Non-Unique Middle Clues

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Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by setht » Mon Dec 29, 2008 2:31 pm

Whig's Boson wrote:I put some folktale clues and even answers in RMPFest, and have not heard any complaints about this. There was a tossup on vampires in the tiebreakers somewhere, a tossup on elves that used a lot of folkloric clues, etc. Also, I think folklore clues come up a lot in common link TU's, especially on animals.

Speaking of additions to the RMP distro, what about medieval epics?
Then let me be the first to complain (not about the inclusion of folktale clues and answers in RMPFest, which I liked, but a particular example): the tossup on elves had a bunch of fairly hard clues that no one buzzed on in my room, followed by the clue about Svartalfheim being Frey's tooth-gift. At that point I negged with dwarves, which are interchangeable with elves (or at least dark elves) in a lot of Norse sources. I'm sure the Hungarian folklore clue and the Charlemagne episode refer to elves that are not interchangeable with dwarves in those traditions, but if those clues fall in the "these are things I looked up for my own learning purposes and I don't seriously expect anyone to buzz on them" category (and it seems to me that they do) it seems unfortunate not to make things as clear as possible when the question finally transitions into "meaty clues that people playing the set might actually buzz on." The same comment may apply to some of the other Norse clues that appear right before the Frey clue, actually--there's a clue about Skuld's parents that doesn't mention that you're talking about Skuld the princess, not Skuld the Norn.

Again, this is not a complaint against questions with folklore content, just a note that some such questions (like all categories) have to be written carefully to avoid ambiguity.

Finally, I'm not sure whether medieval epics are more properly literature or myth. If we were to apply a variant of the Watkins Criterion, I'd guess that almost all questions on medieval epics would wind up being classified as literature, since there would be very few such questions that include clues culled from multiple works.

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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Tue Dec 30, 2008 5:42 am

setht wrote: Then let me be the first to complain (not about the inclusion of folktale clues and answers in RMPFest, which I liked, but a particular example): the tossup on elves had a bunch of fairly hard clues that no one buzzed on in my room, followed by the clue about Svartalfheim being Frey's tooth-gift. At that point I negged with dwarves, which are interchangeable with elves (or at least dark elves) in a lot of Norse sources. I'm sure the Hungarian folklore clue and the Charlemagne episode refer to elves that are not interchangeable with dwarves in those traditions, but if those clues fall in the "these are things I looked up for my own learning purposes and I don't seriously expect anyone to buzz on them" category (and it seems to me that they do) it seems unfortunate not to make things as clear as possible when the question finally transitions into "meaty clues that people playing the set might actually buzz on." The same comment may apply to some of the other Norse clues that appear right before the Frey clue, actually--there's a clue about Skuld's parents that doesn't mention that you're talking about Skuld the princess, not Skuld the Norn.
I think this is a curious complaint. If I'm reading you correctly, you narrowed down the answer choice to three possible things (elves, dark elves, or dwarves), and then guessed. You guessed wrong, and so you paid the price: your own points.

There is nothing unjust about that; the possibility of a neg is the price you pay for guessing when you have not yet narrowed down the possible answer to just one thing. Just because the early clues are hard does not mean that you get to ignore them nilly-willy and cry foul when your imperfect knowledge and your aggressive play combine to get you a neg.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Post by Captain Sinico » Tue Dec 30, 2008 12:06 pm

I believe what Seth is saying is that the elves you were talking about in that clue were dark elves which are, in fact, dwarves. Your premise is predicated on the fact that those are distinct groups, which isn't the case as I understand it. Therefore, I see that as a poor clue of the kind endemic to common link questions, namely, one that doesn't specify a single answer (in this case, the distrinction among the answers is purely nominal in the case of the offending clue) though the question doesn't accept or prompt on the other answers it specifies.
Thus, the issue is not that Seth has guessed an unlucky answer choice. On the contrary, given only the clue he buzzed off of, the answer he gave was equivalent to the right answer, a fact that I'm sure he well knew while answering (though he couldn't know which of "elves," "dark elves," or "dwarves" was nominally the answer.) To me, that's a problem with the clue.

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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Post by setht » Tue Dec 30, 2008 2:05 pm

Captain Scipio wrote:I believe what Seth is saying is that the elves you were talking about in that clue were dark elves which are, in fact, dwarves. Your premise is predicated on the fact that those are distinct groups, which isn't the case as I understand it. Therefore, I see that as a poor clue of the kind endemic to common link questions, namely, one that doesn't specify a single answer (in this case, the distrinction among the answers is purely nominal in the case of the offending clue) though the question doesn't accept or prompt on the other answers it specifies.
Thus, the issue is not that Seth has guessed an unlucky answer choice. On the contrary, given only the clue he buzzed off of, the answer he gave was equivalent to the right answer, a fact that I'm sure he well knew while answering (though he couldn't know which of "elves," "dark elves," or "dwarves" was nominally the answer.) To me, that's a problem with the clue.

MaS
Hey, I just wanted to note that I was completely wrong about Svartalfheim being Frey's tooth-gift--he was given Alfheim, which means that particular clue does refer only to (light-skinned) elves in Norse myth. It is the case that dark-skinned elves are sometimes called dwarves in Norse sources, but I'm not aware of anything similar happening for the residents of Alfheim. My apologies to Bruce for falsely attributing that issue to the question.

Having said that, I would still argue that a clue (in some hypothetical other question) that identifies two or more interchangeable terms in some tradition should really try to clarify which of those terms is meant to be the answer. Pretending for the moment that the "elves" tossup had the issue I initially claimed it had, I would say that while it's tempting to think that by line 7 of an 11-line tossup things must have been nailed down so clearly that using a clue with three equally-good answers (without doing anything within that clue phrase to distinguish which of three those answers is being sought) is not a problem, it still is a problem. It's even more of a problem if the offending clue is the first (or one of the first) "meaty clues" that people might recognize and buzz on. If you do a packet search I'm pretty confident you will find zero or nearly zero mentions of the manok, Allison Peirson, the Dutch epic Karel ende Elegast, Olaf Geirstad, the princess Skuld, etc. I'm also pretty sure you will find multiple mentions of Frey's tooth-gift.

So Bruce's tossup is fine; I think his (as it turned out, unnecessary) defense of it is not.

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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:04 am

Captain Scipio wrote:I believe what Seth is saying is that the elves you were talking about in that clue were dark elves which are, in fact, dwarves. Your premise is predicated on the fact that those are distinct groups, which isn't the case as I understand it. Therefore, I see that as a poor clue of the kind endemic to common link questions, namely, one that doesn't specify a single answer (in this case, the distrinction among the answers is purely nominal in the case of the offending clue) though the question doesn't accept or prompt on the other answers it specifies.
Thus, the issue is not that Seth has guessed an unlucky answer choice. On the contrary, given only the clue he buzzed off of, the answer he gave was equivalent to the right answer, a fact that I'm sure he well knew while answering (though he couldn't know which of "elves," "dark elves," or "dwarves" was nominally the answer.) To me, that's a problem with the clue.

MaS
No, "dark elf" and "dwarf" are not correct answers, because they correspond to none of the earlier clues.

So basically, here is the tossup:

clue that applies only to "elves"
clue that applies only to "elves"
clue that applies only to "elves"
clue that applies to three different things, one of which is elves

At this point, he buzzes in and says one of the other things. He is clearly wrong.

Basically, Seth should have realized "so, this is one of three things, and the earlier clues are hard and don't tell me anything because I do not have the required knowledge for them to be useful to me. If I want to not neg, I should wait until there is something that narrows it down for me". He didn't.

The critique that the pre-Frey clues are too hard may well be legitimate, but is a completely different kind of critique.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Post by Mike Bentley » Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:21 am

Whig's Boson wrote:
Captain Scipio wrote:I believe what Seth is saying is that the elves you were talking about in that clue were dark elves which are, in fact, dwarves. Your premise is predicated on the fact that those are distinct groups, which isn't the case as I understand it. Therefore, I see that as a poor clue of the kind endemic to common link questions, namely, one that doesn't specify a single answer (in this case, the distrinction among the answers is purely nominal in the case of the offending clue) though the question doesn't accept or prompt on the other answers it specifies.
Thus, the issue is not that Seth has guessed an unlucky answer choice. On the contrary, given only the clue he buzzed off of, the answer he gave was equivalent to the right answer, a fact that I'm sure he well knew while answering (though he couldn't know which of "elves," "dark elves," or "dwarves" was nominally the answer.) To me, that's a problem with the clue.

MaS
No, "dark elf" and "dwarf" are not correct answers, because they correspond to none of the earlier clues.

So basically, here is the tossup:

clue that applies only to "elves"
clue that applies only to "elves"
clue that applies only to "elves"
clue that applies to three different things, one of which is elves

At this point, he buzzes in and says one of the other things. He is clearly wrong.

Basically, Seth should have realized "so, this is one of three things, and the earlier clues are hard and don't tell me anything because I do not have the required knowledge for them to be useful to me. If I want to not neg, I should wait until there is something that narrows it down for me". He didn't.

The critique that the pre-Frey clues are too hard may well be legitimate, but is a completely different kind of critique.
This type of thing happened to me several times in the CO History tournament and was very frustrating, and resulted in a loss in one match when the protest wasn't upheld. For instance, I buzzed on a clue about a document prompting the Edict of Potsdam ending this right and said "freedom to be a Protestant". The underlined answer was "Freedom of Religion". Sure there were earlier clues that applied to non-European regions, but comprehending this in the five seconds I have to answer is pretty tough and seems to be punishing me for knowing what the Edict of Potsdam is but not what some earlier stuff is.

If a clue applies to multiple answers, either prompt on the multiple answers or accept it. Sure the earlier clues could have ruled that out, but if you knew that you'd probably be buzzing before that anyways.
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Re: Distribution: Origins, Motivations

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:43 am

Bentley Like Beckham wrote:This type of thing happened to me several times in the CO History tournament and was very frustrating, and resulted in a loss in one match when the protest wasn't upheld. For instance, I buzzed on a clue about a document prompting the Edict of Potsdam ending this right and said "freedom to be a Protestant". The underlined answer was "Freedom of Religion". Sure there were earlier clues that applied to non-European regions, but comprehending this in the five seconds I have to answer is pretty tough and seems to be punishing me for knowing what the Edict of Potsdam is but not what some earlier stuff is.

If a clue applies to multiple answers, either prompt on the multiple answers or accept it. Sure the earlier clues could have ruled that out, but if you knew that you'd probably be buzzing before that anyways.
For what it's worth, I think the example you gave is a little different (though I agree that prompting is the right thing to do in either situation). You gave a specific form of freedom of religion, not an alternative type of freedom that the E of P might refer to. That's as though Seth thought "well, he's talking about elves in Norse myth, so I'll be a big tool and refer to them as the alfar" (edit: to clarify, I am not implying that you were being a tool, or that Seth would be! also, this is Wikipedia's idea of Old Norse, so your mileage may vary)

If the E of P happened both to allow people to be Protestants and allow people to talk about Protestantism, then you answering "freedom of speech" is similar to what happened here.
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:48 am

After witnessing the unfortunate scimitar incident in the NSC final, I personally am kind of a fan of the idea of generously prompting on a too specific answer as long as it is correct with what the player buzzed off of. Is this a bad idea?
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Wed Dec 31, 2008 2:33 am

Jeremy Gibbs Free Energy wrote:After witnessing the unfortunate scimitar incident in the NSC final, I personally am kind of a fan of the idea of generously prompting on a too specific answer as long as it is correct with what the player buzzed off of. Is this a bad idea?
I think it's a fine idea. I can't imagine any situation that gives me a gut feeling that the player had less knowledge than an equivalent player who gave the more general answer, though i'm sure someone will be able to come up with a corner case.

EDIT: one question, though. Prompts usually happen because you want a more specific answer. Is it too much to ask that maybe we do something else, so that we don't prompt and get an incredulous answer of "shamshirs?!"
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Wed Dec 31, 2008 3:03 am

everyday847 wrote:
Jeremy Gibbs Free Energy wrote:After witnessing the unfortunate scimitar incident in the NSC final, I personally am kind of a fan of the idea of generously prompting on a too specific answer as long as it is correct with what the player buzzed off of. Is this a bad idea?
I think it's a fine idea. I can't imagine any situation that gives me a gut feeling that the player had less knowledge than an equivalent player who gave the more general answer, though i'm sure someone will be able to come up with a corner case.

EDIT: one question, though. Prompts usually happen because you want a more specific answer. Is it too much to ask that maybe we do something else, so that we don't prompt and get an incredulous answer of "shamshirs?!"
I'm fine with just giving the player the points if they something more specific, assuming the current clue is referring to a specific case. As an example, on a clue about YBCO in a superconductivity tossup, if someone buzzed in and said "High-temperature superconductivity" to be safe (as there are tossups that only accepted that and not "superconductivity"), they should be given the points. But until quizbowl develops a (largely useless) "anti-prompt" or something, just giving the points if knowledge is demonstrated suffices.
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Dec 31, 2008 3:04 am

In an earlier HSQB thread, I stated that you could conceptualize a common-link tossup as a series of small tossups on different things. Under this model, it would be fair to accept different alternative answers at different points in the tossup, as you would essentially be reading different questions in rapid succession, which would be either ignored or buzzed on.
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by theMoMA » Wed Dec 31, 2008 7:35 am

I've always been of the mind that you can't bank on people eliminating answers from previous clues if they haven't buzzed on them. So a tossup on platinum (obviously not ideal here, just going with a quick example) with bunch of crap followed by "it dissolves in aqua regia" is bad, and it's the writer's fault that everyone is negging with gold. It's obviously not always clear whether a clue is ambiguous, but if you happen to know that there's another thing for which your clue applies, and you think people might buzz with that, you should write the question so that they don't.
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:26 pm

theMoMA wrote:I've always been of the mind that you can't bank on people eliminating answers from previous clues if they haven't buzzed on them. So a tossup on platinum (obviously not ideal here, just going with a quick example) with bunch of crap followed by "it dissolves in aqua regia" is bad, and it's the writer's fault that everyone is negging with gold. It's obviously not always clear whether a clue is ambiguous, but if you happen to know that there's another thing for which your clue applies, and you think people might buzz with that, you should write the question so that they don't.
Do you believe that workarounds such as "Like gold, it dissolves in aqua regia" (though in this situation you'd have to say "like craploads of stuff," but you understand).
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Wed Dec 31, 2008 1:54 pm

everyday847 wrote:Do you believe that workarounds such as "Like gold, it dissolves in aqua regia" (though in this situation you'd have to say "like craploads of stuff," but you understand).
Those workarounds are absolutely critical, and in fact should be used more often than they are.
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by naturalistic phallacy » Wed Dec 31, 2008 4:39 pm

The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote:
everyday847 wrote:Do you believe that workarounds such as "Like gold, it dissolves in aqua regia" (though in this situation you'd have to say "like craploads of stuff," but you understand).
Those workarounds are absolutely critical, and in fact should be used more often than they are.
As writers/editors, we need to make sure that we spend enough time researching clues used in tossups, especially common link tossups, in order to make sure they are truly unique and specific. I feel that this cannot be emphasized enough.
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by Captain Sinico » Wed Dec 31, 2008 6:08 pm

Whig's Boson wrote:In an earlier HSQB thread, I stated that you could conceptualize a common-link tossup as a series of small tossups on different things. Under this model, it would be fair to accept different alternative answers at different points in the tossup, as you would essentially be reading different questions in rapid succession, which would be either ignored or buzzed on.
Okay, Bruce, but isn't the implication of your own model that each clue is essentially to be viewed as the leadin to a question? And isn't a question with an ambiguous leadin unacceptable? To my mind, for precisely these reasons, the only fair way to do a common link question is to have all uniquely identifying clues for this reason (they can all uniquely identify a set of acceptable answers, of course.)

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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by at your pleasure » Wed Dec 31, 2008 8:49 pm

Okay, Bruce, but isn't the implication of your own model that each clue is essentially to be viewed as the leadin to a question? And isn't a question with an ambiguous leadin unacceptable? To my mind, for precisely these reasons, the only fair way to do a common link question is to have all uniquely identifying clues for this reason (they can all uniquely identify a set of acceptable answers, of course.)
This is why such workarounds are necessary. Indeed, the lack of such workarounds may be part of the reason for the rash of troubling common-link questions. In the one problematic case we have been presented with, for instance, the problem would be solved by adding the words "for protestants".
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by SepiaOfficinalis » Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:45 pm

I think this issue is totally different for common-link questions and for regular questions. Indeed, it isn't even desirable to make every middle clue uniquely identifying. This produces an enormous limitation on the possible cluespace, ruling out most of the things that are useful in narrowing down the possibilities that are brought to mind by difficult early clues. Certainly something like Andrew's platinum example would probably be a hose and a poor question, but not because it includes a nonunique clue. You still don't deserve points just because you only thought of or only know one thing a clue applied to, or because (worst of all, to my mind), you just think of "dissolves in aqua regia" as a clue for gold, something learned by past quizbowling rather than an interest in the features of the world. Conceptualizing useful quizbowl knowledge as a series of binary pairings between clues and answers, with the "difficulty" of a clue determined by its relative frequency in past quizbowl is one of the great demons of questionwriting. I'm completely baffled as to where the idea came from that if you recognize an answer to which one part of a question applies, that this counts as "knowledge" that ought to be rewarded rather than punished if it happens not to be the answer to the question. The question is the only true unit of description here, pretending that everything should be neatly analyzable into independent clues is just mistaken in fact and undesirable in theory. I think that adding constant specifying or equivocating clauses as Eric and Mike Bentley seem to have suggested just makes the language that much more obtuse and unclear, and is a major pitfall of trying to write pyramidally as it is. Certainly such things are often truly needed, but the game would benefit if they were treated as a last resort.

To give some examples of what I'm talking about, take art tossups. It's quite helpful if you provide descriptions of paintings or works, but there's no need for all of it to be unique (and impossible on face to do so in a strict sense), even absurdly non-unique clues like "Jesus is wearing a red and blue robe" are quite useful for trying to form an image or understanding of what is being asked about, ruling out wrong answers and priming you to be ready to buzz when an easier unique clue starts to come along. I tend to see this sort of priming as the real function that at least part of the middle of a tossup should aspire to, as opposed to maximizing the number of "opportunities to buzz." A buzzer race is by no means a sign that deeper knowledge isn't being rewarded because the person who was already semi-confidently sitting on an answer will almost always be the first to recognize and react to an easy clue.
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by at your pleasure » Wed Dec 31, 2008 10:10 pm

But why have a non-unique middle clue, when it can be replaced by a more uniqe clue or made unique? Or, in the example of "it dissolves in aqua regia", why not add two words to make that unique?
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Wed Dec 31, 2008 10:26 pm

Tom, you're batshit crazy. Heh, batshit crazy, I love that phrase. But, you are.

Yeah, you're right that it's impossible and indeed undesirable to make absolutely every clue uniquely identifiable, for example in a tossup on a painting. But, the workarounds or "specifying clauses" are often very necessary because they prevent people from making completely reasonable buzzes and getting negged.

Yeah, it's a reasonable thing to do to buzz on a clue and say the answer which it is often a clue for. You're not going to impress anyone here by intimating that it's an evil thing to do to learn specific clues for answers, or that you have more erudite or pristine "knowledge" and won't stoop to the base level of learning clues. If you know that Twain wrote something called Huckleberry Finn, that's a bit of knowledge (however small a bit), even if you learned it because you went "ooh, I just know this'll get me points at that tournament and all the chicks will think I'm the bees knees." If Sutton Griggs also wrote a book called Huckleberry Finn, we shouldn't penalize people or force them to try to guess which Huck Finn we're talking about, because it's not necessary to do that.
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Thu Jan 01, 2009 12:41 am

Anti-Climacus wrote:In the one problematic case we have been presented with, for instance, the problem would be solved by adding the words "for protestants".
That totally wouldn't make the tossup transparent!

(Not dissing the idea of workarounds, just your suggestion in particular)
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Thu Jan 01, 2009 12:44 am

Also, I mean, the clues that prompt widespread buzzing are in many (although I admit not all) cases famous beyond the quizbowl world, thus prompting the buzz. In your argument about aqua regia you act as if the only reason people are buzzing with gold at that point is because by pure chance that happens to be the one thing that the quizbowl world latched onto as a stock clue that got repeated over and over again until it became the most notable clue about aqua regia. As anyone who knows anything about the history of aqua regia can tell you, that is complete horsecrap since it is most notable in terms of general knowledge for dissolving gold (just google it - while wikipedia mentions other compounds, a quick scan tells me that most websites about aqua regia immediately emphasize that it dissolves gold). This obviously extend to lots of other topics, and is something we should be aware of when writing.
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by theMoMA » Thu Jan 01, 2009 2:48 am

I disagree that putting in workarounds like "like gold, this metal dissolves..." is somehow rewarding people who think that "dissolves in aqua regia" applies solely to gold. People who know that but not that platinum does as well will not get points, because they'll hear "like gold" and not buzz! Also, players enter a war with the packet as much as with the other team when workarounds aren't used. If you hear "dissolves in aqua regia" towards the end of a question, and you know that both gold and platinum do that but you don't know the clues that came before, you're forced to play a game against the packet where you decide whether the clue is early enough to be platinum, or late enough to be gold.
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by Cheynem » Thu Jan 01, 2009 12:56 pm

I don't want to hijack the thread, but I have to disagree with this notion that questions should be written in a way in which not all parts are unique and inherently one must be primed to wait until an identifiable clue midway through the question.

YES, obviously, the way communication works means that not every aspect of a question can be completely identifiable. You're going to get a few words or maybe even a brief sentence at the beginning that is vague enough to apply to perhaps a few things.

But I think a good question is one that can be completely and exclusively identified for one thing by someone with deep knowledge with the first real legitimate clue. That person should not have to be "primed" by sitting like a dummy, waiting for a clue that finally gets specific, and then winning a potential buzzer race. I don't know. It just seems that this idea that the "question is a whole and distinct unit" can be used to excuse such writing faux pas as:

-not giving a distinct pronoun ("Yes, I was just listing the names of the Archbishops of Canterbury, but you should have been primed for it when I asked what I wanted")
-"blah blah" questions that include vague, unnecessary pieces of drudge before any real distinct clues ("It has been called one of the most seminal novels of the 20th century..."--ah ha, but I was priming you it was a novel)
-questions that can't be answered until the middle lines rendering tournaments inherently longer and less interesting

I am actually surprised Tom is suggesting this because I thought one of his biggest complaints about ACF is the "length" of the questions. But if you're suggesting that toss-ups should be written in a way that the early lines do nothing but "prime" players rather than providing distinct, identifiable clues, the questions would be inherently longer, wouldn't they? Or they would just be a lot of buzzer races.
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by SepiaOfficinalis » Thu Jan 01, 2009 3:07 pm

I don't understand Andrew's response. I would contend that there is an even greater issue of playing "against the packet" when you have to expend more effort trying to parse dense 80-word sentences than trying to figure out the answer. As for "why not make everything unique," it's because the vast majority of useful description of stuff describes other things as well, and eliminating all of that from the cluespace seriously limits the game for no apparent reason. It seems perfectly reasonable to expect people to consider statements in the light of the statements they just heard, hopefully the preceding ones weren't just gibberish, but if they were, then that person has no "right" to points. I concur that you can use question holism to justify all kinds of terrible questions, but this seems like an extraordinarily nonunique disadvantage of nonuniqueness. You can use "It's a series of uniquely identifying descriptions" to justify all kinds of terrible questions too if you are so inclined. Indeed, that kind of reasoning is what is most likely to justify a question of the form [Obtuse gibberish about platinum that tries to distinguish it on purely chemical terms from the very similar gold. More obtuse gibberish that tries to separately distinguish the two in some totally different way..."Like gold, things that can be oxidized, polar compounds and everything else that dissolves in very strong acid, this dissolves in aqua regia."] If the writer instead strove for clarity while making sure that no long stretches of question were ambiguous to somebody who knew what was going on, I think this kind of thing would happen much less often.
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Thu Jan 01, 2009 3:23 pm

Why must you persist in these examples of extreme nonsense like the 80-word sentences bullshit. Most sentences I've ever seen in quizbowl are about 20 words long, and until you produce something to show me otherwise in a good tournament (not some crappy list tossup from 1999), I refuse to beleive that there even is such a thing as an 80 word sentence. Unless you want to discuss reality here, shut the fuck up.
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Re: Non-Unique Middle Clues

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Thu Jan 01, 2009 3:41 pm

SepiaOfficinalis wrote:I don't understand Andrew's response. I would contend that there is an even greater issue of playing "against the packet" when you have to expend more effort trying to parse dense 80-word sentences than trying to figure out the answer.
Well, this is because you reject the premise that ambiguity creates problems. There's more of "playing against the packet" when you know something to which a clue applies and buzz on it, only to find out that that clue was not unique (because the game is played assuming leadins are unique, at least, and certainly that if you buzz with something to which the clue applies, then you are not wrong. If you accept the premise that ambiguity creates problems, then surely neg-bait clues are the ultimate in playing against the packet. But this is also a false dilemma: I say you don't need to write "dense, 80-word sentences" (or, if so, they don't have to be hard to parse, convoluted, whatever) in order to create uniquely identifying clues.
SepiaOfficinalis wrote:As for "why not make everything unique," it's because the vast majority of useful description of stuff describes other things as well, and eliminating all of that from the cluespace seriously limits the game for no apparent reason. It seems perfectly reasonable to expect people to consider statements in the light of the statements they just heard, hopefully the preceding ones weren't just gibberish, but if they were, then that person has no "right" to points.
I don't think, in a quizbowl context, "useful description" also describe other things. I admit that essentially I'm just defining a context in which I'm right, so let's consider what's going on here. Let's say I write a tossup about electronegativity:
[quote]
[very very hard clue]
"it increases as you go from left to right in a period"
[easy stuff]
[/quote]
People who don't understand the hard clue don't buzz on it. Then, if they don't know anything about electronegativity, but they do know things about atomic radius, they buzz on the second clue and lose five points.

You used the example of an art tossup before, and in the description of a work of visual art, it's pretty reasonable that you can't actually describe a totally unique section of a painting with every phrase. But this isn't a reason that you can say "clues don't need to be uniquely identifying ever;" I don't even think you should say it for art. Rather, I think clues in tossups on paintings are simply the minimal phrase that uniquely specifies an element of that painting. (So, like, "bare-breasted woman" is not a clue, but "bare-breasted woman standing with a badass kid dual-wielding pistols in the background" is (though regrettably; I wish more paintings were like Liberty Leading the People).)

And in many tossups, which cannot simply consist of a physical description of something, earlier clues are, in fact, gibberish, and very little can be gained from them unless you know them (or if you just vaguely try to pick out keyterms, inferring that this is an electromagnetic effect, so don't say "Wittig reaction"). You admit this. But you say that the person has no right to points if they can't take clue n+2 in terms of clue n. That's inane. The entire point of pyramidal tossups (correct me if I'm wrong, folks!) is that those who know clue n buzz there and get points; those who know clue n+1 buzz there, and so forth. If you do not understand clue n, and that clue eliminated all but one answer from clue n+2, then your ability to buzz only on clue n+2 is being penalized doubly: not only don't you get the tossup early (and before a larger set of teams) but you also are negged at the point where the question is telling you that you know the answer. In some cases, players would actually have a higher points expected value from waiting one clue more, because maybe that one is unique and won't cause them to neg... but they don't know that; their lack of knowledge of the tossup answer and their knowledge about something else leads them to buzz earlier.

That's a convoluted way of saying these things:
1) You're penalizing players for their knowledge of things that aren't the tossup answer
2) You're doubly penalizing players for their lack of leadin knowledge (which is particularly funny because you argue that learning clues for quizbowl is lame, and I'd be surprised if more than, say, fifty percent of the leadin-buzzes in a tournament come from external knowledge)
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