Should college regular difficulty be easier?

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Should college regular difficulty be easier?

Post by Beevor Feevor » Thu Jul 23, 2015 8:45 pm

So, as someone who hasn't even started his first official year of college Quizbowl yet, I understand that I may not have the standing to bring up this argument, but considering the amount of discussion about it in the corresponding CO thread, I wanted to hear the opinions of some of the movers and shakers of college Quizbowl sets regarding the question of regular difficulty.

Now, as I understand it, this was a topic that was semi-hashed out in a thread kept in the Best of the Best section back in 2008, but a lot has changed since then, and as Matt Jackson's posts have pointed out over the past year or so, a lot needs to be done for Quizbowl to continue its growth. As someone who's been pretty involved with the game and wants to stay that way, I want my college Quizbowl experience to be as enjoyable as high school Quizbowl was, while certainly not being exactly the same.

However, at some point, it has to be said that 'regular difficulty' is much too hard for the average college Quizbowl player, and judging by the responses in the other thread, I don't think I'm alone in holding this opinion. I've been in many practice rooms that were full of life and animated buzzes on MUT, only to fall silent and lifeless at the very mention of opening up a packet of ACF Regionals. This is certainly not at all meant as an attack on the questions in ACF Regionals; I personally have learned about some of the coolest things that I have ever read about through Regs-level packets, and they're fascinating to play on against experienced players.

For the average John Q. Public who walks into college Quizbowl, however, 'regular' difficulty is a pretty steep mountain to climb. Even for those with tons of high school Quizbowl experience balk at it. As a first-year student going to practice for the first time, Collegiate Novice and ACF Fall even seem challenging, but certainly not impossible. Where many people drop off during the year (and this may be due to finding other clubs, exams, what have you, but I digress) is when the 'regular' tournaments get trotted out at practice. Once people see how Everestian the world of 'regular' college Quizbowl is, they go running, and I've seen it happen to too many promising players who derive real enjoyment out of MUT-level questions.

I'm certainly not advocating that we pander to the base of college Quizbowl and keep the questions at a PACE level in perpetuity. There is a very real and very important place for tournaments that are 'regular' difficulty. For the sake of Quizbowl's image and continued health, however, I wonder if that's a label that should begin to adjust in the near future.

I would really welcome the comments of people who've been around clubs for a long time and have things to add about this first-hand, as well as any editors of upcoming 'regular' difficulty events who would like to chime in in support or in opposition.
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Re: Should college regular difficulty be easier?

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Thu Jul 23, 2015 8:53 pm

I didn't like regular difficulty quizbowl until I spent my freshman winter trying to get a reasonable grip on the canon of subjects I cared about (history and religion at the time) - after that I was able to start getting a few solid buzzes and had a good understanding of what I needed to know in order to get better. I completely understand that Regionals difficulty as it currently stands is much too hard for the majority of players - even solid players coming out of high school can be totally baffled by things at Regionals difficulty and certainly above it.

I think there's room for Penn Bowl type tournaments, but I think there really needs to be a larger space carved out for MUT type events. I've already committed to writing a "regular" tournament this fall, but my goal of difficulty is something in the range of MAGNI, a tournament that was praised for its relative accessibility. I would encourage other writers to model themselves on the same.
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Re: Should college regular difficulty be easier?

Post by Ike » Thu Jul 23, 2015 9:54 pm

Before we say "oh man, let's make Regs difficulty MUT difficulty" I think it's important to outline what we want to see at an easier ACF Regionals.

Looking back at ACF Regionals 2013, the last regionals I played, I don't think the set was too hard in its clueing at the top or middle - I think having some tournaments where you can try to distinguish between Penn A and Harvard A is still critical in my opinion, and by and large even the bottom teams were getting many of the tossups.

However, I think giveaways could be made easier. To use the Yale and Minnesota packet from 2013: there is no need to clue exclusively from stories by Chekhov for the question's entirety - why not end the question with play stuff? Also there are plenty of hard answerlines in the packet: ~A Bend in the River~, and the Isenheim altarpiece are probably the hardest, and I don't think aromaticity is really a walk in the park either, though that one is probably fine. In one of those Regionals 2013 packets lurks a tossup on our good ol' buddy Halford Mackinder. I think one or two hard answerlines per a packet is fine, but that's something the head editor has to control and not just let in liberally and allow the "law of averages" to sort it out.

About length - I think bonuses should never be longer than eight lines of TNR 10, 1 inch margin text. As for tossup length, I personally think that 7 lines as a hard cap is fine, though I think doing 6 lines for the humanities is definitely doable. I don't mind allowing an extra bit of verbiage for science tossups so that we can pin down clues.

To sum up, I think late clues and giveaways should be made as easy as possible, hard tossups should be used very sparingly and tossups should be length capped.

Oh and please, can we finally start power marking ACF tournaments? Like, we all know we love NAQT because they power mark their sets. If we're really about attracting more people, we can also power mark our sets so that ACF looks a little bit more fun. (Even for veterans like me, it's way more fun if we power mark the set!)

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Re: Should college regular difficulty be easier?

Post by UlyssesInvictus » Fri Jul 24, 2015 12:12 am

A slight tangential question I have is, if people would like to see easier regular-level questions, what's their opinion on how the national questions should change in difficulty? In the CO thread, I think people made a compelling argument that since CO is targeted at and written by people who enjoy difficult questions, it should remain that way. But nationals has a pragmatic purpose of crowning a champion (not to say that regionals and falls don't have similar goals).

Would people who want easier regular-level questions also want to see easier national-level questions? The two seem to me like they'd have to go hand-in-hand, since an abruptly larger difficulty gap between regular and nationals would be unwieldy; or maybe not, if people believe a decrease in regular-level wouldn't be so drastic as to provoke so great a gap, or if they believe that other tournaments exist--or can be written into existence--that would serve a regular-nationals intermediate level.

I'm just interested in what people think, and I don't really have a significant opinion on this sub-question.
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Re: Should college regular difficulty be easier?

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Fri Jul 24, 2015 9:41 am

I don't personally mind Nationals difficulty as is but clearly I feel perfectly at home at CO-level difficulty, so I'm not much one to speak. What does bother me is that we are attempting to reach so many new teams at Nationals yet not moderating difficulty accordingly. Tossups don't really need to be more than 7-9 lines at that tournament and material could stand to be a bit easier as well.
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Re: Should college regular difficulty be easier?

Post by Haaaaaaaarry Whiiiiiiiiiite » Fri Jul 24, 2015 10:17 am

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:I don't personally mind Nationals difficulty as is but clearly I feel perfectly at home at CO-level difficulty, so I'm not much one to speak. What does bother me is that we are attempting to reach so many new teams at Nationals yet not moderating difficulty accordingly. Tossups don't really need to be more than 7-9 lines at that tournament and material could stand to be a bit easier as well.
Don't both nationals have a qualification process? ACF Nationals really needs to appeal to the top 50 or so teams, since no one else can play it anyway.
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Re: Should college regular difficulty be easier?

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Fri Jul 24, 2015 11:13 am

Public safety diving wrote:
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:I don't personally mind Nationals difficulty as is but clearly I feel perfectly at home at CO-level difficulty, so I'm not much one to speak. What does bother me is that we are attempting to reach so many new teams at Nationals yet not moderating difficulty accordingly. Tossups don't really need to be more than 7-9 lines at that tournament and material could stand to be a bit easier as well.
Don't both nationals have a qualification process? ACF Nationals really needs to appeal to the top 50 or so teams, since no one else can play it anyway.
I mean even at that rate, a substantial portion of the top 50 teams are still scoring well under 10 points per bonus on ACF Nationals.
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Re: Should college regular difficulty be easier?

Post by sonstige » Fri Jul 24, 2015 12:54 pm

Ike wrote: Oh and please, can we finally start power marking ACF tournaments? Like, we all know we love NAQT because they power mark their sets. If we're really about attracting more people, we can also power mark our sets so that ACF looks a little bit more fun. (Even for veterans like me, it's way more fun if we power mark the set!)
Maybe an ignorant question, but is there a good reference out there on the best practice for power marking questions? Is it something that's more from gut feelings / experience, or is there some rule that says "the first X % of a question should be in power", or .... ?

Thanks.
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Re: Should college regular difficulty be easier?

Post by grapesmoker » Fri Jul 24, 2015 12:54 pm

Public safety diving wrote:
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:I don't personally mind Nationals difficulty as is but clearly I feel perfectly at home at CO-level difficulty, so I'm not much one to speak. What does bother me is that we are attempting to reach so many new teams at Nationals yet not moderating difficulty accordingly. Tossups don't really need to be more than 7-9 lines at that tournament and material could stand to be a bit easier as well.
Don't both nationals have a qualification process? ACF Nationals really needs to appeal to the top 50 or so teams, since no one else can play it anyway.
ACF Nationals had... 48 teams last year. So, I think we're appealing to those teams?
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Re: Should college regular difficulty be easier?

Post by Haaaaaaaarry Whiiiiiiiiiite » Fri Jul 24, 2015 1:51 pm

grapesmoker wrote:
Public safety diving wrote:
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:I don't personally mind Nationals difficulty as is but clearly I feel perfectly at home at CO-level difficulty, so I'm not much one to speak. What does bother me is that we are attempting to reach so many new teams at Nationals yet not moderating difficulty accordingly. Tossups don't really need to be more than 7-9 lines at that tournament and material could stand to be a bit easier as well.
Don't both nationals have a qualification process? ACF Nationals really needs to appeal to the top 50 or so teams, since no one else can play it anyway.
ACF Nationals had... 48 teams last year. So, I think we're appealing to those teams?
Sorry, there should have been an "only" in there. They only need to appeal to the top 50 or so teams (and not necessarily new teams) because of the qualification process.
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Re: Should college regular difficulty be easier?

Post by Cody » Fri Jul 24, 2015 3:29 pm

Public safety diving wrote:Sorry, there should have been an "only" in there. They only need to appeal to the top 50 or so teams (and not necessarily new teams) because of the qualification process.
This is completely, and bizarrely, incorrect. Plenty of new and inexperienced teams went to ACF Nationals in 2015. Take a gander at the PPBs: 50% of the field scored under 10 PPB, 69% under 13 PPB. In the playoffs, and assuming my math is correct, the 37-44 bracket converted 306/560 tossups (55%) over 7 games. The 29-36 bracket converted 327/560 tossups (58%) over 7 games. Even the 21-28 bracket only converted 422/560 tossups (75%) over 7 games; that's 5 dead tossups a round.

By A-value, the rank of the 37th thru 48th teams at ACF Nationals 2015:
37. 30
38. host
39. 28
40. 34
41. 74
42. 56
43. 77
44. 75
45. 73
46. 87
47. 82
48. 94

Whether this appeals to the 48 teams who went is immaterial: ACF Nationals is too hard. A qualification procedure doesn't change that.
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Re: Should college regular difficulty be easier?

Post by Benin Rebirth Party » Fri Jul 24, 2015 3:48 pm

To add to what Cody said, and assuming my math is right, 69% of tossups were converted in the bottom bracket of ICT while including the carryover morning game.
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Re: Should college regular difficulty be easier?

Post by Lo, a momentary rabbit-stage » Sun Jul 26, 2015 3:05 am

I'm curious as to what the arguments are against lowering regionals and nationals difficulty to MUT / "nationals-" levels. I've heard from a lot of top players that "the lowest level of quizbowl they enjoy playing is MUT", and I've really never heard anyone saying "I only enjoy regionals or higher". This seems to say to me that even the best players still feel like MUT can adequately distinguish between top-tier teams and that there's still a chance for first lines to be instructive rather than buzzer races.

As someone who played both MUT and practiced a lot on "regionals" sets / played STIMPY, I found the difference to be fairly dramatic. MUT constantly kept me engaged and I never felt like any of the answerlines were things I hadn't heard of, while STIMPY was mostly a slog through things I hoped other people on my team could convert and the occasional satisfying buzz - outside of my specialties, there was basically no chance of me even buzzing. It was still a great experience, but it was also hugely draining in a way that playing MUT wasn't. (For reference, I played both of those sets at around spring of this year, at which point I would consider myself to be roughly comparable to "baseline new freshman college player").

There are plenty of options to write harder material - and it doesn't have to be for a tournament. With the vast majority of housewrites at least historically tending well towards the "regs+" end of the spectrum, it seems like a good idea to scale back on an actually difficulty-controlled set and hope that the rest follow. A set advertising itself as "regs" and being "regs+" is suddenly less of a problem when "regs+" equates to the current definition of regionals.

I can't speak to nationals, but the numbers do seem a little bit low. I find it hard to believe that the current iteration of nationals is anywhere near the lowest possible difficulty to adequately distinguish between top-tier teams ; when top-tier teams are letting a good deal of tossups go dead themselves, that seems to suggest precisely the opposite.

If there are any good arguments for keeping difficulty the way it is, I'd love to hear them.
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Re: Should college regular difficulty be easier?

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Mon Jul 27, 2015 1:36 pm

I think Ike is right in asking why we're making the difficulty easier. There are two somewhat competing interests when you're picking the difficulty of any given set. I say somewhat because these two goals aren't zero-sum relative to each other, but I'm going to be excessively reductionistic to make a point.

1. You have to make the set playable by the entire field - the easier you make the set, the more the teams in the bottom bracket are going to feel engaged and interested in the questions.

2. You have to make the set able to distinguish teams in any given interval of the field - the harder you make the set, the more you can distinguish between better teams, up to a point.

To understand the tension between those two things, consider what would happen if ACF Nationals were played on an HSAPQ set. Teams in the lower brackets would certainly be more engaged and scoring more points. However, rather than distinguishing good teams from one another, the games in the top bracket would devolve into buzzer races and "have you not forgotten this clue"-bowl. Even if this allows the best team to emerge (for some definition of "best"), the prospect is decidedly unsatisfying, because part of the fun of two good teams playing against each other is battling it out on a wider range of knowledge than the regular college distribution allows.

Charlie asked whether ACF Nationals could be made easier and still distinguish top teams from one another. I believe it could be. For example, 3 of the top 5 teams at ACF Nationals this year also played ACF Regionals Mid-Atlantic, and I don't think anyone thought the order of finish was particularly crazy or illegitimate. To take another example, CRR (a tournament solidly in the nationals-minus range) recapitulated the order of finish for the top three teams at both Nationals in 2014.

However, for the case of national tournaments, I think this is the wrong question to ask. I still don't think national tournaments should be made easier than it was in 2014 or 2012, because at ACF Nationals and ICT, I think the competing interest of "having a wider range of answers for top teams" is actually more important than the interest of teams in the bottom bracket. I think this makes the tournament more interesting, educational, and finely-discriminating at the top. I also think that if a team is ready to show up to nationals, they're also ready to face a little canon expansion, learn some new material, and come back more prepared (or at least, they should be given the opportunity to do so). The only reason to lower the difficulty at a national event is if tons of tossups are going dead and/or bonus conversion is absurdly low in the top bracket, because "have-you-heard-of-this" bowl does equally little to grade teams as "have-you-not-forgotten-this-easy-clue" bowl.

I think this rule should only apply at ACF Nationals; I would be completely fine with ACF Regionals being made MUT-level to draw more teams in and for everyone to have more fun with it. However, national tournaments are the events every year that every school plays that really tests your might, and I think that's the way it should be.
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