25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

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25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby Martin Faber » Tue Apr 26, 2016 2:00 pm

2016 marked the 25th ACF Nationals, an event that could scarcely be allowed to pass without Martin Faber's definitive comment. Thus, a coterie of estimable individuals have collaborated to produce—as ever, for your edification and enjoyment—a list of the 25 greatest players to lace 'em up at Nats. The authors considered only accomplishments at ACF Nationals, rather than skill in the abstract or accomplishments at other events or formats, when compiling this list. We've also recalled a representative "favorite moment" for each of the 25 players. We saw fit to include several honorable mentions; although we present those with less fulsome commentary, you're encouraged to share your favorite moments of those players (or additional moments for the 25) below.

25 Greatest ACF Players

Ezequiel Berdichevsky. After helping Maryland to a second-place finish in 1999, Zeke transformed Michigan into a perennial contender, leading his team to championships in 2001, 2002, and 2005 and a second-place finish in 2003. He also edited three Nationals: 2004, 2007, and 2010.

    While later generations of players know Zeke as a superlative editor and moderator, he was also the best all-around player in the country (after Andrew Yaphe, when Andrew was playing) from 2001-05. His signature achievement remains 2005's ACF Nationals—which may still be the hardest ever produced—when his famously unflappable demeanor and relentless focus allowed his Michigan team to prevail against a formidable field, including a Subash/Seth-led Chicago team.

Matt Bollinger. After courting success at Nationals as the most dominant undergraduate scorer since Andrew, Matt finally broke through with a title in his senior year, 2014, becoming the second player ever (after Andrew) to win a title while leading the field in scoring.

    Modern spite has never been so thoroughly rewarded as at 2014 Nationals, when Matt's furious study binge led him to crush the nearest competitor in scoring by over 20 points, and propelled his Virginia team to a grail en route to an undefeated clearing of the field.

Rob Carson. Rob was a key contributor to the Minnesota teams that won a division II and three undergraduate titles, and had two runner-up finishes, from 2008-11. He served as co-head editor of Nationals in 2015 and 2016.

    In what was in effect a play-in game against Illinois, Rob answered three of the final five tossups, including a first-line buzz on "judging the dead" and an incredibly gutty final-tossup pull of The Question Concerning Technology, to propel Minnesota to the finals in 2011.

Susan Ferrari. Susan helped Chicago to the first two titles of its threepeat from 2007-09 before serving as a Nationals editor from 2010-12.

    A travel snafu left the 2008 Chicago A squad shorthanded, which left very little margin for error. The team eked out a close playoff win over Brown—and secured the advantage in the final—when Susan had the courage to go in on the last tossup, on Thomas Tallis.

Auroni Gupta. Auroni was a four-time all-star and one-time scoring champion for UCSD. After moving to the University of Michigan, he led that team to the 2016 title over Chicago. He was also an editor of Nationals in 2014.

    Auroni's hyper-efficient 6-0 line in the 2016 championship game, which included impressive buzzes in jazz, literature, and classical music, broke a decade-long title drought for Michigan and was a fitting capstone to a decorated career.

Andrew Hart. In the six years from 2008-13, Andrew's Minnesota teams made the top Nationals playoff bracket, including in 2013 when he played solo. His teams won a division II title, three undergrad championships, and came within a game of the overall title in 2010 and 2011.

    Along with Rob Carson, Andrew was the heart of the ultra-successful Minnesota program's run at ACF Nationals from 2009-11. Perhaps his greatest single performance came during the 2010 playoffs against the defending champion Seth Teitler-led Chicago A team when he answered five tossups, including a key early buzz on Locke's Second Treatise; that victory clinched a spot in the finals for MN, where they would go on to play one of the most exciting games in Nationals history against an Andrew Yaphe-led Stanford team.

Jeff Hoppes. Jeff was a two-time all-star at Princeton before helping Berkeley to a title in 2003, a second-place finish in 2004, and a third-place finish in 2005. His team tied for fourth when he came back after a long hiatus in 2011.

    During his time at Berkeley, Jeff Hoppes's teams routinely played meaningful top-bracket games against the other best teams of his era. Always steady, during the second finals game at 2003 ACF Nationals he made a huge difference for his team by getting three of the four history questions during the round, thereby neutralizing one of Michigan's greatest strengths and helping lead Cal to their only ACF championship.

Matt Jackson. In Matt's four years at Yale, he led his teams to two titles, two second-place finishes, and an undergraduate championship, cementing his legacy as the greatest undergraduate champion in ACF history.

    A college freshman picked and clawed his way through one of the hardest finals packets ever written, displaying both wide-ranging knowledge and incredible savvy, leading his team to a championship over a group of seasoned veterans. If I didn't know Matt Jackson, I wouldn't believe it myself.

Jeff Johnson. In the four years from 1995-98, Jeff finished second in scoring three times and led his Harvard team to a championship over Georgia Tech in 1995.

    In the pre-Internet era, Jeff Johnson showed up basically out of nowhere (as this writer remembers it) and obliterated the field to win the 1995 title. Three years later, he single-handedly led his team to the finals, barely losing to an Andrew Yaphe-led Virginia team.

Ike Jose. Ike won the division II championship playing solo as a high schooler, then led his Illinois teams to the undergraduate championship in 2012 and the overall title in 2013, making him the only player to have won all three titles. He also won the scoring title in 2012. He served as a Nationals editor in 2015 and co-head editor 2016.

    After Illinois made a surprise run to hold the advantage in the 2013 final, Yale thoroughly trounced them in the first leg. Ike and his teammates responded by grabbing the second game by the throat and never letting up, completing one of the most unexpected championship performances in ACF history.

Adam Kemezis. Adam was the second scorer to Zeke on Michigan's three championships in 2001, 2002, and 2005. As Michigan's leading scorer, Adam led the team to a second-place finish in 2006, coming up short in the finals to Texas A&M.

    In what essentially became a play-in game for a spot in the 2005 ACF Nationals final, Adam Kemezis' buzz out of nowhere on "cruel and unusual punishment" on the last question of a very close game clinched the victory for Michigan against a Berkeley team led by one of his greatest rivals: Jeff Hoppes.

Selene Koo. In the seven years from 2005-11, Selene was on Chicago teams that made the top playoff bracket, including the threepeat championship teams from 2007-09. In 2011, a Selene-led Chicago team achieved a top-bracket finish.

    My favorite ACF Nationals-related memory of Selene isn't from a match or any incarnation of the tournament itself. It's a welter of memories of studying together, which we decided to do in serious fashion after the 2006 season. We worked together on splitting up subjects, consulted each other on what to include in our notes and what to skip, and spent time, week after week for years, studying together, quizzing each other directly from our notes, and reading many, many questions to each other.

    We flew into Boston a day early for the 2008 tournament, and spent a large chunk of the day hanging out in our hotel room, gearing up for the tournament the next day. Sure enough, in the final match Selene had a crucial buzz on Fries's Rebellion, a topic in her notes that she had gone over and I had quizzed her on the previous day.

Matt Lafer. Matt backed up Zeke and Adam on Michigan's 2005 title team before playing solo in 2006 and leading the field in scoring; he would have qualified for the top bracket had his team not held exhibition status. He served as a Nationals editor from 2007-09.

    On nearly any other team, Matt would have been a perennial all-star and #1 during his time at Michigan. In 2005, he was a key cog on a championship team that, at its best, featured 2-3 players buzzing by the end on nearly any question. During the first finals game in 2005 against a Chicago A team featuring Subash, Seth, Selene, and Susan, he answered a clutch question on The End of the Affair that helped settle his team's nerves and allowed Michigan to take control.

John Lawrence. As a strong second player, John guided Yale to championships in 2011 and 2012 before playing solo and leading the field in scoring in 2013. Since moving to the University of Chicago, he has led his teams to three top-four finishes, including consecutive runner-ups alongside Chris Ray in 2015-16.

    At the time, Yale's run to the 2011 finals was seen as a surprise rather than the portent to a dynasty. After the first tossup went dead and Yale converted the second, John announced Yale's arrival as a true contender by running a quick and gleeful 30 on a Schubert bonus, and his team never looked back.

Subash Maddipoti. Although more renowned for his meteoric performances at ICT, Subash served as perhaps the best-ever second fiddle to Andrew for Chicago's 2004 title run, and led both Illinois and Chicago to the finals as their lead scorer. He head-edited Nationals in 2001.

    During the 2000 ACF Nationals playoffs, Subash, then with Illinois, handed Chicago its first ACF Nationals loss in a round since Andrew Yaphe's arrival in Hyde Park. A very strong ACF humanities player, his buzz on Tiepolo's Wurzburg frescoes in the 2004 finals against Berkeley set the tone as Chicago went on to capture the title.

Eric Mukherjee. Playing in the second chair next to Jerry, Eric helped Brown to three straight second-place finishes during the Teitler-era Chicago threepeat. After moving to Penn, Eric led his team to three top-four finishes before breaking through with a title in 2015.

    When Eric converted a sociology tossup on "everyday life" to clinch the 2015 title, everyone in attendance recognized that it marked the long-deserved culmination of his team-building and rise as a dominant player.

Will Nediger. Will is a two-time all-star who led Michigan teams to four consecutive top-bracket finishes and two third-place finishes before teaming up with Auroni to win the 2016 title.

    Will's 5-0 line in the 2016 championship game, including a key buzz on The Wild Ass's Skin that sealed the victory, was the culmination of five exceptional years at Michigan.

Chris Ray. Chris is a five-time Nationals all-star and helped his Chicago team to consecutive second-place finishes in 2015-16 in a career that is still ongoing.

    Chris's transformation from a devastating ICT player whose style didn't quite mesh with the distribution and longer questions at Nationals to a player capable of guiding a team to ACF success was on full display in 2016, when he kept Chicago within striking distance of Michigan in the finals with the buzzer, including converting a crazy-difficult tossup on the Theophylact family.

Aaron Rosenberg. After starting out as a contributor on two of Brown's runner-up teams, Aaron moved to Illinois, where he was a strong second to Ike on the champion 2013 team and the lead scorer (and an all-star) on the eighth-place 2014 team.

    Aaron's combined 6-1 line over two legs of the 2013 final against Yale, three tossups in each game, is the perfect illustration of his steady-handed excellence that, teamed with Ike's all-around game, Billy Busse's domination of science, and Austin Listerud's solid play, won the championship for Illinois.

John Sheahan. John was a member of the championship Chicago teams in 1993 and 1994, and led the field in scoring en route to a second-place finish to Andrew's Virginia team in 1997.

    While John's early-'90s championships are beyond the recall of even this list's authors, he lives on as a fierce competitor and the best player of the first era of the storied Chicago quizbowl program.

Mike Sorice. Mike won four all-star awards and one scoring title, and led his Illinois teams to consistent top-bracket finishes, in a career spanning most of the 2000s.

    Mike served on the editing team for a number of mid-2000s Nationals and spent much of the end of that decade as the driving force behind several fourth-place Nats finishes. He and Ike Jose formed a devastating one-two punch at his last Nationals in 2011. In the final game of the playoffs, essentially a play-in game against Minnesota, Mike's conversion of a tossup on "Roman citizenship" drew Illinois to within striking distance of the final before Minnesota pulled away.

Seth Teitler. In the eight years spanning 2003-10, Seth's Berkeley and Chicago teams finished no lower than third, and won half of the available ACF titles, including a threepeat from 2007-09 that culminated in a finish over teams led by Brendan, Jerry, and Andrew.

    Seth really arrived on the scene as a potential #1 in 2003, when—on a team with Jeff Hoppes, David Farris, and Jon Pennington—he led the Berkeley team that won the title that year in scoring. By 2009, Seth had mastered the role and coolly captained his Chicago A team to its third consecutive Nationals victory over two worthy opponents: Stanford and Brown.

Jerry Vinokurov. Quizbowl's Charles Barkley finished second to Chicago on four occasions, once with Berkeley and thrice leading the Brown team he founded. Jerry, who was an all-star scorer five times and a Nationals head editor two times, came within one tossup of an individual grail in 2006.

    Quizbowl's Charles Barkley has also been called quizbowl's Kevin Garnett, because Jerry "plays with emotion" and so forth. And that's true, but it sells short his calmer side. The 2009 Brown team was missing Eric Mukherjee, but was still very much a formidable team, playing their way into the final ahead of Chicago and Stanford. When they faced the Chicago team earlier in the playoffs, Chicago quickly built up a large lead. Some of Jerry's teammates were clearly flustered, but Jerry calmed them down and encouraged them to keep their heads in the game. They went on to win, despite Jerry answering only two tossups. That feat of beating a top team without a great individual performance from Jerry would have been unthinkable two years earlier, when Jerry took some of those same teammates to their first-ever ACF Nationals. That playoff match showcased Jerry's success in fostering long-term player growth, and his ability to provide calm, stabilizing leadership in tense moments.

Matt Weiner. Matt was a four-time all-star, two-time scoring champion, and one of only two players known to have advanced to the top bracket of the Nationals playoff as a solo player. He served as the head editor of Nationals in 2009.

    In 2007, Matt Weiner took his all-around game to Vanderbilt and nearly made the top three as he led the tournament in scoring. Two years earlier, he had impressively made the top bracket of ACF Nationals playing by himself on what was then considered the hardest set ever.

Andrew Yaphe. Andrew is the greatest player of both the 1990s and 2000s, the founder and most prolific editor of modern ACF, a six-time champion, six-time top overall scorer, and three-time head editor. A player has led the field in scoring and won Nationals on six occasions. Five times, that player has been Andrew Yaphe.

    Andrew's initial Virginia/Chicago run from 1997-2000 netted him four consecutive ACF National titles; only the 2007-09 run by his protege, Seth Teitler, comes close. He returned in 2009 with no preparation, led the tournament in scoring, and nearly won ACF Nationals against a stacked field, but lost in a play-in game for the finals. Watching that run, I thought it might be the end of an era. Of course, he returned the next year against arguably even better competition and gutted out a final ACF Nationals championship by answering nine tossups in the final round.

Honorable Mentions

Evan Adams. Evan was a two-time all-star scorer for VCU before moving to Virginia and helping that team to a second-place finish in 2012 and a championship in 2014.

Jordan Brownstein. After leading Maryland to a third-place finish in 2015 and finishing as an all-star, Jordan led the field in scoring en route to a fourth-place finish in 2016.

Brendan Byrne. Brendan led Minnesota to a fourth- and a second-place finish in 2009 and 2010 during his brief but brilliant rise to become one of the best active players at the ACF format.

Tommy Casalaspi. After backing up Evan Adams as a high schooler dual-enrolled with VCU, Tommy served as a consistent second chair to Matt Bollinger at the height of Virginia's run. His transformation, seemingly by force of will, into a dominant science player was a major factor leading to Virginia's 2014 title.

Dave Hamilton. Dave won two all-star awards leading Maryland teams to consistently high finishes in the late 1990s, including a second-place finish to Andrew's Chicago in 1999 and an earlier second-place finish to Georgia Tech in 1996.

Gautam Kandlikar. Gautam was a key contributor on the 2008-11 Minnesota teams that won a division II title, three undergraduate titles, and finished second twice.

John Kenney. John led Nationals in scoring twice and finished second once, propelling Virginia to two fourth-place finishes and a runner-up, from 2000-02.

Jason King. Jason was the lead scorer on the Georgia Tech teams that won Nationals in 1996 and finished second in 1995.

Kevin Koai. After playing a small role in Stanford's third-place finish in 2009, Kevin moved to Yale, where he helped Matt Jackson and John Lawrence win two titles and achieve a second-place finish from 2010-13.

Paul Litvak. Paul won Nationals with Michigan in 2002 as a strong third to Zeke and Adam. He was an all-star in 2006 for Carnegie Mellon.

Kelly McKenzie. In the four years from 2001-04, Kelly finished second in scoring three times and fourth once, and led his Kentucky teams to two fourths, a third, and to within 110 points of Zeke's Michigan in 2002. He also created ACF Fall.

Jonathan Magin. Jonathan was an all-star on the 2008 Maryland team that finished third behind Chicago and Brown. He head-edited Nationals in 2012 and 2013.

Saajid Moyen. If Saajid is forever lost to the financial sector, he went out on top; his humanities knowledge was a major factor in Penn's championship in 2015.

Chris Romero. Texas A&M's shock title in 2006 was the crowning moment of Chris's team-building efforts.

Ryan Westbrook. Ryan was a two-time all-star and the second scorer behind Adam on the runner-up Michigan team in 2006. He edited Nationals four times, twice as head editor.

Leo Wolpert. Leo was a key contributor on the champion 2005 Michigan team. In 2006, he was an all-star playing for Virginia. His central place in the website photo makes him the closest thing ACF has to "The Logo."
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby Ike » Tue Apr 26, 2016 7:06 pm

This is an fun list. I had no idea that its compilers looked so very thoroughly at individual tossups in the finals - if so, I would have written a tossup on the Alcubierre metric instead of making it just a bonus so that in the possible world where Austin Brownlow clinches tossup 16-19, we can talk about how sexy that buzz on that awesome answerline is instead! (I jest of course.)

Aaron Rosenberg. After starting out as a contributor on two of Brown's runner-up teams, Aaron moved to Illinois, where he was a strong second to Ike on the champion 2013 team and the lead scorer (and an all-star) on the eighth-place 2014 team.

Aaron's combined 6-1 line over two legs of the 2013 final against Yale, three tossups in each game, is the perfect illustration of his steady-handed excellence that, teamed with Ike's all-around game, Billy Busse's domination of science, and Austin Listerud's solid play, won the championship for Illinois.


Allow me to throw in one of my favorite anecdotes about Aaron Rosenberg. It took a bit of time for everyone to adjust on UIUC A at the opening of 2013, but one of the more amusing mannerisms of Aaron was his apologies after he negged or failed to pull a bonus part. At first I thought he actually felt terrible for negging which seemed to me silly, but that all changed when he played an in-house mirror of TIT solo: after failing to convert a bonus part, he said "sorry" to his teammates, which consisted of no one. And that's where it just all clicked - Aaron took it upon himself to learn all the things that the team didn't know; winning Nationals in 2013 was only possible with him.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby Cheynem » Tue Apr 26, 2016 7:27 pm

In terms of Honorable Mention, I might add the duo of Ted Gioia and Dallas Simons, who with a lot of great teammates and one fiend, led Harvard to a number of excellent finishes that have been overshadowed thanks to unpleasant events. The saddest thing about Andy's perfidy was that it overshadowed how solid a team Harvard was.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Tue Apr 26, 2016 8:36 pm

I know this is an ACF thread, but let's remember that Minnesota led by Carson/Hart/Byrne beat Harvard at the 2010 ICT despite the fact that somebody on the other team had all of the answers. This is an underrated achievement by that group.

That late 2000's Harvard team might have won a few things legitimately if not for Minnesota: they beat Chicago and Illinois at various high-level tournaments that Andy Watkins did not have the answers to. But we were always crushed by Minnesota in any fair game and even in unfair games.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Wed Apr 27, 2016 1:10 pm

A couple of things about this post strike me as amusing for discussion purposes.

First, I love the line about old Michigan being a team full of players who would "be buzzing by the end of almost any question," because it reminds me that there used to be a certain type of player that really isn't around much anymore. My good buddy Matt Lafer is probably the example that comes most readily to mind. It's what I call the "high-level generalist" - the player who might know the last two or three clues about almost every possible answerline, no matter whether it's a super-hard answer like Theophylact or a super-easy one like Jane Eyre. That's the pan-generalist game that Matt had when I was getting into learning quizbowl, and it's what I tried to emulate - and often when I write or edit questions even these days, I try to cater to that type of knowledge (cough, Vassall Morton, cough).

I'm not sure there are many players now that have that kind of game, and to the extent that there are players that can do it (like, I'm not naive - clearly awesome players like MattBo and Jordan have a lot of capability to do this), they have a lot less value in today's QB. Especially in important matches with good teams, the value of specialists these days is enormous...most questions don't get to the last two or three clues. Partly, it's a result of the fact that there are just more players around these days who have pockets of specialist knowledge (and there are just more players in general). But, I think it's also partly a function of how questions are written - for example, the movement to focus on deep clues about "core characters" or "core works" (i.e. a super-deep tossup on Hamlet) - the movement to expand depth-first instead of breadth-first.

The super-generalist knowledge is still valuable on bonuses (especially the second and third parts of bonuses) - which, by the way, is why those Laferbrook teams at random tournaments in the late aughts would often win the Bonus Conversion Title. But, who cares about bonuses? - they've always been the red-headed stepchild of this game; they don't get you wins.


Secondly, it's an interesting assertion that 2005 Nationals may "still be the hardest ever written" - it's really hard to go back and evaluate: the difference between "hardest ever" in some absolute sense, and "hardest for its era" in some sense that is relative to what players at the time knew. There are a ton of high-level topics that come up in today's QB that were not anywhere close to the radar back in 2005. Another clear difference is that all packets (or nearly all) are available online now - as I predicted long ago, that's made a colossal difference in what people know and when they know it. It's a very different age from when teams kept a vault of paper packets that they treasured, or they passed around a coveted CD containing an archive of packets, or they sat waiting for tournaments to make a stop at the IRC Underground Packet Railroad. As the longtime leader in creating "highest-difficulty possible" tournaments - I'd be pretty interested in having a debate over how difficulty has evolved, how opinions and feelings toward difficulty have evolved, etc. - does it mean the same things as it used to mean?

For example, as I remember, 2005 and 2006 saw an explosion of hard tournaments and positive sentiment toward hard tournaments (the "Manu Ginobili Period"). Then, the period from 2007-09 or so was the "Control Regular Difficulty Period", where everyone was all about the Matt Weiner-led movement to control difficulty, sparked by concerns over lack of participation in the game (Paul Litvak's "leaving qb" post?). Now, I don't know where the pendulum is at.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby ValenciaQBowl » Wed Apr 27, 2016 1:46 pm

To Ryan's point about evolving difficulty: I remember the great and powerful Subash Maddipoti including in an e-mail he sent out when he was editing a Chicago Open in the early 2000s something about how packet writers should fight the urge to write about the "all-important Trouton's Rule"--in other words, there was no need to go crazy with obscure stuff. I'm not a science guy, but it stuck in my mind, and I know I've seen that as a clue and (I'm pretty sure) an answer line in the years since.

Anyway, sorry to derail, but sure, the game is way harder than it used to be.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby Cheynem » Wed Apr 27, 2016 2:09 pm

I've only been playing since 2008--I think in my experience, at least in college, the lower levels of collegiate quizbowl (novice/Fall through regular) are more or less easier. If you look at some old ACF Regionals, they seem jarringly hard even today. On the other hand, I think Nats and CO have gotten harder, in some cases, much harder.

I'm not entirely sure if there's anyway around it. To use sports analogies, pitchers in the 2000's throw much much faster than pitchers in the 1900's; basketball players are bigger and stronger, etc. Players now are "better" (on average) than in the past because of things that Ryan alludes to--better quality questions, more available packets, less burden to participate in some cases. I'm not trying to make it seem like the greats of the past are weaker than the present, just that in some ways it's "easier" to get better now (in other ways, harder, since it's tougher to fraud things and real knowledge is in vogue).
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Wed Apr 27, 2016 2:12 pm

I think the best way to characterize the current era of writing would be a focus on "non-quizbowl learning" - i.e. being conscious of what people will encounter from doing things other than just reading packets.learning titles and frequency lists/"traditional" studying when you write questions. There's been a lot of forums discussion emphasizing this - Ike's painting thread (adding art history clues rather than just describing what paintings look like), the general switch to emphasizing plot details (as opposed to titles and character names) in literature questions, the shift away from Named Things in science questions, etc. At its best, this has meant that more people are being rewarded for things they've made a genuine attempt to interact with and the overall accessibility of quizbowl has increased - at its worst, this has resulted in underestimation of early clue and hard part difficulty (Penn Bowl 2014, a lot of the hard parts at STIMPY and MLK, George Oppen) when people cram in too many cool things they were excited to learn at the expense of middle clues or gettable hard parts. But overall, I think it's improved the quality of the game.

I don't know if tournaments have really changed in difficulty across the four years I've played, apart from this year when tournaments have definitely gotten a bit easier (though today's Nationals make pre-2010 ACF Nats look like a joke, I think 2016 was definitely more accessible than 2015). I think we have a pretty healthy range of difficulties even within "regular difficulty" as it's currently conceived, and I think this could even be expanded a bit - ideally with more tournaments on the easy end, but perhaps with a solid "regular-plus" set here and there as well.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby vinteuil » Wed Apr 27, 2016 2:31 pm

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:(though today's Nationals make pre-2010 ACF Nats look like a joke, I think 2016 was definitely more accessible than 2015).

I see you haven't met the tossup on The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away from 2009 ACF Nats (or been through 2005 too thoroughly).
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby Ike » Wed Apr 27, 2016 3:32 pm

Though I'm sure Martin Faber and friends can post more about this if they want, I think it's too self-congratulating to call our era the era of "non-quizbowl learning." It may be hard to tell this from playing Nationals in 2005 now, but that tournament was definitely written with real knowledge in mind -- it just ended up too hard.

I suppose quizbowl writing history for at least the last 10 years or so is like a gyre. We've been trying to circle around the ideal point repeatedly, and as time moves us along one dimension, we've been circling closer and closer to the ideal point. To simplify the discussion, I'll talk about literature. If you look at those author tossups that Yaphe pretty much developed, they were written in an era where you couldn't just go to wikipedia and learn all those titles - they were attempts at rewarding someone who knew more about an author - let's say Thomas Hardy, because back in the day, everyone knew all about Tess and Jude the Obscure and the more knowledgeable player would be familiar with Two on a Tower, for example. At some point around 2010, they started to fall out of favor, presumably with the rise of the Internet and wikipedia (democratization). 2010 Nationals was the last tournament where I can recall them coming up excessively. The Gioia style of writing gained some traction, but thankfully not all, then the style of tossup most closely associated with John Lawrence started to become popular. And now, we're okay with returning back to some of the older style of writing. I think it's just our circular path is tracing itself back again around the point. As examples: I'll be honest, I played Nationals 2009, and that The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away* tu struck me as not really too hard or really too easy, and even now I would have no problem asking about it - it's one of his most discussed stories / novellas. I would have no problem using that exact same tossup in Nationals 2015 or 2016. In the so-called era of "non-quizbowl learning" ICT was largely produced by Zeke and Yaphe, two of the pioneers who would squarely not belong to such an era. At this year's Nationals, I used some biography clues, title drops, genre lit questions etc. All of this should just really suggest that the history of quizbowl writing is not really a progression.

I guess I'll add two addenda: one, all of this is high level quizbowl. Rob Carson recently reminded me that I once played CBI - back in 2008 before I was even known as Ike. It sucked, but what people don't realize is how much history of qb is in CBI and the CBI-like, trivia, jeopardy, style of mentality. It's a pretty far cry from where we are today. In my mind, some of the non-optimal aspects of the game that were prevalent in 2008-09 (science BS) are survivals from that era.

Also, whether or not you want to interpret our forerunners as favorably as I do in intentions, they are largely responsible for laying the groundwork for the high standards we hold our writing to this day. So at the very least you should be thankful to them for developing the game we have today.

*The real baffling tossup to me, Jacob, is that Zaire by Voltaire tossup.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby theMoMA » Wed Apr 27, 2016 3:41 pm

Some one said: "The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did." Precisely, and they are that which we know.

I think it's flat-out wrong to suggest that old sets were easier than the sets of today. For example, only one team at 2009 Nationals had a bonus conversion above 17 in either the prelims or playoffs, a feat that six of the top seven teams managed in the playoffs in 2016, and the top four accomplished on the harder 2015 set. The difficulty of a set is measured when it's actually played, not upon five or six years' remove. Old sets may appear much easier than newer ones to the modern reader, but that's because we know more now, and in large part, the old sets are what we know.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby The King's Flight to the Scots » Wed Apr 27, 2016 3:50 pm

The Gioia style of writing gained some traction, but thankfully not all, then the style of tossup most closely associated with John Lawrence started to become popular.


John Lawrence writes great questions, but for the sake of the historical record, Evan was writing and recommending those two-work author tossups before John got involved.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby Ike » Wed Apr 27, 2016 3:57 pm

The King's Flight to the Scots wrote:
The Gioia style of writing gained some traction, but thankfully not all, then the style of tossup most closely associated with John Lawrence started to become popular.


John Lawrence writes great questions, but for the sake of the historical record, Evan was writing and recommending those two-work author tossups before John got involved.


Not to degenerate this into petty squabbling, I was going to call them Adams-Gioia style of questions, but I actually much prefer Evan's over Ted's, so I chose not to include his name. At some point I would love to a talk about the different styles of lit writing but needless to say, there is a huge difference in feeling between Evan's, Ted's and John's style of writing even if they are all manifestations of the same kind of reaction to then current trends in writing.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby grapesmoker » Wed Apr 27, 2016 4:37 pm

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:(though today's Nationals make pre-2010 ACF Nats look like a joke...).


This is quite a silly thing to say.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby Muriel Axon » Wed Apr 27, 2016 4:57 pm

This list is missing Joe Nutter, and in particular the time he helped us beat Ohio State at 2014 Nats by pulling a clutch 10 on a Tacitus bonus.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby grapesmoker » Wed Apr 27, 2016 5:09 pm

Also, comparing sets across times is hard, like comparing basketball across eras. I think people are really underestimating those mid-decade ACF Nationals sets with the benefit of hindsight. I'm not going to say they're all entirely up to modern standards, but there's a lot of stuff in there that would play just as well today.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby ThisIsMyUsername » Wed Apr 27, 2016 5:39 pm

Ike wrote:
The King's Flight to the Scots wrote:
The Gioia style of writing gained some traction, but thankfully not all, then the style of tossup most closely associated with John Lawrence started to become popular.


John Lawrence writes great questions, but for the sake of the historical record, Evan was writing and recommending those two-work author tossups before John got involved.


Not to degenerate this into petty squabbling, I was going to call them Adams-Gioia style of questions, but I actually much prefer Evan's over Ted's, so I chose not to include his name. At some point I would love to a talk about the different styles of lit writing but needless to say, there is a huge difference in feeling between Evan's, Ted's and John's style of writing even if they are all manifestations of the same kind of reaction to then current trends in writing.


I too would love to participate in a thread devoted to the history of literature tossup styles. Though, preferably after CO is done.

I'll say for now: Evan Adams' contributions to the advancement of literature questions are often underappreciated, perhaps partly because he did less public theorizing than Ted and I did. When I started editing literature questions, I saw him, Ted, and (especially) Magin as the editors whose "techniques" of literature question-writing seemed most worth studying and learning from. (And I'll add that the importance of Magin's editing work on Nats 2011-2013 should be a major part of any account of the shift of not only what Nationals-difficulty literature questions are like, but what ACF Nationals itself is like as a whole.)

Contra Ike: I always thought Evan and Ted were the most stylistically distant of those three editors, as borne out by the discussion thread for VCU Open 2011. And contra Matt Bollinger: although I would gladly acknowledge that I learned much from these three, I would like to think that I made many original contributions of my own, and didn't merely ape Evan's style. (Nor would I rank "two-work author tossups" anywhere among the top things I have championed.) I agree with Ike, though, that we were all involved in the same project of trying to advance beyond a certain pre-2010 style of writing.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Wed Apr 27, 2016 6:36 pm

I agree with Andrew Hart, but let's not forget that we have much deeper fields at Nats now than we had from 2005-2010. It's not nearly as "top-heavy" as it used to be - there are lots of okay players who can make solid buzzes (again, no doubt due to the democratization effect of having all the past sets available, Wikipedia available, etc.). Having that third or fourth player on your team who knows science, or knows music, or knows some subject to some degree, really helps out the conversion stats.

So, I don't think it's just as easy as looking at conversion stats to figure out how hard that set was for "Given Good Player X" in "Era X" - there are other factors that affect those stats.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby touchpack » Wed Apr 27, 2016 8:25 pm

These posts about specialists interest me. I'm what you might call a hyper-specialist--outside of my categories (science and jazz), I usually only get like, 1-2 tossups per tournament, and even within science, the bulk of my points come from physics and chemistry. This is assuming I'm playing in a solid field with solid teammates--at regular difficulty in weak fields I can score more, but at pretty much every relevant nationals/open level tournament in the past 3-4 years I've scored more or less exactly 20 ppg, regardless of teammates or opponents, due to this hyper-specialization. Did players like me exist before the modern era? (I was introduced to pyramidal quizbowl in 2010) How many players are there like me now?
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby grapesmoker » Wed Apr 27, 2016 8:34 pm

touchpack wrote:These posts about specialists interest me. I'm what you might call a hyper-specialist--outside of my categories (science and jazz), I usually only get like, 1-2 tossups per tournament, and even within science, the bulk of my points come from physics and chemistry. This is assuming I'm playing in a solid field with solid teammates--at regular difficulty in weak fields I can score more, but at pretty much every relevant nationals/open level tournament in the past 3-4 years I've scored more or less exactly 20 ppg, regardless of teammates or opponents, due to this hyper-specialization. Did players like me exist before the modern era? (I was introduced to pyramidal quizbowl in 2010) How many players are there like me now?


They absolutely existed and were just as valuable then as they are now. I played with a number of such players, including Ray Luo and Kenny Easwaran.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby Auks Ran Ova » Wed Apr 27, 2016 8:57 pm

To be fair, Ray Luo benefited immensely from the "Virginia Woolf's brain"-heavy distributions of the early-mid 2000s.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby grapesmoker » Wed Apr 27, 2016 9:08 pm

Auks Ran Ova wrote:To be fair, Ray Luo benefited immensely from the "Virginia Woolf's brain"-heavy distributions of the early-mid 2000s.


Ray knew about at least two other people's brains.

Also, Kenny was the first person I'd ever seen answer music tossups from descriptions of the piece. You have to realize how incredibly unusual this was circa 2002.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby Sima Guang Hater » Wed Apr 27, 2016 9:08 pm

touchpack wrote:Did players like me exist before the modern era? (I was introduced to pyramidal quizbowl in 2010) How many players are there like me now?


Before 2010 I was one of these people, as Jerry may remember.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Wed Apr 27, 2016 9:41 pm

They existed, but I'd say they were much more rare.

The thrust of my longer post above was that, back in the day, you could often sit around and wait until the last couple clues of a question - especially if it was a fairly hard question - because there weren't as many specialists around ("hyper" ones or otherwise). Every once in a while someone would shock you and you'd go "whoa, there's a dude here who knows actual stuff about Lucian Freud paintings*, how bout that!" - but it happened a lot, lot less.

*or maybe lady, if it was Kelly Tourdot.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby The King's Flight to the Scots » Wed Apr 27, 2016 9:47 pm

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:
Ike wrote:
The King's Flight to the Scots wrote:
The Gioia style of writing gained some traction, but thankfully not all, then the style of tossup most closely associated with John Lawrence started to become popular.


John Lawrence writes great questions, but for the sake of the historical record, Evan was writing and recommending those two-work author tossups before John got involved.


Not to degenerate this into petty squabbling, I was going to call them Adams-Gioia style of questions, but I actually much prefer Evan's over Ted's, so I chose not to include his name. At some point I would love to a talk about the different styles of lit writing but needless to say, there is a huge difference in feeling between Evan's, Ted's and John's style of writing even if they are all manifestations of the same kind of reaction to then current trends in writing.


I too would love to participate in a thread devoted to the history of literature tossup styles. Though, preferably after CO is done.

I'll say for now: Evan Adams' contributions to the advancement of literature questions are often underappreciated, perhaps partly because he did less public theorizing than Ted and I did. When I started editing literature questions, I saw him, Ted, and (especially) Magin as the editors whose "techniques" of literature question-writing seemed most worth studying and learning from. (And I'll add that the importance of Magin's editing work on Nats 2011-2013 should be a major part of any account of the shift of not only what Nationals-difficulty literature questions are like, but what ACF Nationals itself is like as a whole.)

And contra Matt Bollinger: although I would gladly acknowledge that I learned much from these three, I would like to think that I made many original contributions of my own, and didn't merely ape Evan's style. (Nor would I rank "two-work author tossups" anywhere among the top things I have championed.)


There's nothing in here I wouldn't heartily agree with, for what it's worth. Your questions are great! Like my avatar, I just wanted to make it clear that Evan wrote some of the best lit questions OF ALL TIME.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby salamanca » Thu Apr 28, 2016 11:40 am

No Rules Westbrook wrote:They existed, but I'd say they were much more rare.

The thrust of my longer post above was that, back in the day, you could often sit around and wait until the last couple clues of a question - especially if it was a fairly hard question - because there weren't as many specialists around ("hyper" ones or otherwise). Every once in a while someone would shock you and you'd go "whoa, there's a dude here who knows actual stuff about Lucian Freud paintings*, how bout that!" - but it happened a lot, lot less.

*or maybe lady, if it was Kelly Tourdot.


I disagree.

At the highest levels, i.e., the top brackets of Nationals, specialists absolutely existed back in the day and played critical roles for contending teams. For instance, Andrew's early Chicago A teams always had a specialist science player, e.g., Sarah Bagby, Ryan Scranton, then Seth T., etc., as support, and, usually, a specialist Geography and/or Current Events player at NAQT, e.g., Sam B., Ed C., Pericles A., etc. Similarly, the MD teams of yesteryear very deliberately broke up the canon to learn particular niches and become "experts" at those subjects, see e.g., the vaunted 1996 team featuring Dave H. (Lit, Physics and Fine Arts), Matt C. (Classics and Fine Arts), Dave G. (History), Arthur F. (Music, Math, SS). On their subjects these folks buzzed in early.

Notwithstanding the fact that during my time at Michigan I actively encouraged folks to be able to learn and be able to buzz on giveaways across the answer spectrum, the truth was that the best of my teams in the early to mid 2000s also had specialists. On my earlier MI teams Noel E. (Biology/Chemistry) or Paul L. (Social Science/Philosophy/Continental Lit) served as prime examples. The truth is that at ACF Nationals level even someone like Adam K. was basically a specialist (Classical and European History, British Novels, Music) especially when playing with team mates who knew other swaths of humanities in a deep and systematic way. Indeed, I was essentially a specialist (Lit/Myth) at MD who branched out to other humanities categories in order to be able to compete against Chicago when I arrived in Ann Arbor.

Part of this was just logical... in order to to succeed, particularly at Nationals, against the best teams you needed to be able to buzz early, certainly before the clue that was setting up the giveaway or getting to "for ten points." Between Adam, Paul, Ben H., Matt L., and myself, the MI teams from 2000-2005 covered nearly every area of the non-science canon with real knowledge PLUS learned giveaway knowledge in areas where there was less depth. As you note upthread, such an approach was very helpful for bonus conversion but also meant that when a question unexpectedly went to the end against Virgina, or Kentucky, or Chicago, more Michigan people were buzzing thus maximizing our chances of stealing a question.

It seems to me that with very few exceptions (Andrew Y. or Matt W.) the generalists v. specialists divide, at least at ACF Nationals, is kind of a fiction. Indeed, the recent great teams, e.g., Virginia (Bollinger/Casalaspi/Adams iteration), Yale (Matt J., John L., Ashvin S.) Chicago (both the Teitler years and the current team), etc. have always succeeded based on a subject based division of labor for lack of a better term.

Whether specialists are more valuable now than they were before because of differences in question writing? That is a different question.

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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby theMoMA » Thu Apr 28, 2016 1:40 pm

I don't think it's true that games are won and lost on earlier clues now anymore than at the beginning of my playing career. (I can't speak for pre-2008, obviously.) Questions tend to be longer, and writers are doing a better job of fleshing out the middle clues to better gradate buzzes, so perhaps that has something to do with the perceived rise of the "category specialist." If you know a category very well in the modern game, the questions will very often allow you to make an uncontested "clean" buzz (as Ryan has called it) somewhere in the middle.

That said (and this takes nothing away from recent finalists, who've played brilliantly), having played and watched both recent and not-so-recent finals, the majority of questions aren't converted on slam-dunk, first- or second-clue buzzes. Rather, it seems to me that championship matches are settled by players taking the plunge on the middle, and often the late-middle, clues. Some of the most memorable buzzes I can recall from the past few years--Eric clinching the title on "everyday life," Will clinching the title on The Wild Ass's Skin, Auroni's "soul" and "Birdland" and "Nouages" buzzes from this year, Chris's "Theophylact" and "Dietrich von Bern" buzzes, Matt Bollinger's ICT-clinching "Helga Testorf" buzz--were extremely impressive, not because they were one-clued, but because the players stepped up and went for it at exactly the right time.

It's obviously great and valuable to have a super-specialist like Eric or John who is all but guaranteed to have a couple of home run buzzes in a particular match. But while these buzzes are important building blocks to a title-clinching performance, it's still important to make those gutty middle-clue buzzes, and the teams that have been able to control those clues--both in the past and now--are often the ones that emerge on top.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby Ike » Thu Apr 28, 2016 4:06 pm

That said (and this takes nothing away from recent finalists, who've played brilliantly), having played and watched both recent and not-so-recent finals, the majority of questions aren't converted on slam-dunk, first- or second-clue buzzes. Rather, it seems to me that championship matches are settled by players taking the plunge on the middle, and often the late-middle, clues. Some of the most memorable buzzes I can recall from the past few years--Eric clinching the title on "everyday life," Will clinching the title on The Wild Ass's Skin, Auroni's "soul" and "Birdland" and "Nouages" buzzes from this year, Chris's "Theophylact" and "Dietrich von Bern" buzzes, Matt Bollinger's ICT-clinching "Helga Testorf" buzz--were extremely impressive, not because they were one-clued, but because the players stepped up and went for it at exactly the right time.


All that "verbiage" that goes into the early, and upper middle clues isn't just to reward specialists who knew certain works inside of out, it's to lay "crumbs" and "clues" to guide player to the answer. If you watch Chris Ray on the Dietrich and primal scream buzzes or Auroni on the soul tossup, you can see that the tossup is slowly guiding them toward the answer and they buzz pretty quickly. Before writing that soul question, I probably would have buzzed around the clues Auroni did, but he was just so fast because he recognized the clue before, and those wheels started to turn so that I'm probably losing to him on that tossup 99% of the time. My overall point being, even if these buzzes are "later" the earlier clues were still being consumed in the way that I (and presumably the other editors) intended them to be consumed, and it makes those buzzes even more impressive.

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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby The Atom Strikes! » Thu Jun 09, 2016 3:47 pm

I remember that Chris Romero (one of stranger nationals-winning team leaders of the pre-2008 era) told me that basically, his Texas A&M team was built around three specialists who were like Billy (could be relied upon to nail one or two questions a round in their specialty areas really early, but generally wouldn't get anything else) plus him (a generalist who had less deep knowledge in a wide variety of categories.) He mentioned that a lot of their strategy at harder tournaments relied on playing really cautiously and letting their opponents neg themselves out on weirder or trickier questions. I don't think that would be such a viable strategy today, and I think that does say something about the game's changing orientation towards certain forms of "deep" knowledge.

Edit: A quick stats comparison suggests that players in 2006 negged a lot more often across the board than their counterparts in 2016, so playing styles seem to have shifted significantly.
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Re: 25 for 25: A Definitive List of the Greatest ACF Players

Postby Mike Musgrove » Mon Nov 07, 2016 11:20 pm

I'd have to quibble with any list of the greatest ACF players that doesn't have Jason King in the Top10. I haven't been active since the late 90's so I can't comment on many on this list, but I can say that Jon Sheahan, while a truly great player, would only have been the 3rd best player on the 95-96 GT team. Jason didn't always lead tournaments in scoring because he played on such a dominant team, but he was without a doubt the best player in the nation that season ... and in my opinion it's a tossup as to whether he or Andrew Yaphe was the player of the decade.
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