Single-elimination: why it is bad

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Matt Weiner
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Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by Matt Weiner »

Hey, I noticed some opinions that didn't quite click for me in the Princeton thread, so I thought this could be discussed.

To me, the reason single-elimination playoffs should be avoided when possible is that not that they "overvalue one game" or anything like that. Every format ultimately can come down to one game--you miss the playoffs by one game, you lose a one- or two-game final after coming out of a playoff round-robin, you get knocked out of contention in a tiebreaker match or in a crucial playoff game...these things happen at tournaments using any kind of format, and I don't think anyone considers them a problem. You win, you move on, you lose, you go home; that's how competitive activities such as quizbowl work.

Also, I question the idea that teams should be allowed to have a "bad game" and still win the tournament. Packets should be good in general, and bad packets are a problem regardless of what format is being used. For the same reason as the above, a single bad packet is a problem that can screw up a tournament of any kind, and moving away from single-elimination does not necessarily fix this problem. Logically, the best team should be able to beat every other team in the tournament, so deciding the tournament winner based on single-elim is not unfair when that's your only goal.

The reason single-elimination is a poor choice for a small- to moderately-sized regular season tournament is because fairly deciding the champion is not the only goal. Ranking the rest of the field (especially at the higher end; e.g., distinguishing second from third from fourth place) and giving everyone as many meaningful games as possible are also goals when you are charging people money to play a quizbowl tournament. Using playoff brackets allow for full rankings, it allows for games that count to happen almost until the end of the day, and it allows for people to get a full afternoon schedule against teams of their own level. Playing other top teams helps top teams; playing other middling teams helps middling teams; playing other inexperienced teams helps inexperienced teams. This segment of the tournament is the most rewarding in terms of competitive and intellectual growth, and the more events that offer it, the more justified the existence of quizbowl will be.

With that said, large non-national events at the high school level often cannot feasibly run anything but single- or perhaps double-elimination. If you have 80 teams, it can be hard to convince 40 moderators to stick around until 4 PM, and your options for the playoff format are fairly limited. That's understandable, and I don't think anyone objects to those events continuing to use single-elim. However, when you're talking about a tournament of 40-50 teams or less, where perhaps 25-30 of those teams will stick around after lunch, I think it's incumbent on the host to provide the more advanced playoff format and let people keep playing non-exhibition matches, especially if a high entry fee or high travel costs are associated with your tournament.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by cvdwightw »

Another possibility if people want to keep the single elimination format but also have teams play against teams roughly of their ability is something like that done with just about every high school basketball tournament I've ever seen, and at least one tournament I've been to that only had like 16 teams and gave us three games before feeding us and sending us home.

You start with a reasonable number of teams that are seeded in whatever way you want. Losers are tossed to the losers bracket and continue to play for ranking purposes. Winners stay in the winners bracket and continue to advance toward the championship. If you're like NAQT in 2003, you can mix it up so that all the LW teams play a WL team in round 2 of the "ranking games". Your two remaining 4-0 (or whatever) teams will reach the finals at the same time as your last two 0-4 teams play.

What this does is opens the field of potential winners up. If you try to run a bracketed round robin playoff system with more than like 40 teams in a tournament, you're pretty much mandating that a team come in first in its bracket to advance, since you can only have 8 or so teams in contention for the championship. If you open it up to, say, 16 or 32 or whatever, then you have more teams that can survive an unnecessarily brutal prelim bracket. The key with this is getting teams to continue to play after they've been eliminated, since a lot of them will just want to go home after losing (despite, paradoxically, probably agreeing to stay if they were placed in the second or third playoff bracket).

NOTE: except for that one small tournament that used this as a prelim format, I've never actually encountered this being done at a quizbowl tournament, so this might be completely not feasible (though I think this might be relatively easy to implement using a card system). I also agree with Matt's point that for small tournaments that don't have round constraints (e.g. OH NOES WE HAVE ONLY 10 PACKETS), bracketed round-robin playoffs are the way to go, for just about every reason that he gave. For larger tournaments that may be removing quality teams from contention due to the limited number of spots in a playoff bracket, this single-elim variant may be an easier way to ensure that all possible contenders begin the playoffs still in contention, while letting teams play other teams of their ability.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by rjaguar3 »

Now, I'm familiar with the (insert adjective) quizbowl format in Illinois, and almost universally, every tournament has five rounds in the morning followed by single-elimination in the afternoon. I see a couple problems with trying to change this in Illinois.

1. Teams are used to that system of tournaments and won't do anything else. This means that teams that don't make the playoffs generally go home at noon.
2. Because Illinois-format rounds are so long and so slow, there is no way to feasibly do more than 8-9 packets in a day.
3. In the morning rounds, teams are usually pooled so that the top teams get an easy pool. This means that the lower-tier teams will always go 0-5 or 1-4 against teams that are far better. And instead of taking that as a sign to improve, coaches of those teams try to outlaw such better teams from existing.
EDITED TO ADD: 4. Teams that lose in the playoffs generally don't want to play consolation games. (One team from H-F's 2007 tournament actually left after losing the semifinal match instead of playing the 3rd/4th place game.)

But, I'm confident that in five years or so, Mr. Riley, Mr. Reinstein, Mr. Egan, and the other big-wigs in Illinois will be able to change this; I have faith.

Anyone from outside Illinois have any suggestions?
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by at your pleasure »

2. Because Illinois-format rounds are so long and so slow, there is no way to feasibly do more than 8-9 packets in a day.
The only solution to that is to fix the format. Out of curiosity, why are the rounds so slow?
3. In the morning rounds, teams are usually pooled so that the top teams get an easy pool. This means that the lower-tier teams will always go 0-5 or 1-4 against teams that are far better. And instead of taking that as a sign to improve, coaches of those teams try to outlaw such better teams from existing.
How does this work? The way I see it, this should only affect 1-2 brackets. If the top teams are spread out, than more people play a top team, but they also play several teams at their level.
EDITED TO ADD: 4. Teams that lose in the playoffs generally don't want to play consolation games. (One team from H-F's 2007 tournament actually left after losing the semifinal match instead of playing the 3rd/4th place game.)
Frame it as "getting more quizbowl for your buck". Also, it will be easier to predict what time things wrap up for any given team which is helpful in scheduling around the tournament.Of course, if you use a round-robin playoff, you kind of have to stay to the final game.
All in all, I sense a misguided analogy to sports at work here.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by Blackboard Monitor Vimes »

How many packets would it take to run round robin play-offs in a 48-team tournament? I'm fairly certain we can't make it this year, but if our team stops shrinking I can hopefully manage to plan for that next year.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by Irreligion in Bangladesh »

Anti-Climacus wrote:
2. Because Illinois-format rounds are so long and so slow, there is no way to feasibly do more than 8-9 packets in a day.
The only solution to that is to fix the format. Out of curiosity, why are the rounds so slow?
Rounds are slow because (minor reasons) tossups are given 10 seconds of answering time before they go dead, and 30 seconds for the 4-5 computational tossups per round; halftime is 2 minutes and usually runs more than a minute, as opposed to "halftime, score check, tossup 11"; and (major reason!) bonuses are of a completely different format. 4 parts read at once, teams confer for 30 seconds, team 1 answers, team 2 gets the bounceback. It takes forever.

8 rounds of this, assuming good moderators, finishes after 4 pm.
3. In the morning rounds, teams are usually pooled so that the top teams get an easy pool. This means that the lower-tier teams will always go 0-5 or 1-4 against teams that are far better. And instead of taking that as a sign to improve, coaches of those teams try to outlaw such better teams from existing.
How does this work? The way I see it, this should only affect 1-2 brackets. If the top teams are spread out, than more people play a top team, but they also play several teams at their level.


Except that the mentality of "playing teams at their level" isn't in Illinois. If you don't win your pool or score enough points to be one of the (1-3) wild cards out of 24-32 teams, your day is done and it is as though nothing mattered. Only 8 teams play more than 5 rounds at a traditional Illinois format tournament.
EDITED TO ADD: 4. Teams that lose in the playoffs generally don't want to play consolation games. (One team from H-F's 2007 tournament actually left after losing the semifinal match instead of playing the 3rd/4th place game.)
Frame it as "getting more quizbowl for your buck". Also, it will be easier to predict what time things wrap up for any given team which is helpful in scheduling around the tournament.Of course, if you use a round-robin playoff, you kind of have to stay to the final game.
I ran a tournament where we offered the playoff rounds to all teams via consolation round robin brackets, and I had coaches emailing me asking if the bottom teams were required to stay for the playoff rounds. The schools that don't traditionally make the playoffs expect to have their afternoons free.
All in all, I sense a misguided analogy to sports at work here.
Yep.

So that said, that's traditionally what Illinois has been. Tournaments are switching to mACF bonuses (including the statewide Kickoff tournament this year), and new tournaments are starting that will use mACF bonuses or NAQT sets. Additionally, some tournaments are using playoff round robins instead of single-elim, and offering consolation brackets for afternoon matches.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by JackGlerum »

edit: sorry I was getting way off topic

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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by Matt Weiner »

MLWGS-Gir wrote:How many packets would it take to run round robin play-offs in a 48-team tournament? I'm fairly certain we can't make it this year, but if our team stops shrinking I can hopefully manage to plan for that next year.
You could group the teams into 6 brackets of 8, take the top 2 from each bracket to 12 team playoffs, and run two playoff brackets of 6. So, it would take 5 rounds to do the playoff brackets, at least 1 round to play the final between the two bracket champions, and some number of rounds to break ties.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by Blackboard Monitor Vimes »

Matt Weiner wrote:
MLWGS-Gir wrote:How many packets would it take to run round robin play-offs in a 48-team tournament? I'm fairly certain we can't make it this year, but if our team stops shrinking I can hopefully manage to plan for that next year.
You could group the teams into 6 brackets of 8, take the top 2 from each bracket to 12 team playoffs, and run two playoff brackets of 6. So, it would take 5 rounds to do the playoff brackets, at least 1 round to play the final between the two bracket champions, and some number of rounds to break ties.
So about 13 rounds. I think we may be able to manage that for GSAC XVII (December 2009)... Thanks, Matt.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by Howard »

I'd like to agree with everything Matt posted in the initial post. The only point I have to add is that many high school teams still want to go home after they're out of contention. Of course, this lack of dedication is part of the reason they're not in contention to begin with, but one must always be concerned with appropriately producing the tournament for the audience it will attract.
Matt Weiner wrote:
MLWGS-Gir wrote:How many packets would it take to run round robin play-offs in a 48-team tournament? I'm fairly certain we can't make it this year, but if our team stops shrinking I can hopefully manage to plan for that next year.
You could group the teams into 6 brackets of 8, take the top 2 from each bracket to 12 team playoffs, and run two playoff brackets of 6. So, it would take 5 rounds to do the playoff brackets, at least 1 round to play the final between the two bracket champions, and some number of rounds to break ties.
If that's too many rounds, you could do 8 brackets of six, take the top team from each bracket and divide into two brackets of four, and then have one final position match. Now you're down to 9 rounds plus a little if you want to do gameplay tiebreakers.

Although a little offtopic, I'll add to this that multiple rebracketing seems to slow tournaments. Ideally, the tournament will be structured such that the rebracketing occurs while the teams are at lunch, making the teams' wait time minimal. Even so, it's imperative to see who wants to stay. With a 48 team tournament, I'll be surprised if all teams want to stay for playoff brackets. Furthermore, even if you try to force them, some will leave anyway making byes in the lower brackets. Heck, in my experience, even if you tell teams the notice required on notifying that they won't play in consolation brackets, some will still tell you after you've already set up the brackets, and some still just won't come back. To do this well, the TD must be ready for all sorts of numbers of teams left in the consolation brackets. If you know who's staying and have a plan already in place for that number of teams, then it's a much simpler matter of ranking them and then just dropping them into the appropriate bracket.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by Blackboard Monitor Vimes »

Howard wrote:
If that's too many rounds, you could do 8 brackets of six, take the top team from each bracket and divide into two brackets of four, and then have one final position match. Now you're down to 9 rounds plus a little if you want to do gameplay tiebreakers.
That is an interesting thought. We've never done that before...I may have to see what people think of that. I think a lot of teams would play more games with our current system, though, which is part of the argument for round-robin playoffs anyway.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by Howard »

MLWGS-Gir wrote:That is an interesting thought. We've never done that before...I may have to see what people think of that. I think a lot of teams would play more games with our current system, though, which is part of the argument for round-robin playoffs anyway.
I hadn't realized you'd already announced your structure, so I hope I haven't stepped too far out of bounds. Even though the tournament is still months off, there's still bound to be a complainer or two if you change now.

Otherwise, I see the negative points as I outlined earler. Mostly, I think it's an exercise of choosing the format which most appeals to the largest number of attending teams (and with which you can expect the teams to cooperate).
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by Blackboard Monitor Vimes »

Howard wrote:
MLWGS-Gir wrote:That is an interesting thought. We've never done that before...I may have to see what people think of that. I think a lot of teams would play more games with our current system, though, which is part of the argument for round-robin playoffs anyway.
I hadn't realized you'd already announced your structure, so I hope I haven't stepped too far out of bounds. Even though the tournament is still months off, there's still bound to be a complainer or two if you change now.

Otherwise, I see the negative points as I outlined earler. Mostly, I think it's an exercise of choosing the format which most appeals to the largest number of attending teams (and with which you can expect the teams to cooperate).
We haven't so much announced our structure as I've stumbled through what I think happened last year and what will probably happen last year. For assorted reasons, none of our current players were war room staff last year, so we're trying to piece together exactly what's going on with that end. I'm bad with brackets; I can follow them (usually) but I don't understand them. So I completely welcome suggestions. If, in an absolute worst case scenario, we can't manage to get a quality Round 10 pulled together due to the chaos that has erupted in several of our lives, that's a good emergency plan. I don't expect that to be necessary, but I prefer to be prepared for the worst.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by aestheteboy »

It probably wouldn't be too unreasonable say that it's difficult to fully satisfy today's standard/expectations of high quality tournament with ten rounds of questions. I sympathize about the situation this year, but Sarah, two months is a lot of time to write just three extra packets. I would imagine that there are some writers out there who would be willing to help out.

However, I think what you have is the best plan with only 10 rounds, and if those 10 rounds are good you still have a nice, solid tournament.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by Deviant Insider »

The problem with some of the recent suggestions is that one early loss knocks you out of Championship contention, and getting placed in a pool with an elite team puts you in a tight spot before you begin playing. Here is one way you can avoid that.

48 teams play the first round. In the second round, the 24 winners play each other and 24 losers play each other. In the third round, the 12 2-0 teams play each other, etc. After four rounds, you have 3 4-0 teams, 12 3-1 teams, 18 2-2 teams, 12 1-3 teams, and 3 0-4 teams. Time to resort the teams and start over--perhaps you let everybody eat lunch after four rounds so that you can resume play around 12:00 or 12:30.

Starting with the fifth round, the teams are divided into three groups of 16 teams each. The top group has all the 4-0 and 3-1 teams and the highest scoring 2-2 team. (I like median score as a good metric, since it includes tossups and bonuses without being influenced by somebody beating a bad team by 500 points, though Bonus Conversion can also be used.) The middle group has all the 2-2 teams accept the highest and lowest scoring. The rest are in the bottom group. Each group of sixteen plays similarly to the morning matchups. After four more rounds (eight total), each group of sixteen has 1 4-0 team, 4 3-1 teams, 6 2-2 teams, 4 1-3 teams, and 1 0-4 team. You can then compare records for the whole day to see if one team has lapped the field, it's time for an advantaged final, or three or four teams are still alive based on some criteria you can choose at the beginning of the day. In the lower two groups of 16, you can have all but the top and bottom teams continue playing another match or two to determine rankings within the group. Except for the very last place team, the bottom team from one group can play the top team from the next group down for group pride or something.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by btressler »

I agree with most of what's being said here. One of the reasons I like the card system is that it produces a lot of rounds where you are playing someone of similar ability. If repeat matches are minimal, all the better.

Something that occurred to me while reading: has anyone ever tried to do a card system or similar where the tournament was (double or) triple elimination? By that I mean guarantee every team a certain number of rounds, say 8, and then proceed with additional rounds for any team that was 6-2 or better. But once you hit your third loss you are no longer eligible to win the tournament.

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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by David Riley »

Captain Jack and I are planning a different (from traditional Illinois) tournament format for our upcoming frosh/soph tournament......expect a lot of teeth-ganishing and bloodshed.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by Deviant Insider »

See this thread for an explanation as to why triple elimination generally is a bad idea. If you had a twenty round tournament over two days with Swiss Pairs or a card system, it might be worth considering, but even then I don't think it would be ideal.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by btressler »

It was just a thought, to keep in line with "every round matters".

I remember that some debate tournaments in high school were double elimination. The qualifier to nationals didn't even bother with consolation rounds. My first year I went loss, loss and was out.

I will probably stick with a single elim playoff bracket for the December tournament, but I may see how things go with other tournaments that try playoff round robins this year and implement one for the Blue Hen if it is feasible.

When we did 7 prelims, a trash round, and then 4 playoffs, we used to always hear "it's too many rounds". Maybe the teams are ready to go back to that length of day, but we'll also have to make it clear to the readers that they don't leave at 1:30pm because of some homework they didn't do or sleep they didn't get because of Friday night's party.

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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by Blackboard Monitor Vimes »

aestheteboy wrote:It probably wouldn't be too unreasonable say that it's difficult to fully satisfy today's standard/expectations of high quality tournament with ten rounds of questions. I sympathize about the situation this year, but Sarah, two months is a lot of time to write just three extra packets. I would imagine that there are some writers out there who would be willing to help out.

However, I think what you have is the best plan with only 10 rounds, and if those 10 rounds are good you still have a nice, solid tournament.
Daichi, I see what you're saying, but the way things have ended up, we have about 3-4 regular packets to finish in 2 months. Three extra packets are just not going to happen unless either a miracle occurs or some college people are willing to help. I think about 30-50 questions have been edited. We will be scrambling to finish. If we were in good shape, I wouldn't hesitate to attempt 3 more rounds. But the honest truth is that we're in bad shape. We'll have ten rounds by December 6, and they'll be good even if it means I'm up til 2 AM every night because I've neglected homework for editing purposes, but I do not see 13 rounds happening.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by ihavenoidea »

Sarah, if you need contributors, I'd be willing to write.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by Blackboard Monitor Vimes »

ihavenoidea wrote:Sarah, if you need contributors, I'd be willing to write.
That is quite kind of you, Zhao. I should have a better idea of where we stand by next Monday or so. I think I may have succeeded in breaking it down to the point where we'll probably be fine in 2 weeks or so, but I need to speak to some people and figure out some numbers to make sure. If we get to the point where we're okay enough to try for more rounds (or if my emergency plan has imploded), I may take you up on that offer.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by Mechanical Beasts »

I can totally freelance a packet if necessary, but I won't be starting until 11/17.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

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everyday847 wrote:I can totally freelance a packet if necessary, but I won't be starting until 11/17.
I'm really hoping we'll be done writing by then. Thanks a lot, though, Andy. Also, best of luck with HFT; I'm looking forward to the VCU mirror. The packets that need to be written are in progress, I just need to use my mad nagging skills to move that progress along and figure out where it currently is. I also have some extra questions somewhere that I have just recalled from some occasion or other...hmm...I've got numbers to crunch, basically.
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by BuzzerZen »

MLWGS-Gir wrote:they'll be good even if it means I'm up til 2 AM every night because I've neglected homework for editing purposes
You're a noble soul, Sarah. I've been down that road. It ends in the tournament being finished and your body being wrecked. Hope things don't go quite that badly for you.
Evan Silberman
Hampshire College 07F

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Blackboard Monitor Vimes
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by Blackboard Monitor Vimes »

BuzzerZen wrote:
MLWGS-Gir wrote:they'll be good even if it means I'm up til 2 AM every night because I've neglected homework for editing purposes
You're a noble soul, Sarah. I've been down that road. It ends in the tournament being finished and your body being wrecked. Hope things don't go quite that badly for you.
Thank you for your kind sentiments, Evan.
Sam (Sarah Angelo) Luongo,
Maggie L. Walker Governor's School 2010 / UVA 2014 / VCU School of Education 2016
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ak47
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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by ak47 »

Hey Sarah,

Like Zhao, I would be willing to write if the need arises.
Anurag Kashyap
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MIT '13

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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by ClemsonQB »

Hell, I could even write a little.
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Dorman High School 2008
Clemson University 2012

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Re: Single-elimination: why it is bad

Post by at your pleasure »

I don't know how much I can write, but I have a few harder visual arts questions lying around.
Douglas Graebner, Walt Whitman HS 10, Uchicago 14
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