Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

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Adventure Temple Trail
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Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Thu Jul 28, 2016 10:41 pm

Prefatory note: This post applies only to college tournaments of Regionals difficulty and above. High school tournaments can afford to have a lot more mythology, as can easy college tournaments, because at that level the basics of myths from the various world pantheons are the subject of more genuine teaching and independent curiosity. Different difficulties benefit from differing distributions, and you usually get problems when tournaments just cargo-cult imitate a distribution without concern for difficulty. (Almost no high school tournament has 1/1 Philosophy, 1/1 World Literature, or 1/1 Social Science anymore, which is good, because it was a ridiculous state of affairs that they used to.)

EDIT: prefatory note 2: Much of this post responds to Stephen Liu's comments here in the discussion thread for Chicago Open 2016. If my posts below say "in the tournament" or "in this tournament" without further specifying, it also refers to CO 2016, for which I edited the Mythology category.

Intro

Over the years, I've gotten more and more disillusioned with the state of Mythology as a stand-alone category in high-difficulty college quizbowl tournaments. As I said in this year's CO discussion thread, the state of mythology questions in college quizbowl is somewhere between "a bore" and "an embarrassment." Subjects such as science, geography, and film have been improved lastingly by discussion threads on these boards, and mythology is long overdue for similar treatment. In the time since the "interesting geography" reform became the norm two or three years back, I'm hard-pressed to think of a category as far removed from the way in which college-and-older people actually engage with the underlying information than mythology.

I say this as someone who was an accomplished mythology player -- "old-style" mythology was a huge source of my scoring throughout high school and college -- and who spent a large chunk of education, both in and out of the classroom, on classics and even on comparative mythology (the last academic paper I was ever assigned took a whack at N.K. Narayan's treatment of the Ramayana). I've edited Mythology for three college tournaments (MAGNI, ACF Regionals '14, CO 2016) and supervised the category for many high school sets. I suspect that I personally would benefit greatly if the category stayed exactly like it's been. But it'd be bad for the game if it did.

What the Problem Is

In the CO 2016 discussion thread, Stephen Liu says:
Stephen Liu wrote:The problem here, I think, is that we're falling into the trap of "the only real knowledge is academic stuff you learn in class." Let's think about how most people approach mythology. Mythology is primarily learned outside of in-class academic environments. The vast majority of people interested in mythology are reading the stories because those stories are interesting and exciting[.]
I agree with Stephen that most people learn mythology outside the classroom. While many colleges have introductory classes on Greco-Roman myth or comparative religion, almost none offer a mythology major (the Folklore and Mythology concentration at Harvard, which got a mention at this tournament, being one high-profile exception). Just like literature (plenty of people, such as Jordan Brownstein, are voracious book readers without majoring in the subject academically), the near-total absence of "mythology majors" is not in itself reason to hack the category down. I further agree with him that our game is not, in general, about testing knowledge of what's currently in vogue in classrooms to the detriment of everything else, and that the per-packet distribution ought not reflect the relative popularity of majors/subjects to the exclusion of other concerns (such as how much quizbowl-askable material there is in a given subject). Indeed, I think everything I present below is compatible both with Stephen's view of the subject and Ike's much-appreciated post on curbing the excesses of specialization.

So if the problem isn't some disconnect with "the classroom," what is it? Putting it succinctly, the problem is this: The mythology category today doesn't reward what intellectually curious college students actually know or learn in ANY capacity beyond studying specifically for quizbowl. Because many myth systems just don't have information running very deep, the reservoir of usable clues in a lot of myth systems is nearly depleted. And a lot of the obscure clues people search for just aren't very useful.

In today's game, you get clues like this two lines into a regular-difficulty tossup:
Missouri Open 2015, packet 7 wrote:Sinmara guards a chest with nine locks that contains this figure’s wand, Laevateinn....
ANSWER: Loki
Several problems here. For one, Laevateinn is mentioned only once in one segment of the Prose Edda. For two, it's legitimately ambiguous whether Laevateinn is a wand, a sword, a staff, or some other kind of object altogether. For three, the "figure" who is said to have created Laevateinn is a mysterious "Loftur"; it's only a matter of conjecture (albeit frequently-regurgitated conjecture) that "Loftur" and Loki are one and the same. For four, it may not even be called 'Laevateinn' at all! That was the gloss of a nineteenth century Danish scholar for a difficult-to-read word in the original manuscript.

Admittedly, not all examples are that extreme. And some mythologies, such as Greco-Roman, Mesopotamian, and Chinese, are far further from genuinely running out of usable clues. But in a lot of myth systems, such as Egyptian, Norse, and Japanese, there's simply no alternative except to to burrow further into objects mentioned on only one line of a difficult-to-read manuscript, to recycle clues that players already know, or to forsake them in pursuit of obscurer peoples like indigenous Canary Islanders. Even in pretty standard topics, you're going to get the same early clues every time you try to tossup basic figures such as Cadmus or Romulus, because their stories just don't have that much more to say than what tossups have already said. People keep writing crappy and/or trivial clues to try and fill out full tossups, such as genealogy bowl ("This man's father..."), single-mention characters, random toponyms, or clues which tell one version of a story with multiple variants as though it were the only one, ambiguous or vague information over-"reified"* into clues (often by secondary or tertiary sources such as Encyclopedia Mythica). And if you manage to avoid all of that, you still run into issues of conflation and syncretism between traditions (e.g.: what do you do if someone says "Ba'al" or "Hercules" if you wrote a tossup on Melqart? What do you do if someone says "Amun" or "Atum" when your desired answer is Ra?)

As difficulty goes up and editors scrape the bottom of the myth-clue barrel more and more intensely, it increasingly becomes the case that the only viable way to get mythology questions early is to be a quizbowl player dedicated to getting mythology clues early. And becoming a top-tier mythology player requires a MUCH more artificial process that becoming a top-tier player in basically any other currently existing ACF category. In other words, it rewards the worst aspects of "fake" knowledge accumulation and little else. Now, this is obviously the case in every category to a pretty large degree; you don't get better at quizbowl without in some way developing some "fake" process to accumulate a lot of the information you're likely to need in-game (even if it's a process as benign as "going to practice twice a week"). But in other categories it is at least theoretically, and often practically, possible for a newbie with an outside interest to get stuff early based on their pre-quizbowl existence. The best analogy to prior quizbowl deficiencies is to geography, which was recently reformed on similar grounds -- if browsing a "list of lightning gods" is the best way to get that next common link (or write it), this game fails its players in precisely the same way as "almanac clues" failed us in geography; it devolves into a contextless arms race of the most trivial kind.

And I say all this as a player for whom arms-race memorization of mythology clues was a key source of points throughout my career. When trawling Theoi.com or GodChecker was the best way to take advantage of questions as they've been written, that's exactly what I did to win.

(* by "over-reified" I mean assuming that information is more concrete and specific than it actually is. Most deities don't have a specific "jRPG element" or domain that they're connected to one-to-one (is Ukko a lightning god or a sky god or a fertility god or all of the above?), and many objects are somewhat ambiguous (is Laevateinn a sword, a wand, a branch, or something else? No one knows!), and in such cases it's absurd to expect players to guess which of the various possibilities is the one the question writer is looking for.)

How do people learn myths and why?

To get slightly more radical: As it exists today, having a standalone "Mythology" category reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how people learn myths and why they learn them.

Here is a list off the top of my head of why people learn the information found in myths and mythologies:
  • Because myths are memorable (compelling, exciting, outrageous, emotion-provoking, or just plain "fun") stories, and humans like memorable stories. (Stephen emphasizes this reason in his post, and rightly so.)
  • To understand allusions or depictions in literature, essayistic/academic writing, art, proverbs, and popular culture, and to learn to make such allusions in one's own creative work. (This is the one I find most important. Mythology is important primarily because other forms of human creativity draw on it.)
  • To understand other cultures -- how cultures (typically historical or distant cultures) view(ed) themselves, the cosmos, and their place in it.
  • To aid in bigger-picture comparative cultural studies and/or to understand some purported universal features of the human mind, tropes of world storytelling, etc. (A lot of 20th-century "mythography" falls into this bucket.)
  • As part of learning one's own religion or heritage.
  • As part of learning about some geographic location, symbol, glyph, animal, plant, etc. and the history of human thought about it. (A lot of things in the world are pretty charged with symbolism and meaning, and mythical / supernatural associations are part of that.)
Most myth questions in quizbowl fail to reflect any of the above types of learning except for the first one (oh man, Loki tied a rope around his scrotum and got dragged around by a goat! etc. etc.). At the high school and Fall levels, that's probably not a big deal -- there's enough "pure myth" material to distinguish players well without worrying about it. But above that, it is my contention that the mythology category necessarily does a bad job reflecting how and why people care about myths unless it is written to reward more of the items on this list. I am not Marshall Steinbaum, and I don't want to give credit to the canard that all myths are just "bedtime stories", but one's engagement with mythology is ultimately in some sense childish and pre-collegiate if one talks about it only as fun collections of whimsical characters and magical objects, largely devoid of their geographic, historical, literary, artistic, social, symbolic, or ethnic context. What's more, there just aren't enough gettable clues to keep doing things the way most questions still do.

Ultimately, I think a lot of the issue is the ACF norm of category "purity," namely that mixing categories is largely taboo. And in the case of mythology, excessive concerns about "purity" / avoiding category-mixing make questions suck more, since it means that it's the norm to ignore specific literary works, statues, historical rituals, paintings, statues, operas, sociocultural treatments, adaptations, etc. etc. This exacerbates the shortage of usable clues -- beyond the basics of which god does what, what crop or weapon or symbol symbolizes which character, and the stories commonly compiled in [Edith] Hamiltonesque tertiary sourcebooks, there just aren't a lot of important clues to draw on without crossing over into literary, historical, artistic, or sociocultural treatments. In effect, with the exception of referencing specific texts such as Ovid's Metamorphoses by name, it deprecates the use of any clue content which could actually specify why myths are important to humanity! I think this is a problem.

(People do also often learn mythology information "by accident" as part of some pop cultural or non-academic phenomenon that draws on it, e.g. fantasy literature, references in video games, etc. It's not an issue if people occasionally get points due to learning about something from a trash source, as they sometimes do in every category; just don't deliberately include trash clues in your academic questions. Almost all people are introduced to Arthurian mythology through 20th-century re-envisionings which we would consider "trash," for example. And it's a rather notorious feature of Japanese RPGs that lots of weapons and summon spells are named after mythical entities.)

What To Do About It

My proposed solution basically boils down to three points: (1) reduce (or remove!) the standalone Mythology category, (2) revamp the way any remaining myth content is written, (3) recategorize questions on myth-related clues and topics in other areas of the distribution where they fit better.

(1) Reduce the amount of required myth

Giving a full 1/1 to Mythology every tournament means that the same content comes up over and over, which makes it one of the easiest categories to master. I read the Kalevala for points, just like many of you, and I was rewarded for it at virtually every tournament I played thereafter. It's kind of crazy that reading the Kalevala in a reasonably thorough manner (as I did for points, just like the rest of you) will guarantee you point at basically every tournament, when no other comparable work of 19th-century literature comes up every tournament (and even the Iliad probably won't). What's more, it eats up space that a lot of other small categories could use more readily. As has been noted before, it's pretty insane that all of the social sciences (which make up a plurality of academic majors) gets 5% of each packet while the above state of affairs continues.

As was done with geography, we can leave mythology largely to low difficulties and just require less of it as difficulty level goes up. I will go out on a limb and go as far as to say that above Regionals difficulty, mythology questions can and should be entirely optional (see part (3) below for more on what to do if so), and that at Regionals difficulty mythology needs only one question per 20/20 (at most). (I'd be happy seeing Regionals go over to something like 1.5/1.5 for the Religion-Mythology continuum, requiring say 1 question on a text, 1 on contemporary practices, and 1 on archaic religion or myth.)

(2) Revamp the writing of existing myth questions

Much like my "interesting geography" thread, it's easy to call for a change in how a category is written and harder to provide an actual guide for how to do it. So without further ado, here are some things you can do to make your mythology questions better, and better able to reward the kinds of learning stipulated upthread:
  • Include a decent amount of mythography, social science, "thought," and scholarship derived from myths, etc. -- show how mythology relates to and is discussed within existing academic work (At SCT 2014, there was a Mixed tossup on Medusa which began by describing the essay "The Laugh of Medusa" by Helene Cixous, e.g. -- why not do that in myth proper?)
  • Embed mythology information in the cultural and geographic contexts that make it important, even if it encroaches on "Geography," "History," or "Religion" to do so, (which cities or geographic features they tie to in reality, how deities were worshipped or sacrificed to, temple architecture, archaeological sites, etc.)
  • Use textual clues from the core texts that players actually read and area aware of, citing actual texts wherever possible. I agree that most players aren't reading the Shabaka Stone, but tons of people read the Homeric epics, the Eddas, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, etc. and those works should have disproportionate representation compared to more out-there stuff.
  • Minimize excessive deep-diving into characters, places, or items which are only mentioned on one line of one text or which don't have broader significance (Norse myth, in particular, is riddled with these).
  • Minimize genealogy-bowl except in cases where all relatives involved are clearly important and the genealogical relationship is clearly important.
  • Venture beyond rarefied ancient "mythology" to bring up more supernatural info of different types. These include: historical legends (the sword of Damocles, Pythias and Damon, etc.), tall tales/fakelore (John Henry, Pecos Bill, etc.), cryptids and fantastic beasts (unicorns etc.), urban legends, etc. etc.
  • Focus in on symbology (plants, animals, symbols such as 'the lightning bolt' or 'the wheel', numerology, etc.)
In fact, I'll go as far as to say that you need to mix the above things in pretty thoroughly when writing a set's worth of myth questions, or else you are going to produce a set of questions which is bad at rewarding the way people learn myths and mythologies. And furthermore, your question is probably a bad question if it doesn't do one of the above things or more.

I will readily concede to Stephen right now that, when taking the multi-pronged approach above, shifting the balance excessively toward mythography content is likely to make questions too hard. In fact, I agree with him that mythography is a relatively minor and passé social science as things go, and doesn't need more than a handful of mentions in a standard-size set. (I'm not sure if anybody of note has done it seriously since Levi-Strauss and Bettelheim went out of vogue late last century.) At lower levels, clues like "Friar Francisco Ximenez translated a collection of myths from these people into Spanish," for example, are certainly real and knowable and good if sprinkled in.

(3) Recategorize myth material elsewhere
(and make an effort to push it)

If the category of mythology didn't exist at all, would it really be so bad? We could still ask about currently-observed traditions (Hinduism, Shinto), through Religion, about classical epics or characters or scenes through Literature, about artistic depictions in art or Mixed_Pure_Academic, about foundation myths in their historical context or the patron deities of historical figures in History, about etiological or tutelary deities in Geography, about mythography and theories based on mythical figures in Social Science and "thought," and about anything of anyone's choice (including "typical" or "pure" myth!) in Your Choice. And we could be less coy about the mythological plot points when writing questions on mythological material in other categories (e.g. Idunno, an opera tossup on Il Ritorno d'Ulisse). Even if mythology does exist to some extent in packets, other categories are richer and full of more exciting ("fun") material when they don't go out of their way to avoid mythology material.

And this needn't be limited to academic categories, either. Let's say something is really only knowable through popular media. Go ahead and write the trash tossup on The Once and Future King -- as Matt Bollinger has been fond of pointing out elsewhere, we don't have to reserve the Pop Culture distribution for our most lowbrow vanity impulses.

If it weren't possible to have a serious post-childhood interest in mythology, we would need to lump mythology in with geography, current events, and trash as categories which are helpful for getting middle schoolers and high schoolers involved in the game, and curtail it without replacement in the college game. But again, I'm not Marshall, and I don't think that myth content is entirely and inherently intellectually unserious. Rather, I think that the way people engage with myth as adults is better represented by a mythology-less (or mythology-light) distribution in which plenty of content derived from myths is represented here or there in other categories such as literature, history, fine arts, religion, social science, geography, and pop culture where appropriate. If we make sure to use those clues where appropriate, rather than shying away from them as a violation of "purity" or a taboo against category-mixing, we'll have a more vibrant game.

Conclusion and Broader Points

Over time, it seems like quizbowl writers have largely agreed that the following categories can (and perhaps should) be shrunk well below 1/1 per round as difficulty goes down, and grown as difficulty goes up:
World Literature, Philosophy, Social Science, (Chemistry below HS nationals level, each component of Fine Arts, but only once you get down to HS novice and middle school level)

And that the following categories can (and perhaps should) be shrunk as difficulty goes up, and grown to as much as 1/1 per round as difficulty goes down:
Math, Geography, Current Events, Trash

The least radical takeaway from this thread would be: "Put Mythology on the latter list."

--

Now I can readily admit that Chicago Open, and this past CO in particular, was perhaps not the best pilot run of these approaches. For one thing, I used many submissions that didn't cohere with this view; for two, Chicago Open is a very hard tournament, so it's going to try these ideas out in a very difficult way rather than proving that it can be done accessibly, even at Nationals-level events. For three, we announced a 1/1 Mythology distribution at a tournament with eight independent subject editors, so I used that space to try out what might have been spread out across other categories in my ideal tournament. (My tossup on the "shield of Aeneas" was probably better-classified as a Literature tossup, for example, but another editor was already filling Literature as he saw fit.)

The distribution is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's probably part of the reason we haven't had a superstar geography player in college recently that we don't ask as much of it, making this a less attractive game to geography superstars on the fence about playing it, and making geography study a less attractive proposition in terms of time and opportunity cost than studying a larger category. If mythology were less of a thing in college quizbowl, it's likely that we'd see a similar process of other intellectually important material getting priority.

It's my personal view that mythology is a boring category, and a chore to edit up to standards. Maybe I'm totally wrong. Maybe a lot of people do love mythology in quizbowl and without for its own sake, and the game's high mythology content makes more myth-lovers out of non-myth-lovers, and that's how we want things to be. It may just be that mythology bores me because I am old (in a year I'll be 25, and officially a "dinosaur"!). Maybe there are more good questions which do what I'm asking already than I give credit for. I am welcome to hear others' thoughts.

Addendum: Distributional Pluralism

That said, if you read all this and you say "fie to all that; I can write 1/1 accessible Mythology for every packet forever," and do so well, then I look forward to seeing what results.

More generally, I would like to see more "distributional pluralism" in future years, which is to say, taking a stab at doing things a different way, and seeing whether it works out. We can have some tournaments do things differently than usual. There's a lot of inertia when it comes to distributional concerns -- I think often people are afraid of tinkering with the default we have to see what might work better or be doable. And a lot of distribution fights reach a fever pitch in this community because an ACF packet only has 40 slots, meaning that expanding any one category means shrinking another, to some specialist's detriment. Let's see more non-NAQT events try 21/21 or 22/22 or 24/24 per round. Let's see a tournament do 2/2 honest-to-god Social Science, in keeping with what John Lawrence suggests here. Let's ask if our 'Big Three' really need to be the same size, or if there could be a 'Big Four' or 'Big Five'! There are many tournaments per year in which to explore many possible tweaks. Remember that "we do things this way because we do things this way" is not valid reasoning, and that unless someone does something completely exxxtreeeme such as rounds with 8/8 Science at the expense of half the History and Literature, each tournament is only one tournament, making it easy to just not do things again that way if an experiment goes badly.
Last edited by Adventure Temple Trail on Fri Jul 29, 2016 5:51 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by Sam » Fri Jul 29, 2016 12:40 am

Does anyone know when and why mythology started being part of a "standard" distribution? Like Matt says, it doesn't map very well to an existing academic field and isn't something people learn about in school to the extent that it is represented in the distribution.

I think the willingness to experiment with the distribution Matt mentions at the end is something that has always been in the periphery but is now becoming increasingly common, which is Good.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Fri Jul 29, 2016 12:25 pm

Yeah, as one of a few players who did as much as Matt to dominate the myth canon, I agree with this post unreservedly and have for a while now. To be arrogant for a moment, I think the way I wrote it for VCU Open 2015 was among the best it's been done that I remember, and it still functionally meant you could answer 10-12 questions by reading 5 books. I do like the creativity that those limitations encourage, but in a functional sense it's just too much. What's going to get you more points in quizbowl: the Kalevala, or the entire corpus of John Milton?

I don't much like mythography, and I don't really love the idea of designated space for cross-disciplinary myth tossups with stuff like The Laugh of the Medusa. I also don't really want to move, say, painting tossups on "Apollo" out of that distribution, because those common links serve an important purpose of diversifying the painting category. My optimal solution, at the Nationals level, would be to bump social science to 1.5/1.5 per packet and turn mythology into .5/.5 "mythological culture," which would be predominantly source-based.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by grapesmoker » Fri Jul 29, 2016 12:55 pm

I was a pretty good myth player back in my day, though not to the extent of the Matts or Seth. I don't ever recall reading any myth specifically for quizbowl; I mostly read "the classics" because I was into it. I even took a class on Scandinavian mythology at Berkeley, which I'm not sure has helped me answer so much as a single question since then. So I don't know that I agree with the idea that no one is interested in myth beyond studying for quizbowl, as Matt J. seems to be arguing. On the flip side, the problems that Matt points to with myth questions are very real, and very reminiscent of the problems that people (myself included) had with geography. I would say that much of this is not an inherent problem with the myth distribution as such as it is with people just doing a bad job of writing those questions well. I'm not wedded to a 1/1 myth distribution and am always in favor of people diversifying their writing, but I'm not sure changing the former will affect the latter. Perhaps myth should just be subsumed into other categories like religion and social science because that is where it would be more at home thematically, but that probably won't fix the issue of bad or uncreative questions being written.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Fri Jul 29, 2016 1:13 pm

Snap Wexley wrote:I was a pretty good myth player back in my day, though not to the extent of the Matts or Seth. I don't ever recall reading any myth specifically for quizbowl; I mostly read "the classics" because I was into it. I even took a class on Scandinavian mythology at Berkeley, which I'm not sure has helped me answer so much as a single question since then. So I don't know that I agree with the idea that no one is interested in myth beyond studying for quizbowl, as Matt J. seems to be arguing. On the flip side, the problems that Matt points to with myth questions are very real, and very reminiscent of the problems that people (myself included) had with geography. I would say that much of this is not an inherent problem with the myth distribution as such as it is with people just doing a bad job of writing those questions well. I'm not wedded to a 1/1 myth distribution and am always in favor of people diversifying their writing, but I'm not sure changing the former will affect the latter. Perhaps myth should just be subsumed into other categories like religion and social science because that is where it would be more at home thematically, but that probably won't fix the issue of bad or uncreative questions being written.
What I think reducing the myth distribution will do is reduce the strain on the content. I agree that mythology has a place, and that there are reforms to be made as it exists. But a major difference between myth and geography is the paucity of the subject material in the former. Geography writing has improved while I've been in quizbowl as writers drew on more diverse sources for clue material. In myth, we've stripped most relevant sources as bare as an Appalachian mountaintop. There's just nothing left in the Eddas, or the Mabinogion, or the Popol Vuh, that hasn't been done. Those sources that we haven't mined (there is SO MUCH MORE THEBAID GUYS) are obscure and fairly unimportant. So as long as we have 1/1 myth, we have to choose between exhausting those old seams or, like, invading more minor countries for their myth reserves- and by the way, we've already plundered Iran.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by gyre and gimble » Fri Jul 29, 2016 1:28 pm

I want to make a couple of unrelated points.

First, I want to outline what the mythology category is, or at least has been for a while. In terms of "why people are interested," I'd say it's closest to literature. It's fun to read, it provides us with insight into story structures, and it helps us to understand other aspects of our culture, in particular the arts and literature. But it's also critically different from literature in that the stories aren't tied down to authors and texts. Sure, there are important texts out there, but I think there's a difference between reading the Iliad as a literary text, reading it as a reflection of Greek culture, and reading it as mythological source. And each of those different ways of reading the Iliad belongs in a different category of the quizbowl distribution. The point I'm trying to make here is that there is significant value in treating the stories as an independent body of cultural knowledge, free from its literary or anthropological significance. To give an example, I took a class on the Mabinogion in college. Our class discussions were two hours long. We probably spent about 15 minutes talking about how the particular story we read might reflect on Welsh culture, and the other 105 minutes simply talking about the story, its narrative structure, elements it shared with other myths. These are elements of mythology that aren't extensively shared with other categories, and to the extent that they do appear elsewhere, are treated uniquely in mythological contexts. In short, I making an argument along the lines of "myth for myth's sake," because that is how most people approach mythology and we shouldn't forget that.

Second, if staleness and size of answer space create issues, those issues exist around Regionals level. As others have correctly noted, this isn't a problem at lower difficulties. But critically, it's also not a problem at higher difficulties. There's a lot of important myth out there that hasn't been explored yet but would be inappropriate for regular difficulty. Some of that comes from traditional areas like Irish, Arthurian, Chinese, Greco-Roman, etc. Some comes from folklore/legendary material (like the unicorn tossup from this year's CO or the salamander tossup at Cane Ridge Revival) that somehow quizbowl has glossed over through the years. The myth at last year's VCU Open felt really fresh as well, and I don't recall having to trudge through unimportant mythographical ideas. So let's not resign ourselves yet to finding non-myth outlets to fill our myth category. There's still more that the category has to give.

Also, I don't know if it's the right protocol but if my posts about myth from the CO discussion thread could get moved over here, it might make this discussion easier to navigate. Or I could just copy and paste it I guess?
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by gyre and gimble » Fri Jul 29, 2016 1:33 pm

The King's Flight to the Scots wrote:What I think reducing the myth distribution will do is reduce the strain on the content. I agree that mythology has a place, and that there are reforms to be made as it exists. But a major difference between myth and geography is the paucity of the subject material in the former. Geography writing has improved while I've been in quizbowl as writers drew on more diverse sources for clue material. In myth, we've stripped most relevant sources as bare as an Appalachian mountaintop. There's just nothing left in the Eddas, or the Mabinogion, or the Popol Vuh, that hasn't been done. Those sources that we haven't mined (there is SO MUCH MORE THEBAID GUYS) are obscure and fairly unimportant. So as long as we have 1/1 myth, we have to choose between exhausting those old seams or, like, invading more minor countries for their myth reserves- and by the way, we've already plundered Iran.
This may all be true (though I'm still waiting for that tossup on Maxen Wledig) but we should also remember that not every tournament needs to have half its tossups on things that are new. John's point about canon maintenance in the CO discussion thread is really good. What's the last time Bran the Blessed has been tossed up? 2013? I don't think there's anything wrong with something like that coming up once every 3 or 4 years. Maybe even cycling through all of the stuff we already have looked into can't sustain a 1/1 myth distribution--I don't know the exact numbers so I won't make an argument there. I just want to point out that just because we've stripped the forest bare once doesn't mean that the leaves won't grow back.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by grapesmoker » Fri Jul 29, 2016 3:46 pm

The stripping bare of sources is something I was talking about a long time ago, when we started getting into the world of people writing these ridiculous questions on minor items that show up once in the Eddas or something like that. In fact, it's a symptom of a kind of hypertrophy in question writing where instead of branching out into other, potentially more fruitful topics, people continue to drill down into a relatively narrow space to extract the absolute most from it. This happened quite prominently in literature and seems to be happening again in myth. I think Stephen makes a good case for why we shouldn't think of myth as played out but the onus is ultimately going to be on writers and editors to make those questions good and not let the category turn into genealogy-bowl.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Fri Jul 29, 2016 4:24 pm

It's interesting that when I first started playing quizbowl, I was very offended by many of the Norse myth questions I heard. It seemed like questions existed for no other reason than the fact that Norse culture had the quirk of every damn object having a given name. There's some HSQB post from 2005 or so where I go off on the myth establishment for asking a bunch of random objects from Norse myth that have no cultural importance.

Just a few years later, I became quite possibly the first person to ever write a tossup on Laevateinn, and once considered writing a novelty packet where each tossup began with the clue "According to the Alvissmal, the Wanes call this object [name]". Funny how things change.

While it took me a while to appreciate Norse myth, I've always found it interesting to learn mythology (and religion) for the sake of simply knowing what various people believe or believed. The fact that this also gets me points at quizbowl, or also helps me to understand various works of art or fiction, or once helped me get a free dinner in Transylvania when an elderly Welsh couple staying in the same hotel was impressed that I could name figures from the Mabinogion, these are all just bonuses to me, and I'd enjoy learning about myth in their absence. I strongly take offense to the concept that people are only interested in myth for the points or because it is relevant to other categories of knowledge or other academic fields.

I think everyone in this thread acknowledges that mythology has a very small set of source materials, smaller than almost any other category in quizbowl. The only thing that I can think of that has a similarly tiny set of primary source materials is ancient history, and ancient history is less than 1/1 of the distribution.

Anyway, on the core issue we're talking about, I agree with Stephen and want to encourage people to lean towards the "revamp" prong. Based on my interactions with mythology here are things you could ask about:

- rituals. all those old gods had priests and worshippers. what did they do? often times we don't know, but in other cases we have names and descriptions of ceremonies. the religion category is full of ritual questions and they are generally critically acclaimed, no?

- ask the controversy. there is a lot we don't know about ancient religions. there are people working in academia trying to fill those knowledge gaps. they take the limited data we do have and posit theories. other people then criticize those theories or propose new ones. as much as I don't care for the "back to the classroom" movement, this kind of myth academia didn't seem to come up much back in my day. Perhaps the next tossup on Laevateinn could be all about how scholar x thinks its this kind of thing, scholar y thinks its that kind of thing, and scholar z thinks its just a 19th century invention.

- I think infringing on archaeology is a fine idea. many of the things we know (or think we know) about ancient religions are because some guy dug up an old statue or old tablet once. I don't know if people do clues like "the presence of [piece of clothing] on [some artifact] of this god suggests he had a role in [thing]" or "the theory that this god also oversaw lightning is supported by [some inscription]" but if people don't that might be good.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by Sam » Fri Jul 29, 2016 4:59 pm

Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote: Anyway, on the core issue we're talking about, I agree with Stephen and want to encourage people to lean towards the "revamp" prong. Based on my interactions with mythology here are things you could ask about:

- rituals. all those old gods had priests and worshippers. what did they do? often times we don't know, but in other cases we have names and descriptions of ceremonies. the religion category is full of ritual questions and they are generally critically acclaimed, no?

- ask the controversy. there is a lot we don't know about ancient religions. there are people working in academia trying to fill those knowledge gaps. they take the limited data we do have and posit theories. other people then criticize those theories or propose new ones. as much as I don't care for the "back to the classroom" movement, this kind of myth academia didn't seem to come up much back in my day. Perhaps the next tossup on Laevateinn could be all about how scholar x thinks its this kind of thing, scholar y thinks its that kind of thing, and scholar z thinks its just a 19th century invention.

- I think infringing on archaeology is a fine idea. many of the things we know (or think we know) about ancient religions are because some guy dug up an old statue or old tablet once. I don't know if people do clues like "the presence of [piece of clothing] on [some artifact] of this god suggests he had a role in [thing]" or "the theory that this god also oversaw lightning is supported by [some inscription]" but if people don't that might be good.
I know little about anything and apologize for any factual errors below, though I don't think any single one undermines the main point.

One potential issue with "myth" as a category is that the main sources for systems are wildly different. For some (Greco-Roman, some Norse) there are plenty of written texts from people who believed in the system described, or at least something close to it. Others we know about mostly from what outsiders said (I think Slavic is like this) or were compiled by someone long after the myths were part of a real system of beliefs (Kalevala). Still others are based on the educated guesses of anthropologists or archaeologists. There's nothing inherently wrong with a category called "myth" any more than there's anything wrong with a category called "Other Academic" or "Your Choice." There's also not any reason a tossup on Perun should be stylistically similar to one on Zeus any more than a lit tossup should be stylistically similar to a history tossup. Depending on the answer, it may sound like a question on a character from a novel, and other times it may for all intents and purposes be a social science question.

Matt and Bruce's suggestions are good ones, and if myth does stay as a large part of the distribution I think people should view it more as a catch-all, closer to something like "Other Academic" than "Philosophy" or "Visual Arts."
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Fri Jul 29, 2016 5:34 pm

Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:It's interesting that when I first started playing quizbowl, I was very offended by many of the Norse myth questions I heard. It seemed like questions existed for no other reason than the fact that Norse culture had the quirk of every damn object having a given name. There's some HSQB post from 2005 or so where I go off on the myth establishment for asking a bunch of random objects from Norse myth that have no cultural importance.

Just a few years later, I became quite possibly the first person to ever write a tossup on Laevateinn, and once considered writing a novelty packet where each tossup began with the clue "According to the Alvissmal, the Wanes call this object [name]". Funny how things change.

While it took me a while to appreciate Norse myth, I've always found it interesting to learn mythology (and religion) for the sake of simply knowing what various people believe or believed. The fact that this also gets me points at quizbowl, or also helps me to understand various works of art or fiction, or once helped me get a free dinner in Transylvania when an elderly Welsh couple staying in the same hotel was impressed that I could name figures from the Mabinogion, these are all just bonuses to me, and I'd enjoy learning about myth in their absence. I strongly take offense to the concept that people are only interested in myth for the points or because it is relevant to other categories of knowledge or other academic fields.

I think everyone in this thread acknowledges that mythology has a very small set of source materials, smaller than almost any other category in quizbowl. The only thing that I can think of that has a similarly tiny set of primary source materials is ancient history, and ancient history is less than 1/1 of the distribution.

Anyway, on the core issue we're talking about, I agree with Stephen and want to encourage people to lean towards the "revamp" prong. Based on my interactions with mythology here are things you could ask about:

- rituals. all those old gods had priests and worshippers. what did they do? often times we don't know, but in other cases we have names and descriptions of ceremonies. the religion category is full of ritual questions and they are generally critically acclaimed, no?

- ask the controversy. there is a lot we don't know about ancient religions. there are people working in academia trying to fill those knowledge gaps. they take the limited data we do have and posit theories. other people then criticize those theories or propose new ones. as much as I don't care for the "back to the classroom" movement, this kind of myth academia didn't seem to come up much back in my day. Perhaps the next tossup on Laevateinn could be all about how scholar x thinks its this kind of thing, scholar y thinks its that kind of thing, and scholar z thinks its just a 19th century invention.

- I think infringing on archaeology is a fine idea. many of the things we know (or think we know) about ancient religions are because some guy dug up an old statue or old tablet once. I don't know if people do clues like "the presence of [piece of clothing] on [some artifact] of this god suggests he had a role in [thing]" or "the theory that this god also oversaw lightning is supported by [some inscription]" but if people don't that might be good.
We already use all these kinds of clues, though. I can't get behind the "revamp" side for that basic reason. When Jerry says to find more fruitful areas to write on...like, where are these fruitful areas to write on that aren't totally silly? Any new Homer getting discovered, lately? Any new Arthurian content? And for the stuff that really is fresh, like Bantu myth or Burmese folklore, what reason is there for any but the most dedicated quizbowl studiers to know it in depth, for any reason other than "to get points"? What makes that stuff worth the same weight, in principle or in practice, as all of economics, psychology, linguistics, and sociology combined? Two of those are in the four most popular majors at, e.g., UVA, and another is in the top ten. Obviously that's not the only or the most important standard we should use to decide what to write - I think it makes sense, in practice, to build the distribution by tweaking what's worked. But it's an indicator that those two categories, despite sharing the same distributional weight, are radically unequal in academic "importance."

I'm not arguing that it's literally impossible to write enough pyramidal questions to fill the mythology category. I do think that in terms of abstract "importance" and breadth of coverage, it is impossible to argue that mythology at the highest academic levels is a 1/1 category on par with social science, or Geo/CE, or Philosophy, or any other 1/1 category. There is exponentially less stuff to know, period. It "matters" less too. So the only possible argument to retain mythology at its current level relies on its "playability," the idea that, despite covering less ground than other categories, the category's inherent accessibility and suitability-for-questions earns it 1/1. I see this argument at Regionals and below but not at ACF Nationals, where we loosen strictures on accessibility in favor of academic rigor. We *could* expand into other myth stuff, like cryptids and European folklore that Stephen mentions, but...why? Why do that if, instead, we can write on content that's more engaging?
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Fri Jul 29, 2016 5:46 pm

Bruce's three suggested clue types are all sound, and fit well as sub-examples of how to do the first and second bullet points on my own list.
gyre and gimble wrote:Second, if staleness and size of answer space create issues, those issues exist around Regionals level. As others have correctly noted, this isn't a problem at lower difficulties. But critically, it's also not a problem at higher difficulties.
gyre and gimble wrote:...we should also remember that not every tournament needs to have half its tossups on things that are new. John's point about canon maintenance in the CO discussion thread is really good. What's the last time Bran the Blessed has been tossed up? 2013? I don't think there's anything wrong with something like that coming up once every 3 or 4 years.
These objections are non-responsive to the key point of my first post, which is that we are running out of new information at the level of selecting clues to fill out a tossup. And it is that lack of fresh clues, more than anything else, which makes the category degenerate above Regionals level. I have a hard time imagining that any future tossup on Bran the Blessed will be able to find new information which the previous ones haven't used already, if only because the Mabinogion is pretty short and doesn't actually contain that many clues to draw on.

At the high school level, you can get away with inadvertently asking the same clues as a previous tossup, so long as you're not plagiarizing word-for-word; players rotate out much more quickly, and there is a ceiling on the difficulty of clues you get to draw on. At the college level, a habit of writing the same tossup clue-for-clue (even inadverently, even once every "3 or 4 years") ruins the game, turning it into a contest of who is old enough (or an ardent enough packet-memorizer) to remember the last tossup on Bran the Blessed rather than allowing people who have more genuine learning about the guy to demonstrate it. My contention is that many myth systems, very much including Welsh, just don't have enough information to avoid this fate if we're writing 150+ seven-line tossups on mythology across ten tournaments a year and continue the "myth for myth's sake" approach unchanged.

I agree that there are some topics which do not necessarily meet this fate (such as "unicorns" as of Chicago Open 2016).
Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:I think everyone in this thread acknowledges that mythology has a very small set of source materials, smaller than almost any other category in quizbowl. The only thing that I can think of that has a similarly tiny set of primary source materials is ancient history, and ancient history is less than 1/1 of the distribution.
Putting two and two together here, do you see this as reason enough to make mythology less than 1/1 of the distribution?
Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:Perhaps the next tossup on Laevateinn could--
I suspect you're being cheeky here; if you think there's any real reason to do this, you're part of the problem.

gyre and gimble wrote:Also, I don't know if it's the right protocol but if my posts about myth from the CO discussion thread could get moved over here, it might make this discussion easier to navigate. Or I could just copy and paste it I guess?
My suspicion is that doing this would cause weird things to happen to the thread, since your post is chronologically earlier than mine, it would become the new first post. I'll link to your post near the top of the thread, so that future readers can jump to it quickly.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by grapesmoker » Fri Jul 29, 2016 6:01 pm

When I say "fruitful areas" I don't mean necessarily that we should wholesale into Bantu myth or anything like that. I just mean that there are good ways of writing myth questions by focusing on things like rituals, cross-mythos clues, common links, and so on. This is sort of orthogonal to whether we should reduce the myth distribution at higher levels; as I said before, I don't really have strong feelings either way about this. I just think that whatever decision is made, we still have the issue of question quality, so there should be some discussion of how we can promote the writing of questions that don't suffer from the problems that were pointed out above.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by Important Bird Area » Fri Jul 29, 2016 6:09 pm

Adventure Temple Trail wrote:
gyre and gimble wrote:Also, I don't know if it's the right protocol but if my posts about myth from the CO discussion thread could get moved over here, it might make this discussion easier to navigate. Or I could just copy and paste it I guess?
My suspicion is that doing this would cause weird things to happen to the thread, since your post is chronologically earlier than mine, it would become the new first post.
This is exactly correct.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by gyre and gimble » Fri Jul 29, 2016 7:35 pm

Adventure Temple Trail wrote:
gyre and gimble wrote:Second, if staleness and size of answer space create issues, those issues exist around Regionals level. As others have correctly noted, this isn't a problem at lower difficulties. But critically, it's also not a problem at higher difficulties.
gyre and gimble wrote:...we should also remember that not every tournament needs to have half its tossups on things that are new. John's point about canon maintenance in the CO discussion thread is really good. What's the last time Bran the Blessed has been tossed up? 2013? I don't think there's anything wrong with something like that coming up once every 3 or 4 years.
These objections are non-responsive to the key point of my first post, which is that we are running out of new information at the level of selecting clues to fill out a tossup. And it is that lack of fresh clues, more than anything else, which makes the category degenerate above Regionals level. I have a hard time imagining that any future tossup on Bran the Blessed will be able to find new information which the previous ones haven't used already, if only because the Mabinogion is pretty short and doesn't actually contain that many clues to draw on.

At the high school level, you can get away with inadvertently asking the same clues as a previous tossup, so long as you're not plagiarizing word-for-word; players rotate out much more quickly, and there is a ceiling on the difficulty of clues you get to draw on. At the college level, a habit of writing the same tossup clue-for-clue (even inadverently, even once every "3 or 4 years") ruins the game, turning it into a contest of who is old enough (or an ardent enough packet-memorizer) to remember the last tossup on Bran the Blessed rather than allowing people who have more genuine learning about the guy to demonstrate it. My contention is that many myth systems, very much including Welsh, just don't have enough information to avoid this fate if we're writing 150+ seven-line tossups on mythology across ten tournaments a year and continue the "myth for myth's sake" approach unchanged.
I don't think your position is compatible with the way quizbowl asks literature questions. For example, "Easter, 1916" is way shorter than Branwen, Daughter of Llyr, and I suspect that almost all of the lines in that poem have come up before in quizbowl. Does that mean we can't ask about it anymore because it's stale? Even if it's tossed up once every 3 or 4 years? I just don't see why we need to concern ourselves with the possibility that some clues will repeat across large stretches of time. We don't have that concern with literature, especially poetry and short fiction.

My invocation of the canon maintenance concept was intended to suggest that both cluespace and answerspace won't dry up if we don't overdo individual topics, and I think quizbowl has been pretty good about that at Nationals or CO difficulty for quite some time. I really don't think that a tossup on Bran at next year's ACF Nationals will feel stale. Like, who exactly was bored with the myth content at CO over the last few years? I was absolutely stoked to power that tossup on Etain last year! It was exciting! To some extent I share the concern with the 150+ seven-line tossups, but when we're talking about the ~35 nine-line tossups a year on hard mythology topics, I don't think we're running into the problem of exhausting the canon.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by Mewto55555 » Sun Jul 31, 2016 7:26 pm

I agree pretty strongly with most of what Stephen's saying. The main reason that myth seems stale and fully tapped of clues is because people are doing a crappy job of clue & answer selection, and relying on things that have been tossed up before. I am precisely zero surprised by the example given, where a 4.5-line tossup on Loki from a below regular difficulty tournament has a shitty lead-in.

I don't know why people think there aren't fruitful areas in these oft-written subcategories. stanford housewrite had a lot of really good tossups on rarely-asked about answerlines that players still knew a reasonable number of clues about (Aeacus, Cycnus, Danaids, for example). Whether knowing the life stories of these dudes is too trivial or not is another question all together, and one worth discussing, but to insinuate that even "run-of-the-mill" myth (tossups on mythological figures and such) has to be the same old chestnuts over and over again is completely wrong, especially at higher levels where you can ask about all these people.

I almost take the complete opposite stance from what most people seem to be saying. I think editors should fill more of the myth distribution with meat-and-potatoes tossups, albeit with fresh clues (which do exist if you're not stupid about answerline selection!). I think a world where everyone tries to fill the myth distribution with exotic shit just because no one's tossed up the myths of the Canary Islanders before is a really crappy one, and not what most people want to see.




Regarding distributional tweaking as a whole, I think people should be quite careful how and when they apply it. In particular, the idea that "each tournament is only one tournament" is not exactly true; some tournaments (like each year's big spring open, for example) are much more reasonable to tweak the distribution of than flagships (like ACF Regs, or either national). While we should be constantly innovating to get the distribution to (a local) optimum, I think it's a bad idea to be experimenting heavily with the most important tournaments of the year, without evidence that such a thing would actually make the set superior.

Additionally, it's pretty disingenuous to wave one's hands and say that most of this myth that's "cut" will make its way into other questions. We all know how editing typically ends up happening; teams will submit lit tossups on the usual books, and the lit editors will edit the tossups on the usual books, or maybe their favorite unusual books, and not slot in much extra myth there (who really ever submits a banger of a tossup on the Aeneid, and what lit editor really wants to write one of those for an editor packet?). Same goes for pretty much every other category. When you reduce myth's distributional place by 50%, you're almost certainly going to be reducing the amount of clues in each tournament referencing mythological figures by a significant fraction of that. This is a reasonable thing to want, I guess, but I'd be shocked if it played out any other way.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by vcuEvan » Sun Jul 31, 2016 8:01 pm

Mewto55555 wrote: Regarding distributional tweaking as a whole, I think people should be quite careful how and when they apply it. In particular, the idea that "each tournament is only one tournament" is not exactly true; some tournaments (like each year's big spring open, for example) are much more reasonable to tweak the distribution of than flagships (like ACF Regs, or either national). While we should be constantly innovating to get the distribution to (a local) optimum, I think it's a bad idea to be experimenting heavily with the most important tournaments of the year, without evidence that such a thing would actually make the set superior.
What kind of evidence would sway you? We have arguably the two best writers of the last five years (who are both very accomplished myth players) calling for this kind of change. That's persuasive to me. Incidentally both Matts are out of the game and their only interest in this issue now is in improving the game, while both you and Stephen benefit heavily from preserving a status quo that gives 1/1 of the distribution to maybe a couple thousand pages of source material.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by Ike » Sun Jul 31, 2016 8:49 pm

vcuEvan wrote:
Mewto55555 wrote: Regarding distributional tweaking as a whole, I think people should be quite careful how and when they apply it. In particular, the idea that "each tournament is only one tournament" is not exactly true; some tournaments (like each year's big spring open, for example) are much more reasonable to tweak the distribution of than flagships (like ACF Regs, or either national). While we should be constantly innovating to get the distribution to (a local) optimum, I think it's a bad idea to be experimenting heavily with the most important tournaments of the year, without evidence that such a thing would actually make the set superior.
What kind of evidence would sway you? We have arguably the two best writers of the last five years (who are both very accomplished myth players) calling for this kind of change. That's persuasive to me. Incidentally both Matts are out of the game and their only interest in this issue now is in improving the game, while both you and Stephen benefit heavily from preserving a status quo that gives 1/1 of the distribution to maybe a couple thousand pages of source material.
It certainly won't be an argument by authority. I think it's pretty disingenuous to suggest that Stephen's and Max's points are motivated by QB points when they're here making good-faith rational arguments.

I'll also add that I think reducing myth to a "couple thousand pages of source material" is not accurate -- ~The Iliad~, ~The Odyssey~ and ~The Aeneid~ alone easily runs to around 800-1000 pages. I estimate that there are about 5k pages in Greek myth alone. I guess you could argue that some of these texts are more key than others, but I don't see how this is really different than other categories, e.g. "most quantum mechanics in QB is pretty much written out of 500 pages of Griffiths," nor why that's really a bad thing.

As someone who largely reformed the way mythology tossups are written - by citing writers when you pull stuff from Robert Graves so that you are aware you just cited everyone's favorite mythographer Antoninus LIberalis, adding in a lot of primary text driven myth questions, I don't think that the modes of mythology writing are exhausted. There are so many more fun ways to write mythology. I'm still on the fence about whether or not we should reduce it, but as someone who is out of the game, the status quo is definitely a rational position to have.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Sun Jul 31, 2016 9:24 pm

There's an enormous difference between the 1500 or so pages of Greek myth material that 90% of clues are taken from (Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, and Metamorphoses) and a category like American literature. Comparing mythology to quantum mechanics is obviously ridiculous because quantum mechanics takes up much less space than Greek myth in the distribution, and textbooks are just a little different from poems with thick margins.

If you read those four books, plus the Kalevala, Popol Vuh, summaries of the Ramayana/Mahabharata, and 20 pages each on Japanese/Aztec myth, you will power almost every myth question in any given tournament. There are some odd other bits but not enough to get you to the amount of material covered in any lit category.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by Ike » Sun Jul 31, 2016 9:49 pm

No it's not obviously ridiculous. If you allow say, Greek myth 8/8 per a tournament and QM 2/2, Greek myth takes up more space question per question than QM. And that's not even taking into account the fact that textbooks have diagrams, pictures, appendices, introductions, and indices, and good ol' whitspace due to Latex formatting. Also Griffith's is a smaller book than what you're probably imagining. This feels like a battle of bean-counting here, but I think the general idea that myth draws from a significantly less collection of pages or source material is wrong -- unless you're including something like 2/2 Norse myth per a tournament or 2/2 Mesoamerican. Also the point certainly can't be correct for Arthurian and Celtic mythology, which have easily thousands of pages of source material.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by Banned Tiny Toon Adventures Episode » Sun Jul 31, 2016 10:28 pm

speaking of the mahabharata it's ridiculous that reading a summary of it gives people 15s every time since that thing is huge and has tons of juicy stories that people should be mining for instead of being lazy
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by Sam » Mon Aug 01, 2016 10:04 am

Mewto55555 wrote: I don't know why people think there aren't fruitful areas in these oft-written subcategories. stanford housewrite had a lot of really good tossups on rarely-asked about answerlines that players still knew a reasonable number of clues about (Aeacus, Cycnus, Danaids, for example). Whether knowing the life stories of these dudes is too trivial or not is another question all together, and one worth discussing, but to insinuate that even "run-of-the-mill" myth (tossups on mythological figures and such) has to be the same old chestnuts over and over again is completely wrong, especially at higher levels where you can ask about all these people.
I think it's telling the examples of rarely asked about but still noteworthy questions you mention are all Greco-Roman. As Matt said in the first post:
Adventure Temple Trail wrote: Admittedly, not all examples are that extreme. And some mythologies, such as Greco-Roman, Mesopotamian, and Chinese, are far further from genuinely running out of usable clues. But in a lot of myth systems, such as Egyptian, Norse, and Japanese, there's simply no alternative except to to burrow further into objects mentioned on only one line of a difficult-to-read manuscript, to recycle clues that players already know, or to forsake them in pursuit of obscurer peoples like indigenous Canary Islanders.
We're nowhere near a place where good tossups on mythical figures are impossible to write. We may be near a place where fifteen good tossups per tournament, at least some of which are from systems like Egypt or Japan, may be difficult to write without reusing material.
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Re: Abolish The Mythology Category (Or Reduce & Revamp It)

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Mon Aug 01, 2016 10:44 am

Putting two and two together here, do you see this as reason enough to make mythology less than 1/1 of the distribution?
No. I acknowledge the central point of this thread: that mythology has such a small body of sources, that coming up with fresh questions is uniquely challenging there. There's no refuting this. However, mythology just "feels important" to me, much more important than Ancient History, and my feelings tell me that we should at least try to revamp the category before declaring that 1/1 is too much and cutting it down.
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