Exclusion clues: when to use them, what they mean.

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Exclusion clues: when to use them, what they mean.

Post by Emil Nolde » Wed Dec 12, 2012 11:24 am

This post has been brought to you by a number of Jose Saramago toss-ups I have negged on around five times on, with my answer being 'Dostoyevsky'. I buzzed on 'The Double'. Fyodor Dostoyevsky did, in fact, write a novel called "The Double". As you can imagine, this then frustrates me.

However, I'm not enough of a novice to insist that it is the correct answer. What I would ask is: in what cases does the sameness of two clues on two different subjects necessitate that any question using either clue mention that the answer is specifically not a certain thing?

Should a clue that excludes certain answers come only as a lead-in, to prevent there from being multiple acceptable answers for the first line? A clue excluding those answers should definitely be present, however I think many people will agree that non-unique first clues that need such a disclaimer are a symptom of bad writing. The first clue if at all possible should refer to one and only one concept, person, work, etc.

How knowledgeable should players be expected to be about what the answer isn't? If a non-unique clue is used in a question, should players be expected to be able to compare the question so far with their knowledge of the subject that they are considering buzzing with, to see if it matches? In other words, what I'm asking for here is whether a player should buzz as soon as he or she can connect a single clue to a single answer, and assume that what was previously read is just something they weren't aware of, or whether a player should know that their prospective answer doesn't apply to previous clues, and therefore, it isn't the one the question is looking for.

If you don't expect players to be cautious, then at what point do you stop mentioning another topic that applies to a single clue for the simple reason that by that point too many big clues have been mentioned pertaining to one topic, and none have been pertaining to the incorrect one. For example, if William Wordsworth is tossed up, need you specifically mention that he collaborated with Samuel Taylor Coleridge on Lyrical Ballads, or could you expect players to realize that Coleridge did not write "I wandered lonely as a cloud", and that furthermore, if it was a question on him, that they probably would've mentioned Dejection: An Ode and something about a "stately pleasure-dome"?

What about more common titles? Multiple writers have produced works titled "The Little Prince", but only one of those really ever comes up. If you write a toss-up on Oscar Wilde, and mention that particular story, must you mention that the answer is not Saint-Exupery, or should players realize that "The Little Prince" would never come up so early in a question on him, as it is his best known work? There are a billion short stories titled "The country doctor", but should a player be expected to be as familiar with the subject as is the writer?
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Re: Exclusion clues:when to use them, what they mean.

Post by Auroni » Wed Dec 12, 2012 1:07 pm

I guess it wouldn't hurt to say "this non-Dostoevsky author of the double," but if you are only going off the title The Double, without knowing or considering the plot clues that came before it, then I don't have much sympathy for you. Also, the Oscar Wilde story is titled "The Happy Prince."
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Re: Exclusion clues:when to use them, what they mean.

Post by Sniper, No Sniping! » Wed Dec 12, 2012 5:52 pm

I don't think there's a problem with negging a question because you didn't know an earlier clue. Saramago's The Double is different from Dostoyevsky's The Double. I remember I got stung one time as a freshman when I negged a Hawthorne tossup on a clue of "this author of The Marble Faun" with Faulkner because I mistakenly had the "take your pick" mentality as opposed to actually learning the difference between the two.
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Re: Exclusion clues:when to use them, what they mean.

Post by UlyssesInvictus » Wed Dec 12, 2012 6:04 pm

I suppose I also agree with the mentality that players should know better than to guess, but I feel like that's still a fault of the question writer. If the player had the knowledge to discriminate between two works of the same name, they would presumably have buzzed in earlier on the description, which the writer should have included. The very fact that the question has run down to a later clue using only the title implies, logically, that the player didn't know enough to buzz earlier.

If it's just a matter of two works with the same title, then I like simply inserting "this non-Dostoyevsky author" best. It doesn't take much space and eliminates ambiguity. Of course, then you could go down a slippery slope suggesting you'd have to eliminate every single famous person even tangentially related to such a title, but I'd guess writers would have the common sense to tell between famous people and people no one would ever conceivably write a tossup on.

But it's just plain ridiculous to, using your example, expect players to know that Coleridge did not write "I wandered lonely as a cloud." Like I already said, if players knew that Wordsworth wrote it, they should have already buzzed, and expecting them to only know Coleridge didn't write it still leads into the guessing situation that could just as easily have been avoided.

Sometimes situations like this still come up, though, in which case I guess it turns to the player to just use common sense and not, say, answer with a 20th century writer when the question uses dates in the 1800s or give Lu Xun off of "Diary of a Madman" when only Russian names have been used in the tossup.
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Re: Exclusion clues:when to use them, what they mean.

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Dec 12, 2012 6:07 pm

thyringe_supine wrote: A clue excluding those answers should definitely be present, however I think many people will agree that non-unique first clues that need such a disclaimer are a symptom of bad writing. The first clue if at all possible should refer to one and only one concept, person, work, etc.
I don't think this is a symptom of bad writing at all, provided that an exclusion clue is inserted. If anything, it shows that the writer has adopted good practices: protecting pyramidality, thinking about how the player is likely to interpret the question, etc.
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Re: Exclusion clues:when to use them, what they mean.

Post by Cheynem » Wed Dec 12, 2012 7:07 pm

I think writers should use common sense. For clues which actually do apply to two people (like Lyrical Ballads), it's important to distinguish.

For things like The Marble Faun...well, Faulkner's Marble Faun is a poetry collection and Hawthorne's is a novel and they have almost nothing in common. In fact, I had never heard of Faulkner's Marble Faun until now. I would say in that case it is probably best to say "It's not Hawthorne, but" or stress that it is a poetry collection because saying "This man wrote a work called The Marble Faun" as your lead-in (besides being kind of a lame clue) will just incite negs.

My general policy is that I expect the people listening to the question to pay a modicum of attention to it (so if I give a 1920 date and then talk about marching on Rome later, you shouldn't neg with any classical figures) but not have to do a lot of mental gyrations to keep up with clues (so I can't just fling out a throwaway clue and then give non distinguishing clues about the Treaty of Verdun in a Charles the Bald tossup).
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Re: Exclusion clues:when to use them, what they mean.

Post by Pushkin's Beard » Wed Dec 12, 2012 9:08 pm

I feel like for the Lyrical Ballads (or any other collaboration for that matter) example it is important to say this man collaborated with (the other guy) to write lyrical ballads. I also think that even if you offer descriptions of a work you should still say through not (other guy who did something with the same title) because, especially if it is a painting, you might just think "oh i never noticed that before" or maybe just "that sounds kinda like it" and you buzz there and get negged. I feel like it is important to add the exclusion part because there is no downside and it avoids hoses.
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Re: Exclusion clues:when to use them, what they mean.

Post by Mewto55555 » Wed Dec 12, 2012 10:36 pm

On the other hand though, if there's stuff going on besides the tossup beginning "This author of The Double," you should be paying attention enough to go "man Tertuliano sure doesn't sound like a Russian dude." Then again, I also don't think straight-up title memorization is a Good Thing, so I'm OK with people getting negged if literally all they know is a title (though this has happened to me before).

This doesn't only happen in literature though -- a friend of mine used to only just memorize what he considered "stock clues" -- on a clue like (similar to the following example in substance, though I think very different in subject matter) "with his northwestern neighbor, this man signed the treaty of le goulet" he negged with King John and upsetedly complained that he thought "le goulet was a STOCK CLUE for King John." People should realize if they don't actually know things and are just memorizing word associations in an attempt to be some mostly-ineffective Chinese Room, they're going to lose points on occasion.

EDIT: fixed word order in example
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Re: Exclusion clues: when to use them, what they mean.

Post by Eddie » Thu Dec 13, 2012 12:46 am

One question I've had for a while - let's say I'm writing a tossup on Sigurd and I say something like "he's invulnerable everywhere except one of his shoulders." Is it better to include "He's not Achilles, but..." to prevent players from mistakenly buzzing before hearing "shoulders"?
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Re: Exclusion clues: when to use them, what they mean.

Post by UlyssesInvictus » Thu Dec 13, 2012 1:07 am

I reflex buzz a lot (helps win buzzer races!), so, yeah, I would have preferred an Achilles excluding clue, but I think the best way to do it here is to reword it "this figure's shoulders were his only weak spot," where beginning with shoulders precludes Achilles.
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Re: Exclusion clues:when to use them, what they mean.

Post by Jason Cheng » Thu Dec 13, 2012 2:31 am

Tokyo Sex Whale wrote:if you are only going off the title The Double, without knowing or considering the plot clues that came before it, then I don't have much sympathy for you.
Basically this. If the author/editors of the tossup are any decent, they should at least include some kind of plot detail that should be an immediate tip-off as to which author they're asking about, preferably before actually dropping the title "The Double." The plots of the two works themselves are quite different, and it's not like Portugese names sound anything like Russian names. The burden lies on both the tossup writer not to write vague lead-ins and on the player to actually know things.

Also, given that Lyrical Ballads tends to come near the FTP, players should probably realize the distinction between Wordsworth and Coleridge after hearing some 3-5 clues beforehand. Coleridge tended to be much more fantastical and dark with his settings, so as long as the tossup uses clues other than "This author wrote a poem about London," it's not a very difficult guess.
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Re: Exclusion clues:when to use them, what they mean.

Post by Auroni » Thu Dec 13, 2012 3:57 am

DJCocoPuffs wrote:Also, given that Lyrical Ballads tends to come near the FTP, players should probably realize the distinction between Wordsworth and Coleridge after hearing some 3-5 clues beforehand. Coleridge tended to be much more fantastical and dark with his settings, so as long as the tossup uses clues other than "This author wrote a poem about London," it's not a very difficult guess.
While I agree with you in the abstract (about it not being a flaw if people reflex buzz incorrectly on Lyrical Ballads without knowing any of Coleridge's poems), I think the specific example you chose as things that distinguish Coleridge and Wordsworth is flawed. It's unrealistic to expect that anyone will narrow down the answer pool because they keep hearing about "fantastical and dark" settings, even though those settings might certainly be a worthy topic for a cool paper. There are many authors that that could be true of.
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Re: Exclusion clues: when to use them, what they mean.

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Thu Dec 13, 2012 4:31 am

Co-authored works should always have some exclusionary clue. Tossups work under the assumption that if you have reached a late clue, you probably were unable to buzz on any earlier clues. Therefore saying that the person should know which co-author of Lyrical Ballads to buzz on because they should have recognized the poems that came earlier is bad logic. If they recognized those poems, they would have buzzed before Lyrical Ballads.

There are situations where you might want to use co-authored works as early or middle clues, but identifying the co-author that early would make it too easy. For example, I might want to write a Joseph Conrad tossup that includes his collaborations with Ford Madox Ford. If I say "With Ford Madox Ford, he wrote…", I give the game away. But if I do not use some kind of an exclusionary clue, whatever clue I write will be fairly unhelpful, because even players who recognize the work I'm describing will be not be sure who to buzz with. The solution is to try to find a workable exclusionary clue that doesn't name-drop. So, for example, I might say "With an English-born author, he wrote…", since that eliminates Ford without naming him, and giving the game away.

I agree that the Dostoevsky/Saramago situation should provide enough context to decide which one is correct. The protagonists Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin vs. Tertuliano Maximo Afonso should clear that up pretty easily. Context within the tossup will decide when exclusionary clues are needed, in most situations. If (hypothetically), in addition to Finn McCool, there were another mythological figure in a different myth system that notably burns his thumb, I would want to say "It's not Finn McCool, but…" if nothing in the tossup before clearly made Celtic myth an unreasonable guess. If I had dropped tons of names that are clearly from a completely different language or myth system, then it is reasonable to not give an exclusionary clue.
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Re: Exclusion clues: when to use them, what they mean.

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Thu Dec 13, 2012 9:44 am

UlyssesInvictus wrote:I reflex buzz a lot (helps win buzzer races!), so, yeah, I would have preferred an Achilles excluding clue, but I think the best way to do it here is to reword it "this figure's shoulders were his only weak spot," where beginning with shoulders precludes Achilles.
When you adopt any given quizbowl strategy, be it reflex buzzing, buzzing on word associations, or waiting until you are absolutely sure before you buzz, you assume the benefits and the risks of that strategy. Quizbowl writers have no obligation to reduce risk that you yourself have chosen to assume.
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Re: Exclusion clues: when to use them, what they mean.

Post by UlyssesInvictus » Thu Dec 13, 2012 11:16 am

Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:
When you adopt any given quizbowl strategy, be it reflex buzzing, buzzing on word associations, or waiting until you are absolutely sure before you buzz, you assume the benefits and the risks of that strategy. Quizbowl writers have no obligation to reduce risk that you yourself have chosen to assume.
Which I completely agree with. But in the context of ambiguous clues, shouldn't the writer be considering that given the objective goal of quizbowl is to buzz in (with the correct answer) before the other person and avoid punishing someone for recognizing a clue earlier? (i.e. practically a hose). Basically, I'm trying to avoid conflating these circumstances, in which a player concretely recognizes a clue and the stories for both possible answers, yet still has to guess, with frauding, in which the player doesn't concretely understand a single clue but is capable of word association.
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Re: Exclusion clues: when to use them, what they mean.

Post by theMoMA » Fri Dec 14, 2012 12:46 am

I agree with Bruce on his point about strategy, but we should also remember that quizbowl writers have an obligation to write questions that are empirically (and not ideally) playable. If a question plays confusingly, even though it ideally shouldn't, the writer should strive to do better in the future.

If we're talking about players who hear lots of obviously non-Russian names and still reflex-buzz with Dostoevsky when they hear "The Double," then sure, I'm fine with telling those players that that's just the way the cookie crumbles. But if we're talking about questions that are genuinely confusing to wide swaths of players, even those who aren't typically assuming risks through their playing style, we should probably make sure not to write questions like that in the future.
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