Vancouver Estival Trivia Open question packets

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Vancouver Estival Trivia Open question packets

Postby vetovian » Mon Oct 09, 2006 4:57 am

On July 15, 2006, we held the eighth Vancouver Estival Trivia Open and a mirror in Toronto, VETO's Eastern Trivia Open. I'm interested in reviews of the VETO packets by the broader quiz bowl community. Such reviews may be beneficial to Canadian quiz bowl writers and editors now at the beginning of a new season. I've already seen a few comments on the packets by people who weren't there, and it's been suggested to me that this forum is a good place to ask for more feedback.

Keep in mind that this was a guerrilla tournament. Packets weren't edited, except by each team's own writers.

Here are the links:
    VETO (2006) packets on the Stanford Archive
    This is in fact the only question set from 2006 on the Stanford Archive.
    Packets called "FARSIDE" were written by me, so you can be as tough as you want on them. :smile:

    VETO (2006) question packet guidelines
    Probably the most distinctive thing about the guidelines for this tournament is the Canadian content quota: at least 4 of the first 20 tossups and at least 4 of the first 20 bonuses had to have some reference to Canadian people, places, things, events, or created works.

If you want to see more, the Stanford Archive also has packets from VETO from previous years: 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002.

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Postby grapesmoker » Mon Oct 09, 2006 3:38 pm

Since Peter's post was motivated by a somewhat brusque email on my part to the Berkeley quizbowl list, I guess I should take a crack at it.

There are many problems with the tossups in this set. In general, they tend to be either non-pyramidal, anti-pyramidal, or full of useless information. I'm not going to go into the bonuses, but I'll run through the tossups in the first FARSIDE packet to give people an idea of what I'm talking about.

Six letters to Ronald McDonald. A list of all 3-letter legal Scrabble words, plus one "non-regulation word". All the 5-digit prime numbers, with one non-prime among them. The first hundred thousand digits of pi, with exactly one digit wrong. Five assignments for a course at Kwantlen College. All these are in a novel narrated by Ethan Jarlewski about himself and five co-workers at a videogame company in Burnaby, B.C., whose surnames all begin with the same letter. For 10 points, name this 2006 book that begins, self-referentially: "Oh God. I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel."

Answer: JPOD


List tossups are bad. I don't know anything about Douglas Copeland's latest novel, but if I were listening to this question, I wouldn't even know until halfway through that we're talking about a novel. Why is this necessary? All these clues can be turned into clues of the form "in this book" instead of leaving people guessing what the hell these things have in common. Notice please that list tossups have disappeared from virtually all respectable tournaments in the last 3 or 4 years.

For the past two years, this country has had the highest real economic growth rate in the western hemisphere. The expansion follows the country's deepest ever economic contraction in 2002 and 2003, with low points including a two-month general strike and the 47-hour presidency of Pedro Carmona, who fled to Colombia after his coup d'état failed. For 10 points, what country is, not coincidentally, the western hemisphere's biggest exporter of petroleum?

Answer: Bolivarian Republic of VENEZUELA


I find it odd that a tossup on Venezuela doesn't give the stock giveaway clues of "Chavez" and "Caracas" but whatever. The first two clues I find to be throwaways, although some may dispute that. My opinion is that clues like "it experienced stellar economic growth in year x" are like "this lake is 12345 square miles" or something. There's not much before "Pedro Carmona" to inform even knowledgeable people that this is Venezuela.

"It would be appropriate to recommend strongly that those who are destined for this country not be in any way ill favoured by nature, that they not be outwardly repulsive, that they be healthy and strong enough for country work or that they at least have some skill in manual work." So wrote Jean Talon to Jean-Baptiste Colbert in 1670 about some recent arrivals in Quebec, who had been recruited mostly from orphanages. Transportation costs and fifty livres each were paid by Louis the Fourteenth to, for 10 points, what prospective marriage partners of French settlers?

Answer: FILLES DU ROI (or the KING'S DAUGHTERS)


Opening questions with quotes is bad practice especially if you just start right into the quote. Who is speaking and what are they speaking about, and, moreover, in what context would one recognize this quote? A good thing to have done here would have been to shorten the quote substantially and open with something like "in reference to them, Jean Talon wrote to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, 'yada yada' etc." Otherwise, half the question is a throwaway, since I can't imagine anyone is going to be intimately familiar with full-blow quotations from letters to Colbert.

It was established by a decree of Catherine the Great in 1791, and expanded in 1794 and 1795 after the second and third Partitions of Poland. Caucasia and Astrakhan were added by Czar Alexander the First, then removed by Nicholas the First, who also excluded the city of Kiev. University graduates, retired soldiers, merchants of the first guild and artisans were allowed to live outside it, but for 10 points, what was the only part of the Russian Empire permitted for residence by all other Jews?

Answer: PALE OF SETTLEMENT (or CHERTA OSEDLOSTI)


This question is just anti-pyramidal. The clue about its establishment belongs in the end, not the beginning. My thought process here would go, "Catherine established the Pale, I don't know what else she 'established', time to buzz."

This poem won the Newdigate Prize at Oxford in 1845 and made John Burgon's reputation as a literary one-hit wonder, but actually only one line of this work is ever usually quoted, and the second half of that line was cribbed from a description of temples in Samuel Rogers' poem "Italy". For 10 points, name the poem that contains the couplet, "Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime / A rose red city half as old as time."

Answer: PETRA


I have no idea what this poem is or who John Burgon is, but I guarantee that if he's only known for this poem, it's a bad idea to put that into the first clue.

Since its founding in 1931 under federal auspices, researchers at this institution have discovered the antiproton and the antineutron and the first element ever named after a living person, its long-time associate director, Glenn Seaborg, the co-discoverer of nine other elements here including those named after the institution's city and state. For 10 points, what U.S. Department of Energy facility boasts ten Nobel laureates and dramatic views of the Golden Gate and San Francisco from above the campus of the University of California?

Answer: (Ernest Orlando) Lawrence BERKELEY National LABoratory (or LBL or LBNL)
(Do not accept University of California, Berkeley; that is separate)


Anti-pyramidal, especially to me since I came from Berkeley. Regardless, Chamberlain's discovery of the antiproton is very, very famous, and would of course result in a quickfire buzz at the very beginning.

"You cannot legislate against geography." (pause) "More revolutions have been caused by Conservative obstinacy than by Liberal exaggeration." (pause) "For us, sons of France, political sentiment is a passion; while, for the Englishman, politics are a question of business." (pause) "The nineteenth century was the century of the United States. I think we can claim that it is Canada that shall fill the twentieth century." These are all quotes by, for 10 points, what turn-of-the-century prime minister?

Answer: Sir Wilfrid LAURIER


Tossups written around nothing but quotes are awful. See above discussion of quotes.

Previously discharged from military service for being a certified imbecile, he is making a living selling mongrel dogs with forged pure-bred pedigrees when he is again drafted into the army as war breaks out. He finds that a lunatic asylum offers "real freedom" where "you can be whatever you want: God, the Pope, the King of England, or Saint Vaclav ['VATS-laff'], although the last was constantly straitjacketed." Expelled for faking lunacy and put back on duty, he gives himself up to the Russians. For 10 points, who is this title character in a novel by Jaroslav Hašek ["HA-sheck"]?

Answer: the Good Soldier Å VEJK ["shvaik"]


Anti-pyramidal. Anyone familiar with Svejk would buzz on the first clue.

The probability that it could have arisen by chance is one in ten to the two-hundred-and-thirty-fourth power, according to William Dembski, a mathematician at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Touted by biochemist Michael Behe as an example of "irreducible complexity", it consists of a short hook, a reversible rotary motor embedded within the cell wall, and a long helical filament that acts as a propeller. For 10 points, name this organelle used for motion by bacteria.

Answer: bacterial FLAGELLUM


This is probably an issue of taste, but as far as I'm concerned, proponents of intelligent design should never appear in questions, especially science questions, unless being explicitly ridiculed. Anyway, this tossup is devoid of useful clues about flagellum biology, consisting instead of clues about what various cranks and charlatans think of flagella. No one with half a brain will be familiar with those clues (and it also invites a neg on "blood clotting" since Behe is also famous for making irreducible complexity arguments about that system).

He picked up a giraffe in Africa, which he visited from the Mozambique Channel up through the Red Sea to Egypt. In Ceylon he picked up King Alagonakkara and brought him home as a prisoner too. His explorations took him through the Persian Gulf, along the Arabian coast, and throughout the islands of southeast Asia. Commanding over three hundred ships and twenty-seven thousand people, for 10 points, who was this admiral during the Ming dynasty?

Answer: ZHENG HE or CHENG HO or MA SANBAO


An admiral who sailed in Asia and Africa? Clues basically give the tossup away in the first line and a half.

On the website urban dictionary dot com, this four-word phrase is defined as "a complete and total screw-up." It's the title of Calvin Trillin's 2006 book of poetry subtitled "More of the Bush Administration in Rhyme". First applied to the work of Bob Riley, Haley Barbour, and Kathleen Blanco on September 2, 2005, for 10 points, what ambiguous phrase did President Bush most memorably also apply moments later to the accomplishments of FEMA Director Michael Brown?

Answer: a HECK OF A JOB
(Accept as much as "Brownie, you're doing a HECK OF A JOB", as long as the last four words are given.)


References to ubrandictionary are like wikipedia references; don't do it. There is probably a good way to write this question, and the Trillin clue is good, but after that it becomes obvious that it refers to Katrina and everything is downhill from there.

Nalbant in Turkish, Seppänen ["SEP-pan-en"] in Finnish, Haddad in Arabic, Pandai in Indonesian or Tagalog, Kuznetsov in Russian, Kovar in Czech, Kovacs ["KO-vatch"] in Hungarian, Gough ["goff"] in Irish, Ferraro in Italian, Herrera in Spanish, Lefevre in French, and Schmidt in German are all, for 10 points, names referring to what profession?

Answer: SMITH (accept BLACKSMITH)


Ugh, another list tossup. What is the purpose of this question? Some random person will recognize one of the word forms and buzz, and that will be it. Plus, in regards to the Russian word for "smith" this question isn't even right. "Smith" in Russian is simply "kuznets." "Kuznetsov," is a common last name that may be translated as "of the smiths."

I can do the other packets too, if there's demand (I know how prized my various complaints are on this board) but I think the above examples pretty much summarize my problems with this set.
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Postby Mr. Kwalter » Mon Oct 09, 2006 4:29 pm

Jerry SMASH VETO.

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Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Mon Oct 09, 2006 4:36 pm

"For the past two years, this country has had the highest real economic growth rate in the western hemisphere" is a legitimate lead-in, I think. There would certainly be people who know that as uniquely identifying.

I find the Smith tossup extremely amusing.
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Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Mon Oct 09, 2006 4:37 pm

I would have probably buzzed in on the Smith question with "last names". I'd then protest and argue that it was correct at the point I said it.
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Postby grapesmoker » Mon Oct 09, 2006 4:50 pm

Bruce wrote:"For the past two years, this country has had the highest real economic growth rate in the western hemisphere" is a legitimate lead-in, I think. There would certainly be people who know that as uniquely identifying.


I think there is a legitimate case to be made for this clue, but I personally don't find them to be that enlightening. There is so much economic information that makes its way to us about what's going on in the world, that this kind of clue doesn't seem to me to be that informative. I would have found more useful a clue that went something like "Due to the introduction of Program X, this country has had the highest real economic growth in the wetern hemisphere over the last two years." I don't know what Program X might be, but this way, you could work both a uniquely identifying clue into there plus the economic information.

I'm personally willing to let this particular criticism drop, since it's not instrumental to my critique of VETO anyway; I just don't think that simply being uniquely identifying (e.g. river lengths and lake areas) necessarily translates into usefulness of clues.
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Postby No Rules Westbrook » Mon Oct 09, 2006 4:50 pm

I would have probably buzzed in on the Smith question with "last names". I'd then protest and argue that it was correct at the point I said it


If I were reading VETO, I'd then tear the packet up, toss it over your team like confetti, announce that you win the whole tournament, and head off to kill some whores.
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Postby grapesmoker » Mon Oct 09, 2006 4:50 pm

Ryan Westbrook wrote:
I would have probably buzzed in on the Smith question with "last names". I'd then protest and argue that it was correct at the point I said it


If I were reading VETO, I'd then tear the packet up, toss it over your team like confetti, announce that you win the whole tournament, and head off to kill some whores.


Didn't you do that at MLK?
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Postby No Rules Westbrook » Mon Oct 09, 2006 4:53 pm

Didn't you do that at MLK?



Tear up the packets, no. Kill whores, yes. But, just like economic info, MLK is hardly a uniquely identifying clue for "when Ryan killed some whores"
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Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Mon Oct 09, 2006 7:13 pm

grapesmoker wrote:I think there is a legitimate case to be made for this clue, but I personally don't find them to be that enlightening. There is so much economic information that makes its way to us about what's going on in the world, that this kind of clue doesn't seem to me to be that informative. I would have found more useful a clue that went something like "Due to the introduction of Program X, this country has had the highest real economic growth in the wetern hemisphere over the last two years." I don't know what Program X might be, but this way, you could work both a uniquely identifying clue into there plus the economic information.


There is likely to be extreme disagreement among economists as to what actual program or set of programs (or even any program at all) caused Venezuela to have the highest real economic growth in the western hemisphere over the past few years, so I think that would actually be a poor leadin.

But the actual statistic of real economic growth is a real, specific, verifiable fact. It's not open to opinion like "This country has recently seen a big economic boom", which I would join you in condemning.
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Postby trphilli » Mon Oct 09, 2006 7:44 pm

Bruce wrote:
There is likely to be extreme disagreement among economists as to what actual program or set of programs (or even any program at all) caused Venezuela to have the highest real economic growth in the western hemisphere over the past few years, so I think that would actually be a poor leadin.



I'm sorry Bruce. I must disagree.
Approximate Price of Oil (Inflation Adjusted 2006$)
2004 - $35
2006 - $65

http://inflationdata.com/inflation/imag ... _Chart.htm

Well I'll at least contribute to the discussion. Describing oil in the first line might create too much of a anti-pyramid. (Maybe PdVSA, but I doubt many people would know the acronym of the State oil company).

This is a fine line between too hard and too easy, but this clue does describe the economic history of Venezuela and would easily fit in with the rest of the question.

Could be better? Yes.
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Postby bird bird bird bird bird » Mon Oct 09, 2006 8:25 pm

TOSSUP 6
At one thousand five hundred and sixty metres above sea level,


In addition to the things Jerry mentioned, it's never a good idea to begin a tossup with statistics like this, because it either wastes everyone's time or rewards memorization of almanacs.
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Postby Matt Weiner » Mon Oct 09, 2006 8:33 pm

Bruce wrote:There is likely to be extreme disagreement among economists as to what actual program or set of programs (or even any program at all) caused Venezuela to have the highest real economic growth in the western hemisphere over the past few years, so I think that would actually be a poor leadin.

But the actual statistic of real economic growth is a real, specific, verifiable fact. It's not open to opinion like "This country has recently seen a big economic boom", which I would join you in condemning.


Actually, the fudging of numbers by Venezeula's economic ministries is both a big controvery right now and a useful way to include that clue in a more gettable context (it's easy to forget dry lists of how one country's growth compares to another, but anyone who's run into the Venezuelan statistics debate will probably remember at least that it exists).
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Postby Leo Wolpert » Tue Oct 10, 2006 12:22 am

I'll be frank with you Peter, and when I say frank, I mean, you know, devastating. These are bad. Really bad. "I'd demand my money back" bad.

I'll do the second packet's worth of tossups. Before I get to individual questions, I'm going to say one thing about this packet in general so I don't have to repeat it several times. These tossups do not contain enough clues. Period. Yes, I know some people like short tossups, but there is a difference between short, clue-dense questions and short, fluff-filled buzzer race trap questions. These are by and large the latter.

Also, while it probably took a decent amount of effort to come up with stuff fitting the packet's theme, I'd have to say that some answers seem "shoehorned" in to fit said theme, regardless of the answers' difficulty.

It contains medial and collateral menisci ["men-ISS-sky"] made of fibrous cartilage that act as cushions. The anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments restrict forward and backward motion and rotation. The medial collateral ligament prevents it from buckling inwards, and the lateral collateral ligament is the primary restraint to varus stress. For 10 points, name the human body's largest joint, connecting the fibula and tibia.

Answer: KNEE

Mentioning the ACL in the second sentence of a "knee" tossup is pretty much a giveaway. Who hasn't heard of an athlete tearing this ligament?

In 1992 he published his first novel, Burden of Desire, set in the aftermath of the 1917 explosion in Halifax, where he grew up. His next novel, The Voyage, follows an amorous adventure by David Lyon, the Canadian consul in New York, the author's adopted home town. In 1999, four years after retiring from his day job, this author published his third novel, Broadcast News, whose protagonist, Grant Munro, had the same job as the author. For 10 points name this former News Hour anchorman on PBS.

Answer: Robert (Breckenridge Ware, "Robin") MacNEIL

OK, I don't hate this, but "first novel" clues are pretty bad. Because this dude isn't exactly known as a novelist (in fact, is he known at all?) it's not a horrible leadin.

This city contains the world's largest forest inside an urban area, the thirty-two square-kilometre Tijuca ["tee-ZHOO-ka"] Forest, within whose limits are an eight hundred and forty-two metre high granite rock with unexplained inscriptions called the Pedra da Gavea ["GAV-ay-a"], and another granite rock, the seven hundred and ten metre high Corcovado, which is topped with a statue of Christ the Redeemer. For 10 points, what city of six million people was founded in 1565 at the foot of Sugarloaf Mountain?

Answer: (São Sebastião do) RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (prompt for more information on "RIO")

This is just kind of weird towards the end. Surely Christ the Redeemer is better known than Sugarloaf Mountain, and surely there are easier giveaways than that for Rio?

In the second and third millennia B.C., this city was best known as a religious centre, with its temple of E-Mashmash dedicated to the goddess Ishtar. In the eighth century B.C., a library was founded here by king Sargon II, but it was his successor, Sennacherib, who moved his court here, to the eighty-room "Palace without a rival". Until it was sacked by the Scythians and Medes and Babylonians in 612 B.C., for 10 points, what was the capital of the Assyrian Empire?

Answer: NINEVEH

The leadin is not at all uniquely identifying. There were several religious centers then.

After his death at age 32 from wounds he received in battle with the Spaniards, it is said that Londoners who came out to see his funeral procession cried, "Farewell, the worthiest knight that lived." Starting out as cupbearer to Queen Elizabeth, he also served her as ambassador and master of the ordnance and was best known for exemplifying the ideal courtier. Two hundred elegies were written in his honour, including Edmund Spenser's Astrophel, A Pastoral Elegie. For 10 points, name this author of the sonnet cycle Astrophel and Stella and The Defence of Poesie.

Answer: Sir Philip SIDNEY

Too much "fluff" biography here. The first two sentences don't strike me as particularly helpful, as they relate some sort of anecdote. It makes me groan when a tossup on an author doesn't have any mention of works (or even that he was like, a poet) until the final few words.

Israeli sources say that a quarter of all suicide bombings in Israel in the Second Intifada have been carried out by people from this city of thirty-six thousand. Israeli Defence Forces have killed at least ninety-six Palestinians here since April of 2002, when fifty-two more Palestinians and twenty-three Israeli soldiers lost their lives. For 10 points, name this West Bank city where a quarter of the residents of its refugee camp were made homeless by Operation Defensive Shield.

Answer: JENIN ["jen-EEN"], West Bank, Palestine

O hey name a West Bank city where lots of Palestinians live. You're either getting this on the first clue or not at all, I would think.

Warning: TWO ANSWERS REQUIRED. For most of their lengths, they are roughly parallel, running southeast about three hundred kilometres apart until the longer one makes a ninety-degree turn at Zaporizhia ["zap-or-IDGE-ee-a"]. Their estuaries are separated by about one hundred kilometres on the Black Sea's Odessa Bay. The shorter one forms part of the border between Moldova and Ukraine. The longer one passes through Kiev. For 10 points, what are these two rivers with very similar names?

Answers: DNIEPER ["NEE-purr"] (or DNEPR or DNIAPRO or DNIPRO)
and DNIESTER ["NEE-stir"] (or NISTRU or DNESTR)

Too "cute" for my taste. I mean, they're similar sounding rivers of Eastern Europe. You're going to get (more like "figure out") this one early or not at all.

If you hike up the creek of this name, you'll reach the lake of this name, which is fed by the glacier of this name in the provincial park named after it. It means "red fish" in the Kootenai language, and in English it refers to the freshwater salmon abundant here. In 1998, an avalanche into the lake claimed the life of Michel Trudeau. For 10 points, name this B.C. glacier and nearby brewery.

Answer: KOKANEE

OK, I may be an ignorant American, but was this even famous in most parts of Canada? Seems ungodly obscure to me, especially when its giveaway is that there's a brewery named for it.

After serving as a decorated U-boat captain in the First World War, he commanded a Freikorps batallion in Münster in support of the right-wing Kapp putsch. When it failed, he took up theology. As pastor in Berlin-Dahlem, he praised the Nazi program as "a renewal movement based on a Christian moral foundation" — before falling out over issues of ecclesiastical independence and founding the Confessing Church, which got him put into concentration camps for eight years. For 10 points, name this Lutheran pastor who was neither a Communist, nor a Social Democrat, nor a trade unionist, nor a Jew, but the Nazis still came for him.

Answer: Pastor Martin NIEMÖLLER

Dude's only famous for one quote and absolutely nothing else, I doubt anyone will get this til the end. I guess this is OK if you absolutely must write on this dude.

In addition to a guard, two messengers, and a chorus, this play has six other characters, three of whom die by suicide. Eurydice kills herself in grief over the loss of her son, Haemon, who has killed himself over the suicide of his betrothed, who is the title character. As predicted by Teiresias, Creon loses his wife and son despite a decision of mercy that doesn't reach the title character in time. For 10 points, in this play by Sophocles, who commits the capital crime of burying her brother Polyneices?

Answer: ANTIGONE

The first sentence is useless, except you can probably narrow it down to something Greek because there' a chorus and suicide and stuff. And then it falls off the difficulty cliff when Eurydice and Haemon come out of fucking nowhere.

It was first invoked by John O'Sullivan in 1845 in an essay titled "Annexation", which called for the United States to accept Texas into the Union, and also predicted that within a hundred years, Canada would "swell the still accumulating momentum of our progress". For 10 points, what is this two-word phrase suggesting that the U.S. would "overspread the continent allotted by Providence"?

Answer: MANIFEST DESTINY

Leadin is really, really famous. Also, this is a two sentence tossup. That's really, really short. CBI-esque.

"I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young. / I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. / I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it. / I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset." For 10 points, name this poem by Langston Hughes.

Answer: The NEGRO SPEAKS OF RIVERS

Wow, who would have thought that this poem would mention famous rivers? Perhaps everyone. Quoting famous lines from a famous poem as the leadin for a tossup on said poem is really, really bad. People are going to get this immediately, or not at all.

A pamphlet inviting people to a Ku Klux Klan meeting to discuss a "final solution" turned out to be a hoax. Instead, residents of this town who were unable to use Argyle Street responded in kind on Highway 6 by setting up a barrier of their own. Henco Industries was prevented from completing work on two hundred and fifty homes in the Douglas Creek Estates on land claimed by the Six Nations reserve in, for 10 points, what Ontario community?

Answer: CALEDONIA, Ontario

Again, I have no idea if this was a big deal in Canada, but it seems obscure to me. It would be like me writing a tossup on Fairfax, Virginia off of some incidents that happened there.

It's a number between zero and one. StatsCan has determined that in Canada in 2003 it measured zero point three eight nine. To calculate it, draw a graph where the x-axis is the cumulative fraction of all households, and the y-axis is the cumulative fraction of all income. Find the area between this curve and the line y equals x, and then multiply by two to get, for 10 points, what number that measures the level of income inequality?

Answer: GINI COEFFICIENT (or GINI INDEX)

There's a lot of stuff between zero and one. Just saying. Why bother putting that in as a leadin?

I am lazy and stopping now.
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Postby QuizbowlPostmodernist » Tue Oct 10, 2006 8:08 am

People are a bit quick to toss out the term "anti-pyramidal" in this regard: there's a difference between a question which doesn't have the pyramidal structure that some prefer because the of the author's ignorance of the relative difficulty of clues and one whose flaw is because of the author's indifference to the notion of pyramidality. The former is fairly common in questions by writers trying to meet a distribution or seeking to expand their horizons and writing on topics they don't know very well. One thing that question writers should learn is that a chronological clue order is not necessarily conducive to writing a properly pyramidal question.

There's also a difference between a question which is not pyramidal and one which is mostly pyramidal, but has some misplaced clues, perhaps with a too easy lead-in or an inappropriate giveaway.

One guideline in writing tossups is that clues where either you know it, or you have no chance at guessing should often be avoided. One useful heuristic that might benefit writers would be to imagine chopping up a tossup into three parts and turning it into a 30-20-10 bonus. (Of course, you shouldn't really write many 30-20-10's, if any at all.) For the 30 and 20 parts, the clues should be such a knowledgeable team should have enough of a sense of where the question might be going that they could make a reasonable guess. They may be completely off-base, but they should have a shot, even if it's a 1-in-20 or a 1-in-50 shot, but they probably shouldn't have a chance as good as 1-in-2 or 1-in-3. On the other hand, it is not necessarily wrong to befuddle a bad team. The good players don't just know more, they are also superior guessers who can leverage their (superior) imperfect knowledge and not just their vaster perfect knowledge into more points.

List tossups violate that concept. List tossups also violate the idea that a question should be uniquely identifying after the first sentence.

The Urban Dictionary clue is a sad symptom of the Google-ization of question writing. (Urban Dictionary is the first thing returned currently if you search for "heck of a job".) People should write more questions without using internet sources as clues. It's not just Wikipedia which is problematic.

Anecdote clues are usually bad not because anecdotes are inherently pointless, but because they tend to take up a lot of space. There are more efficient ways to use your time than to write two sentences which amount to a single clue. A five-line tossup is superior to a seven-line tossup if they have the same clues except that the former condenses a two sentence anecdote into ten words that convey the same level of information. It doesn't matter how cute or funny or clever the story is.

I prefer avoiding large numbers in question. They tend to make a question deceptively wordy because of a high syllable-to-character ratio. They are probably the single biggest thing for a moderator to mislead. If a location is 1560 meters above sea level, the exact figure is not important, but knowing that it is about a mile above sea level may be significant (or not, depending on the question). If something happened in 1677, the exact year is not always relevant (but sometimes it can be). Sometimes, you're better off just narrowing it down to the 1670s or even just the 17th century. It's not neccesarily important that something happened in 1844 and another in 1846, but that two events happened in the mid-1800s two years apart.
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Postby grapesmoker » Tue Oct 10, 2006 8:35 am

QuizbowlPostmodernist wrote:People are a bit quick to toss out the term "anti-pyramidal" in this regard: there's a difference between a question which doesn't have the pyramidal structure that some prefer because the of the author's ignorance of the relative difficulty of clues and one whose flaw is because of the author's indifference to the notion of pyramidality. The former is fairly common in questions by writers trying to meet a distribution or seeking to expand their horizons and writing on topics they don't know very well. One thing that question writers should learn is that a chronological clue order is not necessarily conducive to writing a properly pyramidal question.


I think the answer selection for VETO makes it obvious that, at least in the non-Canadian sections that I know something about, there's no canon expansion going on. Most of the answer choices are either somewhat easy of very reasonable for midlevel mACF events, so that's not the problem. As for the writer personally expanding his horizons, I would say that all you have to do is look on the Stanford/ACF archives to see whether your question has been written this way before. If the answer is yes, you should look for other clues.

There's also a difference between a question which is not pyramidal and one which is mostly pyramidal, but has some misplaced clues, perhaps with a too easy lead-in or an inappropriate giveaway.


Not really. That "manifest destiny" tossup is antipyramidal no matter what comes after "O'Sullivan" because that is the end of the question for 90% of the field. Other tossups had similar problems. If you mix up two clues in the middle, that can be ok, or at least not fatal to the question; if you put the giveaway in the front, that is bad.

One guideline in writing tossups is that clues where either you know it, or you have no chance at guessing should often be avoided. One useful heuristic that might benefit writers would be to imagine chopping up a tossup into three parts and turning it into a 30-20-10 bonus. (Of course, you shouldn't really write many 30-20-10's, if any at all.) For the 30 and 20 parts, the clues should be such a knowledgeable team should have enough of a sense of where the question might be going that they could make a reasonable guess. They may be completely off-base, but they should have a shot, even if it's a 1-in-20 or a 1-in-50 shot, but they probably shouldn't have a chance as good as 1-in-2 or 1-in-3. On the other hand, it is not necessarily wrong to befuddle a bad team. The good players don't just know more, they are also superior guessers who can leverage their (superior) imperfect knowledge and not just their vaster perfect knowledge into more points.


I think that's really good advice; thanks for posting that.

List tossups violate that concept. List tossups also violate the idea that a question should be uniquely identifying after the first sentence.


In my experience, people in both writing and playing need to pay better attention to the pronouns and descriptors in a question. Like, when the question says "this man" don't buzz in and say "Moby Dick." I had a couple such incidents happen at EFT this weekend, where there were some good buzzes that were on the right track but I had to neg them because the answer was from a totally different category than what they gave.

The Urban Dictionary clue is a sad symptom of the Google-ization of question writing. (Urban Dictionary is the first thing returned currently if you search for "heck of a job".) People should write more questions without using internet sources as clues. It's not just Wikipedia which is problematic.


At least with UD, people will actually say, "according to UD." With Wikipedia, people take whatever is on there and don't bother to confirm it, passing it off as fact. I have a soft stance on wikipedia; I tend to think that as long as you can independently confirm a piece of information by reference to a scholarly work, it doesn't matter whether it's on Wiki or not. But yeah, you're absolutely right, non-Internet sources for questions is what everyone should be using.

Anecdote clues are usually bad not because anecdotes are inherently pointless, but because they tend to take up a lot of space. There are more efficient ways to use your time than to write two sentences which amount to a single clue. A five-line tossup is superior to a seven-line tossup if they have the same clues except that the former condenses a two sentence anecdote into ten words that convey the same level of information. It doesn't matter how cute or funny or clever the story is.


I think an interesting anecdote at the very beginning of a tossup is fine even if it adds two lines. But you're right that we should be economical in our use of question space.

I prefer avoiding large numbers in question. They tend to make a question deceptively wordy because of a high syllable-to-character ratio. They are probably the single biggest thing for a moderator to mislead. If a location is 1560 meters above sea level, the exact figure is not important, but knowing that it is about a mile above sea level may be significant (or not, depending on the question). If something happened in 1677, the exact year is not always relevant (but sometimes it can be). Sometimes, you're better off just narrowing it down to the 1670s or even just the 17th century. It's not neccesarily important that something happened in 1844 and another in 1846, but that two events happened in the mid-1800s two years apart.


This is actually one point where I disagree, and I'll explain why. When you write that a peak is 1560 meters above sea level, the reader will read that as "one thousand five hundred and sixty" which takes a long time to say. However, when we read years, we never pronounce the actual number of the year, we say "eighteen-forty-six" which is quite a bit shorter and easier to say. So for dates, I think numbers are ok, whereas they are generally not so useful in most other situations.
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Postby No Rules Westbrook » Tue Oct 10, 2006 3:38 pm

Oh, look, question writing philosophy! Hey, I love talking about that!


People are a bit quick to toss out the term "anti-pyramidal" in this regard: there's a difference between a question which doesn't have the pyramidal structure that some prefer because the of the author's ignorance of the relative difficulty of clues and one whose flaw is because of the author's indifference to the notion of pyramidality. The former is fairly common in questions by writers trying to meet a distribution or seeking to expand their horizons and writing on topics they don't know very well. One thing that question writers should learn is that a chronological clue order is not necessarily conducive to writing a properly pyramidal question.


This is not a bad point. I think a lot of us are too quick to assume that people who don't have significant knowledge of a question topic or experience with the canon in that topic will be able to properly order clues if they just try hard enough. Without that experience to reference, it's really tough to order clues...even very good question writers often err in this regard. But, as has been said, by definition a tu becomes a problem when the first or second clue is way out of place. If you get the fifth and sixth clues in a question mixed up in priority, fine. But, the anti- in anti-pyramidal doesn't have to be a purposeful intent to frustrate the gods of pyramidality.

Of course, poor question writers have a tendency to assume the hardest clue in a question is equivalent to the most vague clue. Usually, they've erred by assuming it's a clue at all, it's just useless blabber.

One useful heuristic that might benefit writers would be to imagine chopping up a tossup into three parts and turning it into a 30-20-10 bonus. (Of course, you shouldn't really write many 30-20-10's, if any at all.) For the 30 and 20 parts, the clues should be such a knowledgeable team should have enough of a sense of where the question might be going that they could make a reasonable guess. They may be completely off-base, but they should have a shot, even if it's a 1-in-20 or a 1-in-50 shot, but they probably shouldn't have a chance as good as 1-in-2 or 1-in-3. On the other hand, it is not necessarily wrong to befuddle a bad team. The good players don't just know more, they are also superior guessers who can leverage their (superior) imperfect knowledge and not just their vaster perfect knowledge into more points.


I don't like exactly how this is formulated. By the time you get to the end of the "30 point" part of a tossup, a good team should not be able to simply have a reasonable guess - they should be able to know it unequivocally if they have enough knowledge. If they don't have that knowledge, then maybe they have a guess they're willing to try, but that's only because they don't know it - not that they couldn't. As for the good players being superior guessers, of course that's true, but I don't really like it put that way. My number one priority in writing questions is to frame them so that they stop cold people who like to guess at answers. I don't like logical leaps, rational assumptions given context/difficulty of tourney, etc. But that, I think, is a more advanced topic than necessary for the discussion here.

The Urban Dictionary clue is a sad symptom of the Google-ization of question writing. (Urban Dictionary is the first thing returned currently if you search for "heck of a job".) People should write more questions without using internet sources as clues. It's not just Wikipedia which is problematic.


People should not use the Urban Dictionary, agreed. But, I completely disagree as to the general sentiment about writing questions with internet sources and that people "should" be using library books. I'm not wild about wikipedia either, but it's fine for a general foundation or for quick reference. It needs to be verified with another internet source (i.e. one that's not a wiki clone). The entire question should certainly not emanate from wikipedia. To search for appropriate internet sites, I recommend using many more terms than just what you're searching for - if you can use a bunch of relevant terms in your search, you'll more easily find sites that do a comprehensive and scholarly job of covering a subject. Include as many combinations of technical terms etc. that you can find and you'll get credible sites that turn up good leadin and other clues. In order to find those terms that you might want to use, it's not terrible to use something like wiki. No matter what site you end up going to, if something seems fishy, check it...this just requires common sense, not the nose of Toucan Sam.

Anecdote clues are usually bad not because anecdotes are inherently pointless, but because they tend to take up a lot of space. There are more efficient ways to use your time than to write two sentences which amount to a single clue. A five-line tossup is superior to a seven-line tossup if they have the same clues except that the former condenses a two sentence anecdote into ten words that convey the same level of information. It doesn't matter how cute or funny or clever the story is.


Again, common sense and discretion. Does the humor/relevance value of said anecdote outweigh the space it takes? I too would plead with people to give the humor/cuteness end of that calculation a rather low value.

I prefer avoiding large numbers in question. They tend to make a question deceptively wordy because of a high syllable-to-character ratio. They are probably the single biggest thing for a moderator to mislead. If a location is 1560 meters above sea level, the exact figure is not important, but knowing that it is about a mile above sea level may be significant (or not, depending on the question). If something happened in 1677, the exact year is not always relevant (but sometimes it can be). Sometimes, you're better off just narrowing it down to the 1670s or even just the 17th century. It's not neccesarily important that something happened in 1844 and another in 1846, but that two events happened in the mid-1800s two years apart.


Eh, not a huge deal. Of course specific miles and stuff are useless. I really like exact dates in questions, though usually towards the end.
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Postby Captain Sinico » Tue Oct 10, 2006 3:50 pm

Hey guys, let's argue with Anthony de Jesus about the definitions of terms that we just made up!

MaS

PS: All of these criticisms are at least very nearly spot-on, for what it's worth.
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Postby Kyle » Tue Oct 10, 2006 3:53 pm

Nalbant in Turkish, Seppänen ["SEP-pan-en"] in Finnish, Haddad in Arabic, Pandai in Indonesian or Tagalog, Kuznetsov in Russian, Kovar in Czech, Kovacs ["KO-vatch"] in Hungarian, Gough ["goff"] in Irish, Ferraro in Italian, Herrera in Spanish, Lefevre in French, and Schmidt in German are all, for 10 points, names referring to what profession?

Answer: SMITH (accept BLACKSMITH)


All I have to say is that it's about time we "foreign Smiths" got a little quiz bowl recognition.
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Postby Captain Sinico » Tue Oct 10, 2006 4:00 pm

Bruce wrote:...There is likely to be extreme disagreement among economists as to what actual program or set of programs (or even any program at all) caused Venezuela to have the highest real economic growth in the western hemisphere over the past few years, so I think that would actually be a poor leadin...

However, isn't it equally likely to be the case that disagreement exists that it has the highest growth rate to begin with (c.f. the already-mentioned debate about Venezuela lying about its economy?) Further, aren't there different ways to measure real growth rate, rendering it possible that Venezuela seems to lead by some but not by others? It may thus be misleading to posit that Venezuela leads as a mere fact (or I could be wrong...) Some recourse to a source or method of measurement seems to be necessary, and that makes the clue a bit too narrow (one would have to have read the source in question to know for sure.)
Things like that reduce the quality of a clue since there's a probability that it's not uniquely identifying. This penalizes deep knowledge, since someone who, say, just heard some stuff about Venezuela on the radio or something like that will just buzz here, not realizing that a controversy exists, whereas someone with a great deal of expertise in the field of macroeconomics will realize that the clue isn't uniquely identifying (the information it's giving isn't well-defined) and be unable to say with certainty what the answer is.
Anyway, for that and the other reasons just mentioned, the lead-in given is too vague and too rewarding of mere memorization of almanac facts to make a very good lead-in and a better one (even in the same vein, e.g. one about some economic programs in Venezuela, as suggested) could be found easily. By the same token, it's not catastrophically bad, especially in comparison to some of the other stuff.

MaS
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Postby Nathan » Tue Oct 10, 2006 5:04 pm

actually, Niemoller is relatively well known (and certainly a household name in the history of theology). I'd even forgotten that quote was attributed to him...

however, certainly we need tossups on Bonhoeffer (have there ever been any) and on the Confessing Church before ones on Niemoller.
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Postby Chris Frankel » Tue Oct 10, 2006 6:41 pm

Nathan wrote:actually, Niemoller is relatively well known (and certainly a household name in the history of theology). I'd even forgotten that quote was attributed to him...

however, certainly we need tossups on Bonhoeffer (have there ever been any) and on the Confessing Church before ones on Niemoller.


ACF Nationals 2004, Editors Packet #5, Question 18.
"They sometimes get fooled by the direction a question is going to take, and that's intentional," said Reid. "The players on these teams are so good that 90 percent of the time they could interrupt the question and give the correct answer if the questions didn't take those kinds of turns. That wouldn't be fun to watch, so every now and then as I design these suckers, I say to myself, 'Watch this!' and wait 'til we're on camera. I got a lot of dirty looks this last tournament."
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Postby Susan » Tue Oct 10, 2006 7:05 pm

Here are three more on Bonhoeffer.
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Postby grapesmoker » Tue Oct 10, 2006 8:01 pm

Chris Frankel wrote:ACF Nationals 2004, Editors Packet #5, Question 18.


Sigh. I remember that question. It was in the finals and Kenny Easwaran negged me out of it just as I was about to buzz. Too bad we were 100 points behind by then.
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Postby Nathan » Tue Oct 10, 2006 8:29 pm

interesting: a couple of mentions in the 90's and then one pretty decent ACF Nats tossup:

"18. This theologian’s lesser known works include Christ the Center and Meditations on the Cross, while his first work was on the sociology of religion, Sanctorum Communio. He tried to trace the influence of transcendental philosophy on Christianity in his monumental Act and Being, while his most famous work examines what it means to be a follower of Jesus. A founder of the Confessing Church with Karl Barth, his involvement in protests as well as a later plot to murder Hitler led to his execution. FTP, identify this German theologian and author of The Cost of Discipleship.
Answer: Dietrich Bonhoeffer"

a couple quibbles: Act and Being may have been long (everything he wrote before the Cost of Discipleship was long) but it's not often read. His dissertation (which Barth called a "theological miracle"), the Communion of the Saints, is much more well known. so those clues should be reversed. although Bonhoeffer was heavily influenced by Barth (Bonhoeffer is considered to be part of neo-orthodoxy, which Barth founded), Barth can't really be considered a founder of the Confessing Church (so much as an influence on it) as he was based in Switzerland.
I'd throw in a reference to "cheap grace" before mentioning the Confessing Church.

on the whole though those are very minor points, this is the best tossup I've seen on 20th century theology (probably because most have been crap)
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Postby ulls66 » Tue Oct 10, 2006 10:32 pm

On the website urban dictionary dot com, this four-word phrase is defined as "a complete and total screw-up." It's the title of Calvin Trillin's 2006 book of poetry subtitled "More of the Bush Administration in Rhyme". First applied to the work of Bob Riley, Haley Barbour, and Kathleen Blanco on September 2, 2005, for 10 points, what ambiguous phrase did President Bush most memorably also apply moments later to the accomplishments of FEMA Director Michael Brown?

Answer: a HECK OF A JOB
(Accept as much as "Brownie, you're doing a HECK OF A JOB", as long as the last four words are given.)

Still valid.
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Postby QuizbowlPostmodernist » Wed Oct 11, 2006 10:03 am

Ryan Westbrook wrote:
One useful heuristic that might benefit writers would be to imagine chopping up a tossup into three parts and turning it into a 30-20-10 bonus. (Of course, you shouldn't really write many 30-20-10's, if any at all.) For the 30 and 20 parts, the clues should be such a knowledgeable team should have enough of a sense of where the question might be going that they could make a reasonable guess. They may be completely off-base, but they should have a shot, even if it's a 1-in-20 or a 1-in-50 shot, but they probably shouldn't have a chance as good as 1-in-2 or 1-in-3. On the other hand, it is not necessarily wrong to befuddle a bad team. The good players don't just know more, they are also superior guessers who can leverage their (superior) imperfect knowledge and not just their vaster perfect knowledge into more points.


I don't like exactly how this is formulated. By the time you get to the end of the "30 point" part of a tossup, a good team should not be able to simply have a reasonable guess - they should be able to know it unequivocally if they have enough knowledge. If they don't have that knowledge, then maybe they have a guess they're willing to try, but that's only because they don't know it - not that they couldn't. As for the good players being superior guessers, of course that's true, but I don't really like it put that way. My number one priority in writing questions is to frame them so that they stop cold people who like to guess at answers. I don't like logical leaps, rational assumptions given context/difficulty of tourney, etc. But that, I think, is a more advanced topic than necessary for the discussion here.


It's a hastily-written, generalized rule-of-thumb, which is why I called it a heuristic. I don't think it's quite accurate, but it's an easily graspable, easily explainable way of describing question writing that I think would help novice question writers think about pyramidality.

I suppose part of the problem is that I don't define exactly how much a "knowledgeable" team knows, and I don't know for sure how good of a team you mean when you say "good team." If we are talking about national title contenders, then I would expect such a team to power as many as 15-20% of tossups heard at the NAQT SCT and about 25-33% of tossups answered. I'm unsure how I would compare that to similar teams being able to answer the hypothetical 30-point level part of a tossup at ACF Regionals, but I would guess that a good goal is have the top teams buzzing in before the FTP on most questions that they answer and that, for the majority of tossups, the penultimate line would be a buzzer race between two top teams if it somehow got that far..

If I look back on my old questions, I realize that a lot of poor clues and answers were chosen because they seemed unique when they really weren't, they seemed important when they were the sort of information that you don't bother to remember fully but merely remember which reference you need to consult if you need that particular data, they seemed interesting but were much more interesting to me than to most other people, or they seemed like the sort of thing that better quizbowlers than myself would know when I overestimated their own level of knowledge and sometimes underestimated my own.
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Postby vetovian » Tue Oct 17, 2006 1:51 am

First, I'd like to thank you all for writing your comments on the tossups of my two packets from this year.

I think we have some difference in philosophy of our ideals of what a tossup is intended to be. The predominant view expressed here seems to be that a set of tossups should be like an examination. In a conventional competitive examination, of course, a bunch of people are given the same set of questions, and the winner is the examinee who gets the most correct answers. A set of quiz bowl tossups is similar to this, but on each question, points are given only to the team that buzzed in first with the correct answer, and players take a risk in deciding when to buzz in. None of what I've just said is controversial, but the view expressed by other people here seems to be that the ideal of a set of tossups is just like the ideal of a set of questions on a written examination: it should be a fair test of who knows a certain set of material, and how well they know it, with clues in each tossup getting easier as they go along. How can anyone disagree with that? Well, I don't really disagree with it, but I don't think tossups should be judged only on the basis of whether they're a fair test of knowledge, and nor do I think clues should be judged only on the basis of their usefulness in determining who has a greater command of the material. Nobody sits down to read a test (much less take a test) on a certain subject for the purpose of learning something about the subject. A set of tossups that is ontologically perfect as a test of depth and breadth of knowledge is not necessarily fun to play on if you're on a low-scoring team. So I try -- not necessarily saying that I succeed -- to write tossups that will make the players glad that they heard them, because they might have learned something interesting. I'd like people to hear the beginning of a tossup and think, "Hm, I don't know what the answer might be, but it piques my curiosity, and even if I don't get it after more clues, I'd like to know what the answer is!" If a tossup I've written gets read to the end and the players don't care to know what the answer is, and even after they've heard the answer they still don't care and they don't respond like "oh, that's what that is", then I consider that I haven't written a good tossup. Maybe everyone already agrees with everything I've just written, but I think it needs to be said. If quiz bowl tossups are written with only the examination ideal in mind, then the game will be attractive to people who like to take examinations -- but it won't be attractive to others, who will be more inclined to stay away. I think that this is what might have happened with list tossups falling out of favour over the past few years: the quiz bowl "establishment" looks more and more to the examination ideal, and as they do so, the type of people who want to play quiz bowl are more and more the type of people who want it to be like an examination.


grapesmoker wrote:
Six letters to Ronald McDonald. A list of all 3-letter legal Scrabble words, plus one "non-regulation word". All the 5-digit prime numbers, with one non-prime among them. The first hundred thousand digits of pi, with exactly one digit wrong. Five assignments for a course at Kwantlen College. All these are in a novel narrated by Ethan Jarlewski about himself and five co-workers at a videogame company in Burnaby, B.C., whose surnames all begin with the same letter. For 10 points, name this 2006 book that begins, self-referentially: "Oh God. I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel."

Answer: JPOD


List tossups are bad. I don't know anything about Douglas Copeland's latest novel, but if I were listening to this question, I wouldn't even know until halfway through that we're talking about a novel. Why is this necessary? All these clues can be turned into clues of the form "in this book" instead of leaving people guessing what the hell these things have in common. Notice please that list tossups have disappeared from virtually all respectable tournaments in the last 3 or 4 years.


I learned something here: I actually didn't know that list tossups have disappeared from respectable tournaments! Maybe I lack taste, but I like to have a few list tossups in a packet, and I didn't hear any complaints about them when they came up at VETO. Again:

grapesmoker wrote:I wouldn't even know until halfway through that we're talking about a novel. ... All these clues can be turned into clues of the form "in this book" instead of leaving people guessing what the hell these things have in common.


That is actually the whole point of a list tossup like this one -- to leave people guessing what they might have in common. Wondering what the category of the answer might be is supposed to be part of the fun.

As it was, by the way, the question was answered pretty early, because the book got quite a bit of publicity in Canada.

grapesmoker wrote:
For the past two years, this country has had the highest real economic growth rate in the western hemisphere. The expansion follows the country's deepest ever economic contraction in 2002 and 2003, with low points including a two-month general strike and the 47-hour presidency of Pedro Carmona, who fled to Colombia after his coup d'état failed. For 10 points, what country is, not coincidentally, the western hemisphere's biggest exporter of petroleum?

Answer: Bolivarian Republic of VENEZUELA

I find it odd that a tossup on Venezuela doesn't give the stock giveaway clues of "Chavez" and "Caracas" but whatever.


Whenever I write a tossup with the answer being a country, I try never to include the capital of the country, because capitals of countries are the preëminent example of list knowledge. I might have included Chavez, though.

grapesmoker wrote: The first two clues I find to be throwaways, although some may dispute that. My opinion is that clues like "it experienced stellar economic growth in year x" are like "this lake is 12345 square miles" or something.


Other commenters wrote about this, but I suppose I should say that the whole reason I wrote the question was that I heard the first sentence somewhere, and thought it would make a good, interesting clue (after I checked its accuracy, of course). It's a fact that seems counterintuitive given the political turmoil there, but the explanation of course is in the last clue of the tossup. Now, I probably wouldn't have written this if Venezuela had the highest growth rate only for the past one year, because there are different reporting periods, etc., but since it's two years, I can take it as solid.

I should also add that it would be very bad to write the actual words "it experienced stellar economic growth in year x" -- one should give the actual rate. Two years ago, I had a tossup about a country that mentioned its 71% [sic] GDP growth rate in 1997, and I think growth that stellar is not "throwaway" info.

grapesmoker wrote: There's not much before "Pedro Carmona" to inform even knowledgeable people that this is Venezuela.


Some people buzzed in early with "Argentina" after hearing about the deep economic contraction, and actually Argentina has had quite high economic growth in the past couple of years, so it was an oversight on my part not to realize that this would have been a good guess. I should have thought of more Venezuela-specific clues.

Matt Weiner wrote:Actually, the fudging of numbers by Venezeula's economic ministries is both a big controvery right now and a useful way to include that clue in a more gettable context (it's easy to forget dry lists of how one country's growth compares to another, but anyone who's run into the Venezuelan statistics debate will probably remember at least that it exists).


I didn't know about this controversy until you mentioned it, but just in case anyone's interested, an article that I just found on AlterNet says, "While the poverty statistics are a matter of some dispute, numbers like GDP growth are collected or audited independently by the international financial institutions, and are reliable."


grapesmoker wrote:
"It would be appropriate to recommend strongly that those who are destined for this country not be in any way ill favoured by nature, that they not be outwardly repulsive, that they be healthy and strong enough for country work or that they at least have some skill in manual work." So wrote Jean Talon to Jean-Baptiste Colbert in 1670 about some recent arrivals in Quebec, who had been recruited mostly from orphanages. Transportation costs and fifty livres each were paid by Louis the Fourteenth to, for 10 points, what prospective marriage partners of French settlers?

Answer: FILLES DU ROI (or the KING'S DAUGHTERS)


Opening questions with quotes is bad practice especially if you just start right into the quote. Who is speaking and what are they speaking about, and, moreover, in what context would one recognize this quote? A good thing to have done here would have been to shorten the quote substantially and open with something like "in reference to them, Jean Talon wrote to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, 'yada yada' etc." Otherwise, half the question is a throwaway, since I can't imagine anyone is going to be intimately familiar with full-blow quotations from letters to Colbert.


I was a little worried about this question, for the very reasons you bring up, and I think the early -5's that it elicited (with answers like "New France") show that it wasn't well written. Now I think my solution would be to begin it with "A letter written about them in 1670 states, quote:"

Talon and Colbert are too well known to mention before the quote: I wouldn't want people to be able to guess the correct answer before hearing the quotation. More generally, though, the quotation is not exactly a throwaway -- I was amused by what Talon wrote in this letter, and that's why I wrote the question.

grapesmoker wrote:
It was established by a decree of Catherine the Great in 1791, and expanded in 1794 and 1795 after the second and third Partitions of Poland. Caucasia and Astrakhan were added by Czar Alexander the First, then removed by Nicholas the First, who also excluded the city of Kiev. University graduates, retired soldiers, merchants of the first guild and artisans were allowed to live outside it, but for 10 points, what was the only part of the Russian Empire permitted for residence by all other Jews?

Answer: PALE OF SETTLEMENT (or CHERTA OSEDLOSTI)


This question is just anti-pyramidal. The clue about its establishment belongs in the end, not the beginning. My thought process here would go, "Catherine established the Pale, I don't know what else she 'established', time to buzz."


Well, I didn't know that Catherine established the Pale before I wrote the question. The articles about her in the Britannica and the Wikipedia do not even mention the Pale -- you can look them up to see what else she "established". How, specifically, would you reorder the clues in this tossup?

grapesmoker wrote:
This poem won the Newdigate Prize at Oxford in 1845 and made John Burgon's reputation as a literary one-hit wonder, but actually only one line of this work is ever usually quoted, and the second half of that line was cribbed from a description of temples in Samuel Rogers' poem "Italy". For 10 points, name the poem that contains the couplet, "Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime / A rose red city half as old as time."

Answer: PETRA


I have no idea what this poem is or who John Burgon is, but I guarantee that if he's only known for this poem, it's a bad idea to put that into the first clue.


This question wasn't very successful in getting answered, either. The line "rose red city half as old as time" was not as well recognized among the players as I thought might be, even though it turns up 959 hits on Google.

I don't understand "if he's only known for this poem, it's a bad idea to put that into the first clue." I'd say that among people who do recognize the line, very few know who wrote it.

grapesmoker wrote:
Since its founding in 1931 under federal auspices, researchers at this institution have discovered the antiproton and the antineutron and the first element ever named after a living person, its long-time associate director, Glenn Seaborg, the co-discoverer of nine other elements here including those named after the institution's city and state. For 10 points, what U.S. Department of Energy facility boasts ten Nobel laureates and dramatic views of the Golden Gate and San Francisco from above the campus of the University of California?

Answer: (Ernest Orlando) Lawrence BERKELEY National LABoratory (or LBL or LBNL)
(Do not accept University of California, Berkeley; that is separate)

Anti-pyramidal, especially to me since I came from Berkeley. Regardless, Chamberlain's discovery of the antiproton is very, very famous, and would of course result in a quickfire buzz at the very beginning.


But it did not result in a quickfire buzz at the very beginning. Again, if it's anti-pyramidal, how, specifically, would you reorder the clues?


grapesmoker wrote:
"You cannot legislate against geography." (pause) "More revolutions have been caused by Conservative obstinacy than by Liberal exaggeration." (pause) "For us, sons of France, political sentiment is a passion; while, for the Englishman, politics are a question of business." (pause) "The nineteenth century was the century of the United States. I think we can claim that it is Canada that shall fill the twentieth century." These are all quotes by, for 10 points, what turn-of-the-century prime minister?

Answer: Sir Wilfrid LAURIER


Tossups written around nothing but quotes are awful. See above discussion of quotes.


See above discussion of lists. :smile:

grapesmoker wrote:
Previously discharged from military service for being a certified imbecile, he is making a living selling mongrel dogs with forged pure-bred pedigrees when he is again drafted into the army as war breaks out. He finds that a lunatic asylum offers "real freedom" where "you can be whatever you want: God, the Pope, the King of England, or Saint Vaclav ['VATS-laff'], although the last was constantly straitjacketed." Expelled for faking lunacy and put back on duty, he gives himself up to the Russians. For 10 points, who is this title character in a novel by Jaroslav Hašek ["HA-sheck"]?

Answer: the Good Soldier ŠVEJK ["shvaik"]


Anti-pyramidal. Anyone familiar with Svejk would buzz on the first clue.


Whatever else one might say about this question, the claim that it is "anti-pyramidal" just baffles me. Again, show me how the clues could be reordered to make it pyramidal. And your second statement is contradicted by the empirical fact that when played (three separate experiments), it was answered late in the question.

grapesmoker wrote:
The probability that it could have arisen by chance is one in ten to the two-hundred-and-thirty-fourth power, according to William Dembski, a mathematician at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Touted by biochemist Michael Behe as an example of "irreducible complexity", it consists of a short hook, a reversible rotary motor embedded within the cell wall, and a long helical filament that acts as a propeller. For 10 points, name this organelle used for motion by bacteria.

Answer: bacterial FLAGELLUM


This is probably an issue of taste, but as far as I'm concerned, proponents of intelligent design should never appear in questions, especially science questions, unless being explicitly ridiculed. Anyway, this tossup is devoid of useful clues about flagellum biology, consisting instead of clues about what various cranks and charlatans think of flagella. No one with half a brain will be familiar with those clues (and it also invites a neg on "blood clotting" since Behe is also famous for making irreducible complexity arguments about that system).


These are good criticisms. I have nothing but contempt for Dembski and his business model, and I was aiming for subtle ridicule with my description of him as "a mathematician at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary" -- a description he can't even dispute. I think this was the only actual calculation that Dembski did to show irreducible complexity, but you're right, Behe's favourite example is not this but blood clotting. I got my actual description of the flagellum from a crank or charlatan who is a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences and Herchel Smith Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University.

grapesmoker wrote:
He picked up a giraffe in Africa, which he visited from the Mozambique Channel up through the Red Sea to Egypt. In Ceylon he picked up King Alagonakkara and brought him home as a prisoner too. His explorations took him through the Persian Gulf, along the Arabian coast, and throughout the islands of southeast Asia. Commanding over three hundred ships and twenty-seven thousand people, for 10 points, who was this admiral during the Ming dynasty?

Answer: ZHENG HE or CHENG HO or MA SANBAO


An admiral who sailed in Asia and Africa? Clues basically give the tossup away in the first line and a half.


Not really. There were famous Europeans who sailed to Asia via Africa.

grapesmoker wrote:
On the website urban dictionary dot com, this four-word phrase is defined as "a complete and total screw-up." It's the title of Calvin Trillin's 2006 book of poetry subtitled "More of the Bush Administration in Rhyme". First applied to the work of Bob Riley, Haley Barbour, and Kathleen Blanco on September 2, 2005, for 10 points, what ambiguous phrase did President Bush most memorably also apply moments later to the accomplishments of FEMA Director Michael Brown?

Answer: a HECK OF A JOB
(Accept as much as "Brownie, you're doing a HECK OF A JOB", as long as the last four words are given.)

References to ubrandictionary are like wikipedia references; don't do it.


Well, what can I say; we have low standards. :smile: I see urbandictionary as the best resource on the latest slang, and that's why that clue is there. I agree with you, though, that Wikipedia references shouldn't be used unless the question is actually about something to do with Wikipedia.

grapesmoker wrote:There is probably a good way to write this question, and the Trillin clue is good, but after that it becomes obvious that it refers to Katrina and everything is downhill from there.


If I understand you correctly, "downhill" is a synonym for "pyramidal". I tried to put the governors in pyramidal order. Keep in mind that the names of the governors of Gulf Coast states are not common knowledge in Canada.

grapesmoker wrote:
Nalbant in Turkish, Seppänen ["SEP-pan-en"] in Finnish, Haddad in Arabic, Pandai in Indonesian or Tagalog, Kuznetsov in Russian, Kovar in Czech, Kovacs ["KO-vatch"] in Hungarian, Gough ["goff"] in Irish, Ferraro in Italian, Herrera in Spanish, Lefevre in French, and Schmidt in German are all, for 10 points, names referring to what profession?

Answer: SMITH (accept BLACKSMITH)


Ugh, another list tossup. What is the purpose of this question? Some random person will recognize one of the word forms and buzz, and that will be it.


Well, that's one thing that could happen, and when the question was played, it did. But someone could recognize that these are pretty common surnames in their respective languages, and could form a guess based on knowing that. If you really want to know the "purpose" of the question, it was that if someone who's heard the question meets someone named Haddad, for example, they can show off by saying "Your name is Arabic for Smith." Then in response to the question, "How did you know that?", they can say, "From a quiz bowl tournament called VETO."

grapesmoker wrote: Plus, in regards to the Russian word for "smith" this question isn't even right. "Smith" in Russian is simply "kuznets." "Kuznetsov," is a common last name that may be translated as "of the smiths."


There's a problem with Lefevre, too. That's why I chose the slightly vague phrasing "referring to what profession" instead of a straight "meaning what profession".

bt_green_warbler wrote:
TOSSUP 6
At one thousand five hundred and sixty metres above sea level,

In addition to the things Jerry mentioned, it's never a good idea to begin a tossup with statistics like this, because it either wastes everyone's time or rewards memorization of almanacs.


I don't agree with this. First, if anyone really is dedicated enough to memorize the elevations of minor towns, then they deserve to be rewarded. Second, without the 1560 metres clue, it would just begin with "it's the highest town in Europe". If I heard that, I would want to know how high (roughly) the town is; I think it's moderately interesting that "the highest town in Europe" is actually lower than at least one well-known North American metropolis, not to mention quite a few cities in South America that are much higher.

Leo Wolpert wrote:
It contains medial and collateral menisci ["men-ISS-sky"] made of fibrous cartilage that act as cushions. The anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments restrict forward and backward motion and rotation. The medial collateral ligament prevents it from buckling inwards, and the lateral collateral ligament is the primary restraint to varus stress. For 10 points, name the human body's largest joint, connecting the fibula and tibia.

Answer: KNEE

Mentioning the ACL in the second sentence of a "knee" tossup is pretty much a giveaway. Who hasn't heard of an athlete tearing this ligament?


I haven't. And yeah I know it's a lame question, but I couldn't think of how else to write a tossup with KNEE as answer.

Leo Wolpert wrote:
In 1992 he published his first novel, Burden of Desire, set in the aftermath of the 1917 explosion in Halifax, where he grew up. His next novel, The Voyage, follows an amorous adventure by David Lyon, the Canadian consul in New York, the author's adopted home town. In 1999, four years after retiring from his day job, this author published his third novel, Broadcast News, whose protagonist, Grant Munro, had the same job as the author. For 10 points name this former News Hour anchorman on PBS.

Answer: Robert (Breckenridge Ware, "Robin") MacNEIL

OK, I don't hate this, but "first novel" clues are pretty bad. Because this dude isn't exactly known as a novelist (in fact, is he known at all?) it's not a horrible leadin.

"is he known at all?" Showing my age, I guess; he retired from what used to be called the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour in 1995.

Leo Wolpert wrote:
This city contains the world's largest forest inside an urban area, the thirty-two square-kilometre Tijuca ["tee-ZHOO-ka"] Forest, within whose limits are an eight hundred and forty-two metre high granite rock with unexplained inscriptions called the Pedra da Gavea ["GAV-ay-a"], and another granite rock, the seven hundred and ten metre high Corcovado, which is topped with a statue of Christ the Redeemer. For 10 points, what city of six million people was founded in 1565 at the foot of Sugarloaf Mountain?

Answer: (São Sebastião do) RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (prompt for more information on "RIO")

This is just kind of weird towards the end. Surely Christ the Redeemer is better known than Sugarloaf Mountain, and surely there are easier giveaways than that for Rio?

Visually, Christ the Redeemer may be better known than Sugarloaf Mountain, but I think it's different when you just hear the words. Anyway, Sugarloaf doesn't seem to ring as many bells as I thought it would, so I guess I could have ended this with Ipanema and Copacabana.

Leo Wolpert wrote:
In the second and third millennia B.C., this city was best known as a religious centre, with its temple of E-Mashmash dedicated to the goddess Ishtar. In the eighth century B.C., a library was founded here by king Sargon II, but it was his successor, Sennacherib, who moved his court here, to the eighty-room "Palace without a rival". Until it was sacked by the Scythians and Medes and Babylonians in 612 B.C., for 10 points, what was the capital of the Assyrian Empire?

Answer: NINEVEH

The leadin is not at all uniquely identifying. There were several religious centers then.

That's a good point. The beginning is too general.

Leo Wolpert wrote:
After his death at age 32 from wounds he received in battle with the Spaniards, it is said that Londoners who came out to see his funeral procession cried, "Farewell, the worthiest knight that lived." Starting out as cupbearer to Queen Elizabeth, he also served her as ambassador and master of the ordnance and was best known for exemplifying the ideal courtier. Two hundred elegies were written in his honour, including Edmund Spenser's Astrophel, A Pastoral Elegie. For 10 points, name this author of the sonnet cycle Astrophel and Stella and The Defence of Poesie.

Answer: Sir Philip SIDNEY

Too much "fluff" biography here. The first two sentences don't strike me as particularly helpful, as they relate some sort of anecdote. It makes me groan when a tossup on an author doesn't have any mention of works (or even that he was like, a poet) until the final few words.


Well the focus of the question is Sidney's image and personality, not necessarily what he wrote. You could call the whole question "fluff biography", but these clues are not a distraction.

Leo Wolpert wrote:
Israeli sources say that a quarter of all suicide bombings in Israel in the Second Intifada have been carried out by people from this city of thirty-six thousand. Israeli Defence Forces have killed at least ninety-six Palestinians here since April of 2002, when fifty-two more Palestinians and twenty-three Israeli soldiers lost their lives. For 10 points, name this West Bank city where a quarter of the residents of its refugee camp were made homeless by Operation Defensive Shield.

Answer: JENIN ["jen-EEN"], West Bank, Palestine

O hey name a West Bank city where lots of Palestinians live. You're either getting this on the first clue or not at all, I would think.


No, I don't think so. The main clue is the description of what happened in 2002. I think the biggest problem with this question is that it's old current events. I also thought I should describe Jenin's location in more detail, but I couldn't think of a simple way to do that, so I didn't. There were too many early buzzes with "Gaza".

Leo Wolpert wrote:
Warning: TWO ANSWERS REQUIRED. For most of their lengths, they are roughly parallel, running southeast about three hundred kilometres apart until the longer one makes a ninety-degree turn at Zaporizhia ["zap-or-IDGE-ee-a"]. Their estuaries are separated by about one hundred kilometres on the Black Sea's Odessa Bay. The shorter one forms part of the border between Moldova and Ukraine. The longer one passes through Kiev. For 10 points, what are these two rivers with very similar names?

Answers: DNIEPER ["NEE-purr"] (or DNEPR or DNIAPRO or DNIPRO)
and DNIESTER ["NEE-stir"] (or NISTRU or DNESTR)

Too "cute" for my taste. I mean, they're similar sounding rivers of Eastern Europe. You're going to get (more like "figure out") this one early or not at all.

I think people are way too quick to predict 'You're going to get (more like "figure out") this one early or not at all.' On this tossup, the first guess in one room was "Amu Darya and Syr Darya", before someone else got it right.

Leo Wolpert wrote:
If you hike up the creek of this name, you'll reach the lake of this name, which is fed by the glacier of this name in the provincial park named after it. It means "red fish" in the Kootenai language, and in English it refers to the freshwater salmon abundant here. In 1998, an avalanche into the lake claimed the life of Michel Trudeau. For 10 points, name this B.C. glacier and nearby brewery.

Answer: KOKANEE

OK, I may be an ignorant American, but was this even famous in most parts of Canada? Seems ungodly obscure to me, especially when its giveaway is that there's a brewery named for it.

If Ronald Reagan (rough equivalent to Pierre Trudeau) had a son who died when an avalanche swept him into a lake, I think a lot of Americans would remember the name of the lake. Also, the word kokanee is in Merriam-Webster. The giveaway refers to a brewery that for many years has run TV commercials showing the Sasquatch traipsing around the Kokanee Glacier.

Leo Wolpert wrote:
After serving as a decorated U-boat captain in the First World War, he commanded a Freikorps batallion in Münster in support of the right-wing Kapp putsch. When it failed, he took up theology. As pastor in Berlin-Dahlem, he praised the Nazi program as "a renewal movement based on a Christian moral foundation" — before falling out over issues of ecclesiastical independence and founding the Confessing Church, which got him put into concentration camps for eight years. For 10 points, name this Lutheran pastor who was neither a Communist, nor a Social Democrat, nor a trade unionist, nor a Jew, but the Nazis still came for him.

Answer: Pastor Martin NIEMÖLLER

Dude's only famous for one quote and absolutely nothing else, I doubt anyone will get this til the end. I guess this is OK if you absolutely must write on this dude.

That was sort of the point. Most people who can recognize his famous line don't know anything else about him. He was a rather prominent activist long after the war, though. One problem with this tossup is that some people buzzed in early guessing "Bonhoeffer". It would have been good to include some early clue that would disambiguate them to those without detailed knowledge, but all I can think of is to say that Niemoeller survived WW2. The trouble is that an early clue mentioning that would mess up the orderliness of the tossup.

Leo Wolpert wrote:
In addition to a guard, two messengers, and a chorus, this play has six other characters, three of whom die by suicide. Eurydice kills herself in grief over the loss of her son, Haemon, who has killed himself over the suicide of his betrothed, who is the title character. As predicted by Teiresias, Creon loses his wife and son despite a decision of mercy that doesn't reach the title character in time. For 10 points, in this play by Sophocles, who commits the capital crime of burying her brother Polyneices?

Answer: ANTIGONE

The first sentence is useless, except you can probably narrow it down to something Greek because there' a chorus and suicide and stuff. And then it falls off the difficulty cliff when Eurydice and Haemon come out of fucking nowhere.

Yeah, well, I'm not very familiar with the subject myself. How would you write a tossup about Antigone, using these or other clues?

Leo Wolpert wrote:
It was first invoked by John O'Sullivan in 1845 in an essay titled "Annexation", which called for the United States to accept Texas into the Union, and also predicted that within a hundred years, Canada would "swell the still accumulating momentum of our progress". For 10 points, what is this two-word phrase suggesting that the U.S. would "overspread the continent allotted by Providence"?

Answer: MANIFEST DESTINY

Leadin is really, really famous.

Not famous enough that I'd recognize the reference from the clue that it's from an essay by O'Sullivan, although people did buzz in early.
Leo Wolpert wrote:Also, this is a two sentence tossup. That's really, really short. CBI-esque.

I've never believed that the number of sentences is a useful measure of the length of a tossup. (So when writing question guidelines, tournament directors shouldn't specify the minimum or maximum number of sentences in a tossup.) Our guidelines said: "Do not exceed six (6) lines if writing in ASCII with 79 columns per line." If I write this tossup in ASCII with 79 columns per line, I find that it requires ... six (6) lines. This is (or used to be) a pretty standard length limit.

Leo Wolpert wrote:
"I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young. / I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. / I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it. / I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset." For 10 points, name this poem by Langston Hughes.

Answer: The NEGRO SPEAKS OF RIVERS

Wow, who would have thought that this poem would mention famous rivers? Perhaps everyone. Quoting famous lines from a famous poem as the leadin for a tossup on said poem is really, really bad. People are going to get this immediately, or not at all.

This tossup went dead in Canada. I thought people might get it off Langston Hughes's name.

Leo Wolpert wrote:
A pamphlet inviting people to a Ku Klux Klan meeting to discuss a "final solution" turned out to be a hoax. Instead, residents of this town who were unable to use Argyle Street responded in kind on Highway 6 by setting up a barrier of their own. Henco Industries was prevented from completing work on two hundred and fifty homes in the Douglas Creek Estates on land claimed by the Six Nations reserve in, for 10 points, what Ontario community?

Answer: CALEDONIA, Ontario

Again, I have no idea if this was a big deal in Canada, but it seems obscure to me. It would be like me writing a tossup on Fairfax, Virginia off of some incidents that happened there.

This was a big news story in Canada this year. I think the biggest problem with this question is that it doesn't say anything about when the events happened. I always tell quiz bowl writers that questions should include names, dates, and places, and in this case, dates were missing.

Leo Wolpert wrote:
It's a number between zero and one. StatsCan has determined that in Canada in 2003 it measured zero point three eight nine. To calculate it, draw a graph where the x-axis is the cumulative fraction of all households, and the y-axis is the cumulative fraction of all income. Find the area between this curve and the line y equals x, and then multiply by two to get, for 10 points, what number that measures the level of income inequality?

Answer: GINI COEFFICIENT (or GINI INDEX)

There's a lot of stuff between zero and one. Just saying. Why bother putting that in as a leadin?

Just to narrow down the possibilities, so people wouldn't think it might be something else like inflation rate, population density, or mean IQ. We start tossups with words like "This novel ..." for similar reasons. I could have written "This number between zero and one was determined by StatsCan in 2003 to measure ..." but the wording I did choose was much clearer.

In a post dominated by Modernist ideas,
QuizbowlPostmodernist wrote:Anecdote clues are usually bad not because anecdotes are inherently pointless, but because they tend to take up a lot of space. There are more efficient ways to use your time than to write two sentences which amount to a single clue. A five-line tossup is superior to a seven-line tossup if they have the same clues except that the former condenses a two sentence anecdote into ten words that convey the same level of information. It doesn't matter how cute or funny or clever the story is.


I don't necessarily share these priorities. When I play quiz bowl, I want to hear a few cute or funny or clever stories that I haven't heard before.

grapesmoker wrote:As for the writer personally expanding his horizons, I would say that all you have to do is look on the Stanford/ACF archives to see whether your question has been written this way before. If the answer is yes, you should look for other clues.


Maybe this is bad practice, but when I write questions for VETO, I avoid looking at the Stanford/ACF archives. I try to write about things and use clues that I do not recall having come up in quiz bowl before. If I check the archives, I might find that somebody has written something on this topic using some of the same clues, and then I'd feel bad about giving people a product that isn't new.

In summary:

It's been good to get your points of view here, but overall I was expecting something a bit more constructive, in the sense that if someone didn't like a tossup for some reason, they'd be more specific about how to fix it to their satisfaction, and we both might even agree that their suggestions would improve the tossup.

As you may know, for the past few years, we've had a policy at VETO -- at the Vancouver site, anyway -- that if your team hasn't won a VETO championship before, then you have to send the organizing committee a couple of packets of old, used questions that were written by your team's members. We do this because VETO is a guerrilla tournament, and we want to make sure that total novices don't contribute packets that embarrass themselves and irritate the other teams. On the organizing committee, we go through the old packets we get sent and point out any problems we see with it, such as you've got this fact wrong, it should be such-and-such; or you should put this clue before this other clue; or these clues are too vague and you should include the name or date or place of such-and-such; or this question is too long for our format, so if this were used in our tournament, you could omit the part about blah blah blah; or this question is too hard, but instead of having X as the answer, you could ask about something else mentioned in the question and use X as a clue. The reason we do all this is of course that we want them to know what kinds of things make good or bad questions so that they'll write questions that players will enjoy when they show up at our tournament. But the feedback we give is always quite specific, not just in pointing out what we don't like about a question, but in trying to show that the question would be better if you made such-and-such changes to it. So how's that for a challenge to this list, to apply to the VETO tossups just discussed?
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Re: Vancouver Estival Trivia Open question packets

Postby vetovian » Tue Oct 17, 2006 2:04 am

I'm also looking forward to a discussion of the bonuses from these same packets:
first packet bonuses and accompanying visuals
second packet bonuses and accompanying visuals

Tossups all have the same basic form everywhere, but I do some unconventional things in VETO bonuses, such as "given a page of text, name the literary work" and "look at this picture of a set of [objects] and name any six of your choice". In a packet last year, I did this with a page showing pictures of all 95 members of the Senate.
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Postby bird bird bird bird bird » Tue Oct 17, 2006 12:44 pm

if anyone really is dedicated enough to memorize the elevations of minor towns, then they deserve to be rewarded.


Let me start by saying that I flatly disagree with this, because the precise elevation is substantially less significant than the other clues you mention about the town's literary, athletic, and economic significance. But let's take it as a given that its height is indeed moderately interesting. Using this first clue by itself is still a terrible idea for two reasons: One, as you yourself mention, there are numerous locations on other continents at similar heights. If no one would actually buzz on "At one thousand five hundred and sixty meters above sea level,"(*) you've just wasted five seconds of everyone's time. Two, apart from the elevation, the "highest town in Europe" is a bad clue because it invites hair-splitting as to the definition of "town" in Switzerland. (Offhand, I looked up some other elevations: Zermatt, the community at the base of the Matterhorn, is at 1620 meters. The winter Olympic site St. Moritz is at 1766.) No player could possibly be expected to distinguish that Davos is a town, while those are just villages.

(*) Obviously people will buzz on some elevations, but these are generally well-known enough (eg, "This peak with a height of 20,320 feet...) that they need to be later in the tossup anyway.
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Postby grapesmoker » Tue Oct 17, 2006 6:12 pm

There's so much here that needs responding to that I may not get to it in the 15 minutes I have before I take off for class. If so, I'll return to comment on whatever I miss the first time around.

vetovian wrote:I think we have some difference in philosophy of our ideals of what a tossup is intended to be. The predominant view expressed here seems to be that a set of tossups should be like an examination. In a conventional competitive examination, of course, a bunch of people are given the same set of questions, and the winner is the examinee who gets the most correct answers. A set of quiz bowl tossups is similar to this, but on each question, points are given only to the team that buzzed in first with the correct answer, and players take a risk in deciding when to buzz in. None of what I've just said is controversial, but the view expressed by other people here seems to be that the ideal of a set of tossups is just like the ideal of a set of questions on a written examination: it should be a fair test of who knows a certain set of material, and how well they know it, with clues in each tossup getting easier as they go along. How can anyone disagree with that? Well, I don't really disagree with it, but I don't think tossups should be judged only on the basis of whether they're a fair test of knowledge, and nor do I think clues should be judged only on the basis of their usefulness in determining who has a greater command of the material. Nobody sits down to read a test (much less take a test) on a certain subject for the purpose of learning something about the subject. A set of tossups that is ontologically perfect as a test of depth and breadth of knowledge is not necessarily fun to play on if you're on a low-scoring team. So I try -- not necessarily saying that I succeed -- to write tossups that will make the players glad that they heard them, because they might have learned something interesting. I'd like people to hear the beginning of a tossup and think, "Hm, I don't know what the answer might be, but it piques my curiosity, and even if I don't get it after more clues, I'd like to know what the answer is!" If a tossup I've written gets read to the end and the players don't care to know what the answer is, and even after they've heard the answer they still don't care and they don't respond like "oh, that's what that is", then I consider that I haven't written a good tossup. Maybe everyone already agrees with everything I've just written, but I think it needs to be said. If quiz bowl tossups are written with only the examination ideal in mind, then the game will be attractive to people who like to take examinations -- but it won't be attractive to others, who will be more inclined to stay away. I think that this is what might have happened with list tossups falling out of favour over the past few years: the quiz bowl "establishment" looks more and more to the examination ideal, and as they do so, the type of people who want to play quiz bowl are more and more the type of people who want it to be like an examination.


This whole section is an example of a fundamental mistake in reasoning about quizbowl. First, I don't appreciate the backhanded attempt to paint those of us who routinely insist on good questions as some kind of prissy schoolmarms whose only joy is taking the fun (or should I say "funn"?) out of the game. That's not exactly what you said, and I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, but the implication of the above paragraph is quite clear to me: it is that we are somehow anti-fun, whereas you are pro-fun.

The twin goals of producing questions that are interesting to hear and also conform to pyramidality and other practices of good question writing are NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. I write that in big-ass capital letters because it's a foolish argument that gets trotted out every once in a while by people who come in for justified criticism, which they try to counter with the "my questions are fun" defense. There is nothing fun about sitting through a list of stuff and not knowing where the stuff came from. There is nothing fun about giveaways in the first line (we'll return to that). There is nothing fun about empty verbiage in tossups. These things are not fun, they detract from the game. Why is it not enough for a question to be pyramidal, factually correct, and about something relevant for it to be fun? Where does this perception, obviously shared by many NAQT writers, come from, that questions need some sort of retarded gimmick to be fun? All these things are antithetical to fun.

Since we all know that an anecdote proves everything, let me relay something that occurred at PARFAIT this weekend. There was a tossup on Gaudi which began with a clue that went something like "One of his works, La Pedrera," at which point my teammate buzzed with the correct answer (La Pedrera is "the quarry" and refers to Gaudi's Casa Mila). After the match, this guy, who's been playing for slightly over a year, said to me, "what's the point of putting one of his most famous works in the first clue?" Fun or "funn"? I report, you decide.

I learned something here: I actually didn't know that list tossups have disappeared from respectable tournaments! Maybe I lack taste, but I like to have a few list tossups in a packet, and I didn't hear any complaints about them when they came up at VETO. Again:


I realize I didn't try that hard to justify my position because I thought everyone had accepted that list tossups were lousy. Take a look at any good question set from the last 3 years. There are no list tossups in it. But of course, you didn't try to make a counter-argument, you just claimed that you like a couple of list tossups and that no one at VETO complained. I'm sorry to be somewhat of a jerk about this, but based on what I've seen of this year's VETO and the sets of years past, the standards of the teams playing at that tournament are light years behind that of good tournaments of recent times. My guess is that no one complained about them at VETO because people who play VETO are used to the low quality of questions and accept that as the norm. You can be sure that had I played at VETO, I would have complained.

That is actually the whole point of a list tossup like this one -- to leave people guessing what they might have in common. Wondering what the category of the answer might be is supposed to be part of the fun.


No, this is part of the stupid. It is the reason that no good tournaments have list tossups anymore; people hate sitting there trying to figure out what the commonalities are. And they are right, it should be obvious from the get-go what's being asked about.

As it was, by the way, the question was answered pretty early, because the book got quite a bit of publicity in Canada.


So what? The question still sucks. Just because Canadian teams know it doesn't mean it's well written.

Whenever I write a tossup with the answer being a country, I try never to include the capital of the country, because capitals of countries are the preëminent example of list knowledge. I might have included Chavez, though.


So in part one you defend list tossups and in part two eliminate list information? I don't get it. Anyway, it's the giveaway, it's supposed to be easy.

Other commenters wrote about this, but I suppose I should say that the whole reason I wrote the question was that I heard the first sentence somewhere, and thought it would make a good, interesting clue (after I checked its accuracy, of course). It's a fact that seems counterintuitive given the political turmoil there, but the explanation of course is in the last clue of the tossup. Now, I probably wouldn't have written this if Venezuela had the highest growth rate only for the past one year, because there are different reporting periods, etc., but since it's two years, I can take it as solid.


I'm not disputing the factual accuracy of this clue, just as I wouldn't dispute the height of Mt. Everest or whatever. I'm saying that it's not a useful clue, and I can totally see someone being baited into negging with "Argentina" as apparently happened.

Whatever, I don't care that much about this part, since the rest of the packet has bigger problems.

I was a little worried about this question, for the very reasons you bring up, and I think the early -5's that it elicited (with answers like "New France") show that it wasn't well written. Now I think my solution would be to begin it with "A letter written about them in 1670 states, quote:"

Talon and Colbert are too well known to mention before the quote: I wouldn't want people to be able to guess the correct answer before hearing the quotation. More generally, though, the quotation is not exactly a throwaway -- I was amused by what Talon wrote in this letter, and that's why I wrote the question.

I've never heard of these Filles du Roi, maybe it's a Canadian thing. Regardless, launching straight into the quote is bad practice, and certainly Talon is nowhere near as well-known as you seem to suppose.

Well, I didn't know that Catherine established the Pale before I wrote the question. The articles about her in the Britannica and the Wikipedia do not even mention the Pale -- you can look them up to see what else she "established". How, specifically, would you reorder the clues in this tossup?

I might have mentioned the "Temporary laws" of Alexander III, its abolition by the provisional government in 1917, and similar "pales" that existed in France and England for comparison. I'm not going to write the whole tossup, but you get the idea.

This question wasn't very successful in getting answered, either. The line "rose red city half as old as time" was not as well recognized among the players as I thought might be, even though it turns up 959 hits on Google.

I don't understand "if he's only known for this poem, it's a bad idea to put that into the first clue." I'd say that among people who do recognize the line, very few know who wrote it.


First of all, hits on Google is not a measure of askability. Let's just dispose with that argument straight off. Second, if no one got it, then my guess is that the question was ill-conceived. But it doesn't matter whether no one got it or everyone did for the purposes of the argument I was making, which you seem to ignore in your second paragraph. My point is that if this guy is only known for one poem, then writing a tossup on that poem and leading in with him is a bad idea. It's a power-or-nothing situation that depends on whether you've heard of him. It's like writing a tossup on "The New Colossus" by starting with "Emma Lazarus." Bad.


Answer: (Ernest Orlando) Lawrence BERKELEY National LABoratory (or LBL or LBNL)

But it did not result in a quickfire buzz at the very beginning. Again, if it's anti-pyramidal, how, specifically, would you reorder the clues?


First, I wouldn't even have written this question in the first place. But if I had to, I would have probably put some of the more obscure discoveries made there first, possibly referenced the data-fudging scandal of '03, maybe mentioned MSRI (where I believe you worked for some time), things like that. You know, harder clues first, then easier ones.

Laurier question

See above discussion of lists. :smile:


Yeah, except you've failed to address any of the issues regarding list tossups. They suck and this tossup sucks. There's so much to work with when writing a question on Laurier that grabbing some random quotes is just lazy and pointless.

Answer: the Good Soldier Å VEJK ["shvaik"]

Whatever else one might say about this question, the claim that it is "anti-pyramidal" just baffles me. Again, show me how the clues could be reordered to make it pyramidal. And your second statement is contradicted by the empirical fact that when played (three separate experiments), it was answered late in the question.


Argh. For once and for all, the statements "it was answered late (or early) in my room" does not equal "this is a good question." I don't know what happened at VETO and it's frankly totally irrelevant to this discussion. This question is bad because Svejk pretending to be crazy to escape the army is the whole theme of the damn book. It's like writing a tossup on Heart of Darkness by talking about how it's a descent into the primordial state or some such thing. Anyone with even cursory familiarity with Svejk would have buzzed on the first clue. The fact that this went until the end at VETO says more about the quality of teams at VETO than about this question.

These are good criticisms. I have nothing but contempt for Dembski and his business model, and I was aiming for subtle ridicule with my description of him as "a mathematician at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary" -- a description he can't even dispute. I think this was the only actual calculation that Dembski did to show irreducible complexity, but you're right, Behe's favourite example is not this but blood clotting. I got my actual description of the flagellum from a crank or charlatan who is a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences and Herchel Smith Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University.


Umm, ok, whatever you say. My point is that half this question contained zero biology information, instead referencing all sorts of nonsense that no real biologist would know unless they're busy refuting Dembski or something similar.

Zheng Ho

Not really. There were famous Europeans who sailed to Asia via Africa.


Given the geography outlined in the question, plus the fact that he was bringing animals back (I'm not aware of any Europeans who brought back giraffes) makes a "Zheng Ho" buzz at that stage a good gamble. Actually, in this case your argument even works against you, since if there are European explorers who fit that same description then the question is not uniquely identifying from the first clue and hence bad.

Well, what can I say; we have low standards. :smile: I see urbandictionary as the best resource on the latest slang, and that's why that clue is there. I agree with you, though, that Wikipedia references shouldn't be used unless the question is actually about something to do with Wikipedia.


Apparently low standards are quite the excuse these days. Perhaps next time I make something for my lab and it breaks because I did a shoddy job, I'll just tell them I have low standards and see how that pans out for me.

The internet is so fractured that you can never be sure that anyone looks at any two of the same sites anyway. Citing some random collection of slang (which I hadn't even heard of until VETO) is just bad practice. It's like crap that people put online and then you are trying to turn it into a question, but no one cares. It's like me citing a youtube video or something.

Answer: SMITH (accept BLACKSMITH)

Well, that's one thing that could happen, and when the question was played, it did. But someone could recognize that these are pretty common surnames in their respective languages, and could form a guess based on knowing that. If you really want to know the "purpose" of the question, it was that if someone who's heard the question meets someone named Haddad, for example, they can show off by saying "Your name is Arabic for Smith." Then in response to the question, "How did you know that?", they can say, "From a quiz bowl tournament called VETO."


I don't even know how to respond to that last part except by saying, are you serious?

It's just worthless as a question, especially since you cannot know ahead of time who speaks what language on the teams that play your packets. It's just a random list of words and the first person to recognize something wins. There is no knowledge being tested here.

I don't agree with this. First, if anyone really is dedicated enough to memorize the elevations of minor towns, then they deserve to be rewarded. Second, without the 1560 metres clue, it would just begin with "it's the highest town in Europe". If I heard that, I would want to know how high (roughly) the town is; I think it's moderately interesting that "the highest town in Europe" is actually lower than at least one well-known North American metropolis, not to mention quite a few cities in South America that are much higher.


Jeff already responded to this, but frankly, this is preposterous. If I bothered to memorize random digits of pi, should I be rewarded? The correct answer is that I should probably be slapped around once or twice until I come to my senses. How about encouraging people to learn something other than strings of numbers or lists for a change?

Mentioning the ACL in the second sentence of a "knee" tossup is pretty much a giveaway. Who hasn't heard of an athlete tearing this ligament?

I haven't. And yeah I know it's a lame question, but I couldn't think of how else to write a tossup with KNEE as answer.


You must be the only one left, then, because even I, noted person who doesn't know sports, have heard of tearing an ACL.

"is he known at all?" Showing my age, I guess; he retired from what used to be called the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour in 1995.

Not known as a novelist, though. Much like Thomas Paine wasn't known as a poet.

Well the focus of the question is Sidney's image and personality, not necessarily what he wrote. You could call the whole question "fluff biography", but these clues are not a distraction.


You're right, this whole question is fluff, and shouldn't have been written.

It was first invoked by John O'Sullivan in 1845 in an essay titled "Annexation", which called for the United States to accept Texas into the Union, and also predicted that within a hundred years, Canada would "swell the still accumulating momentum of our progress". For 10 points, what is this two-word phrase suggesting that the U.S. would "overspread the continent allotted by Providence"?

Answer: MANIFEST DESTINY

Leadin is really, really famous.

Not famous enough that I'd recognize the reference from the clue that it's from an essay by O'Sullivan, although people did buzz in early.


That's because you didn't learn about this in 7th grade American history. It's really damn famous.

I've never believed that the number of sentences is a useful measure of the length of a tossup. (So when writing question guidelines, tournament directors shouldn't specify the minimum or maximum number of sentences in a tossup.) Our guidelines said: "Do not exceed six (6) lines if writing in ASCII with 79 columns per line." If I write this tossup in ASCII with 79 columns per line, I find that it requires ... six (6) lines. This is (or used to be) a pretty standard length limit.


Unfortunately your beliefs do not correspond to reality. I posted a long rant about this in regards to last year's SCT; you're welcome to go back and find it, or I can repost it here for people's edification.

It's a number between zero and one. StatsCan has determined that in Canada in 2003 it measured zero point three eight nine. To calculate it, draw a graph where the x-axis is the cumulative fraction of all households, and the y-axis is the cumulative fraction of all income. Find the area between this curve and the line y equals x, and then multiply by two to get, for 10 points, what number that measures the level of income inequality?

Answer: GINI COEFFICIENT (or GINI INDEX)

There's a lot of stuff between zero and one. Just saying. Why bother putting that in as a leadin?

Just to narrow down the possibilities, so people wouldn't think it might be something else like inflation rate, population density, or mean IQ. We start tossups with words like "This novel ..." for similar reasons. I could have written "This number between zero and one was determined by StatsCan in 2003 to measure ..." but the wording I did choose was much clearer.


Except a whole bunch of your questions lack the basic "this thing" clause. Whatever, the point is that there are so many coefficients between zero and one (like, I don't know, thermodynamic efficiency) that this clue is totally useless.

It's been good to get your points of view here, but overall I was expecting something a bit more constructive, in the sense that if someone didn't like a tossup for some reason, they'd be more specific about how to fix it to their satisfaction, and we both might even agree that their suggestions would improve the tossup.


I've been pretty specific about why some things are bad and some aren't. Calling what we wrote here not constructive says to me that you're not really that interested in our criticism. Kind of interested, but not so much that you're actually going to change anything; you spent far more space defending the bad questions that you wrote here instead of trying to figure out how to write better ones. Just saying.

As you may know, for the past few years, we've had a policy at VETO -- at the Vancouver site, anyway -- that if your team hasn't won a VETO championship before, then you have to send the organizing committee a couple of packets of old, used questions that were written by your team's members. We do this because VETO is a guerrilla tournament, and we want to make sure that total novices don't contribute packets that embarrass themselves and irritate the other teams.


This is actually incredibly patronizing. What this says is that if a team of, say, Matt Weiner, Eric Kwartler, Dan Passner, and myself decided to take a trip to VETO (as we had spoken of doing), our questions would have to be reviewed since we hadn't won VETO before, unlike whatever Canadian team has done so. I don't believe myself to be the best writer in quizbowl or anything, but I'm pretty sure I'm better than pretty much any team that submitted a VETO packet this year, regardless of whether any of them have won before or not.


On the organizing committee, we go through the old packets we get sent and point out any problems we see with it, such as you've got this fact wrong, it should be such-and-such; or you should put this clue before this other clue; or these clues are too vague and you should include the name or date or place of such-and-such; or this question is too long for our format, so if this were used in our tournament, you could omit the part about blah blah blah; or this question is too hard, but instead of having X as the answer, you could ask about something else mentioned in the question and use X as a clue. The reason we do all this is of course that we want them to know what kinds of things make good or bad questions so that they'll write questions that players will enjoy when they show up at our tournament. But the feedback we give is always quite specific, not just in pointing out what we don't like about a question, but in trying to show that the question would be better if you made such-and-such changes to it. So how's that for a challenge to this list, to apply to the VETO tossups just discussed?


I've done as much as I am going to do today. If you're looking for specific reasons why some ways to write tossups are bad, I can start another thread about it, but I'm not going to go through the packets with a fine-toothed comb and try to critique everything. I don't have the time for that, and this post has already taken way too much of the time I do have anyway. All I have to say is that there are ways of writing questions that have become standard over the last 5 years in quizbowl. Those ways include pyramidality, concrete clues, useful clues, no list tossups, etc. They exist for good reasons, and have been justified many times over on this forum and elsewhere. If you want to look in this forum's archives, you can find many such posts.
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Postby Rothlover » Tue Oct 17, 2006 7:59 pm

Dan Passner Brandeis '06 JTS/Columbia '11-'12 Ben Gurion University of the Negev/Columbia '12?
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Postby grapesmoker » Tue Oct 17, 2006 8:26 pm

Rothlover wrote:Jerry:VETO::Jimmy Wichard:A bunch of cans

See also: SLAM


I'm not sure I like being in this analogy, since I apparently play the role of a "violent, mentally retarded man," and everyone knows I'm far from violent.
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Postby Rothlover » Tue Oct 17, 2006 8:37 pm

Point being, Jimmy Wichard stomps the shit out of cans when they get out of line. I think that is admirable.
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Postby bsmith » Tue Oct 17, 2006 10:27 pm

The fact that this went until the end at VETO says more about the quality of teams at VETO than about this question.


Umm... I know that most VETO teams would probably lose to any team consisting of you, but is the brushing aside really necessary?


Several participants at VETO are aware that the questions aren't well-written; it is possibly the greatest reason why "guerrilla" tournaments are so strongly discouraged. I even admit that I have used the surprise factor of "guerrilla" to test some gameplay curveballs to see how they work (ie: a tossup in a non-English language, a bonus where points are wagered, assigned bonus parts to individuals, etc... most of which are shot down post-tournament).

Still, I go to VETO, even though the questions aren't great. It's free, a nice break in the summer to travel and meet up with other Ontario players, and an opportunity to have a face-off against a team from BC. As for the packets, I know I'm not the best writer, but I'm not deliberately trying to make garbage. Isn't it better for the quizbowl community in general to have active - but poor - packet-submission tournaments, rather than no activity at all? Somehow, I don't think VETO going back to NAQT questions would be considered positive.


As for the packet-review requirement, I, too, am not impressed by it. As far as I know, the packet review has never been done: it would supposedly only be done if there are two teams vying for the last of the 8 spots; even then, being on the Stanford Archive is apparently enough to justify admission into the tournament. I never went through this packet review procedure, and I've been allowed to play at the Toronto mirror for the past three editions. Teams that have never written packets have also been allowed to play at Vancouver, simply because there was enough room for them.

I would also welcome in Toronto this group of players you suggested, even if you expect to win it handily (as long as you're good-natured about it). If you won Toronto, you could dish out a killing to the BC side in the phone match, and that would be worth me suffering a blowout loss in one round ;)
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Postby grapesmoker » Tue Oct 17, 2006 11:36 pm

bsmith wrote:
The fact that this went until the end at VETO says more about the quality of teams at VETO than about this question.


Umm... I know that most VETO teams would probably lose to any team consisting of you, but is the brushing aside really necessary?


I'm not trying to brush aside teams at VETO; I should point out that there are many teams that wouldn't have gotten this question in the beginning, and there's nothing wrong with that. What's wrong is the question itself, which would be useless for distinguishing between someone with a cursory familiarity with Svejk and someone who's actually read the book.

Several participants at VETO are aware that the questions aren't well-written; it is possibly the greatest reason why "guerrilla" tournaments are so strongly discouraged. I even admit that I have used the surprise factor of "guerrilla" to test some gameplay curveballs to see how they work (ie: a tossup in a non-English language, a bonus where points are wagered, assigned bonus parts to individuals, etc... most of which are shot down post-tournament).


I love guerilla tournaments. If there's any place to try out various gimmicks, it's at a guerilla tournament. That doesn't mean writing crappy questions though.

Still, I go to VETO, even though the questions aren't great. It's free, a nice break in the summer to travel and meet up with other Ontario players, and an opportunity to have a face-off against a team from BC. As for the packets, I know I'm not the best writer, but I'm not deliberately trying to make garbage. Isn't it better for the quizbowl community in general to have active - but poor - packet-submission tournaments, rather than no activity at all? Somehow, I don't think VETO going back to NAQT questions would be considered positive.


Ok, I'm not accusing anyone of deliberately poisoning the question pool. You make the following statements: you are not the best writer, and you don't deliberately try to make garbage. That's all fine, but what's not fine is people pretending like they don't know what good questions are, or defending bad questions. We've been having discussions on this forum for as long as I can remember about what good questions should be like. Even though everyone is going to produce some crap every once in a while, most good writers understand the rules, and we try to explain those rules to others so they may produce better questions too.

Also, you present a false dichotomy. My preferred outcome is the existence of an active Canadian circuit that produces good questions; there's nothing about Canadian quizbowl or Canadian players that makes me think that they are incapable of it. It's just that you're used to playing on crappy questions, and so you reproduce what you know.

For the record, I also did not start this thread. It was opened by Peter to get feedback on VETO. I gave said feedback, and in return what I heard is basically the same defense of bad questions that people have already tried here many times, and it never works. It's not going to work this time either.

As for the packet-review requirement, I, too, am not impressed by it. As far as I know, the packet review has never been done: it would supposedly only be done if there are two teams vying for the last of the 8 spots; even then, being on the Stanford Archive is apparently enough to justify admission into the tournament. I never went through this packet review procedure, and I've been allowed to play at the Toronto mirror for the past three editions. Teams that have never written packets have also been allowed to play at Vancouver, simply because there was enough room for them.


It's still kind of a snobby way of phrasing it. Like, we'll review your work but won't edit the questions. I'd much prefer it if there were editors who said that they would fix problematic packets. Otherwise, if it's a guerilla tournament, then just let people show up and play without this pretense of a review.

I would also welcome in Toronto this group of players you suggested, even if you expect to win it handily (as long as you're good-natured about it). If you won Toronto, you could dish out a killing to the BC side in the phone match, and that would be worth me suffering a blowout loss in one round ;)


Personally, I would love to come to Toronto, but I just don't see myself driving seven hours and then being excited about playing on the kinds of questions VETO was played on this year. If VETO turned into an edited tournament, or if I knew that teams would generally follow accepted question writing guidelines, I would definitely try to make it up there.
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Postby nobthehobbit » Tue Oct 17, 2006 11:54 pm

I also played at VETO (Vancouver), and have done so for the past three years. The first time I played I was one of the teams let in without prior writing experience, and I know that my packet was a complete disaster. I'd like to think that I've gotten better, but I do want to be a better writer, and I'd welcome any critiques of my packet with its associated visuals from the most recent VETO.

As for the issue of packet reviews, they're mainly meant for what Peter indicated. If a team of 4 well-known top players wanted to play VETO, it would be a safe bet that they would be allowed to.

To deflect one criticism, I am aware that questions referencing (or having as answers) Internet sites are considered bad, and that furthermore the tossup doing so in that pack is extremely time-sensitive. However, the person referenced in that tossup is a regular VETO participant (only one of 3 to have played every Vancouver edition) and was not written by me, although I was the person who collected the questions for that pack. (I personally wrote 34 of the 47 questions in the pack, anyway.)

Also, please understand that many people writing for this tournament were mostly educated in Canada, rather than the States; hence, what we think is obvious will be rather different from what you think is obvious. For instance, you might find a tossup on Benjamin Harrison to be easy, while we might find it difficult; I'm certainly nowhere near as good as the best players, or even the best Canadians, but I would probably get a tossup on him only on clues that his grandfather was also President or that his term fell between Grover Cleveland's terms. Similarly, a tossup on Joe Clark would probably be gotten quickly by a Canadian player, but I can't say when an American player would get it (he's notable for being the only party leader to defeat Pierre Trudeau in an election).

Anyway, feel free to criticize, and I hope I'll be a better question writer for it.
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Postby vetovian » Wed Oct 18, 2006 2:20 am

Some words about the vetting procedure. This was my idea, and I take full blame or credit for it. I can't think of any other quiz bowl tournament that does things this way. We started doing it in 2004, and I think it has worked well. (See below for details on why I say this.) But only the Vancouver site has actually used it. The people running the Toronto site have decided not to use it.

grapesmoker wrote:
As you may know, for the past few years, we've had a policy at VETO -- at the Vancouver site, anyway -- that if your team hasn't won a VETO championship before, then you have to send the organizing committee a couple of packets of old, used questions that were written by your team's members. We do this because VETO is a guerrilla tournament, and we want to make sure that total novices don't contribute packets that embarrass themselves and irritate the other teams.

This is actually incredibly patronizing. What this says is that if a team of, say, Matt Weiner, Eric Kwartler, Dan Passner, and myself decided to take a trip to VETO (as we had spoken of doing), our questions would have to be reviewed since we hadn't won VETO before, unlike whatever Canadian team has done so.


If you were planning to go to the Vancouver site, then yes, that is correct. (If Toronto, then no.)

grapesmoker wrote: I don't believe myself to be the best writer in quizbowl or anything, but I'm pretty sure I'm better than pretty much any team that submitted a VETO packet this year, regardless of whether any of them have won before or not.


Probably, but that just means that your application would be approved quickly, and it's likely that we wouldn't have any suggestions for improvement, other than possibly to remind you of the VETO length limit if the old questions you showed us were longer than our limit (because it seems likely to me that your questions would have been for tournaments with longer length limits).

bsmith wrote:As for the packet-review requirement, I, too, am not impressed by it. As far as I know, the packet review has never been done: it would supposedly only be done if there are two teams vying for the last of the 8 spots;


That has apparently been the policy at the Toronto site. Yes, we use the same packets in Vancouver and Toronto, but the Toronto site coordinators have decided not to vet teams the way we do. If Vancouver players complained loudly about hearing one or two Toronto packets that were so awful that people thought the writers shouldn't have been allowed to contribute to the tournament, then I might ask the Toronto organizers to be more selective about teams they let in next year, but I haven't heard such serious complaints in Vancouver, so I haven't asked.

bsmith wrote: even then, being on the Stanford Archive is apparently enough to justify admission into the tournament.


That's a bit of a misinterpretation. We announce that "As for how high our standards are: the vast majority of the packets in the Stanford Archive would meet our criteria for acceptance." There are some lousy packets in the Archive that would cause us some concern if they were given to us.

bsmith wrote: I never went through this packet review procedure, and I've been allowed to play at the Toronto mirror for the past three editions. Teams that have never written packets have also been allowed to play at Vancouver, simply because there was enough room for them.


Yes, teams that have never written packets before have been allowed to play in Vancouver, but such teams have not written packets, at least not since we started using the vetting procedure in 2004.

grapesmoker wrote:It's still kind of a snobby way of phrasing it.


I'm aware of that, and I don't like it either. Back when I started it, I asked for advice on the Yahoo! quizbowl group for better ways to do this, but nobody suggested anything.

grapesmoker wrote: Like, we'll review your work but won't edit the questions. I'd much prefer it if there were editors who said that they would fix problematic packets.


But then it wouldn't be a guerrilla tournament. People would have to submit packets a couple of weeks earlier, the editors would have to do a lot more work, and the editors wouldn't get to play. As it is, this is the one place where the most experienced Canadian quiz bowlers get to play each other.

grapesmoker wrote: Otherwise, if it's a guerilla tournament, then just let people show up and play without this pretense of a review.


We used to do this, but we stopped because it didn't work. There's a reason for our "snobby" request for teams to send us a couple of old question packets. In our neck of the woods, we've had people who have come to us after having enjoyed and done well in shows like SmartAsk and Reach for the Top, and they learn about our tournament, and they figure, hey, it couldn't be too hard to write a packet in this format, even though we haven't even played it before, so let's give it a try! Of course, some of the resulting packets were pretty bad. The writers felt bad, and the people who played on these packets felt bad not only about the packets they were read, but also about the fact that the writers didn't know enough about how to write a passable packet.

The way it's turned out since we started the vetting procedure is that we have accepted every team that sent us the required old packets, but some applicants got a lot more review comments than others. Teams that had never written quiz bowl questions before didn't have any old packets to send us, so it was very easy to decide that they didn't make the cut. Some of these teams did end up playing, but they didn't contribute questions. We can do this at a guerrilla tournament because there's another site with its own teams contributing questions.

If anyone can think of a fairer, more sensible way to do what we're trying to do, let me know. As I said, if you, Matt, Eric and Dan had asked to play in Vancouver, I would have asked you to show me a couple of old packets that you'd written. The only alternatives I can think of for a guerrilla tournament would be either (a) being arbitrary about who we'll accept, or (b) letting everyone in until space fills up. But (a) would just alienate people even more because of its lack of any appearance of fairness, and (b) didn't work.
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Postby vetovian » Mon Oct 23, 2006 3:15 am

After reading this, I regret that the name QuizbowlPostmodernist is already taken. When I asked for feedback on my VETO packets, I knew that responses would be almost entirely about things that people didn't like in them, and I hoped not only to learn about where I made mistakes, if I concluded they were mistakes, but also to have some discussion about what criteria people use to judge questions. If I wrote a question that some people didn't like, but I thought it was a good question and still think I would write the question the same way even after reading people's explanation of why they didn't like it, then I'll say so. If we keep the same guidelines at VETO, then people will have a better idea of what to expect, at least from my packets.

grapesmoker wrote:This whole section is an example of a fundamental mistake in reasoning about quizbowl. First, I don't appreciate the backhanded attempt to paint those of us who routinely insist on good questions as some kind of prissy schoolmarms whose only joy is taking the fun (or should I say "funn"?) out of the game. That's not exactly what you said, and I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, but the implication of the above paragraph is quite clear to me: it is that we are somehow anti-fun, whereas you are pro-fun.

The twin goals of producing questions that are interesting to hear and also conform to pyramidality and other practices of good question writing are NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. I write that in big-ass capital letters because it's a foolish argument that gets trotted out every once in a while by people who come in for justified criticism, which they try to counter with the "my questions are fun" defense. There is nothing fun about sitting through a list of stuff and not knowing where the stuff came from. There is nothing fun about giveaways in the first line (we'll return to that). There is nothing fun about empty verbiage in tossups. These things are not fun, they detract from the game. Why is it not enough for a question to be pyramidal, factually correct, and about something relevant for it to be fun? Where does this perception, obviously shared by many NAQT writers, come from, that questions need some sort of retarded gimmick to be fun? All these things are antithetical to fun.


Suppose I say "let's play outside", citing as justification that I and some of my friends find it fun to play outside, but you want to play inside, and you tell me that playing inside and having fun are not mutually exclusive. Well, sure, I would grant that, it is possible to have fun while playing inside. But I think it would also be fun to play outside. You don't think it would be fun to play outside, but instead of saying this is your preference and noting that we have different ideas about what is fun, you rant about how anyone who says he thinks playing outside is fun is either lying or deluded or morally defective (if I understand your message). So yeah, a reaction like that would reasonably get you labeled anti-fun.

You cite some specific types of things that are "not fun, they detract from the game.":

1. "There is nothing fun about sitting through a list of stuff and not knowing where the stuff came from."
grapesmoker wrote:
I learned something here: I actually didn't know that list tossups have disappeared from respectable tournaments! Maybe I lack taste, but I like to have a few list tossups in a packet, and I didn't hear any complaints about them when they came up at VETO. Again:

I realize I didn't try that hard to justify my position because I thought everyone had accepted that list tossups were lousy. Take a look at any good question set from the last 3 years. There are no list tossups in it. But of course, you didn't try to make a counter-argument, you just claimed that you like a couple of list tossups and that no one at VETO complained. I'm sorry to be somewhat of a jerk about this, but based on what I've seen of this year's VETO and the sets of years past, the standards of the teams playing at that tournament are light years behind that of good tournaments of recent times. My guess is that no one complained about them at VETO because people who play VETO are used to the low quality of questions and accept that as the norm. You can be sure that had I played at VETO, I would have complained.


The counter-argument I was getting at in justifying the "list" style of the JPod tossup is just summarized in what I wrote: I like a couple of list tossups, and no one at VETO complained. I took the lack of complaints to indicate that there was no general feeling that these types of questions should be banned, and also that VETO players probably like them about as much as I do. And another premise of my argument is that if players in a tournament like a certain type of question, that type of question should not be banned from the tournament. Q.E.D.

Now suppose you were playing VETO and we got to my JPod tossup and you did complain about it because of its list style. You seem to be suggesting that you could use it as an example in telling the other people in the room that this is a kind of question they don't need to put up with, and that they would find the prospect of quiz bowl without list tossups to be an appealing one. Probably some people would agree, but I don't think you'd get the overwhelming support you imagine.

grapesmoker wrote:people hate sitting there trying to figure out what the commonalities are.


Not all people hate doing that. I already named myself as a counterexample. And for what it's worth, the reaction I've seen when people hear a list tossup getting answered is more like a satisfied "ah" than a disgusted "hmph, in tossups it should be obvious from the get-go what's being asked about."

2. "There is nothing fun about giveaways in the first line."
grapesmoker wrote:Since we all know that an anecdote proves everything, let me relay something that occurred at PARFAIT this weekend. There was a tossup on Gaudi which began with a clue that went something like "One of his works, La Pedrera," at which point my teammate buzzed with the correct answer (La Pedrera is "the quarry" and refers to Gaudi's Casa Mila). After the match, this guy, who's been playing for slightly over a year, said to me, "what's the point of putting one of his most famous works in the first clue?" Fun or "funn"? I report, you decide.


Here's a place where I agree with you. I may not judge questions by all the same standards as you do, but that doesn't mean I have no standards. And actually I don't think anyone thinks there is something fun about giveaways in the first line. The writer probably didn't expect the question to be answered off that first clue.

3. "There is nothing fun about empty verbiage in tossups."

A statement that nobody disagrees with, so it's not particularly helpful. What I think you're hinting at here -- correct me if I'm wrong -- is that if a tossup contains some verbiage such that no player could reasonably be expected to buzz in after having heard it, then that verbiage is deemed "empty" and should be removed. I don't necessarily agree with this. If the verbiage mentions some facts that make the tossup more interesting just to hear and to learn from, it may be worth keeping.

4. "Where does this perception, obviously shared by many NAQT writers, come from, that questions need some sort of retarded gimmick to be fun?"

I've never written for NAQT, but I think it's fair to say that NAQT writers often include gimmicks in their questions for no other reason than that it's supposed to be fun. I like a lot of these gimmicks, and in my experience, a lot of Vancouver players enjoy hearing them too. If, after a game, you cited some of these gimmicky questions from the round and invited the other players to sign a petition to NAQT to ban such things entirely, my sense is that not many Vancouver players would agree that NAQT would be more fun without these gimmicky questions.

In my experience, Matt Bruce (agent 61) wrote some of the NAQT questions that Vancouver players enjoyed the most, and so a couple of years ago I even invited him to submit a packet to VETO, which he did, simply out of generosity. But I know that there are other people on this board who hate his questions with such a passion that they've written that NAQT should fire him as a writer.


grapesmoker wrote:
It's been good to get your points of view here, but overall I was expecting something a bit more constructive, in the sense that if someone didn't like a tossup for some reason, they'd be more specific about how to fix it to their satisfaction, and we both might even agree that their suggestions would improve the tossup.

I've been pretty specific about why some things are bad and some aren't. Calling what we wrote here not constructive says to me that you're not really that interested in our criticism. Kind of interested, but not so much that you're actually going to change anything; you spent far more space defending the bad questions that you wrote here instead of trying to figure out how to write better ones. Just saying.


Sorry for sounding as if the responses here weren't constructive. What I meant was that I was hoping to see more responses of the form "here's how you can improve the question" rather than "don't do that". The "bad" questions that I have defended are the subset that I still don't think are bad, even after reading why people think they're bad.

grapesmoker wrote:For the record, I also did not start this thread. It was opened by Peter to get feedback on VETO. I gave said feedback, and in return what I heard is basically the same defense of bad questions that people have already tried here many times, and it never works. It's not going to work this time either.


The reason why people have already tried these same defences (or some of them, anyway) is that they have different ideas about what constitute good questions. You mention "pyramidality, concrete clues, useful clues, no list tossups, etc." I do support allowing list tossups, but as for the rest, I don't think you'll find anyone who says "I think this tossup is good even though it is not pyramidal", or "I think this is a good clue to include even though it is not concrete and/or not useful".
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Postby vetovian » Mon Oct 23, 2006 3:37 am

Catching up on comments on specific questions:

grapesmoker wrote:
Whenever I write a tossup with the answer being a country, I try never to include the capital of the country, because capitals of countries are the preëminent example of list knowledge. I might have included Chavez, though.

So in part one you defend list tossups and in part two eliminate list information? I don't get it. Anyway, it's the giveaway, it's supposed to be easy.


One of us is confused: I don't understand the contradiction you see between defending list tossups and eliminating list information.

As for whether the "giveaway" is "supposed to be easy", that brings up a debatable question: should the last clue of a tossup always be the easiest relevant factual information that you could mention? If you write a tossup about Paris, should you end it with "capital of France"? I don't think you should. It's usually a bit disappointing to see a tossup go dead when the answer is something that most people have heard of, but I think it's reasonable to have a certain minimum level of difficulty.

grapesmoker wrote:
Other commenters wrote about this, but I suppose I should say that the whole reason I wrote the question was that I heard the first sentence somewhere, and thought it would make a good, interesting clue (after I checked its accuracy, of course). It's a fact that seems counterintuitive given the political turmoil there, but the explanation of course is in the last clue of the tossup. Now, I probably wouldn't have written this if Venezuela had the highest growth rate only for the past one year, because there are different reporting periods, etc., but since it's two years, I can take it as solid.

I'm not disputing the factual accuracy of this clue, just as I wouldn't dispute the height of Mt. Everest or whatever. I'm saying that it's not a useful clue, and I can totally see someone being baited into negging with "Argentina" as apparently happened.


You'll have to explain just what you mean by "useful". I used the clue because I found it interesting, and I heard it somewhere, so maybe a player might have heard it too.

grapesmoker wrote:
I was a little worried about this question, for the very reasons you bring up, and I think the early -5's that it elicited (with answers like "New France") show that it wasn't well written. Now I think my solution would be to begin it with "A letter written about them in 1670 states, quote:"

Talon and Colbert are too well known to mention before the quote: I wouldn't want people to be able to guess the correct answer before hearing the quotation. More generally, though, the quotation is not exactly a throwaway -- I was amused by what Talon wrote in this letter, and that's why I wrote the question.


I've never heard of these Filles du Roi, maybe it's a Canadian thing.

That's because you didn't learn about this in 5th grade Canadian history.
grapesmoker wrote:Regardless, launching straight into the quote is bad practice,

I'll agree with that.
grapesmoker wrote:and certainly Talon is nowhere near as well-known as you seem to suppose.


Where does this certainty come from? As the first Intendant of New France, he's about as well-known in Canadian history as John Winthrop is in American history.

grapesmoker wrote:hits on Google is not a measure of askability


Why? This really requires some explanation.


grapesmoker wrote:My point is that if this guy is only known for one poem, then writing a tossup on that poem and leading in with him is a bad idea. It's a power-or-nothing situation that depends on whether you've heard of him. It's like writing a tossup on "The New Colossus" by starting with "Emma Lazarus." Bad.


It's not quite like that, because the line is much better known than the identity of who wrote it. But I think you're right, the stuff about Samuel Rogers's poem "Italy" should go before naming Burgon, not before, because anyone who knows that bit would already be able to answer the question off the previous mention of Burgon.


grapesmoker wrote:
I've never believed that the number of sentences is a useful measure of the length of a tossup. (So when writing question guidelines, tournament directors shouldn't specify the minimum or maximum number of sentences in a tossup.) Our guidelines said: "Do not exceed six (6) lines if writing in ASCII with 79 columns per line." If I write this tossup in ASCII with 79 columns per line, I find that it requires ... six (6) lines. This is (or used to be) a pretty standard length limit.

Unfortunately your beliefs do not correspond to reality. I posted a long rant about this in regards to last year's SCT; you're welcome to go back and find it, or I can repost it here for people's edification.

I couldn't find it. Please repost.


grapesmoker wrote:
It's a number between zero and one. StatsCan has determined that in Canada in 2003 it measured zero point three eight nine. To calculate it, draw a graph where the x-axis is the cumulative fraction of all households, and the y-axis is the cumulative fraction of all income. Find the area between this curve and the line y equals x, and then multiply by two to get, for 10 points, what number that measures the level of income inequality?

Answer: GINI COEFFICIENT (or GINI INDEX)

There's a lot of stuff between zero and one. Just saying. Why bother putting that in as a leadin?

Just to narrow down the possibilities, so people wouldn't think it might be something else like inflation rate, population density, or mean IQ. We start tossups with words like "This novel ..." for similar reasons. I could have written "This number between zero and one was determined by StatsCan in 2003 to measure ..." but the wording I did choose was much clearer.


Except a whole bunch of your questions lack the basic "this thing" clause. Whatever, the point is that there are so many coefficients between zero and one (like, I don't know, thermodynamic efficiency) that this clue is totally useless.


As I said, it rules out possibilities like inflation rate, population density, or mean IQ, so the clue has some use. It's just saying what kind of answer is sought.




grapesmoker wrote:
Answer: (Ernest Orlando) Lawrence BERKELEY National LABoratory (or LBL or LBNL)

But it did not result in a quickfire buzz at the very beginning. Again, if it's anti-pyramidal, how, specifically, would you reorder the clues?

First, I wouldn't even have written this question in the first place. But if I had to, I would have probably put some of the more obscure discoveries made there first, possibly referenced the data-fudging scandal of '03, maybe mentioned MSRI (where I believe you worked for some time), things like that. You know, harder clues first, then easier ones.

That's why I started with the antiproton and antineutron. We just have a different sense of what's easy and what's not in an absolute sense, not in a relative sense. I wouldn't have been able to get it off the antiproton and antineutron clues.

grapesmoker wrote:
Laurier question

See above discussion of lists. :smile:

Yeah, except you've failed to address any of the issues regarding list tossups. They suck and this tossup sucks. There's so much to work with when writing a question on Laurier that grabbing some random quotes is just lazy and pointless.


I actually do think a list of quotes is a reasonable idea for a tossup, but I don't think this was executed well. Only the last one is well known, and the other quotes didn't prompt any guesses. Of course I did choose and order these quotes deliberately, not randomly. Maybe citing some context for each quote would have improved the question.

grapesmoker wrote:

Answer: the Good Soldier SVEJK ["shvaik"]

Whatever else one might say about this question, the claim that it is "anti-pyramidal" just baffles me. Again, show me how the clues could be reordered to make it pyramidal. And your second statement is contradicted by the empirical fact that when played (three separate experiments), it was answered late in the question.


Argh. For once and for all, the statements "it was answered late (or early) in my room" does not equal "this is a good question." I don't know what happened at VETO and it's frankly totally irrelevant to this discussion. This question is bad because Svejk pretending to be crazy to escape the army is the whole theme of the damn book. It's like writing a tossup on Heart of Darkness by talking about how it's a descent into the primordial state or some such thing. Anyone with even cursory familiarity with Svejk would have buzzed on the first clue. The fact that this went until the end at VETO says more about the quality of teams at VETO than about this question.


It was also answered late when I read it in Berkeley to a group including some dinosaurs. I do see your point now: the clue about "making a living selling mongrel dogs with forged pure-bred pedigrees" is much less guessable than "Previously discharged from military service for being a certified imbecile".


grapesmoker wrote:
Zheng Ho

Not really. There were famous Europeans who sailed to Asia via Africa.

Given the geography outlined in the question, plus the fact that he was bringing animals back (I'm not aware of any Europeans who brought back giraffes) makes a "Zheng Ho" buzz at that stage a good gamble. Actually, in this case your argument even works against you, since if there are European explorers who fit that same description then the question is not uniquely identifying from the first clue and hence bad.


I don't think this analysis works. I didn't mean to suggest that there might have been European explorers who actually did fit the first clues, only that a person who heard the first clues wouldn't automatically rule out Europeans as possible answers.


grapesmoker wrote:
Well, what can I say; we have low standards. :smile: I see urbandictionary as the best resource on the latest slang, and that's why that clue is there. I agree with you, though, that Wikipedia references shouldn't be used unless the question is actually about something to do with Wikipedia.

Apparently low standards are quite the excuse these days. Perhaps next time I make something for my lab and it breaks because I did a shoddy job, I'll just tell them I have low standards and see how that pans out for me.

The internet is so fractured that you can never be sure that anyone looks at any two of the same sites anyway. Citing some random collection of slang (which I hadn't even heard of until VETO) is just bad practice. It's like crap that people put online and then you are trying to turn it into a question, but no one cares. It's like me citing a youtube video or something.


I still think I'd use the urbandictionary clue, just because I like the sound of it, even though everyone who's commented on it has panned it. I think of UD as a slang resource rather than as a random website. I'm not sure what you're getting at with "The internet is so fractured that you can never be sure that anyone looks at any two of the same sites anyway." Quiz bowl questions are not based on some reading list.

grapesmoker wrote:
Answer: SMITH (accept BLACKSMITH)

Well, that's one thing that could happen, and when the question was played, it did. But someone could recognize that these are pretty common surnames in their respective languages, and could form a guess based on knowing that. If you really want to know the "purpose" of the question, it was that if someone who's heard the question meets someone named Haddad, for example, they can show off by saying "Your name is Arabic for Smith." Then in response to the question, "How did you know that?", they can say, "From a quiz bowl tournament called VETO."

I don't even know how to respond to that last part except by saying, are you serious?


Partly, yes. Is there something wrong with that?

grapesmoker wrote:It's just worthless as a question, especially since you cannot know ahead of time who speaks what language on the teams that play your packets. It's just a random list of words and the first person to recognize something wins. There is no knowledge being tested here.


Uh, the knowledge being tested is names in different languages that refer to smith. What am I missing?

bt_green_warbler wrote:
if anyone really is dedicated enough to memorize the elevations of minor towns, then they deserve to be rewarded.

Let me start by saying that I flatly disagree with this, because the precise elevation is substantially less significant than the other clues you mention about the town's literary, athletic, and economic significance. But let's take it as a given that its height is indeed moderately interesting. Using this first clue by itself is still a terrible idea for two reasons: One, as you yourself mention, there are numerous locations on other continents at similar heights. If no one would actually buzz on "At one thousand five hundred and sixty meters above sea level,"(*) you've just wasted five seconds of everyone's time.


I still think I would include the 1560 metres. If you're going to say it's the highest town in Europe, and it is also surprisingly low for that, then I think you should say how high it is. The reason for including the height would not be that I'd expect anybody to get it off that clue (though it's conceivable, it's highly unlikely), but that it is informative.

bt_green_warbler wrote: Two, apart from the elevation, the "highest town in Europe" is a bad clue because it invites hair-splitting as to the definition of "town" in Switzerland. (Offhand, I looked up some other elevations: Zermatt, the community at the base of the Matterhorn, is at 1620 meters. The winter Olympic site St. Moritz is at 1766.) No player could possibly be expected to distinguish that Davos is a town, while those are just villages.


This is a more important criticism. I think I was too naïve in accepting the claim of "highest town in Europe". Briançon, France makes the same claim, even though it's more than 200 metres lower. Actually there's probably a town on the European side of the Caucasus that is higher than Davos.

grapesmoker wrote:
I don't agree with this. First, if anyone really is dedicated enough to memorize the elevations of minor towns, then they deserve to be rewarded. Second, without the 1560 metres clue, it would just begin with "it's the highest town in Europe". If I heard that, I would want to know how high (roughly) the town is; I think it's moderately interesting that "the highest town in Europe" is actually lower than at least one well-known North American metropolis, not to mention quite a few cities in South America that are much higher.

Jeff already responded to this, but frankly, this is preposterous. If I bothered to memorize random digits of pi, should I be rewarded?


I don't see why not. Most of us have learned stuff from random sources that has helped us get quiz bowl questions. Hard to think of how knowledge of random digits of pi could come up in a question, but here's one possible scenario: remember how the novel JPod has a list of the first 100,000 digits of pi with one incorrect digit? I haven't read the book, but suppose it says that the wrong digit is the 59,274th one, where the printout says it's 7 but the correct digit is 8, and this is important to the story. A tossup could begin, "It's the 59,274th digit of pi ..." and our savant might be able to answer it (without having read JPod). In that case, I'd say that the person should be rewarded.

grapesmoker wrote: The correct answer is that I should probably be slapped around once or twice until I come to my senses. How about encouraging people to learn something other than strings of numbers or lists for a change?


Uh, I think people play quiz bowl because they're rewarded for knowing stuff, no matter what it is, instead of being slapped around once or twice until they come to their senses.

grapesmoker wrote:
Well the focus of the question is Sidney's image and personality, not necessarily what he wrote. You could call the whole question "fluff biography", but these clues are not a distraction.

You're right, this whole question is fluff, and shouldn't have been written.

Why?


grapesmoker wrote:
It was first invoked by John O'Sullivan in 1845 in an essay titled "Annexation", which called for the United States to accept Texas into the Union, and also predicted that within a hundred years, Canada would "swell the still accumulating momentum of our progress". For 10 points, what is this two-word phrase suggesting that the U.S. would "overspread the continent allotted by Providence"?

Answer: MANIFEST DESTINY

Leadin is really, really famous.

Not famous enough that I'd recognize the reference from the clue that it's from an essay by O'Sullivan, although people did buzz in early.

That's because you didn't learn about this in 7th grade American history. It's really damn famous.


I estimate that none of the players in Vancouver even took 7th grade American history.
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Postby Captain Sinico » Mon Oct 23, 2006 10:16 am

Dude, if you're just going to respond to people noting why your questions aren't pyramidal and hence less good than they could be with "that's just your opinion, man," (which is effectively what just happened, at great length,) then there's absolutely no point to any this. Well-structured, clear, pyramidal questions on relevant academic topics are better because, of all questions, they are the most likely to reward the people who know more about relevant academic topics and that's really all there is to it.
You can use any kind of questions you like; it's your tournament. However, if you're putting-out anything other than the best kind of questions (for whatever reason,) well, expect people who know what they're talking about to tell you what's wrong with them and why, esepecially if you ask. There's no dopey analogy you can come up with to get around that.

MaS

PS: All your other counter-arguments are similarly off-base and quibbling for the same reason. If (as is now clear) you didn't understand the criteria by which questions should be judged, then you should have asked about those rather than trying to intuit them from the criticisms of your questions that you yourself requested (ironically, you're failing to get the analog of a list question that you created.) The point is that there are things reasonable people can differ about, but there are also things that necessarily follow if you accept some criteria, like that the people who know more should be most likely rewarded by a question. If you don't accept that, well, then you simply disagree with reason at a fundamental level (and that's fine, of course) and you've really no basis for discussion, at least with me.
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Postby grapesmoker » Mon Oct 23, 2006 11:22 am

I didn't realize this thread was still going...

vetovian wrote:After reading this, I regret that the name QuizbowlPostmodernist is already taken. When I asked for feedback on my VETO packets, I knew that responses would be almost entirely about things that people didn't like in them, and I hoped not only to learn about where I made mistakes, if I concluded they were mistakes, but also to have some discussion about what criteria people use to judge questions.


The criteria are: clarity, factual accuracy, pyramidality. The holy trifecta of modern quizbowl, as it were.

If I wrote a question that some people didn't like, but I thought it was a good question and still think I would write the question the same way even after reading people's explanation of why they didn't like it, then I'll say so. If we keep the same guidelines at VETO, then people will have a better idea of what to expect, at least from my packets.


So, people have spent a whole lot of time critiquing your questions, and in almost every case, you just went and said, "I'd do it the same way again." It doesn't exactly sound to me like someone who is particularly interested in changing his ways. Also, consistently shoddy packets are not better for being consistently shoddy; they are just bad. It recalls to me something a famous American thinker once said: A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, or something of the sort. But I guess I wouldn't necessarily expect the Canadian field to be familiar with that.

Suppose I say "let's play outside", citing as justification that I and some of my friends find it fun to play outside, but you want to play inside, and you tell me that playing inside and having fun are not mutually exclusive. Well, sure, I would grant that, it is possible to have fun while playing inside. But I think it would also be fun to play outside. You don't think it would be fun to play outside, but instead of saying this is your preference and noting that we have different ideas about what is fun, you rant about how anyone who says he thinks playing outside is fun is either lying or deluded or morally defective (if I understand your message). So yeah, a reaction like that would reasonably get you labeled anti-fun.


If there's anything I hate more about quizbowl than when people try to defend shitty questions, it's when they do so by totally irrelevant analogies. Everyone, stop arguing from analogies. Quizbowl is a separate activity, with its own internally consistent rules and aims. You don't argue about basketball by analogy to baseball, so stop doing it here. All I have to say about the above "argument" is that it is, as Mike already pointed out, just a long-winded way of saying, "that's, like, your opinion man." Well, yeah, it's my opinion, backed up by years of participation in the game, writing of packets, and editing of tournaments. You aren't arguing on the same premises as I am, you are attempting to redefine the concept of quality questions in order to pretend that the sub-standard product that is VETO somehow fits that description.

1. "There is nothing fun about sitting through a list of stuff and not knowing where the stuff came from."
grapesmoker wrote:
I learned something here: I actually didn't know that list tossups have disappeared from respectable tournaments! Maybe I lack taste, but I like to have a few list tossups in a packet, and I didn't hear any complaints about them when they came up at VETO. Again:

I realize I didn't try that hard to justify my position because I thought everyone had accepted that list tossups were lousy. Take a look at any good question set from the last 3 years. There are no list tossups in it. But of course, you didn't try to make a counter-argument, you just claimed that you like a couple of list tossups and that no one at VETO complained. I'm sorry to be somewhat of a jerk about this, but based on what I've seen of this year's VETO and the sets of years past, the standards of the teams playing at that tournament are light years behind that of good tournaments of recent times. My guess is that no one complained about them at VETO because people who play VETO are used to the low quality of questions and accept that as the norm. You can be sure that had I played at VETO, I would have complained.


The counter-argument I was getting at in justifying the "list" style of the JPod tossup is just summarized in what I wrote: I like a couple of list tossups, and no one at VETO complained. I took the lack of complaints to indicate that there was no general feeling that these types of questions should be banned, and also that VETO players probably like them about as much as I do. And another premise of my argument is that if players in a tournament like a certain type of question, that type of question should not be banned from the tournament. Q.E.D.


And I respond again: what was and was not liked at VETO has no bearing on whether these questions are good or not. List tossups have been virtually eliminated from good tournaments (with the notable hold-out of NAQT; c.f. their horrible "lottery" question from last year's ICT). This has been done because they are confusing, frequently ambiguous, and can always be written better in a more standard form, complete with pronouns. I'm not going to belabor this issue any longer; the relative absence of such questions on the regular circuit is a clear testament to the correctness of my assertions.

Now suppose you were playing VETO and we got to my JPod tossup and you did complain about it because of its list style. You seem to be suggesting that you could use it as an example in telling the other people in the room that this is a kind of question they don't need to put up with, and that they would find the prospect of quiz bowl without list tossups to be an appealing one. Probably some people would agree, but I don't think you'd get the overwhelming support you imagine.


Again, I don't care whether the majority of those playing at VETO would accept my argument or not. See the above response for evidence that this argument has, in fact, been widely accepted in quizbowl. Furthermore, I would assert that most of those who played at VETO have no opinions at all about question quality; they are just as happy playing on crappy questions as they are playing on good ones because they don't know the difference. Without prolonged exposure to the difference between good and bad questions, how is one to tell the difference? One thing I can tell you is that in the short time that I have been running the club here at Brown, I have gotten overwhelming support for good tossups and against bad ones from new players, many of whom did not play in high school. You know why that is? Because I only read good packets in practice, and whenever something dumb comes up, I explain to them how to avoid making those same mistakes and why those questions suck.

2. "There is nothing fun about giveaways in the first line."

Here's a place where I agree with you. I may not judge questions by all the same standards as you do, but that doesn't mean I have no standards. And actually I don't think anyone thinks there is something fun about giveaways in the first line. The writer probably didn't expect the question to be answered off that first clue.


The majority of such problems can be avoided by spending a couple minutes researching the subject. I hate to say it, but even consulting Wikipedia would be a better indicator of what is and is not well known than consulting the tossups I saw in the VETO packets. Once more, the writer's expectations in these situations invariably stem from a) lack of exposure to good packets and b) the misguided attempts by defenders of bad questions to render such questions palatable, thereby causing said writer to think, "Hey, not everyone hates this, therefore it's ok."

3. "There is nothing fun about empty verbiage in tossups."

A statement that nobody disagrees with, so it's not particularly helpful. What I think you're hinting at here -- correct me if I'm wrong -- is that if a tossup contains some verbiage such that no player could reasonably be expected to buzz in after having heard it, then that verbiage is deemed "empty" and should be removed. I don't necessarily agree with this. If the verbiage mentions some facts that make the tossup more interesting just to hear and to learn from, it may be worth keeping.


I love how you claim that nobody disagrees with it, and then you go ahead and disagree with the very point that I made. Also, bonus points for totally misrepresenting what is meant by "empty verbiage" by making it out to be something that it is not. There's no way that I hold to the position that if "no player could reasonably be expected to buzz in after having heard it, then that verbiage is deemed 'empty' and should be removed." How many people got my Somerset Maugham tossup on the first clue at EFT? Probably not many, but it's a difficult first clue that 95% of novice players would not know. Here's the catch though: it's actually uniquely identifying and tells you something interesting about Maugham, unlike about half the clues in VETO tossups which contain no worthwhile content at all. When I say "empty" I don't mean "little known interesting facts." I mean "useless clues that are totally irrelevant to the question." Things like dates of birth and death, profession of parents, and place of education are classic examples. VETO is replete with such junk wording; do I really have to comb every packet for it?

4. "Where does this perception, obviously shared by many NAQT writers, come from, that questions need some sort of retarded gimmick to be fun?"

I've never written for NAQT, but I think it's fair to say that NAQT writers often include gimmicks in their questions for no other reason than that it's supposed to be fun. I like a lot of these gimmicks, and in my experience, a lot of Vancouver players enjoy hearing them too. If, after a game, you cited some of these gimmicky questions from the round and invited the other players to sign a petition to NAQT to ban such things entirely, my sense is that not many Vancouver players would agree that NAQT would be more fun without these gimmicky questions.


See what I've already said about citing Vancouver as any kind of standard for how quizbowl should be.

I'll deviate from my diatribe slightly at this stage to make a point that I should have made long ago. I've been pretty vicious in response to attempts to use the Canadian circuit as a standard by which quizbowl should measure itself. This is because the Canadian circuit is easily the weakest of the various quizbowl regions. That's not supposed to be a SLAM! on Canada, and indeed, there is no reason at all why that should be the case. Niether the Stanford Archive nor the ACF Archive, last I checked, discriminate against Canadian IP addresses; packets are available to all regardless of geography. There's no good reason why Canada should suck, but Canadian teams do in fact suck, which is a statement of fact and not a put-down.

Why do they suck? They suck for the same reason that sucky teams everywhere suck: because they play on and write sucky questions, and then they try to justify to themselves that these questions are not in fact sucky to make themselves feel better about their suckage. People, stop doing this. You want to play on NAQT IS sets? You want to play VETO? You love gimmicks and physical challenges and other absurd bullshit in your questions? Fine, whatever. You do what you want. But don't come into this forum all indignant about how those mean Americans (or mean grad students or mean ACF people or mean Jerry or mean whoever) is calling you out for your defense of things that suck. Stop defending crappy questions and realize that the decision to suck or not to suck is up to you. We're not the man keeping you down; on the contrary, we want you to be better because personally, I feel pretty bad beating some team 500 to -5 and I'd much rather you were competitive than pushovers.

Now that we have established the relatively low quality of the Canadian quizbowl region, stop using it as a metric for question quality. It's patently obvious that most Canadian teams have only the slightest comprehension of what good questions look like. Instead, start judging yourselves by the same standards that we judge ourselves, and become better players and better writers.

In my experience, Matt Bruce (agent 61) wrote some of the NAQT questions that Vancouver players enjoyed the most, and so a couple of years ago I even invited him to submit a packet to VETO, which he did, simply out of generosity. But I know that there are other people on this board who hate his questions with such a passion that they've written that NAQT should fire him as a writer.


I know Matt Bruce personally. I like Matt Bruce, who is wonderful, generous person. I hate Matt Bruce's questions which are easily some of the worst I've seen in NAQT sets.

Sorry for sounding as if the responses here weren't constructive. What I meant was that I was hoping to see more responses of the form "here's how you can improve the question" rather than "don't do that". The "bad" questions that I have defended are the subset that I still don't think are bad, even after reading why people think they're bad.


I'm not going to rewrite your questions for you. If you were looking for someone to do that, you won't find it here. I've attempted to make some suggestions based on whatever I thought of on the spot when I was writing my posts and that's as much work as I'm going to do in that regard. This thread contains plenty of constructive suggestions for how to write questions; contrary to what you may think, "don't do that" is just as constructive as "do this."

The reason why people have already tried these same defences (or some of them, anyway) is that they have different ideas about what constitute good questions. You mention "pyramidality, concrete clues, useful clues, no list tossups, etc." I do support allowing list tossups, but as for the rest, I don't think you'll find anyone who says "I think this tossup is good even though it is not pyramidal", or "I think this is a good clue to include even though it is not concrete and/or not useful".


No, the reason people tried these defenses is because they are lazy question writers who want to change popular opinion to validate their lazy question writing instead of holding themselves to the standards of the circuit. It's easier to post a defense of crappy questions than it is to do a little work and research your question and write a decent tossup. There may be "different ideas about what constitute[s] good questions" but only one of those ideas actually has any merit; that is the set of ideas being promulgated again and again on this forum by partisans of good question writing. Many of us differ on the finer details of how those questions should be constructed. You'll find that if you had every editor who wrote for ACF Fall last year write a tossup on the same subject, every one of us would write it differently. But those details are not relevant because they don't represent substantial deviations from the trifecta I outlined above. Tournaments like VETO, on the other hand, pay lip service to those principles by acknowledging them as valid, and then essentially writing questions that subvert those principles while defending the idea that said questions are in compliance with modern quizbowl standards. It's a classic anti-quizbowl argument about quizbowl that attempts to redefine or muddle the notion of quality in order to excuse the crappiness of one's own product.
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Postby No Rules Westbrook » Mon Oct 23, 2006 1:24 pm

Why do they suck? They suck for the same reason that sucky teams everywhere suck: because they play on and write sucky questions, and then they try to justify to themselves that these questions are not in fact sucky to make themselves feel better about their suckage. People, stop doing this. You want to play on NAQT IS sets? You want to play VETO? You love gimmicks and physical challenges and other absurd bullshit in your questions? Fine, whatever. You do what you want. But don't come into this forum all indignant about how those mean Americans (or mean grad students or mean ACF people or mean Jerry or mean whoever) is calling you out for your defense of things that suck. Stop defending crappy questions and realize that the decision to suck or not to suck is up to you. We're not the man keeping you down; on the contrary, we want you to be better because personally, I feel pretty bad beating some team 500 to -5 and I'd much rather you were competitive than pushovers.



I really have nothing to add...I'd just like to memorialize the clarion call above. Too bad it's probably too long to make a bumper sticker out of.
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Postby bird bird bird bird bird » Mon Oct 23, 2006 11:22 pm

I still think I would include the 1560 metres. If you're going to say it's the highest town in Europe, and it is also surprisingly low for that, then I think you should say how high it is. The reason for including the height would not be that I'd expect anybody to get it off that clue (though it's conceivable, it's highly unlikely), but that it is informative.


For clarity: clues like this do have a place in quizbowl. That place should never be the beginning of a tossup, because as we've seen, this clue is more ambiguous than it is interesting.
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Postby vetovian » Tue Oct 24, 2006 3:03 am

ImmaculateDeception wrote:If (as is now clear) you didn't understand the criteria by which questions should be judged, then you should have asked about those rather than trying to intuit them from the criticisms of your questions that you yourself requested


Again, this dogma of "the criteria by which questions should be judged" (emphasis added). But you do raise a good point: Why do I try to intuit criteria for judging questions from criticisms of them, instead of just asking for the criteria to be spelled out? Because I've been following the quizbowl format wars for years, literally since people first began using the Internet to discuss quizbowl, back in 1993 when alt.college.college-bowl started up. People talk too much in generalities that make the reader think, "yeah, I could agree with that", but I've found that it's only in discussing the real text of real questions that one can really learn about what kinds of things do and do not appeal to people. I think this was the reason why Anthony de Jesus set up the Quizbowl On-Line Editing Project back in 2000 or thereabouts.

ImmaculateDeception wrote:The point is that there are things reasonable people can differ about, but there are also things that necessarily follow if you accept some criteria, like that the people who know more should be most likely rewarded by a question.

If you put it in those terms, I do agree that the people who know more should be most likely rewarded by a question. I'm curious, what have I written here that suggests otherwise?

grapesmoker wrote:Everyone, stop arguing from analogies. Quizbowl is a separate activity, with its own internally consistent rules and aims. You don't argue about basketball by analogy to baseball, so stop doing it here.

People can play quizbowl for whatever reason that appeals to them. Players and writers have aims, quizbowl doesn't.

grapesmoker wrote:All I have to say about the above "argument" is that it is, as Mike already pointed out, just a long-winded way of saying, "that's, like, your opinion man." Well, yeah, it's my opinion, backed up by years of participation in the game, writing of packets, and editing of tournaments. You aren't arguing on the same premises as I am, you are attempting to redefine the concept of quality questions in order to pretend that the sub-standard product that is VETO somehow fits that description.

I've been playing quizbowl since 1993, including College Bowl, ACF, NAQT, and the national tournaments in all three, and I've written packets and edited a few invitational tournaments too. Granted, it was all in the previous century, but the same general issues we're discussing here were brought up in the format wars that began in the 1990s. I have my own evolving opinions about what I like or dislike in quizbowl, even after prolonged exposure to all types of questions. I'm not just trying to defend my own questions because they're my own questions, and that's why I brought up NACuties.

grapesmoker wrote:Furthermore, I would assert that most of those who played at VETO have no opinions at all about question quality; they are just as happy playing on crappy questions as they are playing on good ones because they don't know the difference.

Since you've seen that there are a couple of other VETO players who have posted here, and there are likely others who are reading this discussion, I wonder what your intention is in making this assertion. Do you believe they read that and think, "that's a good point there -- I have no opinions at all about question quality"??
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Postby grapesmoker » Tue Oct 24, 2006 8:34 am

vetovian wrote:
ImmaculateDeception wrote:If (as is now clear) you didn't understand the criteria by which questions should be judged, then you should have asked about those rather than trying to intuit them from the criticisms of your questions that you yourself requested


Again, this dogma of "the criteria by which questions should be judged" (emphasis added). But you do raise a good point: Why do I try to intuit criteria for judging questions from criticisms of them, instead of just asking for the criteria to be spelled out? Because I've been following the quizbowl format wars for years, literally since people first began using the Internet to discuss quizbowl, back in 1993 when alt.college.college-bowl started up. People talk too much in generalities that make the reader think, "yeah, I could agree with that", but I've found that it's only in discussing the real text of real questions that one can really learn about what kinds of things do and do not appeal to people. I think this was the reason why Anthony de Jesus set up the Quizbowl On-Line Editing Project back in 2000 or thereabouts.


And we can all see how far that "project" went.

Look, the criteria are really not hard. I've outlined them like 5 times already in this thread alone, and repeatedly in other threads. I almost guarantee that sticking to those criteria will produce passable questions. Even though it's true that these are generalities, I've also gone through and pointed out what is wrong with each of the questions that I thought had a problem with it. I've basically addressed this issue from every conceivable angle so it's not like I'm evading the issue or anything.

grapesmoker wrote:Everyone, stop arguing from analogies. Quizbowl is a separate activity, with its own internally consistent rules and aims. You don't argue about basketball by analogy to baseball, so stop doing it here.

People can play quizbowl for whatever reason that appeals to them. Players and writers have aims, quizbowl doesn't.[/quote]

I'm not even going to get into this semantic discussion. The agreed-upon aims of the game are the de facto aims of quizbowl. Just to repeat the salient point, don't argue from analogies as they are irrelevant.

grapesmoker wrote:All I have to say about the above "argument" is that it is, as Mike already pointed out, just a long-winded way of saying, "that's, like, your opinion man." Well, yeah, it's my opinion, backed up by years of participation in the game, writing of packets, and editing of tournaments. You aren't arguing on the same premises as I am, you are attempting to redefine the concept of quality questions in order to pretend that the sub-standard product that is VETO somehow fits that description.

I've been playing quizbowl since 1993, including College Bowl, ACF, NAQT, and the national tournaments in all three, and I've written packets and edited a few invitational tournaments too. Granted, it was all in the previous century, but the same general issues we're discussing here were brought up in the format wars that began in the 1990s. I have my own evolving opinions about what I like or dislike in quizbowl, even after prolonged exposure to all types of questions. I'm not just trying to defend my own questions because they're my own questions, and that's why I brought up NACuties.[/quote]

Something changed between the previous century and this one. Namely, a lot of people came along and decided that NAcuties and list tossups and other worthless types of questions were no longer acceptable since they did not serve the purpose of discriminating between different levels of knowledge, which is what the game is ultimately about. So they set about changing the way questions are written and getting other people to change the way they write questions and the modern circuit was born. I'm not saying you're defending only your own questions; you're defending lazy and bad questions in general. NAcuties and many of the examples that have come up in this thread are lazy and bad questions.

grapesmoker wrote:Furthermore, I would assert that most of those who played at VETO have no opinions at all about question quality; they are just as happy playing on crappy questions as they are playing on good ones because they don't know the difference.

Since you've seen that there are a couple of other VETO players who have posted here, and there are likely others who are reading this discussion, I wonder what your intention is in making this assertion. Do you believe they read that and think, "that's a good point there -- I have no opinions at all about question quality"??[/quote]

I believe this thread contains two posts from people who played at VETO not counting yourself. Unless VETO had only 5 players, the majority of the VETO field does not, in fact, care sufficiently to express any kind of opinion about that tournament (cue complaints here about how they're just afraid to get yelled at over the internets by grouchy old me). But more importantly, I base this on my long experience inteacting with players, most of whom don't really care that much about question quality besides being able to vaguely indicate what questions they do or do not like. The only thing that influences them from their general apathy is some variety of advocacy, whether for good or for evil. I have no reason to believe that the VETO field is significantly different in this regard.
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Postby Captain Sinico » Tue Oct 24, 2006 3:26 pm

vetovian wrote:...I do agree that the people who know more should be most likely rewarded by a question. I'm curious, what have I written here that suggests otherwise?


You've repeatedly defended the quality of questions that, sometimes by your own admonition even, do not do precisely this adequately. You’ve made these defenses on the basis of the fact that these questions are good by another (eminently vulnerable, incidentally) criterion, namely that the people in your field didn't mind questions like that; indeed, one could argue you've done little else. Therefore, it's obvious that, in the construction of your questions, you've chosen to use whatever it was that people liked, regardless of whether it rewarded the more knowledgeable (or you're equivocating.) Now, it's certainly important to keep your field happy, but, I mean, hey if they want to go play lawn darts, it doesn't matter how you write your questions, am I right? By that, I mean that they shouldn’t care that much and, if they do, they’re not there for the quizbowl anyway, frankly (and I also mean stop arguing in non-applicable analogies to other sports.)

To be concrete, since that's apparently necessary for some reason (de Jesus says so, and I guess he's always right about what makes-up a good question... but, incidentally, the practice you suggest would make it take literally dozens of hours to critique a single tournament, so maybe some principles abstracted from observation might be useful? Just a thought) let's consider, for example, your list tossup on JPOD and subsequent defense of list tossups. Your JPOD tossup isn’t as good as it could be and here’s why.

Now, let's say I've read JPod and I love JPod and it's my favorite book and I wrote it; I know literally every single thing there is to know about JPod and when I wake-up, I hope to feel the sweet breath of JPod on my neck. I think we both agree that, when a JPod question comes along, I’m due 10 points. I posit that, given your tossup, there are all kinds of ways in which I get screwed, because all you've got for the bulk of the questions is a list of random stuff that happens to be in JPod. Thus, even if I know all that stuff is from JPod, until I know you're asking for a book, the answer could be Douglas Coupland, JPod, Found Magazine, or any number of other things that happen to have some or all of those elements in common. Now, it’s true that, chances are if I'm any good at quizbowl besides knowing everything about the answer, I buzz with JPod after a few of the items in your list because I know they're all in JPod and the probability that they’re also all in something else keeps going down; however, someone else might know very little about JPod (for example, they might only know it contains a bunch of random crap like letters to Ronald McDonald) and just buzz off the lead-in because, hey, that's some random crap that might very well be in JPod and, furthermore, this is VETO and they always ask about some Vancouver shit in VETO and Coupland’s from Vancouver, etc. So, you see, in a very fundamental way, someone who knows everything about JPod has very little substantive advantage over someone who knows very little about JPod but is just aware of your tendencies as a writer and a few other things that shouldn’t be rewarded early in a question. Now, according to your previous line of arguing, that's okay because your field finds such questions acceptable, but that's patently not a good question by your own admonition. So there; that's one of the many things you said that suggests otherwise.

To be still more concrete (and even constructive!) I will now, without substantively changing the question, make your JPOD question suck much less. Observe:

Each of this work's characters is made to write a letter to Ronald McDonald. Those characters also attempt to find one "non-regulation word" in a list of all 3-letter legal Scrabble words, a non-prime among all the 5-digit prime numbers, and an incorrect digit in the first hundred thousand digits of pi. Those activities and the writing of assignments for a course at Kwantlen College are undertaken to pass time while this book's six characters, who all share the same first letter of their last name and who are led by Ethan Jarlewski, are trapped in a subsection of a videogame company in Burnaby, B.C., which is this novel's title structure. For 10 points, name this 2006 book that begins, self-referentially: "Oh God. I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel."

Answer: JPod

Now that’s still less than ideal because the lead-in is still very guessable, but it’s better because at least we know it’s a book and there are other things besides a list of things that happen to be in whatever we’re talking about to buzz off of. I think one could make this still better by adding a better lead-in and cutting-out some of the middle (maybe have only two of the random activities rather than five,) but I said I would not substantively change the question.

Now, let's suppose we're allowed to generalize for just a moment. I might almost have to say that every single list question suffers the same shortcomings as this one if I didn't know any better; that, no matter how stupid it seems, I can probably find some other answer that fits the clues you're giving and, what is more important, regardless of what I know, I can't eliminate a bunch of other answers given your clues, unless I know everything about everything. That's why all list tossups always have been and always will be bad and should (and can) easily be converted into actual, normal tossups.

Okay so, unless you disagree with something I said there, you get now why list questions in general and that one in particular are worse than they could be. All the other bad practices you're defending are bad for the same reason, namely because you're not doing things you could easily do to deal with the realistic cases in which people who know more about the answer to your question are screwed by it in favor of someone who knows less. I could demonstrate the rest of these for you, but, frankly, I don't have time as I have a tournament to edit. The point is this: Jerry is right when he says your field won't really care that much if you just change the structure of your questions to reward knowledge. Since we both agree that that's the proper criterion for what makes a good question (given some answer), if you get what I'm saying about how to judge that, why not just write that way?

Later,
MaS
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Postby vetovian » Wed Oct 25, 2006 3:59 am

MaS,

I appreciate your thorough analysis of the JPod question and suggested rewriting.

ImmaculateDeception wrote:Now, let's say I've read JPod and I love JPod and it's my favorite book and I wrote it; I know literally every single thing there is to know about JPod and when I wake-up, I hope to feel the sweet breath of JPod on my neck. I think we both agree that, when a JPod question comes along, I’m due 10 points. I posit that, given your tossup, there are all kinds of ways in which I get screwed, because all you've got for the bulk of the questions is a list of random stuff that happens to be in JPod.


Usually I agree that someone who knows everything there is to know about the answer to a tossup should be able to answer it first from the clues that are given. I can't say that I know everything about any particular thing, but I have experienced the frustration of watching somebody else get a tossup on a subject that I knew I knew a lot more about than the person who got the points. But when it happened, I didn't take the tossup to be ipso facto a bad one; I just took it to be part of what quizbowl's about that I can't always expect to get questions on things I might know far more about than anyone else in the room. When writing a tossup, I think one should try to write it so that whoever knows more about the topic is likely to get it earlier, but what aspect of "more"? I don't think one should always try to work out whether some particular clue that one likes is more likely to be known by people who know a lot about the subject rather than people who pick up random trivia, and then try to reward the first kind of players instead of the second. Well, I know you haven't actually said that, but maybe that's what you were getting at.

ImmaculateDeception wrote:Thus, even if I know all that stuff is from JPod, until I know you're asking for a book, the answer could be Douglas Coupland, JPod, Found Magazine, or any number of other things that happen to have some or all of those elements in common. Now, it’s true that, chances are if I'm any good at quizbowl besides knowing everything about the answer, I buzz with JPod after a few of the items in your list because I know they're all in JPod and the probability that they’re also all in something else keeps going down; however, someone else might know very little about JPod (for example, they might only know it contains a bunch of random crap like letters to Ronald McDonald) and just buzz off the lead-in because, hey, that's some random crap that might very well be in JPod and, furthermore, this is VETO and they always ask about some Vancouver shit in VETO and Coupland’s from Vancouver, etc. So, you see, in a very fundamental way, someone who knows everything about JPod has very little substantive advantage over someone who knows very little about JPod but is just aware of your tendencies as a writer and a few other things that shouldn’t be rewarded early in a question.


Well, OK, you could say the last part about pretty much anything else in any category in a packet I might write for VETO.

I really don't see how saying at the beginning that we're asking about a book makes that much of a positive difference.

Maybe there's some misconception here: If you open up the book Jpod, you'll see the Ronald McDonald letters, and pages and pages of digits of pi, and the list of hundreds of Scrabble words, etc. The way I wrote the question, the first clues treat JPod as some kind of conceptual art, rather than as a novel. A tossup that began by listing a bunch of items mentioned in a conventionally formatted novel wouldn't normally be an aesthetically appealing tossup. But JPod is a book that you can open up and see those items in the list -- like Found magazine, as you suggested.

What would you think if my original "list tossup" on JPod were modified by prefixing it with one of these:
- This work includes/contains ...
- This book includes/contains ...
- This novel includes/contains ...

I adapted the VETO question guidelines -- which nobody has commented on yet -- from the Beaver Bonspiel question guidelines, most of which I also wrote, borrowing heavily from the Michigan Memorandum written in 1995. I am curious what you guys think of the last document, which was highly influential in the quizbowl world when it came out. For our purposes, how about Example 2 under "Anatomy of a Good Tossup":

This author's wife was upset when she saw his classic 1939 novel in a Japanese bookstore translated as "Angry Raisins." For 10 points--name this American author who described Rose, Sharon, Ma, and Tom as the Joad family travels during the Depression from Oklahoma to California in "The Grapes of Wrath."
answer: John Steinbeck


As the Michigan Memorandum says,
Obviously, someone who has read the novel a dozen times may be beaten by someone who is able to figure out the answer based on the mistranslation of "Angry Raisins."This question, unlike the previous example, is more like a puzzle in the beginning, rewarding more than "pure" knowledge (but not punishing it). Many of the best questions have this quality.


Do modern quizbowl standards force a different conclusion? Would this tossup be classified as a loathsome NAcutie?
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Postby Matt Weiner » Wed Oct 25, 2006 4:06 am

vetovian wrote:Do modern quizbowl standards force a different conclusion? Would this tossup be classified as a loathsome NAcutie?


Absolutely. Both the principles and the practice of question writing have undergone at least one complete revolution since 1995. I would go so far as to say that you have no hope of learning how to write a good question without consulting information and examples from at least 2001.

It is, however, the fault of those of us who advocate for good questions under modern standards that there is no comprehensive guide to question-writing to replace such outdated documents. I think it would be a good idea on our part to seriously think about filling that gap.
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Postby in on these shenanigans » Wed Oct 25, 2006 11:35 am

vetovian wrote:Usually I agree that someone who knows everything there is to know about the answer to a tossup should be able to answer it first from the clues that are given.

There is no usually to this. Come up with one specific instance where someone who knows everything is beaten by someone who knows less that isn't a: rigged, b: a buzzer race (that shouldn't happen because the smarter player would get it before the buzzer race clue appears), or c: a non-pyramidal question, which inherently creates the situation in part b.

I really don't see how saying at the beginning that we're asking about a book makes that much of a positive difference.


The key phrase is "burdened by knowledge". The JPod fanatic is burdened by knowledge on this tossup - specifically, the knowledge of the novel's name, the author's name, the name of the professor who assigns the letters to Ronald McDonald, the names of the other characters, the freaking year of publication, I could go on forever. Simply put, that tossup can end with "(end of list)...are all contained in JPod, by Douglas Coupland, a native of what city in Canada?" or "are all contained in JPod, written by Douglas Coupland, who is also the author of what earlier novel whose title is a portmanteau of a famous software company and a term for feudal slaves?" Simply put, list tossups don't ask questions until much too late in the text of the tossup. In quizbowl, you can't answer a question that isn't asked.

What would you think if my original "list tossup" on JPod were modified by prefixing it with one of these:
- This work includes/contains ...
- This book includes/contains ...
- This novel includes/contains ...


Infinitely better because it asks a question early on. That's all there is to it.
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