1- The main issue is that you wrote questions on things someone could have read at this level rather than writing on things people probably have read. I think this policy should be adopted for all tournaments, but I can understand the disagreement with that for higher level tournaments; however, I think you must have this mentality while writing regular difficulty.
There have been entire discussions before on how people should pick answers. Time and time again, we have come to the conclusion that quizbowl often represents academically overlooked works, or works that are not taught in a classroom setting. You assert that some of my questions (to take three examples, Golding, Alcott, and Dostoevsky) focused on works that are not as frequently read as other works which I could have written on. The issue here is that I intended
to explore the other works of these authors, because they are so well known that teams will get them by the end.
This issue is exemplified by the Dostoevsky issue. For VCU Open you wrote a tossup on Poor Folk and for this regular difficulty tournament you wrote a tossup on Dostoevsky only using clues from his minor shorter works that are not usually taught in classes devoted to Dostoevsky. If I was approaching either of these tournaments I would try to think what are works I'm pretty sure people have actually read and I want to reward that knowledge. But you ask is this Dostoevsky work "important" in that case I will ask it because a "hypothetical reader of important works" could have read it. You claims that you are trying to cater to your audience, but if that is true (which I sincerely doubt) this is only a surface dedication. But wouldn't it cater to your audience more if you wrote a tossup on Ivan or Dmitri that it is relatively likely that someone on Louisville B has knowledge about than a tossup primarily on "Winter Nights"? Do you not see a distinction in importance between "Winter Nights" and The Brothers Karamazov?
Not that it matters, but the story is called "White Nights." Dostoevsky is a giant of Russian literature, if not just literature. What you're saying amounts to "ask about these four works of Dostoevsky and nothing else," which I'm in complete disagreement with. Dostoevsky wrote several short stories, all of which are moving, entertaining, and interesting from a literary standpoint, and there is no coherent clarion call for me to not
write on them, other than maybe a lingering thought in my mind that "maybe a Dostoevsky purist might not agree with my choice of works here." In retrospect, this tossup ended up harder than I intended it to. I should have added a clue or two more about Notes from the Underground
, which is actually more widely read than you give it credit for, and then the tossup would be that much better. But your argument of "these are the four Dostoevsky novels that I was assigned in class" fails to hold up when it's been adequately established that a large chunk of quizbowl learning takes place outside the classroom, whatever the classroom may be.
Lets look at what you said was important: "east of eden, golding, milton, a streetcar named desire, howards end, flaubert, fall of the house of usher, ancient greek and roman comedians, woolf, robinson, confessions of an english opium eater, gilman, hoffman, sidney, dostoevsky, satanic verses, alcott, holmes, coleridge, antigone." First of all, I only care about the tossups because writing good tossups on easy material is difficult (and is where you individually need to improve), while writing bonuses on easy subjects is simple and is often used as a way to cover up less than desirable tossups choices.
So you think that me citing several of my well-thought-out, knowledge-awarding bonuses is a total cop out? Well, fuck you. If you actually had the good sense to look at my bonus choices, you would see that a large part of my innovation and selection of easy topics rests there, but I guess bonuses take no effort and it's only the tossups that determine the quality of a subject.
Lets look at round three: the answers are Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Puig, Confessions of an English Opium Eater, and Hoffman. Now to defended these answer choices you used the same misguided logic I discussed above: in theory someone could have read or been assigned these works. But thats not the important question. The better question would be: is it likely that someone would have been assigned these works? You betray your own defense with the very choice of Gilman as an answer. I could have respected that you were writing on something you felt people knew about if you had written on "The Yellow Wall-Paper", while I despise that story, I respect that it is something that unfortunately is important. But by writing on Gilman it shows that you are not really interested in what people read, but more about improving as a player. The same goes for Confessions of an English Opium Eater. It is conceivable that someone might be assigned that throughout their academic career (I'm discarding the possibility that many people would read that book for leisure), but is it likely? It is very likely that any English or literature major will be assigned a Jane Austen novel or Middlemarch at some point in their career and that is the criteria I would use.
Let's take a further look at that Gilman question:
11. One poem by this author urges a preacher to preach about tomorrow and yesterday instead of today; another features an “ignominious idiot” who doesn’t “want to be a fly, I want to be a worm!” This author wrote the poetry collection In This Our World and a novel about John Robertson, who returns from Tibet to an America “beyond socialism.” In her sequel to Moving the Mountain, this author wrote about a society that reveres the Conscious Makers of People, which include Ellador, Celis, and Alima, who undergo (*) parthenogenesis and marry three visiting men. The Forerunner contains her story about Jane, who hides her journal entries from her husband John during a “rest cure,” which involves her discovery of claw marks behind the “sickly sulfur tint” in her room. For 10 points, identify this feminist American author who wrote Herland and “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
ANSWER: Charlotte Perkins Gilman
There are a total of seven clues here about Gilman's far and away most widely read works, Herland
and "The Yellow Wallpaper." Before that, I included a clue about Gilman's poetry and a clue about the prequel to Herland
. I'm sorry, but what exactly am I missing here? Is me including two or three clues about some not-too-well-known works indicative of me not really caring about the works that people who have read Gilman actually do know? For the record, you are right that I wrote that question to improve my personal knowledge of Gilman. That also happens to be largely irrelevant. I posit that you, Ted Gioia, me, and every other quizbowler who has ever written quizbowl questions has written them to include clues that they previously did not know, such that they might increase the scope of their own knowledge of those subjects. You are accusing me of doing something that literally every quizbowl player does. You're accusing me of solely being interested
in improving myself, whereas the existence of tossups on Dracula
, The Last of the Mohicans
, Cyrano de Bergerac
, and bonuses on Asimov and Alice in Wonderland
are contrary to that; do you think the rest of the tournaments of this semester are going to play out overlooked parts of high school reading lists? Don't attempt to divine my thought processes and go by what you actually see on the page.
2- This pushes me to my next point. Your defense of the tournament approaches importance with an "either-or" mentality. Either it is important enough to be written about or it is not. I have a question for you Auroni, is this actually how you view importance? Or do you see distinctions in levels of importance? Even in high school when I wasn't studying literature but just knew everything I got questions about through plot summaries, I still was able to implicitly feel that George Eliot was more important than Thomas De Quincey. Part of the problem with THUNDER's literature was that there were a lot of questions on the 3-4 level out of 5 on the difficulty scale.
No, my defense of this tournament approaches importance as a stupid and unreliable metric for selecting questions. My metric for writing these questions was "how many people can be expected to convert this bonus part" or "what percent of the field can answer this tossup by the giveaway, and what percent can reasonably get it pre-FTP?" To that end, I wholeheartedly reject a prescriptivist canon of any kind dictating what should and shouldn't come up, and I could honestly tell you that "which of George Eliot and DeQuincey is more important" is the wrong question to be asking when approaching quizbowl questions. The fact of the matter is that they both wrote works that people know about, and I could just as easily have written a tossup on The Mill on the Floss
, which I have never read or written about, but this time, I was in a DeQuincey mood. If you follow this line of reasoning, Ted, then you have to criticize every writer ever who has picked a reasonably well-known topic in lieu of another reasonably well-known topic, and such an argument would largely be incoherent.
Now Auroni you seemed to imply that I was belittling you for "not being a student of actual literature", but I'm asking you frankly: do you feel that it is too much of a responsibility to expect you to know that Austen and Eliot are objectively more important and more likely to be assigned and read than Confessions of an English Opium Eater? If that is too big a leap than I apologize.
You read me the wrong way there. I mentioned that I was not a student of literature because I don't know the nuances of the Western Canon, but I do know enough about it to know that you're egging for a metric of importance that is concomitant with it. I can agree with you that Confessions of an English Opium Eater
is not as likely to be assigned as works by Austen and Eliot, but I have already shown that quizbowl learning largely takes place out of the classroom. Point me to an intellectually curious individual who has read up on literature and doesn't know DeQuincey but does know the works of George Eliot intimately and we'll be getting somewhere.
And yes, I think it is a huge leap to think that every writer of literature questions is bound intimately to the confines of the Bloomean Western Canon, something which I am so thoroughly not.
3- I think the third major problem with is that you write about things primarily to improve as a player and not to produce the best possible tournament. I don't doubt you are capable of writing an excellent Middlemarch question but it seems that you are more interested in writing about things that could potentially come up in harder tournaments. I've discussed with Jonathan and Eric individually before how there is a point in the maturation of a quizbowl writer that you're comfortable writing tossups in which you knew all the clues beforehand. I'm not saying you always have to write about the same thing as you imply when you claimed that I am demanding that you write on Middlemarch rather than Confessions of an English Opium Eater. I would be happy with any substantive tossup on something like Middlemarch, Jane Austen, Ulysses, Mrs. Dalloway, Vanity Fair, or whatever. But frankly you will produce better tournaments when you write your questions to reward what the people at the tournament are likely to have read rather than writing on whats most interesting for you. And by writing to reward the people at the tournament I don't mean Jerry, or me, or Matt Bollinger, but to reward the players from Random College B who read the typical slew of canonical works. I'm not trying to be self-serving here, but actually open up regular difficulty tournaments so I miss that question on "The Yellow Wall-Paper" to a player who has read it recently rather than beating someone to a tossup on Charlotte Perkins Gilman based on secondary knowledge.
Again, you think that I've written things that are personally most interesting to me. What you fail to realize is that I have linked those things to answer lines that I know people will be able to answer questions on. The question on Gilman which you're so fond of has the following clues about "The Yellow Wallpaper" in it: "The Forerunner contains her story about Jane, who hides her journal entries from her husband John during a “rest cure,” which involves her discovery of claw marks behind the “sickly sulfur tint” in her room." There are four clues about it here arranged in roughly descending order of memorability. If some random dude who has just read "The Yellow Wallpaper" can beat you to a tossup on Gilman because he's read it recently, well, tough shit, but he remembered a clue that you should have known better than you.
4- I apologize for dismissively critiquing the Borges question. It was a good question and was a question that I enjoyed. I failed to explain kindly my point. I feel like you default to writing the easier version of a question too often. This default to easier to find material particularly plagues your questions on easier authors, which kind of defeats the point of writing about easier authors in the first place. Let me explain. Rather than writing The Crime and Punishment tossup you choose to write on Dostoevsky using minor clues. Rather than writing a good tossup on Milton or Shakespeare drawing from their poetry (or a Sidney tossup drawing from his poetry which people actually read in depth) you wrote a tossup on Sidney drawing mainly from his plays. Rather than writing on Madame Bovary you wrote on Flaubert from lesser known sources weren't even summarize effectively. Rather than writing on an important 19th century American writer whose short fiction people read in depth (like Kate Chopin, Melville, etc), you chose to write about Louisa May Alcott drawing from her short stories, posthumously published novel, and titles from Hospital Sketches, which I cant imagine are things that are frequently studied. Rather than writing on a Borges story I felt that you defaulted to writing to a quick tossup that drew on plot summaries. (On a side note it is hilarious you thought I was criticizing you for not including Borges' poetry when I wanted exactly the opposite.) Rather than spending the time to find a good leadin for The Seagull you defaulted to giving us: "One character in this play justifies a love affair by reminding the audience that in his youth, he was preoccupied by making a name for himself rather than finding love."
In retrospect, I think that that Alcott question shouldn't have been intended to explore her minor works. I will grant that that was a bad tossup. Your other criticisms here are incoherent. As Jerry pointed out, the leadin clue from Flaubert was from A Sentimental Education
, a work that's read and studied and isn't by any means Flaubert's only read work. It also used a clue from "A Simple Heart," another story by Flaubert that's widely read. If you knew things about those two works, then chances are that you powered that question. I probably could have included an easier clue from Madame Bovary
earlier instead of that clue on Bouvard and Pecuchet,
but I disagree that the Evan Adams model of "pick harder clues from easier works to use as leadin clues" is necessarily the only correct way to approach author tossups.
That Borges tossup had clues from stories, all of which I read, so it was not by any means quick. I rewarded your knowledge of "The Aleph" by getting you a fairly decent power on it if you remembered what happens there at the end. Other than that, if you had any idea what "The Zahir was about, you got power, and if you knew basic things about "Funes the Memorious" and "The Aleph," then you got some not-too-shabby pre-FTP buzzes there. That comment about Borges's poetry was meant in jest, because you expressed frustration at all the plot summaries of his short stories. I reiterate that that's the only way to go if more tossups on Borges are ever written for this difficulty.
And once more, we come to a supposedly vague clue that isn't actually vague if you sit down and just think about it. This quote is similar enough to something that Trigorin actually says in the play and that motivates his actions during its plot. I gave you a splendid buzz on it if you could internalize the plot enough to realize that this bit of paraphrased dialogue is central to understanding Trigorin's motivations for some of his actions in the play. If it seems "vague" to you, then you don't have the level of knowledge about the play to buzz there anyway.
I apologize for using the word lazy, but what I meant to say is that I consistently felt you chose to write on the easiest possible versions of easy answer rather than spending the amount of time necessary to make sure you had a well balanced and clue dense set. The tournament would have turned out better if you asked for help with one of your sub-distributions so you could focus on each individual answer more because I think the time crunch led you to default to quick and easy leadins (like The Seagull leadin, the couple of movie adaption leadins, or to a lesser degree The East of Eden leadins) rather than finding the best possible leadins. It takes more time and effort to do the research to write a good tossup on Madame Bovary than a question on Flaubert written from summaries. I would encourage Auroni to spend more time looking for substantial clues from the most important works in the canon rather than focusing his energy on finding quick summaries of largely unread William Golding novels.
Every literature question was written before the three days leading up to the tournament. Between September and then, I had meticulously written every literature question. I stand by all my leadin choices, including the movie leadin ones. The Woman in the Dunes
movie actually won either Cannes or Palme d'Or the very year that the novel of the same title was released, so I decided "why the fuck not" when selecting a clue from the opening montage of that movie to serve as the leadin to that tossup. I decided to elaborate on a difference between the movie adaptation of The Name of the Rose
, a not particularly obscure film by any means, and the novel, to yield a Name of the Rose
leadin. Was it "lazy?" Maybe. After all, I didn't read a ton of the works that I wrote on, simply because I am a slow reader and I couldn't possibly hope to write questions and read everything before the tournament ran. There are some people in quizbowl, such as Jonathan Magin, whose default activity is to read and who consequently can read every book that they toss up. I think that that's exemplary if Magin and if you can do it, Ted, but I am not one of those people.
Also, at least one other person has read The Spire
. In retrospect, I think that whatever volume of the To the Ends of the Earth
trilogy I picked was not particularly well-read and I should have stuck clues from Lord of the Flies
there instead, so I apologize for that. But again, that's no argument against writing on the other novels of Golding, some of which have won the Booker Prize.
Also, the bit about "... I consistently felt you chose to write on the easiest possible versions of easy answer rather than spending the amount of time necessary to make sure you had a well balanced and clue dense set." doesn't make any sense to me. Aren't you indicting me for not writing Dostoevsky tossups with clues from the "easiest" Dostoevsky works? How do you explain the contradiction between that and your statement here?
5- I think the issue of defaulting to easy answers is related to genre in your writing. I've felt that your writing always veered too much towards fiction and suffered from a dearth of drama and poetry tossups. Moreover, when you do write poetry and drama tossups I always felt the questions avoided the more canonical subjects about things people read. Let me illustrate by looking at the poetry tossup answers Auroni wrote for this tournament and for VCU Open. THUNDER had five (six if you count Pushkin) poetry tossups in the games I played: Sidney, Horace, Essay on Criticism, Lovelace, Pushkin, and "Italian." You need to stop and course correct. Auroni's poetry tossups for VCU Open were: Robinson Jeffers, Martial, Redcrosse Knight, Szymborska, Chretian de Troyes, Holderlin, "Burnt Norton", The Temple, "Fable for Critics", "John Brown's Body." Many of these were good tossups, the tossup on the Redcrosse Knight was especially well done and exemplary of the direction I think Auroni should take more often in his writing. But most of these seem a little off to me. I talked with Kevin Koai after VCU Open about how some of the poetry just seemed weird about stuff such as "A Fable for Critics" or "John Brown's Body" that just aren't interesting to people who read poetry for fun, and I had a similar conversation with Dallas on the way back from THUNDER. It seems weird that there are so many questions on fringe topics. It is not like anyone is going to critique you for using the wrong Szymborska quotes or quoting the wrong lines from Leopardi in a the "italian" tossup. Please don't make the argument that I'm saying people like Holderlin or Pushkin are unimportant, but frankly the corpus of their poetry is not really read frequently by English speakers. It just seems odd that there weren't tossups on any of the Romantics or Modernists or most of the major poets at all in THUNDER. If I was writing a tournament you get to make your own ideal distribution and I would hesitate writing that Lovelace tossup thinking to myself, "I haven't written on any of the major poetry movements yet and have only written one tossup on a work. Maybe I should write about something I know people are likely to have read like Keats, Stevens, Milton, Neruda, Frost or anything."
I mean, now you're trying to say that only poets and poems that people read for fun should come up. Forget the Essay on Criticism
s and The Rime of the Ancient Mariners
s of the world. Every single one of those works that you cited are studied academically and read by intellectually curious people interested in academic poetry. Your other point tells me that you don't like tossups on the translated poetry of major world authors because English-speaking authors don't read them. The latter is, in fact, a tragedy of the availability of good translations coupled with the well-known fact that Americans nowadays don't read poetry. In fact, Americans largely don't come in contact with the major cultural and historical products that quizbowl asks about, so there's really nothing separating translated poems by Leopardi, Pushkin, Holderlin, or whoever else from other works of literature that the general body of readers should be reading instead of the newest novels by Stieg Larsson or Stephanie Meyer.
(Incidentally, Milton and Frost both came up in two of my favorite and most fun bonus (to write) in this set, not that you care about any of the bonuses)
Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but I feel that Auroni defaults to writing on poems and plays that people are less likely to have read rather than spending the time to write the good question on very canonical answers. I think it is telling that the worst moments of the set were on the easiest questions. For example during the tossup on Horace, Dallas wasn't able to buzz even after "Odes" was read because he was sure it couldn't be Horace's odes because none of the earlier clues came from the important Horace odes. On a similar note, I find it difficult to imagine that Auroni really feels that Corneille and Eugene O'Neill/T. Williams are really on an equal level of notoriety to an American audience. Once again this goes back to the central principle that it would reward what people are likely to have read to have a question on Streetcar or Iceman Cometh rather than a tossup on Le Cid. I would encourage Auroni to consider writing about the major figures and works in drama and poetry, and not to relegate them to bonuses. If anything it makes much more sense to have bonuses on Sidney or Le Cid and tossups on Streetcar and Milton. I hope this critique gave more constructive criticism than my earlier catty response. I'll offer some individual examples of vagueness and less than optimal clue selection, which I think especially affects the poetry and drama questions, later today or tonight.
Okay, so that Horace question was unfortunate and didn't reward the knowledge of the people that I wrote it for. That's unfortunate, because I had no way of knowing what the most studied Horatian odes were, so I picked three that I was able to find good translations for." That tossup also had, quite early in the question, two important points to take away from Ars Poetica
, which I'm pretty sure you can agree that readers of Horace have read.
So you do admit that my bonuses were on topics that are important in the sense of the Western Canon? Well, I deny that I systematically relegated those topics to bonuses intentionally. That Frost bonus came up because I really wanted people to name "Acquainted with the Night" for the 30 because, well, that poem is really cool and I haven't seen it come up much before and I know
that people know it. And so that bonus was swept and that part converted during playtesting. Because much of your argument here rests on me knowing what's more important than what, which I've dealt with elsewhere in this post, I really can't acknowledge your point that the tossups were on things of lesser importance than the bonuses. It seems like I'll have to read your mind next time, because I honestly wrote tossups on answers that I thought people would know before the end and which people might get before "for 10 points," and at the same time, were on things that were Western Canon-friendly. If the last part just isn't true, I can't honestly say that that's a huge loss for me, because prescriptive writing based on the Western Canon is so limiting to the question writer's imagination as to be suffocating.