Retiring Some Questions?

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Retiring Some Questions?

Post by ProsperoSMS »

I helped with the PACE NSC, and one question I heard had to do with Melville's Typee. The team facing this bonus got it, clearly off a guess, based on the facial expressions, the look after it was ruled correctly, and based on the fact they guessed Omoo for the next part, when it wasn't close to right.

Maybe I'm being more picky because this is a lit question, but I have heard either Typee or Omoo or both at several tournaments in the last few years, and I'm thinking this pair need to go. For one thing, I think it's been used enough that students reflexively answer it ("iffy Melville question? time for the chestnuts"), when they don't know it. I know there are various opinions of learning from lists, but I think this is an example of it which might have run its course. High school students don't read these two novels. In fact, undergrads in general do not read them, but they should know of them. They are minor works for Melville, yet I've heard these two combine to come up more often than "Bartleby," Moby Dick, and Billy Budd combined in the same amount of time. Perhaps one could argue these three have worn out their time and are too easy, but why aren't we moving to other works or other authors instead?

I'm interested both into whether I'm just more picky because this is my subject, or if others agree, and what other subjects might be ready for a moratorium.

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Re: Retiring Some Questions?

Post by AKKOLADE »

Three letters: NHL.

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Post by ProsperoSMS »

Interesting--maybe the fact I'm in the south I hadn't noticed too many hockey questions (and it's one of the few sports my all-girls team somewhat knows). Or did you mean New Hanover Library?

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Post by rchschem »

The photoelectric effect is another one of those that shows up all the time. I think I've heard just about every lead-in to it. There are several ways to get to it, so there's usually something for kids to learn about it. But there are other topics that could be asked about.

I wonder if this is a matter of a packet writer hears a Typee question and thinks "Hey--I haven't heard that in a while" and decides to write one himself. Suddenly, the number of packets containing such questions increases geometrically. I remember a question I wrote for the RTO that nearly verbatim showed up in a GSAC set. No copying alleged--we just heard the same source probably at some point and thought it would make a good question.

Should it be retired? This gets dangerously close to a "canon or no canon" question. I don't think so. Hopefully the Omoo flare-up will go away, and some other flavor-of-the-month will show up.

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Post by dtaylor4 »

If the same stuff keeps coming up, then learn it. When it comes up, you nail it. Simple as that. If need be, go read the two books.

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Post by ProsperoSMS »

My question was not that it's being missed. The question was gotten by the team involved, and my impression was they got it simply because they have heard it enough. I have read the books, and I don't feel either warrants coming up as often as they do. We don't get the same number of questions on Twain's early works, so I'd argue we revisit some of those.

I hope Eric is right that it's just flavor of the month, but I don't know.

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Post by quizbowllee »

I think we need to think twice before "retiring" something from the established high school canon. Theoretically, if you are going to "retire" an answer, then you will introduce a new one. While there are times when this is necessary, it's also important to remember that this is high school.

My point is that - in many ways - the high school game is affected by the college game. This is because so many of the college players and programs do so much to help the high school game. When playing in college, I remember so many arguments about "expanding the canon." I also remember playing on ACF packets from the early-to-mid 90s. Those packets would, in many cases, be considered too easy for a high school tournament today.

What happened? The players who played in the 90s graduated (well, some of them did) and either started coaching a team, writing questions, running tournaments, etc. And, they wrote what they knew.

Take it from me, the college game is pretty damn hard. As more players from the modern college era are starting to write/run tournaments for high schoolers, the high school canon is looking more and more like the college canon from a few short years back. As the college canon expands, the high school canon also expands - it's just a few years behind.

You may think I'm crazy. But, if you want, I will dig out some NAQT tossups from the past year or two and give you examples of answers that HAD to have been written by a college player who may have lost touch with what the "high school" level actually is.

Anywho, the point of all this is that we need to watch and monitor how much we really add to the high school canon. Some argue that there is not a "canon." Trust me; there is.

I'm not saying to freeze the game as is. However, remember that the turn around in high school is significantly greater than in college. College players often play four years as undergrads, a few more while getting a masters or two, still a few more while gettiing a doctorate, etc. In that time, they master the college canon, and want to be challenged more. So, the envelope is pushed. Then they write high school questions, include an elaborate tossup on the "Fashoda Incident" and complain that high schoolers are stupid for not getting it. High schoolers get 4 years. Period. See my point?

This post got out of hand and is longer than I anticipated, but I think it's an important thing to discuss and think about.
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Post by pakman044 »

Lee, very well thought out post. The point has been observed to be in the other direction that us older folks (although I am not a question writer as of yet) tend to forget exactly i) the nature of the high school game and ii) the fact that it too is shifting as well (in more dynamic directions than just the "more difficult" direction). Specifically in my area, I have noticed that the High School Celebrity Shootout individual test each late October/early November has gotten significantly more difficult since when the first one was held in North Carolina (my senior year was 2002-2003). Even though the passage of time has made it harder for me to judge, my feeling is that I would not have done nearly as well as I did on the same test my senior year.

I of course should note that I have not studied the primary issue of the thread, but I think Lee's theory is definitely sound and reasonable.

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Post by First Chairman »

It's always difficult, even in situations dealing with "standardized tests." However, unlike standardized tests, we don't get a chance to preview test questions and see how easy or hard the questions are before they start to count.

But in terms of retiring certain canonical topics, I think you hit a frequency issue. Maybe we should worry about the way those questions are presented: with pyramidals, there are more permutations than the straight-up "Who wrote Moby Dick?".
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Post by ProsperoSMS »

I think Tom is hitting the term I really wanted. Rather than retire, I say just put a moratorium until the frequency gets to a better level. Personally, and for this example, I feel there are so many things from Melville that could be asked about and still make a series of good questions, that I think Typee & Omoo are ready for a rest.

Eric may be right that we have a case of synchronicity, where some clues are being repeated completely in isolation of each other, so there's just no way of realizing what seems like a fair, unique question is actually being asked in three different locales, and at three different levels. Clearly, a question on these novels would not be gotten by a weak team (maybe not an average team, although the frequency lends itself to helping those teams as well), but the top-flight teams deserve questions which do not repeat the same material and which reward deeper knowlege.

Lee is right that the issue is of the high school canon shifting in the last few years. I also played on ACF in the early-to-mid-90s, and the standard level of hs excellence is a harder set than the average back then. And I have felt, at times, that there were questions being written which were out of touch with a high school level team (and maybe just a case of either the writer showing off, or the writer being lazy and possibly just repeating something from a collegiate packet). I think this Melville example fits Lee's point about the evolution of the hs canon.

Obviously, I started all of this discussion, so I should do my part to help the situation as I see it, and at this point I suppose I can just try to write my questions without repeating the same things I've heard. Maybe I'll go for Pierre, or the Ambiguities. Or maybe I'll just aim to talk about other authors who are just as important but don't seem to get the questions.

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Post by rchschem »

Maybe we writers just need to broaden our horizons.

Less Dickens, more Trollope! (insert own ribald joke here)

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Post by Kechara »

OK, this question goes completely the other way with expanding the canon, but when do y'all think literature written in the past 50 years should make it into the canon? Heinlein somewhat has, for instance. Part of the reason I ask this is, I try to write based on what is taught. I see Killer Angels (and the other two by the Shaaras) on school reading lists, and I write them. Then they get rejected as trash. So, what is your standard for when something more recent than George Orwell or Allen Ginsburg should be asked?
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Post by dtaylor4 »

Kechara wrote:OK, this question goes completely the other way with expanding the canon, but when do y'all think literature written in the past 50 years should make it into the canon? Heinlein somewhat has, for instance. Part of the reason I ask this is, I try to write based on what is taught. I see Killer Angels (and the other two by the Shaaras) on school reading lists, and I write them. Then they get rejected as trash. So, what is your standard for when something more recent than George Orwell or Allen Ginsburg should be asked?
Lemme see:

Kerouac - On the Road
Mailer - The Executioner's Song/The Naked and the Dead
Welty - The Optimist's Daughter/A Worn Path
Albee - Seascape/Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf/Three Tall Women/A Delicate Balance

I could go on and on. I think most prize winners should be game, as I've mentioned a few.

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Post by Mr. Kwalter »

Kechara wrote:OK, this question goes completely the other way with expanding the canon, but when do y'all think literature written in the past 50 years should make it into the canon? Heinlein somewhat has, for instance. Part of the reason I ask this is, I try to write based on what is taught. I see Killer Angels (and the other two by the Shaaras) on school reading lists, and I write them. Then they get rejected as trash. So, what is your standard for when something more recent than George Orwell or Allen Ginsburg should be asked?
Very few "recent" authors fit into the literature distribution. Although using prize clues is generally frowned upon, the Nobel prize is usually a good sign that the author fits into "literature." However, the Booker Prize on it's own is NOT an acceptable measure of a book's literary merit, as it is given to honor the best single work produced within the British Commonwealth in one given year, while the Nobel measures an author's entire career. You can also look at authors that have won awards several times, such as multiple National Book Award winning authors Phillip Roth and John Updike. Non-Nobel authors like Salman Rushdie, whose novels are groundbreaking and have been hailed to such wide critical acclaim (in literary circles), also make the cut. In such cases it is also wise to consult old packets to see what they deemed literary. As to the Killer Angels etc, in my opinion, going off school reading lists is a bad idea. Teachers assign all sorts of books for various reasons; the Shaara books are good historical reading, but they don't qualify as literature.
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Post by ProsperoSMS »

I don't have an objectifiable standard, although going by what is taught is not a bad measuring stick. I'd say anything by Alice Walker and Toni Morrison is an automatic candidate for canon, and any Nobel Laureates are easy to go with. The AP lit exam has increasingly included more recent works on the open-ended question, and following those lists helps with inclusion.

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Post by STPickrell »

The advantage to pyramidal questions is that different lead-in clues can be used in different years. So in one year, a Edgar Allan Poe question might focus on his love life, in another, perhaps some of his poems, in another, perhaps some of his short stories ... but the giveaway for all of them can be, "What Virginia native is most famous for writing 'The Raven'?"

Given that there are some teams who would have trouble breaking 200 on a VHSL packet playing against four stuffed animals, and there are comparable teams in other states, I would be *very* hesitant to retire answers from the canon.

OTOH, the overuse of leadins would be a tricky thing. It's easy enough for NAQT, or myself, to ensure that certain leadins are not overused, as we are fairly large producers with a central source to search.

But for someone writing questions in relative isolation -- wow, that's a tall order. Also, what's over used in Virginia is not overused in Illinois, and vice-versa.

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Post by Stained Diviner »

StPickrell's last point is correct. I can't remember hearing any Typee questions.

I also agree with Lee's point above. If you want to ask a Melville question at the high school level, then you should pretty much stick to Moby-Dick, Billy Budd, Bartleby, and Cereno. I would rather have students challenged by the finer points of those works than by books that have never been widely read. Of course, it's OK to mention other works if the answer is Melville, and it's OK to stretch kids with one part of a bonus question. Another thing that should be obvious--I don't make the rules.

As far as the canon is concerned, I think there is a place for current popular writers. I see no problem with a question on King, Crichton, Brown, Grafton, et al (except bonuses asking for names of Grafton works, which there should be a rule about). Of course, it would be a mistake to have two such tossups in the same round--the literature subdistributions should be handled like all subdistributions. You also want to be careful to not give early clues that can be taken from seeing a blockbuster movie, and books written for young audiences belong in Pop Culture.

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Post by Kechara »

ReinsteinD wrote: As far as the canon is concerned, I think there is a place for current popular writers. I see no problem with a question on King, Crichton, Brown, Grafton, et al (except bonuses asking for names of Grafton works, which there should be a rule about). Of course, it would be a mistake to have two such tossups in the same round--the literature subdistributions should be handled like all subdistributions. You also want to be careful to not give early clues that can be taken from seeing a blockbuster movie, and books written for young audiences belong in Pop Culture.
I'm interested by your inclusion of Sue Grafton, because one of the things I'm thinking about is when she and other mystery writers approach Agatha Christie, who is sometimes written about. Or when Robert Jordan starts being compared with Tolkein in the canon like he is by book critics. (And for those who were using awards as a baseline, I haven't the foggiest if Agatha Christie won awards. I know the finer points of books I've read but not what books won what awards, which is one of many reasons why I was never a great player)
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Post by Mr. Kwalter »

ReinsteinD wrote:As far as the canon is concerned, I think there is a place for current popular writers. I see no problem with a question on King, Crichton, Brown, Grafton, et al (except bonuses asking for names of Grafton works, which there should be a rule about). Of course, it would be a mistake to have two such tossups in the same round--the literature subdistributions should be handled like all subdistributions. You also want to be careful to not give early clues that can be taken from seeing a blockbuster movie, and books written for young audiences belong in Pop Culture.
I'm sorry, but there is no legitimate format in which Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Dan Brown, Sue Grafton, or J.R.R. Tolkien should be considered "literature." Think what you may about Lord of the Rings or Dark Tower or whatever, in quizbowl and in most academic circles, such things are not considered actual "literature." If they are studied, they are studied as pop culture phenomena. However, not to fear, there is a distribution into which these authors and their works fit: trash. Trash lit is not a subdivision of literature, it is a subdivision of trash. Incidentally, trash lit also includes most recent Booker and Pulitzer prize winners (see the Saturday tossup at Mordechai Richler last year). There are some authors that are kind of borderline, though, and including them in the literature distribution very infrequently within a packet set is acceptable. Authors like Jules Verne/H.G. Wells and possibly Agatha Christie fit into that group. Keep it legit most of the time and you can get away with occasionally mentioning someone like that.
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Post by yoda4554 »

I mostly agree with Eric, but, while I'm not as huge a fan of it as many of my friends, there's heaps and heaps of lit. crit on LOTR. While there are a lot of people who don't like it, there are some significant literary folk who think very highly of it (WH Auden, for example). I would think he's certainly higher on the ladder than Agatha Christie.

I haven't read anything by McEwan, but my impression has been he's thought of highly enough by all of the English faculty I've talked to that no one should complain about him being put into a lit distribution.

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Post by Mr. Kwalter »

yoda4554 wrote:I mostly agree with Eric, but, while I'm not as huge a fan of it as many of my friends, there's heaps and heaps of lit. crit on LOTR. While there are a lot of people who don't like it, there are some significant literary folk who think very highly of it (WH Auden, for example). I would think he's certainly higher on the ladder than Agatha Christie.

I haven't read anything by McEwan, but my impression has been he's thought of highly enough by all of the English faculty I've talked to that no one should complain about him being put into a lit distribution.
Lots of criticism exists for many things; most of the legitimate criticism of Tolkien involves his role as a modern popular medievalist (popular medievalism being an increasingly popular area of study these days). As for McEwan, it takes more than being thought highly of to make the lit distribution. He still doesn't pass the "will stand the test of time" criterion clearly enough. There was a short debate on McEwan a while ago after our friend Freeburg wrote a tossup on him for I think Bulldogs 2005. I am going to start a new thread on recent lit because I think it's not a bad idea to discuss this more in-depth.
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Post by Irreligion in Bangladesh »

There may have been a time, before the Peter Jackson adaptations, that LotR questions were literature. Now that the movies have come, there is no literary justification behind the questions. We now have as many, if not fewer, "Name the character from parts of plot development" than "Name the character by the actor who portrayed them" questions. It's not literature anymore. It's just trash. Find a question that provides something not covered in the movies, and perhaps it'd be different, but it'd still have the LotR feel to it - the slimy feeling you get when you get a tossup on Sinclair Lewis and a bonus on Harry Potter.

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Post by Tegan »

DaGeneral wrote: I could go on and on. I think most prize winners should be game, as I've mentioned a few.
I know you qualified yourself, but I would recommend caution ..... Harry Potter books have won "awards" ..... and I know to many people awards like the Caldecott and Newberry are not really proper for the high school canon .... at least at the varsity level or advanced frosh-soph.....and I think we would all agree that H.P. is TRASH and not Lit.

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Post by Tegan »

ekwartler wrote: I'm sorry, but there is no legitimate format in which Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Dan Brown, Sue Grafton, or J.R.R. Tolkien


I would agree for the most part, but there is painting with a broad brush.

For example, some of Tolkein's more scholarly work might fit in. In addition, if one were to write some more scholarly questions about his more popular works .... avoiding as much as possible animation/movie references, I don't see a problem with that ...... though again, if it is overdone ....that's a problem!

One name not thrown in there is Tom Clancy. His later fiction work is TRASH, even crossing the border into self promotion (IMO), however I would argue that a work such as Red Storm Rising could be considered a semi-scholarly work of fiction when one considers its source work. I would be opposed to an "all Tom Clancy" or "all Sue Grafton" bonus ...... and would be opposed to a TU on such a subject unless it was going under TRASH, unless there was a really compelling argument for it.

Authors like Jules Verne/H.G. Wells and possibly Agatha Christie fit into that group. Keep it legit most of the time and you can get away with occasionally mentioning someone like that.

Allow me to play devil's advocate for a moment ..... I like these authors a lot; however, why should someone like H.G. Wells be considered "legit lit", and someone like Michael Crichton be considered "TRASH"? My take is that their sci-fi novels were both attempts to shine light on controversial subjects that occured within their particualr societies (rampant militarism and colonisation for Wells, cautionary tales on genetic engineering and "science without thinking" for Crichton). You could argue that Crichton did not develop his characters very well (especially his female characters), however Wells has had the same charge leveled against him.

I'm not trying to say that people should feel free to write Michael Crichton bonuses as part of their lit distribution and think that the world will universally accept it ..... but I think that there are ways to approach some of these works and make them legit, with an emphasis that there should be limits.[/i]

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Post by dtaylor4 »

Tegan wrote:
DaGeneral wrote: I could go on and on. I think most prize winners should be game, as I've mentioned a few.
I know you qualified yourself, but I would recommend caution ..... Harry Potter books have won "awards" ..... and I know to many people awards like the Caldecott and Newberry are not really proper for the high school canon .... at least at the varsity level or advanced frosh-soph.....and I think we would all agree that H.P. is TRASH and not Lit.
Mr. Egan:

I should have clarified. Nobel laureates and most Pulitzer winners are game, but I agree that just b/c a book has won an "award", doesn't mean it should be in the lit distribution. I know Naipaul won the Nobel a few years ago, and I've heard him come up a few times.

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Post by Kechara »

Tegan wrote:
Allow me to play devil's advocate for a moment ..... I like these authors a lot; however, why should someone like H.G. Wells be considered "legit lit", and someone like Michael Crichton be considered "TRASH"? My take is that their sci-fi novels were both attempts to shine light on controversial subjects that occured within their particualr societies (rampant militarism and colonisation for Wells, cautionary tales on genetic engineering and "science without thinking" for Crichton). You could argue that Crichton did not develop his characters very well (especially his female characters), however Wells has had the same charge leveled against him.
That's what I'm trying to get at is, what's the difference between, say, Wells and Crighton? Or Robert Heinlein (who I have heard come up as academic) or Isaac Asimov and, I don't know, George R. R. Martin?

And Tolkein came up a decent amount as academic before the movies came out. Yes, the movies change it and make it more trashy. At the same time, Jane Austen didn't automatically become Trash when the version of Emma with Gwenyth Paltrow came out.... No, I'm not saying that Tolkein is similar to Austen...completely different styles in completely different times. But the question can still be raised, especially since he was considered more academic before the movies came out.
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Post by MLafer »

Wells was also a writer of comedy and history and was an associate of many important and legit writers, so I believe he merits inclusion in the lit canon. I'd compare him to say, Huxley, who although he wrote so-called "science fiction" novels like BNW or Ape and Essence, also wrote a variety of other novels. And Huxley is obviously in the canon.

While you may have seen Heinlein as a lit question, I don't think this is the norm, and I'd say Heinlein and Asimov would still be considered capital-T Trash along with Martin.

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Post by Stained Diviner »

I don't think I would answer the question regarding popular authors the same way for high school and college quizbowl. In college, the canon is a lot wider and deeper, and so I could see why it would annoy a lot of people to have Stephen King in the literature category.

I have seen everything called literature in high school quizbowl--Harry Potter can come up in every other round, and it's hard to complain when some of the others are based on Mother Goose rhymes. If you want to ask a lot of questions about novels that high school students have actually read that aren't intended for a juvenile audience, then you end up asking about books that are not studied by people in the course of writing their doctoral thesis.

It is difficult to come up with a standard of what constitutes literature. People seem to think that Alice Walker is a shoo in for literature, but she has written a fair amount of crud (for lack of a better term). As was sort of pointed out above, Clancy is not literature in the sense of language and character development, though he does give some insights into the workings of parts of our government--therefore they have some value beyond their place in our popular culture. There probably is some college somewhere offering a course on the poetry of Bob Dylan, but I'm not sure whether or not it matters.

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Post by harpersferry »

MLafer, how do you call Huxley and Wells safe for having a variety of other works and being associates with canonical writers, and yet Asimov out? Being one of the most diverse writers in recent times, how does he not qualify? Accessibility does not necessitate exclusion: Feynman is an understandable writer, and he's still a great particle physicist.

I think the whole problem is trying to make these distictions. Have your crichton question, but put in a bonus on Shakespeare. (There's never enough Shakespeare.) Arguing over individual writers is silly, instead we should just have some common sense with writers. Too much of any one author, genre, or time period is bad, whether you call it trash or lit.

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Post by MLafer »

pasedpawn wrote:MLafer, how do you call Huxley and Wells safe for having a variety of other works and being associates with canonical writers, and yet Asimov out? Being one of the most diverse writers in recent times, how does he not qualify? Accessibility does not necessitate exclusion: Feynman is an understandable writer, and he's still a great particle physicist.
Is he diverse, though? As far as I know, correct me if I'm wrong, he wrote two types of books: science-fiction, and popular science. I think subdividing this any further (e.g. "books about robots", "chemistry", "astronomy") would be rather silly for the sake of this discussion.

And I'm not discounting his non-fiction books because they are accessible, but because they are not original or especially important. I doubt many scientists read his works to learn things, but maybe for fun or light reading. If Feynman wasn't a great particle physicist, I would argue that he shouldn't come up just based on the pop books he wrote alone, also.

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Post by samer »

This sort of situation does happen, sometimes out of "big news" (e.g., 9 questions on "Mad Cow disease" a few weeks after it came out), and sometimes just bizarre coincidence (I believe Princeton once got four or five tossups on the Tallis Fantasia at a single 15-team tournament).

But, at least in my mind, the most bizarre such coincidence from my editing experience was getting THREE tossups on Ana Maria Matute, a writer I'd never heard of before, for the same Penn Bowl.

I think it does come and go, though; when I first started playing (in college), you were pretty much guaranteed a question on Waiting for Godot somewhere during the day at just about every tournament (my favorite being the 30-20-10, name the play from characters).
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Post by yoda4554 »

Asimov was diverse-- as just about every trivia collection mentions, he's got a book in every Dewey Decimal category except philosophy. He's very arguably the most diverse writer of the century--or at least, he tried very hard to make the case and a bunch of people support it.

But frankly, the argument seems silly anyway. HG Wells is not in the canon in spite of his science fiction, he's there because of it. Had he not written those books, no one today would've heard of him. Similarly, Huxley is known today almost exclusively for Brave New World, both popularly and critically. Arguing that his signficance comes from (or is even significantly raised by) other works makes no sense.

Now, the Foundation series is certainly not in the same tier of literature as BNW. But it's fairly interesting from a literary standpoint, if not terribly subtle, as are the Robot stories. Nothing Wells wrote, as far as I know, is considered to be on par with BNW, but as with Asimov, there's a moderate amount of literary interest in his speculations. I don't see why the company Wells kept and the company Asimov may or may not have kept have anything to do with the seriousness of their books.

And for the record, I've heard multiple Heinlein questions in college, presumably as serious literature.

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Post by MLafer »

yoda4554 wrote: But frankly, the argument seems silly anyway. HG Wells is not in the canon in spite of his science fiction, he's there because of it. Had he not written those books, no one today would've heard of him. Similarly, Huxley is known today almost exclusively for Brave New World, both popularly and critically. Arguing that his signficance comes from (or is even significantly raised by) other works makes no sense.

Now, the Foundation series is certainly not in the same tier of literature as BNW. But it's fairly interesting from a literary standpoint, if not terribly subtle, as are the Robot stories. Nothing Wells wrote, as far as I know, is considered to be on par with BNW, but as with Asimov, there's a moderate amount of literary interest in his speculations. I don't see why the company Wells kept and the company Asimov may or may not have kept have anything to do with the seriousness of their books.
You seem to be muddling my point a little bit. I never said that overall significance of Huxley or Wells was largely made by their non-science fiction efforts. Obviously this is not the case. But I believe that a much stronger case for their inclusion in the quiz bowl canon of "literature" as opposed to the "trash" canon can be made because of those other works. The vast majority of Huxley's novels (many of which are quite good, if not "significant") are not science fiction, and I'd point out Wells's extremely famous and influential Outline of History. I'm not aware of any work of Asimov that would be considered "literary" instead of "genre fiction".

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Post by Matthew D »

I guess what amazes me it the instant dismissal of any of the works of science fiction. I guess that is the science guy coming out in me but what about David Brin or Larry Niven contributions? How do you judge someone's work? Does Jules Verne fit into anything that would be considered as "good" literature?
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Post by MLafer »

Matthew D wrote:I guess what amazes me it the instant dismissal of any of the works of science fiction. I guess that is the science guy coming out in me but what about David Brin or Larry Niven contributions? How do you judge someone's work? Does Jules Verne fit into anything that would be considered as "good" literature?
I'm not sure anyone here is saying that every single book in the "literature" category is a higher quality book than that in the "trash" category. Certainly not me. For instance I think Steinbeck is terrible, and I have great respect for George RR Martin, but I would never argue that the former should be Trash and the latter lit (maybe Papool would).

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Post by Matthew D »

I just wondering how someone judges a book to be worthy.. and I wasn't meaning for that last post to sound like an attack even though it kinda did...
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Post by yoda4554 »

For one, Asimov did annotated/critical books on Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, the Bible, and a lot of similar literary works. I have no idea how well they're considered critically, but the argument seems to be that need only be relatively decent to raise his status, QB-wise. That seems strange to me. I don't see why the simple fact that many of his works can be classified under a certain genre should take away from them, even in a strictly QB context.

If Huxley and Wells are made canon-worthy because of their non-SF work, why is it that (to my memory) the majority of questions on them are on BNW itself, or on The Time Machine and The Invisible Man, which are all unequivocably SF? And while I do remember a few questions on non-BNW Huxley (though if memory serves such questions appeared on a couple "Please don't ask about these topics anymore" lists a while back), I don't remember any tossups on Outline of History.

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Post by STPickrell »

Warning: Much of what I say is colored by the fact that I write high school questions, that one of the primary considerations I use is that the questions be answerable by a wide variety of teams and that the format I write for is very tossup-heavy. I've not picked up a buzzer in anger in the past six years, and I'm certain that the college game has passed me by in terms of answerspace.

I think literature is much the same as film or music -- in that recentness and seriousness/relevance/impact must be considered in placing them within trash or within literature/art.

Mozart was immensely popular in his day, should he be trash for that? But, his impact on the musical world of his today and today ensures that he is one of the pillars of visual fine arts.

I would not lose too much sleep over classifying H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, J.R.R. Tolkien or Isaac Asimov as literature. Given the fact that they wrote (except for Asimov) 40 years ago, their work is remembered and cared about today.

While their works may not be as fine as (pick your Nobel Prize winner from the early part of the 20th century here), their popularity will ensure that people will read about them and care about them in the years to come. They obtain some degree of seriousness/relevance as they age well.

Likewise, the more criticially praised authors from today (I don't remember all the names from the other thread) should get more consideration as literature than trash. Only time will tell if they are remembered 20, 50 or 100 years from now, but for right now they are relevant in their field, although recent.

I also like to split trash up into "recent trash" and "new trash" (I use the dividing line as 1989 for VHSL play, as that is when 18 year olds in 2007 were born.) I don't see why a question on Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, etc., should be treated with the same disdain as a question on the latest works of Paris Hilton. If some of you want to put Huxley, Tolkien, etc., in the trash bin, that's fine; but why should they be included in the same bin as Danielle Steel?

For example, both Back to the Future and Out of Africa came out in 1985. Why should the latter be considered trash for any reason other than it was released on film and was released within our lifetimes?

At the same time, what would we consider The Birth of a Nation, Metropolis or The Perils of Pauline? All three are remembered today, certainly, but which one's significance is greater?

Likewise, the guitarists Andres Segovia and Elvis Presley were both fairly active in the 1950s. Should Segovia be trash for playing the same instrument at the same time as Presley?

How would we classify Linda Brava, Vanessa Mae, Anne-Sophie Mutter or the Three Tenors? Are they trash simply for being attractive and/or popular?

Should Fanny Hill be considered trash or literature?

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Post by Matthew D »

Some of Asimov's Foundation series was written in the late 50's
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Post by Matt Weiner »

I don't think people who have been around good packets for a long time have any trouble intuiting why Andres Segovia and Brave New World are academic but Elvis Presley and I, Robot are not. It's just something you learn at a certain point. Sorry if that's an unsatisfying answer. Inexperienced writers can't do much besides steer clear of anything questionable and let the editors do their job, or ask a more experienced person about each work individually. There really isn't an objective rule, and that's not a problem in my mind; asking why Gilad Pellaeon or The Pass of Sirion are not acceptable answers for academic lit is like asking why questions on accounting or fire prevention aren't acceptable for academic distributions in general.

In addition to the above, a secondary reason is because academic quizbowl has evolved in a certain way to reward certain knowledge, and if we just let everything in, then we're essentially playing "stump the chump" and determining match outcomes at random, instead of focusing on certain well-known groups of knowledge that lend themselves to good styles of question and allow players to know ahead of time what sort of things they need to read in order to improve their game. Basically, by keeping the set of available subjects contained, even if it's in an arbitrary way, we gain the most important justification for the game's existence--encouraging people to acquire real knowledge that they will retain long past their buzzing-in days. If we can ask about anything under the sun, the marginal utility of learning any one thing is so small that no one will have any additional incentive to do it.

This particular discussion is the best example of why that is true. Science-fiction and fantasy literature is probably the area with the biggest gap between what the average player knows and what the fan knows. There are probably several thousand book/author combos that an average fan is aware of, and probably less than 50 that an average non-fan qb player is aware of. Look at the biannual criticism of the 2+ questions per packet on genre literature in TRASH events for evidence. 10% of players dominate that category; when games occur between the other 90%, the questions don't get answered at all. There are thousands of topics in science, history, academic literature, etc that can be answered in a game between the two weakest teams in a tournament; for science-fiction, there just aren't. Without a lifetime of reading genre books, you can't compete in that category, so there's no competitive reason to put forth the effort to do so in the limited time that one is exposed to this game.

Again, this is only the secondary reason. The primary reason is just something you learn about what is and isn't acceptable for the academic portion of a packet. Some things, such as Wells, are borderline since experienced writers may differ, and most editors will allow 1 lit question of that type every few packets as long as the other questions are more solid. Tolkien used to be in that category, but the fact that people can learn the material by watching movies instead of reading books has pushed him entirely back to trash for the next few years at least.

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Post by STPickrell »

Matt, thanks for your reply.

I agree with you that Segovia is 100% academic. IMO, Presley is 90% classic pop culture (his cultural influence is certainly growing, but I'd have a hard time accepting a TU on "Elvis sightings" as anything but classic pop culture.

In the 2150 NAQT ICT, Elvis Presley may well be fine arts. But we are not playing in 2150. I'm sure at the 1850 ICT, Jane Austen and Walter Scott would've been considered trash.

It is entirely in the eye of the beholder. IMO, proper pyramidality, bonus balancing and meta-distribution are more important than the occasional borderline question such as Asimov or Wells.

I'll disagree with you over Tolkien ... I think that it is possible to have academic material occurring on film (I don't know where the rest of you stand on this.) See my earlier point about Out of Africa and Metropolis.

The films might make it possible to dig deeper into the Tolkien well, or perhaps questions might be asked on the Simarillon and his other non-LotR works.

Another cliffhanger: Edith Piaf. Fine arts or trash?

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Post by solonqb »

Look, you won't find a much bigger Tolkien nut out there than me. But I think I have to take Matt's side on this one. LOTR's noted lack of character development and adherence to epic storytelling form, combined with the fact that the works it influences sure as hell do not belong in the academic side of things (The Black Cauldron, Eragon, for Christ's sake, and The Neverending Wheel of Time, anyone?), make me think the case for academic Tolkien questions is marginal at best. When we are evaulating literature questions, we have to consider its full impact via many methods (style, literary technique, etc.) The archetypes that Tolkien deployed were present long before he was, he merely popularized them. What made it special was his deep familiarity with Norse and Anglo-Saxon language and literature. I believe questions on LOTR's academic roots and pedigree, as well as some Tolkien philology might be academic, but not the main series sadly. (This is coming from someone who used to reread the trilogy each year until age 16)
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Post by First Chairman »

I'm going to throw a little controversy on controversy.

A lot of what I consider "academic reading" is looking through summer reading lists and canonical compendia of literature. Now LOTR won't ever be placed into one of these compendia, but it is telling what books are on AP and IB curricula.

What if LOTR were on summer reading lists for more than just one AP English class? Sure, there are plenty of profs who will create a class out of anything Tolkien, but...
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Post by Maxwell Sniffingwell »

I think it would be safe to say that some of Tolkien's non-LOTR work isn't trash. Or even in the LOTR stuff, what about the more linguistic stuff? If you wanted, you could write a question about Tolkien without ever mentioning hobbits... if it's a pyramid, finish it with "and based his fabricated Quenya and Sindarin languages loosely on Old Norse."

In short - subjects usually aren't trash, questions are.

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Post by Tegan »

solonqb wrote:LOTR's noted lack of character development and adherence to epic storytelling form, combined with the fact that the works it influences sure as hell do not belong in the academic side of things (The Black Cauldron, Eragon, for Christ's sake, and The Neverending Wheel of Time, anyone?), make me think the case for academic Tolkien questions is marginal at best.
Speaking as a high school coach and writer, I will buy this up to a point ..... certainly you evealuate thewriting on its own, but you also look down the road it paved. Certainly LOTR hasn't much of an academic legacy beyond itself, and I'll buy that character devlopment is lacking.

But.....

Let me look at Julkes Verne a moment. Throwing out Captain Nemo as arguably his best developed character, his character development wasn't much to write home about, and yet, I think you could craft some well written legit literature questions on his works. Wells could fall into this too (perhaps moreso), as he wasn't as interested in character development as he was in pushing a point.

I think when you sit there and say "style, plot development, character development, etc", not every work of good literature develops each of these equally. It becomes too easy to attack virtually any work of literature if you pick one weakness and nitpick it (that's not an accusation I'm leveling here .... just a general statement). I think part (emphasis: part) of the determination is: what was the author's intent? Then you need to decide if it was worthy, or historically indicative of an era, or historically influential as a work before deciding whether it deserves a place in the canon, or whether it should be reclassified as TRASH (or neither).

And I suspect that just as other critics do, there will be disagreement.

Frankly, my problem with LotR is that it has been done to death in recent years, and jsut needs a rest .... not permanent banishment. Dr. Weiner suggested that this be the case, and I am inclined to agree....though I think we have to look at it on a case by case basis.

I think you could write a credible bonus on The War of the Worlds if for no other reason there are plenty of elements in the book that were not in the Steven Spielberg film, and one could not glean just watching the film.

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Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

One question that I think should be retired is "It begins with "when earth rocks in her final convulsion"..." for the Qu'ran. I hear that question over and over because people think it's an interesting quote, but in reality it's wrong because the Qu'ran doesn't start with that quote. I had to dig through my copy at home to find it, and it actually begins the 99th sura in the Qu'ran. the real opening of the Qu'ran is a seven verse long praise of Allah that begins "In the name of Allah, the most merciful." I just think that incorrect question needs to stop.

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Post by solonqb »

Oh, if only there were tossups whose answer was "the Earthquake" (the 99th Surah, al-Zalzalah)

That tossup was really in PACE? Huh. I really enjoyed the Quran tossup last year (Raj Dhuwalia's) which drew upon a fairly obscure (to non-Muslims) quote "fi lawhin mahfuz" '(The Quran is) on a guarded tablet', from Surah al-Burooj as the leadin.
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Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

well no it wasn't at PACE, but I've heard it a bunch of other places (ACE camp, various tournaments, practice questions, etc.) We didn't go to any Nationals this year

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Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

Another one I thought of that I've seen frequently. Any question dealing with the first opera. All of these questions are looking for something related to Monteverdi and "Orfeo," but really the first opera is by a composer named Jacopo Peri and is called "Dafne." The reason no one knows about it is because the score doesn't exist anymore, but it is definitely the first opera.

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Post by Mr. Kwalter »

charlieDfromNKC wrote:Another one I thought of that I've seen frequently. Any question dealing with the first opera. All of these questions are looking for something related to Monteverdi and "Orfeo," but really the first opera is by a composer named Jacopo Peri and is called "Dafne." The reason no one knows about it is because the score doesn't exist anymore, but it is definitely the first opera.
Yes yes, blah blah Dafne. Why don't you write a tossup on Dafne for pretty much any tournament and see how that goes? Even in college I think that's a bonus part at best. This thread is about retiring questions, and there is no way questions on Orfeo deserve to be retired. Orfeo was a monumental step forward for opera and is a highly canonical part of the repertoire. It may be overasked, although that hasn't been my experience, but it's certainly not a chestnut and does not deserve to be removed temporarily or permanently from the canon.
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