I guess), and I certainly don't think ridiculously vague answers like lying face down in the mud should be used. I also don't think common link questions should be an exercise in filling in titles. I do think that there can be decent common link literature questions that don't do any of these things.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Cheynem » Wed Dec 10, 2008 2:30 pm

I think lead-ins should be "memorable" if memorable means, "has a good chance of being known by someone with deep knowledge." I mean, the point of a lead-in is to reward deep knowledge, not to frustrate people wtih random obscurities. There are books I know inside and out that I could be tripped up on by any number of lead-ins. A common link lit toss-up, for my money, should at least attempt to identify something that is a mildy important or memorable aspect of the work it is utilizing.

My Subjective and Entirely Unfair Criteria for Common Link Toss-Ups
1. Do they involve an undue amount of linguistic gyrations to avoid making it obvious what it is referring to?
2. Are they intended to hose by being unnecessarily complex or simple?
3. Is it possible someone with deep knowledge could not get this on the lead-in or initial clues because they are so minor or unmemorable?
4. Are there not a sufficient amount very memorable and important clues that make the toss-up gettable beyond the "For ten points, identify this animal that meows" type generality (that's an obvious simplification)?
5. Is the toss-up basically about one very famous example and utilizes trivial, minor references to other stuff just to pad it out (I should know, I've written stuff like this)?

If the answer to any of these is yes, I get frowny.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Matt Weiner » Wed Dec 10, 2008 3:28 pm

Yeah, I would have to say that "at one point, two characters drink poppy tea" would be a pretty identifying and unremarkable clue if it appeared in a tossup on Night of the Iguana, and if anything it's actually more likely to draw a buzz in a common-link context because it gives you the name of the play and lets you skip the entire process of doubting whether some other play has poppy tea in it. To recall that question in its entirety:

One poem about these items calls them “little bloody skirts” and “little hell flames” and ends “colorless, colorless.” Along with mandrake juice, an extract of this plant is drunk by Barabas in order to escape from prison in The Jew of Malta, and Harry gives Larry Shannon a tea made from it in The Night of the Iguana. In addition to a Sylvia Plath poem about these “in July,” the crown of the King of Dullness is made of these in the Dunciad, satirizing Thomas Shadwell’s addiction to a product of them, and they are described as moving "between the crosses row on row" in John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields. For 10 points, name these flowers, which a bunch of mice carry the central party out of a field of in The Wizard of Oz.

I think this question serves my stated purpose for common-link well, in that it rewards knowledge of specific things (a second-tier Sylvia Plath poem, specific plot elements from The Jew of Malta and Night of the Iguana) that would be difficult to ask on their own or would require three separate tossups in already-filled lit categories, but are still something I would have some expectation of the field at a difficult summer open to maybe know. I did not include, for example, a clue like "children are lectured on the importance of this flower in 'Open Casket' by Sandra McPherson" because that's a random appearance of the word "poppy" that I found searching reference sources, by an author I've never heard of, and that I don't expect anyone to know at any quizbowl tournament. Those sorts of clues would be bad.

After rewarding knowledge of these more obscure clues, we start talking about a central scene in noted high-school-canonical work The Dunciad, then about a poem everyone in quizbowl has read, then about The Wizard of Oz, providing a near-100% conversion of this tossup at the giveaway. I will thus defend this question as meeting all the goals of good literature writing: rewarding deep knowledge but not requiring impossible knowledge at the start, privileging those who have read things over those who have studied them for quizbowl, having middle clues, and having a giveaway.

I can certainly provide examples of bad common link questions I have written as well, if you want to hear more about my own theories here, but the idea that because there is no literary criticism concept of "the role of poppies," we can't use a tossup on "poppies" to sort players by literature knowledge, doesn't make sense to me. Just as we are told that the clues, not the answer, determine difficulty, it is the clues and not the answer that determine academic status.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Matt Weiner » Wed Dec 10, 2008 3:51 pm

I was reminded, after posting that, of a similar debate ages ago regarding a tossup on "Shakespeare" that started out with something like "this person learns about love from Fatima and Henry Wriothesly in an Anthony Burgess novel" and then went on to talk about certain poems and plays of Shakespeare. A player who was very big on Shakespeare protested that this question was bad because his knowledge of everything Shakespeare ever wrote didn't help him get the leadin, and thus that it "wasn't really a tossup on the answer." The response to this argument is that a tossup for the English literature portion of the distribution needs only to be about academic English literature, and to help the literature questions meet certain stated goals of genre and time diversity. The fact that the answer line says "Shakespeare" does not preclude the use of works written by other people in the question. My analogy should be obvious: the purpose of a tossup on "poppies" or "yellow" is to test knowledge of literature, not knowledge of "poppies" or "yellow." As long as the clues meet the previously listed checklist for testing literature knowledge properly, the question is fine, and ignoring question content to construct an argument about the appropriateness of the answer line is not wise.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by theMoMA » Wed Dec 10, 2008 3:52 pm

The difficulty scale used at this tournament pegged "regular difficulty" things as a one. Stuff in the nebulous "between regular and nationals" was a two; these were supposed to have made up at least 60% of total questions, though I imagine it was more like 50% or lower in the final packets. Some Prefer Nettles is definitely either a one or a two on this scale, probably a two, but for distribution purposes, we treated ones and twos about the same.

Also, I really question the idea that things like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning or I Will Marry When I Want are completely inappropriate. We've had all sorts of Sillitoe and Ngugi tossups, and almost all of them mention those works as things that are more famous than leadins. In tournaments like mine, one of the functions is to draw that kind of knowledge to the forefront. Now, I won't say "If you really don't like the idea of hard tournaments, don't play them," because this tournament was harder than I would have liked because of time constraints for editing Minnesota Open itself. But I will say that I reject the notion that this sort of tournament can be improved by toning down the answer selection, especially of the traditional works-and-authors tossups. I have always envisioned subject tournaments as a place where expanding the possible answers is appropriate, so expect stuff that often comes up as a clue but rarely if ever comes up as a tossup answer to continue being asked about at my tournaments, though not in such a large proportion.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by magin » Wed Dec 10, 2008 3:56 pm

Well, I think the problem is that the Night of the Iguana clue in the poppy tossup doesn't really help anyone buzz, even someone who's read the play and/or studied it extensively. I don't see how the tea being poppy tea is important at all, and I especially don't see how anyone could really buzz off it. For good common link tossups, a player with knowledge could reasonably be expected to buzz in with the correct answer on each individual clue. Using clues about a random detail of a literary work isn't my definition of a good clue, unless you can explain why that clue is important.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Wed Dec 10, 2008 4:28 pm

I feel like Ted is making some really misguided arguments in this thread which I want to address.

First off, as I've said countless number of times and as any experienced writer will agree, common link tossups in literature and other subjects are simply hard to write. Very often, people get sloppy and use poor judgment - because sometimes there really aren't enough important clues to create a pyramidal tossup that rewards knowledge, or at least the person can't find enough such clues. Often, the clues that they do manage to turn up - through some type of keyword search or whatever - turn out to be not very useful. Often, as Mike's criteria for common link tossups says, people pick a common link which has one or two really famous set of clues for it, and all the rest of the clues are just insignificant bits of useless trivia. But none of this means that a tossup on "yellow" in literature for example in inherently wrongheaded - it just means that, if you're gonna do it, you have to find enough truly important clues in literature that somehow involve yellow, and you have to make sure that those clues are fairly tapired in difficulty so that there aren't difficulty cliffs and buzzer races. That's hard to do, and too often people just settle for trying to come "close", and then they don't even really come all that close - and sometimes we just excuse it by saying "oh well, it was a common link tossup" - sure, if that's your argument, I agree. But, if you can in fact craft a good common link question, it does achieve what everyone calls internal canon expansion - because it typically allows you to mention a lot of things which you would not be able to mention otherwise, and still be able to have an answer line that's very accessible.

Secondly, you seem to be attacking difficult tossup answers on some notion that they "give bad ideas to the kids." Let me be very clear - when I write hard-ass questions for certain events, I am not giving anyone the green light to take cues from that in order to compose their ACF Fall packet! I can sympathize with you about having to throw away perfectly good tossups while editing ACF Fall because they were "one step too hard" - but unfortunately, that's what young writers are like - they have a notoriously poor ability to gauge and evaluate the difficulty of answers. That's always the case, whether or not there are hard events out there. But hell, if it helps, put an announcement in your ACF announcement that says "Don't pay attention to questions used in Chicago Open or "Literate Side Tournament X" - Take your cues from places like past ACF Falls and EFT and so on!"

In fact, the brunt of my argument for why high difficulty is quite justified at these types of events is precisely that they are forums for writing about lots of stuff that you couldnt write about for normal calendar tournaments (assuming you have an elite field like many of these side events do). Writing for normal events is fairly confining, these events are chances to step out of the box and test the boundaries - sure, you need to have a certain minimum number of field-accessible tossups in order to make the event fair and playable, but that fits into my suggestion to up the packets to 25 quesitons or so. Now, I understand that literature is a little bit of a special case in that it's much less confined than other subjects - you can write an infinite number of tossups on Mark Twain or Ernest Hemingway or whoever, because there are always more works/more characters/more clues to use. But, there is still value to testing boundaries and seeing what else is out there - part of the point of these events is that you finally get to ask about the "next important thing" - the next tossup idea out there which hasn't been done yet. Side and masters events are literally the only time you can do that, the only time when you can forcibly push the canon forward. And, something like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is certainly not a step too hard for an elite field.

In fact, I would go so far as to argue that having events which consciously aim to push the canon is very beneficial to the existence of events at lower difficulty. It's a healthy balance.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Magister Ludi » Wed Dec 10, 2008 4:47 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:I can certainly provide examples of bad common link questions I have written as well, if you want to hear more about my own theories here, but the idea that because there is no literary criticism concept of "the role of poppies," we can't use a tossup on "poppies" to sort players by literature knowledge, doesn't make sense to me. Just as we are told that the clues, not the answer, determine difficulty, it is the clues and not the answer that determine academic status.
First you accuse me of saying that the existence of literary criticism on a subject is a necessary criterion to make something a worthy subject of a question, when I clearly stated otherwise:
Magister Ludi wrote: I am not trying to say that a concept must be studied on its own to be a valid common link answer. I am arguing that a tossup needs to meet the basic criterion of literary importance.

In short, I think we need to re-evaluate what makes appropriate answers in common link tossups. I am not saying there shouldn't be common link tossups in literature. However, I think that a common link tossup subject must meet some basic criterion of literary importance. These over-generalized common link tossup answers on any type of animal, color, or random word need to be stopped
Then you go on to argue that clues and not answer selection make a topic academic, which I clearly agree with. As I outlined earlier, you could write a good question on something like blue flower, but it needs to be framed within a context that is important in literature. It can’t just randomly list various blue flowers that pop up through the history of literature. Just like science questions need all of the clues to be important in the realm of science, I argue that the clues in a common link literature questions should be framed in a way that makes sure the questions remain important in a literary sense. You could write a great tossup on poppies/opium in the frame of their influence on Romantic poetry and especially Coleridge because that is a topic which is important in a literary sense.


You never responded to my argument about the triviality of certain clues used in these common link tossups. You argued you wanted to use clues that "reward knowledge of specific things (a second-tier Sylvia Plath poem, specific plot elements from The Jew of Malta and Night of the Iguana)." I posit that these specific incidences mentioned in the question are trivial and do not merit questions or even clues about them. I think this line of reasoning could be used write questions using clues like this: "At the beginning of 'A Good Man is Hard to Find' the sports page that Bailey reads is this color." I think this is an equivalent clue to the one used in the poppy question.

I find it disheartening that Matt could argue that these clues from Night of the Iguana and Jew of Malta are important enough to merit clues in a common link question. Furthermore, it makes me worry about the problem I mentioned earlier about common link tossups penalizing people who have read certain books. If we pick unimportant details as the early clues for common link tossups it makes the early clues meaningless for people who have read the books mentioned. Then the question is reduced to a buzzer race once we get to the one or two clues that someone might actually know later in the tossup.
Matt also never responded to my argument about my ideal conception of the common link literature tossup:
Magister Ludi wrote: I feel like too many common link questions are created with the wrong mindset. A good common link literature tossup should evolve naturally when a writer realizes "There are certainly lots of poems addressed to Orpheus. This is an important subject that someone could conceivably know a lot about. Therefore I will write this tossup."
What worries me is that I think these common link tossups are being created "bottom up" rather than "top down". To explain, I worry that someone finds a subject first for a common link tossup that he can find one or two good examples for. Then he desperately tries to find decent clues that fill out that tossup, which often leads to picking trivial clues. I've been guilty of this mistake in the past and hope to improve my writing by scrutinizing my common link answer choices more carefully rather than trying to defend poorly conceived questions.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Matt Weiner » Wed Dec 10, 2008 4:53 pm

Magister Ludi wrote:First you accuse me of saying that the existence of literary criticism on a subject is a necessary criterion to make something a worthy subject of a question, when I clearly stated otherwise:
Magister Ludi wrote:You could write a great tossup on poppies/opium in the frame of their influence on Romantic poetry and especially Coleridge because that is a topic which is important in a literary sense.
I guess I don't see the difference between defining something as "important in a literary sense" in the way that you have with this example, and defining "important in a literary sense" as "has had works of literary criticism published on this topic."

I also don't see why an arbitrary plot incident from Night of the Iguana is any harder in a common-link tossup than it is in a tossup on Night of the Iguana. Are you arguing that "two characters drink poppy tea" would not reward people who have read the play even if it was just a clue for a Night of the Iguana tossup?
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Wed Dec 10, 2008 5:06 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:I also don't see why an arbitrary plot incident from Night of the Iguana is any harder in a common-link tossup than it is in a tossup on Night of the Iguana. Are you arguing that "two characters drink poppy tea" would not reward people who have read the play even if it was just a clue for a Night of the Iguana tossup?
I think both Jonathan and Ted are arguing that that'd be just as bad a clue in a tossup on Night of the Iguana, since it doesn't reward people who have read the play (in some sense it's a different sort of almanac clue, perhaps a List_of_appearances_of_[blank]_in_literature) because it's not important. Ideally, a tossup rewards people who've read the book, then people who've read MasterPlots, then people who've read Wiki, then people who've read a You Gotta Know list, then people who have some binary information, right? The only way people who've read the book have unique knowledge is if your clues are important to the work, such that those clues would be best remembered and buzzed on by someone who'd read the work. I take Jonathan and Ted's word for it that that's not the case with this kind of tea.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Magister Ludi » Wed Dec 10, 2008 5:28 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote:Secondly, you seem to be attacking difficult tossup answers on some notion that they "give bad ideas to the kids." Let me be very clear - when I write hard-ass questions for certain events, I am not giving anyone the green light to take cues from that in order to compose their ACF Fall packet! I can sympathize with you about having to throw away perfectly good tossups while editing ACF Fall because they were "one step too hard" - but unfortunately, that's what young writers are like - they have a notoriously poor ability to gauge and evaluate the difficulty of answers. That's always the case, whether or not there are hard events out there. But hell, if it helps, put an announcement in your ACF announcement that says "Don't pay attention to questions used in Chicago Open or "Literate Side Tournament X" - Take your cues from places like past ACF Falls and EFT and so on!"

In fact, the brunt of my argument for why high difficulty is quite justified at these types of events is precisely that they are forums for writing about lots of stuff that you couldnt write about for normal calendar tournaments (assuming you have an elite field like many of these side events do). Writing for normal events is fairly confining, these events are chances to step out of the box and test the boundaries - sure, you need to have a certain minimum number of field-accessible tossups in order to make the event fair and playable, but that fits into my suggestion to up the packets to 25 quesitons or so. Now, I understand that literature is a little bit of a special case in that it's much less confined than other subjects - you can write an infinite number of tossups on Mark Twain or Ernest Hemingway or whoever, because there are always more works/more characters/more clues to use. But, there is still value to testing boundaries and seeing what else is out there - part of the point of these events is that you finally get to ask about the "next important thing" - the next tossup idea out there which hasn't been done yet. Side and masters events are literally the only time you can do that, the only time when you can forcibly push the canon forward. And, something like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is certainly not a step too hard for an elite field.

In fact, I would go so far as to argue that having events which consciously aim to push the canon is very beneficial to the existence of events at lower difficulty. It's a healthy balance.
You have misunderstood my argument. My argument is not calling for masters tournaments to only have easy questions. I enjoy hard questions and think these events would be much worse with only easy questions. I'm pointing out a trend of people always trying to push the boundaries of acceptable answer space for a tournament. It is fine to do this for a few tossups at a regular tournament and for many tossups at a tournament like MO Lit, but it needs to be kept within moderation. When a tournament has answers that are consistently on a more difficult answer choice rather than a logically equivalent easier part this sets a trend. Let me just examine one game from MO Lit to illustrate my point. Game two featured the following tossup answers: 1- Wreck of the Hesperus, 2- Face down in the mud, 3- Bride comes to Yellow Sky, 4- Beautiful and the Damned, 5- Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, 6- I Will Marry When I Want, 7- "1887", 8- The Moon and Sixpence, 9- Group Portrait with Lady, 10- The Lady with the Lapdog, 11- Savonarola Brown, 12- Anatole France, 13- Ferlingjetti, 14- Black Rain, 15- Adonis (Syrian poet). Do you see how almost every single tossup in this round easily could have been written with an easier answer choice. I dont have a problem with any single one of these as an answer choice. But I have a problem with the consistent trend of picking the harder answer. Why couldn't three or four of these been changed to "Courtship of Miles Standish" or Sillitoe, or Ngugi, or Shropshire Lad, or Beerbohm. Even tossups like Bride Comes to Yellow Sky or Group Portrait with Lady could have been made easier. I bring up the issue of "corrupting the youth" because I worry that tournaments like this set a precedent that it is desirable to always pick the harder or more difficult answer. I brought up the USC packet just to show how this writer in an effort to be interesting consistently picked an answer one step too hard. If he had toned down three out of his four choice I might have been able to let the last harder tossup slip through, but the fact that every tossup was pushing the canon made it too much.

To summarize, I dont have a problem with tossups that are logical expansions of the canon at master tournaments (like the I Will Marry When I Want tossup) I have problems when almost every tossup is pushing the canon. It adds nothing to the discussion when Andrew or someone chimes in with the stock comment that something like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning are fine "masters tournaments are about canon expansion" because I agree with this sentiment. But I want to point out how things get out of control when the writers start letting this impulse to be new effect every tossup. This particular tournament (not Magin's two CO Lit singles) I think set a bad precedent for young writers where they might think it is always better to err on the side of hard or fresh questions.
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Re: MO Lit packets and discussion

Post by Magister Ludi » Wed Dec 10, 2008 5:41 pm

Matt states the goal of good literature writing is:
Matt Weiner wrote: I will thus defend this question as meeting all the goals of good literature writing: rewarding deep knowledge but not requiring impossible knowledge at the start, privileging those who have read things over those who have studied them for quizbowl, having middle clues, and having a giveaway.
I agree with these four criterion, but among the many problems with common literature link tossups is the fact they are more susceptible to failing in these criterion than other questions. This mediocre poppy question is but one of numerous examples I can find in recent tournaments of common link literature questions that fail using Matt’s own goals of literature writing.

In addition to the four goals of good literature writing that Matt outlined, I personally believe in a fifth goal, which is asking questions on topics that have real clues of real literary importance. A pyramidal question that includes random, unrelated clues all of which happen to ask about poodles in literature fails this test. I advocate a tightening of the canon of acceptable answers for common link literature tossups. Tossups on countries, or specific images within the context of a specific writer or group (like the Thames tossup from MO lit), or groups of works (like hymns addressed to Aphrodite, works titled “On Nature”, Lucy poems) all are valid answers. Tossups on things such as white teeth, suicide, or blue are unacceptable answers. With a far stricter definition of what is acceptable for common link literature tossup I believe we will vastly improve question quality and confusion surrounding common link tossups and secondly we will have created a far more academic game that tests real literary knowledge rather than arbitrary trivia found in novels.
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