ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

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ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Sun Apr 17, 2011 11:47 pm

Congratulations to Yale University, the winner of 2011 ACF Nationals in a one game final over the University of Minnesota. The University of Illinois finished in third place.

First off, I would like to thank all the people besides the core editors who helped fill out the set. In no particular order, that group includes Seth Teitler, Bruce Arthur, Ezequiel Berdichevsky, Trygve Meade, Will Nediger, Dennis Jang, Eric Mukherjee, Evan Nagler, Mike Bentley, and Ryan Westbrook. Their contributions made this tournament possible, so hats off to them. I would also like to thank the packet compilers who made our lives easier in the last weeks of the tournament: Jonathan Thompson, Jonah Greenthal, Matt Lafer, Katy Peters, Eric Mukherjee, and Chris Borglum.

Thanks also go out to the folks at Pitt who helped staff the tournament, and to Brian Sisco for working closely with me on staffing arrangements. They were pretty great is all I have to say. And thanks to all the moderators from the other clubs who came out and read, including but not limited to Ahmad Ragab, Matt Weiner, Ryan Westbrook, Eric Douglass, Hannah Kirsch, Bryn Reinecke, Dan Puma, and Dwight Kidder.

And finally thanks go out to my comrades in the trenches, Susan Ferrari and Jonathan Magin. A++ would edit with again.

A few things before the discussion begins: first, I'd like to apologize for some of the logistical snafus that occurred towards the end. Part of the problem was that I didn't instruct Brian in keeping stats to take note of who was an undergrad or DII eligible, which I should have done, and which resulted in a bunch of confusion when it was time to give out awards. I am very sorry about that situation, which is entirely my fault. Also, due to a mistake in packet compilation, a tossup that should not have been in the set ended up being in it and another packet ended up with a repeat of a previous tossup instead of a physics tossup like it should have had. We did a readthrough before sending out the packets but somehow missed that. Also, a bonus went missing from the finals packet. Again, I apologize for those mistakes, which we should have caught. Because I'd like to have the questions that are out there represent the totality of our effort, these mistakes will be corrected before the packets are publicly released. Of course, the questions are still cleared for discussion anyway.

The editing breakdown was as follows: Susan Ferrari edited the chemistry and biology and pitched in with a few questions in literature and religion. Jonathan Magin edited the American history, American literature, British history, British literature, social science, some of the "other," category, and all the fine arts (excepting a few questions written by myself). I edited the physics, "other" science, religion, myth, philosophy, European and world history, European (non-British) literature, world literature, some geography and "other." I have some of my own thoughts about this set and how its final realization related to the submitted material, but I will hold off on sharing that for a bit. My co-editors and I will do our best to address your comments in this thread or over email regarding any questions you may have about your submitted packets. Discuss away.
Last edited by grapesmoker on Mon Apr 18, 2011 2:42 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by women, fire and dangerous things » Mon Apr 18, 2011 12:11 am

I'd appreciate any feedback on the linguistics, which I wrote/edited. I also wrote a handful of assorted tossups: finishing the Unfinished Symphony, Natural History, Francis Parkman, John Coltrane, Chimamanda Adichie, and José Clemente Orozco.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Ringil » Mon Apr 18, 2011 12:23 am

So, I'm mostly talking about the final editors-only packets.

I felt like the science was very very hard, which made most games basically a packet of 16/16 or 17/17, as those science questions were just not converted. This seems like an issue as it means very little differentiation in the science skill of teams. Though there were some questions that were easier like magnetization, the majority seemed ungettable, though this applied more in bio and chem than in physics, though in physics this was a problem too. In general, the fact that most games had 4 or more tossups go dead, even in the top bracket, seems fairly suboptimal.

I felt the history in the packets were also incredibly hard and often featured named things that people could describe what was happening, but that people didn't know had a name. An example of this is the Affair of the Spanish Marriages and the La Reforma. I also felt that the pre-modern time history was a bit underrepresented, but moreso in the 1st and 2nd round robins. Once again, I felt like this topic was generally harder than the other topics in the packet, resulting in many games were only 1 or 2 history questions were converted.

More generally, I felt like this tournament was too harsh on acceptability for answer lines. For example, it seems very strange that my answering of the head of the House of Guise was not accepted on protest for Duke of Guise. Furthermore, it seemed like tossup on simulation of tertiary structures of protein and ubiquitin ligase could have been better as tossups on just either tertiary structures of protein or simulations of protein and just ubiquitin. Also similar would be La Reforma replaced by a person in that period like Juarez or something.

In other aspects, I enjoyed the common link religion tossups as they were generally pretty cool and the tossup on jazz trombones was exciting. Also, there was lots of Hindu myth randomly.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Susan » Mon Apr 18, 2011 12:35 am

I wanted to apologize for the fact that many of my science questions came out far harder than would have been ideal. It was clear as I was reading that they were really frustrating people, and naturally, I feel terrible about having made the tournament less enjoyable for the players. I will try my best to operate with a less wildly optimistic sense of whether things are tossupable (or middle-part-able, or whatever) in the future. I strongly suspect that the fact that pretty much all of my quizbowl "spectating" this year has occurred over IRC had a lot to do with how off my sense of difficulty was, and, knowing that, I will be taking it into account from here on out.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Cheynem » Mon Apr 18, 2011 1:04 am

I'm having trouble expressing my thoughts about this tournament in a generative way.

First of all, the editors produced a herculean amount of questions. There was a clear and welcomed attempt to avoid trendy crap, and that was nice. Interesting terrain was explored--in particular, a lot of good film questions, a number of accessible and interesting questions in a lot of categories. I won't name them, but there were a lot. Thanks for producing this.

Congratulations to Yale. I will contritely admit in the wake of our loss that Matt Jackson is not a drug user.

I found this tournament too hard. I am confident that Jerry, Jonathan, and Susan, who are all reasonable and intelligent people, can lucidly explain why particular tossups are important. I trust their instincts here. I will say that such a criteria does not necessarily make a satisfying tossup. I saw way too many things go dead or go to the end of a question and get picked up at the end. The questions seemed to be written pyramidally for the most part and would reward people who had knowledge of something, but if you didn't, it tended to result in frustrating "figuring it out at the end" moments/buzzer races. I find this somewhat suboptimal in crowning a national champion. I am not necessarily saying we need to follow some sort of established "canon," but rather pay more heed to how these questions will play out. This is not necessarily an indictment of the editors or an attempt to belittle Yale's victory. Rather, it is a honest admission of the frustration I had when playing it. As with Chicago Open, I will humbly suggest to future editors that ACF Nationals be made easier.

I will also admit that one of the offenders in this regard is myself. I submitted some hard, stupid questions for this tournament and as Jerry pointed out to me in the IRC, you get the tournament you submit.

I'm not sure what else to say right now. It was the most frustrating of the three Nationals I've played, and perhaps my experience is biased based on our eventual outcome.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Sir Thopas » Mon Apr 18, 2011 1:06 am

women, fire and dangerous things wrote:I'd appreciate any feedback on the linguistics, which I wrote/edited.
Might as well jump into the arcana nobody cares about.

I thought the linguistics was spread out nicely among various subfields (not counting the unused pragmatics tossup I wrote, I can think of one phonology, one syntax, one historical, and one on creoles). The wh-movement tossup was chock full of things we Actually Covered in syntax so that was neat, even though the general sentiment seems to be that it was impossible.

It also seemed like the aspiration tossup was a bit easy to figure out, but that might be because very similar tossups have been written on it in the past. My personal quibble with it was that the lead-in on Korean was imprecise, since the fortis consonants aren't really aspirated. I was frustrated because I knew what was going on there, but didn't know what to buzz with, really. I was duly negged after saying "glottis constriction", which, while not exactly correct, is pretty much more correct than aspiration at that point. Some alternate answers or leniency for people who knew what was up with Korean would have been nice.

Other than that, things looked good.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Sam » Mon Apr 18, 2011 2:53 am

Cheynem wrote:I'm having trouble expressing my thoughts about this tournament in a generative way.

First of all, the editors produced a herculean amount of questions. There was a clear and welcomed attempt to avoid trendy crap, and that was nice. Interesting terrain was explored--in particular, a lot of good film questions, a number of accessible and interesting questions in a lot of categories. I won't name them, but there were a lot. Thanks for producing this.
Except for The Third Man, I also really liked the film. There was a nice mix, instead of the usual French New Wave/Kurosawa/Italian neorealism crew.

In general, I guess I prefer the difficulty of the question to be based more on the clues chosen than the answer line chosen. Obviously there has to be some mix between new clues on old (but still important) subjects and completely new subjects, and I think the abundance of dead tossups show this tournament skewed a little too far in the second direction. I will also echo Libo and Mike Cheyne's frustration with some of the common links becoming who could figure it out the fastest; in general I think the tournament could have used fewer of those. (As an aside, people should stop writing questions on the electric dipole moment of the neutron because it is a mediocre electric dipole moment who has managed its career so that it happens to be famous. It is kind of like the Ken Jennings of electric dipole moments, but thats an issue for another thread)
Except for that, the questions all seemed well-written. Many of the answer lines sounded completely new, but there were also plenty on common topics that still managed to use new and interesting clues and be no less difficult. (I especially remember a "Great Transformation" tossup which had stuff I had never heard of before.) I think I would have enjoyed it even more had more of the questions leaned that way.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Apr 18, 2011 6:49 am

Sam wrote:(As an aside, people should stop writing questions on the electric dipole moment of the neutron because it is a mediocre electric dipole moment who has managed its career so that it happens to be famous. It is kind of like the Ken Jennings of electric dipole moments, but thats an issue for another thread)
I appreciate the humor, but I will point out that the measurement of the neutron EDM is literally one of the most fundamental results in all of physics. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a reference to other neutron EDM questions that have been written in the past, but if there are any, I am not aware of them.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by women, fire and dangerous things » Mon Apr 18, 2011 11:17 am

Sir Thopas wrote:It also seemed like the aspiration tossup was a bit easy to figure out, but that might be because very similar tossups have been written on it in the past. My personal quibble with it was that the lead-in on Korean was imprecise, since the fortis consonants aren't really aspirated. I was frustrated because I knew what was going on there, but didn't know what to buzz with, really. I was duly negged after saying "glottis constriction", which, while not exactly correct, is pretty much more correct than aspiration at that point. Some alternate answers or leniency for people who knew what was up with Korean would have been nice.
It looks like I misinterpreted the source I was using (embarrassingly, since this is apparently a well-known thing about Korean). I should have just dropped that clue entirely, since it's not straightforwardly a contrast of any single feature.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Cheynem » Mon Apr 18, 2011 11:20 am

Minor Comments on Questions

*I believe the lead-in to the Voting Rights Act question, which mentioned cases involving Nicholas Katzenbach, also applied to the Civil Rights Act. People, including myself, have told Jerry about this.

*The Third Man tossup probably could have gradated knowledge a little better. The lead-in is a very good clue (the speech about the dots)--however, it occurs during the most famous scene in the film--if you've seen the film, you remember this scene. If this were an easier tournament, fine, but this was a tournament that seemingly attempted to gradate knowledge of The Best Years of Our Lives and The Conformist, two films less notable than The Third Man.

*I thought the clue about Joshua being the other scout besides Caleb came way too early. I must say though that it is pretty cool to get a Bible clue that specifically comes from the Bible, and I didn't hear the rest of the question, so perhaps it was fine. I enjoyed the attempts to tossup specific Biblical passages--while I didn't end up doing so well on the tossups and perhaps they were not optimally written, I think that's more of my own personal and spiritual failing, rather than the questions themselves. I liked those questions better than the many, many practice questions, which aesthetically are not enjoyable to me.

*There were some interesting tossups on "works" that are not quite history or literature or philosophy--things like Soul on Ice, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and Inside the Third Reich. Again, I'm not sure if all of these were good ideas, but at least in that regard, most of them are things people could realistically have read or have knowledge of. These are good things for tournaments to ask about.

*I will be an angry old man and critique some of the American history here:

-the Nelson Aldrich tossup strikes me as something that would be better for a NAQT style tournament. I'll have to see the question again, but when hearing the tossup, I could only really pick out three main clues--that as the "General Manager of the Nation," he was an economic/finance bigwig; that he co-sponsored Payne-Aldrich, and that Nelson Rockefeller was named after him. Now, these three things gradate knowledge--if you're aware of Aldrich's important economic stuff, yeah; if you're aware of what Payne-Aldrich is and you know that Aldrich is from Rhode Island, yeah; and if you know Nelson Rockefeller's full name, yeah. But I'm not convinced that those are enough clues to produce a full length tossup on the dude.

-the distribution on the American history could have been a little better.
Civil Rights Related Things: Affirmative Action, Integrating the Armed Forces, Racial/Restricted Covenants, Voting Rights Act (4)
Court Cases: Affirmative Action, John Marshall Harlan, Virginia (I don't know where this went after the lead-in), Everson (4)
Civil War Era: Ambrose Burnside, House Divided Speech, Lawrence Kansas, maybe Peter Cooper as I bet he's best known for the Cooper Union? (3-4)

I mean, with 20 plus packets, perhaps these aren't really that big of deals (and when you count the bonuses, it probably smooths out more), but aesthetically I'd like a little more variety.

I have never heard of the La Follette Committee, which strikes me as the only egregious tossup idea in the packets I heard.

There were a few other quirks--a tossup on the Prohibition Party and the repeal of Prohibition (yes, I know they are from very different time periods); tossups on Federalist 10 and the Anti-Federalist Papers.

End of complaining. For what it's worth, I thought most of the above questions were quite good, especially the restricted covenants, integrating the armed forces, and Federalist 10 (and I didn't even answer two of those).
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Apr 18, 2011 11:49 am

Cheynem wrote:*I believe the lead-in to the Voting Rights Act question, which mentioned cases involving Nicholas Katzenbach, also applied to the Civil Rights Act. People, including myself, have told Jerry about this.
Having written this question, this was my fault for not digging a little deeper.
I thought the clue about Joshua being the other scout besides Caleb came way too early. I must say though that it is pretty cool to get a Bible clue that specifically comes from the Bible, and I didn't hear the rest of the question, so perhaps it was fine. I enjoyed the attempts to tossup specific Biblical passages--while I didn't end up doing so well on the tossups and perhaps they were not optimally written, I think that's more of my own personal and spiritual failing, rather than the questions themselves. I liked those questions better than the many, many practice questions, which aesthetically are not enjoyable to me.
The Joshua question was submitted and I wasn't sure how famous that spying clue was; I erred on the side of letting it stand, which appears to have been a mistake. Chalk that one up to my lack of familiarity with Biblical stories.
There were some interesting tossups on "works" that are not quite history or literature or philosophy--things like Soul on Ice, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and Inside the Third Reich. Again, I'm not sure if all of these were good ideas, but at least in that regard, most of them are things people could realistically have read or have knowledge of. These are good things for tournaments to ask about.
Of the three things you mention, only Inside the Third Reich was history proper, written to replace a tossup on Albert Speer. The other two were classed in the "other" category, which was used for various topics of intellectual interest that did not neatly fall into predetermine spots within the distribution.
-the distribution on the American history could have been a little better.
I think at least part of this was definitely a product of trying to write more questions on things one might call "social history." This did result in some areas like colonial history and post-Reconstruction stuff getting short shrift.
I have never heard of the La Follette Committee, which strikes me as the only egregious tossup idea in the packets I heard.
I'll take the blame for that. It was something that I learned about in the past while reading about labor relations during the New Deal and it struck me as being fairly interesting and important. It was also ass hard. Sorry.
There were a few other quirks--a tossup on the Prohibition Party and the repeal of Prohibition (yes, I know they are from very different time periods); tossups on Federalist 10 and the Anti-Federalist Papers.
In general when we got questions that covered similar themes but didn't have information overlap, we elected to keep the maximum of what we could. That's simply because it's hard to come up with good questions; when one falls into your lap, you use it when you can. So we did.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Apr 18, 2011 1:47 pm

Ringil wrote:I felt like the science was very very hard, which made most games basically a packet of 16/16 or 17/17, as those science questions were just not converted. This seems like an issue as it means very little differentiation in the science skill of teams. Though there were some questions that were easier like magnetization, the majority seemed ungettable, though this applied more in bio and chem than in physics, though in physics this was a problem too. In general, the fact that most games had 4 or more tossups go dead, even in the top bracket, seems fairly suboptimal.
I'm curious to think which physics questions you thought were ungettable. I made a conscious effort to write on things of primary importance from all areas of physics, the majority of which I thought were gettable by people who know something about physics. Obviously I avoided the stimulus-response of questions that go "blah blah PASCHEN-BACK" effect. But there was lots of material in there that should have been accessible to someone like yourself who has a physics background so I'm genuinely surprised that you thought this was the case.
I felt the history in the packets were also incredibly hard and often featured named things that people could describe what was happening, but that people didn't know had a name. An example of this is the Affair of the Spanish Marriages and the La Reforma. I also felt that the pre-modern time history was a bit underrepresented, but moreso in the 1st and 2nd round robins. Once again, I felt like this topic was generally harder than the other topics in the packet, resulting in many games were only 1 or 2 history questions were converted.
Having been responsible for both of those tossups, I have to disagree with you about both of them. The Affair of the Spanish Marriages is a major diplomatic incident in 19th century European international politics. I would say it's not far off from being on par with something like the Fashoda crisis, which has been a tossup at many tournaments that are much easier. It's something that I would expect people with some knowledge of modern European history to at least know exists. Of course, my guess is that it doesn't really come up in packets all that much, so it's certainly not "canon" in that sense. The same goes for La Reforma: if all you know is that Benito Juarez was once the president of Mexico, sure, that tossup is hard. But I don't see how you can study Mexican history of the period in any meaningful sense (which is what you'd have to do to know something about Juarez beyond his name) and not encounter that term. It's incredibly central to Mexican history of the period.
More generally, I felt like this tournament was too harsh on acceptability for answer lines. For example, it seems very strange that my answering of the head of the House of Guise was not accepted on protest for Duke of Guise.
Again, that's on me. The question said "this position," and the position in question is the Duke of Guise. That's a formal title, whereas "head of the House of Guise," is not. I hope you got prompted on that, but if you know the latter answer, you should be able to give the former too. Things have names and you have to know those names to get points.
Also similar would be La Reforma replaced by a person in that period like Juarez or something.
It shouldn't surprise you that, as per my arguments elsewhere, I view the "you should have written on thing X instead of thing Y" debate as fruitless. I might have written on Juarez but I decided not to, choosing to explore other clues instead. There's more to know about Mexican history than Juarez' name.
In other aspects, I enjoyed the common link religion tossups as they were generally pretty cool and the tossup on jazz trombones was exciting. Also, there was lots of Hindu myth randomly.
Glad you liked those. Some of those "myth" tossups might have been religion instead, since the line between myth and religion tends to blur once you move outside the Abrahamic traditions.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Mon Apr 18, 2011 2:02 pm

So which tournament of the 2011-2012 season is going to use "Harry Truman Demyelinating the Behistun Inscription" as a subtitle?
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Sam » Mon Apr 18, 2011 2:03 pm

grapesmoker wrote: I appreciate the humor, but I will point out that the measurement of the neutron EDM is literally one of the most fundamental results in all of physics. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a reference to other neutron EDM questions that have been written in the past, but if there are any, I am not aware of them.
No, the joke was completely without substance: in the round I heard it, someone tried something very close to neutron EDM and was prompted; it just struck me as funny that the answer line was even more specific. It seemed like a fine question, though.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Charbroil » Mon Apr 18, 2011 2:10 pm

grapesmoker wrote: Of the three things you mention, only Inside the Third Reich was history proper, written to replace a tossup on Albert Speer.
Just out of curiosity, was there any particular reason for this? Inside the Third Reich is certainly famous and important, but it seems as if it might be a hard title to pull, especially since I don't think Speer is that easy of an answer line in of itself.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Apr 18, 2011 2:12 pm

Sam wrote:
grapesmoker wrote: I appreciate the humor, but I will point out that the measurement of the neutron EDM is literally one of the most fundamental results in all of physics. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a reference to other neutron EDM questions that have been written in the past, but if there are any, I am not aware of them.
No, the joke was completely without substance: in the round I heard it, someone tried something very close to neutron EDM and was prompted; it just struck me as funny that the answer line was even more specific. It seemed like a fine question, though.
Ok, well, there's a reason for this and the reason is as follows: the neutron has a very well defined magnetic dipole moment, which is no mystery at all (it's roughly -1.9 Bohr magnetons). However, the neutron EDM has deep physical significance: namely, if the neutron EDM is non-zero, then there exists a T-invariance violation that compensates CP violation and makes CPT a conserved symmetry. For this reason (i.e. that there are two different dipole moments of the neutron but only one of them is being asked about) partial answers were promptable but the "electric" part was absolutely necessary.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Apr 18, 2011 2:16 pm

Charbroil wrote:
grapesmoker wrote: Of the three things you mention, only Inside the Third Reich was history proper, written to replace a tossup on Albert Speer.
Just out of curiosity, was there any particular reason for this? Inside the Third Reich is certainly famous and important, but it seems as if it might be a hard title to pull, especially since I don't think Speer is that easy of an answer line in of itself.
Again, I'm not going to get into the "why did you write this instead of that" debate. I wrote what I did to replace a bad tossup on Speer because I thought it was a substantially interesting topic that wasn't just another rehash of "name this Nazi"-bowl.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by theMoMA » Mon Apr 18, 2011 3:01 pm

I was disappointed at the questions in the final that turned into 12-line bonus parts, especially the few that had answers that were easily put together from clues that didn't reward knowledge of the subject itself (i.e. can you put together "Preface" and "Cromwell"?). Most of the questions were individually very good. Many of the packets were also good. But many of them had an inordinate amount of hard tossups (completely randomly, I'm sure) that either went dead or turned into have-you-heard-of-this bowl. In my opinion, the top bracket games often did not distinguish the knowledge of the top teams, and doing that is the purpose of Nationals. Compare the points scored in the ICT final to the Nationals final; even if we remove the 50 points garnered on powers and multiply by .83 to account for the extra four tossups read, the ICT final saw a combined score of 555 points and the Nationals final had the teams score of 375.

And it wasn't necessarily the points that were scored that was most frustrating, but the way that they were scored. There weren't many good buzzes in the final; it was almost exclusively asking "have you heard of this?," or even more frustratingly, "can you put these words together in the way that this giveaway is hinting?" It didn't seem like the questions were testing knowledge that the players had. Due congratulations to Yale, but I'm not convinced that the finals packet told us anything about who's the better team, and that's really unfortunate.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Apr 18, 2011 3:35 pm

Morraine Man wrote:So which tournament of the 2011-2012 season is going to use "Harry Truman Demyelinating the Behistun Inscription" as a subtitle?
I believe you mean "Demyelinating the Cyropedia."
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Gautam » Mon Apr 18, 2011 4:27 pm

Susan wrote:I strongly suspect that the fact that pretty much all of my quizbowl "spectating" this year has occurred over IRC had a lot to do with how off my sense of difficulty was, and, knowing that, I will be taking it into account from here on out.
Yeah, I don't think the IRC is a good representative of anything, and the discussion on the IRC medium should only have a minor influence on the editing process, if any (save playtesting.) I mean, considering the "science players" in the top bracket (I can think of Selene, Michael Hausinger/Libo Zeng, Andy Watkins, Sorice, myself) I don't think any of us spends a substantial amount of time on the IRC, let alone discuss science with people who flee the conversation when the topic turns to anything sciency.

I'm not sure if playtesting on the IRC is all that good, either. What I've seen happen in recent years is that the playtesting tends to involve many highschoolers who aren't qualified to comment on the quality of the clues, or people who incessantly suggest that "clue X is misplaced" despite empirical evidence showing that it was placed just fine. I didn't playtest a single question for MO or for MUT, and so far nobody has come forward to complain about clue placement or difficulty cliffs... I guess this could be an issue of people being too lazy to post on the forums or email me, but for now I'll take the silence to mean that the clues were just fine.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by selene » Mon Apr 18, 2011 4:36 pm

grapesmoker wrote:
Sam wrote:
grapesmoker wrote: I appreciate the humor, but I will point out that the measurement of the neutron EDM is literally one of the most fundamental results in all of physics. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a reference to other neutron EDM questions that have been written in the past, but if there are any, I am not aware of them.
No, the joke was completely without substance: in the round I heard it, someone tried something very close to neutron EDM and was prompted; it just struck me as funny that the answer line was even more specific. It seemed like a fine question, though.
Ok, well, there's a reason for this and the reason is as follows: the neutron has a very well defined magnetic dipole moment, which is no mystery at all (it's roughly -1.9 Bohr magnetons). However, the neutron EDM has deep physical significance: namely, if the neutron EDM is non-zero, then there exists a T-invariance violation that compensates CP violation and makes CPT a conserved symmetry. For this reason (i.e. that there are two different dipole moments of the neutron but only one of them is being asked about) partial answers were promptable but the "electric" part was absolutely necessary.
I'm not a physicist, and I'd never heard of the electric dipole moment of the neutron before, so I may be mistaken in what I'm saying. However, I think that the issue is not with importance, but about the playability of a question with "electric dipole moment of the neutron" as an answer line. This could conceivably fairly easily have instead been a tossup with the answer "neutron" or "electric dipole moment" and used most of the same clues (with some wording changes to, e.g., "for one type of particle, the possibility that this entity may be non-zero...") and had a much better chance of being answerable by the many teams at the tournament who do not have physicists on the team, with the simple addition of a few clues around the giveaway that relate to that more accessible answer. This was an issue I had with several of the questions that notably ended with dead silence--these could easily have been hard questions with gettable answer lines, but instead were hard questions with really hard answer lines. I think it's fine to have some really hard answer lines at ACF Nationals, but I think there were too many of them at this tournament to optimally distinguish teams; it felt like the tournament was hoping to distinguish between teams that were much better at quiz bowl than the teams that were actually there.

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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Mon Apr 18, 2011 5:03 pm

Well, despite not being a physicist I was aware of the neutron EDM as being a thing unto itself; it's come up in plenty of questions and in places-where-I've-read-about-physics. Though it was certainly a hard tossup, I don't think it was a bad idea--certainly not close to the hardest physics tossup in the set, and not much harder than what I'd imagine the Ideal ACF Nationals Difficulty Tossup to be. (I actually taught one of the freshmen about it in preparation for "neutron" early clues before DII ICT, but that didn't pan out.)

I'll say that many things were too hard or too silly, but I can certainly see didactic value in making the tossup about the neutron EDM rather than electric dipoles generally (but mostly about the neutron EDM) or something.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Important Bird Area » Mon Apr 18, 2011 5:20 pm

grapesmoker wrote:Having been responsible for both of those tossups, I have to disagree with you about both of them. The Affair of the Spanish Marriages is a major diplomatic incident in 19th century European international politics. I would say it's not far off from being on par with something like the Fashoda crisis, which has been a tossup at many tournaments that are much easier. It's something that I would expect people with some knowledge of modern European history to at least know exists. Of course, my guess is that it doesn't really come up in packets all that much, so it's certainly not "canon" in that sense. The same goes for La Reforma: if all you know is that Benito Juarez was once the president of Mexico, sure, that tossup is hard. But I don't see how you can study Mexican history of the period in any meaningful sense (which is what you'd have to do to know something about Juarez beyond his name) and not encounter that term. It's incredibly central to Mexican history of the period.
The Fashoda crisis has been a tossup at many easier tournaments because it is in fact much, much easier than the Affair of the Spanish Marriages.

That being said, the tossup on La Reforma was awesome, and one of my favorite tossups of the tournament.

In general: I thought this tournament did a fine job of rewarding real knowledge; the problem was that the level of real knowledge required on all too many questions was far above that actually possessed by the field. Thus: entirely-too-prevalent "have you heard of this?" bowl.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Auroni » Mon Apr 18, 2011 5:27 pm

Yeah, my basic impression was that this tournament was too real for the streets, in comparison to many other hard tournaments in the past that have been too fake for the streets. I'll have something more constructive to say later.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by alkrav112 » Mon Apr 18, 2011 5:50 pm

women, fire and dangerous things wrote:I'd appreciate any feedback on ... Chimamanda Adichie
I was not present, but I think this is a terrific choice for an answer line. The Thing Around Your Neck is really great, and I highly recommend it. In the same vein, I appreciate the modern "literature of the margins" skew that the lit distro seems to be headed for, and I look forward to everyone's CO tossups on Aminatta Forna and The Dew Breaker.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Demonic Leftovers » Mon Apr 18, 2011 5:55 pm

It certainly seems to me that this tournament was at times a victim of its own ambition. I say this both in reference to its answers, which were at times far too hard, but at least seemed to be about important things, and its logistics.
One thing that I liked (perhaps in part out of self-interest) was the effort to ask about law related things more. While these questions were of a mixed bag with regards to quality, they were a good effort. I especially appreciated that there were at least a few efforts to ask about things that weren't constitutional law. One problem quiz bowl has in general is that it seems to presume constitutional law is the only form of law. Questions like the restrictive covenants question, the copyright question and the affirmative action question are good examples of this. One thing that was less than ideal about the affirmative action question was the use of Griggs as a clue. I'd need to see the question to evaluate it with more precision but Griggs is only tangentially about affirmative action at best. I think Everson was a question that was about something important that was just way too hard.
Some other things I liked were the efforts to ask about social history (once again not always successful but certainly not a bad idea) and the Best Years of Our Lives TU. Also tuataras. Those are some pretty great lizards.
I am curious about the schedule for the tournament. Was the schedule meant to be an ideal schedule if everything runs smoothly or was it meant to account for some delays? I think it might have been better to try to account for some delays in the future as it was frustrating to see this tournament run four hours late the first day. On a similar note I think the 21 rounds might have been too many. ACF tournaments so rarely run smoothly, especially those of this size, that 21 rounds was probably too much to expect to run in a reasonable time. Additionally having so many editors packets may have contributed to some of the problems in the set. Being able to focus on a few fewer packets may have resulted in getting rid of some of the iffier questions and making some of the others better.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Cody » Mon Apr 18, 2011 5:59 pm

Phase 1 of this tournament was clearly seeded very wrong from the get-go. This led to the Phase 2 brackets being pretty uneven--UVa, Brown, Minnesota, VCU, Harvard, Maryland, Berkeley in one "high" bracket and Michigan A, Rice, Yale, UCSD, Illinois A, Chicago A and OSU in the other. Instead of proceeding to seed Phase 2 with a S-curve based on finish within Phase 1 brackets, the Phase 2 teams (for at least the "High" bracket) should have been reseeded 1-14 and then put into brackets using an S curve.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by The Tourist » Mon Apr 18, 2011 6:10 pm

I'm sure Kenneth will post here echoing the sentiment that the science questions were extremely difficult, and after loading up with two science specialists, that did certainly make this tournament very hard on us.

To be brief and stick to what I know a bit about, I thought the economics questions were as good or better than any other tournament I've read or played. Moreso than most any other set, the balance of difficult questions based on people who wrote influential papers (Schelling tossup, etc.) and important bits of theory (Solow/golden rate of savings, even if that's a little on the easy end, general equilibrium, price discrimination, etc.) was good, and personally, I always enjoy that. The questions about mathematical finance were unique, and while I was completely lost and both such questions went dead in my room, I appreciate their inclusion.

I felt like the constitutional law/Supreme Court case questions were surprisingly difficult, and especially the tossups seemed to be left alone until the very end (i.e. four of us buzzed immediately after the Plessy dissent giveaway for Harlan--and no one likes a buzzer race), but to be perfectly honest, after watching the finals, it seems like a surprising number of questions in every subject were left until late, even a few seconds after the question finished. That may be as intended and my perspective may be biased (this was ASU's first Nationals, and I've been playing quizbowl less than a year and a half) but I got the impression that such a level of difficulty was atypical. Rather than elaborating further, I think I'll defer and say that MoMA said it best in that it became "have you heard of x?" bowl.

All in all, though, it was very enjoyable and I'd like to thank the editors, staffers, and Pitt, and I looking forward to playing again next year, hopefully with many more points.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by aestheteboy » Mon Apr 18, 2011 6:16 pm

First of all, I can't help but feel admiration for the editors, who, despite not being active players anymore, dedicated an enormous amount of time and energy for the sake of the quizbowl community and produced 24-packet (or whatever the figure actually is) set. Thank you. I guess I should also add that since I didn't play for a top-bracket team (and in that sense was not a member of the intended audience), my perspective is limited in certain ways.

Based on how the set actually turned out and how Jerry is responding to comments on this thread, I speculate that the writing philosophy that the editors used to produce set is to explore new clues and answer lines while asking about "important" topics - feel free to correct me if I am wrong. If my speculation is correct, I find it very unfortunate. I feel very strongly that by far the most important goal of editors of any national set should be to produce questions that best distinguish top teams from each other; this is the function of a pyramidal question set, and didactic or ideological goals should be suspended if they get in its way. A mundane tossup that can distinguish different levels of knowledge well is far preferable to a novel tossup that no team can answer.

My impression is that this set did a poor job fulfilling that function. The empirical facts are that 1. many tossups went dead in the top bracket, 2. of the tossups that were answered, many of them were answered at or near the give-away, 3. the game results were highly unpredictable (teams that we generally agree are stronger routinely lost to teams that are supposedly weaker; the playing field was muddy). I imagine that the nature of the set did affect the outcome of the tournament a lot, and I really empathize with Andrew and others who expressed similar sentiments (on and off the board).
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Cheynem » Mon Apr 18, 2011 6:19 pm

I will agree regarding the reseeding. I can't complain super much about the initial seeding as those are hard to do and inherently going to prove to be messed up, but the reseeding should have taken into account performance more. To wit, Minnesota and Yale had by far the highest PPG and were third and first in bonus conversion respectively after the first round robin. Both Illinois and Minnesota, as "second seeds," had better stats than the two teams that tied for best record in the fourth bracket (Chicago and VCU). Harvard, in fact, who ended up with a third seed, had better stats than either Chicago and VCU. I think reseeding should have taken into account how teams were performing in their bracket as well as record to make up for potential quirks in the initial seeding (for instance, what ended up shaking out were the four top teams at this tournament were squeezed into two initial prelim brackets, with three out of the remaining top eight squeezed into another initial prelim bracket--that's unfortunate, although I admit [a.] you don't know how teams are going to do beforehand and . reseeding would add on even more time).
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Ringil » Mon Apr 18, 2011 6:29 pm

grapesmoker wrote: I'm curious to think which physics questions you thought were ungettable. I made a conscious effort to write on things of primary importance from all areas of physics, the majority of which I thought were gettable by people who know something about physics. Obviously I avoided the stimulus-response of questions that go "blah blah PASCHEN-BACK" effect. But there was lots of material in there that should have been accessible to someone like yourself who has a physics background so I'm genuinely surprised that you thought this was the case.
The one physics tossup that seemed super impossible was the tossup on the KAM theorem. I took a class on nonlinear dynamics and chaos, and we never once discussed it, nor was it anywhere in the book. While obviously there's some selection bias here, I felt it was quite difficult. I can't remember anything else off the top of my head. If after looking at the packets again I feel otherwise, I'll withdraw the critique about the physics. I still felt the bio and chem were very hard and very very rarely saw them converted. In general, I mostly agree with Selene.
Having been responsible for both of those tossups, I have to disagree with you about both of them. The Affair of the Spanish Marriages is a major diplomatic incident in 19th century European international politics. I would say it's not far off from being on par with something like the Fashoda crisis, which has been a tossup at many tournaments that are much easier. It's something that I would expect people with some knowledge of modern European history to at least know exists. Of course, my guess is that it doesn't really come up in packets all that much, so it's certainly not "canon" in that sense. The same goes for La Reforma: if all you know is that Benito Juarez was once the president of Mexico, sure, that tossup is hard. But I don't see how you can study Mexican history of the period in any meaningful sense (which is what you'd have to do to know something about Juarez beyond his name) and not encounter that term. It's incredibly central to Mexican history of the period.
I concede to you that the Affair of the Spanish Marriages was an important diplomatic incident. However, my main issue with the Spanish Marriages question is that the name of the incident is not very memorable and thus that question at the end was just "oh, it's that one thing with Isabella II's marriage, but I have no idea what it's called." While you can argue that not knowing the name means one doesn't deserve points, I feel like there should not be too many things that are usually talked about in more general terms than in terms of named events, which makes buzzing risky. Obviously, you can argue that if one knows that a certain event is described in general terms, the answer line will have enough general acceptability to make buzzing in not just an auto-neg. However, in this tournament, many times that was not the case as seen by the tossup on Guise, or the tossup on triple junctions not accepting triple plate boundaries before mentioning plate boundaries.

My problem with the La Reforma tossup was a different one. I totally agree that it's an important part of Mexican history, etc. However, because of that importance, many people who study "Mexican history of the period in any meaningful sense" would know from near the beginning that it's that period of Mexican history involving Juarez and reform. Both Kurtis and I had that thought process. Because of this, a huge part of the text is rendered meaningless and the question just becomes "oh, now what's that period of Mexican reform called...." This seems suboptimal to have middle clues be mostly irrelevant.
Again, that's on me. The question said "this position," and the position in question is the Duke of Guise. That's a formal title, whereas "head of the House of Guise," is not. I hope you got prompted on that, but if you know the latter answer, you should be able to give the former too. Things have names and you have to know those names to get points.
I agree that it was my fault for not knowing exact what they wanted, but I feel answer lines should try to maximize their acceptability, within the bounds of still being factual. This tossup could have been easily changed to just a tossup on Duke of _Guise_ instead of _Duke of Guise_, which would have solved this problem completely.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Mon Apr 18, 2011 6:47 pm

However, because of that importance, many people who study "Mexican history of the period in any meaningful sense" would know from near the beginning that it's that period of Mexican history involving Juarez and reform. Both Kurtis and I had that thought process. Because of this, a huge part of the text is rendered meaningless and the question just becomes "oh, now what's that period of Mexican reform called...." This seems suboptimal to have middle clues be mostly irrelevant.
Unless you're accusing the tossup of being transparent, how does this critique not apply to any and all quizbowl questions? For anyone who knows any early clue in any tossup, it becomes a game of "oh, now what's this thing called". Even a tossup on Benito Juarez would require you not just to recognize that this is that guy who passed those reforms, but to remember his name.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Apr 18, 2011 6:54 pm

Morraine Man wrote:Unless you're accusing the tossup of being transparent, how does this critique not apply to any and all quizbowl questions? For anyone who knows any early clue in any tossup, it becomes a game of "oh, now what's this thing called". Even a tossup on Benito Juarez would require you not just to recognize that this is that guy who passed those reforms, but to remember his name.
Yeah, I have to agree with Bruce here. This strikes me as a kind of special pleading, since if you're a good player, you can usually narrow down the answer to some plausible set of candidates and start thinking about "what is that thing called." As for the tossup on Guise, well, it literally never occurred to me that someone could buzz in and say "head of the House of Guise." I looked at that question, checked to see if the clues were more or less right and in the right place, and moved on. Maybe that's a casualty of the time crunch, but I never suspected the possibility of a near-correct answer that was not quite the right answer AND a situation where a prompt would not actually elicit the correct answer.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Matt Weiner » Mon Apr 18, 2011 6:55 pm

"La Reforma" is not an unusual name or a thing that is new to quizbowl; sorry that you didn't get points due to not knowing things, I guess.

Questions aside, this tournament had huge problems with logistics, and I am awaiting approval as the TD (not editor) of ACF Nationals next year in which role I will be trying to forestall some of the problems that seem to plague Nats.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by marnold » Mon Apr 18, 2011 7:10 pm

Phase 1 of this tournament was clearly seeded very wrong from the get-go. This led to the Phase 2 brackets being pretty uneven--UVa, Brown, Minnesota, VCU, Harvard, Maryland, Berkeley in one "high" bracket and Michigan A, Rice, Yale, UCSD, Illinois A, Chicago A and OSU in the other. Instead of proceeding to seed Phase 2 with a S-curve based on finish within Phase 1 brackets, the Phase 2 teams (for at least the "High" bracket) should have been reseeded 1-14 and then put into brackets using an S curve.
I will agree regarding the reseeding. I can't complain super much about the initial seeding as those are hard to do and inherently going to prove to be messed up, but the reseeding should have taken into account performance more. To wit, Minnesota and Yale had by far the highest PPG and were third and first in bonus conversion respectively after the first round robin. Both Illinois and Minnesota, as "second seeds," had better stats than the two teams that tied for best record in the fourth bracket (Chicago and VCU). Harvard, in fact, who ended up with a third seed, had better stats than either Chicago and VCU. I think reseeding should have taken into account how teams were performing in their bracket as well as record to make up for potential quirks in the initial seeding (for instance, what ended up shaking out were the four top teams at this tournament were squeezed into two initial prelim brackets, with three out of the remaining top eight squeezed into another initial prelim bracket--that's unfortunate, although I admit [a.] you don't know how teams are going to do beforehand and . reseeding would add on even more time).


What the hell are you people talking about? The two brackets had average bonus conversion within .1 of each other and the only major outlier from how you would theoretically seed was caused by Michigan beating Harvard in the prelims. And what would you even be "reseeding" based on? Bonus conversion? If so it just rewards Harvard with a higher seed over Michigan even though they lost to them. This system precisely took into account "how teams were performing in their brackets" - by seeing if they won the games!

Edited to fix a minor grammar error, then editing again to explain the first edit.
Last edited by marnold on Mon Apr 18, 2011 7:13 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Apr 18, 2011 7:10 pm

Ringil wrote:The one physics tossup that seemed super impossible was the tossup on the KAM theorem. I took a class on nonlinear dynamics and chaos, and we never once discussed it, nor was it anywhere in the book. While obviously there's some selection bias here, I felt it was quite difficult. I can't remember anything else off the top of my head. If after looking at the packets again I feel otherwise, I'll withdraw the critique about the physics. I still felt the bio and chem were very hard and very very rarely saw them converted. In general, I mostly agree with Selene.
I don't think I exaggerate much when I say that this is perhaps the single most important result in all of dynamics in the last century. I guess that doesn't help you now, but it's not like it's some weird, obscure thing that I invented out of whole cloth; it's really a fundamental result in mathematical physics. It continues to be unbelievably bizarre to me that all manner of quizbowl players, scientists and non-scientists alike, have no problems answering bonus parts on the Urca process or tossups on sonoluminescense, but are stymied by questions on some of the most basic results.

That's not to say that this was an easy answer. It wasn't. But its difficulty has very little to do with any sort of "inherent" metric of difficulty; that is, things that are conceptually as hard as anything else in this set (and often far harder!) are asked about in quizbowl all the time. The difference is that they come up all the time and this comes up never.

The packets will be available tonight.
I concede to you that the Affair of the Spanish Marriages was an important diplomatic incident. However, my main issue with the Spanish Marriages question is that the name of the incident is not very memorable and thus that question at the end was just "oh, it's that one thing with Isabella II's marriage, but I have no idea what it's called."
As I've said already, I don't see how that's anything other than special pleading. There are lots of times when I've thought of something and not been able to recall the correct name; as a consequence I did not answer the tossup and did not receive points. I'm not sure how this situation is at all different. Is it a difficult answer? Certainly, but not because of the "oh what's this thing called" problem, which inheres in any number of questions.
My problem with the La Reforma tossup was a different one. I totally agree that it's an important part of Mexican history, etc. However, because of that importance, many people who study "Mexican history of the period in any meaningful sense" would know from near the beginning that it's that period of Mexican history involving Juarez and reform. Both Kurtis and I had that thought process. Because of this, a huge part of the text is rendered meaningless and the question just becomes "oh, now what's that period of Mexican reform called...." This seems suboptimal to have middle clues be mostly irrelevant.
How would you know that, exactly? I mean the early clues are giving you some Spanish names, but obviously you can't buzz there because the answer might well be "La Violencia," or some other thing, so that's a poor gamble all around. By the time you're getting things that are recognizably Mexican (around where Lerdo de Tejada is mentioned) if you don't know that this is the Mexican Reform, I have no idea what to tell you other than that you didn't know what that thing was called. As such, see my response above.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Apr 18, 2011 7:19 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:Questions aside, this tournament had huge problems with logistics
I would agree, and I apologize again for these issues, which were mostly caused by somewhat poor planning on my part. But I don't think the reseeding process from tier 1 to tier 2 was part of it. It seemed to me that every team you could expect to wind up in the top bracket did so, and furthermore, that the two top brackets were not particularly unbalanced.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Mon Apr 18, 2011 7:31 pm

grapesmoker wrote:
Ringil wrote:The one physics tossup that seemed super impossible was the tossup on the KAM theorem. I took a class on nonlinear dynamics and chaos, and we never once discussed it, nor was it anywhere in the book. While obviously there's some selection bias here, I felt it was quite difficult. I can't remember anything else off the top of my head. If after looking at the packets again I feel otherwise, I'll withdraw the critique about the physics. I still felt the bio and chem were very hard and very very rarely saw them converted. In general, I mostly agree with Selene.
I don't think I exaggerate much when I say that this is perhaps the single most important result in all of dynamics in the last century. I guess that doesn't help you now, but it's not like it's some weird, obscure thing that I invented out of whole cloth; it's really a fundamental result in mathematical physics. It continues to be unbelievably bizarre to me that all manner of quizbowl players, scientists and non-scientists alike, have no problems answering bonus parts on the Urca process or tossups on sonoluminescense, but are stymied by questions on some of the most basic results.
Non-physicist me got the tossup, so it's far from impossible even for nonspecialists; I agree it was hard (and I couldn't quite get to the answer until the end) but I don't see a problem with that question coming up at nationals. There were outliers, but that wasn't one.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by recfreq » Mon Apr 18, 2011 8:03 pm

I thought the biology was hard, but often enjoyable. In particular, the Dicer, Junk-Kinase, retinoic acid, zebrafish, and protein structure prediction questions were fresh and interesting (although sometimes there were excessive underlining and questions of the "I know what this is but why can't I say this?" category of "replication initiation site"--for your information, I said replication fork). Note that there WERE some gettable answer choices like gap junction (nice question), thymus, esterification, and natural killer cell. In my opinion, for a nationals tournament, the biology seemed like a good mix, with nothing that seemed completely off the wall, and if you had a biology specialist in your team, you're likely to convert a good percentage of the tossups. (No, you can not accept ubiquitin for ubiquitin ligase--not the same thing.)

I applaud the movement to have more film fine arts questions, and in general, the tossups were well written and interesting. Particularly noteworthy were Through a Glass Darkly and The Third Man. Film is a category that can be both artistic and theoretical, and I think a bit more technical descriptions would allow it to mimic the goals hoped for in the music category better.

In general, I find this tournament enjoyable, and have no problem with the hard questions per se. However, there were some questions that don't seem to have a easily recognizable answer choice or were underlined excessively (a la Franco-Spanish war, Truman desegregating the army). This made game play frustrating at times. Some questions like "learning to read" don't seem to reward the type of fringe-canonical knowledge that we usually demanded, and I find people almost always buzzing near the end along with everyone else in the room unless their knowledge was insanely deep. However, I had a good time over all playing in a cathedral.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by cvdwightw » Mon Apr 18, 2011 9:02 pm

I didn't play ACF Nationals and I haven't seen the set. But I did want to interject about something for a minute.

I think that continually repeating the whole "things have names and if you don't know the names, you don't get points" philosophy is sort of silly. Yes, lots of things have names, and you should know the name of those things to get points. But some things, especially if you're writing a common link tossup, don't have names; or, rather, they have names that have a bunch of synonyms. You have to write convoluted answer lines with the thing in brackets starting [accept (reasonable) equivalents mentioning...]. Then you have this weird intermediate third category of things that "have names" that are basically descriptions of "I know what this is but what is it called," like "New York Draft Riots" being the name of "those riots that occurred in New York City in 1863 due to the draft."

In real time, and for people who have good but incomplete knowledge, it's very hard to distinguish between things in these three categories. For instance, "La Reforma" sounds very much like it's in the first category, while "Truman desegregating the army" or whatever the actual answer line was sounds like it's very much in the second or maybe third category.

I'm not calling for an absolute moratorium on the "if you don't know the name of things, you shouldn't get points" argument, but instead that the people using it look at the number of questions where you could get points by buzzing in by describing a thing that doesn't really have a "name," and seeing where people might get mad at a person getting two different results from buzzing in with equivalent levels of knowledge ("I know what this is, but not what its name is or if it even has a name").
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Apr 18, 2011 9:06 pm

The issue with the Truman question was overzealous underlining on my part. Yale protested and after I consulted with Matt, I agreed that they should have the points. But the issue there was not getting the "desegregating the army," part, it was getting the "Truman," part which was confusing because the question didn't ask for it explicitly.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by vcuEvan » Mon Apr 18, 2011 9:15 pm

My sentiments echo a lot of others. This tournament had more "Awesome, a tossup on that!" moments than any other tournament I've played. The editors really did do a top notch job of producing an astonishing number of proficient and even brilliant questions. I also have no doubt that all the other questions in this tournament were on important things that should be widely known. I can probably point to any question that bewildered me and seemed unanswerable, and someone will pipe up and tell me how awesome that was and how it's super important but never comes up in quizbowl etc. Criticizing specific questions isn't going to be effective, because none of the questions were too hard for the tournament. The problem was that so many of them were on the hard end of the allowable difficulty spectrum, that even high level games were reduced to 12-13 tossup games or decided on answers that were figured out at the end. So yes, even though I can't point to a lot of questions that were too hard, the tournament was too damn hard.

This leads me to a point I've been wanting to make for a while now. The way we control difficulty in tournaments needs to be fundamentally overhauled. The typical method is to have a difficulty ceiling, and to make sure each question falls below that ceiling. When people are critiquing a tournament as too hard, they say "the tossup on X was too hard for this level" or "how many teams were really going to convert this tossup on Y." Unfortunately, for a below average team at ACF Fall, there's usually no difference between that tossup on The Wild Duck and that tossup on The Pillars of Society; both tossups go dead. Likewise, for most of the teams in the top bracket, there's not any practical difference between the Spanish Marriages tossup and some shit you made up, because they'll both go dead. People seem to blame those two or three ridiculously hard tossups for low average scores, when really it's the barrage of acceptable difficulty questions that are just out of reach that cause problems.

The solution is to control difficulty in much the same way we do distribution. There should be some incredibly easy things, a lot of things that are hard but accessible, and a few things that a really hard. Some editors do this already, but this is something that should be built into tournament submission and editing philosophies. The flip side of this is that a question or two a round can be above the traditional difficulty ceiling of a tournament. Implementing some system like this benefits teams at the top and the bottom of a field. Inexperienced and growing teams will have a solution that specifically targets those 30-10 games. For the top teams in a field, this reduces the "this is MUT, it can't be this answer" phenomenon.

Back on topic: The editors put in a lot of hard work and I'd like to thank them for their efforts. I'd also like to thank all the staffers, especially those who came a long way make the tournament work. Despite the competent moderators though, this tournament was pretty horrible logistically. I'd go into detail, but people already have and this particular problem seems to have been addressed for next year.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Auroni » Mon Apr 18, 2011 9:26 pm

Yeah, Evan said exactly what I wanted to say better than I could have ever said it. There were so many "pushing it" difficulty tossups at this tournament that it adversely affected the quality and level of play between top bracket teams in their matches. I also think that so many tossups like this created a psychological fear of tossups that weren't actually hard. Jerry, I think you told me about how on my packet, Minnesota and Harvard couldn't convert a fairly straightforward tossup on Ransom until the title of his most famous poem, but I think that it's not a lack of that knowledge on their parts, but some bizarre psychological conditioning by the harder tossups at this tournament that affected their willingness to buzz.

I also thought that sciences suffered from quite a few questions whose answer lines placed stipulations on answer lines of fairly germane tossups. I can think of the E1-BC tossup, the protein folding related tossup, the ubiquitin ligase, and the neutron EDM tossup in this regard. I can't help but think what kind of thought process went in to writing on these answer lines. Is there something so pathologically repulsive about a tossup on ubiquitin or E1 at nationals? As Libo mentioned, the result was that in some games, there were effectively 16-17 tossups to determine the matches.

On another note, the history had a handful of super-awesome answer lines that were a lot of fun to finally hear a question on. So did the religion, although I did note more of the "tossup on a common practice across various religions" questions at this tournament than I would have liked. But having filled the religion quota for tournaments in the past, I know how much of a drag it is and I sympathize.

Thanks to all the editors and writers and all the staffers for making this tournament happen.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Mon Apr 18, 2011 9:43 pm

every time i refresh i have a new name wrote:I also thought that sciences suffered from quite a few questions whose answer lines placed stipulations on answer lines of fairly germane tossups. I can think of the E1-BC tossup, the protein folding related tossup, the ubiquitin ligase, and the neutron EDM tossup in this regard. I can't help but think what kind of thought process went in to writing on these answer lines. Is there something so pathologically repulsive about a tossup on ubiquitin or E1 at nationals?
E1cb is not a type of E1--it's actually the exact opposite, in some sense: E1 universally refers to "[leaving group leaves first] unimolecular since the steps happen sequentially" rather than "base abstracts proton first." The fact that E1cb mechanisms never come up is bizarre to me and makes possible an interesting tossup on a type of mechanism, which has been sorely, sorely lacking. There's nothing repulsive about having a tossup on E1, even though--I'll guarantee you--half the clues you select are boring, trivial, or overdone--but there's equally little wrong with having a tossup on E1cb. Considering the chemistry that I've seen pass without objection at regular-difficulty tournaments over the past three years, a tossup on E1cb is a correction to a problem in the canon rather than a well-intentioned but too-real good idea.

Ubiquitin ligase was too hard, but I can't imagine that if you know what is going on, the idea of "give the enzyme that ubiquitinates things" is something far-fetched in the sense that Dwight outlined. I got silly and didn't say "ligase," but otherwise I can't say I did much worse on that tossup than I'd have done on one on ubiquitin.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by Quantum Mushroom Billiard Hat » Mon Apr 18, 2011 10:28 pm

First, I would like to thank the editors and everyone else involved for a tournament that was fun to play.
However, I also agree completely with what Evan said. The tournament, especially the editors rounds, was too hard because almost all of the questions were extremely hard. Perhaps nearly every tossup did get answered by someone, but when only 5-10 people in the field could answer a tossup at the end, there is no need to write 8+ lines of tossup to differentiate knowledge, because there is very little knowledge to differentiate. The only correct buzzes during the first half of a question I remember in the top 8 were Yale answering music tossups. I'm sure there were a couple others in games we played, but there weren't many, and that is not a good thing. It is a good thing if Andy Watkins can answer chemistry questions in the first few lines, or for Libo to get a tossup on Byzantine history from the first couple of clues. The teams we were playing against were the best in the tournament, and an unreasonable number of clues were not close to buzzable for anyone.

Going along with the general difficulty, I spent much more time during questions trying to figure out how to convert my knowledge of what was being described into a plausibly worded answer line than at any other tournament I can remember. It felt like half the time I buzzed in with an understanding of what was being described in a science question, I would get prompted. Sometimes I stumbled into the necessary wording (models of tertiary protein folding), and sometimes I didn't (triple plate boundary vs triple junction). I think there were a lot of questions where the answer line was way too specific. Yes, things have names, but when the tossups are this hard and the answer lines aren't as defined as titles in lit or the names of theorems, this gets very frustrating.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Apr 18, 2011 10:48 pm

For the nonce, you can find the questions here.

I will have something more to say about the tournament tomorrow.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by setht » Tue Apr 19, 2011 1:09 am

Quantum Mushroom Billiard Hat wrote:Sometimes I stumbled into the necessary wording (models of tertiary protein folding), and sometimes I didn't (triple plate boundary vs triple junction).
I wrote the triple junction tossup. I've never heard the term "triple plate boundary" (does anyone say this?) and a Google search turned up 9 hits, including some duplicate pages and some super-dubious-looking pages. I'm not sure if that's the sort of thing that can be accepted as an answer; I'm tempted to say that that and pretty much anything else that signals "place where three plates meet" might as well be accepted, but I didn't give any such guidelines in the answer line and that's on me.

For reference, I also wrote the tossups on spiral density waves, interstellar dust, Chandrasekhar, and the age of the Earth, and the bonuses on X-ray/Scorpius/neutron stars, Fermi/AGN/Parker, abyssal plains/guyots/carbonate compensation depth, and dip/overturned fold/syncline. Hopefully these were reasonably accessible for the field.

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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by kdroge » Tue Apr 19, 2011 4:45 am

The issue that I think most people (myself included) are taking up is not necessarily that the questions were not on legitimate, important topics, but that they just were not convertible. I would directly go against the point that the tossup on "La Reforma" was a good idea. Consider how the tossup plays- say you have a level of knowledge where you don't know much about Mexican history. Then you don't get it, but you wouldn't expect to get it anyways, so it's fine. Next, take a middle amount of knowledge, as an example, how I thought about the question. When it talked about Zuloaga leading a campaign against someone, I knew that it was talking about someone who was opposed to Juarez, so I almost buzzed with "the presidency of Benito Juarez," but I figured that couldn't possibly be the answer line. I had an idea what was happening, but had no idea what to answer with, and, having never learned the term "La Reforma" before, was unable to convert it at the end. Next, take someone with a very thorough knowledge of Mexican history. They will for sure know what's going on at Zuloaga (and possibly before) and will in all likelihood buzz there (if not before) with the correct answer. I would be very curious to know if anyone actually answered this tossup correctly after Zuloaga barring if the other team negged first, and I think that the problem with it is that the last four to five lines are essentially useless. If the answer line to a tossup is so hard that one needs wildly extensive knowledge of that subject area to pull the answer at all, most of the time that tossup will play more like a 9-line bonus part than a tossup.

Having easier answer lines also eliminates the problem of "What will go dead this round" that can severely alter game results by killing entire categories (this was particularly noticeable in bio, chem, and history on day two) and does a better job for rewarding the knowledge that people do have, even if that is knowledge of "quiz bowl" topics rather than actually important ones.

Other issues that I saw were that some history bonuses seemed extraordinarily easy in comparison to those from other topics and some answer lines, especially in history, were very "cute," which caused massive protesting. Tossing up "plebian secessions" or "The expulsion of the Asians from Uganda" or "Viking raids of Ireland" just isn't a good idea because it causes people to buzz with similar, related, or incomplete answers in the hope that that's all the question is looking for. These questions also force difficult decisions on moderators of when to prompt, what to accept, etcetera, and create the potential for lots of hard to resolve protests. Sticking to concrete answer lines seems like it would be easy to do ("plebians," "Uganda," and "Ireland" could have been answer lines with most if not all of the same clues). This isn't so much for improving conversion as it would be for clarity's sake.

The arts seemed to be the strongest category, with challenging but accessible answer lines that seemed to reward knowledge and consistent bonuses. The religion and mythology were also fairly strong in my view, and I thought that some of the common link tossups in religion were interesting and original, even if perhaps there were a tad too many of them. The literature bonuses did a good job of being consistent. The tossups, though, especially on day two, sometimes strayed into the realm of "now what third part of a bonus is going to get tossed up this time," which leads to a lot of buzzes off of giveaways. I'm not sure this is the best way to go about differentiating between top teams, because this again tends to lead to the 9-line bonus phenomenon more than anything else. The philosophy and the social science were overall solid, though they too, albeit to a lesser extent, suffered from some of the difficulty problems, more so on the second day than on the first.

That was my take on the tournament- reading it over it sounds a little negative and I don't really mean it that way; I enjoyed playing the set a lot regardless and the editors deserve props for putting it all together.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by theMoMA » Tue Apr 19, 2011 10:11 am

I strongly considered buzzing with "the Mexican constitutional crisis of 1857" on the Zuluaga clue. I don't know how that would have meshed with the earlier clues (I'm not a Mexican historian so much as an anti-Plan of Tacubaya partisan). I thought it was a good idea, I just didn't know enough about the period to know what its name was, other than "the more liberal period before the Porfiriato."

Maybe I can derive a larger point from this tossup. It was a good idea, and it talked about a lot of things that deserve to come up more often. A lot of tossups did that. But like many of the tossups in the tournament, I'm not sure it tested for knowledge that enough people had. There is more than one way to write a tossup that talks about what you want to talk about. A lot of times, this tournament erred on the side of harder answer lines instead of using clues specifically targeted at underrepresented material for answer lines that the field could manage. Now, I'm not saying that this particular tossup is best off as a tossup on "Mexico." It may just be that La Reforma is a thing that can only be tossed up as "La Reforma" and that it deserves to come up enough to exist. But making the choice to write on the harder answer line over and over results in a very hard tournament.
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Re: ACF Nationals 2011 thanks and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Tue Apr 19, 2011 10:17 am

kdroge wrote:The issue that I think most people (myself included) are taking up is not necessarily that the questions were not on legitimate, important topics, but that they just were not convertible. I would directly go against the point that the tossup on "La Reforma" was a good idea. Consider how the tossup plays- say you have a level of knowledge where you don't know much about Mexican history. Then you don't get it, but you wouldn't expect to get it anyways, so it's fine. Next, take a middle amount of knowledge, as an example, how I thought about the question. When it talked about Zuloaga leading a campaign against someone, I knew that it was talking about someone who was opposed to Juarez, so I almost buzzed with "the presidency of Benito Juarez," but I figured that couldn't possibly be the answer line. I had an idea what was happening, but had no idea what to answer with, and, having never learned the term "La Reforma" before, was unable to convert it at the end. Next, take someone with a very thorough knowledge of Mexican history. They will for sure know what's going on at Zuloaga (and possibly before) and will in all likelihood buzz there (if not before) with the correct answer. I would be very curious to know if anyone actually answered this tossup correctly after Zuloaga barring if the other team negged first, and I think that the problem with it is that the last four to five lines are essentially useless. If the answer line to a tossup is so hard that one needs wildly extensive knowledge of that subject area to pull the answer at all, most of the time that tossup will play more like a 9-line bonus part than a tossup.
I hate having to keep coming back to this one question but my response is the same: there are names and those names designate certain things. I was shocked in my early quizbowl career to find that something that I've always known as "the Russo-Finnish war of 1939" was also called "the Winter War." But it is. And that applies to any number of other things, which also have proper names that you have to know. I posit that the only difference between a tossup on something like "La Reforma," and something like "the Winter War," is that you know the name that goes with one of them and not the other; there isn't any functional difference at all between these things so far as coming up with the answer is concerned. And now I want to apply your reductive critique to tossups on the Winter War: let's not write tossups on that because someone could know that this is a conflict in Europe involving Russia and Finland but not know the name. Let's just write tossups on Finland instead. And let's do that in every single case where this sort of situation might arise. The absurdum that results is that pretty soon you're playing tournaments where every history question is "this polity."

I'm not saying "La Reforma" was an easy answer line, but just like any answer line on a proper thing, you had to know the name to get the points, and this would have been no different for any other answer line save that you would know that label but didn't know this one.
Other issues that I saw were that some history bonuses seemed extraordinarily easy in comparison to those from other topics
We tried very, very hard to balance bonus difficulty. Every bonus should have had an easy, medium, and hard part and we did our best to ensure that this was the case. I'm not particularly surprised at bonus variability; I think it's worth asking yourself whether those bonuses were truly "easy" or whether you just happened to have the requisite knowledge. I saw very few history bonuses 30d during the course of the tournament, and I read for all manner of teams, so I don't think that the bonuses were horribly unbalanced.
and some answer lines, especially in history, were very "cute," which caused massive protesting. Tossing up "plebian secessions" or "The expulsion of the Asians from Uganda" or "Viking raids of Ireland" just isn't a good idea because it causes people to buzz with similar, related, or incomplete answers in the hope that that's all the question is looking for.
Actually that Viking raids question should just have been "Viking raids," because I made a mistake in where I placed Iona (it's in the Hebrides and not Ireland). So, that is totally my fault for getting that information wrong.

But regardless, I don't see any problems with these answer lines. These are events that happened and they have plausible descriptions that attach to them. Plebeian secessions (for the record answering "plebeians leaving Rome" or anything of that sort would have gotten you points), the expulsions of Asians from Uganda, and so on, were all things that really happened. They don't have nice labels attached like the Holodomor, but they aren't any less answerable for all that.
These questions also force difficult decisions on moderators of when to prompt, what to accept, etcetera, and create the potential for lots of hard to resolve protests. Sticking to concrete answer lines seems like it would be easy to do ("plebians," "Uganda," and "Ireland" could have been answer lines with most if not all of the same clues). This isn't so much for improving conversion as it would be for clarity's sake.
Well, I disagree. Those questions would have looked different and wouldn't have covered the same ground. In any case, perhaps you should address your "feh" to your fellow writers, who inflicted the majority of these questions on you. My role in most of these was to make sure they were right on the facts and the clues were ordered properly.
The tossups, though, especially on day two, sometimes strayed into the realm of "now what third part of a bonus is going to get tossed up this time," which leads to a lot of buzzes off of giveaways.
This again is surprising to me given that the questions were explicitly written in almost all cases so as to not be "third parts of bonuses." I'm not saying there's zero overlap between those sets but for the most part we went looking for things that didn't get asked all the time as hard bonus parts.
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