What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

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What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Theodore » Sat Feb 15, 2014 9:34 pm

Good, pyramidal Quizbowl has come a long way in the last decade or so, but there are still regions where low-quality non-pyramidal questions are dominant (such as mine).

When I explain the merits of pyramidal Quizbowl to students, they quickly realize the value in it, and easily see why pyramidal is better than non-pyramidal. However, when the same merits are explained to coaches accustomed to the local non-pyramidal format, they reject pyramidal Quizbowl. My coach is one of these people; our team (myself included) strongly prefers pyramidal Quizbowl, yet our coach still insists we should focus on the low-quality non-pyramidal local format. She does not really give reasons why she prefers the non-pyramidal format.

So I ask the question: What are the main criticisms against pyramidal Quizbowl? By 'main', I refer to not only the strongest criticisms against, but also the criticisms most commonly encountered.

Is it that the questions are too long? Is it simply history/tradition? Those are the main two criticisms that come to my mind. I'm very interested in hearing what people have to say and what people have heard.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by samus149 » Sat Feb 15, 2014 10:33 pm

I don't know how it is in Canadia, but at least in New Jersey, there's two types of tournaments: quizbowl tournaments on the weekends, and non-pyramidal tournaments after school a few times a year (Chip or otherwise). There's a bit of overlap, but it seems that most non-pyramidal tournaments are not held on the weekends, so I'm gonna base the rest of this on that assumption.

It's far easier to run a non-pyramidal tournament than a pyramidal tournament. Take it from someone who has set up a non-pyramidal and attempted to set up a pyramidal tournament, it's way easier. Non-pyramidal, basically anyone can write the questions. For our tournament, we wrote the questions, and it took us a couple of days and an hour of editing. At other tournaments, we heard that the questions were all written by the librarians, or by the teachers. Questions are free of cost and free of hassle, and most schools just have each team bring a parent along as a reader. We also had an in-place pool of schools who had attended in the past and were within driving distance. To run a pyramidal tournament, you've gotta find a supplier and actually purchase the questions (which while it sounds easy isn't so easy for people who have no idea where to look), as well as find 12-18 competent people who can read paragraphs of questions and understand the format, all while using a score keeping system that isn't a couple of columns in Excel. You've also gotta check with the forums to see if you conflict with anyone else's tournament or an SAT date, as opposed to running a tournament on a weekday.

That being said, it's also easier to attend a non-pyramidal tournament. District funding is irritating to obtain on the best of days, but they do love when you go to a tournament you've gone to for the past 5 years or come home with a big, shiny trophy (side note: The size of the trophy is usually inversely correlated with the quality of the tournament. You should see our old NAC trophy!). They don't mind if they have to shell out a grand or two if they know where it's going. Also, put yourself in your coach's shoes. Would you rather hop on a bus and go to a tournament after school or wake up at 6 AM on a Saturday and drive an hour and a half to who knows where? (This is by no means an attack on your coach specifically, just a generality.)

The fact that coaches and teams want to practice on these kinds of questions follows directly from them being only willing to attend and/or run these kinds of tournaments. If all after school tournaments used pyramidal questions, this would probably be a different conversation.

As for practicing on pyramidal questions, just pester your coach again and again. It will work eventually. Or stage a coup. Or run a Skype/G+ practice to give the club exposure to pyramidal questions. On the plus side, every single person I've talked to who started out on non-pyramidal questions says that pyramidal questions are far superior, and that seems to be the case with your team as well, so the transition should be swift and painless.

tl;dr: After schools tournaments use non-pyramidal questions, so teams practice on them, and don't get exposure to pyramidal questions.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Ben Dillon » Sat Feb 15, 2014 10:39 pm

Our league switched to NAQT format this year, coming from a QU format. Cost prompted this switch, not any altruistic desire for pyramidal questions.

The #1 criticism is indeed length. (I don't really have the heart to tell the rest of the league that we're on A sets and MS sets, and the IS sets would be even longer.) After the first game, the organizer chopped our 1st and 3rd rounds from 8/8 each to 6/6 each at JV. He still thinks the games drag and that one team is sitting on its hands too long with the bonuses. I have tried to point out that the main difference is that the readers are much slower than at tournaments, and we stop to recognize the player who buzzes in.

The #2 criticism is that few matches seem to be competitive. If you generously define "competitive" to be final margins of 100 or less, only 6 games out of 28 played in the regular season at the varsity level and 11/28 at the JV level fit that description. Only one game of 56 went to overtime. My take on this is that the fact that pyramidal tossups favor teams with deeper knowledge is going to create more blowouts because the team getting the tossups right is probably also converting lots of the bonuses, inflating the margin.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Theodore » Sat Feb 15, 2014 10:58 pm

samus149 wrote: The fact that coaches and teams want to practice on these kinds of questions follows directly from them being only willing to attend and/or run these kinds of tournaments. If all after school tournaments used pyramidal questions, this would probably be a different conversation.

As for practicing on pyramidal questions, just pester your coach again and again. It will work eventually. Or stage a coup. Or run a Skype/G+ practice to give the club exposure to pyramidal questions. On the plus side, every single person I've talked to who started out on non-pyramidal questions says that pyramidal questions are far superior, and that seems to be the case with your team as well, so the transition should be swift and painless.

tl;dr: After schools tournaments use non-pyramidal questions, so teams practice on them, and don't get exposure to pyramidal questions.
Great points on the ease of running and attending non-pyramidal tournaments--never thought about those before. Thanks! However, our coach doesn't attend pyramidal tournaments, so I don't think this is the cause.

Most of our practices are on pyramidal questions because our coach isn't there most of the time (our team situation is confusing). I'm mainly concerned about funding--if we moved all of our money spent on the costly non-pyramidal tournaments to pyramidal Quizbowl, we'd have more money to spend on good Quizbowl, and we'd be more financially able to attend nationals.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Benin Rebirth Party » Sun Feb 16, 2014 1:19 am

I've been playing since 2008 and I've enjoyed pyramidal quizbowl as the form of question competition. Yet being in a region (same as Ted) with a dominant local format, I've seen my fair share of complaints, which other people have well elaborated.
samus149 wrote: We also had an in-place pool of schools who had attended in the past and were within driving distance. To run a pyramidal tournament, you've gotta find a supplier and actually purchase the questions (which while it sounds easy isn't so easy for people who have no idea where to look), as well as find 12-18 competent people who can read paragraphs of questions and understand the format, all while using a score keeping system that isn't a couple of columns in Excel.
Ted and I are from a region that can hold a well staffed, well run tournament with the snap of a finger and still be opposed by many of the schools, yet two weeks ago we had a housewritten tournament in the local format (similar to :chip: type questions) and it was very well attended. One of the complaints I have heard other people receiving is that the teams that win must be somehow cheating because they can consistently answer regular difficulty tossups halfway through the tossup.
Also, when I was doing logistics for the local format tournament (out of my control, I had pleaded at least twice to mirror a platinum housewritten set or do an NAQT-IS), I was pressured to do something more than just standard ACF style finals format because that's not what teams come to these tournaments for; just play a 11 game round robin and no playoff games. I don't know if that's a factor or not in other places, but certainly played a role in that tournament. Although not directly related to the style of question, could the "good quizbowl" format play a role in popularity? I think the "fun" aspect of :chip: and equivalent formats is removed in most pyramidal quizbowl sets, save the odd GK tossup in an NAQT set, especially in the housewrites that use very little or almost no trash.
Furthermore, it's not really a criticism, but some coaches don't see why pyramidal questions must run a monopoly on the Saturday tournaments, citing the merits of both formats, even though there isn't. It's not that they have anything against playing quizbowl, it's just that they don't see why people can't get exposed to different formats.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by samus149 » Sun Feb 16, 2014 2:26 am

pandabear555 wrote: One of the complaints I have heard other people receiving is that the teams that win must be somehow cheating because they can consistently answer regular difficulty tossups halfway through the tossup.
This is pretty much the biggest complaint I've heard, and one that does have a bit of legitimacy (not the cheating part). It is essentially impossible to get good enough at pyramidal quizbowl (at least in high school) to be strongly competitive without first having done at least some practice on pyramidal questions. Even if the questions are geared towards accessibility, that still means you have to sit through someone saying 2-3 sentences that you can't understand in order to reach the part that you can. This can definitely be off putting to teams who only compete a couple of times a year and just want a series of one-line questions on things that they would have learned in school and nowhere else.
pandabear555 wrote: Also, when I was doing logistics for the local format tournament (out of my control, I had pleaded at least twice to mirror a platinum housewritten set or do an NAQT-IS), I was pressured to do something more than just standard ACF style finals format because that's not what teams come to these tournaments for; just play a 11 game round robin and no playoff games.
I can vouch for the fact that not being in the top playoff bracket really makes the rest of the day feel pointless, cause you know that there's no chance you can win first. That's probably why some teams like alternate formats (like a 2 day prelims-playoffs), even if they can't play for the full duration of the tournament, as they know that they won't be wasting their time.

Of course, it's also not fun to just play a series of games and have the winner crowned by points. Single elimination, while it isn't fair, is definitely exciting.
pandabear555 wrote: Although not directly related to the style of question, could the "good quizbowl" format play a role in popularity? I think the "fun" aspect of :chip: and equivalent formats is removed in most pyramidal quizbowl sets, save the odd GK tossup in an NAQT set, especially in the housewrites that use very little or almost no trash.
Trash players at my school seem to be satisfied with IS levels of CE and pop culture, and are almost always annoyed by the kind that shows up in :chip: questions, what with his obsession with things that make sure he looks over 50.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Theodore » Sun Feb 16, 2014 9:40 am

Ben Dillon wrote: The #1 criticism is indeed length. (I don't really have the heart to tell the rest of the league that we're on A sets and MS sets, and the IS sets would be even longer.) After the first game, the organizer chopped our 1st and 3rd rounds from 8/8 each to 6/6 each at JV. He still thinks the games drag and that one team is sitting on its hands too long with the bonuses. I have tried to point out that the main difference is that the readers are much slower than at tournaments, and we stop to recognize the player who buzzes in.
Pyramidal Quizbowl's pace (I feel like I'm making a pun whenever I say 'pace' in reference to Quizbowl) is still exciting and energetic to me, but I understand why somebody newly exposed to pyramidal questions would find them too long, slow-paced, etc. I find that people adjust very quickly though; after playing on 8+ line tossups at a VCU Open mirror, IS-A and even IS feel too short, while 5-7 line tossups feel just right.

However, from the coaches' perspectives, is question length really that important? Does the typical teacher coach not value learning and knowledge over pace/excitement?
pandabear555 wrote: Also, when I was doing logistics for the local format tournament (out of my control, I had pleaded at least twice to mirror a platinum housewritten set or do an NAQT-IS), I was pressured to do something more than just standard ACF style finals format because that's not what teams come to these tournaments for; just play a 11 game round robin and no playoff games. I don't know if that's a factor or not in other places, but certainly played a role in that tournament.
Would re-bracketing into upper and lower pools suffice? Also, 11 games is quite generous compared to other local format tournaments, which offer much fewer games.
samus149 wrote: Trash players at my school seem to be satisfied with IS levels of CE and pop culture
Same situation at my school. My coach likes pop culture, but shouldn't teachers value knowledge and learning, and thus should prefer the academic distribution of pyramidal Quizbowl over the trash-heavy distribution of the local format?

Your mention of current events reminds me of how the amount of Canadian content in my local format is absurdly high, probably rivalling VETO. Generally people have no problem with American history, but aren't too pleased by the American current politics questions. Is patriotism a reason why the local Canadian format is so popular compared to pyramidal Quizbowl? The local format is deeply rooted in our history, and the coaches probably like the Canadian content. Although I doubt that coaches are nationalist to the extent that they shun pyramidal Quizbowl because it's American, I think this is a factor. There are no Canadian-created pyramidal questions, and there is no Canadian Quizbowl Championship, although hopefully both of these will change in the near future
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by zachary_yan » Sun Feb 16, 2014 2:04 pm

Although this article from slate magazine is about college ACF nationals, some of the criticisms apply to pyramidal as a whole. Basically, pyramidal questions can sometimes become a ratrace to see who can come up with the most "obscure" lead in clues, ensuring that no one, not to mention beginning players, will be able to successfully buzz in until after listening to a bunch of apparently useless information.

There's also this interview with :chip: himself in which he claims:
Chip Beall wrote:Yeah… I can’t define it right now, but I know it when I see it. A bit of information that’s just totally worthless; and why are you wasting people’s time with it. I hope we don’t waste people’s time with information. I know we don’t, uh, do as much “arcana” as our competitors.
... starting a pyramidal question with a sentence that well, for want of a better word, is trivia rather than significa; is arcane, is obscure… We come from a television background, we think that this should be a, y’know, a sport for an audience to watch, play along with. Just like Jeopardy!.
full interview can be found here
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by magin » Mon Feb 17, 2014 3:00 pm

zachary_yan wrote:Although this article from slate magazine is about college ACF nationals, some of the criticisms apply to pyramidal as a whole. Basically, pyramidal questions can sometimes become a ratrace to see who can come up with the most "obscure" lead in clues, ensuring that no one, not to mention beginning players, will be able to successfully buzz in until after listening to a bunch of apparently useless information.
As someone who was quoted in that article, I want to clarify a few things about this topic. The problem here is barrier to entry: ideally, your tossups should allow people to buzz in when they are reasonably informed about the answers. If your tossups are prohibitively difficult for your audience, and no one is able to buzz in before the very end, or not at all, you've lost all the benefits of writing pyramidal questions, and you've essentially written a bunch of one-line speed checks.

The point of pyramidal questions is that if you're interested in a topic and learn about it, your knowledge can be rewarded and you can improve. If you use clues that no one playing your tournament will reasonably know, those clues waste everyone's time. If you're not confident that a player could reasonably buzz on a clue, it's not worth including. But if you reuse obscure clues that people would only reasonably know from studying past questions, you've placed a major barrier to entry on players who don't data-mine previous tournaments.

When people on this board talk about pyramidal tossups, it's usually a shorthand for "tossups on reasonable answers full of buzzable clues without any artificial barrier of entry." Pyramidal questions on inappropriately hard answers or tossups full of obscurata and hard clues mindlessly copied from previous tournaments aren't "good quizbowl." They have the form of good questions, but they're essentially cargo cult tossups that reveal little to no understanding of why good questions are considered high-quality.

In short, pyramidal != good. Pyramidality is a necessary, but not sufficient quality for good tossups.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by cchiego » Mon Feb 17, 2014 3:55 pm

For what it's worth, the mailings Chip is sending out to HS teams now advertise that NAC is "100% Pyramidal." Apparently, the loss of much of his financial base has changed his philosophy, though I suspect his idea of pyramidal is closer to the bad pyramidal that Magin describes above.

Criticisms of pyramidal quizbowl tend to come from people who are lazy and/or stupid. No anti-pyramidality person has ever won an actual argument on the merits of pyramidality being bad.

Also, smart students with no quiz bowl experience can do quite well in pyramidal quiz bowl. Here's a team that had never played before and never practiced on pyramidal questions before doing quite well on SCOP a few weekends ago.

Complaints about slowness often stem from less-than-competent readers and/or TDs, not from the questions themselves.

There are often things wrong with some pyramidal tournaments, but pyramidality itself is not one of them.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Great Bustard » Mon Feb 17, 2014 4:20 pm

TedGan wrote:There are no Canadian-created pyramidal questions, and there is no Canadian Quizbowl Championship, although hopefully both of these will change in the near future
IHBB (International History Bee and Bowl) is likely to inaugurate a Canadian division next year. This would entail regionals in about 8-10 areas (BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Windsor, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax or so) initially, and ultimately grow within 2-3 years to every province and territory, with multiple question sets being used. And yes, we will go recruit in Nunavut too. There would also be a Canadian National Championship, somewhere in the Toronto or Ottawa area. I'd put the likelihood of this starting next year at around 80-90%; we should know for certain by sometime in May. These tournaments would feature roughly 20% Canadian history, 10% US history, 70% rest of the world, at least initially. If there's a demand for more Canadian content, that could get increased.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Benin Rebirth Party » Mon Feb 17, 2014 8:31 pm

Standard-winged Nightjar wrote:
TedGan wrote:There are no Canadian-created pyramidal questions, and there is no Canadian Quizbowl Championship, although hopefully both of these will change in the near future
IHBB (International History Bee and Bowl) is likely to inaugurate a Canadian division next year. This would entail regionals in about 8-10 areas (BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Windsor, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax or so) initially, and ultimately grow within 2-3 years to every province and territory, with multiple question sets being used. And yes, we will go recruit in Nunavut too. There would also be a Canadian National Championship, somewhere in the Toronto or Ottawa area. I'd put the likelihood of this starting next year at around 80-90%; we should know for certain by sometime in May. These tournaments would feature roughly 20% Canadian history, 10% US history, 70% rest of the world, at least initially. If there's a demand for more Canadian content, that could get increased.
That's great news!!! Although I'd move any possible Windsor site further east to the London/Waterloo area.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Ben Dillon » Mon Feb 17, 2014 8:36 pm

cchiego wrote:For what it's worth, the mailings Chip is sending out to HS teams now advertise that NAC is "100% Pyramidal."
Chip's website also says, "Math calculation questions, of course, make great tossups, and can only be made pyramidal artificially." By this, he means that, once the tossup is complete and the question is asked, e.g. "What is 5^5?", the team with the deeper math knowledge will get to it fastest.

It's still a buzzer race, just a mile run instead of a dash.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Theodore » Mon Feb 17, 2014 8:56 pm

Standard-winged Nightjar wrote: IHBB (International History Bee and Bowl) is likely to inaugurate a Canadian division next year. This would entail regionals in about 8-10 areas (BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Windsor, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax or so) initially, and ultimately grow within 2-3 years to every province and territory, with multiple question sets being used. And yes, we will go recruit in Nunavut too. There would also be a Canadian National Championship, somewhere in the Toronto or Ottawa area. I'd put the likelihood of this starting next year at around 80-90%; we should know for certain by sometime in May. These tournaments would feature roughly 20% Canadian history, 10% US history, 70% rest of the world, at least initially. If there's a demand for more Canadian content, that could get increased.
I'm really excited for this! And I'm not even the history specialist on my team; he's even happier. I'm optimistic that this will do wonders in helping good Quizbowl spread to Canada. However, I would warn not to go too overboard with the Canadian content (not saying that 20% is too much/too little; I'm not really a good judge at this). Increased Canadian content is great, but I'm just afraid there'd be too much "catering" to Canadians at the expense of relevant American and world content.

As with Joe, I would recommend London or Waterloo over Windsor; Windsor is a bit too far west.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by ScoBo » Mon Feb 17, 2014 10:58 pm

cchiego wrote:Complaints about slowness often stem from less-than-competent readers and/or TDs, not from the questions themselves.
Slowness of tournaments is a big source of complaints in Missouri. I'm not aware of too many teams in the state that are truly against pyramidal quizbowl. Of course, there is some confirmation bias in that I hear almost nothing about non-pyramidal tournaments, since pretty much everything that has information posted online is pyramidal, etc. Most of the complaints we get seem to be due to tournaments taking too long, which some may blame on the length of the questions, but when things run smoothly, you hardly hear complaints about the questions.

This is particularly a problem for us in Kansas City, where I am one of only 2 MOQBA members in the area (and before this season was the only one). While more hosts have been switching away from the MSHSAA format (and similar four quarter formats) into 20/20 in recent years (mainly because NAQT is the MSHSAA state question provider, so everyone wants to use NAQT questions), the tournaments that I help with that run a normal bracketed prelim/playoff+consolation schedule take longer than they should because we have to rely on a lot of less-experienced parents and teachers moderating (with various degrees of training). Nearly all of the schools participating in these events have never seen the efficiently run events that we are typically able to deliver in central Missouri and St. Louis with so many more experienced staffers available, so they push for fewer rounds or shorter questions. The presence of experienced staffers in the central/St. Louis areas also seems to rub off on the students and coaches, who are then able to put on similarly efficient events with less direct help, resulting in a nice positive feedback loop that we don't seem to have the resources to get started in KC.

There are at least 4 tournaments in the KC/Northwest MO area this year that use NAQT questions (IS or A set) with a strong MSHSAA influence - two use an IS set in 20/20 with single elimination playoffs, one definitely reformats an A-set to a different format, and I think the other one will be another A-set converted to MSHSAA format. I think all of these tournaments also use MSHSAA bonus timing - 10 seconds for the first team and 5 seconds on the rebound, which makes games drag on unbearably long - having read games under both timing rules, it's borderline painful to read under the longer MSHSAA timing rules, and teams don't seem to benefit much points-wise from having the extra time. I think these tournaments tend to be received more favorably by teams in the area - fewer rounds means the tournament gets done quicker, single-elim means teams that don't make the playoffs go home like they're used to at MSHSAA-format tournaments instead of playing consolation rounds that can tend to drag on with less-experienced moderators, etc. Teams want an efficiently-run tournament - if using one-liners and single elimination accomplishes that, then they'll tend to prefer that.

I think if these KC area teams could see a couple of well-run tournaments that can keep rounds close to 30 minutes, the majority of them would be more supportive of the principles behind good pyramidal quizbowl and be less likely to suggest things like dropping rounds or consolation, going to single elimination, etc. It's been a while since I've heard of a team complaining about consolation in the central MO or St. Louis areas, and I think the better availability of experienced staff making tournaments more efficient in those areas has a lot to do with it.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Deviant Insider » Mon Feb 17, 2014 11:21 pm

My experience is that coaches prefer nonpyramidal quizbowl for three reasons:
1) Their goal is to win a nonpyramidal tournament, so they focus on whatever will be similar to that tournament.
2) They are often forced to moderate and don't want to read through the long questions.
3) They don't value the information included in pyramidal questions and prefer a focus on stuff that is easier to learn such as titles. This is sometimes because they don't believe their students are interested in learning more material.

I used to occasionally read quizbowl questions in some of my classes when there was five or ten minutes to waste. I found in those cases that nonpyramidal questions worked better because the students just wanted to yell out answers to question after question. They weren't interested in making sure that the most knowledgeable student was the one who answered the question first, and they weren't interested in learning more about the answerline so that they could get that question ahead of somebody else in the off chance that it ever came up again. I imagine that being on a team that only plays once or twice a year isn't all that different from being a student in my class who spends a total of 30 minutes during the year answering questions.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Theodore » Tue Feb 18, 2014 7:26 pm

ether a go-go wrote:My experience is that coaches prefer nonpyramidal quizbowl for three reasons:
1) Their goal is to win a nonpyramidal tournament, so they focus on whatever will be similar to that tournament.
2) They are often forced to moderate and don't want to read through the long questions.
3) They don't value the information included in pyramidal questions and prefer a focus on stuff that is easier to learn such as titles. This is sometimes because they don't believe their students are interested in learning more material.

I used to occasionally read quizbowl questions in some of my classes when there was five or ten minutes to waste. I found in those cases that nonpyramidal questions worked better because the students just wanted to yell out answers to question after question. They weren't interested in making sure that the most knowledgeable student was the one who answered the question first, and they weren't interested in learning more about the answerline so that they could get that question ahead of somebody else in the off chance that it ever came up again. I imagine that being on a team that only plays once or twice a year isn't all that different from being a student in my class who spends a total of 30 minutes during the year answering questions.
Reason 1 is probably one of the biggest factors. The non-pyramidal local format is seen as a more prestigious/legitimate tournament due to its history. However, it really shouldn't be seen as such due to its many shortcomings.

Reason 2 is a plausible one, although it doesn't apply to my region, where numerous Quizbowl players from uOttawa and Carleton (huge shout-out to these people!) provide enough staff so that parents and teachers never have to read or keep score.

Not so sure about reason 3. I understand that the average student in your class prefers non-pyramidal questions, but if a student voluntarily comes to Quizbowl practices regularly, to me that demonstrates that they value learning. In addition, I believe most teachers value the information of pyramidal questions; the nature of their profession dictates that they should value knowledge. Of course, I'm making the assumption that all teacher coaches and Quizbowl players take part in the game because they value the learning aspect of Quizbowl the most, but this isn't necessarily true for everybody. That being said, I think it applies to most players I know, and I hope this is true throughout the Quizbowl community. Not implying that the many other aspects of Quizbowl aren't important, but to me, Quizbowl is rooted on learning and learning to love learning.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by zachary_yan » Wed Feb 19, 2014 2:16 pm

magin wrote: The point of pyramidal questions is that if you're interested in a topic and learn about it, your knowledge can be rewarded and you can improve. If you use clues that no one playing your tournament will reasonably know, those clues waste everyone's time. If you're not confident that a player could reasonably buzz on a clue, it's not worth including. But if you reuse obscure clues that people would only reasonably know from studying past questions, you've placed a major barrier to entry on players who don't data-mine previous tournaments.
Although players should "reasonably" know lead in clues from research they've done, from what I've seen on Youtube, it still seems like almost every TU at ACF nationals are unanswered in the first two sentences by even the best teams. I get that this is supposed to discourage buzzer races but lots of relatively unanswerable clues is still a criticism.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Cheynem » Wed Feb 19, 2014 2:17 pm

Well...yes. At literally one of the hardest (collegiate!) tournaments in the year people are not going to be buzzing on a lot of lead-ins (they do, of course, whether they were in the videos are not). That is neither here nor there in discussing the majority of quizbowl, let alone HIGH SCHOOL quizbowl.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Wed Feb 19, 2014 3:29 pm

You should also keep in mind that the videos you're watching only show one game of the packet being played in one room, between just two teams. Across the 18 or so rooms where 36 teams played that same packet during each round of the tournament, the likelihood of one or more of those teams buzzing on the early clues across all of the rooms shoots way up. Certainly once you get down to high school difficulty (which is where basically all remaining opponents of pyramidality actually are), I can guarantee you that an extremely high percentage of the early clues in an IS-set, HSAPQ tournament set, etc. will be buzzed on by at least one of the 200+ teams playing it at multiple sites nationwide.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Chef Curry » Fri Feb 21, 2014 12:14 am

I'm not very educated on this topic, but I'd like to offer my opinion. When I was playing in middle school, I absolutely loathed the CHIP questions. They seemed way too short and I sometimes felt like I wasn't getting enough information to give an answer. Not to mention that there were some ridiculous answer lines, I distinctly remember a question that asked us to spell the word "ghetto". Come high school, I was exposed to NAQT style pyramidal questions and I immediately liked them a lot better. One, because I actually felt as if I was given a appropriate amount of information to enable me to answer a question, and two, because(alongside my extreme competitivness) one of the main reasons that I enjoy quiz bowl is that I learn new information while playing/practicing, and I feel as if playing with short questions does not expose you to as much information. So no, I don't have any complaints about the length, or really anything about pyramidal questions in general.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by jonah » Tue Feb 25, 2014 12:42 am

I had an epiphany about critics of pyramidal questions a few years ago when I staffed a tournament in of northwestern Illinois. It was on an IS set that did a reasonable job of hitting normal high school difficulty, but a third to a half of the tossups were going dead, and almost none of them were answered before the end. I saw three powers all day, two of them on trash. Easier questions would have been more appropriate for that field, but there is a limit to how easy one can go.

What I realized is that many critics of pyramidal questions have only seen matches like this, where the early clues are completely wasted. The point of pyramidal questions is to determine which team has more knowledge, but if neither team has any knowledge, there's no point. That sounds harsh, but as I said, on a third to a half of the questions, neither team did have any knowledge! So there's no point in wasting their time with a few extra sentences; you may as well skip to the giveaway, since questions are essentially never answered before then.

Most of us on this board seldom or never see matches like that, but they are common, and we should keep that in mind.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Irreligion in Bangladesh » Tue Feb 25, 2014 12:53 am

Having been at that particular tournament Jonah mentions both in the era he speaks of (he went in 2009, I went in 2008) and more recently (each of the last two years), the growth of that particular part of the Illinois circuit is remarkable.

Here are the stats from this year's event, and though 8 teams failed to reach 10 points per bonus (four of those teams were B teams), powers are now no longer a "once every other round" event and the competition at the top of the field is on "who can more consistently get the middle part of bonuses" now, rather than "who can more consistently get the easy part." Numerous coaches were vocally opposed to the change to pyramidal questions, and a small number of them still are, but as good quizbowl crowds out bad quizbowl, teams prepare on pyramidal questions for pyramidal tournaments and perform better than they ever did before at non-pyramidal events.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Great Bustard » Wed Feb 26, 2014 12:55 am

jonah wrote:I had an epiphany about critics of pyramidal questions a few years ago when I staffed a tournament in of northwestern Illinois. It was on an IS set that did a reasonable job of hitting normal high school difficulty, but a third to a half of the tossups were going dead, and almost none of them were answered before the end. I saw three powers all day, two of them on trash. Easier questions would have been more appropriate for that field, but there is a limit to how easy one can go.

What I realized is that many critics of pyramidal questions have only seen matches like this, where the early clues are completely wasted. The point of pyramidal questions is to determine which team has more knowledge, but if neither team has any knowledge, there's no point. That sounds harsh, but as I said, on a third to a half of the questions, neither team did have any knowledge! So there's no point in wasting their time with a few extra sentences; you may as well skip to the giveaway, since questions are essentially never answered before then.

Most of us on this board seldom or never see matches like that, but they are common, and we should keep that in mind.
This is an excellent point, and I think it's often easy for people to lose sight of this. That said, it's not that those teams had no knowledge, it's just that it seemed that way. The questions we use for our international tournaments have incredibly accessible answer lines, are shorter than what we use in the US, have more trash, and often the scores are still relatively low. When a team that would probably rank around the cusp of breaking into the Morlan rankings (namely, Shanghai American School Puxi) encounters these questions, they can put up a 580-30 game, as they did on Saturday. That's the rare exception, though. And as teams get better, scaling up the difficulty is easy enough to do.
But in areas new to quizbowl, or where there still are no teams in the top 200 nationally, it's far more important that questions are made accessible. Personally, I think NAQT A Sets are even too hard for many teams. Having a reworked A set version (perhaps with fewer packets - in most new areas, 10 rounds is more than enough) where the more accessible answerlines are consolidated might be something worth considering.
Another thought. When we pitch pyramidal quizbowl internationally, we emphasize the critical thinking aspect of the early parts of the question. That helps people see that even if students aren't ringing in at that point, at least the wheels are turning. An appeal to higher order thinking skills is often key in getting schools to see the value in this beyond it being seen as a trivia contest.
Finally, though, don't forget the appeal of excellence. The existence of quizbowl is a crowning glory of the US education system, and the fact that the "average" team gets better each year flies in the face of the standard narrative about declining test scores and the like. The point of quizbowl shouldn't be to get students test scores up, but rather, it's a welcome example of the US education system succeeding and being world-beating, in at least one respect. That, however, only occurs when the effort gets put in and rewarded. Pyramidal quizbowl rewards that effort and encourages it. Using these sorts of arguments can be effective for people who initially find pyramidal quizbowl off-putting. Few people are going to stick up for mediocrity in the face of excellence elsewhere.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by AKKOLADE » Wed Feb 26, 2014 7:07 am

jonah wrote:I had an epiphany about critics of pyramidal questions a few years ago when I staffed a tournament in of northwestern Illinois. It was on an IS set that did a reasonable job of hitting normal high school difficulty, but a third to a half of the tossups were going dead, and almost none of them were answered before the end. I saw three powers all day, two of them on trash. Easier questions would have been more appropriate for that field, but there is a limit to how easy one can go.

What I realized is that many critics of pyramidal questions have only seen matches like this, where the early clues are completely wasted. The point of pyramidal questions is to determine which team has more knowledge, but if neither team has any knowledge, there's no point. That sounds harsh, but as I said, on a third to a half of the questions, neither team did have any knowledge! So there's no point in wasting their time with a few extra sentences; you may as well skip to the giveaway, since questions are essentially never answered before then.

Most of us on this board seldom or never see matches like that, but they are common, and we should keep that in mind.
I agree with this post. I think the low point for a tournament I ran before I left WV was when I had a match go into OT on the very difficulty appropriate HSAPQ 4Q set and couldn't get the score broken, despite reading about 7 tossups, some of which I started picking out the easy answer lines for. Granted this, was like a small school's B team vs someone else's C team, but all the same, it's a thing that happens. I'm of the opinion that conversion stats from something like the WV state championship should be weighted more than the Illinois state championship on the same NAQT set.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Theodore » Wed Feb 26, 2014 5:49 pm

Standard-winged Nightjar wrote: But in areas new to quizbowl, or where there still are no teams in the top 200 nationally, it's far more important that questions are made accessible. Personally, I think NAQT A Sets are even too hard for many teams. Having a reworked A set version (perhaps with fewer packets - in most new areas, 10 rounds is more than enough) where the more accessible answerlines are consolidated might be something worth considering.
I've seen a lot of past discussions on these boards about "stepping-stone" theory (I think that's what people called it), that we need more accessible questions for more outreach. The general consensus on this subject is that this "stepping-stone" theory is false/been refuted, but I personally don't know too much about this. Could people please offer their opinions on this?
Standard-winged Nightjar wrote: Another thought. When we pitch pyramidal quizbowl internationally, we emphasize the critical thinking aspect of the early parts of the question. That helps people see that even if students aren't ringing in at that point, at least the wheels are turning. An appeal to higher order thinking skills is often key in getting schools to see the value in this beyond it being seen as a trivia contest.
How exactly do you create more opportunity for critical thinking in early clues?
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Important Bird Area » Wed Feb 26, 2014 6:52 pm

My impression is that most complaints about "stepping stone theory" revolved around how to introduce college players to the game. I don't think anyone disputes that "using one of the easier high school sets" is the best way to reach out to high schools playing quizbowl for the first time.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by relaxationutopia » Sat Mar 01, 2014 7:38 pm

Fake knowledge triumphs in pyramidal way to often.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by RexSueciae » Sat Mar 01, 2014 11:30 pm

The overuse of quizbowlese might turn off new teams; then again, the use of certain turns of phrase isn't unique to pyramidal questions, and I'm not sure if teams unfamiliar with the culture would be able to articulate the specific notion of "quizbowlese."
relaxationutopia wrote:Fake knowledge triumphs in pyramidal way to often.
As opposed to nonpyramidal quizbowl, where "knowledge" is barely even required? (Unless you're referring to stock clues, but that's an entirely different kettle of fish.)
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Great Bustard » Thu Mar 06, 2014 2:30 am

Ted Gan wrote:
Standard-winged Nightjar wrote: Another thought. When we pitch pyramidal quizbowl internationally, we emphasize the critical thinking aspect of the early parts of the question. That helps people see that even if students aren't ringing in at that point, at least the wheels are turning. An appeal to higher order thinking skills is often key in getting schools to see the value in this beyond it being seen as a trivia contest.
How exactly do you create more opportunity for critical thinking in early clues?
The first part of many questions aren't going to be gettable for (in many cases) the overwhelming majority of players. That doesn't mean though, that those clues are useless. Rather, if students pick up on certain words, phrases, or facts within the first 1-3 lines of a question, then they start thinking about what the question could conceivably be going for. So ideally, the wheels start turning as players parse the questions as they're being read. That's the value in having opening lines that are otherwise rather obscure and well beyond the scope of a curriculum. For history questions, references early on in a question to certain dates, linguistic clues, geographic clues, contemporaneous events or figures in history, etc. all help a knowledgeable player figure out what the answer could be before a clue appears which they know 100%. And often, if the player waits that long, then someone else will have rung in of course. So the critical thinking / strategic side here is to figure it out through context and consider when the appropriate time to buzz will be. That makes for a far more intellectually stimulating exercise and rewards critical thinking. We want people to see that NHBB/IHBB isn't a history trivia quiz but rather a way for students to be rewarded for what they know in the classroom, and to encourage them to explore new aspects of history- all in a fun, but intellectually challenging way. Teachers and administrators are all about critical thinking and higher-order learning skills. It's vital for the growth of quizbowl to emphasize those aspects, especially when dealing with new schools. If couched in these terms, getting new schools to sign onto pyramidal quizbowl should be easier than other forms of quizbowl that don't incorporate such questions.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by zachary_yan » Thu Mar 06, 2014 2:51 am

There's also this notion that pyramidal questions would be unsuitable for a television audience, that they're too long and "boring", and that viewers wouldn't be able to "play along" with the contestants. Such views are often espoused by the likes of :chip: and other Alex Trebek wannabees. The bone I have to pick with this is that it seems "exciting" buzzer beater quizbowl is already not very successful among viewers. I don't have any data to back up this claim so I may be wrong. For instance, you're not going to see the Texaco Star Academic Challenge (the Chip Beall Show) on TV anytime soon.

Edit: espoused, not "spouses"...
Edit2: clearing up the thing about the Texaco Challenge
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Great Bustard » Thu Mar 06, 2014 3:28 am

zachary_yan wrote:There's also this notion that pyramidal questions would be unsuitable for a television audience, that they're too long and "boring" and that viewers wouldn't be able to "play along" with the contestants. Such views are often espoused by the likes of :chip: and other Alex Trebek wannabees. The bone I have to pick with this is that "exciting" buzzer beater quizbowl is already not very successful among viewers. I don't have any data to back up this claim but you're not going to see the Texaco Star Academic Challenge on tv anytime soon, for instance.

Edit: espoused, not "spouses"...
NAQT A sets work well enough for TV - there's a show in Ohio I think that shows this is doable. In England, University Challenge is shorter than A sets, but from my recollection, is relatively decent as far as question material and at least some hint at pyramidality (I think they allow interrups, which a lot of shows don't), even if it's obviously not ideal. Still, it's usually better to see TV quizbowl not so much as the enemy, but as a possible way to build interest among students and administrators (who like the visibility), but then show them that there's a better world out there from an academic perspective.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Sniper, No Sniping! » Thu Mar 06, 2014 11:13 am

zachary_yan wrote:There's also this notion that pyramidal questions would be unsuitable for a television audience, that they're too long and "boring" and that viewers wouldn't be able to "play along" with the contestants. Such views are often espoused by the likes of :chip: and other Alex Trebek wannabees. The bone I have to pick with this is that "exciting" buzzer beater quizbowl is already not very successful among viewers. I don't have any data to back up this claim but you're not going to see the Texaco Star Academic Challenge on tv anytime soon, for instance.

Edit: espoused, not "spouses"...
Oh really? And you know this to be true, how? That's right, you don't. Yes, we won't see the Texaco Star Academic Challenge on television anytime soon. Now someone get me the name of the cable service provider with the channel I can watch the HSNCT and NSC on.
David Madden wrote:NAQT A sets work well enough for TV - there's a show in Ohio I think that shows this is doable. In England, University Challenge is shorter than A sets, but from my recollection, is relatively decent as far as question material and at least some hint at pyramidality (I think they allow interrups, which a lot of shows don't), even if it's obviously not ideal. Still, it's usually better to see TV quizbowl not so much as the enemy, but as a possible way to build interest among students and administrators (who like the visibility), but then show them that there's a better world out there from an academic perspective.
I agree with Madden, to a certain extent. There's a lot of schools were the only thing they'll ever want to do is the TV show, and that's even if its a choice or a strong-hand from the principal or superintendent to field a team for the TV show. Certainly those who can really enjoy quiz bowl and the precept of the game will be receptive to competitions outside of the TV studio.

There is (was) a show in Michigan called ¨Quiz Busters" that airs (aired) episodes featuring pyramidal NAQT questions being used and it appeared to be successful.

However, what is considered to be ¨fair" and equitable for the sake of academia isn't as important to many television quiz show producers as what gets the ¨ratings¨ and gets involvement in their eyes. This year, what has been considered to be the ¨state-wide¨ quiz TV show for the state of Ohio had a somewhat erratic schedule and layout. What used to be a program that had quality, pyramidal (albeit two or three lines) questions with purely academic material from a reputable question writer now uses low-quality, sometimes plagiarized, sometimes downright *wrong* answerlines, and vocabulary questions. Anyways, for stretch it was just a bunch of ¨okay¨ teams playing each other for the episodes this year. Then we taped against Northmont, Sidney taped against Dublin Scioto, and St. Charles taped against Copley. If you aren't familiar with Ohio quiz bowl, these are the top teams in Ohio, and in this particular show, every school except two only play one round of taping. On a question that read opened ¨Walter Lee Younger¨ *immediate buzzer slam from six of the eight players*, Sam Blizzard answers A Raisin in the Sun and is immediately ruled incorrect, the question then goes on to describe the plot of the play, blah blah blah ¨who wrote it¨. When asked later by several people why Sam's answer (which shows obvious knowledge) was ruled incorrect, the judge acknowledges ¨yeah, it would've been a good buzz and I can see where you're coming from, but had he waited until the end he would've known what the question was looking for". If only that was on tape somewhere...

Sadly, these shows are what gets people to watch. Not very many people who watch these shows actually know what quiz bowl is, let alone pyramidal, so it makes no difference to most of them that there are questions that simply ask "Who wrote Tom Sawyer?" or "Who wrote Twelfth Night?". TV quiz bowl from my experience generally thrives off a fake sense of entertainment of screwballs and trying to get every school to win sometime. There was a TV show we played in that one year asked "what is the biggest diamond in the world?" (If you guessed the "Hope Diamond" or any legitimately large diamond, you were wrong and rightfully so because you didn't know it was actually a baseball diamond).

One productive and reforming thing we can do regarding these bad tv quiz shows is just encourage as many teams as possible about the brighter side of quiz bowl and hopefully get enough to realize why these shows aren't good, which could hopefully lead to reform in the shows in terms of quality and integrity so everyone can enjoy them. I know someone is going to say "well you could just not play on _'their show'_", but that doesn't do anything.
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by the return of AHAN » Thu Mar 06, 2014 11:40 am

ITT we learn Sam needs to discover how to blitz with "A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry"
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by AKKOLADE » Thu Mar 06, 2014 1:07 pm

relaxationutopia wrote:Fake knowledge triumphs in pyramidal way to often.
Nope?
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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Cheynem » Thu Mar 06, 2014 1:23 pm

One of the reasons it is difficult for pyramidal quizbowl to work as a television show is that a central "delight" for television audiences in watching a quiz show is the "play along" factor. This is very easy for Jeopardy and speedcheck type shows--the questions are short and can be easily digested. The production values are high enough on Jeopardy for the question to be aesthetically pleasingly placed on the screen too.

I think a pyramidal quizbowl show with some degree of production values could be potentially interesting. I could see a good show using pyramidal questions along the lines of a 30-20-10 old school bonus, in which the tossup is three sentences long, ranging from hard, middle, and easy clues. The sentences could be placed on the screen as they are being read so the viewers can see if they can "beat the players." There is also the excitement factor too in the potential of someone buzzing in early and getting more points for an early buzz--it's an inherently exciting concept lacking in speedchecks and Jeopardy.

In short, I'm saying that pyramidal quizbowl could become a fun television show but it needs production values and organization to do so.
Mike Cheyne
Formerly U of Minnesota

"You killed HSAPQ"--Matt Bollinger

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Re: What are the main criticisms of pyramidal Quizbowl?

Post by Ithaca Cricket Ump » Mon Apr 14, 2014 1:44 am

relaxationutopia wrote:Fake knowledge triumphs in pyramidal way to often.
Knowledge, however it is acquired, is still knowledge. There's no such animal as "fake knowledge".

--Scott
Scott M. Blish
Cheval, FL
Cornell 1990-92, 1997
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