Regular difficulty: does it exist?

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Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby Matt Weiner » Thu Aug 21, 2008 4:34 am

EDIT: Disregard the below and see the end of the thread for the real info.

Hey, I would like to edit a novice collegiate tournament this semester. It would be packet-submission, with older players at programs encouraged to help the new people write their questions. Eligibility would be fairly restrictive--only open to people who are underclassmen and still have NAQT D2 eligibility, for the most part. Difficulty would be comparable to this past spring's Illinois Novice. I'm looking to make this set available for any weekend in October that doesn't have something scheduled in your region. If you think this tournament is a good idea, or a bad idea, post to say that. If you would be interested in mirroring it at your school, mail me at mattweiner@vcu.gmail.com .
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Thu Aug 21, 2008 10:48 am

I'm looking to make this set available for any weekend in October that doesn't have something scheduled in your region.

I'll say I like the idea of this a whole lot, but would like to see this held at some other point in the year, because by my count there's only 1 tournament from now until Illinois Open that is written at or above Regionals level (MO), and I would much rather see a regular invitational at the level of Penn Bowl in October than a 4th novice tournament.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby theMoMA » Thu Aug 21, 2008 11:04 am

I'm not sure that I agree. EFT has always shaded towards regular difficulty, and more importantly, it's important to have lots of novice tournaments in the first semester when you're trying to convince new people to stick with the team.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby Mr. Kwalter » Thu Aug 21, 2008 8:16 pm

Here's the deal, y'all. There's a difference between what we call "easy" and what we call "novice." The concrete difference is that novice tournaments have de jure restrictions on who can play rather than relying on the gentleman's agreement, but I think the real difference is a little more abstract. The word "novice" has an objective rather than subjective connotation; when new teams see the "novice" label, they are more likely to trust that it will, in fact, be a low-level tournament. "Easy," however, especially coming from experienced editors/players, is on the surface a less trustworthy term. In practice, that mistrust is well-founded. As Andrew pointed out, EFT has in the past skewed a little above "novice" level, as have other tournaments that profess to be "low-level."

The absence of CBI, temporary or otherwise, has given the academic quizbowl circuit the chance to grow enormously. Generally, there's an assumed skill progression from the beginning to the end of the year--as players get better, the tournaments should get harder. That's why we created ACF Winter, an intermediate-level tournament designed to help players transition from easier to more difficult questions. Yes, a lot of good players (and some zealous newer players) want to play harder tournaments, and there are arguably more of those players now than there have been in a long time, but right now the goal shouldn't be to cater to those players with lots of hard fall tournaments. Instead, at least for now, we really have to shift our focus to fostering expansion.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Thu Aug 21, 2008 8:27 pm

Okay, people need to stop using this phrase "regular difficulty," which Matt Weiner invented one day to push his vision of how the QB circuit should be, and then somehow brainwashed everyone else into believing. It doesn't really mean anything - it's a word people throw out there in order to be novice-friendly and prove that ACF and mACF events aren't the scariest thing on this good Earth. Near as I can tell, the phrase regular difficulty most often means "events suitable for novices."

EFT is an easy event, okay, one that's absolutely terrific for introducing newer players to the ACF game. I think it's a fine project along with ACF Fall, and we should encourage every new team on the face of the planet to go to those events to understand what ACF quizbowl is all about. We should strive to make those events as consistent and capable as we can, and it's great that they come right in the early fall when people are coming to colleges. But, let's not do what people always do when we get in this neck of the woods - pretend that easy events are in fact "regular difficulty" events, whatever that shady ideological phrase really means.

I completely agree with Charlie, the fall calendar is loaded with a number of either easy events or standard fall-to-regionals level events. There are absolutely zero "hard" events on the calendar - the closest it comes is IO, and that ain't really very close. I don't see the point in throwing out another novice tourney, especially one that is submission. I think it's damned near pointless to ask novices to write stuff - almost all of them are at a stage where they're pretty much incapable of writing anything usable or anything that can even teach them about how to write/what they should write/etc. - they're at a stage where they need to read and play some packets first. Instead, focus on making ACF Fall and EFT into quality house-written events that beginning players can enjoy - if they like it, great...if not, oh well, we tried.

More generally, I think the explosion-of-novice tournaments theory is just another example of the "coaxing" theory that I've never liked - this idea that the way to get people to like good quizbowl is to trick and prod and push and plead with them, by having a whole mess of "novice" tourneys that vaguely resemble mACF events. Like my good friend Kwartler indicates above, the idea here is to use smoke and mirrors to draw people in by putting up a big bright neon sign that says "THIS IS A NOVICE EVENT - EAT AT JOE'S" and hope they're deluded into walking in, and then realize that this is the paradise they never knew existed. Hey, I know, maybe we should even amend the distribution to have 20 percent more general knowledge and trash! Phooey, this approach just gets in the way of what we should be doing - producing quality events at all levels for people to play if they are interested.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby theMoMA » Fri Aug 22, 2008 2:23 am

I'm pretty sure that no one is claiming that novice events are "regular difficulty" events. Regular difficulty has pretty much come to signify events like Penn Bowl and ACF Regionals, where the top teams are capable of pushing 20 PPB and tossups are written with the idea that most decent teams should be able to convert them. At a novice event, tossups are written on a much more limited canon of answers, and bonuses are designed to reward newer players with lots of points; any self-respecting veteran team should be able to get at least 20 PPB. These two definitions seems to be vastly different, to the extent that I have no idea on what you're basing your claim that novice and regular the same.

Moreover, I'm pretty sure that any reasonable analysis would show that there is an aufbau principle of quizbowl difficulty. The main reason that novice events are useful is that they allow novices to answer lots of questions without compromising what makes good quizbowl good quizbowl.

There might be an argument that we already have enough novice tournaments, but I don't quite see it. This event would make a whopping three high-quality novice events in the fall semester (apologies to Chris Borglum, but I think we can all agree that Delta Burke isn't quite on the same plane as Fall/EFT). There are going to be two harder events in the Minnesota and Illinois Opens, and the proposed Harvard T-Party makes that six events of purportedly excellent quality planned for the fall, three of which would be novice tournaments. In this age of ridiculously large influxes of young players into the game, this hardly seems excessive.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby Matt Weiner » Fri Aug 22, 2008 2:47 am

Hey, we don't need more than 1 hard (supra-Regionals) tournament in the fall semester. Why would we? Who would those tournaments be for? And we in fact have 2, so that should be more than enough. Summer is over, the real season is starting again, it's time to remember the idea of a quizbowl circuit and give all the teams a chance to play good questions at a difficulty level that makes sense for the purpose. We can go back to splooging over how great 11-line tossups on Stanislas Lépine are during the nationals and summer seasons next year. Of course we need ACF-style tournaments at a novice difficulty level--if we don't provide them, some horrible crap on high school questions is going to fill that gap. If you support good quizbowl and you know how to edit, you should be producing some tournaments for the whole community this year and not just vanity events.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Fri Aug 22, 2008 3:59 am

Now that you mention Delta Burke that changes my count to 5. And I'm not saying there needs to be a bunch of ultra hard or vanity tournaments yet in the year, but I am saying I think it would be most ideal if we could balance out the calendar so there are enough tournaments at different levels to keep all parts of a program fairly active if they want to be towards the beginning of the season. It's great to have some introductory events, but as is there's 5 between now and November, and all there is other then that are 2 opens that are theoretically beyond the difficulty of Penn Bowl/Regionals, and I would appreciate being able to play in at least one standard college tournament in between now and then, not too hard but not really easy either, and move some novice events back into 2nd semester (especially because with this thinking of "this is how we entice inexperienced players into the fold" you run the risk of losing them once the novice sets dry up, which may also be an unfortunate effect of all this.)
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby ValenciaQBowl » Fri Aug 22, 2008 8:34 am

Thanks to all for the pub, but Delta Burke doesn't allow four-year teams (with rare exceptions for all-frosh teams), so we probably shouldn't be part of the count of fall novice tournaments, though I hope that university teams will use the questions for practice after the mirrors are done.

As to the discussion of what constitutes "novice," I agree with Andrew's point about the answer space being narrower, allowing for more TU conversion at the very end by newbie teams. It shouldn't have to mean easy lead-ins; I know that when I write DB, in order to make it interesting to me, I often use clues for leads that I don't already know, and which in many cases I understand few if any CC teams will be able to buzz on. But the difficulty drops more precipitously than in "regular difficulty" questions, and the giveaways are very gettable, and the better players learn something to buzz on in the future.

Matt's tournament could still be of interest to grizzled vets if they try to force themselves to buzz on openers and such; elsewise, as is my mantra, no one's being forced to play, so if the tournament offers a chance for new players to get some writing (and playing) experience, good on it.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby Matt Weiner » Fri Aug 22, 2008 11:45 am

So, at this point, I've received not a lot of solid feedback on this. Basically, one school said they might want to host. No one else besides the posts in this thread responded.

I'm willing to do a regular-difficulty, regular-eligibility event in the fall instead, and move this to the spring, if that's more of what people are looking for. What I'm not willing to do is flood qb with any more "hard" tournaments right now, since we already have Minnesota Open, Illinois Open, NAQT ICT, and ACF Nationals on the calendar, plus all of next summer's events, plus my (at this point tentative) plans to do Fake ICT again in March. I think that's a perfectly fine schedule of hard events and we should be filling all the other weekends with general-interest tournaments.

According to this thread: viewtopic.php?f=9&t=5843 , it looks like the following weekends need events:

*Something for October 4 and 11 for regions to run in whichever of those two weekends they are not doing EFT. With the exception of the market for TTGT11, I guess...since apparently people actually want to play that tournament for some reason.
*October 25 only has Rollapalooza and Delta Burke scheduled. For those of us who are not in the Missouri area and/or don't want to play high school questions, and are not community colleges, another set could go here.
*November 1 also has only high school questions scheduled, and that only covering Missouri and Minnesota.

So, I'm willing to provide a just a regular old tournament to fill one of those dates--consider it the successor to last year's Titanomachy, or to the fall-scheduled Terrapin from 2005 and earlier that Titanomachy originally replaced. Is this more interesting to more people than a novice tournament?
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby Frater Taciturnus » Fri Aug 22, 2008 12:14 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:So, I'm willing to provide a just a regular old tournament to fill one of those dates--consider it the successor to last year's Titanomachy, or to the fall-scheduled Terrapin from 2005 and earlier that Titanomachy originally replaced. Is this more interesting to more people than a novice tournament?


I for one would prefer another Titanomachy over being flooded with novice packets to write in the fall. I also like Charlie's idea of spring novice tournaments, like the MCMNT.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby Sima Guang Hater » Fri Aug 22, 2008 12:42 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:So, I'm willing to provide a just a regular old tournament to fill one of those dates--consider it the successor to last year's Titanomachy, or to the fall-scheduled Terrapin from 2005 and earlier that Titanomachy originally replaced. Is this more interesting to more people than a novice tournament?


Another Titanomachy is a great idea; would it be packet-submission this year?
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby Matt Weiner » Fri Aug 22, 2008 12:46 pm

Yes, packet-submission.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby Ethnic history of the Vilnius region » Fri Aug 22, 2008 1:19 pm

It looks like a regular submission tournament is the order of the day, which is fine by me, but I'm a little disappointed that there isn't going to be a novice tournament in the fall. The thing about Matt's idea I found attractive was stricter eligibility rules for his proposed event. As far as I know, both EFT and ACF Fall are pretty much open to anyone. I'm a fan of EFT and Fall, and I don't have any problem with them being open, but I do think there's something to be said for at least one quality tournament (high school questions don't count) reserved for players who don't have a whole lot of playing experience, especially early in the year. Also, no team in the Carolinas, Georgia, or Virginia are hosting an EFT mirror, so unless I'm missing something, the plethora of novice tournaments everyone's complaining about doesn't seem to hold true for the newish teams in that region. Alas, it will be nice to have this novice tournament in the spring, and Titanomachy should be a blast.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby ValenciaQBowl » Fri Aug 22, 2008 1:33 pm

Tallahassee's not too far from USC, Clemson, UGA and others around there, and FSU's hosting an EFT mirror on 10/4. It'd be great if more teams from outside Florida came.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby Sima Guang Hater » Fri Aug 22, 2008 1:34 pm

Parson Smirk wrote:Also, no team in the Carolinas, Georgia, or Virginia are hosting an EFT mirror, so unless I'm missing something, the plethora of novice tournaments everyone's complaining about doesn't seem to hold true for the newish teams in that region.


Wake forest is hosting a mirror. I'm going to recommend to all sites that they hand out D2 and UG awards; this is probably the only logistically feasible way to give EFT a "novice" feel, without actually splitting the divisions (which any site is more than welcome to do as well).
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby Frater Taciturnus » Fri Aug 22, 2008 1:45 pm

Sima Guang Hater wrote:Wake forest is hosting a mirror. I'm going to recommend to all sites that they hand out D2 and UG awards; this is probably the only logistically feasible way to give EFT a "novice" feel, without actually splitting the divisions (which any site is more than welcome to do as well).


Could you strongly encourage them to make a public announcement regarding this? If Eric was unaware of this, it is extremely likely that other teams do not as well. Also, which EFT weekend are they using?
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby Ethnic history of the Vilnius region » Fri Aug 22, 2008 2:11 pm

Thanks for the info about the Wake mirror. That definitely alleviates some of the concerns I had. Chris, we had a great time at the Sun n Fun, but for this event, I think South Carolina will go to the much closer Wake tournament. I hope we can make it down to the Florida circuit for another event this year, though.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby walter12 » Fri Aug 22, 2008 2:15 pm

Hey Matt, do you mind dropping me an e-mail at paul-drube@uiowa.edu about possibly opening up October 11th for this tourney. I've been trying to send you an e-mail and it keeps bouncing.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Fri Aug 22, 2008 4:20 pm

Excuse me for finding the claim that quizbowl is being "flooded with hard events" to be absolutely ludicrous. Since when do Minn Open and IO quality as "hard" events? They certainly don't advertise themselves as that - at most, they're "experienced player difficulty" - a phrase I've just invented as a foil to "regular difficulty." As backup for your silly hard claim, you inexplicably cite ICT (an NAQT event, i.e. something we should not consider real) and ACF Nats - two events taking place in the spring, not anywhere close to now! In all likelihood, there will be one hard event in the fall - and that will be my Experimental side tourney - a crazy-hard event that certainly shouldn't even be in the calculus.

Now, look, I'm not arguing that we should have a "hard event" - I'm doubtful that it's feasible or wise given the prospective audience(s). But, I get fed up when people start making crazy claims about difficulty just because they're taking a ride on the novice-friendly "expansion of the game" train. Let's try to make accurate statements about difficulty and what constitutes good quizbowl, so that I don't have to spend all my time after some tournament yelling at some poor bloke on the message board because he thinks a bunch of answers aren't "regular difficulty," even though they've come up a gazillion times before. More seriously, let's not fool people into thinking that "easy stuff is medium" or "medium stuff is hard" or whatever, because sooner or later they'll realize it isn't, and their transition from novice to harder stuff won't happen.

I'm no enemy of the novice tourney. But, I am an enemy of the school of thought that says we should relentlessly pursue expansion of the game through more and more and more novice tournaments. And, I don't see any difference between ACF Fall/EFT and some event explicitly labelled "Novice" - who the hell is the big scary grad student that's going to show up at EFT and Fall and scare all the weak new players away? Noone. Is "novice" just some silly label we put out there in order to try to convince or fool teams into thinking it's cool to come, in order to sneak them in the door? I think it's impossible to have an event easier than EFT or Fall, and have it still constitute valid, good quizbowl.

Moreover, I think the notion of a novice submission tourney is pointless - novices can't write. The tournament will end up sucking or being written entirely by the editor, and novices will learn nothing from their writing experience because they're not yet at a point where they can learn anything. They'll just be confused as to why all their sucky questions weren't used, and shrug it off, and go play intramural broomball.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby Frater Taciturnus » Fri Aug 22, 2008 4:29 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote: They'll just be confused as to why all their sucky questions weren't used, and shrug it off, and go play intramural broomball.


Early nominee for side event of the year. :party:
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Fri Aug 22, 2008 4:48 pm

Moreover, I think the notion of a novice submission tourney is pointless - novices can't write. The tournament will end up sucking or being written entirely by the editor, and novices will learn nothing from their writing experience because they're not yet at a point where they can learn anything. They'll just be confused as to why all their sucky questions weren't used, and shrug it off, and go play intramural broomball.

I'm pretty sure I disagree with this mentality. I think making novices write is something very worthwhile, not because their novice level writing will be great, but because they get used to writing, researching, and learning from that. Even though the tournament will end up probably being significantly rewritten by the editor, it's still a very positive thing that the novices wrote anything in the first place, and while plenty of them will either be confused or won't care when their questions are changed a lot, some of them will want know what went wrong out of a desire to improve, and if we can help get those players to a higher level with this situation, that's a great gain for the community.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Fri Aug 22, 2008 5:24 pm

I'm pretty sure I disagree with this mentality. I think making novices write is something very worthwhile, not because their novice level writing will be great, but because they get used to writing, researching, and learning from that. Even though the tournament will end up probably being significantly rewritten by the editor, it's still a very positive thing that the novices wrote anything in the first place, and while plenty of them will either be confused or won't care when their questions are changed a lot, some of them will want know what went wrong out of a desire to improve, and if we can help get those players to a higher level with this situation, that's a great gain for the community.


Yeah, that's a fair argument. I'm just basing my comment off of my general feeling of how/when people learn to write. I think writing at a very early stage in your career doesn't help much, you just don't know enough - I think you have to read some packets first, go to some events, hear some people talk about what is good and what is bad, just generally get a feel for things - before anything starts to make sense. I think we can type up all the Writing Guidelines we want, and it isn't going to remedy this situation. But, that's just my opinion, I'm not sure how right I am about this (as opposed to, you know, everything else).
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby cvdwightw » Fri Aug 22, 2008 5:36 pm

I'm not sure what Ryan is talking about. Everyone has a concept of "regular" difficulty. Ryan has one that skews harder; Matt has one that skews easier. Ultimately we use ACF Fall as the benchmark for "easy" difficulty, ACF Regionals as the benchmark for "regular" difficulty, and ACF Nationals as the benchmark for "hard" difficulty. Now, granted I've gotten a heck of a lot better since I started playing, but I'd say that all three of these events have gotten easier in the past five years in terms of answer selection. Why is this?

1. New, fresh clues for stale answer choices.
With the trickle-down effect, answers that used to be hard are now easy, while old lead-ins are now middle clues. People are replacing those old lead-ins with new lead-ins rather than replacing the "hard" answers with easier answers. Accordingly, the canon of clues is expanding much more rapidly than the canon of answer choices, and this means that what used to be a hard answer a few years ago is now an easier answer, only with three lines of harder clues at the beginning of the question.

2. A general consensus on what is "acceptable" and "unacceptable" for tossups and hard bonus parts.
There's been a big reaction lately against the "impossible bonus part" or whatever you want to call it. It's no longer acceptable for people to just throw out anything as a hard part. So, far less often do we see people throwing out hard parts for the sake of being hard - at the best events, there's a careful thought process of "is this actually important enough to be an answer?", and this leads to a more controlled canon expansion. At the same time, there's been a big reaction against dead tossups. This leads to people erring on the side of "easy" if they're not sure that a tossup will be gotten by most teams.

3. Expansion of side tournaments
Instead of writing that super-hard literature tossup for Illinois Open, people write that super-hard literature tossup for the Illinois Open Literature Tournament. Canon expansion is occurring on the fringes of the game - in tournaments designed for the people who are interested enough in those areas to get the tossups on things that haven't come up before. These tournaments provides an excellent benchmark as to the relative breadth and depth of both the top players in a subject and the casually-interested players in a subject, allowing us to create finer grades of difficulty and introduce things to the mainstream canon once they're ready to be answered by a critical mass of people and not just dismissed as another "impossible bonus part".

4. Expansion of the circuit
As the circuit expands, there becomes more and more of a dichotomy between the "casual" weekend player and the "hardcore" player. A lot of clubs, especially new ones, rely on the "casual" player to help staff tournaments and fill out teams. Some of these players become "hardcore" players, the vast majority don't. So people are writing questions aimed at the "casual" player with answer choices (things people are likely to have heard of) while trying to make them as interesting and pyramidal as possible to keep the "hardcore" players happy.

For these four reasons, I would argue that the state of the game has shifted toward balancing relatively easier answer selection with relatively harder clues. Minnesota Open and Illinois Open may be what used to be "Regionals difficulty" with respect to the relative obscurity of answer choices, but since "Regionals difficulty" has become easier, they're now "post-Regionals difficulty" or "between Regionals and Nationals difficulty". Matt lumps this in with other "hard" tournaments, Ryan uses the nebulous "experienced player difficulty" for this middle ground, I really don't see why we're squabbling over lexical differences.

That said, I could see a reasonable "novice circuit" develop that allows new players to get experience on easier questions. EFT in September/October, ACF Fall in November, NAQT D2 Sectionals in February, MCMNT in March. If we make the Summer Novice Tournament an annual event, that's five, and I think there's a reasonable argument to be made to add a sixth - the question being whether it makes more sense to put it in fall or spring. If it's packet-submission, I'd do it in spring. Like Ryan said, we can't expect novices to start writing halfway decent questions immediately. But the thing is, after a few tournaments under their belt, they'll start to get some intuitive idea of what makes a good question, and they'll at least try to emulate those tournaments. This not only makes the editor's job easier, but it also makes the feedback that much more meaningful.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby theMoMA » Fri Aug 22, 2008 5:42 pm

I think that both Illinois and Minnesota Opens are striving for a difficulty between Regionals and Nationals level (like Cardinal Classic or Sun 'n' Fun have recently achieved), which I guess I would classify as "above regular" and therefore "hard." I don't think anyone's claiming that these events are going to rival summer Opens or ACF Nationals, but it seems perfectly reasonable to call fall semester events that exceed Regionals difficulty "hard."
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby Gautam » Fri Aug 22, 2008 5:48 pm

cvdwightw wrote:That said, I could see a reasonable "novice circuit" develop that allows new players to get experience on easier questions. EFT in September/October, ACF Fall in November, NAQT D2 Sectionals in February, MCMNT in March. If we make the Summer Novice Tournament an annual event, that's five, and I think there's a reasonable argument to be made to add a sixth - the question being whether it makes more sense to put it in fall or spring. If it's packet-submission, I'd do it in spring. Like Ryan said, we can't expect novices to start writing halfway decent questions immediately. But the thing is, after a few tournaments under their belt, they'll start to get some intuitive idea of what makes a good question, and they'll at least try to emulate those tournaments. This not only makes the editor's job easier, but it also makes the feedback that much more meaningful.


There's also MUT, which, as far as I know, we are still interested in continuing. I think it hit the novice difficulty mark fairly well. Also, MUT was packet submissions last year, and I think we'd continue that trend.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Fri Aug 22, 2008 6:48 pm

I think that both Illinois and Minnesota Opens are striving for a difficulty between Regionals and Nationals level (like Cardinal Classic or Sun 'n' Fun have recently achieved), which I guess I would classify as "above regular" and therefore "hard." I don't think anyone's claiming that these events are going to rival summer Opens or ACF Nationals, but it seems perfectly reasonable to call fall semester events that exceed Regionals difficulty "hard."


Well, of course, your whole argument here is predicated upon accepting the idea of "regular difficulty," as Matt Weiner defined it one day. Who says that ACF Regionals is the sine qua non of "regular difficulty"? - it doesn't have to be. Unless you're basing your estimate on the relative difficulty of currently existing tourneys - which have, as Dwight claims, gotten easier than they used to be.

I'm using a definition of whether a tourney is easy or hard based upon my own independent judgment, using factors like how many times I've seen answers/clues come up before and so on. I'm using that approach because I think it's misleading and harmful to use an artificially lowered relative standard of what is easy and hard - I don't think it's an effective way to grow good players. Like Charlie, I fear what's going to happen when these players have to step up and play on harder stuff against veterans. I have doubts over whether the way to produce good players is through the novice tourney "build-them-up slowly" route.

Note: this has long since turned into a theoretical debate over difficulty standards and how to introduce new players to the game, and not so much a debate over whether this particular event is a good idea or bad, but whatever, that's fine with me.
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby theMoMA » Fri Aug 22, 2008 7:08 pm

I think the idea is that ACF Regionals doesn't just exist; it is written with a specific idea of "regular difficulty" in mind, which is just as much a judgment call as your analysis.

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by: "I think it's misleading and harmful to use an artificially lowered relative standard of what is easy and hard - I don't think it's an effective way to grow good players."
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Re: Packet-submission novice event in fall 2008

Postby Matt Weiner » Fri Aug 22, 2008 7:33 pm

OK, this is a dumb conversation. Allow me to set you straight. Everyone knows what regular difficulty is--it's the difficulty of regular tournaments! Those not defined as "novice" or "fall" or "nationals" or any other aberration from "what you can normally expect." Terrapin, MLK, and so on. Did anyone really not understand that? I suspect some willful obtuseness here. The idea that IO is not a "hard" tournament is straight fucking asinine. Stop trying to impress people with how committed you are to ever-increasing difficulty. No one likes hard tournaments better than I do, and I'm certainly better at them than, to pick a random example, Ryan Westbrook is, so I hope no one accuses me of pussying out by not wanting to drive away 80% of the teams--I play hard tournaments exclusively and I'm editing, rather than playing, the regular stuff. You don't have to prove anything to me or to the other 30 people who like hard quizbowl about how much street cred you have by constantly advocating for screwing up the quizbowl circuit with tournaments most teams can't play.

There were 200 schools who played some sort of non-College Bowl quizbowl last year (NAQT, ACF, or independent tournaments). Did you know that, Ryan? Do you care? I do. I want all 200 to show up to all our good tournaments and stick with them. Where do you think future Chicago Open and ACF Nationals (and, yes, noted tournament that is pretty much the same difficulty as ACF Nationals, NAQT ICT) players come from? They come from quizbowl programs. If quizbowl programs aren't given normal quizbowl to play, we're going to end up with another 7-team Illinois Open and no circuit. On top of this, there were another 200 schools who played College Bowl or Honda and didn't play quizbowl. I want to bring those 800+ players in and find the 20, 30, 40, or 50 potential dedicated people in that group so that CO and Nationals are vibrant tournaments long after the current generation leaves school and you and I move on to other things. Do you want that?

Do we understand what the point of good questions is? Pyramidal tossups and progressive-difficulty bonuses exist so that everyone can play the same set, and the better team will always win and new information will always be introduced, while lesser teams can still enjoy themselves and not have 55-40 games. If the less skilled teams didn't matter, why would we need to have good questions? We could just have one-liners on superhard topics and it would be fine for the top matchups.

The "false image" argument is one I've made before about NAQT high school questions, and, as usual, I was right about it. Collegiate quizbowl isn't about three-line tossups, math calculation, 30% trash distributions, and playing the same questions you played in high school. But, the idea of having NORMAL TOURNAMENTS is no false hook to lure people in, because it is in fact what we want them to be doing. The things found in tournaments like MLK, Titanomachy, and ACF Regionals are precisely what collegiate quizbowl is and should be, and there's nothing pandering about them since they're awesome questions for even the best teams to play on. If you, Ryan, can't see the difference between the 2006 MLK that you worked on (which was perhaps the best normal difficulty tournament ever created) and an NAQT high school set, then congratulations--you've wasted 2000 hours of your life producing good quizbowl when you could have just bought NAQT high school questions. But, as one of the two best editors in quizbowl, I don't believe you are incapable of perceiving this difference--I believe you're being willfully obtuse to make a really dumb point.

Now, the more concrete news: After consulting with some people, I've decided to commit to doing the (watch out here if you don't know what words mean) regular-difficulty, regular-eligibility set this fall. The dates of availability will be October 4 and October 11, in converse to Early Fall Tournament: In other words, whichever of those weekends is not EFT in your region, you can run this tournament. Or, if you want to pair it with EFT for a two-tournament weekend, you can do that, but I doubt there will be much interest in such a thing at this point in the semester.

The packet submission guidelines will be pretty simple, since the timeline on this is compressed. Teams with experienced players will have to write packets by September 30 or be barred from playing. There will be something like a $25 discount for writing by September 15. The ACF Regionals guidelines for distribution and difficulty will apply. My personal preference is for this event to be open to collegiate teams of all kinds with no further restrictions, but if particular sites want to make it an open and allow nonstudents to play, that will be up to them. Expect a more thorough announcement very soon.

I may edit a novice set in the spring, depending on how many other sub-normal difficulty events are announced for that timeframe. I will also be doing Fake ICT 2 at that time, so those of you who want a hard tournament can look forward to that, too.
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Re: Packet-submission REGULAR event in fall 2008

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Fri Aug 22, 2008 10:25 pm

Well, there's plenty of tough language and ad hominem attack in that post, but none of it goes anywhere towards showing that you're right and I'm wrong. I'm well aware that your ideological program is to zealously proselytize the game to the third word, by any means necessary. It doesn't mean that I agree with all of the methods to achieve that goal.

And, I'm well aware of what you think "regular difficulty" means. But, that doesn't answer the question of what it should mean. Sure, I edited MLK 2006, but I didn't edit it to be your definition of a "normal tournament." I edited it to be a quality event at a certain difficulty level - I'm not sure what that level is exactly, we can argue about that. But, "What you can normally expect" is an awfully funny definition, since you're the one largely telling us what we can expect. My premise is that people have taken sets like Titanomachy and Penn Bowl to be "normal difficulty" or "regular difficulty" because a certain group (including yourself) keeps saying that's regular difficulty - not because there's some obvious pre-existing eternal definition of what that phrase means, which there obviously is not. Nor is there some clear definition of what "hard" should mean, such that it must include a certain tourney - you have your definition, I have mine.
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Re: Packet-submission event in fall 2008

Postby vandyhawk » Sat Aug 23, 2008 3:05 am

Here is my brief two cents. I don't think it matters what you call a tournament, as long as people know what to expect from it. Who cares if Matt W's "regular difficulty" isn't "regular" in someone else's eyes? People by now know what to expect of that kind of set, so it's a useful designation nonetheless, and that level of difficulty offers perhaps the most enjoyment to the most amount of people. More experienced people can still play and be challenged at least to a degree, and new people will still know some stuff. As for the fall event, I won't be playing, but another "what Matt W calls regular" tournament seems welcome. With all the novice events, it kinda sucks to be an experienced player b/c you don't get to play much. That's the main reason I even played ACF Fall last year - I knew it was my last year of playing and just wanted to compete as much as I could, and in the SE, the pickings were rather slim in the fall.
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Re: Packet-submission event in fall 2008

Postby Matt Weiner » Sat Aug 23, 2008 3:23 am

This tournament is now formally announced at viewtopic.php?f=8&t=6173 . You can expect host announcements to follow shortly.
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Re: Packet-submission REGULAR event in fall 2008

Postby Matt Weiner » Sun Aug 24, 2008 8:35 pm

OK, I think there is a chance of getting some valuable discussion out of this thread, so I'd like to reply to this post:

No Rules Westbrook wrote:Well, there's plenty of tough language and ad hominem attack in that post, but none of it goes anywhere towards showing that you're right and I'm wrong. I'm well aware that your ideological program is to zealously proselytize the game to the third word, by any means necessary. It doesn't mean that I agree with all of the methods to achieve that goal.


I am sort of surprised at being lumped in with people like Reinstein and Pickrell who have jumped on the ridiculous and dishonest "expansion is good no matter what" train. I've consistently pointed out that expansion which dilutes what quizbowl is has no value, since the goal here is to get people participating in good quizbowl and thus learning things, not to, e.g., host a frisbee tournament, call it quizbowl, and then celebrate how we just discovered 100 new quizbowl teams. I want to expand real quizbowl, and I think the way to do that is to have lots more great real quizbowl tournaments like Terrapin, MLK, ACF Regionals, and so on. I don't think having more events like Chicago Open, NAQT ICT, or ACF Nationals is going to accomplish anything--it will turn off 80% of the teams, and not do a whole lot for the (very generously estimated) 20% of people who would be interested in playing such events, since all of those people can have a perfectly fine time at a regular tournament. You are the only one who seems to think that answering hard tossups at Chicago Open is somehow fundamentally better than answering regular tossups on hard clues at MLK.

I believe that, for possibly the first time ever, we are at a crossroads where expansion of quizbowl and expansion of good quizbowl are not conflicting goals. I want to take advantage of this opportunity by letting good, regular tournaments continue to displace awful, fake tournaments. It seems fairly obvious that people who like MLK and Terrapin will be the group in which we find people who like ACF Nationals and Chicago Open, and thus that offering more regular tournaments and creating more regular quizbowl players will directly aid the health of the hard tournaments too. Do you disagree with that?

My premise is that people have taken sets like Titanomachy and Penn Bowl to be "normal difficulty" or "regular difficulty" because a certain group (including yourself) keeps saying that's regular difficulty - not because there's some obvious pre-existing eternal definition of what that phrase means, which there obviously is not.


I didn't invent quizbowl, dude. You can look at tournament sets from throughout the 1990s and the early part of this millenium, compare them with statistics, and compare that with your experience-derived sense of who knows what, and get a pretty good idea of what a "regular" tournament is even if you never saw the guidelines or packets for one of my events.

I may be a little older than some of the other ACF people (and younger than still others) but do you really not remember that there was once a time when people just went to tournaments, wrote packets for them, and that was the "quizbowl circuit" in which people participated? It wasn't as fractured into some pussies playing high school questions on one side and some other people trying to outdo each other by writing tossups on "Bricks Without Straw" on the other side. We've seen a lot more coming-together of teams of all levels in the past year or two, and I'd like to complete that process and integrate all the potential new programs into it at the same time, by re-establishing the idea of a quizbowl circuit that consistently plays on regular collegiate questions.
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Re: Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby theMoMA » Sun Aug 24, 2008 10:27 pm

I think it's important to add that that what we define as "regular difficulty" is actually based on what players know and what players want. It's not some kind of nefarious and nebulous invention of Matt Weiner's.
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Re: Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby Mechanical Beasts » Sun Aug 24, 2008 10:47 pm

theMoMA wrote:I think it's important to add that that what we define as "regular difficulty" is actually based on what players know and what players want. It's not some kind of nefarious and nebulous invention of Matt Weiner's.


Sure, but I don't think that's precisely what Westbrook's argument is here. (Though I don't happen to agree with his larger position, I don't want to see his argument mischaracterized.) The notion of "regular difficulty" is inherently nebulous simply because if you tell a player entirely new to the game "oh, regular difficulty is just about what you'd expect for a tournament" that won't really mean anything. "Nationals-difficulty" is a better-defined and inherently less nebulous term because you can just say "here's ACF Nationals for the past four years; read them, and it's all stuff like that."

This doesn't preclude a logical definition of "regular-difficulty" because maybe one wants "regular" to mean am, gm, hm, rms, median, or mode; find some difficulty metric, apply it to the data that a new player would get, and huzzah, "regular" difficulty is 1.13*TIT difficulty. Whatever. I think Westbrook's just saying "one day Matt Weiner decreed that x means regular without adequately supporting why x is any more regular than ACF Fall or an A-set or Sun 'n' Fun," and he wouldn't be unreasonable to say hey, let's say something more concrete about this standard.

I don't believe that difficulty is an end unto itself; in that way I don't find myself allied with Ryan's position (or anyone else's characterization of it)--but I do think that he's bringing up a meaningful point, which Matt at one point casts as intentional obstinacy, but which makes more sense from the perspective of a novice entering the circuit (since while Ryan has a great deal of data from which to infer what "regular" means and a great deal of meta-knowledge as to how to process that data, a novice has the data but not an idea of how to evaluate it).
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Re: Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby theMoMA » Sun Aug 24, 2008 11:45 pm

That's not right though. Regular difficulty is written in such a way that a certain percentage of the field can get the tossups at the end, and with specific bonus difficulty in mind. It's not nebulous at all; it's very rigidly defined.
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Re: Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby Mechanical Beasts » Sun Aug 24, 2008 11:52 pm

I mean, that sounds like a reasonable definition way to construct a definition, except I'd want to see, like, actual percentages for that, then. Moreover--what's the field for a "regular difficulty" tournament? All possible teams that could decide to show up? In that case, you're defining how hard a "regular difficulty" tournament in terms of the strength of teams that might show up to it, which is again in no way benchmarked to something solid.

I don't pretend that I have answers to my own questions, or that I understand all their implications. I just question the invocation of "this is 'normal'" with minimal external motivation.

I mean, even if we just say "regular difficulty is pretty much as hard as this TIT set here," then that's a solid definition. And Matt Keller's point stands--if we have a solid idea of what my idea of "regular" is, then who cares whether everyone reaches a consensus on it? What matters is having something tangible, a benchmark to judge from.
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Re: Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby Matt Weiner » Sun Aug 24, 2008 11:58 pm

everyday847 wrote:I mean, that sounds like a reasonable definition way to construct a definition, except I'd want to see, like, actual percentages for that, then.


viewtopic.php?p=70567#p70567
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Re: Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby Mechanical Beasts » Mon Aug 25, 2008 12:14 am

Matt Weiner wrote:
everyday847 wrote:I mean, that sounds like a reasonable definition way to construct a definition, except I'd want to see, like, actual percentages for that, then.


viewtopic.php?p=70567#p70567


So we say that 2008 Regionals is "regular" difficulty, and we can use that as a benchmark? Then perfect! I've got what I came for, and I don't see how Ryan's side could possibly not be satisfied.
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Re: Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Mon Aug 25, 2008 7:04 pm

Yeah, I like the arguments advanced by both Andrew Watkins and Matt Keller in this thread. Look, nowhere in this thread am I trying to make a case that we should have more hard tournaments, and nowhere am I claiming that hard stuff is "foundationally better" than stuff of lesser difficulty. I'm not making any kind of claim right now about what difficulty we should have, I'm quarreling about the accuracy of labels that we apply to difficulty.

Here's a succinct statement of my position in this thread: I think the phrase "regular difficulty" or "normal difficulty" is a pernicious phrase that's been stealthily and somewhat dishonestly injected into the QB lexicon in an attempt to promote expansion of the game to less experienced people (for good or for bad). People like Weiner have created the phrase and then used it as a sort of euphemism, to replace what I might consider a more accurate term, like "beginner difficulty". But, I say that it's a pernicious phrase because I think it's misleading - its meaning shifts according to the desires of whoever is using it.

Now, Andrew Hart puts forth a more empirical-type definition of the phrase, saying that it means difficulty where an acceptable percentage of people can get tossups at the end. Well, this suffers from the same type of misleading relativism that I'm talking about. What people do you mean? Do you mean experienced players, probably not...do you mean newer players who have some familiarity with the game...or do you mean players we may be recruiting who used to play CBI or ACUI or what the hell ever. Or maybe some day, we'll have a program where we just recruit bums off the street (starting with me, who will by that time be a hobo camping outside tournament sites yelling answers in a deranged stupor) - do you mean questions that those players can get at the end? What you seem to mean is that the phrase applies to whatever players happen to be currently playing at the time - well, that's misleading, since the composition of those players is changing. You have a shifting definition that seems to be gradually getting easier and easier. I prefer some sort of fuzzy definition of difficulty that doesn't look at empirical stats (the Teitler approach, as I always call it), but uses the judgment of more experienced players on what's come up before and what is hard to know and what is easy to know and so on - I think that this approach is way more accurate in the long run.

And, I think it's damaging when players are under the impression that what they're playing is some kind of medium-difficulty and then they meet experienced players like a Weiner or a Jerry, and they see harder questions (which fall in with the above fuzzy definition more than they do other definitions).
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Re: Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby theMoMA » Mon Aug 25, 2008 7:21 pm

What I've been trying to advance this whole time is that it's up to the editors of a particular tournament to figure out what "regular difficulty" means to them. I don't think there's anything pernicious about using "regular difficulty" as an convenient term for things that are "harder than novice, but easier than nationals," as I do, and as Weiner does.

My real question is: When you say that a more accurate term for "regular difficulty" is "beginner difficulty," are you arguing that stuff that is between novice and nationals level is for beginners?
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Re: Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Mon Aug 25, 2008 7:32 pm

Clearly, I'm not saying that anything between novice and nationals is "for beginners." I'm saying that what has often been labelled as the exemplar of "regular difficulty" (Titanomachy, Penn Bowl are great examples) is a difficulty that I think is awfully beginner-friendly. I'm not saying it can't be enjoyed by experienced players, but it's a difficulty that in my estimation is quite low in the grand scheme of things (again, given my judgment, which is the more accurate definition I'm advancing here).
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Re: Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby theMoMA » Mon Aug 25, 2008 7:37 pm

But those tournaments are clearly in a different category from ACF Fall/EFT, and also clearly in a different category than Nationals/ICT/CO. I don't think anyone is trying to claim that all "regular difficulty" tournaments are the same, just that they're the questions that are between stuff explicitly written for novices and the stuff explicitly written to decide national championships, and are therefore the questions that regular tournaments are run on.
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Re: Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby cvdwightw » Mon Aug 25, 2008 7:49 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote:[Regular difficulty is] a pernicious phrase because I think it's misleading - its meaning shifts according to the desires of whoever is using it...Andrew Hart puts forth a more empirical-type definition of the phrase, saying that it means difficulty where an acceptable percentage of people can get tossups at the end. Well, this suffers from the same type of misleading relativism that I'm talking about...I prefer some sort of fuzzy definition of difficulty that doesn't look at empirical stats (the Teitler approach, as I always call it), but uses the judgment of more experienced players on what's come up before and what is hard to know and what is easy to know and so on - I think that this approach is way more accurate in the long run.

"Regular" difficulty certainly does shift. However, no one that I know of calls a specific tournament "regular difficulty" (I admit that I haven't pored over most tournament announcements word-by-word). What we have is Fall, Regionals, and Nationals difficulty, determined by the difficulty of ACF Fall, ACF Regionals, and ACF Nationals, respectively. Those three events are edited by (presumably) experienced players who know what's come up before and what is easy and hard to know. Now when I bill my tournament as "somewhere between Fall and Regionals difficulty", as I did with the novice tourney, people should be able to go to my tournament and know less than they did with last year's ACF Fall packets but more than they did with last year's ACF Regionals packets. If someone else advertises a packet-submission tournament as "around ACF Regionals difficulty", I should be able to go to last year's ACF Regionals packets and know that that's the general type of clues and answer selection that I should be shooting for when I write my packet.

As I see it, the more experienced players edit the three (now four, I guess) tournaments that people use as benchmarks for difficulty. They do this based on their ideas of what is easy to know, what is hard to know, what is easy to know if it's come up before but hard to know otherwise, etc., and if they've estimated all that right, then the tournament comes out within a certain "difficulty-acceptable" range of tossups converted and bonus points converted and whatever other statistics they want. We can't say a priori that any given tournament is going to have an average of 16.2 tossups converted and 13.5 points per bonus, but we can say that if the ACF Regionals editors do their job of estimating difficulty correctly, then the final product is probably going to be in some range that includes those numbers, depending on how strong or weak the set of players who participate in that year's event is. Then, if a tournament is billed as Regionals difficulty, I should be within a certain range of my ACF Regionals performance, maybe higher because of a weaker field or having learned stuff, maybe lower because of a stronger field or me not playing well, but generally around the same performance. If the next year, ACF Regionals is harder, or the field is weaker, and those numbers drop to 15.3 tossups and 11.6 points per bonus, then that becomes the new ACF Regionals difficulty, not the 16.2/13.5 numbers.

So, in short, the more experienced players (i.e. the people Ryan thinks should be the arbiters of difficulty) are the ones who come up with the difficulty of ACF Fall/(Winter/)Regionals/Nationals, and other tournaments try to use the data derived from those four tournaments as a guide to the difficulty of their tournament.

I see nothing wrong with this - if the same team averages 9.7 ppb at ACF Regionals and 10.3 ppb at Ryan Westbrook's Experienced-Player-Difficulty Extravaganza, then I would call RWEPDE Regionals-difficulty even if ACF Regionals averaged 13.5 ppb but RWEPDE averaged 17.6 ppb due to a much stronger, on average, field. Empirical field-averaged data cannot be used as a predictor, due to the inherent variability in field strength (it can, however, be used as an explanatory tool - "the average bonus conversion was 10.4, which means this tournament was too hard for our field" - but note that those examples generally say nothing about the inherent difficulty of the tournament). However, comparing a team's performance on two different tournaments, with roughly similar personnel, can be used as an objective measure of difficulty if we accept the (derived-by-experienced-players-and-editors) standard difficulties of Fall level, Winter level, Regionals level, and Nationals level.
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Re: Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby naturalistic phallacy » Mon Aug 25, 2008 7:51 pm

theMoMA wrote:But those tournaments are clearly in a different category from ACF Fall/EFT, and also clearly in a different category than Nationals/ICT/CO. I don't think anyone is trying to claim that all "regular difficulty" tournaments are the same, just that they're the questions that are between stuff explicitly written for novices and the stuff explicitly written to decide national championships, and are therefore the questions that regular tournaments are run on.

Saying that all "regular difficulty" tournaments do not have to be at roughly the same level of difficulty defeats the purpose of the label.
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Re: Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby Mechanical Beasts » Mon Aug 25, 2008 7:55 pm

theMoMA wrote:What I've been trying to advance this whole time is that it's up to the editors of a particular tournament to figure out what "regular difficulty" means to them. I don't think there's anything pernicious about using "regular difficulty" as an convenient term for things that are "harder than novice, but easier than nationals," as I do, and as Weiner does.


I mean, this is a legitimate perspective, but if I'm the president of a new club, or a recently converted club, then "regular difficulty" may well mean something different in every tournament announcement. (They would converge somewhere similar, because it's not like a really diverse group of people edits tournaments, at the moment, so that method would be no disaster, at the moment. But it has the potential to be an unstable definition, I think.)

Ryan, thanks for phrasing far better the argument I had tried to get off in a sentence and failed to: unless your "regular difficulty" is explicitly "81% tossup conversion by the kind of field that ACF Regionals 2008 got" as opposed to just what 81% for some arbitrary field. (Granted, I would still like to play and get destroyed on a tournament whose tossups are 81% converted by the top four teams at CO this year.) But field-dependence is important. Yeah.

As for using regular difficulty as "between novice-level and nationals-level," there's nothing pernicious, but there's little utility. The first two mACF tournaments I played were (the Harvard mirror of) MCMNT and ACF Nationals. I scored 95 points in a pair of rounds at the former. That was fun! You can imagine how many times I did that at ACF Nationals. I mean, MCMNT was used for WoQ, while the post-ACF Nationals 2008 discussion saw Lafer argue that Bremsstrahlung is either acceptable or too easy at that level. I don't feel like I'm strawmanning you, but I don't see how "between MCMNT and Nationals" actually gives anyone too much information.

My real question is: When you say that a more accurate term for "regular difficulty" is "beginner difficulty," are you arguing that stuff that is between novice and nationals level is for beginners?


Perhaps just that beginners could attend a "regular" tournament, convert some tossups, and have a good time. I think we've been spoiled by the recent phenomenon of young teams playing hard tournaments and not getting overly pissed at them: for the most part, nationals difficulty is substantially less fun for beginners: at least at this "regular" difficulty, people will recognize the answers they don't know, even if they won't be able to convert the tossups.
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Re: Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby Matt Weiner » Mon Aug 25, 2008 8:05 pm

Well, far be it from us to fall into the "trash trap" of aggressively proclaiming what is and is not fun and being suspicious of the motives of those who disagree. Some people like hard questions even if they aren't very good on them. I'm just saying that we need to go from experience about what the best way to keep questions rigorously real and competitive for good teams, without turning off everyone else, is. People can make mountaintop pronouncements about what you "should" know and about how something coming up before makes it easier, but in the real world we have to look at what has actually happened in the past and practice some solid induction to figure out what to do in the future, rather than relying on a priori masturbation.

The notion that Penn Bowl or Regionals are "beginners' difficulty" is just befuddling to me. Not necessarily because I don't think new players can answer and have the elusive "fun" on those questions--after all, the whole idea of keeping them at the difficulty they were in 2008 was largely so that could happen. Rather, I disagree with the implication that the questions provide no challenge or no legitimate competition for non-beginners. I think the beginnings of the tossups and the second and third bonus parts of those tournaments would provide a fine, knowledge-based game for teams of any skill level. Again--the whole point of every principle of good question-writing is to create questions that a very wide range of teams can have good games on. I don't see why anyone who doesn't understand and subscribe to that theory would bother creating pyramidal tossups or progressive-difficulty bonuses at all.
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Re: Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby grapesmoker » Mon Aug 25, 2008 8:12 pm

I don't understand what this argument is actually about. Look, we all speak the English language here, and we all know the meanings of the words "novice," "hard," and "regular." These labels are heuristics that help us determine what a given set is going to be like; of course, if we wanted to we could set some kind of conversion metric as the definition of these tournaments (as Matt likes to do). The benefit of the conversion metric is that we undershoot it, we know the set was too hard and if we overshoot it, it was too easy, when all tournaments using that set are considered. I guess this can be useful if you're trying to prove something quantitative about difficulty, but most of writing good tournaments for the appropriate audience is not about number crunching (although I suppose we might someday have the statistics that will tell us how conversion of tossups on Mind and Society has evolved over time), but rather about having experience, knowing the canon, and being able to predict what kind of questions people will be able to answer. That's a large part of what makes good writers good, their ability to consistently make that call correctly.

I think I would be ready to concede Ryan's point that "regular difficulty" is not particularly well-defined. My rebuttal: so what? We all have some conception of what that means, and if we need to explain "regular difficulty" to people who don't know what it means, we just point to some tournaments that are considered emblematic of regular difficulty. I guarantee you that if we had to go through sets as a community and rank them on Jonathan Magin's scale, we would quickly come to some empirical consensus of what all these things mean. Trying to pin the tail on the difficulty donkey through abstruse debate is a pointless exercise.
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Re: Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby Mechanical Beasts » Mon Aug 25, 2008 8:19 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:Well, far be it from us to fall into the "trash trap" of aggressively proclaiming what is and is not fun and being suspicious of the motives of those who disagree. Some people like hard questions even if they aren't very good on them. I'm just saying that we need to go from experience about what the best way to keep questions rigorously real and competitive for good teams, without turning off everyone else, is. People can make mountaintop pronouncements about what you "should" know and about how something coming up before makes it easier, but in the real world we have to look at what has actually happened in the past and practice some solid induction to figure out what to do in the future, rather than relying on a priori masturbation.

The notion that Penn Bowl or Regionals are "beginners' difficulty" is just befuddling to me. Not necessarily because I don't think new players can answer and have the elusive "fun" on those questions--after all, the whole idea of keeping them at the difficulty they were in 2008 was largely so that could happen. Rather, I disagree with the implication that the questions provide no challenge or no legitimate competition for non-beginners.


Yeah, this is true: my invocation of "fun" was inappropriate. What's more relevant is: questions at "regular difficulty" in contrast to nationals difficulty tend to be more accessible without sacrificing goodness, as is the goal with Penn Bowl and Regionals, as you've mentioned.

I approve of using that sort of induction, and masturbation doesn't have much of a point unless it's a posteriori; I guess my objection is a question of properly defining the field on which to make that induction, now that we have the induction down.
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Re: Regular difficulty: does it exist?

Postby cvdwightw » Mon Aug 25, 2008 8:20 pm

I now proclaim "Regular difficulty" to be the set of tournaments that are at least as hard as ACF Winter is (or, I suppose, as it will be) and at least as easy as ACF Regionals is.

This is a succinct definition that gives Regular Difficulty as a relatively narrow difficulty range whose easy and hard ends are defined by experienced players and editors who theoretically know what is easy to know and hard to know and all that good stuff that Ryan keeps talking about, while providing nation-wide conversion metrics (and thus an excellent idea of "what the community knows and doesn't know").

For more "nebulous" definitions, I define "Novice" difficulty to be tournaments easier than or roughly equivalent to ACF Fall, "Easy" difficulty to be tournaments harder than ACF Fall but easier than ACF Winter, "Hard" difficulty to be tournaments harder than ACF Regionals but noticeably easier than ACF Nationals, and "post-Nationals" difficulty to be tournaments harder than ACF Nationals. This leads to the following eight-tier difficulty scale (It would be nine tiers, but there really isn't that much that's easier than ACF Fall, so I've combined "Novice" and "Fall" into one tier):

    Novice/Fall
    Easy
    Winter
    Regular
    Regionals
    Hard
    Nationals
    Post-Nationals

You can argue where "beginner" difficulty fits on this scale - Ryan appears to think it goes all the way up to Regionals, Matt maybe thinks it doesn't get past Fall. The point is that there are eight tiers here, you pick a tier that you want for your target difficulty, you find how the field (or a few teams drawn from the top, middle, and bottom of the field) performed at the corresponding ACF tournament (or average from between the two ACF tournaments), and there's your target difficulty. Simple.

I suppose there's a post-post-nationals difficulty that corresponds to a 6 on Magin's Difficulty Scale, but since no one really uses that as the target difficulty for a whole tournament, I don't really find it relevant to this discussion.
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