2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

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2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by Mike Bentley » Sat Jun 09, 2018 6:02 pm

Use this thread to discuss the questions at the 2018 NSC. You can find the set here: http://www.quizbowlpackets.com/2155/. I believe Rob will be adding the All-Star Game questions there soon.
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by Curious Homunculus » Sat Jun 09, 2018 7:14 pm

Thank you so much for writing such an excellent set, and I really enjoyed playing it. A few things, though:

The music tossups on 9/11 and Psalms were extremely transparent very in power. Specifically for Psalms, there are no other Biblical texts that people would write music for, and it says so much while well within power.
Round 16 wrote:9. Identify the following about some of the practices of Jews from the Indian subcontinent, for 10 points each.
[10] Jasmine and satin were placed on the synagogues of Malabar's Jews during this holiday. This holiday takes place on the final day of Sukkot (soo-COTE) and marks the completion of a year's reading of the namesake text.
This part is incorrect. The Torah is completed on Simchat Torah (the answer to the bonus), but the final day of Sukkot is Shemini Atzeret.
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by Deviant Insider » Sat Jun 09, 2018 10:11 pm

Shemini Atzeret is separate from Sukkot, there is not a uniform date of Simchat Torah due mostly to differences between Israel and the Diaspora, and Simchat Torah is generally considered to be part of Shemini Atzeret, but your main point that the bonus messed up the relationship between Sukkot and Simchat Torah is correct. Sorry about that.
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by jonah » Sat Jun 09, 2018 10:33 pm

Curious Homunculus wrote:Specifically for Psalms, there are no other Biblical texts that people would write music for
I haven't seen the question, but this site lists dozens of musical settings of Biblical texts other than Psalms, and here's another listing, etc.
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by dwd500 » Sat Jun 09, 2018 11:40 pm

Curious Homunculus wrote:Specifically for Psalms, there are no other Biblical texts that people would write music for
Well, there's the Gospels - Passions, Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis. Really any Canticle - which is by definition a song not from Psalms.
Round 18 wrote: Steve Reich changed style by setting one of these texts in uneven meter for 4 women's voices, drum, and clapping. A piece titled for these texts has an orchestral reduction for organ, harp, and percussion, and opens ​(read slowly) B-flat, F, high E-flat, A-flat, B-flat on the Hebrew words "Urah, hanevel!" ​(oo-RAH ha-NAY-vell). The bass aria "Why do the nations so furiously rage together?" from Handel's ​Messiah quotes these Biblical texts, as does a Leonard Bernstein ​(BURN-styne) choral work named for Chichester. Wind instruments' widely-voiced E minor chords punctuate a (*)​ neoclassical symphony titled for these texts before a double "upside-down pyramid" fugue. A Serge Koussevitzky BSO commission whispers "Alleluia" and sets the 39th and 150th of, for 10 points, what poems that name a "symphony" by Igor
Stravinsky? ANSWER: psalm​s [accept Tehillim​, Chichester Psalms​, or Symphony of Psalms​; prompt on sacred songs or hymns or poems; prompt on texts or books from the Hebrew Bible, Old Testament, Tanakh, or Ketuvim; do not accept or prompt on "prayers"]
My only real issue with this question - I've sung Chichester Psalms, even stepping to conduct rehearsal at one point (oh, 10/4 and 12/2 time? Fun.), and I wouldn't grab the score clue. The biggest reason is that I sing Bass, and my part has different notes at that point. All those rehearsals, and even if my eyes did wander up to that part of the score, there's no guarantee I'd remember that. Yes, Soprano, Alto, and Bass start on a B-flat, but Tenors start on a really high A. All of the ensuing clashes, and the downward motion of the Tenor and Bass lines (not to mention the full doubling by the strings) have just as much to do with how the text is set at that point.

If you want a solid buzzable hard score clue from that, I'd pick the boy soprano solo from the second movement. That part is really the memorable bit (at least to me) of the work, and there's so many odd parts about it (like that it's accompanied by two harps) that would make for a better clue.
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by AGoodMan » Sun Jun 10, 2018 6:26 pm

The Korea bonus from Round 10 incorrectly states that it is currently divided by the 38th parallel, which was only true before the Korean War.
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by AGoodMan » Sun Jun 10, 2018 6:39 pm

Curious Homunculus wrote:Thank you so much for writing such an excellent set, and I really enjoyed playing it. A few things, though:

The music tossups on 9/11 and Psalms were extremely transparent very in power. Specifically for Psalms, there are no other Biblical texts that people would write music for, and it says so much while well within power.
Uhh I don't know classical music very well, but isn't Haydn's The Creation a thing?
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by vinteuil » Sun Jun 10, 2018 7:29 pm

AGoodMan wrote:
Curious Homunculus wrote:Thank you so much for writing such an excellent set, and I really enjoyed playing it. A few things, though:

The music tossups on 9/11 and Psalms were extremely transparent very in power. Specifically for Psalms, there are no other Biblical texts that people would write music for, and it says so much while well within power.
Uhh I don't know classical music very well, but isn't Haydn's The Creation a thing?
paradise lost is part of the bible you heard it here first

(There is also Genesis, and yes people set like, all of the Bible to music)
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by ansonberns » Sun Jun 10, 2018 7:33 pm

I think the transparent part of that tossup isn’t just the “being set to music” stuff but the pronoun “these biblical texts” itself. Very few things other than the psalms fit that pronoun at all (maybe the gospels I guess?) so the question can easily be frauded in power.
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by gimmedatguudsuccrose » Sun Jun 10, 2018 8:58 pm

ansonberns wrote:I think the transparent part of that tossup isn’t just the “being set to music” stuff but the pronoun “these biblical texts” itself. Very few things other than the psalms fit that pronoun at all (maybe the gospels I guess?) so the question can easily be frauded in power.
To answer your question, the Gospels, the Sermons of Jesus, or frankly any conceivable grouping of biblical texts could be the answerline. Personally, I think it's a bit unrealistic to expect question writers to anticipate how players will Gettier themselves into getting points, especially in a case such as this one (where the answer space is, as Jacob points out - the entire bible!).
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by ansonberns » Sun Jun 10, 2018 9:26 pm

I’m not saying it was a terrible question or anything like that, but when you say it’s a plural set of texts in the Bible, the answer space is pretty small (the mention of Hebrew words earlier in the question also kind of eliminated the other options you said.) You’re right that question writers can’t necessarily be expected to predict this kind of thing, but in retrospect I don’t think it’s a bad thing to point out that it played kind of transparently. The other question Matthew mentioned earlier, 9/11, was even more transparent. Again, writers can’t always predict how things will play, but I have not that much music knowledge and still first lined that question because there really aren’t that many events recent enough for phones to be beeping that inspired a lot of music (and are reasonable answerlines at the difficulty level.) Again, I don’t think either of those tossups were bad or even that the writers could or should have anticipated them playing that way, but both of them did.
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by Aaron's Rod » Tue Jun 12, 2018 3:28 pm

tfw you write like 4 questions from NSC and one of them generates a lot of discussion
Curious Homunculus wrote:Specifically for Psalms, there are no other Biblical texts that people would write music for, and it says so much while well within power.
vinteuil wrote:There is also Genesis, and yes people set like, all of the Bible to music)
gimmedatguudsuccrose wrote:To answer your question, the Gospels, the Sermons of Jesus, or frankly any conceivable grouping of biblical texts could be the answerline. [...] the answer space is, as Jacob points out - the entire bible!
I actually got the idea to write this question from a real, physical book that I own, and from looking at it I can tell you that people set all sorts of Biblical texts. (In fairness to Matthew Siff, around half of the entries are Psalms, and if you know Steve Reich reconnected with his Jewish Identity partway through life, which is reflected in his music, it narrows the answer space quite a lot––although that is music-related knowledge!)
dwd500 wrote:My only real issue with this question - I've sung Chichester Psalms, even stepping to conduct rehearsal at one point (oh, 10/4 and 12/2 time? Fun.), and I wouldn't grab the score clue. The biggest reason is that I sing Bass, and my part has different notes at that point. All those rehearsals, and even if my eyes did wander up to that part of the score, there's no guarantee I'd remember that. Yes, Soprano, Alto, and Bass start on a B-flat, but Tenors start on a really high A. All of the ensuing clashes, and the downward motion of the Tenor and Bass lines (not to mention the full doubling by the strings) have just as much to do with how the text is set at that point.
This is a fair point. I clued it because this Michigan Quarterly Review article repeatedly mentions the five-note "Urah, haneval" motif, calling it "unifying" and that the whole piece is "integrated by" it. It also says that it is "introduced by upper voices, in unison," so those are the notes I picked out. Your mileage varied, I guess.
ansonberns wrote:I’m not saying it was a terrible question or anything like that, but when you say it’s a plural set of texts in the Bible, the answer space is pretty small (the mention of Hebrew words earlier in the question also kind of eliminated the other options you said.)
I wonder if you cut out the word "Hebrew" in the 2nd clue is people would complain less about frauding?

Here's another thing I considered, just so people thinking about this question can have an inside look inside a question writers' head––another thing I considered was dropping the name of the clue in the first place "Tehillim," instead of saying it was by Reich, but I woudn't want to cheat music players just in case there's somebody out there who knows Hebrew well enough to know that the title is literally just "Psalms" in Hebrew. But I wasn't satisfied that dropping neither Reich nor "Tehillim" and just saying "One piece that sets these texts in uneven meter uses 4 women's voices, drum, and clapping" is uniquely identifying or particularly helpful. I really wanted to use that as a first clue because it's in the Norton Anthology, the companion to Burkholder's ubiquitous music history book. I hope somebody finds that helpful.
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Tue Jun 12, 2018 4:12 pm

I don't think the Pslams tossup is too transparent, but I do think there are ways in which the answerspace could hypothetically be widened. One way might be to write the tossup on "this book" and prompt on the Bible, since that gives you more of an answerspace if you suss out that it's a religious text of some sort -- it is certainly possible there are more Biblical books to choose that would be reasonable answers (e.g. Genesis, maybe Exodus, some other things that people have mentioned) than there are "sets of texts" within the Bible you could choose for the same purpose, at least within the context of a music question (other than "books of the Bible" which presumably would be a poor answerline choice).
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Tue Jun 12, 2018 4:13 pm

ansonberns wrote:I think the transparent part of that tossup isn’t just the “being set to music” stuff but the pronoun “these biblical texts” itself. Very few things other than the psalms fit that pronoun at all (maybe the gospels I guess?) so the question can easily be frauded in power.
I hate to pile onto a high school student, but the Bible is full of groupings of books that could be referred to with the pronoun "these Biblical texts".

Just off the top of my head, that pronoun could easily be used to describe:
  • the Minor Prophets
  • the Apocrypha
  • the Five Books of the Torah/Pentateuch
  • the Gospels
  • the New Testament epistles, all of them
  • the New Testament epistles, by specific author
  • any book that is split into two different books
  • any two or more books that are believed by Bible scholars to have the same author


Putting Biblical texts into groups is an exercise that has been going on for thousands of years, from the Ancient Levant to 19th century Germany. Even if we accept your argument that the presence of a Hebrew phrase in "these Biblical texts" automatically narrows it down to the Old Testament, there are many possible groupings of books there. There are non-Greek words in the New Testament, as almost every single person in the New Testament is a speaker of a Semitic language who practices Temple Judaism.
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by justinfrench1728 » Tue Jun 12, 2018 5:11 pm

The question on Psalms was transparent. Sure, people write music on other books of the bible or even other biblical "texts," but could you really write a tossup on those works at this level? Based on comments in the thread, most high schoolers don't even know that there is music written on other bible books. I personally couldn't name any.

Also, if a ton of people who played the set say a particular question was transparent, then that question must have been transparent. Even if it turns out that everyone who thought it was transparent is just not good enough at music to realize that there are other possible answer lines, those players would still buzz early and get it right (and the players who knew more would be punished).

Obviously, a set can't get every question perfect and this was a very good set overall, but it is not at all unreasonable to expect writers to try and predict whether a question is transparent based on the knowledge/lack of knowledge of the intended audience. In this case, Symphony of Psalms and Chichester Psalms are by far the most famous works written on the Bible, with anything else being pretty obscure (unless I'm blanking on something obvious right now), and combined with "texts" there is really no other answer line appropriate for PACE.
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by Auks Ran Ova » Tue Jun 12, 2018 5:22 pm

justinfrench1728 wrote:Symphony of Psalms and Chichester Psalms are by far the most famous works written on the Bible
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Matthew_Passion

(this doesn't mean the question isn't maybe a little more guessable than ideal, but (1) it certainly does take some knowledge to make that leap and (2) there might be more plausible answers than you think!)
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by justinfrench1728 » Tue Jun 12, 2018 5:35 pm

justinfrench1728 wrote:
Symphony of Psalms and Chichester Psalms are by far the most famous works written on the Bible

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Matthew_Passion
Okay yeah this is what I meant by blanking on something super famous. Regardless, the point still stands that the question seems transparent to people who know less about music written on the Bible.
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by UlyssesInvictus » Tue Jun 12, 2018 5:54 pm

Not to harp on the subject more than needed--and I'll note that, as always, if most of the conversation about your set revolves around a single question, then that means, overall, the set was pretty good!--but the impression I'm getting from this thread is that many of the people who played the question are voicing opinions like, "in the moment, it sure felt a _lot_ like the answer was Psalms," and the people responding are voicing opinions, if I can phrase it like this, like "yeah, but you _shouldn't_ have felt that."

And those aren't really mutually exclusive opinions, or even opinions that don't both have things to teach i.e. it seems like, in the wider scope of things, there were plenty of other possible answers beside Psalms; and also that, in spite of that, if most of your target players _think_ it's Psalms anyway, that the question is still effectively transparent.

On the latter point, though, I'll note that in the room I was observing, the other team negged with "the Bible" and not coming up with an answer after being prompted. (And this was a really good team!)
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Tue Jun 12, 2018 5:56 pm

I wonder how much of this apparent gap in perceptions of transparency has to do with the "filter-down" effect from the college canon. To detail this a bit: The writers of the PACE NSC, understandably, often draw a very large number of their topics and clues from the college canon, and then permute their questions to make such topics and clues more suitable for a high school audience*. I of course have no way of telling whether Alex constructed her particular tossup this way, but regardless, the following may explain the aforementioned gap: within this canon in recent years, Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms has been asked with a fair amount of frequency; by contrast, the St. Matthew Passion (presumably corresponding to an answer of "the gospels") has not been asked as much. Thus, players who (correctly) prepared for the NSC by studying college packets are primed to think "Psalms" when they figure out what the tossup is up to, even if they don't know the details of the answer per se.


* As an aside, I think this may not necessarily be the optimal way of constructing the NSC, though it certainly is not universally how the questions have been constructed in every set - and of course, I am assuredly guilty of falling into this trap myself on numerous occasions (e.g. the Mexico literature tossup this year)! While the ultimate outcome of each year's PACE does seem to empirically reward the best teams, a over-reliance on this preset pool of knowledge may leave a lot of lower-skill teams hanging more than is ideal. Of course, there is an inherent tension here - if PACE were to be a more "core" focused set, aimed more directly at depth on a lower-level canon and curricular high school material, would that not lead to teams shifting their preparation strategies to only focus on said more narrowed canon? I would stipulate that the best in quizbowl writing is able to accomplish all of the above.

The very wide range of writers who contribute to PACE thankfully ensures that no style can possibly monolithically dominate the tournament, even if someone does one day duplicate Ike's Herculean feat of writing 40% of the 2016 iteration (relevant shoutout: Mike Bentley wrote a ton of this year's set and deserves great praise). Nonetheless it may be valuable if all of us, as writers, were more vigilant about a step back and thinking about how we are sourcing our clues and what we want to test for, given an understanding of the quizbowl milieu as it exists and going beyond simple tabula rasa considerations of difficulty. This is not something that there's always time for, of course - but it's part of a continual process of improvement. And of course, the only reason this is even a consideration is because questions are so high quality already.
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by vinteuil » Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:08 pm

Will, I'm not sure where you get that impression. I've found a gazillion instances in the past few years of exciting new material that I thought I was breaking into the canon actually getting scooped by the previous year's NSC. (I'm also not at all clear on what you mean by tabula rasa here.)
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:27 pm

vinteuil wrote:Will, I'm not sure where you get that impression. I've found a gazillion instances in the past few years of exciting new material that I thought I was breaking into the canon actually getting scooped by the previous year's NSC. (I'm also not at all clear on what you mean by tabula rasa here.)
I'll agree to disagree on the former point for now, but I don't think there's a necessary contradiction here - it's perfectly possible for PACE to have tons of exciting material while perhaps still being more reliant on the college canon than is ideal. Indeed, I myself have run into the precise issue you are describing before when picking EFT leadins!

My use of tabula rasa in this context may be illustrated by a thought experiment: imagine that there were no previous quizbowl packets, and one could simply determine the difficulty of each clue by observing what percentage of the target population would be familiar with this clue. You may add more constraints, e.g. "what percentage of high schoolers who are into philosophy would know this clue," etc. Such minds would be quizbowl tabulae rasae and you would not have people's knowledge bases or perceptions being distorted by what's come up before. Thus, you would not have issues of people thinking "ah, religious texts being set to music - Psalms, naturally!" or at least not as much as you seem to in this current case, based on the admittedly limited discussion that has thus far occurred - even if they actually possessed a similar amount of raw knowledge about quizbowl-relevant categories.

The purpose of this thought experiment, of course, is not to suggest that no writers take these sorts of things into consideration. Indeed, such a suggestion would be utterly absurd, as evidenced not only by your comment, but the longevity of the term "stock clue." Rather, it is to serve as a stark reminder of how distorted things are by the existence of a "canon" - not that this is necessarily bad, but something that is to be carefully considered in balance with other factors. A tossup that may not be transparent in our world of tabula rasa players with equal levels of academic knowledge (albeit probably differently distributed) may well functionally play out as a transparent tossup in the world we actually live and play in.
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by Ike » Tue Jun 12, 2018 9:40 pm

One of the features I love about the NSC is its ability to ask about different material than you would find in college sets -- you can expect high schoolers to pay attention to and know different things than college players. For example, the lit bonus part on Helen Keller from ~The Miracle Worker~ I wrote was inspired by being assigned to read the play for class in 9th grade. In a different vein, I saw some players have great buzzes on the CS even though none of the clues had come up in the collegiate canon -- partly because programming is taught differently now than it was five years ago. I usually use a criterion of "plausible to encounter" to determine from where I want to draw clues. For example, clueing "college topic" calculus III or linear algebra at the NSC is fine in my opinion since some keen quizbowlers may have taken those courses. Clueing works from say, Mexican literature is not as ideal, as it feels to me that it's more likely players will have learned Bolano clues from packets than have had a real encounter with his books.
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by agov01 » Wed Jun 13, 2018 1:03 pm

Overall, I really enjoyed this set, but there were a few issues that stuck out. In round 1, the tossup on iron said that galena was composed of iron and sulfur although it is made of lead and sulfur. Another major problem that I remember is the calorimetry tossup in round 9, where exothermic and endothermic were mentioned second line.
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Re: 2018 NSC Set Discussion Thread

Post by Auks Ran Ova » Wed Jun 13, 2018 1:11 pm

agov01 wrote:In round 1, the tossup on iron said that galena was composed of iron and sulfur although it is made of lead and sulfur.
Man, it sure is. That will be corrected in the packets.
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