ACF Fall Commentary

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ACF Fall Commentary

Post by AuguryMarch » Sun Nov 05, 2006 10:15 am

First of all, I was a TD, not a player. Second, the stats from my region will be posted soon.

Those disclaimers aside, let me start with some praise. Answer selection was great. Although the pool of answers at fall really bores me, I thought my general boredom was a good indicator that the editors had done their job. Once again, the editors did a really good job with finding some new clues. (Obligatory self serving example: the sapir whorf tossup was one I found interesting).

Ok, now here is the criticism. I think when ACF Fall was conceived of, the idea of it was to provide some enjoyment for older players (which I think it does do for some) while easing new players into the game. I find it interesting that we talk so much about how crucial answer selection is in easing players into the game, but we don't talk at all about question length. My contention is that question length is as important (if not more important) than answer selection in giving new players a good quizbowl experience.

Let's put ourselves in the mind of a frosh for a moment. Many of these tossups were 8 to 9 lines long in 10 point font. That's long. Please don't get me wrong. Personally I love long questions, and I know that many ACF types feel the same way. But for a freshman to sit while 3-4 lines are read where they have no idea what's going on.. that's bad. I'm not saying we should coddle new players, or that we should have nonpyramidal questions.

This of it this way. One complaint I have voiced in the past about NAQT is that they have poor answer selection in their SCT level material, and yet no one seems to care. Phenomenologically I have described the experience as a tossup on Franz Marc (he loves animals!) whizzing by with a nice Guitar Hero tossup waiting in the wings. People have lots of time to experience 3-4 lines of ignorance in ACF by contrast. There is so much time in ACF spent feeling ignorant. Now it's time for Matt or Ryan to jump down my throat saying that ACF is about learning and if people can't stand the feeling of ignorance then they should get out of the game. But guys, why can't we ease players into that too? Give them 1 new fact, 2 new facts before we get into the more well known clues. Also a lot of kids don't even know the well known clues (although with high school becoming more ascendant this might be less of the case).

So my bottom line is... while we experienced players draw this powerful distinction in our minds between answer difficulty and clue difficulty, from the perspective of a new player, difficulty is difficulty. I think that ACF Fall would benefit from being 5 lines 10 point font MAX, and if that means that a few more terrific players (I'm looking at you Mike Sorice, you beast) find ACF Fall not worth their time, then I think that's a sacrifice we have to make.

Paul

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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Sun Nov 05, 2006 6:17 pm

Now it's time for Matt or Ryan to jump down my throat saying that ACF is about learning and if people can't stand the feeling of ignorance then they should get out of the game

Well, I do think that (I'm not sure Matt does as much, unless you're referring to Lafer). But, actually, when it comes to length I completely agree with you. I think 8-9 lines 10 point font is too long, except occasionally in very certain circumstances. I like, and have tried to produce when possible, questions of 6-7 lines. I really try to avoid questions that spill over onto the 8th line. I've noticed lately a trend toward long unwieldy questions, which often ramble on in grammatically convoluted compound senteces - and I'm not a big fan of this, no matter what the difficulty is.


What I usually quibble with is not limiting question length but the apparently blossoming philosophy that we should sharply limit answer selection and just find deeper and deeper and more collateral clues for those answers (hot damn, searched for two and a half hours and dug up a fresh clue for Diels-Alder Reaction!). Now, at ACF fall, you have to do this - and I understand that and agree with it. My complaint comes only when you get to tourneys where I don't think that should be necessary.



The last point I'll make is that I think this criticism betrays well how much of a fool's errand the stated goal can be - to bring enjoyment to experienced players while easing new ones into the game. Increasingly, I think, the gap is just becoming too big...the gap in pure knowledge of clues/answers, for one, and maybe more importantly the gap in playing philosophy/mindset between new players and old ones.

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Post by Captain Sinico » Sun Nov 05, 2006 7:06 pm

Actually, Paul, I whole-heartedly agree with you. I might set the max at 6 lines rather than 5 and aim for a mean of 5, but I think control of length is crucial and also that those question were, on the whole, longer than one would like. To be honest, I've consistently found that question length doesn't always correlate very well with the number or quality of clues; most long tossups just use their length poorly and could be made into shorter questions without removing any substantive clues. C.f. last year's ACF Regionals, where our editing team pretty strictly enforced a max tossup length of 7 lines.

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Post by Birdofredum Sawin » Sun Nov 05, 2006 7:20 pm

I moderated at this year\'s ACF Fall, and after reading 15 games of these questions I too was forced to conclude that they were simply too long. Who, I wonder, is being served by questions like these, which I\'ve selected at random from the ACF Fall set?

During the War of 1812, he was captured at the Battle of Queenston Heights. He negotiated a peaceful settlement with Britain in the San Juan Island dispute after commanding the implementation of Andrew Jackson’s Cherokee removal campaign in 1838. He won only Kentucky, Massachussetts, Tennessee, and Vermont after choosing sitting Naval Secretary Alexander Graham as his running mate for a presidenital campaign managed by New York political intriguer Thurlow Weed, which disparaged the courage of his opponent and former subordinate with the “Fainting Frank” anecdote. The victorious commander at Contreras, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, Cerro Gordo, and Chapultepec, he later developd a plan to occupy coastal ports in Mississippi as well as the Anaconda Plan as the senior officer of the Union army at the outbreak of the Civil War. FTP, name this general who captured Mexico City in 1847 and was nicknamed “Old Fuss and Feathers,” who went on to lose the 1852 presidential election to Franklin Pierce.
ANSWER: Winfield Scott

In one of this man’s stories the cab driver Iona prolongs fares unnecessary in order to tell passengers about his recently deceased son. The title character of another story looks through a porthole of an infirmary ship to see Chinese men shouting “It sings! It sings!,” while in a better-known work Nikolai becomes nostalgic for the country life as he dreams of growing the title fruit. In addition to “Gusev” and “Gooseberries,” this man wrote a story in which a man vacationing at Yalta meets Anna Sergeevna von Diederitz, the mysterious canine-loving title character. Better known are plays such as The Wood Demon, which was later adapted into a play about a burnt-out intellectual who incurably lusts after Yelena, the wife of Professor Alexandr Serebryakov. Other subjects of his dramas include the estate of Madame Ranevskaya and the Prozorov family along with Konstantin Treplev, who leaves the title bird at the feet of Nina Zaretchyn. FTP name this author of The Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya, and The Seagull.
ANSWER: Anton Chekhov

Susanne Wood and Marshall Grossman have written extensively about the relationship of a poem by Amelia Lanyer to one of this man’s famous works. A monologue from one of this man’s works describes a woman who makes it a point “Still to be neat” and is alternately titled “Simplex Munditiis.” That play features the character Sir Amorous La-Foole and concerns Morose’s hatred of noise. Plays by this author include The Isle of Dogs and one about the witless goldsmith Touchstone, Eastward, Ho! Better known are a poem about Phillip Sidney’s house, “To Penshurst,” a song that begins “Drink to me, only, with thine eyes,” and a play about a fox. FTP name this author of To Celia, better known for plays like The Alchemist and Volpone.
ANSWER: Ben Jonson

Obviously, I think it\'s a good idea to have tossups at a tournament like ACF Fall be on gettable things like Winfield Scott and Anton Chekhov. But these 5-6 sentence behemoths aren\'t doing anybody any good. These tossups would be among the more verbose entries at ACF nationals. Now, at ACF nationals it can be argued that the very best players in the nation are competing; that any game could end up being decisive; that any of those potentially decisive games could come down to one tossup. With all those considerations in mind, an argument can be made in favor of having long and clue-rich tossups to differentiate between teams. But at ACF Fall the youngest, least-experienced players in the nation are competing; they\'re only playing for an ACF Fall title; and frankly, almost none of the games are going to come down to a buzzer race on an early clue.

Not only do these incredibly long questions fail to serve a useful competitive purpose; they also have significant negative consequences. Players who are fresh out of high school, or who are new to the game, will be demoralized by 10 or more rounds of such tossups. Readers -- and I speak from recent personal experience -- will be completely drained by a day of reading them. Editors who spend hours ferreting out superfluous lead-in clues would be better advised to invest their limited time in eliminating repeats or evening out bonus difficulty. I\'m not arguing that ACF should emulate the brevity of NAQT. But there is simply no good reason to have tossups as long as the ones quoted above at any tournament short of ACF Nationals.

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Post by wd4gdz » Sun Nov 05, 2006 7:30 pm

As the FA and RPM editor, I did my best to make most tossups 6 lines long. There are some exceptions to this: the ones that were 7-8 lines were perhaps slightly more interested than average, but I really apologize for those 5 line questions I had to write the morning of the tournament to fill some gaps.

Anyway, I really think 6 lines is optimal for a tournament ACF Fall. It gives plenty of room to differentiate between, say, Sorice vs. Michigan, but doesn't leave newer teams cringing like they might after a 9 line tossup.

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Post by Chris Frankel » Sun Nov 05, 2006 8:37 pm

I had no involvement in the set as a player or contributor, but I did have a few tossups playtested on me by Eric K., and I have to exhibit a mild "I told you so" sentiment, since I also thought the tossups were tending to be overly long and unnecessarily heavy on esoteric leadins. And honestly, a fair share of those I saw seemed to be done in an overly vague and meandering fashion out of an extreme desire to prevent perceived title/name fraud (e.g. I've read and written on Chekhov's "Gooseberries," and the use of only a generic character name and "title fruit" really isn't enough to convincingly narrow down what story that clue is talking about; in other words you might as well save the space and just give the title, or at more unique character names from the story like that of Aliokhin).

Looking at the available stats, the only ACF Fall contenders that I would put on the extreme end of the experience/knowledge base scale would be Mike Sorice and Seth Kendall, who hardly represent the target audience of ACF Fall. I think a better philosophy for ACF Fall would be to try to emulate PACE and be more ready to throw a bone, so to speak, with the assumption that the average player probably doesn't have the experience to recognize what veterans consider chestnuts as freebies or buzzer races.
"They sometimes get fooled by the direction a question is going to take, and that's intentional," said Reid. "The players on these teams are so good that 90 percent of the time they could interrupt the question and give the correct answer if the questions didn't take those kinds of turns. That wouldn't be fun to watch, so every now and then as I design these suckers, I say to myself, 'Watch this!' and wait 'til we're on camera. I got a lot of dirty looks this last tournament."

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Post by setht » Sun Nov 05, 2006 9:51 pm

I agree with Paul (and Mike and Andrew and...).

I was also TD'ing/reading, not playing. I thought that the answers, particularly the tossup answers, were generally very good for a tournament meant primarily for younger players. Many questions had interesting-sounding new clues, which is also nice.

There were some repeats, there were some spelling/grammar issues, the bonuses varied a bit in difficulty--nothing horrendous, I guess. I think the single biggest problem with the question set was the question length. As others have mentioned, excessively long questions can be draining to play and draining to read, and I think many of the longer questions could have had whole sentences or clues lopped off without really losing anything in question quality. In fact, I would argue that the shortened versions would be higher quality in most respects. Many of the longer questions don't feel like they're packed chock-full of great clues, but more of them than in shorter questions; they just feel flabby. The unnecessary verbiage in many of the longer questions also makes it easier to get confused--some of these questions mention what kind of answer they're looking for just once in the first line, then move to something else for 6-7 lines (e.g., a tossup on a novel that immediately moves into a lengthy description of one character without once reminding players that the answer is in fact a novel).

Leaving aside the issue of the experience of playing long questions, I think there's another point to be made here. Longer questions result in longer rounds, and longer tournaments. I'm going to estimate very crudely that the average tossup length this year was 8 lines. Let's suppose that bonuses were also 8 lines long (intro + prompts). Contrast this with a set with average tossup length of 6 lines, and average bonus length of 6 lines. At the Chicago site, I believe we averaged about 35 minutes per round*, and we had a 15-round (full round-robin) schedule. That takes almost 9 hours to read. If we were reading a 6-line average set, it seems reasonable to expect that it would take about 6.5 hours to read--call it a difference of 2 hours. I think that extra 2 hours is significant. We started games at about 9:30 am, and we finished around 8:30 pm. I was pleasantly surprised that teams with long drives ahead (up to about 6 hours for Minnesota) stayed to the bitter end. I think finishing at 6:30 pm would have made every single person involved with the tournament much happier. For a tournament like ACF Fall, I would prefer shorter questions that allow for more games in a reasonable amount of time.

*--this is with a very experienced moderating staff that likes to keep things moving

Sadly, I think that some of the players/teams that came out to the Chicago site will not particularly remember ACF Fall 2006 as the tournament with really good questions; instead, they'll remember it as an 11+ hour ordeal followed by several hours of driving, which they have little or no interest in coming back to next year. If I'd known in advance what was going to happen (the rather long time per round, various delays that I should have been more on top of), I would have set up a schedule with less rounds. However, with 15 teams, the only way I can think of to do this would be to run 3 brackets of 5, then reseed and run 3 brackets of 5 again. This gives everyone 8 games in 10 rounds, which seems pretty low, plus a lot of teams never see each other. I don't know if this was an issue at other sites, but again, I'd prefer to see shorter questions that allow for better tournament schedules in a reasonable time frame.

-Seth

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Post by Mr. Kwalter » Sun Nov 05, 2006 9:56 pm

For what it's worth, I agree with every one of these criticisms. I suppose I'll apologize for the length, and not just of the lit. We had every intention of looking over the final set before sending it out. Repeats eliminated, questions evaluated, etc. We just didn't have time. Matt and I were going nuts trying to randomize the packets the morning of the tournament. I'm not saying that's an excuse; quite the contrary. We should have budgeted our time more efficiently and made sure the questions were both uniform and appropriate.

That being said, I thought the difficulty of the questions by and large was spot on. All the editors did a good job policing their subjects in that regard. If you have criticisms of individual questions we'd really like to hear them, as we always want to know what people think.

As an aside, if you'd like feedback on your packet please email me again at ekwartler at gmail dot com. The editors will be happy to give you our opinions, I just don't remember exactly who wanted them.

Anyway, thank you all for playing. We hope you ultimately enjoyed it. Hope you all come back for Seth, Jerry, and Ryan's Regionals set in in the Spring.

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Post by Mr. Kwalter » Sun Nov 05, 2006 10:01 pm

Oh, also, (didn't see Seth's commentary when I started the post), I apologize for the Their Eyes Were Watching God tossup. I wrote it quickly and didn't read it closely afterward. There was also a comment on this at the Tulsa site. I should have included more "the protagonist"s.

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Post by grapesmoker » Sun Nov 05, 2006 11:17 pm

Wow, I thought I was going to have to come on here and post a long apologia explaining how I normally like long questions but how I thought that much of this set was just too long. But it looks like others have already made the point I wanted to make, so I would just like to say that I agree with what Seth, Andrew, Mike, and Paul have already mentioned. While half of our moderating staff was experienced (myself, Micha Elsner, and Steve Watchorn), the other half was not, and I think the question length took its toll on them. I am a pretty fast reader and I was finding that it took me more than half an hour to finish a packet. It's a good thing we didn't plan for more than 12 rounds, because as it was we barely got out at 8:30.

Nonetheless, I think the teams that went really enjoyed the questions. For the most part, everyone seemed really happy with the difficulty level, so I think in that regard, this tournament was definitely very successful. Basically, shaving 2 lines off every long tossup would have made this move much smoother, in my opinion.

I have a couple of other remarks regarding this set. First, I think a lot of the tossups had clues in the middle that were not really that useful, and were maybe even harder than some earlier clues. One example that springs to mind was a Democritus (I think) question which contained, out of nowhere, clues about his legal troubles and people who sued him. I'm no expert on Democritus, but I'm confused as to how this information belongs closer to the end of the tossup than the beginning. I certainly wouldn't have found it at all useful. There were other examples of this too, which I could comment on if anyone cares. I also felt like some of the questions had a rather steep pyramid, i.e. they went "hard clue, hard clue, slightly less hard clue, quite easy clue." That was my impression from reading.

Second, and I'm afraid that this will reinforce the stereotype of complaining science players, I thought that the physics and a couple of other non-bio sciences were rather poorly written. Many of the physics tossups had some very obvious clues in the first or second line, and a tossup on the Church Turing thesis that was 8 lines long began with a mention of lambda calculus. I don't think this produced any firepower buzzes in our region, but that's probably because most of the teams here are not very science heavy; between two decent physics players many of these tossups would have become buzzer races rather quickly.

But I don't want those things to eclipse what I thought was generally a very enjoyable set which people liked. The difficulty was perfect and the scores seem to reflect this, and the majority of the questions were very good examples of what people should strive for when they write (albeit, not as long).

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Post by ezubaric » Sun Nov 05, 2006 11:38 pm

ekwartler wrote:trying to randomize the packets the morning of the tournament
Why is randomizing that hard? When packets are in plaintext, it just takes a script, and when they're not, WordPerfect can shuffle based on the paragraph's nth character (which is usually pretty darn random).
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Post by Susan » Sun Nov 05, 2006 11:50 pm

But packet randomizing should really be rather nonrandom; you want the history, science, and lit tossups spaced out within the packet with everything else randomly scattered around.

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Post by setht » Mon Nov 06, 2006 12:14 am

To give a concrete example of a question which I think could have benefited greatly from being tightened up, consider the following tossup on Adonis (9 lines in 10 point TNR):

16. His daughter is often called the namesake of Beirut, and his story inspired the Apostrophia aspect of a certain deity which was displayed in Athens. He was conceived because his grandmother Cenchreis or Orithyia was away at the festival of Demeter, which allowed his mother Smyrna to conspire with a nurse and deceive his father, also Smyrna’s father and known as Cinyras or Thais, into an incestuous encounter. That mother later prayed to neither live nor die and was turned into a myrrh tree, from which he was born. After he died, that goddess sprinkled his blood with nectar, causing the anemone to be formed. One legend says that Calliope’s ajudication of an ownership dispute over a chest containing this man led a vengeful claimant to cause the death of Orpheus. FTP, name this person killed by a wild boar, a very attractive youth and lover of Aphrodite.
ANSWER: Adonis

I'm completely unfamiliar with the first two clues--that first sentence seems eminently cuttable, since the next bit seems like it could easily be reworked into a fine lead-in (I think Smyrna is a bit easy that early; at least, I think she's easier than Thais/Cinyras). Upon looking things up, I find that Adonis had a daughter named Beroe, who founded Beroea in Thrace; I'm willing to believe that that corresponds with Beirut, but this clue seems much harder than necessary for an ACF Fall lead-in. I also find that Aphrodite Apostrophia was the name of a sacred statue in Thebes, not Athens. If I actually knew about Aphrodite Apostrophia, it seems reasonable that I might also know that the statue was in Thebes, not Athens, which might prevent me from buzzing on that clue. Also, it's not clear to me from what I've read that Aphrodite's Apostrophia aspect was particularly inspired by Adonis's story. The sentence that begins, "After he died, that goddess..." is confusing--what goddess is being referred to here? The deity mentioned way back in the first sentence? This seems like it could easily lead to players getting confused and mistakenly thinking that his mother was a goddess. In the next sentence, why mention the death of Orpheus? I find the reference confusing (I thought Orpheus was killed by a bunch of Maenads at the behest of Dionysus--what does this have to do with Persephone, Aphrodite or Adonis? It seems like that whole clue reduces to "Orpheus was the son of Calliope," which seems singularly unhelpful here.); I don't see how this represents a pyramidal slope after "he was in a chest and there was a dispute over the chest (and him)."

Here's a 6-line version that I think avoids the confusing/possibly wrong stuff and keeps pretty much all of the useful stuff, with what I think is slightly better ordering:

He was conceived while his grandmother Cenchreis or Orithyia was away at the festival of Demeter, when his mother got his father drunk. His father, known as Phoenix, Theias or Cinyras chased his mother with a sword after learning of their incest. When he died his blood produced the first anemone, and he was born after his mother Smyrna was turned into a myrrh tree. One legend says that Calliope ajudicated an ownership dispute over a chest containing this man. FTP, name this very attractive youth killed by a wild boar, a lover of Aphrodite and Persephone.
ANSWER: Adonis


After writing all these criticisms, I'd like to backtrack a bit and compliment the question writer/editor for assembling a fine set of clues on Adonis. This question shows some good research; I just think it could have used some more post-research work. I think there were many tossups like this: good answer idea, good work on collecting clues, and then... not as good a job assembling the clues into a question. I wonder if people are making the mistake of thinking that they have to incorporate pretty much every clue they find while doing research--part of the work is digging up clues, but a lot of the work of writing is discarding some of those clues and assembling the rest into a good, tight question.

-Seth

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Post by Chris Frankel » Mon Nov 06, 2006 12:14 am

myamphigory wrote:But packet randomizing should really be rather nonrandom; you want the history, science, and lit tossups spaced out within the packet with everything else randomly scattered around.
This is definitely true. Another important thing to take into account is that it is preferable to make sure the layout of the questions have some variance between rounds. That is, you don't want one category to appear as the first or last question in every round, especially in the case of bonuses, where the order of appearance can legitimately affect results on the grounds that one category could never come up if tucked away in the last clump of bonuses in every packet. There's also the general practice of putting the questions deemed inferior in quality towards the end so as to prevent them from being heard unless absolutely necessary.

So really, randomization is more of an ordered chaos: the initial effort of sorting out the questions is random, but after that, an ideally ordered packet will need some sort of attention to how the subjects are spaced out and how the question order compares with other packets in the same set.
"They sometimes get fooled by the direction a question is going to take, and that's intentional," said Reid. "The players on these teams are so good that 90 percent of the time they could interrupt the question and give the correct answer if the questions didn't take those kinds of turns. That wouldn't be fun to watch, so every now and then as I design these suckers, I say to myself, 'Watch this!' and wait 'til we're on camera. I got a lot of dirty looks this last tournament."

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Post by vandyhawk » Mon Nov 06, 2006 12:28 am

I also agree with most sentiments here. I edited science and SS, but these are just my own opinions. The guidelines were for 6-8 line tossups, so that's what I did. By a quick perusal of the stuff I submitted, I'd say it was about 70% 7 lines, 20% 6 lines, 10% 8 lines, though I noticed that the combined packets had wider margins than I used so those numbers would be skewed longer in the versions sent out. That noted, I was also going to point out Chekhov and Scott, specifically. Although Chekhov was in my round, it wasn't my question, and that was probably the single hardest one to get through as a reader. I also chose not to use the round that had Scott in it later in the day specifically b/c it was so long and on the first page.

I think that a 5 line cap wouldn't effectively cater to the goal of ACF Fall. It might be fine for newer people, but even among moderately experienced, pretty good teams, it's not always sufficient to disntinguish between them. I also think that, although it's kind of understood that many of the top players help edit or run ACF Fall rather than play, they should be able to play if they so choose and still be at least a little challenged by it. If I were to be head editor for a packet submission tournament (which may or may not happen), I'd suggest min 5 lines, max 7, with a preference for 6 lines.

At our site, it took us about 10 hours, not counting lunch, to get through 15 rounds, so that's 40 minutes per round. We went a little slower in the morning b/c one of our normally good readers just wasn't feeling that great and was dragging, but a little faster in the afternoon. We're all competent, pretty experienced readers too. For the most part, this region is dominated by younger, inexperienced teams, and as such, we wound up reading nearly every word of most tossups, which gets to you at the end of 15 rounds. As Seth said, there's really not much you can do when you have 15 besides a full RR - we had 15 teams coming as of Fri night when I made the schedule. I thought about adding a house team and doing a bracketed RR plus rebracket (11 rounds total, we had 13 blind rounds), but I was worried that a team would drop in the morning and we wouldn't have enough people to moderate if we needed to field two teams, which would've been true since the last-minute fill-in house team was only 2 people most of the day.

As for Jerry's science comments, I'm disappointed if they didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped. We don't have a ton of science people in our region, either, so I didn't notice any issues during the reading, but I will say that CS is by far my weakest science area, and I'm not as strong in some areas of physics as the rest of science. I was supposed to get math and CS help from an experienced player, but that never panned out. I wound up getting math help from a teammate who is very very knowledgeable in math, but not very expereinced in writing/editing, which is why I hesitated to involve him until it proved necessary. Thus, CS fell to me, and I did the best I could. I thought I could handle physics well enough, but I would certainly appreciate specific comments, either here or via email, of how to improve them, or any subject actually. My teammate said he would like feedback on the math too if anyone is so inclined.

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Post by grapesmoker » Mon Nov 06, 2006 12:36 am

Matt (Keller), is there an email where we can reach you with comments?

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Post by vandyhawk » Mon Nov 06, 2006 12:38 am

matt.keller at vanderbilt.edu

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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Mon Nov 06, 2006 12:45 am

Yeah, I too am against this idea of "randomization." It's pretty annoying to me when I see three lit tossups in four questions or four science questions in the first ten tossups. Rather, when I assemble a packet, I "build" it the way I want - with the history/lit/sci spaced out and the other subjects sprinkled among them. I tend not to put two fine arts questions together or soc sci and philosophy questions together; I guess you could for once accurately say that this just offends my "aesthetic" of how a balanced packet should look.

Of course, as Frankel notes, you should not repeat a pattern or have the same questions in the same slots repeatedly. Also, I tend to put questions that I like best as the 19th or 20th tossup, so that games can potentially come down to them. I think though that I'm fair enough that I have a roughly equal chance of liking any given subject. Obviously, with the bonuses, you frontload the ones you like since there's no guarantee teams will get to bonus 19 or 20 (though of course that doesn't mean discriminate toward certain subjects early or allow bonuses 19/20 to be crappy...since teams could potentially get there and it could be very important). Sure, you can say all the points matter equally and this is really all moot, but there's an added emphasis at the end of games.

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Post by Strongside » Mon Nov 06, 2006 1:14 am

This was my first ever ACF torunament and I enjoyed it a lot. I thought it was very well written. I don't have a problem with the length of tossups but obviously shorter tossups would make the tournament go faster. The tournament set obviously wasn't perfect but I was very pleased with the questions in general.

As for the Chicago site I thought it was run extremely well. Even though the tournament went late and I didn't get back to Drake until around 2:45 a.m. I thought having 15 rounds was definitely the way to go because each team got to play all the other teams which made it fair and we got our money's worth playing 14 rounds.
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Post by cvdwightw » Mon Nov 06, 2006 1:27 am

I compiled the packets for last year's Aztlan Cup/BUTT/AWET and used a pseudorandom ordering to do this. Essentially, I picked randomly from 1 to n, where n is the number of remaining questions after repeats and noticeably poor questions (e.g. even its edited form is weaker than the rest of the packet) have been excised from the packet. Whatever number tossup that was became the next tossup in the packet. However, if the question was either the same category as either of the last two questions, or an unnatural percentage (fourth or more for the Big Three, last for the other categories) in the same half, then I would not count that number and proceed to the next one. I would then check to make sure that at least 50% of the "eligible" questions in each category were included in the first 20 questions. This doesn't prevent, say, a tossup on apartheid immediately after one on Alan Paton, but it tends to work pretty well if teams submit well-balanced packets.

I do think there is an emerging "copy-paste" mentality for picking clues. That is, you start listing everything you can find after an online search for a topic, without checking the relevance. If it's on the same page as your answer choice, it's somehow an acceptable clue, even if it deviates from what you're asking about and especially if you can use it as a lead-in to make it extremely difficult to discern what you're asking about (e.g "The grandfather of one of the namesakes of one of the theorems essential to understanding this phenomenon..."). Therefore tossups can go on for a whole line of fluff before anyone even has a chance to make an educated guess. Yes, it's a clue. No, it's not a good one. While it's good to see more people starting to write questions (I think), we have to remember that a lot of new question writers still can't differentiate between a good clue and a bad clue. There has been so much emphasis in question writing theory about appropriate answer selection and pyramidality of clues that somehow the decision on whether or not to include a clue falls through the cracks.

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Post by vandyhawk » Mon Nov 06, 2006 1:29 am

bjb87 wrote: we got our money's worth playing 14 rounds.
Heh, that's exactly the phrase I used while giving out awards at the end of the day.

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Post by ASimPerson » Mon Nov 06, 2006 3:52 am

ACF Fall has always been my favorite tournament of the year, and this year was no exception.

I'll agree most of the questions seemed long, but this was my last tournament ever (graduating next month) so I viewed as sort of "savoring" the experience, if you will.

Here were two issues I had:
1) It's good that biography bowl is on the way out, but the "listing an author's works without naming the work itself" structure is very confusing, since it's difficult to tell if a particular clue is asking about a the book, the author, or the character in some cases. This is probably one of those things that looks fine on paper but probably sounds worse when read aloud, though.
2) The bonuses seemed a little difficult compared to the tossups.

Anyway, once again, these were good questions overall and I'm glad I got to go out on a set like this.

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Post by Ray » Mon Nov 06, 2006 12:39 pm

I agree with what everyone's saying about how the questions were too long and in many cases too steeply constructed, but lest we forget, I'd like to point out that the answer set was suitably accessible and the clues were reasonably novel and interesting. In these respects, the editors did an excellent job.

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Post by ezubaric » Mon Nov 06, 2006 1:06 pm

Ryan Westbrook wrote:Yeah, I too am against this idea of "randomization."
Sure, but if it's the morning of the tournament, it seems like a better idea to give your sites the randomized packets even if they don't have the human touch.

Also, it's much easier to correct problems (obscure final questions, strings of a category) manually after it's been shuffled rather than laboriously constructing each packet.
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Post by grapesmoker » Mon Nov 06, 2006 1:22 pm

ASimPerson wrote:It's good that biography bowl is on the way out, but the "listing an author's works without naming the work itself" structure is very confusing, since it's difficult to tell if a particular clue is asking about a the book, the author, or the character in some cases. This is probably one of those things that looks fine on paper but probably sounds worse when read aloud, though.
I think that people need to pay more attention to pronouns in questions. The questions do a really good job of pointing out that what's being asked for is "this novel" or "this author" so I don't think there's any excuse for buzzing with an author when the work is being asked for. Plus, you can always blitz with author/work/character if in doubt. Had I been playing, I would have preferred to hear more tossups on works than on authors; in particular, I think poetry got short shrift in this set. However, I think for new players, it's actually better for answer selection to be more about authors, because it introduces them by way of clues to many different works of well-known writers. Then when you come to ACF Regionals, you can answer questions about "Klingsor's Last Summer," which you will have read by then.

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Post by Mr. Kwalter » Mon Nov 06, 2006 1:30 pm

There's no use not telling people this. There were a number of things that went wrong that morning, not just randomization problems. We randomized pretty quickly considering what we were working with.

First, one of our editors, I won't say which, was not yet done with his questions at 5 AM. This was obviously problematic. We ended up having to solicit outside help for this editor, which slowed things down.

Second, we ended up coming up short on almost every packet. Basically, we had set a loose rule about whether to edit all five questions in a given category per packet. This meant that nobody did it. On top of that I was prone to somewhat indiscriminately cutting geography questions that weren't good/decent already. I'll be honest, I don't care much for/about geography, and I was more concentrated on the literature. Anyway, this meant we didn't have 21 tossups in a number of packets. As a result both Billy and I were frantically writing questions in our areas (one of which, my 10 minute effort at an Anton Chekhov tossup, was rightfully pointed out as bad) to complete the packets.

So as we tried desperately to complete, proofread, and randomize the packets I was also emailing hosts with assurances that the packets were coming. We sent them out in batches, which resulted in a set that was not proofread, as was clear by the multiple repeats. I know I am not the only one of us that is prodigiously ashamed of this. I do want to apologize especially to the Saturday hosts on whom the burden lay to deal with this and to the teams, who had to bother with avoiding repeats etc.

All of this said, I think a huge thank you is in order to those that helped us with the set throughout the process. First, to Dan Passner, who not only playtested and later proofread almost every literature tossup in the set, but also substantially contributed to more than one of the packets without hesitation when we asked for help. Dan also proofread a number of the earlier packets (before compilation/randomization) for us and helped us format the packets. Second, to the others who edited or contributed questions, including Andrew Yaphe, Seth Teitler, Ryan Westbrook, Jerry Vinokurov, Matt Lafer, Leo Wolpert, and Matt Nance. Third, to everyone that playtested our packets. We always appreciate constructive feedback.

If I missed anyone I'm sure Matt will come in and add to my post. Again, I'm sorry about what happened with the packets. I sincerely hope I am right in saying that at least for ACF Fall, it won't happen again.

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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Mon Nov 06, 2006 2:02 pm

For what it's worth, on the point about pronouns, I generally think writers should try really hard to make it clear what's being asked for, and that a lot of times they don't. Try to indicate what you want clearly 2 or 3 times in the packet, and keep in mind what seems clear when you look at it in writing isn't always when it's being read aloud, especially by a moderator who may read it incorrectly/with bad emphasis/etc. I mean, theoretically, this problem could "chill" buzzes by people who know the author and not the title and don't want to chance that they're wrong about what's being asked for (I don't see this as a very common problem though). And, there's only so much you can do - accept blitzes and make pronouns clear. After that, if people don't pay attention, obviously you can't do much.

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Post by grapesmoker » Mon Nov 06, 2006 2:09 pm

I want to make a sort of meta-comment on the commentary in this thread.

I think it's important to take notice of the fact that after the tournament completion, we're getting first-hand information about what was happening during the editing process. I think all the comments (and I'm guilty of this too) make it seem like ACF Fall was much worse than it actually was. We have people not finishing their sets, packets being sent out the day of, various issues relating to the distribution, etc. But for all that, it was still a very good tournament. I don't think it was as polished as last year's Fall set, probably due to the shortage of people and the relative inexperience of some members of the editing team, but it was still damn good, and I hope people won't lose sight of that amid the discussion. With that in mind, I want to commend the editing team on their openness in this debate and also on their hard work on this set.

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Post by wd4gdz » Mon Nov 06, 2006 2:43 pm

To be honest, I was expecting this discussion to be analogous to one in which UTC Sword Bowl questions were read at ACF Nationals, at least in terms of the FA and RPM.

As that editor who wasn't done at 5AM, I'd like to thank Matt Lafer et al for helping out. Since I had never edited any packets before, I had no idea editing, replacing repeats, etc. took so much time. Hopefully though, those questions I did actually spend some time on were okay, and can overshadow some of the duds in the set.

In conclusion, sorry for the mistakes and repeats, but hopefully it was still worth playing.

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Post by MCDoug » Mon Nov 06, 2006 7:03 pm

I thought the questions were fine, minus the other points that others have already brought up, such as length; and I enjoyed playing on them.

Out of curiostity, is it normal to be putting the final touches on packets the day before and the morning of the tournament? I realize that being the editors for such a large tournament has its difficulties, but shouldn't things be done at least a day before the tournament? I understand that procrastination is the standard operating procedure for a lot of people, but with something the magitude of ACF Fall, with the number of packets sent in probably over 30, and the dates known for month ahead of time, shouldn't things be done sooner? If I'm just completely off base here, and this is how most people run tournaments, I appologize. I'm trying to get an idea of how people normally edit questions for tournament, as I am in the process of doing that for a high school tournament currently.

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Post by Matt Weiner » Mon Nov 06, 2006 7:50 pm

MCDoug wrote:Out of curiostity, is it normal to be putting the final touches on packets the day before and the morning of the tournament? I realize that being the editors for such a large tournament has its difficulties, but shouldn't things be done at least a day before the tournament? I understand that procrastination is the standard operating procedure for a lot of people, but with something the magitude of ACF Fall, with the number of packets sent in probably over 30, and the dates known for month ahead of time, shouldn't things be done sooner? If I'm just completely off base here, and this is how most people run tournaments, I appologize. I'm trying to get an idea of how people normally edit questions for tournament, as I am in the process of doing that for a high school tournament currently.
It's sadly normal, but not acceptable at all, and I can only offer my unqualified apology for the fact that it went on with respect to this tournament. As Eric said, it can't happen again for ACF Fall.

In general I want to say that I think the criticisms here are reasonable and well-explained and I will incorporate the bulk of them as they relate to my portion of the set (history, trash, and current events) into my future work. The tossup length thing in particular, I agree got out of hand (though I'd say 5 lines is a bit too harsh the other way--a 6 line average and 8 line maximum would probably be a happy medium). I did want to solicit some subject-specific commentary, particularly in regards to those current events questions. I tried to write and edit several in order to demonstrate how I think current events should work in ACF, and that there is a place for the category when written properly. Were these of appropriate difficulty and quality? Did they seem different from NAQT current events in a good/bad way? Do people want to keep this category or go back to the de facto no-current-events tournaments that are more usual in ACF?

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Post by recfreq » Mon Nov 06, 2006 8:45 pm

Sorry my post is a little long.

After just skimming the posts, I agree with the question length issue, though I do have to say that some of the ques were quite short too, so it's really an issue more of uniform ques length, I thought. Also, some of the bonus parts were just a bit long, esp. if you give an obvious clue in the intro, then listening to more of the same or some new info gets kinda boring. I do this too, so it's not really a big complaint, but I'd prefer if the writer would consistently introduce new clues at a beginning of a bonus part and give the nontrivial giveaway at the end, if possible.

IMO it was a very good set, and rivals EFT for the best set this year we've played entirely on, but just to be nitpicky, I'll pt out a couple of things.

Some parts of the fine arts distr may have been skewed. I remember hearing 2 music-related TUs in a single packet in at least 3 occasions. Not having the set at my disposal, I remember, e.g. that there would be a ques on Bellini plus a ques on Mikado, and another instance where a composer showed up plus a work of music, but no painting TU. I might have been mistakened, but that's what it seemed like at the time. I do have to say however that such skewness worked to our favor.

I thought some of the biology was quite obvious, then others were very hard to figure out in terms of what is being asked for, e.g. on the operon ques. Overall it was good, but I would have liked to see more molecular and physiological bio as opposed to diseases and ecology, but I think I'm just repeating myself on this pt. Some minor things like mentioning hysteresis early on ferromagnetism or lambda calculus early on turing thesis weren't great on hindsight, but didn't really affect us that much.

In terms of randomization, I don't see why you'd want to do very much of it by hand, b/c if you impose a separation of categories, then it's not truly random. The truly random case allows for the occurrence say 3 history questions in a roll. If people observe that every history question is followed by a non-history question in the entire 19 packet tournament, then it's no longer truly random. As a player, you should prepare for the case of back to back history TUs.

The only problem I have is with tie-breakers. In a tourney where we must have read a substantial number of tie-breakers (at least 4 to decide games, plus at least 4 to replace repeats), the distribution of these TUs matter. Not that it'd be completely fair, but I'd like to see a distr of the TBs across the packets, i.e. if we hear a science TU for TB this round, I'd rather like a history TU for the next round, to balance things out. Alternatively, have more-or-less "neutral" categories for the TBs, like lit, which both humanities and science player may be familiar with, etc.

Finally, here's a way of doing randomization if we truly want categories to be well distributed: stratified sampling w/o replacement, where the strata are the categories. Of course, you'd have to set a number indicating when categories (strata) can be replaced. This should be better than picking random numbers from 1 to 20 to place TUs from a single category and going category by category, b/c the uniform distr has high variance.

Thanks very much to the editing staff for putting together an enjoyable set.

(P.S. I would have preferred ACF to allow exhibition teams--in the case of Berkeley, basically they were not competitive b/c either many of them couldn't make it or some of them were not eligible, but I recall having an exhibition team in the past that was fun to play with--I understand for ACF fall, we don't want older people taking younger people's questions, but I hope that for ACF regs, we would allow for exhibition teams once more--also, for the west coast, there will probly not be enough interest o/w.)
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Post by grapesmoker » Mon Nov 06, 2006 9:30 pm

I believe ACF allows exhibition teams; they are just not eligible to win the tournament.

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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Mon Nov 06, 2006 11:43 pm

Yeah, there have been plenty of exhib teams...and, it comes as no surprise that I'm all for them.

As for the point about randomization, I don't understand. What's the significant interest in having two history questions back to back? Randomness can't be good just for the sake of randomness. I'd say packets are more interesting and enjoyable when they feel balanced.

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Post by Matt Weiner » Mon Nov 06, 2006 11:50 pm

grapesmoker wrote:I believe ACF allows exhibition teams; they are just not eligible to win the tournament.
This year, they were not allowed.

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Post by grapesmoker » Mon Nov 06, 2006 11:52 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:
grapesmoker wrote:I believe ACF allows exhibition teams; they are just not eligible to win the tournament.
This year, they were not allowed.
Huh, I didn't know that. Good thing no one tried to field an exhibition team at Brown, I guess... anyway, with that in mind, I don't have any objection to exhibition teams at Regionals, but I'll leave it to my co-editors to give their opinions on the matter.

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Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Mon Nov 06, 2006 11:55 pm

Ryan Westbrook wrote:Yeah, there have been plenty of exhib teams...and, it comes as no surprise that I'm all for them.

As for the point about randomization, I don't understand. What's the significant interest in having two history questions back to back? Randomness can't be good just for the sake of randomness. I'd say packets are more interesting and enjoyable when they feel balanced.
The argument seems to be that if you know that after every literature tossup there will be a history tossup, or even if all you know is that there will never be any two history tossups in a row, you will have an additional (and, presumably, unfair) advantage in that you will be able to divine (or partially divine) the category of a tossup before hearing any clues.

Matt Weiner, in his new incarnation as a champion for novice players, might argue that since older players are more likely to know such patterns than new players, this would be a disadvantage for beginners.

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Post by vandyhawk » Tue Nov 07, 2006 12:51 am

MCDoug wrote:Out of curiostity, is it normal to be putting the final touches on packets the day before and the morning of the tournament? I realize that being the editors for such a large tournament has its difficulties, but shouldn't things be done at least a day before the tournament? I understand that procrastination is the standard operating procedure for a lot of people, but with something the magitude of ACF Fall, with the number of packets sent in probably over 30, and the dates known for month ahead of time, shouldn't things be done sooner? If I'm just completely off base here, and this is how most people run tournaments, I appologize. I'm trying to get an idea of how people normally edit questions for tournament, as I am in the process of doing that for a high school tournament currently.
The problem with procrastination being the standard is that most packets get submitted late as well, which gives us less time to work on things. Also, yeah, there were probably 30 submissions or so, but given that ACF Fall caters to new players, and most experienced players don't play, they also don't write entire packets of usable questions. Many of the submissions just were not of high quality, but that's to be expected. When I look at some of my questions from a few years ago, I cringe. One of the biggest factors in improving my writing was getting feedback from Andrew Yaphe on various ACF submissions, so I highly encourage people who submitted packets to email Eric or any of us to get feedback. The point of this is to introduce people to writing questions, but I think it does little good for a young team to write a whole packet, only to have 1 or 2 questions used, and for them not to get feedback about how to improve things so more get used in the future.
I would have liked to see more molecular and physiological bio as opposed to diseases and ecology, but I think I'm just repeating myself on this pt.
Maybe it's just a function of which rounds you heard, but I was afraid of having too much mol bio and physio stuff and wanted to make sure some other aspects were covered. Of the 23 bio tossups, there were 3 diseases, two "ecology" type things, a couple bacterial things, but the rest were what I'd consider mol bio or phys. Bonuses were similarly distributed.
Some minor things like mentioning hysteresis early on ferromagnetism or lambda calculus early on turing thesis weren't great on hindsight, but didn't really affect us that much.
Yeah, I'll take the blame for those two questions sucking. Ferromagnetism started out as a shorter question, so I decided it wasn't terrible to have hysteresis on the 3rd line of a 6 line tossup for this particular tournament...but then it got to like 8 lines and it was bad placement. That happened more than once - what I'd consider a "mid level" clue started out in the middle, but then the easy clues just started accumulating and making the question unnecessarily long, pushing the mid-level clues too early. As for Church-Turing, just a mistake. How was the rest of CS?

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Post by setht » Tue Nov 07, 2006 12:56 am

I prefer randomization by hand, so that you don't wind up with 2 visual arts tossups in a row, or 1 lit tossup in the first half and 4 in the second half. There was a packet at ACF Fall that had two visual arts tossups in a row; I watched Kelly Tourdot kill both of them (and 30 a visual arts bonus that happened to come up in there). I think clumping like this can produce weird changes in game momentum and mess a bit with people's focus; I know I've had the experience of sitting through a round that had one science tossup in the first 15, and wondering to myself, "Where the hell is the science?"

I think it's ridiculous to argue that the non-randomness of such packets actually produces an advantage for any player. I suppose, if there were some player who could only buzz on (say) history, they'd be able to accurately predict a couple tossups they can nap through, but I don't think there are such players, and I don't think this represents an advantage. Knowing or guessing that the next question is not literature doesn't really help narrow things down in any meaningful way, I think.

Regarding exhibition teams at ACF Regionals: we are allowing masters/bastard/whatever teams to play. Such teams are required to write packets, as noted in the announcement. I believe such teams are typically not eligible to win the title at their local site, but they can definitely play.

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Post by cvdwightw » Tue Nov 07, 2006 2:47 am

Perhaps I can clear something up here. From the perspective of a player, there is nothing inherently wrong with having two questions in a row on the same topic, and there is nothing inherently wrong with spacing them out.

However, having two (say) science tossups in a row severely offends my sense of quiz bowl aesthetics.

Now that we've established that this is a purely aesthetical issue, back to the discussion at hand.

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Post by Kyle » Wed Nov 08, 2006 12:18 am

I am curious whether anybody thought the bonuses were too long in addition to the tossups. Don't long bonuses slow down the game just as much as long tossups?

Anyway, I thought it was a good set in terms of answer choice and a good tournament. My team had a great time. Thanks on behalf of both Harvard teams to the editors and to Jerry for all their work.

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Post by Ray » Wed Nov 08, 2006 4:48 am

Yeah, that was another thing - the bonuses were long. I appreciated some of the metajokes in the leadins but it eventually got to the point where one of our moderators was paraphrasing bonuses on the fly because they were so exhaustingly long.

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Post by geekjohnson » Wed Nov 08, 2006 4:42 pm

Speaking as a first time ACF player, with a brand new program no less, I can say that the entire experience was very enjoyable, and was also what I would expect from a fall tournament meant for novice players and such. I agree with the crowd that the toss-ups were incredibly long. Combine that fact with the tournament running until 10 p.m. and you get some very lethargic players. My team really enjoyed the experience and we look forward to other ACF and packet-submission tourneys, not that we submitted for this one, lol.

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Re: ACF Fall Commentary

Post by QuizbowlPostmodernist » Mon Nov 13, 2006 9:02 pm

AuguryMarch wrote: Let's put ourselves in the mind of a frosh for a moment. Many of these tossups were 8 to 9 lines long in 10 point font. That's long. Please don't get me wrong. Personally I love long questions, and I know that many ACF types feel the same way. But for a freshman to sit while 3-4 lines are read where they have no idea what's going on.. that's bad.
This probably deserves to be split off into a separate thread about leadins and question difficulty, but this primacy effect is something that has a greater effect on the perception of ACF being more difficult than it actually is than answer selection. If I understand the goal of the tournament correctly, then ACF Fall tossups should have easier leadins on average than ACF Regionals tossups, even if the answers are the same.

There's probably a long, boring qb theory from me related to this waiting in the wings (is that Mike Sorice's head banging against a wall I hear from another continent?).

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Post by NatusRoma » Thu Nov 30, 2006 2:25 am

Will the questions be available online anytime soon? Are they already stored in the dark recesses of someone's university-sponsored file directory?

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