ACF Fall discussion

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ACF Fall discussion

Postby setht » Mon Nov 14, 2005 12:19 am

I assume it's safe at this point to start discussing ACF Fall, including specific questions.

I wanted to open by soliciting comments on the question set in general. I'm particularly interested in any reactions to the myth, earth science and astronomy questions, but I'll be interested to hear anything else people have to say.

I also want to offer to give commentary on any submitted myth, earth science or astronomy question. If you're interested in receiving such commentary, please email me at setht@uchicago.edu and tell me which team you wrote for.

Finally, a word of caution: when you're writing questions in certain topics, such as solar system geography, it's important to make sure you're using up-to-date information. New objects are being discovered all the time; an old book may claim that Uranus and Saturn both have 18 moons, but those numbers have changed significantly in recent years. A quick internet search should be able to clear these things up.

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Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Mon Nov 14, 2005 12:56 am

I was planning on posting about this separately, but for now I'll follow up on Seth's message by noting the following.

The ACF fall editors would like to offer question commentary to any team that a) wrote a packet or partial packet for ACF fall, and b) would like to receive such commentary. If you wrote questions for the tournament and would like some constructive criticism on your submission, please email me at adyaphe@gmail.com. Or if you just want to know about your myth, astro, or earth science questions, get in touch with Seth.

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Postby csrjjsmp » Mon Nov 14, 2005 12:58 am

I am unclear whether, when you say "discussion," you mean public discussion here or comments/criticisms sent directly to the editors.
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Postby grapesmoker » Mon Nov 14, 2005 1:01 am

Likewise for physics and some world history. If you want to know why your question didn't make it or sounds different or just want some feedback, feel free to contact me or post in the forum.
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Postby setht » Mon Nov 14, 2005 1:54 am

csrjjsmp wrote:I am unclear whether, when you say "discussion," you mean public discussion here or comments/criticisms sent directly to the editors.


I am personally interested in seeing any discussion people feel interested in conducting publicly, and in any comments or criticisms people feel like sending directly to me. I'm confident all of the editors feel similarly; so, people should feel free to express themselves publicly, or contact editors privately, as they prefer.

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Feedback

Postby Mr. Kwalter » Mon Nov 14, 2005 1:56 am

Hey all,

An email address has been set up for those of you that would rather send us your comments and/or queries in person. That email address is acffeedback@gmail.com . The packets will be posted soon, and we strongly encourage you to download them and tell us what you think, whether you attended the tournament or not. We want to know what the circuit thought about the packets so we know what to change in the future. I would also request that if you want editor feedback on your packet that you email that address saying so, even if you requested it previously. It will be much easier to keep track of requests that way. We're not trying to stifle public discussion of the packets, that is more than welcome, but we do acknowledge that some teams may be more comfortable with emailing the editors than airing their opinions on the forums. We are looking forward to hearing from you all, and we hope you enjoyed ACF Fall 2005.

Thanks again,
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Postby Scipio » Mon Nov 14, 2005 11:40 am

I would like to offer some long-winded, largely self-indulgent, and generally laudatory comments about the ACF Fall tournament. I’ll try to keep it as brief as I can, but I know my limitations. Those who know the general timbre of my posts and tend to skip them for their flaws would probably be best served by scrolling down now, as this one will not likely be much better.

First, before I say anything I should confess that in onse sense I really should not be entitled to have any opinion at all about the questions. This reason for this is that – due to my own apparently boundless imbecility – I included in my packet questions I had used in a previous ACF tournament. This almost incomprehensibly stupid action on my part caused the ACF editors no small amount of headaches, and there can be no excuse for what I did, so I will make none; the way ACF handled this mess was beyond fair, and I am grateful for that. In addition to expressing my gratitude, what I believe I can do is publicly apologise to ACF, the editors, and the circuit at large for my foolishness, and promise it will not be repeated. That said, if the Fall had turned out to be awful, I would not have any room for criticism, since I would have contributed to that awfulness. Since it was by no means awful but was instead largely excellent, I hope I can be forgiven in praising the tournament packets and that the editors will not mind plaudits even from such a source.

Having gotten that unpleasantness out of th way, let me say first and foremost that it really shoud be taken as a tribute to the Fall and to ACF that the Southeast Fall happened at all. Due to the Tennessee home game, our event was played, not on a Saturday, but on a Sunday. This meant that all the teams there had to be willing to forego the last day of their weekends, play a full tournament, then hasten back home for class the next day. Eleven teams were willing to make this concession for the opportunity to play in this tournament, of whom ten had played in ACF tournaments before; they knew what they would be getting, they knew what the costs in time would entail, and they willingly elected to do it because of the reputation this tournament had. In fact, many of the teams who were there had actually driven there that morning; my team did, for example, as did UTC and Georgia Tech (and perhaps Vanderbilt too). All chose to forego sleep and one last day of the weekend for this event, and I believe I can speak for the terams there and say that no one was sorry they did so. That speaks volumes about the fame of this tournament, but it speaks just as much about the quality and excellence of this current incarnation, and ACF is to be cheered for what can only be considered a rousing success.

The Fall featured a number of experienced teams, all of whom – despite the occasional packet which rubbed some teams the wrong way – seemed generally happy with the questions; in hallway conversations with the veterans, most of the conversations were on how good the questions seemed to be . The Fall therefore apparently has the endorsement of the elders, who can be a difficult audience to please. I also made it a point to ask some of the novice teams what they thought, and most of them also seemed delighted with the overall accessibility of the questions, and of the tossups in particular. This included Louisville’s team, for the members of which this was their first official ACF event - they had made such an excellent showing at COTKU that I, Charlie, and my teammate Gerald pleaded with them to come to the Fall – and who certainly acquitted themselves well, expressing surprise at just how reasonable the questions were. And it is remarkable that every player there had at least one tossup, and every team had at least one win; each competitor had at least one tossup about which they seemed particularly pleased.

In another post I’m going to offer some comments specfic to the Knoxville tournament, but before I do, I would like to take one last aside and offer Seth Teitler my warmest praise for his myth questions, which were superb. I hope other excellent myth writers will not take it amiss if I suggest that, in addition to being among the circuit’s finest myth players (and perhaps is even the very best of them), I believe him to be the best writer of mythology questions that the game currently knows, and am at a loss to think of any who was ever better.

Again, I hope my praise will be taken in the spirit in which it is offered. I know I was among those concerned that, because of the hard-core nature of the players who were editing this year, it might be a step back from previous versions, but I was wrong to have doubted: this tourament was in perfect keeping with years past. I hope everyone shares my enthusiasm and appreciation for this tournament, and can share in my congratulation of its editors.
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Postby ezubaric » Mon Nov 14, 2005 12:53 pm

I guess I'll chip in my two cents. First, I'd like to echo the praise heaped upon the questions. The quality was excellent, the answer selection was very good, and although I can remember there being a repeat, it was trivial enough that I can't remember what it was.

Maryland also did a good job of running the tournament. The readers were great, and we even got out at a reasonable time after 13 rounds of ACF goodness. Plus, there was breakfast. Hoorah! My only complaint about Maryland was that there were only six prizes; two trophies, three books for the top scorers, and the neg prize. I'm not arguing for everyone gets a trophy day, but this seemed to be rather severe (perhaps I'm bitter because I was the #4 scorer :grin: ).

Now, lest the ACF editors get too big of an ego boost:

From my notebook, I only counted four math tossups (ODE, Prime Num. Theorem, ODE, and regression), but zero computer science tossups and (I don't keep track of bonuses, so I'm working from memory here) one bonus. This seems rather unfair. There were more probably more trash questions than Math and CS questions, which I don't think has ever been the case at ACF as far as I can remember. I don't think that there aren't any accesible questions available for ACF Fall (if Davisson-Germer and Plotinus are fair game) ...

Finally, why were packets merged in the way they were? It makes no sense to merge packets from the same region. It makes the packets unusable in that region and prevents the teams that wrote the packets from hearing their packets being played.
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Postby grapesmoker » Mon Nov 14, 2005 12:58 pm

ezubaric wrote:From my notebook, I only counted four math tossups (ODE, Prime Num. Theorem, ODE, and regression), but zero computer science tossups and (I don't keep track of bonuses, so I'm working from memory here) one bonus. This seems rather unfair. There were more probably more trash questions than Math and CS questions, which I don't think has ever been the case at ACF as far as I can remember. I don't think that there aren't any accesible questions available for ACF Fall (if Davisson-Germer and Plotinus are fair game) ...


I'll field this one. I was in charge of the math/cs questions, and I did attempt to work as much of both into the distribution as I could. There are at least 3 non-trivial CS tossups in the set, but they may either have been placed in the later packets which did not get played on or may not have made it into the 20 questions. I didn't assemble the packets so I don't know, but once they are released, please take a look through them. I hope you will find the questions I wrote acceptable and much more interesting than tossups on COBOL.
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Postby Dan Greenstein » Mon Nov 14, 2005 1:14 pm

ezubaric wrote:There were more probably more trash questions than Math and CS questions, which I don't think has ever been the case at ACF as far as I can remember.


The distribution included 1/1 "Your Choice (may be trash)" Whenever a tournament expected to be devoid of trash allows trash, it will be written. It is definitely something I noticed that was different from years past, in that in the past there were 3 to 5 trash question in the whole tournament, if that, whereas this time there was 1/1 in almost every round. I mentioned this observation to a few people, and the responses were positive. Perhaps ACF will continue with this figment of the distribution in future tournaments.
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Postby ValenciaQBowl » Mon Nov 14, 2005 2:14 pm

I have no problem with a little trash in ACF packs, and I think the trash I heard (as a purely exhibition, non-counting player/team) was pretty good.

One very minor beef I had, though, was in a packet in which the 20th toss-up was on a pro football team (I think we can talk about these now, but I'll play it safe, just in case). I don't think it's a good idea for a trash question to be the 20th toss-up in any academic pack, but particularly not at ACF. Of course, my Valencia team had no shot at it (oddly, I never have too many sports people), and they lost to UF A when that team was able to pick that up and 30 the bonus. I don't speak just from their experience, though; obviously ACF is hardcore academic, and it just seems wrong to have close matches decided by a trash question.

Having said that, I thought the questions overall were well written and edited and at the right level, and my thanks to the USF folks for letting some dinosaurs play for fun.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Mon Nov 14, 2005 2:32 pm

In case anyone wasn't clear, all areas have played the tournament and you may discuss question content to whatever degree you desire.
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Postby cvdwightw » Mon Nov 14, 2005 3:37 pm

ValenciaQBowl wrote:One very minor beef I had, though, was in a packet in which the 20th toss-up was on a pro football team.


I believe that the tossup in question was actually tossup #21, and some strange formatting error caused the complete loss of tossup #2. The moderator in my room searched the entire packet and could not find tossup #2.

I was also surprised (but not as disappointed as Jordan) that out of the typical "extra" (non-bio-chem-physics) science, the distribution was heavily weighted toward astronomy and earth science.

ezubaric wrote:Finally, why were packets merged in the way they were? It makes no sense to merge packets from the same region. It makes the packets unusable in that region and prevents the teams that wrote the packets from hearing their packets being played.


Given that there were at least 43 full or partial packets submitted, this makes some amount of sense. The editors could make enough packets to satisfy all regions without giving any teams bye rounds. Some of this would entail combining full and partial packets from the same region, making it inaccessible to one region but perfectly usable in all others rather than combining, say, UCLA A with Florida D and Chicago E (note that I don't know what either UCLA team's packet was combined with, nor do I remember which teams Florida D and Chicago E were combined with). This would make one packet inaccessible to three regions instead of one.

There are two problems I've consistently had with the few ACF tournaments I've been to: length and diversity of field. First, length.
All three ACF tournaments I've gone to have had problems with running way overtime. This particular tournament promised thirteen rounds; after round 7, there was seeding into upper and lower brackets for a double round robin, and it was already 4:15. The teams consensus voted to eliminate the last three rounds (I believe Charles was the only person in the tournament to object). The tournament didn't end until 7 anyways; it may have gone to 9 or 10 if we hadn't sheared off the last 3 rounds. Second, diversity of field. Over the last three years there have been one, one, and two teams from Southern California. Similarly, all of those tournaments have had an overwheleming majority Stanford and Berkeley teams. I don't know why it seems no one is willing to drive up to the Bay Area to compete in tournaments of this quality.
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Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Mon Nov 14, 2005 4:16 pm

cvdwightw wrote:
There are two problems I've consistently had with the few ACF tournaments I've been to: length and diversity of field. First, length.
All three ACF tournaments I've gone to have had problems with running way overtime. This particular tournament promised thirteen rounds; after round 7, there was seeding into upper and lower brackets for a double round robin, and it was already 4:15. The teams consensus voted to eliminate the last three rounds (I believe Charles was the only person in the tournament to object). The tournament didn't end until 7 anyways; it may have gone to 9 or 10 if we hadn't sheared off the last 3 rounds.


I don't know anything about West Coast diversity, but as for length: At Chicago, we started a little late because of an accident involving one of the teams (finally getting underway around 9:15, I think). Despite having games in two different buildings, we managed to get in 16 rounds, the last of which ended at 7. I don't know what other tournaments are doing that takes so long, but our experience indicates that excessive length is not inevitable at ACF tournaments.

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Postby csrjjsmp » Mon Nov 14, 2005 5:09 pm

The problems Dwight mentions at Berkeley's ACF Fall were due to a combination of Stanford arriving over an hour late (we waited for them until 10 before deciding to start) and slow reading on our part. The length of questions was not the primary factor.
I agree that it's a pity that the field was so small. (3 Stanford teams and 2.5 each from UCLA and Berkeley) However, I'm the wrong person to speak as to why that may be the case.

As far as questions go, I thought that for the most part, they were very good as far as distribution and quality goes. More Asian than other tournaments I've heard, which is a good thing. I do agree that there seemed to be more earth science than I would have liked to see. But maybe that's just because I don't know any earth science.
The only flaws in the questions I can remember are with two tossups, one on the Taiping rebellion, and one on SN2 nucleophilic substitution, that I thought had excessively easy clues in the first line.
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Postby ASimPerson » Mon Nov 14, 2005 5:20 pm

I do not think we ran long in Knoxville at all (which I note only because Southern tournaments have a reputation of taking a long time), but the questions seemed overly long. Maybe it's because I'm not very good, but most of the questions seemed be not pyramidal as much as the clues dropped off a cliff right before the giveaway. I don't have any specific examples, so maybe this is just the subjective perception I have.
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Postby vandyhawk » Mon Nov 14, 2005 6:19 pm

As far as question length, at first they seemed to be quite a bit longer than in past ACF Fall tourneys, but after looking at them more, there's probably only a 1-2 line difference when also taking into account a little different formatting, and they still weren't at regional or national length. I thought this length was fine since most questions were answered before the giveaway, and even for the newbie teams, actually knowing the answer at the end of a longer question makes it seem not as long as when they don't know it. Pyramidality seemed fine too, and I think most buzzer races were just a case of a bunch of people kinda knowing where the question was going but waiting for a better known clue.

I thought the difficulty level was very appropriate, as ACF fall has always been, and the rounds were very consistent. We had one unusually low bonus conversion round, but I don't know if it was actually harder or we were just kind of out of it that round. On the whole, I really enjoyed the questions, and all the editors deserve a lot of credit for producing such a fine set.

Now for just a few critical thoughts. Rather than content, I felt like the biggest editing issue was problems with numbering. There were many times that the readers were confused by a missing number, or repeated numbers, etc. That's just kind of a silly thing to let slip through for a big tournament like this. One clear repeat was Murakami and his Hardboiled Wonderland.... The author and work were used as a clue in a common link tossup (don't remember which one), and that same work was also a clue in the Murakami tossup itself. Also, Stravinsky was an answer to both a tossup and bonus, both of which included The Rite of Spring. I agree that the SN2 question was a little too obvious as well. Our math guy said he would've like some more math questions, but I'll leave that to people who care about it more than I do.

With regard to combining packets, I don't think that any two teams from the same region should be represented in a single packet, as was done with ours and Georgia Tech's, since that completely eliminates the use of that round in our region. Given that it's a packet submission tournament, teams should expect to have a bye when their round is used, and it's nice to hear your round being played on too.

Having a more diverse field would be great. I don't understand why there were 32 teams at COTKU, but 11 (from only 6 schools) at ACF Fall. Granted, UF, FSU, Va Tech, and USC went to other regionals, but that still leaves quite a bit of disparity. Maybe we all just need to try harder to show less established teams that ACF Fall really is an accessible, quality tournament, as people were able to do with Louisville.
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Postby ezubaric » Mon Nov 14, 2005 6:55 pm

vandyhawk wrote:Our math guy said he would've like some more math questions, but I'll leave that to people who care about it more than I do.


First they came to remove the math questions, I didn't say anything because I wasn't a math guy. When they came to remove the CS questions, I didn't say anything because I wasn't a CS guy. When they came to remove the physics questions, I didn't say anything because I wasn't a physics guy. When they came to remove my questions, there was nobody left to speak for them ...

(tongue firmly in cheek)

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Postby vandyhawk » Mon Nov 14, 2005 7:47 pm

Well I meant that I'll leave any differing opinions, further discussion, etc. to people who care more and thus paid more attention to the math and cs and therefore have more valid opinions. Anyway, since I was looking through the packets for something else, I noticed that were also tossups on Mersenne primes, Goedel's Incompleteness Theorem, cosine (which included CS clues), lossless compression (an extra tossup), Power PC, vector (another extra), expert systems (extra), and Boole. I haven't looked at Andrew's or Leo's packets yet so that we can use them in practice, so not sure if there are any in there. There did seem to be more math/cs in bonuses than in tossups, but I didn't look through those. To me, it seemed like math, earth science, and astronomy were about equally weighted, with cs a distant 4th, in the "other science" distribution. Maybe someone could figure out whether that's actually true or not.
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Combination

Postby Mr. Kwalter » Tue Nov 15, 2005 2:35 am

As the person who was mostly responsible for combining the packets, I feel I should say a word about the comments that have been made in regard to this topic. First, I apologize to Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt for that oversight, I thought Georgia Tech was going to the SE regional, which proved not to be the case. There were also two packets unplayable in the midatlantic due to oversight, which was also an error on my part. As has been said, there were almost 50 submissions, and some things got overlooked in our effort to get all the teams that submitted in there somewhere. I guess my point is, it is not the policy of ACF to combine packets within regions, and I extend my apologies to those teams who were affected by the errors made.
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Postby recfreq » Tue Nov 15, 2005 11:50 am

I want to echo Jordan's sentiments. My best questions were taken out, but that's to be expected in a large tournament. I don't think difficulty had anything to do with it since we heard "Bertram" and "Glass" in Matt's packet. Therefore, "Snows of Kilimanjaro," "Saint Joan," and "Adonais" could not have been too hard. I also tried to avoid biography b/c supposedly that's what ACF stood against, but instead, I found that almost all of the music was biographical and hence trivial, and much of the literature also biographical. I have nothing against biography in particular (other than the fact that it requires very little beyond memorizing names of works and brief details of the best works), but pls let us know that ACF fall is mostly a "biography tournament" before I submit quality questions that won't be used in the future. But I guess, now I already know. I have now been encouraged not to submit my best questions to large scale tournaments for beginners, and save them instead for tournies like Illinois Open. I suppose that with the number of editors associated with ACF, I don't need to make my questions that great anyways, esp if they will be replaced anyways. It's ok, since ACF fall is mostly for newbies any ways.

In other fronts, I thought the question set in general was of the highest quality, and commend the editors on providing an accessible (perhaps slightly too accessible on some of the bonuses) set. I think all of the quality teams in the west converted just below 25 pts per bonus. I don't want to sound morose; I had a lot of fun. I guess the only blemish is that Stanford likes to show up an hour or two after the official start time. If I were TDing, I'd just start at 9:30 regardless if they're there, b/c otherwise they would have no incentive to ever arrive earlier again.

Thanks a bunch for an enjoyable experience. I especially liked the physical sciences and RMP questions, but they were all really really good.

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Postby grapesmoker » Tue Nov 15, 2005 12:32 pm

Although I had no part in editing the literature, the abundance of biography questions in the lit distribution jumped out at me. If I were playing, I would definitely have preferred more tossups on works rather than authors. Too many of the questions, to me, had the feel of being laundry-lists of works.
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Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Tue Nov 15, 2005 12:47 pm

grapesmoker wrote:Although I had no part in editing the literature, the abundance of biography questions in the lit distribution jumped out at me. If I were playing, I would definitely have preferred more tossups on works rather than authors. Too many of the questions, to me, had the feel of being laundry-lists of works.


To a certain extent, a tournament at the level of ACF Fall is going to trend toward having tossup answers be people rather than works, because beginning players who are unfamiliar with (e.g.) "Saint Joan" will be more likely to be able to answer a tossup on George Bernard Shaw. But I doubt that there were many more "biography" lit tossups than in the past. Again, please note that the following (from this year's tournament) is not a "biography" tossup just because the answer happens to be an author's name:

This man wrote “First was the world as one great cymbal made / Where jarring winds to infant Nature playedâ€
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Postby grapesmoker » Tue Nov 15, 2005 12:57 pm

[quote="Birdofredum Sawin"]
This man wrote “First was the world as one great cymbal made / Where jarring winds to infant Nature playedâ€
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Postby ValenciaQBowl » Tue Nov 15, 2005 1:59 pm

I found that almost all of the music was biographical and hence trivial, and much of the literature also biographical. I have nothing against biography in particular (other than the fact that it requires very little beyond memorizing names of works and brief details of the best works),


If I were playing, I would definitely have preferred more tossups on works rather than authors. Too many of the questions, to me, had the feel of being laundry-lists of works.


Both of the sentiments expressed above (by Ray and Jerry, respectively) strike me as indicative of a bias in the game these days toward writing toward the elite in the game. Both Ray and Jerry pay lip service to the notion of ACF Fall's existence being predicated on its being an introductory tournament for novice players, but the fact that they're bummed out by the preponderance of biography or list-of-work type questions makes me wonder if they really understand less-experienced, less knowledgeable players.

Some of you have already been subjected to my already-strong concerns about the tilt of the game in the past 5-8 years toward writing questions that challenge the top 10% of players in the game or making them acceptable to specialists in a field. First there was collective will to eliminate Colvin Science (aka science bio), then came the desire to make music questions focus on descriptions of specifics of a particular piece (leading to the now common intro of the type, "Beginning with a B-flat trill on the flugelhorn"), and now the strong urge (or at least powerful request) that questions in lit, humanities and social sciences focus on works/concepts rather than writers when possible.

These movements, coupled with the expansion of the canon, have led to undergraduate invitational or national tournaments which may have the effect of disheartening or boring some new players. I agree with those who hope that one encountering such obscuranta will dutifully take notes, study up, write questions and come back ready to compete better. But as a coach (and occasional dinosaur player) in a state where both CC and four-year programs are in a bit of a trough, with many elite players having moved on, I've seen first-hand how some people in their first or second year get tired listening to round after round of lead-ins that don't help them much; they're often left out of the question till after the "FTP" prompt.

This is not meant as some sort of bleeding-heart, let's-dumb-the-game-down type of plea, but rather as an observation. Am I wrong in thinking that most of the suggestions for writing and complaints about packs posted around here in the last eight weeks are the kinds of things that would only bother elite players (or at least bother them more than some kid in his second year playing for, say, Oklahoma State)? Or perhaps I should try this question: what is inherently wrong about a well written toss-up on, say, Herman Hesse, that sentence by sentence introduces works of his in a pyramidal fashion, while simultaneously adding in some biographical detail? If the answer is that this rewards memorization, well, is that inherently bad? Seriously, what is this game about? Even the toss-up on Marvell that Andrew included above expects memorization, or at least clear memory of lines from a poem. Is the idea that memorizing lines of a poem is better/more important than memorizing the titles of obscure works? If so, why? In any case, many's the time I've been beaten to a toss-up at the Chicago Open on a novel I've read by someone who hasn't read the novel but has written a toss-up on it or studied it on Sparknotes or something. Heck, Kelly McKenzie had a regular taunt for me on this.

The bottom line is that it seems like the expectation now is that EVERY tournament should be written structurally like one that elite players would like; it's just that a beginner tournament, like ACF Fall, can then have easier answers. And that makes me wonder whether the game will winnow out newer players and programs.

Please keep in mind when flaming away on these old-fashioned notions that I like tosses on works/concepts and am happy to see expansion of the canon in tournaments geared toward elite players. I'm just worried about the creep downward of the expectations of the best players, who assume that everyone should have the same level of commitment to the game as they.

Sorry if this has hijacked the thread--please put it where it goes if so.
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Postby yoda4554 » Tue Nov 15, 2005 2:06 pm

I used to be very much of the school of thought that questions with authors as an answer were a bad idea because they always devolved into list memory, and that the only way to make them not suck was to leave titles to the end and quote/summarize as much as possible. This tournament has changed my mind on that front.

On the one hand, for a question such as the one on Murakami, how many people have really memorized (and retain) novel titles as vague as After Dark and Hear the Wind Sing without having read any Murakami, particularly considering that neither have been officially translated into English? However, if you've a fan of his work you're likely to know about his latest novel, or of the first novel in his Rat series.

On the other hand, even if you've seen Pinter's The Caretaker, hearing any short plot synopsis isn't terribly helpful, because not much happens in the play. The (what I'm interpreting in retrospect) vague references to the plot of Siddharta in the Hesse question are similarly unhelpful, as they could easily be referring to some vaguely similar story by someone else.

I want to join everyone, on behalf of my team, in offering general praise for just about all of the questions in the set.

A few gripes to add to those already stated:

1. There seemed to be a handful of questions that dropped certain clues way too fast; oddly enough, I believe there were a glut of them in Andrew's packet (e.g., the word "census" should not appear in a tossup on The Book of Numbers until the very, very end, no matter what the difficulty is).

2. A bunch of the readers were complaining about mis-numbered questions.

3. As postulated before the tournament in another thread, questions like that on "Quetzcoatl" at this level aren't necessarily a good idea, because it quickly devolves into an eight-way thought of "this is an easy tournament, so it's probably the by-far-most-famous answer in this particular area, but do I want to risk getting burned?", meaning that the tossup is more likely to go to an aggressive player than one who knows about the subject.[/i]
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Postby NotBhan » Tue Nov 15, 2005 2:59 pm

Chris noted, "I've seen first-hand how some people in their first or second year get tired listening to round after round of lead-ins that don't help them much; they're often left out of the question till after the "FTP" prompt." That's one sentiment I would add to the discussion. Do the tossups really have to be this long?? I like proper pyramidal structure, but tossups in current ACF events seem to be heading toward shield-volcanicity. I like the structure of above Marvell tossup, but I don't think much is gained by having _this_ many opening clues, in particular in spending 4 lines on two opening clues which, while nice reflections of Marvell, probably aren't that much different in difficulty level.

In particular, a tossup this long poses more difficulty for inexperienced players, who are more likely to "tune out" as they sit through 7 lines of clues they have no hope of answering. Beyond that, new players are more likely to either get discouraged or say "screw this" and not come back. I recognize that ACF Fall writing aims to satisfy the two (usually competing) goals of being accessible to newer players and challenging to experienced players, but based on my own experience as a moderator and coach, I feel that the excessive tossup length is an obstacle to the first of these goals.

--Raj Dhuwalia

P.S. As an added irrelevant note, the wording which leads into the Mower's Song quote appears likely to foul up a moderator.
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Postby grapesmoker » Tue Nov 15, 2005 3:52 pm

ValenciaQBowl wrote:Both of the sentiments expressed above (by Ray and Jerry, respectively) strike me as indicative of a bias in the game these days toward writing toward the elite in the game. Both Ray and Jerry pay lip service to the notion of ACF Fall's existence being predicated on its being an introductory tournament for novice players, but the fact that they're bummed out by the preponderance of biography or list-of-work type questions makes me wonder if they really understand less-experienced, less knowledgeable players.


As the originator of the controversy I am compelled to respond to this statement, which I take very seriously.

First, I find it a little insulting that I am told that I pay "lip service" to the notion of ACF Fall. As someone who edited a large portion of the science which was apparently so accessible that Seth Kendall was able to pick up 20 tossups in a round on it, I feel that I did more than pay "lip service" to the idea. I, along with everyone else involved, worked hard to make it happen. I realize, Chris, that you did not mean to be insulting or dismissive, but I point this fact out because it seems that no matter how much we do to make tournaments accessible, a sentiment still prevails that results in the most innocent statements being taken as expressions of elitism (whatever that is).

We understand quite well what new players experience. We used to be new players ourselves, too. I remember coming to practices that were attended by Jon Pennington, Nick Meyer, David Farris, Seth Teitler, and various other assorted luminaries, and getting 3 questions in 3 hours.

I also want to point out that my opinion was offered strictly in my capacity as a player, not my capacity as ACF editor. I mentioned what I personally would have liked to see. I would like people to understand that ACF isn't some kind of monolithic organization which enforces uniformity on all its members; not all of us have the same preferences, and I differ greatly with many of my editor colleagues regarding what I would like to see in tournament sets.

Some of you have already been subjected to my already-strong concerns about the tilt of the game in the past 5-8 years toward writing questions that challenge the top 10% of players in the game or making them acceptable to specialists in a field.


Tournaments like ACF Regionals or Nationals do that. This tournament did not, and that's not what this is about anyway.

First there was collective will to eliminate Colvin Science (aka science bio),


And as one of the major second-generation proponents of this doctrine I will defend it to the end. I believe that this is a totally justified move and has helped remove such lame questions from the game as "element from number" and other dross. Again, the science in this tournament was easy. Really easy. If you have even a little science background (we're talking freshman physics or high school chemistry here) you should be confidently buzzing at the end of the question.

then came the desire to make music questions focus on descriptions of specifics of a particular piece (leading to the now common intro of the type, "Beginning with a B-flat trill on the flugelhorn"),


And what's wrong with this, exactly? If a question on, I don't know, Beethoven's Fifth symphony begins with a description of how it sounds, why shouldn't that clue reward someone with musical ability and primary knowledge of the work? Me, I'm completely tone-deaf. The answer is not obscure, and I'd still be able to answer the question against a room of empty chairs, but not against someone who knows about music. This is good. This is right. This is the way questions for ACF Fall ought to be - full of good clues that reward knowledge and yet accessible.

and now the strong urge (or at least powerful request) that questions in lit, humanities and social sciences focus on works/concepts rather than writers when possible.


I find it humorous that my private opinion figures as a "powerful request." In the final analysis, who gives a damn what I want?

But I don't think I'm wrong in wanting more tossups on works than on authors. I don't like questions that sound like lists, as I've already said, and I fail to see how a tossup on The Scarlet Letter is somehow less accessible than one on Nathaniel Hawthorne. People read so many different works in high school and college that asking for works is in no way prohibitive to writing accessible questions. As for me, I prefer questions that focus on primary knowledge of an author or work, i.e. knowledge that comes from actually having read the works. That makes sense to me. That's why the Marvell and Poe questions are really good; you need to have read the works in question to answer them early, and yet they are eminently gettable by the end. On the other hand, the question on Benedict is bad because one of her most famous works, "The Concept of the Guardian Spirit in North America," is mentioned in the first line. Now, I wouldn't be able to identify that work from clues, but I sure as hell remember enough Benedict clues to buzz then. And that's no good, because I have no business getting questions in the beginning on something I know nothing about. That's my stance, anyway.

These movements, coupled with the expansion of the canon, have led to undergraduate invitational or national tournaments which may have the effect of disheartening or boring some new players. I agree with those who hope that one encountering such obscuranta will dutifully take notes, study up, write questions and come back ready to compete better. But as a coach (and occasional dinosaur player) in a state where both CC and four-year programs are in a bit of a trough, with many elite players having moved on, I've seen first-hand how some people in their first or second year get tired listening to round after round of lead-ins that don't help them much; they're often left out of the question till after the "FTP" prompt.


I sympathize with your situation, but I want to note that this year's ACF Fall is the easiest and best written novice tournament I have ever seen. And I don't say that just because I helped write it. Yes, less experienced teams will know fewer of the clues that come before the FTP. But that's the way pyramidal questions are supposed to work. If the answer is something they know about, what's the problem? We're trying to come up here with questions that both require good knowledge to get early and can be also gotten in the end by less-experienced teams. The alternative is 4 and 3 line NAQT high-school questions.

This is not meant as some sort of bleeding-heart, let's-dumb-the-game-down type of plea, but rather as an observation. Am I wrong in thinking that most of the suggestions for writing and complaints about packs posted around here in the last eight weeks are the kinds of things that would only bother elite players (or at least bother them more than some kid in his second year playing for, say, Oklahoma State)?


Why does it matter who it bothers? This is not an argument against the position I've taken in this thread and in others, it's simply an invocation of my alleged "elite" status for reasons of eliciting sympathy with the fictional second-year Oklahoma State player. I suppose you're not wrong about the fact that it bothers experienced players more, but so what? We are trying to make the game better not just for ourselves, but for everyone. We want you, when you hear a question about something you know well, to buzz, get the answer right, and be pleased with knowing a lot about the subject. At least, that's what I think we want; it's what I want anyway, and I won't presume to speak for anyone else (except Ray, I speak for him).

Or perhaps I should try this question: what is inherently wrong about a well written toss-up on, say, Herman Hesse, that sentence by sentence introduces works of his in a pyramidal fashion, while simultaneously adding in some biographical detail? If the answer is that this rewards memorization, well, is that inherently bad?


Let's get into my magical time machine and go back to 4 or 5 years ago, when ACF detractors were up in arms about how ACF was all about list memorization of obscurata and isn't that terrible and won't someone think of the children already? Well, we've tried hard to move away from that. Yeah, I think list memorization is bad. I shouldn't be able to just memorize a whole bunch of titles and expect to clean up on the literature distribution without having actually read anything. Obviously, in the course of my playing career, I've managed to acquire a ton of "quizbowl-level" knowledge, but on a good question, a player with real knowledge will almost always beat me. And that's correct; that's as it should be.

Seriously, what is this game about? Even the toss-up on Marvell that Andrew included above expects memorization, or at least clear memory of lines from a poem. Is the idea that memorizing lines of a poem is better/more important than memorizing the titles of obscure works? If so, why?


Yes, it is better. It's better because when you read the poem to memorize it, you internalize that poem. You process the work of literature, you gain something from it, you in some sense become better for having read it. When you memorize a title, it's just a phrase floating around in your head that you associate with an author.

Let me share an anecdote with you (with all of you). I came to quiz bowl with extremely limited (relative to now) knowledge of literature and social science. I had no idea who Gabriel Garica Marquez was. Faulkner was a dimly familiar name. By virtue of having heard good questions about those authors and their works, I was motivated to go out and read them. I think that's awesome and that every questions should try and interest the hearer. It should try to motivate you to go out there and read the stuff we're writing about. And those are the kinds of questions I try to write and the kind of philosophy I try to pursue in my editing.

Because, honestly, who gives a shit if you know who wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude? It's a meaningless word-association game if all you have to do is memorize a list. But going out and reading that book would, I argue, actually improve you. And I think the game should reward that and that's why I advocate writing questions that draw on primary knowledge (i.e. direct knowledge of works and such) rather than list memorization.

In any case, many's the time I've been beaten to a toss-up at the Chicago Open on a novel I've read by someone who hasn't read the novel but has written a toss-up on it or studied it on Sparknotes or something. Heck, Kelly McKenzie had a regular taunt for me on this.


I have my doubts about how successful this strategy would be on properly written questions.

The bottom line is that it seems like the expectation now is that EVERY tournament should be written structurally like one that elite players would like; it's just that a beginner tournament, like ACF Fall, can then have easier answers. And that makes me wonder whether the game will winnow out newer players and programs.


Why should I have lower quality standards for a novice tournament than for a national tournament? Should we hoard the goodies for ourselves and give you a substandard product? If it's good enough for a national tournament, I think it's good enough for ACF Fall too.

yoda4554 wrote:On the one hand, for a question such as the one on Murakami, how many people have really memorized (and retain) novel titles as vague as After Dark and Hear the Wind Sing without having read any Murakami, particularly considering that neither have been officially translated into English? However, if you've a fan of his work you're likely to know about his latest novel, or of the first novel in his Rat series.


You'd be surprised. After all, this is a game that puts a premium on having a good memory. I recently read some secondary information about Murakami, and would have been buzzing on those clues.

On the other hand, even if you've seen Pinter's The Caretaker, hearing any short plot synopsis isn't terribly helpful, because not much happens in the play. The (what I'm interpreting in retrospect) vague references to the plot of Siddharta in the Hesse question are similarly unhelpful, as they could easily be referring to some vaguely similar story by someone else.


I think even less happens in "Krapp's Last Tape" but I remember at least one full tossup on it. A plot synopsis always helps; in my room, the question on Pinter was answered from the synopsis of The Caretaker, and not by an experienced team.

I want to emphasize again that the arguments I'm making here I make as an individual player and not as an ACF editor. I invite judgement of my editing capacity on the basis of the questions I wrote and edited for this set rather than on the extravagant claims I am prone to making.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Tue Nov 15, 2005 4:14 pm

NotBhan wrote:In particular, a tossup this long poses more difficulty for inexperienced players, who are more likely to "tune out" as they sit through 7 lines of clues they have no hope of answering. Beyond that, new players are more likely to either get discouraged or say "screw this" and not come back. I recognize that ACF Fall writing aims to satisfy the two (usually competing) goals of being accessible to newer players and challenging to experienced players, but based on my own experience as a moderator and coach, I feel that the excessive tossup length is an obstacle to the first of these goals.


I don't understand this. Are you saying that there exist players who otherwise enjoyed the set, but found it too hard, and/or won't attend ACF events in the future, solely because of some philosophical dispute about tossup length? That is not entirely plausible. It seems to me that the only people who care about tossup length at all are the people who post on the Internet about it; i.e., experienced players whose decisions on format preference are predicated on different, usually more important, factors. The primary purpose of substantial pyramidal tossups is, of course, to make the same set of questions enjoyable for players of all difficulty levels and avoid turning the game into a speed contest. Saying that the sole and only thing which can accomplish that goal is in fact an "obstacle" to it implies that the goal is unattainable, which is obviously not true, and falls into the realm of an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary proof. Furthermore, for no one more so than the novices, the extra information that they aren't usually buzzing on in tossups, as well as extra information in the easiest bonus parts (an invention that I first noticed and appreciated in the original McKenzie-produced ACF Fall sets), serves to impart some extra knowledge, a process that may bring such players out of their novicedom more quickly than playing on NAQT high school questions or whatever it is that new players who don't play ACF Fall plan on doing instead.

Now, what pretty much all writers and editors can improve on is middle clues. Tossups should have a constant and obvious dropoff in difficulty from start to finish, not five leadins followed by three giveaways. I paid special care to this in my areas for the Fall set, although feedback thusfar indicates that I wasn't as successful as I wished. Getting middle clues to work properly is just about the last thing any writer/editor learns, and only a handful of people can do it consistently.

I'll try to weigh in less defensively on this person-as-answer issue, which I think has a lot more facets and better arguments on all sides. I really don't get why tossup length is still such a bone of contention in this day and age, though.

Oh, disclaimer, I'm not speaking for ACF except when I'm talking factually about my involvement in this particular set. My opinions are my own etc.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Tue Nov 15, 2005 4:37 pm

ValenciaQBowl wrote:Some of you have already been subjected to my already-strong concerns about the tilt of the game in the past 5-8 years toward writing questions that challenge the top 10% of players in the game or making them acceptable to specialists in a field. First there was collective will to eliminate Colvin Science (aka science bio), then came the desire to make music questions focus on descriptions of specifics of a particular piece (leading to the now common intro of the type, "Beginning with a B-flat trill on the flugelhorn"), and now the strong urge (or at least powerful request) that questions in lit, humanities and social sciences focus on works/concepts rather than writers when possible.


It seems to me that the real-ification of questions is to the benefit of less experienced players, not the opposite. Anyone who has heard a lot of packets or read notorious sources for fake quizbowl play can tell you that Svante Arrhenius won [edit for not demonstrating my ignorance] the 1903 Nobel in chemistry. We the (humanities-based portion of) professional players-- by which I mean people who have been around for a while, go out of their way to try to improve, and post about quizbowl on the Internet--find that easy, but probably can't tell you what the Arrhenius Equation is all about. I know I fit this description and I will wager that you, Chris, do too, although please let me know if I'm wrong. The thing is that, for any good student in a chemistry program, the opposite is the case. Such a person can walk into his or her first tournament and get the equation question, but might not know the Nobel prize nonsense. Keeping questions concept-focused allows real knowledge to take precedence over quizbowl knowledge. I know I saw more than one example of a science student playing his first tournament beating more experienced humanities players to science questions at ACF Fall. If we had never shifted away from memorizing the Greek origins of geological terms and telling anecdotes about Henry Cavendish's social life, then the game would be all the more dominated by a smaller cadre of players. Concept questions allow smart people to compete immediately, without a need to go out of their way and become familiar with any kind of arbitrary "canon." The same thing applies to any other topic. Someone in a music program will know technical information about a famous symphony before someone who has just heard old packets, and so on. For all the talk presumed to be on behalf of the "silent majority" with regards to what NAQT or TRASH wants to do, there are few people speaking up for the large bulk of players and programs who are smart people, good students, and knowledgeable about their interests, but aren't compelled to read old packets or post on the Internet. Those people are who ACF Fall is for, and who any set below nationals-level difficulty ought to be for.
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Postby NotBhan » Tue Nov 15, 2005 4:50 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:
NotBhan wrote:In particular, a tossup this long poses more difficulty for inexperienced players, who are more likely to "tune out" as they sit through 7 lines of clues they have no hope of answering. Beyond that, new players are more likely to either get discouraged or say "screw this" and not come back. I recognize that ACF Fall writing aims to satisfy the two (usually competing) goals of being accessible to newer players and challenging to experienced players, but based on my own experience as a moderator and coach, I feel that the excessive tossup length is an obstacle to the first of these goals.


I don't understand this. Are you saying that there exist players who otherwise enjoyed the set, but found it too hard, and/or won't attend ACF events in the future, solely because of some philosophical dispute about tossup length?


"Philosophical dispute" in the sense that, for many of those players, "it sucks." I am not offering extraordinary proof, nor am I making that extraordinary a claim ... for many newer players, it just kind of sucks to sit there for line after line after line after line of material. Nine- or ten-line tossups are simply (based solely on my experience as moderator/player/coach, and not on any scientific studies) unpleasant for many newer players, and it's hard to get newbies to take a Saturday off work and come back for more of it. [It is by necessity an anecdotal claim, and if you disagree absolutely on that point, the next paragraph is rather less tenable.]

I'm not trying to make some kind of formal ironclad inductive proof. I simply believe that "accessibility" is not just a matter of choosing answers newer players are likely to have heard of; it also entails some consideration of the new player's experience tilting more toward the non-unpleasant. And it doesn't require "pandering" or any other such term ... it simply requires a bit of brevity. To cite your own (well-written) sentence, "The primary purpose of substantial pyramidal tossups is, of course, to make the same set of questions enjoyable for players of all difficulty levels and avoid turning the game into a speed contest." I agree with this statement, but I believe that there comes a point at which "substantial" passes some threshold which negatively affects "enjoyable." And I believe that a tossup of nine or more lines is usually beyond that threshold, especially for less experienced players. I believe that the aforementioned goals of the ACF Fall tournament would be better served by clue-dense pyramidal six-line tossups rather than clue-dense pyramidal nine-line tossups. This things I believe.

--Raj Dhuwalia
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Postby ValenciaQBowl » Tue Nov 15, 2005 5:03 pm

Phew! Okay, so a lot of things to discuss from Jerry's reply to my kvetching.

First, let me be very clear that Jerry is correct that I had no intention of insulting him or Ray; I've only met Jerry very briefly but he strikes me as a good guy, and I've only e-mailed Ray and he's struck me also as perfectly okely-dokely. So there's no ad hominem or ill will intended. I apologize for my use of "lip service," as I didn't mean to imply that either Ray or Jerry were being in any way disingenuous.

I appreciated Jerry's brief reference to his first practice at Berkeley with some very big dogs in attendance. That you answered three toss-ups in three hours, Jerry, says a lot about your abilities as a player--not many newbies would get anything in three hours with those folks hold buzzers, and maybe this speaks to my point. Even when you were new, and this probably goes for many of the best current players, you were pretty good. It's understandable that you and those others would become elite players, write the most questions, and eventually join the ACF Cabal or otherwise guide programs/tournaments. This is all nothing but good.

I guess the players I'm talking about are people like those on my CC teams, or even a better example, players on other Florida CC teams, ones not coached by someone with extensive playing experience and a continued connection to what's happening in the circuit at large. Two years ago there were over ten CC teams at the USF site for ACF Fall. This year I couldn't even convince Manatee and South Florida, both within an hour drive, to come compete. Their coaches believe it's too hard. Now wait, I'm not saying that--they are. And I don't believe it was too hard. But, in a quick side reference to Matt's recent post, many of these types of players complain about the question length, and, apparently, when combined with a perception of difficulty, it will indeed make them not go.

Now I understand that ACF Fall is not written to appeal to a CC level, which is indeed not quite that of a typical four-year team's novice playing level. But one can't deny that this has made them forego the tournament. One may find it illogical, but they are choosing not to come.

I want to note that this year's ACF Fall is the easiest and best written novice tournament I have ever seen.


Well, I have to disagree. It's not easier than my Delta Burke sets, and it's not easier than the old USF Novice tournaments used to be (this year they're contracting with NAQT), and it's not easier than Charlie's Sword Bowl. I'm certain some would argue that ACF Fall was better written than any of these, and I won't argue (even if I don't entirely agree), but it's not easier.

Yes, [memorizing a poem instead of titles] is better. It's better because when you read the poem to memorize it, you internalize that poem. You process the work of literature, you gain something from it, you in some sense become better for having read it. When you memorize a title, it's just a phrase floating around in your head that you associate with an author.


I agree that memorizing a poem is better in this context, but my point is that I, as earlier a master's-degree student in literature, and now as an instructor of it, don't "memorize" the poems I read for my practice or my classes, and I read a lot of them. The only ones I'm close to memorizing are the chestnuts I teach all the time (hence my ability to get the "Mending Wall" toss on the first line, not from any effort to memorize it), as they're regularly in front of me. But if you're memorizing, you're memorizing, right?

Take the example of a toss-up on Kundera's "Unbearable Lightness"--I love that novel, have read it twice, but remember Kelly beating me on a toss-up on it (maybe at UTC sometime) simply because it had been over five years since I read it, and I'd have been better off going back and re-learning characters or minor plot threads from some summary to be prepared for a pyramidal toss-up on it. It puts me in mind of something Andrew wrote about what folks in graduate classes in literature do, which has nothing to do with remembering characters and plot lines and such. You've got the book in front of you when you're writing an essay about it, so such an effort is unnecessary.

Let me emphasize that we're not necessarily that far apart. Of course I agree that reading works is wonderful and better than reading about them. And I do strongly believe that questions are better written today than they were ten years ago. I guess I'm questioning the current dogma (and no, Jerry, it's not just you urging for the writing of questions on works rather than authors, or on the structural intricacies of a musical piece rather than historical clues about its playing, etc.) that memorizing titles is somehow a fraudulent aspect of quizbowl that needs to be evaded or obviated (someone feel free to help with a better verb) by finding other types of clues. All that leads to is another type of fraudulence, another type of memorization. Now we memorize characters and plot points more than titles. But it's all fraudulent! It's quizbowl knowledge. Reading 100 Years of Solitude is great, but the value of that reading experience is not in being able to remember characters and such two years later--but no matter how you slice it, our game is about knowing details that really aren't important to the experience of reading the work itself. That's okay--as Albert Whited used to say back in the day, Excellence at quizbowl only proves that one is excellent at quizbowl (paraphrasing, of course).

Obviously, in the course of my playing career, I've managed to acquire a ton of "quizbowl-level" knowledge, but on a good question, a player with real knowledge will almost always beat me. And that's correct; that's as it should be.


I don't agree with this at all. My evidence is only anecdotal, but allow me to share it. At the 2004 Literature Singles at Chicago, Mike Sorice whipped me good over 20 literature toss-ups. One I remember him getting was on "The Ground Beneath Her Feet," a novel I'd read maybe two years before. I don't think Mike had read it, and it may just be my own faulty memory that hurt me, but the clues used involved more obscure characters/plot points first and then narrowed and then he got it. And just the fact that a science dude beat me overall seems to put the lie to the above statement--with all due respect to Mike, I'm absolutely certain that, being (I guess) more than a decade older, having played the game for a decade longer, having earned a master's in lit, having taught it for a dozen years, and having read novels and poetry voraciously in that time, that I probably know more about literature than he. But in the game, that really does only count for so much. Again, this may just be my own memory limitations and such--that Yaphe guy seems pretty good at quizbowl literature, for example--but I don't agree that true field knowledge matters that much. Sorice plays a lot more than I do and probably studies for the game a lot harder than I do, and this gives him an advantage in the game. No worries, that's also as it should be.

Anyway, I've lost my train of thought, if I ever had one. I want to publicly thank Jerry for his response and I look forward to more of them from him or anyone else, but with all bonhomie possible. Oh, and this would be a good time for me to clarify my comments about "elitism"--I don't imply a purposeful snootiness to Jerry or anyone else I may be tarring with my broad brush, but rather a mindset. You dudes are really good players, really intensely committed, and really smart. I think that can make it hard for you to really know where really new players, who aren't as smart, are as regards the game. But I am assuming, and don't mean to make an ass out of Ming, so if this is not true of any of you, okay--I believe you. As Harry Crews wrote in "The Knock-Out Artist," "I'm a world-champion believer." (see--field knowledge!)
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Postby ValenciaQBowl » Tue Nov 15, 2005 5:11 pm

We the (humanities-based portion of) professional players-- by which I mean people who have been around for a while, go out of their way to try to improve, and post about quizbowl on the Internet--find that easy, but probably can't tell you what the Arrhenius Equation is all about. I know I fit this description and I will wager that you, Chris, do too, although please let me know if I'm wrong.


No way, dude--I got the Arrhenius Equation toss-up this weekend!!! So I must know it!

Okay, so the giveaway said he was a Swedish chemist or something. And you're right, Matt--I got no idea what that thing's about.

You make a good point about the science questions helping science players, but here my own blinders probably hurt me. Outside of Elissa Caffery, there just weren't many hardcore science players (or at least any I know of--my apologies to any science folk in the Southeast I'm forgetting) in my region right now. But science deserved better questions and got them, but if one's writing four science questions, is a question incorporating science biography (by which I mean a rundown of activities, advancements and discoveries done/made by a scientist) really that bad? Just maybe the one extra science question in a distribution?

And to go back to Jerry's question about what's bad about music questionsfocusing on a musician's knowledge--nothing's wrong with it. I just suggest that there's nothing wrong either with a toss-up on Beethoven's Fifth that focuses on historical or other aspects of its creation, performance, etc.

Why am I still typing? I have to get ready for film class. Peace out.
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Postby grapesmoker » Tue Nov 15, 2005 5:17 pm

Matt Weiner wrote: Anyone who has heard a lot of packets or read notorious sources for fake quizbowl play can tell you that Svante Arrhenius won the first Nobel in chemistry.


It's van't Hoff :).

But science deserved better questions and got them, but if one's writing four science questions, is a question incorporating science biography (by which I mean a rundown of activities, advancements and discoveries done/made by a scientist) really that bad? Just maybe the one extra science question in a distribution?


It must be fate that this came up. Consider the following tossup:

Independently of Joseph Le Bel, he discovered that the four bonds that carbon can form are direct towards the corners of a tetrahedron, thus helping to found stereochemistry. In a book titled Studies In Dynamic Chemistry, he developed a general thermodynamic relationship between the heat of conversion and the displacement from equilibrium, laying the groundwork for the formulation of Le Chatelier’s principle. The following year, he studied dilute solutions, and concluded that concentration and absolute temperature could be combined to give the osmotic pressure, which differs from an analogous gas pressure by his namesake constant, which he determined by application of Raoult’s law. Best known for his namesake factor in the chemistry of solutions, for ten points, identify this Dutch chemist who in 1901 received the first Nobel Prize in his field.
ANSWER Jacobus Henricus van ‘t Hoff


So here's a question that I wrote for ACF Fall to which the answer is a person and which focuses on things he did (but, if you'll notice, not where he went to school, his personal life, or his parentage). Nothing wrong with that.
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Postby ValenciaQBowl » Tue Nov 15, 2005 5:58 pm

See! So we agreed the whole time. Man, you could've posted that earlier and saved us all of this typing. You elitist, canon-expanding, ACF-Caballing, mean-to-the-common-player bastard!
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Postby cvdwightw » Tue Nov 15, 2005 6:38 pm

This year's ACF Fall may have been the most accessible yet. Sure, some of the tossups had mid-level clues as leadins or the cliff-drop structure, but I'm willing to forgive those inconsistencies if it means that (1) games between novice teams usually end up with a decent number of scored points, and (2) the better team usually wins.

At our weekly novice practice last night, we used packets from ACF Fall 2001; in previous weeks, we had used some of the 2004 set. The three novice players who attended both the tournament on Saturday and practice last night all agreed that the packets they heard on Saturday were much easier than the 2001 ones in practice, and I think they would say the same (though perhaps not as much of a difference) between this year's and last year's versions. In fact, I'd argue that the majority of the final packets (at least those I heard) were no harder than the average current NAQT HSNCT packet.

So, to those of you who still cling to your blanket statement of "ACF is hard," I encourage you to look at the packets from this year's Fall Tournament; they will probably make you change your mind and at least make an effort to attend this tournament next year. I also think that to attract and retain novice teams, this should be the benchmark set for future editions of ACF Fall.
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Postby Birdofredum Sawin » Tue Nov 15, 2005 7:18 pm

To wade back into the fray ...

I think some confusion could perhaps be alleviated if the purpose of ACF Fall were made more clear. This quote will help:

ValenciaQBowl wrote:
I want to note that this year's ACF Fall is the easiest and best written novice tournament I have ever seen.


Well, I have to disagree. It's not easier than my Delta Burke sets, and it's not easier than the old USF Novice tournaments used to be (this year they're contracting with NAQT), and it's not easier than Charlie's Sword Bowl. I'm certain some would argue that ACF Fall was better written than any of these, and I won't argue (even if I don't entirely agree), but it's not easier.


Chris is completely right: Many novice sets are easier than this year's (or any year's) ACF Fall. However, ACF Fall isn't really trying to be a novice tournament per se. Rather, it aims to be both a tournament at which novice players can feel competitive and a tournament which will be playable for experienced veterans. I hope Chris won't be offended if I say that his tournaments aren't really suitable for veterans of the game; they aren't written to be. The handful of games that were played on those Sunshine packets at last year's MLK produced ludicrous results: an obscene number of powers and vastly inflated scores. Not surprising, since they weren't meant to be played by teams like Chicago or Rochester. The opposite situation could be achieved by having community colleges play on ACF nationals questions, which would produce equally ludicrous results: almost no tossups answered and vastly deflated scores. Again, those questions aren't meant to be played by teams like Valencia (though more power to them if they show up anyway).

The great challenge of ACF Fall is to satisfy both experienced players (who may have been participating in ACF tournaments for years) and inexperienced players (for whom this might well be their first collegiate tournament). To keep the novices in the game, the answer space for tossups is severely circumscribed as compared to other ACF tournaments (e.g. there are no tossups on the second- or third-best known work by an author, or on minor Aztec gods). Also, the bonuses are made as easy as we can reasonably render them. Those measures are meant to keep the games interesting and accessible for newcomers to the game. Against that, we try to write deep, pyramidal tossups with non-clichéd lead-ins to keep things interesting for older players (though the tossups were frankly much shorter than those at ACF nationals or even regionals).

Obviously, this is an imperfect solution, but on the whole it seems to work. Note, too, that what I've just described is the theory of ACF Fall. In practice, a small cadre of harried editors does its best to cobble a tournament together out of whatever submissions we get. As crunch time nears, tossups that perhaps should have been cut slip past us, excessively difficult bonuses don't get simplified, and so forth. I'm not trying to make excuses, but the theoretical purpose of the tournament (which I've tried to lay out above) should be considered (and perhaps criticized) apart from the lapses in judgment or execution which may have figured in this particular set.

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Postby Matt Weiner » Tue Nov 15, 2005 7:22 pm

I guess I've proven that I don't know about chemistry and don't care about Nobel prize winners, which is as it should be. Anyway, to elaborate, there's nothing wrong with guessing from quizbowl knowledge (Swedish chemist) at the end of a question that has 95% real science clues, all of which appear first and give every chance to the legitimate science player. The point is not to exclude quizbowl knowledge or biography knowledge, but simply to prioritize real science knowledge above it in all cases.

As far as the overall difficulty issue goes...I don't know what more can be done besides dragging out the numbers again. ACF Fall consistently has 1.5 to 2 times as many points converted as NAQT Sectionals. If a team that has no problem with the latter thinks that ACF Fall is too hard, then they are objectively wrong. Whether they are being disingenuous about their reasons for non-attendance or simply are perceiving difficulty more sensitively at ACF due to the way an ACF match flows, I can't say. I think there is still some room for downward movement on outlier questions and categories in ACF Fall, but it's already the easiest tournament outside of those designed exclusively for community colleges or high schools, so I hope no one who finds it too hard is giving a free pass to any other normal invitational, ACF, or NAQT event on the calendar.
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Postby csrjjsmp » Tue Nov 15, 2005 7:29 pm

Birdofredum Sawin wrote:I hope Chris won't be offended if I say that his tournaments aren't really suitable for veterans of the game; they aren't written to be. The handful of games that were played on those Sunshine packets at last year's MLK produced ludicrous results: an obscene number of powers and vastly inflated scores. Not surprising, since they weren't meant to be played by teams like Chicago or Rochester.

At West, we saw 600-point rounds. Is this unreasonably high?
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Postby setht » Tue Nov 15, 2005 8:00 pm

csrjjsmp wrote:At West, we saw 600-point rounds. Is this unreasonably high?


I don't think it's unreasonably high. Suppose a fairly balanced team of very experienced, knowledgeable players is matched against a team of new players who have played, say, a grand total of one or two tournaments prior to ACF Fall. Assuming the tossups are fairly hard to start, pyramidal, and not strewn with neg bait, I think it's reasonable that the more experienced team end up answering more than 15 of the 20 tossups.

Next, consider that ACF Fall aims to have bonus questions such that very new teams will have decent conversion—I don't think any formal/statistical goals were set or announced, but let's say the editors are attempting to set the bonus difficulty so that a new team gets an average of 10-15 points per bonus. There are (at least) two ways to achieve this bonus conversion goal:
1) give everyone with a pulse 10-15 points on every bonus, then make the last 15-20 points impossible
2) make sure every bonus has at least one very easy part, then one easy/intermediate part, then one intermediate/hard part

I think people generally prefer the second method (I certainly do). However, the upshot is that the experienced team will average significantly more than 10-15 points per bonus, perhaps more like 20-25 points per bonus. This results in games with scores that look like 450-700 points for the experienced team, against 0-125 for the inexperienced team.

This sort of result should only seem unreasonable if people feel that the question-writing goals I outlined are unreasonable, or if people feel that allowing young teams to play old teams is unreasonable. I don't have any problem with either.

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Postby setht » Tue Nov 15, 2005 8:03 pm

grapesmoker wrote:Consider the following tossup:

Independently of Joseph Le Bel, he discovered that the four bonds that carbon can form are direct towards the corners of a tetrahedron, thus helping to found stereochemistry. In a book titled Studies In Dynamic Chemistry, he developed a general thermodynamic relationship between the heat of conversion and the displacement from equilibrium, laying the groundwork for the formulation of Le Chatelier’s principle. The following year, he studied dilute solutions, and concluded that concentration and absolute temperature could be combined to give the osmotic pressure, which differs from an analogous gas pressure by his namesake constant, which he determined by application of Raoult’s law. Best known for his namesake factor in the chemistry of solutions, for ten points, identify this Dutch chemist who in 1901 received the first Nobel Prize in his field.
ANSWER Jacobus Henricus van ‘t Hoff


So here's a question that I wrote for ACF Fall to which the answer is a person and which focuses on things he did (but, if you'll notice, not where he went to school, his personal life, or his parentage). Nothing wrong with that.



Actually, this tossup did not make it into the final set, due to a very close repeat with a tossup on "colligative properties" (which, I think, is more widely known than van't Hoff). In any case, I wanted to keep all you van't Hoff fans from going off on a wild goose chase through the packets for that tossup.

-Seth
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Postby setht » Tue Nov 15, 2005 8:31 pm

NotBhan wrote:...for many newer players, it just kind of sucks to sit there for line after line after line after line of material. Nine- or ten-line tossups are simply (based solely on my experience as moderator/player/coach, and not on any scientific studies) unpleasant for many newer players, and it's hard to get newbies to take a Saturday off work and come back for more of it. [It is by necessity an anecdotal claim, and if you disagree absolutely on that point, the next paragraph is rather less tenable.]

I'm not trying to make some kind of formal ironclad inductive proof. I simply believe that "accessibility" is not just a matter of choosing answers newer players are likely to have heard of; it also entails some consideration of the new player's experience tilting more toward the non-unpleasant. And it doesn't require "pandering" or any other such term ... it simply requires a bit of brevity. To cite your own (well-written) sentence, "The primary purpose of substantial pyramidal tossups is, of course, to make the same set of questions enjoyable for players of all difficulty levels and avoid turning the game into a speed contest." I agree with this statement, but I believe that there comes a point at which "substantial" passes some threshold which negatively affects "enjoyable." And I believe that a tossup of nine or more lines is usually beyond that threshold, especially for less experienced players. I believe that the aforementioned goals of the ACF Fall tournament would be better served by clue-dense pyramidal six-line tossups rather than clue-dense pyramidal nine-line tossups. This things I believe.

--Raj Dhuwalia



I think Raj has a point here (especially that second-to-last sentence). No length guidelines were ever established or published for this year's ACF Fall. I think the editors (and most of the teams that submitted packets) naturally gravitated towards 5-7 line tossups, for the most part. Obviously, there were outliers in the final set; I'm fairly certain there were no tossups shorter than 5 lines (perhaps none shorter than 6 lines, I really don't remember), but I know there were some that were 8 or 9 lines. Perhaps next year's ACF Fall should set a goal of 6-7 line tossups? I think this should work just fine; what do other people think?

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Postby setht » Tue Nov 15, 2005 9:02 pm

yoda4554 wrote:3. As postulated before the tournament in another thread, questions like that on "Quetzcoatl" at this level aren't necessarily a good idea, because it quickly devolves into an eight-way thought of "this is an easy tournament, so it's probably the by-far-most-famous answer in this particular area, but do I want to risk getting burned?", meaning that the tossup is more likely to go to an aggressive player than one who knows about the subject.[/i]


I wrote the tossup on Quetzalcoatl for a round that needed a myth tossup. Here is the text of the question:

His twin brother was a god of lightning as well as a psychopomp, and guarded the sun during its nighttime journey through the underworld. In one story, he has sex with a female relative after getting drunk on four draughts of pulque. He recreated mankind at the beginning of the Fifth Sun by sprinkling blood from his penis over a bone taken from Mictlan with the help of his twin brother Xolotl [shoh-LOH-tull]. He commited suicide, or departed on a raft of snakes, after being shamed by his rival, Tezcatlipoca. Often identified with the morning star, FTP name this benevolent Aztec god, known as the Feathered Serpent.
ANSWER: Quetzalcoatl


I would argue that this question does not quickly give away the fact that the answer being sought is an Aztec god, and I would hope that people with actual knowledge of the myths of Quetzalcoatl (or any Aztec myth, really) would be able to answer this question before the first Aztec name appears. However, I realize that this doesn't necessarily prevent the question from turning into an 8-way buzzer race in games in which both sides do not know much about Quetzalcoatl, and I realize that this probably describes most games at ACF Fall.

What are some possible solutions to this problem?
1) continue writing the occasional Quetzalcoatl tossup for ACF Fall, and write it in such a way that it is not immediately obvious that an Aztec god is the answer
2) write the occasional tossup on Huitzilopochtli or Tlaloc for ACF Fall, then shrug at all the teams that neg with Quetzalcoatl or cannot come up with the answer at the end
3) never write an Aztec myth tossup for ACF Fall

I think there are problems with all 3 of these solutions, but I still favor the first.

My problem with the second solution is that I think a significantly higher fraction of entering freshmen (or people of whatever year, playing ACF Fall as one of their first 3 tournaments) are capable of saying Quetzalcoalt off of "Aztec god, known as the Feathered Serpent" than are capable of coming up with Huitzilopochtli or Tlaloc. I also think that a fair fraction of the teams that play ACF Fall each year consist mostly or entirely of people who have played 2 or fewer previous tournaments. If anyone feels they can give a good argument against one or both of my assumptions, I'd love to hear it—it would certainly make writing and editing myth for ACF Fall easier.

I think the third solution is the worst of all—it makes it even easier for people to make those aggressive buzzes you dislike, since it cuts out possible answers. It also makes it harder to maintain some diversity in the myth set for ACF Fall.

-Seth

p.s.—apparently this site now has a feature that bleeps out certain words, explaining the appearance of the phrase "blood from his martian" in the tossup text
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Postby grapesmoker » Tue Nov 15, 2005 9:07 pm

setht wrote: "blood from his martian" in the tossup text


This is awesome. That should have been in the original tossup : )
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Postby Matt Weiner » Tue Nov 15, 2005 9:09 pm

setht wrote:p.s.—apparently this site now has a feature that bleeps out certain words, explaining the appearance of the phrase "blood from his martian" in the tossup text


You can thank a certain member of your team for that.
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Postby solonqb » Tue Nov 15, 2005 9:50 pm

The solution would be to see Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc be more common bonus parts in lower-level (relative to ACF Fall) tournaments, so Quetzalcoatl wouldn't be the only askable Aztec god in ACF Fall. I know NAQT has done some of that at the high-school level, but the key here is in a raising of quality of the upper-level HS and maybe some of the college junior bird tournaments that draw a large field. ACF Fall should not have to lose its ability to ask new questions and still be accessible.
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Postby setht » Tue Nov 15, 2005 10:22 pm

Various people have seemed interested in figuring out the science subdistribution for ACF Fall. I count the following:

Astro
5/6

Bio
22/17

Chem
19/19

CS
4/5

Earth and Planetary Science
5/7

Math
8/9

Physics
23/24

Interdisciplinary
1/0


I believe two of the 17 rounds ended up with 6/6 science apiece.


I know one of the CS tossups was in the first 20 in its packet; two of the math tossups, and the interdisciplinary science tossup, had several CS clues apiece, and were also definitely in the first 20 in their respective packets. I suspect most or all of the other CS tossups were not in the first 20. This is at least partly my fault, and I apologize.

Looking just at the raw numbers, I don't see a great disparity between this subdistribution and the typical science subdistribution.

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Postby setht » Tue Nov 15, 2005 10:26 pm

solonqb wrote:The solution would be to see Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc be more common bonus parts in lower-level (relative to ACF Fall) tournaments, so Quetzalcoatl wouldn't be the only askable Aztec god in ACF Fall. I know NAQT has done some of that at the high-school level, but the key here is in a raising of quality of the upper-level HS and maybe some of the college junior bird tournaments that draw a large field. ACF Fall should not have to lose its ability to ask new questions and still be accessible.


This could help, if most of the new players at ACF Fall each year have had decent prior exposure to upper-level HS and college junior bird events. I don't know if it's safe to assume such exposure for the majority of the new players.

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Postby recfreq » Wed Nov 16, 2005 12:35 am

But if you have too many questions with a person's name as the answer, the TUs become uniform in format and we lose the diversity of answer categories. I thought that "Adonais" for example, would have been fine w/o being replaced, b/c if people always here about Shelley, they will have heard of Adonais. I think the bias against "works" questions is a bit overrated, b/c most people will know one or two works for each person anyways. Also, if we see a few more ACF fall works questions, we might see people writing more of them. I'm just curious to know if the people actually submitted "works" questions, only to have them be converted into "persons" questions. I know for my packet that it happened 3 times. If people are submitting works questions, presumably this is what the circuit wants, so why change it? Why have fall be way too easy and nationals be way too hard? More or less standardized difficulty is ok.

On the other hand, I realize the need to be ultra-accessible, so in the future, I'd be ok with any quality approaching the current set, with the type of detailed knowledge found at the beginning of even the "biography" questions.

BTW here's my Adonais TU:
"Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep" but awakened "from the dream of life." Leigh Hunt is the "gentlest of the wise" who taught the departed one; Thomas Moore is "the sweetest lyrist of her saddest wrong"; "most musical of mourners" are asked to "weep again"; and the one with "curse of Cain light on his head" "pierced thy innocent breast" by lousy reviews. Beginning with a quote by Plato, it ends with his soul "like a star, beacons from the abode where the Eternal are." "Till the Future dares forget the past, his fate and fame shall be an echo and a light unto eternity!" FTP name this elegy on the death of John Keats by Percy Shelley.
ANSWER: "Adonais"
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Postby MikeWormdog » Wed Nov 16, 2005 12:44 am

Just wanted to add some comments about the tournament. Eric did a nice job putting the packets together, but I think the editor(s) next year should not ask for full packets from competing teams. When people know that most of their questions are going to be unused because of such a large number of teams, they often don't put much effort into writing them. Why should they? (Besides the inherent "reward" of writing a good packet.) The huge number of questions also limits the chances that young teams get to hear many of their questions, perhaps lessening their desire to write more.

That said, the questions were extremely ACF-y in style (i.e. often a line or two longer than necessary) and content, skewed to an easier difficulty. So, if you like your history distribution chock-full of tossups and bonuses on 16th-19th century European politico-military history, you loved the questions. If you like your biology skewed towards molecular bio and biochem, you liked that. Think multi-disciplinary bonuses suck because they slightly alter the distribution? You didn't have cause for a semi-autistic freakout.

The predictibility of the ACF canon led to a lot more buzzer races than would have been desired and/or made many answers a product of a simple process of elimination rather than knowing anything "real." The art was easier than most of the other subsets of the distribution, especially in the bonuses, I thought. Not many hoses--the Ghiberti tossup that sounded like Donatello (the early part about sculptures of biblical figures in Or San Michele in Florence) being about the only one that comes to mind right now.

Despite the snarkiness above, it was a solid tournament, and younger players (at least the Yale ones) seemed to come away quite happy and not hating ACF. I think that was a (perhaps "the") major goal of ACF Fall, and the editors achieved it.

Mike
MikeWormdog
potter wasted among his clays
 
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