FICHTE commentary

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FICHTE commentary

Post by grapesmoker » Wed Mar 25, 2009 6:24 pm

I figured this would pop up on its own in a few days, but it hasn't, so here goes. Obviously, the comments will be devoid of specifics since the Tulsa mirror is yet to be played, but I think some things need to be said about this event.

I am not being hyperbolic when I say that FICHTE is the most disappointing, and in some ways just the worst tournament that I've played all year. First of all, it's well-known at this time that FICHTE did not deliver the advertised number of rounds. In fact, as we headed into round 5, a staff member mentioned in passing that the rest of the rounds (past round 6) had not yet been received; as of my departing for lunch, I had no idea whether I would come back to a game or a multi-hour delay. Fortunately, there were no delays, but we still only got 10 rounds of play (11 for Chicago and Minnesota with, I guess, a potential 12). This is totally unacceptable in my view, especially considering that I spent a fair bit of time, effort, and money getting to this tournament. What's even more annoying about this whole thing is that literally until I got to the tournament that day, I had no idea that there were even problems with the tournament being done. This was dropped on me entirely unexpectedly; had I known there were serious issues with the tournament's completion status, perhaps I might have reconsidered attending.

My second issue with FICHTE, which I consider more serious even than the issue of getting 15 rounds of play or however much we were supposed to have, was the actual quality of the tournament itself. It was disappointing on every level; for every question that I thought was interesting and competently written there was another one which was either poorly conceived, poorly written, or both. Bonus difficulty oscillated all over the place (getting 0 on an astrophysics bonus that I suspect only I and Seth could have gotten points on was eye-opening) and many tossups were just incompetently executed (e.g. "Here are some works you've never heard of by a writer. Here is one of his most famous works. For ten points, name this famous guy."). I understand that a large fraction of the tournament wasn't even written by Matt himself, but rather by people recruited days before the event. Of course, those people should not be blamed for this failure in any way, but the fact remains that well-meaning but relatively inexperienced writers are going to produce questions that need editing, and editing wasn't anywhere on the menu for this tournament. This obviously showed in the results; if you look at the standings from UIUC's site and look at who beat whom, it's very much not the distribution you would expect from a well-written tournament.

Overall, FICHTE was a pretty infuriating experience for me; from my perspective, this tournament adopted many of the bad aspects of NAQT and had essentially no redeeming features. I was honestly surprised by this, since last year's FICHTE seemed pretty decent (I didn't play it, but I wrote much of the science) so I thought this year should have been even better, but apparently my expectations were out of line with reality in a big way.

Look, writing a tournament, especially by yourself, is hard. I know that, since I'm currently working mostly solo on a tournament myself. But that's not an excuse for a lack of transparency or producing a substandard tournament. This is a point that's been made many times: you need to either ask for help or call the event off if this is happening. I'll say right now that this is what I plan to do with ROBOT; if I don't feel the tournament is up to standards or not being completed fast enough, I will call it off or try to recruit others to help me, and it will be known about publicly.

Anyway, that concludes my rant. I think this is something that requires serious public discussion, rather than being confined to a few IRC conversations between a small fraction of the participants.
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Re: FICHTE commentary

Post by grapesmoker » Wed Mar 25, 2009 6:26 pm

grapesmoker wrote:This obviously showed in the results; if you look at the standings from UIUC's site and look at who beat whom, it's very much not the distribution you would expect from a well-written tournament.
Lest this be taken in the wrong light: I'm not making a judgment about which team should have won, but rather the records of the winning, 2nd place, etc. teams. I felt like very often, the vagaries of the packet and poorly written questions decided the matches (I felt this was true for at least one of our wins over Minnesota), and I think the standings (and anecdotal conversations with other teams) support this contention.
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Re: FICHTE commentary

Post by Matt Weiner » Wed Mar 25, 2009 6:49 pm

I want to make it known that a system has been set up whereby Jonathan Magin and George Berry will supervise and report on the timely completion of ACF Nationals. Nobody should refrain from attending that tournament out of any fear that my involvement will cause it to be shortened or delayed.
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Re: FICHTE commentary

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Wed Mar 25, 2009 8:04 pm

I agree with Jerry's comments.

I'd like to mention that a lot of middle clues (and sometimes early clues) in the science were vague. At some point when I'm not writing HI, I'll say something more coherent about this, but a lot of the time the only thing that allowed me to answer tossups was transparency or misplaced giveaways. It's hard to write science at or above this difficulty level (which is weighing on me something fierce at the moment), so I certainly don't mean to trivialize Andrew's position in writing this tournament. I do think, however, that the sub-optimal state of the science could have been much improved by Andrew saying "I can't do this alone" and asking for help from some luminary not playing the tournament, and I'm bothered by how similar that is to how the rest of the subjects in the tournament might have been improved by Matt saying "I can't do this alone" earlier than a few days before the tournament.

The reasons that either writer might have wanted some help are totally different--Andrew because he, like almost everyone, lacks the ridiculous knowledge base necessary to write every area of science; Matt because he had like five packets written--but in either case, the response wasn't the right one and this should indicate to people that they should beg for help if they think they might need it as soon as they think that or sooner.

(And, of course, it's entirely possible that in two weeks you will all be saying the same about my science, and that's fair game. It's also possible that I will cry for help soon and get oversight. It is not wise to be too proud.)
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Re: FICHTE commentary

Post by Theory Of The Leisure Flask » Wed Mar 25, 2009 8:04 pm

Is there any chance this set is going to be posted before ICT?

Edit: Mehdi says there are mirrors yet to come, nevermind.
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Re: FICHTE commentary

Post by grapesmoker » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:10 pm

Hey, here's a point that I made in connection with the science in The Experiment: just because something is named after a person doesn't mean that it needs to be written about. I know I make that mistake myself on occasion, but the trend of science bonus parts no one has heard of is really annoying. As I've intimated already, there were some bonuses that I thought were just absurd in their level of difficulty; you had no hope of getting more than 10 unless you were an absolute expert and even then it was unlikely you could get 30. That's stupid and needs to stop.
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Re: FICHTE commentary

Post by minor_character » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:33 pm

I was waiting until all the mirrors were done to get feedback on the science in this set, but since Jerry went ahead and started a thread, I guess I'm post. First off, I would like to apologize to everyone who was dissatisfied with the science in this set. I personally only finished 13 packets worth by Saturday morning and I confess I failed to budget time to write the full 18 packets worth. As has been mentioned in previous posts I was definitely in over my head on the science for this tournament. As it turns out I really don't know enough about physics/math/earth science/computer science to write pyramidal and clear questions on these topics. Although I have been playing quizbowl for a while now I don't think I am involved enough with the community to know what people know and what they do not. Consequently I'm sure there were plenty of misplaced clues in this set that led to buzzer races or questions that only got answered at the very end.

I definitely should have gotten input from some quality science editors when writing the science, but from what I saw it looks like most of the good science editors in the community were playing this set. Additionally, I don't really know any science people personally and I neglected to ask Matt to get me in touch with someone. Again, my fault. As for difficulty fluctuations, those were again a result of my not knowing what people know and the fact that I basically looked through notes I had taken during practice and wrote about things I didn't know anything about. As a consequence I learned a good deal when writing this set, but might have chosen obscure, barely canonical topics to write questions about. For some of these bonuses, I had a easy part and dug around in the literature for middle and hard parts. Apparently I dug too deep on some of the bonuses. I guess when the mirrors are over people can post individual tossups so that I can get a better feel for which questions people had issues with and why. This really is a shame because I definitely tried my best to make these questions good, but I definitely have learned a lesson from writing this set. Thank you and once again I apologize.


One additional point. I don't know if this makes a difference, but I was mistakenly under the impression that the NAQT question limit was 500 characters without spaces. As such most of my questions were right against this limit. Unfortunately that character limit was in fact 500 characters with spaces. Consequently Matt had to cut clues out of my tossups the night before. I'm not sure what effect that had on my tossups, but it might have result in additional vagueness in the questions.
Last edited by minor_character on Thu Mar 26, 2009 10:38 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: FICHTE commentary

Post by DumbJaques » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:49 pm

Consequently Matt had to cut clues out of my tossups the night before. I'm not sure what effect that had on my tossups, but it might have result in additional vagueness in the questions.
Er, I for one really would have preferred that night-before-the-tournament time be used to do more important things than cut out clues because they were 20-30 characters over the limit, given everything else that was happening with the set. Really, this seems like a terrible waste of time to me - I understand the goal in adhering to the NAQT guidelines that shaped the idea behind FICHTE, but once it became clear that the set would not materialize exactly as advertised, it seems like doing stuff like this should no longer have been a priority.
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Re: FICHTE commentary

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:57 pm

DumbJaques wrote:
Consequently Matt had to cut clues out of my tossups the night before. I'm not sure what effect that had on my tossups, but it might have result in additional vagueness in the questions.
Er, I for one really would have preferred that night-before-the-tournament time be used to do more important things than cut out clues because they were 20-30 characters over the limit, given everything else that was happening with the set. Really, this seems like a terrible waste of time to me - I understand the goal in adhering to the NAQT guidelines that shaped the idea behind FICHTE, but once it became clear that the set would not materialize exactly as advertised, it seems like doing stuff like this should no longer have been a priority.
That fourteenth packet would have given the UIUC site another much-needed scrimmage round, I must say. (Or a chance to offer eleven real rounds and finals, I guess, by doing a full round robin. Which probably would have been fairer than bracket-gambling. But I prefer snark to actual sense.)

In all seriousness, yeah: seeing as bonus parts were already long enough that a fairly good reader in James Sanner got through 18 tossups in our round with him, NAQT's short-and-snappy style was already out the window a little. (Granted, NAQT doesn't seem to have explicit character limits on bonus parts that I know of; I'm just saying that when you have to sacrifice packets or perfect verisimilitude, I sacrifice verisimilitude. Especially when the most important part of FICHTE, more than shortening tossups by 50 characters, is the distribution.)
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Re: FICHTE commentary

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Thu Mar 26, 2009 12:02 am

Yeah, on the clock it seemed like the bonus parts were consistently long enough that it was a hassle to reach 20 tossups in every game.
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Re: FICHTE commentary

Post by Important Bird Area » Thu Mar 26, 2009 12:32 am

everyday847 wrote:(Granted, NAQT doesn't seem to have explicit character limits on bonus parts that I know of)
We don't, but very wordy bonuses are likely to be trimmed back in editing.
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