Difficulty

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Difficulty

Postby Cheynem » Tue Mar 01, 2011 3:04 pm

This Regionals felt like it was continuing the project of dialing down difficulty a bit, especially on tossups (eminently noticeable when I read this year's Regs packets to my team's new players as opposed to Regs from two years ago and beyond). While bonus difficulty I guess seemed about the same as last year, tossup difficulty seemed lower, seemingly trying to edge out some of the outliers from last year while also writing about things that are well known but may not come up as much in the ever distasteful "canon."

I'd like to hear some thoughts from the editors and others about what how the ACF "difficulty scale" is intended to play out. As it stands, I feel like this year's Fall and Regionals seemed easier than the past. This is not a complaint, especially for Fall, and I also think that this Regionals nicely fits the general idea of a "regular" tournament in that the majority of tournaments should be as hard as this, with some easier and some harder. This tournament nicely was accessible to everyone and I was pleased to play at a site with a lot of different skill levels where everyone was answering multiple questions. However, I wonder if (1). if this is turning the gap between regular difficulty and Nationals difficulty into something much larger, and (2). if that is necessarily a bad thing. Certainly Nationals does not have to worry about appealing to everyone's skill levels and it must be written in a way to finely tune gradations of knowledge. On a personal level, I wouldn't be put out it if Nationals level difficulty creeped down a touch, but I wonder what others think.
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Re: Difficulty

Postby theMoMA » Tue Mar 01, 2011 3:22 pm

Personally, I enjoyed this year's Regionals difficulty level. The editors of Regionals did a much better job patrolling for outlier tossup answers than the editors of other ostensibly regular-difficulty events of recent vintage. There were still a number of hard parts that took the crazy train a little too far down the track, but overall, the bonuses had clear easy-middle-hard structure without too many mere-formality thirties or impossible hard parts. I still think regular difficulty has a ways to go in terms of tossup structure (in the works-based humanities tossups, there is still, in my opinion, a heavy emphasis on knowing titles and brief summaries of lesser works compared to in-depth clues about the meatier stuff). But that's getting better too. I don't think we've seen anything close to the perfect regular-difficulty tournament yet, but this Regionals was a step in the right direction.
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Re: Difficulty

Postby Coelacanth » Tue Mar 01, 2011 4:21 pm

Having read for both SCT and ACF Regs (to an unending stream of teams from Carleton and Minnesota...) I thought that they were about equal in terms of tossup accessibility. (Based on my own personal "have I heard of this?" criterion.)

Both tournaments, but especially Regs, featured a lot of tossups that were "good buzzes on earlyish clues" when the stronger teams were in the room but turned into buzzer races on a late difficulty cliff when they weren't. This highlights the difficulty of crafting "regular" difficulty tossups for teams of varying quality. There's no easy answer to this, of course.

As to bonuses, Regionals did a very good job of having distinct easy-middle-hard parts. I thought there were too many "here's a free 10 points" easy parts ("this Shakespeare play about a Prince of Denmark") and an appropriate number of canon-expanding "I've never heard of that but it sounds interesting" hard parts. Judging from the number of zeroed bonuses I saw, it felt like the science questions were more likely to lack an accessible easy part. (This may just be a function of the field I was reading for, however; I long ago lost the ability to access science difficulty at this level.)

Overall it felt to me like this set was written to promote competitive and high-scoring games among teams in the likely-to-attend-Nationals field, and I think it did that quite well. It did leave some of the teams at the lower end behind. I think this sounds like what "regular" difficulty is supposed to be, and if so, I thought the editors did a fine job of achieving it.
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Re: Difficulty

Postby Matthew Jackson » Tue Mar 01, 2011 7:39 pm

Thanks a ton for putting this tournament on, Rob and company. It was a great day of quizbowl, and the overall difficulty - looking somewhat toned down from last year's Winter and Regionals, especially in the tossups - was pretty much exactly what I'd like to see "regular difficulty" stay as in the future. Completely new teams were getting plenty of length-controlled tossups on very well-known things while approaching 10 ppb on the day, while real Nationals contenders were easily breaking 20 or 21, even shorthanded, in competitive games against one another; it seemed like pretty much everyone could find something to enjoy in this Regionals set. In general, I'm of the opinion that the general higher accessibility of answer lines of tossups was the biggest component of this change, and worked really well to make the set run well with many different levels of teams, even if their bonus conversion was much lower than ideal.

It seemed like a lot of the odder questions difficulty-wise in this tournament aimed for creative new answer lines, especially among religion tossups. Many of these tossups ended up being clunkers or bizarre “can-you-figure-it-out” situations. In religion alone, I was pretty incredulous about the you-figure-it-out factor in “eating blood,” “biographies of Muhammad,” “whirling [a la dervish],” “black Mormons,” and “holy water,” all which actually seemed to reward guessing, rather than the deeper knowledge which is usually meant to be the byproduct of more creative answer lines. (I was also confused by some decisions to, for example, toss up Horatio Nelson's ship, the HMS Victory, rather than him/Trafalgar, or "shrink proofing" rather than, well, anything that didn't smack so horribly of early-2000s NAQT SCIENCE. As long as I’m talking about tossups that left me feeling nonplussed, I may as well mention the “Tolstoy” family tossup, which I felt spent too long on clues which would be obscure to basically any non-Russian speaker about non-Leo people, and dropped Pozdnyshev pretty quickly thereafter without asking for much depth about Leo himself. Seemed like it wasn't a great way to reward deep knowledge about the family to ask "have you heard that there are other Tolstoys" before quickly dropping straight into very canonical Leo clues.) Was there a particular desire on the editors’ part to employ especially creative or new answer lines in some categories of this tournament, or did the usable submissions just end up with a lot of that sort of material?
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Re: Difficulty

Postby Cheynem » Tue Mar 01, 2011 7:49 pm

I think the intent behind those religion questions are good--it tests actual knowledge of important religious concepts rather than just TITLE NAME TITLE TIME CANDY STORE crap. For instance, the role of blacks within Mormonism is very important, as is the concept that Muhammad should not be portrayed in a biographical depiction. For that matter, so is blood libel. These are all things that if you study or have familiarity with these faiths, you will know about.

Now, did all of these play out okay? Eh, maybe not. Holy water especially didn't (I thought the rest of them seemed okay and while I didn't buzz on it, the Anthony Quinn clue in Muhammad was absolute gold and justified hundreds of dollars for the price of admission). But at this sort of tournament, you should be using interesting answer lines that are not from the godawful "canon." I find it hard to believe that pure guessing, aside from maybe the holy water one, really earned you points on any of these tossups.

History also tried to be creative with answerlines--sometimes it seemed irritating (French nuclear weapons probably could have just been France, I guess, although if I had parsed the clues better, I wouldn't be complaining; Nelson's ship was perhaps too hard), but it also led to some good ideas, like ANZACS and Haiti/Dominican Republic (although it seemed like the latter could have used more middle clues). I don't know--sometimes when you make an omelette, you break a few eggs, so I'm okay with a few clunkers (and I guess one man's clunker is another man's delight). The tossups I disliked actually the most were ones that were fairly standard in answerlines (Watergate by far the biggest offender here in the packets I heard).
Last edited by Cheynem on Tue Mar 01, 2011 7:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Difficulty

Postby grapesmoker » Tue Mar 01, 2011 7:50 pm

Not a big fan of tossups on the HMS Victory, is all I got to say. Well, that and the fact that the Tolstoy family is hugely important in Russian letters.
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Re: Difficulty

Postby Charbroil » Tue Mar 01, 2011 11:42 pm

RyuAqua wrote:...“biographies of Muhammad,”...


Just out of curiosity, would there have been an issue with just making this tossup one on "Mohammed?"
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Re: Difficulty

Postby grapesmoker » Tue Mar 01, 2011 11:51 pm

Charbroil wrote:
RyuAqua wrote:...“biographies of Muhammad,”...


Just out of curiosity, would there have been an issue with just making this tossup one on "Mohammed?"


There's never an "issue." That tossup was written for a reason, that reason being because biographies of Muhammad have significance in Islam.
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Re: Difficulty

Postby Sam » Tue Mar 01, 2011 11:59 pm

Cheynem wrote:Now, did all of these play out okay? Eh, maybe not. Holy water especially didn't (I thought the rest of them seemed okay and while I didn't buzz on it, the Anthony Quinn clue in Muhammad was absolute gold and justified hundreds of dollars for the price of admission). But at this sort of tournament, you should be using interesting answer lines that are not from the godawful "canon." I find it hard to believe that pure guessing, aside from maybe the holy water one, really earned you points on any of these tossups.

Except for the holy water tossup, I really liked these questions. However, when the answer lines themselves are creative, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what one is supposed to say. I agree that pure guessing wouldn't help with most of these questions, but I suspect there were many instances where a bunch of people on both teams knew that "eating blood" was being described and the tossup went to the person who was the first to take a gander that maybe the answer line was in fact "eating blood," in which case it certainly feels like someone was guessing. This could be solved by just rephrasing the questions to make the answer line something like "Muhammad" or "blood," which I think would take away people second-guessing themselves without changing the substance of the tossup.
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Re: Difficulty

Postby Charbroil » Wed Mar 02, 2011 12:05 am

grapesmoker wrote:
Charbroil wrote:
RyuAqua wrote:...“biographies of Muhammad,”...


Just out of curiosity, would there have been an issue with just making this tossup one on "Mohammed?"


There's never an "issue." That tossup was written for a reason, that reason being because biographies of Muhammad have significance in Islam.


Sam got to my point, which was essentially that while I know biographies of Muhammed have significance in Islam, answer lines like this seem to have the potential to be rather confusing.
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Re: Difficulty

Postby Magister Ludi » Wed Mar 02, 2011 5:56 pm

I edited British and American literature, music, audio misc arts including film, social science, and philosophy. I guess I'll comment on how I approached editing this tournament, which I think is similar to the attitude editors should take if they want to produce a truly accessible regular difficulty tournament. I adopted a dictatorial attitude towards controlling tossup difficulty and balanced sub-distributions and would cut every marginal tossup (whether it was too hard or on a topic of dubious importance) and write a replacement tossup for it. Also, I set up minimum standards for the the sub-distribution before the tournament so there would be at least four drama and poetry tossups in both American and British literature. These restrictions increased my workload to the point where I ended up writing about 60% of the questions in my areas from scratch, but this gave me the ability to control the sub-distribution and make sure the questions remain committed to core areas of the academic canon. From personal experience, I know that tournament editors often get packets that have a pretty good tossup on something that is a bit too difficult, but just let it slide or quickly edit it into a tossup that is somewhat usable rather than write a replacement. But the problem with this attitude is that if you let too many tossups like that into a tournament than the tournament starts to get out of control. I don't think editors necessarily need to be as stringent as I am about throwing out iffy tossups, but it doesn't matter how many times you tell OSU to write accessible questions they will always submit a packet that is twice as hard as it should be.

On a different note, I tried to reclaim certain topics that are really important but have been a bit ignored in recent years because they might be difficult to write about. For example, I sat down to rewatch Rashomon (which surprisingly I'd never heard a tossup about) and 8 1/2, so I could write tossups about them. Or I spent the necessary time to write on Heathcliffe (which is a topic we've all heard a million transparent high school tossups on), Saussure's Course in General Linguistics and Piaget's pre-operational phase. Quizbowl falls into mini-vogues about certain topics that become popular for a year, which is understandable because people write questions about things they missed at other tournaments. I think as an editor it's important to be aware of that and work against that a bit. I don't think someone necessarily needs to get rid of a good submitted tossup if it has been a tossup in the last two tournaments, but for example I've seen Light in August tossups in several of the last few regular difficulty tournaments so I wrote on As I Lay Dying which is equally important but there hasn't been as many questions on it for whatever reason. I'm not proposing some hard-and-fast rue but suggesting writers look to reclaim topics like Rashomon or As I Lay Dying that might seem out of vogue.
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Re: Difficulty

Postby Magister Ludi » Wed Mar 02, 2011 6:23 pm

theMoMA wrote: in the works-based humanities tossups, there is still, in my opinion, a heavy emphasis on knowing titles and brief summaries of lesser works compared to in-depth clues about the meatier stuff.

I'm be interested to hear your thoughts about this matter because it was one of my main concerns while editing this tournament. I'm actually a bit surprised you cited tossups rewarding title knowledge as an issue for this tournament. For American and British literature the distribution breakdown was: 32 tossups on works and characters, 8 tossups on authors, and 4 tossups on poets (which I consider different from author tossups because people need to know lines rather than summaries). Of the eight author tossups, the tossups on Cheever, Salinger, and Hawthorne were only on their short stories, which I think is different from a question that rewards knowledge for something like Cheever's Falconer that nobody actually reads. People actually read and study writer's short stories en masse, so I've recently grown fond of writing these types of tossups as basically a tossup on "The Collected Stories of Cheever." Were there other questions that seemed particularly objectionable?

I'm interested to hear what Andrew has to say about this issue because I think it is one of the central concerns for the future of quizbowl writing. I tried to write a few SS tossups that focused only on a thinker's major works. For example I wrote this question on Geertz:

One work by this thinker discusses a ritual in which a coconut is placed in a pail of water and sinks for a period of twenty-one seconds called the “tjeng.” In that work he discussed how babies are not permitted to crawl since society fears any association with animality, while a later section titled “Playing with Fire” discusses a concept from Jeremy Bentham about an action whose stakes are so high it is irrational to engage in. This thinker borrows a term from Gilbert Ryle about the difference between a twitch and a wink in an essay about “thick description.” For 10 points, name this anthropologist who included “Deep Play: Notes on a Balinese Cockfight” in Interpretations of Culture.
ANSWER: Clifford Geertz

Basically this question draws all of its clues from the essay "Deep Play" with a few clues thrown in about thick description at the end to make it more pyramidal. I liked this question because I felt it rewarded deep knowledge about one of Geertz's most influential and most read works, but I could see an argument that this tossup doesn't separate people's levels of knowledge about Geertz as fairly as a tossup that had a bunch of titles in it. Maybe someone who knows the titles Islam Observed or Negara: The Theatre State got beat to this question on a buzzer race on the word "wink" by someone who doesn't know as much about Geertz.

The way I edited my areas (especially literature) heavily in favor of works shows my prejudices, but I'd be interested to hear what people who disagree with me say? I'm getting to the point where I'm regretful that I let in a single tossup on Ken Kesey that had most of its clues from lesser known works such as Caverns and Sometimes a Great Notion and wish I had cut the tossup altogether or rewritten it with over half the clues from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The more tossups on Gao I miss to Chris Ray, the more extreme my position on author questions becomes, so I'd be interested to hear some defenses from people on the other side of the spectrum.
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Re: Difficulty

Postby grapesmoker » Wed Mar 02, 2011 6:27 pm

Eh, Sometimes A Great Notion is Kesey's other major novel, so that seems ok. I'm guessing no one reads his short fiction anymore or something like Sailor Song.
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Re: Difficulty

Postby something similarly dumb » Wed Mar 02, 2011 7:21 pm

I just want to say the tossup on Legacy of Kain was ridiculous, and not in a good way.
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Re: Difficulty

Postby Ukonvasara » Wed Mar 02, 2011 8:06 pm

Isaacbh wrote:I just want to say the tossup on Legacy of Kain was ridiculous, and not in a good way.

Yes, that was almost certainly the worst idea in the tournament; I threw it in at the last minute because I needed a trash/other tossup and had that sitting around. It was a pretty silly idea to start with, plus I think I underestimated the difficulty a bit on top of that.
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Re: Difficulty

Postby grapesmoker » Wed Mar 02, 2011 10:03 pm

Isaacbh wrote:I just want to say the tossup on Legacy of Kain was ridiculous, and not in a good way.


best trash tossup ever
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Re: Difficulty

Postby Auroni » Thu Mar 03, 2011 9:14 pm

I'm curious as to why people didn't like the tossup on the HMS Victory. My teammate who just started quizbowl this year came up with this idea and I refined the tossup; it seems like a major ship involved in some important battles that you should probably know the name of.

Also, I was not a fan of the "biographies of Muhammad" and "eating blood" tossup, more so the latter because the first clue was something like "some people have to be careful when they milk cows in order to avoid this taboo." The biographies of Muhammad question seemed sort of difficult until about a point where you could instantly figure out what was going on, then it became sort of superficial and required you to string the right words together.

The other 99% of this tournament was absolutely fantastic and a blast to play.
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Re: Difficulty

Postby Ringil » Thu Mar 03, 2011 9:33 pm

I didn't like the HMS Victory tossup that much because the battles that Nelson fought in are way more important than his ship. In my opinion, it'd be fine for a bonus part, but is a rather unfortunate thing to tossup.

I felt like this tournament was done fairly well in difficulty, especially in most all of the bonuses. There was much fewer variability than in other tournaments this year in my opinion.
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Re: Difficulty

Postby grapesmoker » Thu Mar 03, 2011 10:09 pm

every time i refresh i have a new name wrote:I'm curious as to why people didn't like the tossup on the HMS Victory. My teammate who just started quizbowl this year came up with this idea and I refined the tossup; it seems like a major ship involved in some important battles that you should probably know the name of.


The name of the ship is pretty much incidental to anything of any actual significance. You could know quite a bit about a number of Nelsonian battles and not really know anything in particular about the ship. It's the battles, obviously, which are important, so why not focus on that?
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Re: Difficulty

Postby DumbJaques » Sat Mar 05, 2011 12:09 pm

Ted already posted it, but I wanted to single out the Geertz tossup as a fine example of how we can make the social science canon (and really, philosophy/literature as well) much more interesting. I was incredibly pleased to hear clues from Interpretation of Cultures in the first few lines, and think this kind of thing is perfectly acceptable (and even sometimes desirable) when writing tossups on answers of any difficulty. And I say this as someone who's read some minor, nobody-gives-a-fuck works by Clifford Geertz.

In fact, I'd say it's even more important to restrict your clue selection to the most important two or three works at higher difficulties. If you've written a tossup that devotes half of its clues to non-Sozaboy works by Ken Saro-Wiwa, well, I'll enjoy it but it's not likely to get answered until the end.

That said, this isn't the ONLY way to do it. The "traditional" way works too in most cases and would have been fine with something like Geertz, if most likely stale because we've fallen into the habit of doing it that way 90% of the time. Anotherat fine alternatitve would be to use both "Deep Play" and another important work and draw clues entirely from those two, in the vein of Evan Adams's "mini-tossups" literature writing proposal. The point here is that there are a lot of ways to do a question on most every answer line, let alone something like Geertz. The point isn't a quizbowl-wide shift to a certain style (in fact, I'd argue that the point would be to avoid one), but rather creating variety to prevent tossups that are fine in a vacuum from becoming worn out buzzer-races on arcania.

EDIT:

I personally though that religion tossups on drinking blood, whirling, and biographies of Muhammed (perhaps that one less so) were excellent examples of how we can improve the literature canon, which in my opinion often really blows. These were on important concepts in theology and I doubt you could have been punished for knowing things with any of them. Conversely, I thought "Black Mormons" and "Holy Water" were attempts at the same goal that failed, I think rather miserably. Holy Water was answered with groans in our game against VCU (by the player answering!), after the question made its liquidity relatively clear. Black Mormons, in my opinion, got way too coy on an answer line that has probably come up like zero times as a tossup and on which coyness is not particularly necessary. I heard like three or for things about being a mormon, and two things about being a mormon priest, buzzed in with those answers about halfway through and was utterly confused.

Don't get me wrong, I really like the intent behind this question, but I think an answer line of "black people" with clues like "in one faith, these individuals. . ." prevents such confusion. Similarly, if anyone out there is considering bringing back the ArthurMeigsian movement for 1-2 tossups/tournament on "[ethnicity] [national/religious/other group]," well, please don't.
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Re: Difficulty

Postby Magister Ludi » Sun Mar 27, 2011 11:40 pm

Oh, I wanted to single out UCSD's packet as the best (and most difficulty appropriate) packet we received. I'm glad to see Auroni et al responding positively to my overzealous critiques of THUNDER.
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