A unified theory of bonus leadins

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A unified theory of bonus leadins

Post by theMoMA » Sun Sep 27, 2015 6:47 pm

This isn't meant to be groundbreaking, but I don't recall seeing a post on this topic. I recently had occasion to write a packet of Minnesota legal history questions for a bunch of non-quizbowlers, and it got me thinking about the two main bonus structures and when each is appropriate.

(1) "One character in this novel...For 10 points each:"

This bonus leadin provides a specific clue for the first part. Whenever the bonus theme is self-evident, you should probably use this format, because it allows you to put in an extra clue and avoid superfluous language. By self-evident, I mean that the language of each bonus part is sufficient to establish the connection between the answer to that part and the text of the bonus that has already been read.

Consider this rudimentary example:
One character in this novel is in love with Lucy Manette. For 10 points each:
[10] Name this novel that begins "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
ANSWER: A Tale of Two Cities
[10] This British author of Oliver Twist wrote A Tale of Two Cities.
ANSWER: Charles Dickens
[10] At the end of A Tale of Two Cities, Sidney Carton takes the place of this Frenchman at the guillotine.
ANSWER: Charles Darnay [accept either underlined portion]
The question text does not have to strain to provide connections between each part. Players are very familiar with the "work/creator/related thing" bonus format; starting this bonus "Answer the following about a British novel, for 10 points each" would be entirely superfluous, because the text of the question fully establishes the connection between the three parts without the need for any overarching explanation.

(2) "Answer the following about..., for 10 points each."

In older packets, this format of bonus predominates. Although it's great to use the leadin to give players an extra clue whenever possible, this format remains appropriate when the theme of the bonus is not self-evident.

Consider the example below:
Answer the following about literature discussing the coal mining industry, for 10 points each.
[10] This Emile Zola novel, named for a month on the French Revolutionary Calendar, describes a coal miners' strike in France.
ANSWER: Germinal
[10] This author's upbringing in the coal mining town of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire inspired his short story "The Odour of Chrysanthemums."
ANSWER: D.H. Lawrence
[10] This nonfiction work by George Orwell, which describes the working class of northern England before World War II, contains an extended discussion of coal mining.
ANSWER: The Road to Wigan Pier
Although it's possible to write a bonus with this theme that begins with a clue about Germinal, it would likely have to connect each part with language to the effect of "another author who was inspired by coal mining" or "another book about coal mining," which is unnecessarily wordy and strained. I prefer announcing overarching connections in the leadin, because it lets the players know that the bonus will be looking for a set of answers that are related by a theme such as "coal mining" rather than the typical format where the three answers are related more intrinsically.

This is a good space to say that, although it used to be common practice for third bonus parts to take an eyeroll-worthy sharp left turn (i.e. "Another writer who had a protagonist named Dave was Jimmy Johnson, who wrote this novel about..."; perhaps these can be called Trygve Specials, after their #1 producer), writers should try to do a better job keeping the parts of their intrinsically themed bonuses more closely related to one another. If you need a whole clause to explain the connection, it's probably better to find something that's more tightly connected (or take a step back and write a bonus that begins "name these novelists who wrote about people named Dave").

Note that you should not say "answer these questions" unless you are actually going to have players answer questions (which end with question marks). I prefer "name the following [authors who wrote about coal mining or what have you]" or "answer the following about [books discussing coal mining or whatever]" or "name these [books about coal mining or whatever]."
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Re: A unified theory of bonus leadins

Post by Urech hydantoin synthesis » Sun Sep 27, 2015 7:09 pm

Perhaps an addendum to this, that is somewhat useful for writing questions, is that an imperative appears exactly once in most bonus questions - in the first style of bonus leadin, the beginning of the first part would start with something like "[10] Identify this....," and the other two parts do not. In the second leadin style, all three parts do not.
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Re: A unified theory of bonus leadins

Post by Cheynem » Sun Sep 27, 2015 9:05 pm

I'll defend the so-called "Trygve specials." You don't want this every bonus, but I think doing it allows for both a wider range of bonus topics and the ability to keep players at their toes a bit so the structure doesn't get too repetitive. I know some people really hate NAQT's mixed impure stuff, but I think it rewards a multiplicity of knowledge bases. To reiterate my range point, when you do a final part that is like "another literary character named Sydney..." allows for a hard part that would not be good for a full topic or for a way to put in an easy part on a slightly harder bonus (so the easy part is A Tale of Two Cities).
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Re: A unified theory of bonus leadins

Post by Ike » Mon Sep 28, 2015 12:02 am

I have seen a number of questions that begin like this:
In this* novel, Jay Gatz will often say "Good job, old sport." Answer some questions about The Great Gatsby, for 10 points each...
Let's avoid this; don't waste our time with the first clue.

Generally speaking, I agree with Andrew Hart, if you're going to have us answer the following about Kafka, whether it be a mixed impure academic bonus or not - I think it's a good idea to let players know what's coming up. The thing that classic NAQT did in the past that annoyed me was those curveballs - why shock everyone when you can ease them into it with a good bonus lead-in?

*On an unrelated note you're doing it wrong if you're using the word "this" for anything other than the answer. The one possible exception is if you're using quoted text and the word "this" appears in it. That's something I have seen a lot in packets,even otherwise good ones!, and it needs to stop.
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Re: A unified theory of bonus leadins

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Mon Sep 28, 2015 10:42 am

Wasn't the "One character in this novel...for 10 points each" bonus format largely popularized by early iterations of ACF Fall, for the express purpose of teaching more clues to novice players?

Even if that's just an urban legend (and what a lame urban legend to start), I'd like to plug the ability of that bonus format to serve that role. Even outside of novice events, I know that I've used it in super-hard bonuses to introduce more information about non-canonical things I'm asking about, in the hopes that somebody may learn something.
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Re: A unified theory of bonus leadins

Post by Irreligion in Bangladesh » Mon Sep 28, 2015 4:55 pm

I love this post. Following these styles is very important; knowing whether or not you need to start brainstorming your hard clues on the theme, or if that energy would just be wasted because the theme is common link and the other parts are going to bounce, is not just something that advanced players should be concerned with. If questions could consistently follow this (pretty simple!) guideline, high school coaches could prepare their teams to focus appropriately and not be surprised when part 3 is a hard character name from the book we just asked about in parts 1 and 2. From an educator's standpoint, that's big.

I do like all three styles of bonus described -- the A/A/A where all three parts are on the same theme, the A/B/C where it's common link on three separate ideas, and the A/A/B where the bonus switches for just the third part -- but I only think A/A/B is appropriate when it's not a swerve. To do that well, you should set up your leadin as A/B/C style that gives you that common link, rather than A/A/A where the specific clue given is likely not going to apply to the third part. That way, the A/A/B bonus that plays like an A/B/C bonus that just couldn't find a third different thing and took the easier way out by mining one of the things for two parts.

Example:
Answer the following about literature discussing the coal mining industry, for 10 points each.
[10] This novel, named for a month on the French Revolutionary Calendar, describes a coal miners' strike in France.
ANSWER: Germinal
[10] This author wrote Germinal.
ANSWER: Emile Zola
[10] This nonfiction work by George Orwell, which describes the working class of northern England before World War II, contains an extended discussion of coal mining.
ANSWER: The Road to Wigan Pier
This bonus ties Germinal and Wigan Pier together, and exploits "I've said Germinal, now name Zola" for an easy part. I much prefer Andrew's original example -- it's way more interesting, and not just because I was lazy and didn't put any other clues in my hypothetical 2nd part -- but if you're struggling to find a third idea for your common link, you aren't completely screwed. I wouldn't exploit this too often, though; it's just not as aesthetically pleasing as a good A/A/A or A/B/C.
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Re: A unified theory of bonus leadins

Post by theMoMA » Tue Sep 29, 2015 2:56 am

I appreciate the responses so far; they seem like mostly useful follow-ups. I especially appreciate Bruce's endorsement of the clue-laden leadin as teaching guide.

To Mike's point, although I see the utility in allowing the occasional sharp turn before the third bonus part, I think they're best avoided. At least when I write mixed questions, I tend to use the second sort of bonus leadin I identified (coming right out and saying "answer the following about mad scientists in Topeka, Kansas" or whatever). I find that this has the additional benefit of allowing me an outlet for my unending desire to find and write on amusing connections between disparate things that previously led to many dubious common-link tossups. I agree with Mike that the sharp turn can allow for the introduction of interesting material, so my counsel falls more on the "use sparingly" than the "NEVER!" side of things.

Another use for the "answer the following" bonus style that I've found extremely useful at all levels is to frame a bonus around a person or work that is too difficult to fit into a proper easy/medium/hard structure at the particular level.

When I'm writing a middle school sociology bonus, for example, I might hesitate to ask for Emile Durkheim as one of the answers. But if I have players answer three things about Durkheim (perhaps that he is French, discussed the division of labor, and wrote a monograph on suicide), things have suddenly opened up; I have a very cohesive theme and three answerable parts.

At the far other end of the spectrum, perhaps I'm very interested in the French sociologist Luc Boltanski, having just read a fascinating article about him. But perhaps I also (rightly) assume that he's beyond the pale for even an ICT-level hard part. I can still introduce and test for knowledge of important Boltanskian concepts in quizbowl by simply asking players to name some things about him in the leadin to my bonus.
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Re: A unified theory of bonus leadins

Post by theMoMA » Tue Sep 29, 2015 3:12 am

in on these shenanigans wrote:Example:
Answer the following about literature discussing the coal mining industry, for 10 points each.
[10] This novel, named for a month on the French Revolutionary Calendar, describes a coal miners' strike in France.
ANSWER: Germinal
[10] This author wrote Germinal.
ANSWER: Emile Zola
[10] This nonfiction work by George Orwell, which describes the working class of northern England before World War II, contains an extended discussion of coal mining.
ANSWER: The Road to Wigan Pier
This bonus ties Germinal and Wigan Pier together, and exploits "I've said Germinal, now name Zola" for an easy part. I much prefer Andrew's original example -- it's way more interesting, and not just because I was lazy and didn't put any other clues in my hypothetical 2nd part -- but if you're struggling to find a third idea for your common link, you aren't completely screwed. I wouldn't exploit this too often, though; it's just not as aesthetically pleasing as a good A/A/A or A/B/C.
I don't know if this excellent entry in PACE's Facebook series has reached the masses clamoring for discussion of quizbowl theory, but I think it's worth reposting here. The text below is Mike Bentley describing why he enjoys writing:
Mike Bentley wrote:My favorite part of quizbowl is writing questions. I love transforming something interesting I've come across into a tossup or bonus. I'm always on the lookout for new clues. My study (pictured) is stocked with over 8 different Ikea bookshelves worth of textbooks, single subject encyclopedias, novels, etc. I literally have a OneNote notebook with thousands of partially written questions and ideas for questions culled from a variety of sources over the years. A particularly rewarding experience is when I'm able to find a new way to approach a well-worn topic. My ideal weekend involves a heavy amount of reading, note taking, researching, and editing. Some of my favorite short vacations involve wandering around the streets of some city, buying a book or two at a used book store, and then flagging clues as I read the book in a cafe. In this way, certain questions and even tournaments get linked in my mind to times and places where I wrote them. Ultimately, I see question writing as an activity that has long since transcended work into my chief hobby.
Aside from the general sentiment, which I share almost 100%, I was really struck by Mike's use of a notebook as a holding pen for good question ideas that still need time to incubate. There are certainly plenty of times when a question of the sort that Brad has identified is useful and even perhaps necessary because of a pressing need. But I think there's a big value in writing that's lost when you say "screw it, I'm not going to wait around until I hear about a cool third part for this coal mining bonus; I'm making the second part Zola and calling it a day."

At any given time, I have about 50 latent ideas for questions kicking around in my head, just waiting for a third common factor to come along and close the loop. When that happens, and I find the perfect theme-completing idea, it feels great. (As long as I live, I'll never forget stumbling across the fact that "he who controls the spice controls the universe," allowing me to complete the platonic ideal NAQT mixed impure academic bonus on "controlling the universe," whose other parts were Diego Rivera and Andy Richter.) I encourage you to keep a notebook or OneNote document or whatever works for you, so you can write these ideas down and come back to them when you have acquired the knowledge needed to make them great.
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Re: A unified theory of bonus leadins

Post by ValenciaQBowl » Tue Sep 29, 2015 8:27 am

I also (rightly) assume that [Luc Boltanski is] beyond the pale for even an ICT-level hard part.
Not anymore! Besides, he's Christian Boltanski's brother! Add a third (easy) part on "holocaust" or "photography" and you've got your bonus.
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