Appropriate Use of Potentially Ambiguous Identifiers

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Appropriate Use of Potentially Ambiguous Identifiers

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Wed Jul 11, 2018 6:04 pm

This post addresses the increasing use of identifiers such as "this type" and "this sort" in questions. I believe these identifiers have a place in quizbowl if they can be employed in a fairly unambiguous manner, as they allow testing of knowledge that other types (heh) of questions may not allow. However, these identifiers seem to also be employed inappropriately quite often in ways which at best seem to not add any value to the question, and which at worst induce confusion that can cause players to give an incorrect answer.

Questions where the use of "this type" or "this sort" seems unnecessary, but is unlikely to produce confusion

PACE NSC 2016 wrote:These objects were boiled in wine as part the Mos Teutonicus process. Bohemond of Taranto used a chicken and a box supposedly containing one of these things to escape from Antioch. Pope Stephen IV threw one of these objects in the Tiber after putting it on trial in a namesake synod. The Mongol general Janibeg ordered objects of this type to be thrown over the walls of (*) Caffa in 1345. In 2013, one of these objects was found in a parking lot on the former site of Greyfriars church; that object of this sort belonged to Richard III. The interiors of these objects were studied by Andreas Vesalius, and the remains of these objects feature in the Danse Macabre artistic motif. For 10 points, name this sort of object, one of which was exhumed for the Cadaver Synod.


(Embarassingly) my own EFT 2017 question wrote:At one of these locations, Guanyin was able to achieve achieve a spark of motivation called citta [CHIT-tuh]. Another of these locations was the site of a temple complex called Enryaku-ji that was left behind by Hōnen and destroyed by Oda Nobunaga to stop rebellious sōhei. In many Buddhist cosmologies, one of these locations is the axis mundi at the center of Jambudvipa, the “world-island.” Outside Kyoto, one of these called Hiei [hee-ay] was home to many (*) monks. Asian locations of this type considered sacred include Putuo, Baekdu [peck-doo], and Tai. Shiva is said to live on one called Kailash. For 10 points, yama and san are both words for what natural features, such as Fuji?


In both of the above examples (including, embarassingly, a replacement question I wrote for EFT) I'm not sure what the use of "this type" adds to the question. "A place of this type" contains the same number of syllables as "One of these places" so it doesn't seem to reduce the amount of time it takes to read the question. Using multiple referents here seems unlikely to produce confusion (though it hypothetically could) but, since it doesn't add anything, I would recommend against the use of "this type" or "this sort."

Questions where the use of "this type" or "this sort" is unnecessary and produces confusion

WAO II wrote:[10] A weak hadith reports that in Medina, Muhammad ordered the killing of animals of this sort with spots over their eyes. Another hadith says that the Angels of Mercy do not enter a house where there are these animals or a picture of a living creature.
ANSWER: a dog [accept black dog specifically] <Ed. HB>

'
So, courtesy of a recording by Dylan Minarik, we do have an example where "this sort" induces confusion. Dylan's team decided that "this sort" implied that the question was looking for a characteristic, and thus decided to guess "pregnant" even though the question was just looking for a common animal. Given an answer of "black dog" it seems there are at least two "sorts" of animals - "black animals" and "dogs / canines" that are acceptable answers for "this sort" - and probably many more that I don't care to list.

Questions where the use of "this type" or "this sort" may be necessary, but nonetheless can produce confusion

ACF Regionals 2015 wrote:Though Kurt Huber wasn't one, he joined people of this sort at the guillotine after a sentence by Roland Freisler, came down on Christoph Probst and Hans Scholl. During the 22 March Movement, Daniel Cohn-Bendit led these people in occupying a building in Nanterre. People of this sort spread leaflets against the Nazis as part of the White Rose group, and were benefitted with a free but secular service by the Jules Ferry laws. These people made up the Burschenschaften, which were dissolved in the Carlsbad Decrees after one of them named Carl Sand murdered the writer August von Kotzebue. Charles de Gaulle's administration nearly fell when a group of these people launched the May 1968 protests in France. For 10 points, name these people who go to places like the Sorbonne to learn.
ANSWER: university students [accept University of Munich students during the first sentence]


When I played this tossup, I recognized the Daniel Cohn-Bendit clue as referring to the May 1968 student protests in France. However, I had no clue what answer to give, because the identifier was "people of this sort" and I had no clue what "this sort" would refer to - Frenchmen? Students? Socialists? The Jules Ferry clue didn't help either, because the answers of "French children" or "French teenagers" both seem plausibly correct as well. I had no idea for sure what the correct answer was until "Bursenschaften," at which point I lost a buzzer race.

(EDIT: Eric Mukherjee points out that "anti-Nazis" is a plausible correct answer to the first clue here)

I don't have a good answer as to whether it's possible to write a question of this sort (double heh) without using an identifier that creates ambiguity, but to me that suggests a fault in the conceit of the question itself.

Questions where the use of "this type" or "this sort" is unnecessary due to the existence of better terms

PACE NSC 2014 wrote:19. Paul Hindemith's Ludus Tonalis opens with a piece of this type. The tempo marking "Allegro
ritmato e deciso" is appended to the first and third of three works of this kind by George Gershwin,
which Jascha Heifetz transcribed for the violin. A J.S. Bach piece of this type is the basis for Charles
Gounod's "Ave Maria". One of these pieces nicknamed "The Bells of Moscow" is a work in (*)
C-sharp minor by Rachmaninoff. Chopin wrote 24 pieces in this genre, arranged according to the circle of
fifths, the most famous of which is the one in D-flat nicknamed "Raindrop". In The Well-Tempered Clavier,
these pieces are paired with fugues. For 10 points, name these pieces, whose name suggests their function
as introductions.


In this instance, the only strong logic I see for using "this type" instead of "this genre" is because the former takes fewer syllables to say and speeds up question reading. This is a non-trivial consideration, but "this type" seems to invite ambiguity if one doesn't realize the question writer is using "type" in the way that I've always seen the word "genre" employed in my studies of classical music. What if the player thinks that there are other "types" of pieces out there? The first section of Ludus Tonalis is indeed called praeludium, but it also has many characteristics that could certainly make it belong to some other "type" of piece. The word "genre" does not seem to have this issue, and suggests that the only correct answer is "prelude."
Last edited by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea on Thu Jul 12, 2018 5:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Appropriate Use of Potentially Ambiguous Identifiers

Postby hiraeth » Thu Jul 12, 2018 12:59 am

For the second type of question you showed, do you feel that the bonus would have been made more clear if it had been prefaced with something along the lines of "Note: adjective and noun required" (or maybe "adjective and type of animal")? I've seen music tossups that explicitly mention at the beginning that they require both the composer and the type of piece, so this seems reasonable to me.
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Re: Appropriate Use of Potentially Ambiguous Identifiers

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Thu Jul 12, 2018 5:38 pm

hiraeth wrote:For the second type of question you showed, do you feel that the bonus would have been made more clear if it had been prefaced with something along the lines of "Note: adjective and noun required" (or maybe "adjective and type of animal")? I've seen music tossups that explicitly mention at the beginning that they require both the composer and the type of piece, so this seems reasonable to me.


The thing is, the bonus didn't require "black dog" but rather only required "dog." If it were the case that both were needed, then that would probably be a decent approach (though a specific prompt, e.g. "of what color?" would work fine as well).

Tangentially, specific prompts are a thing that should be used more often!
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Re: Appropriate Use of Potentially Ambiguous Identifiers

Postby jonah » Thu Jul 12, 2018 6:09 pm

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:Tangentially, specific prompts are a thing that should be used more often!
I strongly agree. (ACF rules don't seem to explicitly allow for this, though. NAQT rules do, but I've never seen it used.)
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Re: Appropriate Use of Potentially Ambiguous Identifiers

Postby Cheynem » Thu Jul 12, 2018 6:16 pm

Just a note that I don't think Eric is correct in saying that the first clue in the students tossup applies to "anti-Nazis," as Kurt Huber was an anti-Nazi.
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Re: Appropriate Use of Potentially Ambiguous Identifiers

Postby CPiGuy » Sat Jul 14, 2018 4:21 am

jonah wrote:
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:Tangentially, specific prompts are a thing that should be used more often!
I strongly agree. (ACF rules don't seem to explicitly allow for this, though. NAQT rules do, but I've never seen it used.)


In particular, for questions with two part answers ("Catholics in France", "piano sonatas by Schumann"), the moderator should be able to make it clear what part of the question is being prompted on.
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