Let's take a look at a couple of tossups on everyone's favorite play, La Mandragola.
IO Lit packet 7, tossup 7 wrote:Theodore Sumberg’s “An Interpretation” of this play holds that it is an allegory of the author’s later work. A priest named Frate Timoteo is not fooled by the central ruse of this work, and the protagonist must pay him off, and another character named Sostrata desires a grandchild. The plot revolves around a beautiful Tuscan, whom the protagonist covets despite the fact that she is married to Nicia; the mischievous marriage-broker Ligurio is hired by that protagonist, Callimaco, to secure his moment with Lucrezia, which he does by claiming that the first man to sleep with Lucrezia will die from the title poisonous plant. FTP, name this play that is often considered a comic parallel to The Prince, a comedy by Niccolo Machiavelli.
ANSWER: La Mandragola or The Mandrake (6) [AH]
The first of these tossups has, in my mind, an entirely worthless lead-in. Lead-ins, in my mind, should serve two purposes: being helpful for someone familiar in depth, and being interesting for everyone else. The Sumberg clue fails at both purposes, because he doesn't seem to be famous (around 4,000 hits on Google), and, without knowing the context of the answer, it's just boring words. Sure, in retrospect, you can look back and say that it's pretty cool, but when you're listening to it, it does nothing to grip the listener. With regards to the second tossup: the lead-in is fine, if kind of inane, because nobody will get it, but the part after that seems kind of useless. La Mandragola is long enough to have enough clues within the play itself without having to resort to clues on some cover of the play which nobody will get. As an example of a better tossup on the work, I submit this one, which I wrote right after reading it with the intend to submit to ACF Nationals, but never did:ACF Nationals 2009 packet 18, tossup 11 wrote:11. The Prologue of this work notes that “Words are but air; the wise man will ignore / A monster whose existence is not sure,” implying that the prologue may have been originally performed by the lyre-playing centaur depicted on the cover of an early edition of this play.The password is “Saint Cuckoo,” the “most celebrated saint in France,” though that password is never actually used during the abduction of a beggar. Fra Timoteo’s question “What brings you here?” is answered, “Very well, thank you” by Nicia, whom the marriage broker Ligurio has instructed to act deaf. A fake doctor claims to be able to cure Lucrezia’s barrenness with the side effect that the first man to sleep with her after a potion takes effect will die within eight days. For 10 points, name this play in which Callimaco successfully schemes to sleep with Lucrezia, named after the titular ingredient in that potion and written by Niccolo Machiavelli.
ANSWER: Mandragola [or Mandrake Root]
Whether or not the early clues are interesting is debatable, but I think they do a good job of ensuring that someone who is familiar with the play will get it early on.One character in this work claims that the sea is more than seven times as big as the river running through his home city. At the end of act four, another asserts that the classical rules of comedy are not being violated by a night interruption because none of the characters offstage are sleeping. This play opens with the main character describing his twenty years in Paris to his servant, Siro; that protagonist later fulfills his desire by disguising himself as a drunk lutenist. One character’s mother, Sostrata, convinces her daughter to try the remedy suggested by the main character, as does her bribed confessional priest, Fra Timoteo. The main character hires Ligurio to help him get with Lucrezia, the wife of the foolish lawyer Nicia; that happens when that main character, Callimaco, pretends to be a doctor and offers a potion made from the title object as a cure for barrenness which will supposedly kill the first person to sleep with Lucrezia. For ten points, name this comic play by Niccolo Machiavelli.
ANSWER: La Mandragola
Now, I have a couple of similar examples of interpretation/reference clues that I feel only hurt the tossup.
In general, I like this tossup. I'm quite a fan of this poem (as anyone who remembers my joke account a while ago will know), and I think it's awesome that it was tossed up. However, I greatly dislike the lead-in. Again, I don't know who Gerald Guinness is, and I don't particularly care. The dropping of "batten" here is a double-whammy, though: it's a pretty famous word, being in the second line of the poem, but since it's out of context, it's basically unbuzzable—one word isn't going to help much, even if you're familiar with the poem. Also, sure, "colonel of carrion" is cool, but I can't see anyone buzzing between there and "brutish necessity". It's a waste of words. Again, it's not like the poem has too little info to have a lead-in based on the poem proper, so I don't see any need to do it.ACF Nationals 2009 packet 6, tossup 2 wrote:2. Gerald Guinness accused this of being an "unlikable poem" which uses the word "batten" when it should use "cause" and engages in phrases such as "colonel of carrion" for "reasons rather of sound than sense." This poem describes “brutish necessity” wiping its hands “upon the napkin of a dirty cause.” A worm in this poem urges no waste of compassion on “separate dead.” Its speaker claims that “statistics justify and scholars seize” policies that lead to a child being hacked in bed. Addressing similar themes as the author's "Ruins of a Great House," the speaker of this poem contrasts “a white dust of ibises” with men who “Dance to the tightened carcass of a drum.”This poem’s central conflict is compared to “The gorilla wrestling with the superman,” and the speaker wonders how to choose between the title place and “the English tongue I love.” The speaker wonders how he can “face such slaughter and be cool” before questioning “How can I turn from" the title place "and live?” For 10 points, name this poem about a continent by Derek Walcott.
ANSWER: “A Far Cry from Africa”
This lead-in is boring and kind of worthless. Again, the poems have enough in there to have a lead-in on the poems themselves, not on some work based on them, so I don't see the point of it.2006 ACF Nationals packet by Chicago A, tossup 20 wrote:In their essay "Against Theory," Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels imagine a scenario in which one of these writings appears on a beach in the wake of a receding wave. In one of these, the namesake figure is compared to a "mountain roe" whose feet "disperse the powdery snow / That rises up like smoke" and is tracked to a bridge. In another, the speaker eyes a "descending moon" while riding a horse to the namesake's "cot," and is struck by the "fond and wayward" thought that she may be dead. Another says that she "dwelt among th'untrodden ways / Beside the springs of Dove," while another notes that she is "rolled round in earth's diurnal course / With rocks and stones and trees." FTP, name this group of poems which includes "A slumber did my spirit seal" and "Strange fits of passion have I known," which deal with a mysterious and deceased young woman and were written by William Wordsworth.
ANSWER: the Lucy poems (accept "A slumber did my spirit seal" or prompt on "the poems of Wordsworth" before the second sentence)
Sometimes a work is such that it doesn't really have a proper lead-in from the work alone. In such a case, if the tossup must, indeed, be written on that topic, extra care should be taken to make it buzzable and interesting. The ACF Regionals tossup, which I can't find at the moment, but was pilloried by Andrew Yaphe, is a good example of this. If I remember correctly, the tossup began with a clue like the following: "The poem has been the inspiration for at least three pieces of music: "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird", by Lukas Foss, Thirteen Ways, by Thomas Albert; and Blackbirds, for Flute and Bassoon, Gregory Youtz." I would hope that, in the future, writers would take care to make such a lead-in helpful for people who have further studied the work, not just people who have read the same Wikipedia page as the question writer.