VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots »

Hey, I just want to say that I enjoyed this tournament a lot. Thanks to Evan, Cody, Matt, et al for writing it.

Can somebody post this Roman Women tossup?
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Auroni »

10. After the Battle of Cannae, the Lex Oppia was passed to limit the dress of this group. Members of
this group who achieved the status of “jus trium liberorum” were no longer required to retain a
guardian. Only these people were allowed to participate in the mysteries of and know the true name
of (*) Bona Dea. Members of this group had their “dies lustricus” eight days instead of nine days after
being born, and were usually given praenomens like Prima and Secunda. The most common form of dress
for these people was a cloak called a “palla” wrapped over a robe called a “stola.” People in this group
intentionally tried to be struck by whips at the festival of Lupercalia. For 10 points, Calpurnia and Lucretia
were among what group that made up around fifty percent of the population of ancient Rome?
ANSWER: Roman women
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by vcuEvan »

After the Battle of Cannae, the Lex Oppia was passed to limit the dress of this group. Members of this group who achieved the status of “jus trium liberorum” were no longer required to retain a guardian. Only these people were allowed to participate in the mysteries of and know the true name of (*) Bona Dea. Members of this group had their “dies lustricus” eight days instead of nine days after being born, and were usually given praenomens like Prima and Secunda. The most common form of dress for these people was a cloak called a “palla” wrapped over a robe called a “stola.” People in this group intentionally tried to be struck by whips at the festival of Lupercalia. For 10 points, Calpurnia and Lucretia were among what group that made up around fifty percent of the population of ancient Rome?
ANSWER: Roman women
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots »

vcuEvan wrote:After the Battle of Cannae, the Lex Oppia was passed to limit the dress of this group. Members of this group who achieved the status of “jus trium liberorum” were no longer required to retain a guardian. Only these people were allowed to participate in the mysteries of and know the true name of (*) Bona Dea. Members of this group had their “dies lustricus” eight days instead of nine days after being born, and were usually given praenomens like Prima and Secunda. The most common form of dress for these people was a cloak called a “palla” wrapped over a robe called a “stola.” People in this group intentionally tried to be struck by whips at the festival of Lupercalia. For 10 points, Calpurnia and Lucretia were among what group that made up around fifty percent of the population of ancient Rome?
ANSWER: Roman women
Honestly I think this is fine. Of the clues in power, the only thing that even might apply to the Vestal Virgins is the first clue, and only in that they are also women. The second and third sentences do not apply to Vestal Virgins at all. I suppose it's a reasonable guess, but come on, this is a knowledge game, and you can't just buzz in and say things. I don't understand at all how you wouldn't know what to say at the end, when it gives you the names of two women and "fifty percent of the population." I suppose it's a very broad set of people to ask for, but meh...I wouldn't have a problem with it.

EDIT: Another point to make is that this is a great example of the kinds of classics questions that should really be happening more. Any Latin textbook has numerous "Culture" sections that teach you stuff about the social history of Rome. In my experience, people interested in classics/taking courses in it spend a LOT of time on this kind of thing. Moreover, classical history actually lends itself very well to social history questions, because of the latin terms, laws, festivals, etc. that you can use as uniquely identifying clues. I'm not personally going to do very well on these questions, but I get the feeling that lots of realer classicists are.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Matt Weiner »

Yeah I'm gonna throw all pretense of pretending not to comment on this tournament to the wind and say that this was an excellent event and a great accomplishment for Evan who wrote 94% of the nonscience questions. I find most of the complaints in this forum to be really stupid, as some of them complain about things that were outright not true (cf. "why did the price discrimination tossup not talk about first, second, and third degree price discrimination" when that was what the first 5 of the 7 lines were about and the phrase "first, second, and third degrees of it" was even used twice) and the large bulk of the other objections reduce to "you wrote a question on something that I couldn't learn by memorizing old packets" or "I buzzed in with something that none of the clues applied to and was ruled wrong." The state of post-tournament discussion in quizbowl is pretty dire and needs some real rethinking.

The "Roman women" tossup was a great social history question and there's not a thing wrong with it besides that someone buzzed with Vestal Virgins for no reason at all and didn't like that he got a neg, and that you have to actually know something besides what's come up in ACF Regionals of the past three years in order to get an early buzz.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Sam »

This was a well-written and, perhaps even more exciting, well-run tournament that I enjoyed a great deal. After reading the posts from people who played at the Michigan site it looks like many of their critiques were used in improving the questions; most of the more common ones I don't remember being issues at the Maryland site.
The one specific qualm off the top of my head was the "upper room" tossup. It seems like one of those things from religion or myth whose importance could be overestimated because it has a name. Tossups that were superficially similar but I think much more successful were the common links on "eight days" and "doves" from the Bible. Those reappear in the Bible because they had some cultural/religious significance to the people who wrote it. I can't imagine something is similarly true for the upper room.

EDIT: To generalize, the common links and "creative" answer lines worked better when there was a real reason for the answer reappearing in all the instances the tossup mentioned. "Roman women" tossup is a collection of people that makes sense to group together, like Matt and Matt said above. The same is true for "switching calendars." "Parrots" in literature is less so, and while the tossup wasn't misleading or un-pyramidal, seemed more like a common link for the sake of having a common link. (The same is probably true for the "music teachers" tossup, which I don't remember as well.)
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed »

I very much liked the theory of 2011 VCU Open. I am a huge believer in the idea of hard questions on easy things. I believe them to be the best way of differentiating between top teams while also making tournaments accessible to everyone else. And, at least at higher difficulty levels, I am a big believer in mixing tossups on hard things with tossups on easy things: they ensure that even the dumbest teams will get 10 points at the end of some questions while keeping top players on their toes and making it harder for people to lateral tossups based on "well, it's one of these things, and only one of those things could come up at this level." Anyone who's played anything I've written also knows that I enjoy creative common link tossups and think they are a great way to keep things fresh and incorporate new clues.

But I think that the tournament didn't execute as well on that theory as I'd have hoped. In that sense, I would liken playing VCU Open to seeing a homeless person who looks a bit like yourself: it's a reminder of what you can become if you make some mistakes.

In general, I agree with the overall criticism that there were a lot of difficulty cliffs and misplaced early clues: a lot of games were decided by buzzer races. The tournament also seemed really stingy with answer lines. I don't think I've heard "prompt" so many times in one day before.

In general, I also agree with Matt Weiner's critique of modern quizbowl discussion. In that spirit, the only specific question I want to condemn is "Upper Room", which has already been discussed. Frankly, I don't think it's important. [It also happens to be the case that, incorrectly, I didn't think it had a name, but my argument doesn't rest on this point]. I don't even remember hearing the Roman Women tossup: I guess it was either in the final or it got powered really fast in my room and I didn't notice it.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

The "Roman women" tossup was a great social history question and there's not a thing wrong with it besides that someone buzzed with Vestal Virgins for no reason at all and didn't like that he got a neg, and that you have to actually know something besides what's come up in ACF Regionals of the past three years in order to get an early buzz.
All the theoretical justification in the world about why this should be a great tossup doesn't change the fact that in games, it played horribly and was later roundly panned by the teams that played it. I have a fairly high tolerance of creativity, but at a certain point if a tossup ends up only raising everybody's hackles, it doesn't really matter if there is an abstract reason why it should work. If there were a whole tournament full of tossups in that mold and it weren't announced beforehand that it would be like that, would it still have been worth the effort if all that happens is everybody leaving annoyed? It should still technically be unimpeachable and criticisms of that event's style wouldn't be valid?
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Cheynem »

I think the upper room tossup would have been okay had more clues been given on the stuff biblically speaking that happened in it and less lead-in clues on its depictions.

Regarding people's critiques of the tournament, like...the Roman women tossup looks decent on paper but didn't play out well in our room or in most of the rooms at our site. As Charlie said, questions aren't written in a vacuum. I like the idea behind it, but I remember after hearing it not enjoying it at all. I'm certainly willing to admit I don't know a lot about the material and that I have imperfect knowledge, but I'm not complaining because I'm a packet memorizer, I'm complaining because that was my honest reaction to it. I agree that tournament critiques have their issues, but I think if a question didn't play well, there should be some honest discussion about it.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Matt Weiner »

College Park Spyders wrote:
The "Roman women" tossup was a great social history question and there's not a thing wrong with it besides that someone buzzed with Vestal Virgins for no reason at all and didn't like that he got a neg, and that you have to actually know something besides what's come up in ACF Regionals of the past three years in order to get an early buzz.
All the theoretical justification in the world about why this should be a great tossup doesn't change the fact that in games, it played horribly and was later roundly panned by the teams that played it. I have a fairly high tolerance of creativity, but at a certain point if a tossup ends up only raising everybody's hackles, it doesn't really matter if there is an abstract reason why it should work. If there were a whole tournament full of tossups in that mold and it weren't announced beforehand that it would be like that, would it still have been worth the effort if all that happens is everybody leaving annoyed? It should still technically be unimpeachable and criticisms of that event's style wouldn't be valid?
While the empiricism at the philosophical base of Charlie's claim warms my cockles and would surely be a better paradigm than our current one for this sort of discussion, I feel compelled to point out that we've been having this standoff over common link and "creative" questions for a few years now, where people who philosophically object to said questions seem to subconsciously refuse to make an earnest attempt to play them and end up making negs or nonbuzzes that are far below their usual capacity as players. These questions played just fine at the Maryland site, where fewer people with ideological objections to the questions were present, and that's not a coincidence.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots »

College Park Spyders wrote:
The "Roman women" tossup was a great social history question and there's not a thing wrong with it besides that someone buzzed with Vestal Virgins for no reason at all and didn't like that he got a neg, and that you have to actually know something besides what's come up in ACF Regionals of the past three years in order to get an early buzz.
All the theoretical justification in the world about why this should be a great tossup doesn't change the fact that in games, it played horribly and was later roundly panned by the teams that played it. I have a fairly high tolerance of creativity, but at a certain point if a tossup ends up only raising everybody's hackles, it doesn't really matter if there is an abstract reason why it should work. If there were a whole tournament full of tossups in that mold and it weren't announced beforehand that it would be like that, would it still have been worth the effort if all that happens is everybody leaving annoyed? It should still technically be unimpeachable and criticisms of that event's style wouldn't be valid?
The problem is that any tossup, even the most straightforward and well-written, could be received badly by a given field through no fault of the writer's. All it really takes is for someone to neg it, go out in the hall, and complain about it being a bad tossup. Everyone else starts agreeing with him, and the field develops a homogeneous opinion. This isn't a knock on anyone, it's human nature to try to come to a consensus. But while it's more likely to occur with bad tossups, this kind of thing can happen no matter how good the tossup is. The way a tossup plays out is very much dependent on both the question and the field. Looking at the tossup in the abstract and deciding if people's buzzes had merit is really the only way to do that.

Now, I'm pretty sympathetic to people's problems with the Autobiography of Mark Twain tossup, since he has a number of autobiographical works, and I agree it would have been better as a tossup on "Mark Twain." I don't see the justification here. It sounds like people assumed it would be a fraudable tossup and just buzzed in with what they thought the answer had to be. But like...the second clue is talking about rights women received for having more than three children, and the third clue is talking about how men weren't allowed to go into the Bona Dea festival. Vestal Virgins is just wrong and I don't get why we have to reward guesswork. Again, I'm not knocking Auroni. Everyone makes negs, myself one of the foremost among them. If there wasn't really any merit to the negs people made, though, why do we have to decry the tossup for being negged like that?

Real life is messy, and sometimes shit happens for no good reason. I'm not seeing people in this thread really offering a good reason that this tossup was negged so much, or what could be done to improve it. The argument is just "This question happened to be negged a lot, change it." Again, I have to ask: how is this criticism helpful to the writer when it's entirely possible that there's no good reason this happened?
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

Uh, I'm not complaining just because it was negged by someone (who wasn't me, or Mike Cheyne), it also went dead plenty and ended up being really confusing to listen to. That's why it played horribly. I don't think people complaining about a tossup eliciting a lot of negs is a good enough criteria to critique if the tossup is still really playable, but this one proved not to be playable in other ways, even by players who, contrary to Matt Weiner's assertions, don't have problems with creative answer lines and tried to genuinely play the tossup.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Matt Weiner »

Come on, man, tell me what is the least bit confusing about it besides the sense of disorientation it creates in people who don't know anything besides "the canon."
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

I couldn't remotely figure out what kind of general thing the answer was going for from the get go, and by the end thought you were describing some sort of social class of Romans, and spent the rest of the time trying to think which one might be about half of the population. I hardly think that's me not giving it a good faith effort to figure out what you were asking about that has nothing to do with reliance on the canon.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Cheynem »

I really don't care that much about this one tossup, but empirically, the tossup played poorly at our site, and people were reporting that (I feel like people didn't go into great detail about why they didn't like it because the tournament editor admitted off the bat that the question could be "very frustrating to play" and that it would be replaced). I agree with Matt Bollinger that a "group of people not liking a question" is not enough reason to demand it be removed (which I don't think anyone did, looking at the thread--I admit I pile on the tossup by calling it "awful," which was a kneejerk reaction, but by that point, it was already out of the set). However, I think there's something to be said by examining why a group of people didn't like a question, and I dispute the point that we didn't like it purely because we're canon-obsessed, common link-hating dolts. For me, I didn't like it because I determined very quickly it was a group of Roman women and was trying to determine which one--obviously I didn't have complete knowledge, but it seemed like in our room most people were on that same line of thinking quickly as well. Thus, I felt at the time the question was sort of frustratingly transparent. Seeing the question on paper and hearing the perspective of classicists helps me to think about it slightly differently.

I'm willing to be scolded for my over vigorous complaints, but think a healthy discussion of why or why not questions played out well is important.

I understand where people are coming from in defense of the tossup--I actually think it's cool that social history is attempted to be represented.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots »

Cheynem wrote: However, I think there's something to be said by examining why a group of people didn't like a question, and I dispute the point that we didn't like it purely because we're canon-obsessed, common link-hating dolts.
Yeah I agree with this entirely. In examining it, though, I'm genuinely curious how people didn't pick it up after the tossup named a bunch of women and said "They're 50% of the Roman population."
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

Well, like I just said, I thought it was talking about some kind of social group by the time it hit the end of the tossup and thought that there was perhaps a social class that was approximately 50% of the population of Rome.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed »

Perhaps the tossup could have mentioned some deeds of famous Roman women, to better ground the tossup to things that quizbowl players know. Of course then people might have negged with "Roman noblewomen" or "consorts of emperors" or that sort of thing, but the failure here seems to be primarily that nobody has heard of most of these Roman social laws or customs. I don't see any real technical errors in the structure or writing.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by MLafer »

About five people commented negatively on the 'Roman women' tossup and not a single one said that it was a bad question because it was negged often, and there was only a single mention of the question being negged at all, so perhaps people should stop characterizing the objections to the tossup as 'people didn't like it because they negged it'. It's also eminently unhelpful to describe why certain clues do not refer to the neg given, considering that nobody is arguing that 'vestal virgins' should have somehow been an acceptable answer.

I'll just list 2 reasons why I didn't like this answer line.

1) It gives extremely cheap points at the end of the question which will often result in either a buzzer race/post-neg pickup at the end with literally no knowledge of Roman social history. These sorts of endings used to be called "NA-cuties" when they were used extensively by NAQT and were roundly panned at that time.
2) Since the proponents of this question seem to enjoy indulging in armchair psychology of their opponents, I'll do some of my own and theorize that some people write questions like this because they enjoy the reaction that they get, and seem only too happy to crow about those quiz bowl-playing robots who only memorize old packets and boy, isn't the way I acquire knowledge far superior to the way they do?
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by theMoMA »

Matt Weiner wrote:Hey, not to wade too far into this discussion since I obviously have an interest, but I'd like to question the recent trend of pretending that things don't have names just because particular players don't know those names. "The Arab Revolt," much like "La Reforma," is a well-accepted name for the thing to which it refers, and thus questions on those things do not suffer from any answer line vagueness.
This may be true, but writers in general should do a better job with their answer lines, especially on questions that the writer can pretty confidently assume will produce some alternate answers. I can pretty easily imagine someone saying "Lawrence's revolt" or something of that nature, and that happened in a few rooms, so the answer line should have said what to do in that situation. Now, I don't think that there's an argument that such answers must be acceptable (though I think you could argue one way or another), but the answer line should tell writers what to do in all reasonably anticipated situations.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots »

MLafer wrote:About five people commented negatively on the 'Roman women' tossup and not a single one said that it was a bad question because it was negged often, and there was only a single mention of the question being negged at all, so perhaps people should stop characterizing the objections to the tossup as 'people didn't like it because they negged it'. It's also eminently unhelpful to describe why certain clues do not refer to the neg given, considering that nobody is arguing that 'vestal virgins' should have somehow been an acceptable answer.
Only one person actually gave any reason whatsoever why the question was bad, explaining that "It didn't play well," in that it was negged with a "reasonable guess" and then went dead. It's entirely worth explaining why that "reasonable guess" was not correct to refute that argument. If that's not Charlie's argument, then his only argument is that it was difficult to pick up at the giveaway, which doesn't fit well with your argument that...
1) It gives extremely cheap points at the end of the question which will often result in either a buzzer race/post-neg pickup at the end with literally no knowledge of Roman social history.
So I don't get why there's such a consensus that this tossup was bad if you're not even agreeing as to why it's bad.
2) Since the proponents of this question seem to enjoy indulging in armchair psychology of their opponents, I'll do some of my own and theorize that some people write questions like this because they enjoy the reaction that they get, and seem only too happy to crow about those quiz bowl-playing robots who only memorize old packets and boy, isn't the way I acquire knowledge far superior to the way they do?
Nebulous speculation about the motives for writing a question is a terrible argument regarding its merits and even worse for helping people produce better questions. Moreover, the extension of this "argument" is that we can't ever have answerlines that aren't in the "canon" because then we're mocking people for not knowing things outside of it and that's mean. I think you're too intelligent to actually believe this.

Bruce's argument that "nobody knows" those clues isn't true either. The clues after the power mark are very well-known to people interested in classics, and hey, the Bona Dea and the Lupercalia have even come up in quizbowl before. I just don't understand the argument against this question, especially since everyone seems to dislike it for different reasons.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by theMoMA »

I think that this VCU Open was a real step in the right direction for harder, open-style tournaments, but I have to say that I agree with Bruce's commentary the most. The answer lines and the general ideas were at times very good, and there were many excellent tossups. There were also several tossups that were marked by misplaced clues, difficulty cliffs, and confusing wording. These problems had nothing to do with the general philosophy of the tournament; they were simply mistakes, though I thought there were more of them at this tournament than is typical for a quality event.

The general philosophy of the tournament did have a hand in what I saw as a larger problem with the questions, which others have pointed out and commented on extensively. Some of the attempts at creative answers fell short, in my opinion, of the minimum playability standard necessary for a tournament like this. Don't get me wrong; I love creativity in questions. But I also believe that writers must hitch their creativity to the expectations and abilities of the players (in other words, to be what I have previously called "empathetic").

1. I agree strongly with Charlie that if it plays like a bad question, it's a bad question. There are ways to test who knows more about Roman women than writing a tossup with that answer line. A tossup on "Rome" with all of the clues in the form of "women in this polity..." would seem like the easiest way to me (and, in my opinion, would be much more likely to elicit great, knowledge-based buzzes because the question is unequivocally pointing to a class of answers: polities). Alternately, there are things called bonus questions that don't have many of the problems that tossups do. More tenuous connections between things are often great bonus themes even though they'd make terrible tossups.

My opinion is that most meaningful (as opposed to trivial) connections between things can be a tossup, but the writer should strive for the least restrictive answer line that's reasonable. The reason that "Roman women" is so hard to play is not because no one knows about Roman women, but because the pronouns to pick out "Roman women" specifically don't exist; Roman women aren't really a category that many specific clues apply to (hence all the tortuous "one subclass of this group" formulations). Players are forced to map wildly underinclusive subclasses to a larger class, but the question can't provide guidelines on how much extrapolation is necessary to get from the class that the clue describes to the answer line that the question wants. That's confusing. In contrast, a question on "Rome" with clues exclusively about women points directly to a specific class of answers; it's a lot less restrictive, but it tests for the exact same knowledge that a tossup on "Roman women" would. Writers should remember that common links aren't all about having weird answer lines. You can write a common-link tossup that tests for knowledge of "Roman women" with the answer line as "Rome" by simply choosing the correct clues.

2. I'll advance my own theory: there are "organic" common links, and there are "artificial" common links. Organic ones carry a common thread that has some resonant meaning, while artificial ones merely connect various disjoint bits of knowledge with a surface connection. I've written many questions in the latter mode, but I've tried to stay away from them recently because I think they tend to make for poor clue selection. A lot of times (and I did this myself a lot), it seems like the answer line gets picked from two or three things (like, perhaps, my tossup on "Three-Cornered"), and then the writer goes out and manufactures the rest of the clues by looking for anything else that could possibly be crammed in.

A tossup on "Umuofia" or "Rome" (from women) is what I would call an "organic" common link, in that the reason that all of the clues apply to the answer has some significance. A tossup on "blue" in painting is an "artificial" common link because it's merely happenstance that various cloaks and bonnets and jackets and curtains are blue. Another category of organic common link is, in my mind, any pervasive theme that carries an overarching significance. For example, a tossup on "blue" in religious iconography, in which blue has specific meanings, would be organic. A tossup on "wolves" in Norse mythology would surely be organic. Tossups on things like "coal mines" or "wolves in various myth systems" are somewhat of a hybrid; I think coal mining is a pervasive social theme in European literature, so I liked that idea for a tossup (though I thought that some of the clues were fairly trivial, especially because there are so many deep clues from Germinal, "The Odour of Chrysanthemums," and Sons and Lovers that could have been used as lead-ins). Wolves are a common, meaningful theme in mythologies in a way that "blue" in the title of novels is not a common theme of literature, so I'd say that tossups on wolves in various myth systems are more organic than not.

My goal here isn't to say that the world of common links exists in only "organic" and "artificial" phases and the writer's job is to classify everything as one or the other. The point is to give useful names to the broader, sometimes-overlapping categories of common link-style tossups and discuss why "artificial" connections between things often make for poor tossups. In my mind, they tend to reward surface knowledge. In addition, they act as a sort of grapeshot volley fired into the world of quizbowl answers; if you happen to know one minor Soyinka title that has "blue" in it, you get the tossup over someone who knows a minor Salinger title that's coming up later...but why? This doesn't seem to make any real sense to me, other than that one is presumably more obscure than the other. But there is no real thematic connection between these two things; it's not like a myth tossup on "wolves," where there is a system of comparative study in which a Korean wolf story is more difficult or unexpected to know than a Norse one, or a tossup on "coal mines" where knowing about the coal miners in The Road to Wigan Pier is related to knowing about the coal miners in Germinal because both inform European social justice in literature.

This isn't to say that everything common link must have a bedrock thematic connection between all of its clues, but I do advance the theory that the more meaningful the connection, the better chance that you're testing for something besides scattershot knowledge of random things that have come up in the past. People study and produce knowledge in certain thematic ways, and it's incredibly valuable to test about those thematic connections because it's how we structure the world of ideas. It's significantly less valuable, in my mind, to test about a smattering of blue hoods and cloaks and squares in all eras of painting, or of the word "blue" in titles around the world.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed »

Cernel Joson wrote:Nebulous speculation about the motives for writing a question is a terrible argument regarding its merits and even worse for helping people produce better questions. Moreover, the extension of this "argument" is that we can't ever have answerlines that aren't in the "canon" because then we're mocking people for not knowing things outside of it and that's mean. I think you're too intelligent to actually believe this.
Matt Lafer clearly wasn't making a serious argument, he was mocking the tendency of Matt Weiner to speculate as to the psychological basis of his opponent's opposition to this tossup. It is basically a reductio ad absurdium, as a Roman woman might say.

As somebody who has lately taken to accusing their opponents of Sophism, I find it ironic that you decided to go down this path in your most recent post.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by MLafer »

I said those were reasons I didn't like the question, not why the question was bad, though point 1 is why I thought the question was bad (and point 2 adequately described by Bruce - though it was also true, because I knew I would be infuriated by people making these same arguments about why people don't like common links as soon as the tournament ended). And no, I don't think my point contradicts Charlie's. I can definitely also see a situation where somebody doesn't answer at the end, but that situation would only occur because of confusion or an inability to parse the 'riddle' at the end of the question. This is the whole problem with the giveaway - it has nothing to do with how much you know about Roman social history, but whether a person who knows that women make up 50% of the population (i.e. everyone) can figure out the wordplay in 5 seconds.

Edit: Andrew H. just did an excellent job of giving objective reasons for why this question 'played wrong' subjectively in some people's minds, but other people were perhaps unable to articulate without getting into subjectivity. Bravo, Andrew.*


* Of course, he's only providing increasingly convoluted rationalizations for what was actually his frustration about this answer BREAKIN' THE CANON WIDE OPEN.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Magister Ludi »

This tournament was pretty good and had many positive aspects that represent where hard tournaments should be moving in the future. I enjoyed how Evan ensured there was a range of difficulty for tossup answers which is essential for making sure the tournament rewards people for having all types of knowledge rather than just players who know ACF Nationals type tossups but can't handle a tossup on Les Miserables. I also think a greater emphasis on English language literature is the right direction, but I did feel the sub-distribution should be adhered to a little more closely. In one round there were two tossups on British poets (Shelley and Auden), a common link British lit question on Wilde's trials and then one European lit question on Peer Gynt. Also, there wasn't a single tossup on classical literature that I can remember, which is inexcusable. I believe an emphasis on British and American literature is warranted because those are the areas people are most likely to know, but you shouldn't completely throw out the other areas.

But Bruce is right when he said this tournament was much better in theory than in practice and I think it was worse than last year's rendition. I want to thank Evan and the VCU people for producing a good set, but the rest of my post is going to sound critical as I point out some of the flaws I felt in the set. Last year I felt that the literature Evan wrote for VCU Open was a 9/10 (the highest I rated any literature I've played in my career not written by Zeke or Jonathan), but this year it went down to probably a 7/10 (which is still pretty damn good but the tossups were executed with no where near the precision of last year). I'm going to deal with the common link literature thing in another post, but I made sure to consult Jonathan, Andrew, Ike and other literature players to make sure I wasn't the only one who had an intensely negative reaction to these questions due to my ideological preferences and they all confirmed that they found these questions mediocre because they penalize people for reading and reward people for knowing random details from masterplots.

1) Difficulty Cliffs and Question Length. At CO this year I always felt secure that I would be able to comfortably answer any tossup on a subject I was familiar with, but at this tournament I was always uneasy because there were a lot of difficulty cliffs and tossups with relatively easy leadin clues. Too many questions had buzzer races early in the text for my liking. The Auden question was a buzzer race between Andrew and I on a fairly prominent quote from "September 1, 1939", The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie dropped the name of the nun's book too early, and The Lady with the Little Dog had a bunch of worthless reimagining of the story in another context clues and a buzzer race on The Geisha. Obviously, this is magnified when you're playing in a room with Jonathan, Jerry, Ike, Andrew, Chris Ray, and myself but these subtle distinctions are the difference between a very good writer and a great writer and I think Evan has the potential to be a great writer. Moreover, I think the solution to these problems is simple--add a couple lines to questions one easy subjects.

While I respect Evan's decision to try to keep questions to around 8 lines, when you're writing on easier subjects those are the moments when you actually need another line or two to help differentiate levels of knowledge. Keeping lines limits under control is essential for ACF Fall and regular difficulty tournaments, but the people coming to play a summer open want quality over very compact questions. It would be preferable for everyone to have an Auden tossup that is a line and a half longer if it will play better. For subjects like The Burgher's Daughter 8 lines is a fine length to differentiate levels of knowledge, but I've always thought writing on more accessible answers runs hand in hand with slightly longer and more clue dense questions.

2) Originality vs. Playability. One of the things I respected Evan for before this tournament was that he seemed to be pragmatic about writing questions valuing the question's ability to fairly differentiate levels of knowledge more than creativity for creativity's sake. Charlie Dees is right for criticizing the Roman women tossup because frankly if it plays fine in half the rooms but plays terribly in the other half of the rooms it's probably better to replace it with something that won't confuse players. I think you always have to value playability more than creativity, which isn't to say there should never be creative questions. When I'm writing a "creative" question that I know might be confusing I hold that question to triple the level of scrutiny I would to a normal question because they can easily be subject to both transparency and vagueness. I know I secondlined the Rite of Spring riot question with no real knowledge just because it was an event in avant-garde Paris that left people traumatized. We should value the objective evidence about how a question played rather than proclaiming it's a good question and it doesn't matter that people with real knowledge were confused by it. Then we see Evan running through the halls looking to see if anyone powered The Upper Room tossup so he could justify it later. The problem with many of these questions is that the player with the most knowledge about a topic in the room often is the one who ends up negging it because they are confused. Jonathan made an insightful comment that a lot of these questions at VCU Open lured knowledgeable players to buzz in with an answer, but never gave players the security to buzz with confidence that they could be sure they were correct.

This is related to the common link literature issue because Evan and Matt don't seem to care how many players tell them a tossup was confusing or penalized people with real knowledge. The defense that people who don't like these answer lines are hampered by "sub-conscious" desires to play poorly on them is incredibly unconvincing.

Overall, I think Evan should be commended for writing this set and don't want to sound overly negative. I make these criticisms because I think the most important thing for Evan to change as a writer is to evaluate tossups objectively based on how they were played rather than trying to defend them in the abstract. In my opinion, the most important thing to do when selecting answers is to adopt a mindset of picking answer lines that are the best way to reward someone who is knowledgeable about a topic. That mindset might been you have to cut a couple interesting questions on important topics, but making sure tossups are playable must be the first priority.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Auroni »

Hey, just to clarify things, I thought that the "Roman women" tossup and other tossups that people mentioned me negging were all pretty good. I will retract my allegation that that tossup was an instance of the creative train going too far. That question played poorly in my room because I ventured a guess with absolutely minimal knowledge and failed. People should stop confusing mistakes that I made that I was correctly penalized for with critiques of those questions coming from me.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by grapesmoker »

Matt Weiner wrote:this was an excellent event and a great accomplishment for Evan
I think I would agree with this generally. Since I gripe about science a lot, I also thought that Cody's science (modulo that bizarre tossup on "detonation") was very solid and enjoyable. I can buy that some of the questions didn't play terribly well; Andrew explains why that might apply to the Roman women tossup, though of course we didn't hear it. Most of the rest of the common links (and many questions that Kurtis seems unhappy with) I thought were perfectly all right and didn't have any trouble knowing what those answers were or how to say them.

There were some odd distributional issues (like what Ted mentioned) which probably ought to have been fixed up a bit, but other than that I thought this was a fine and enjoyable event. You're always going to find a few questions that don't play well, but en masse this was a fun set and a good way to close out the summer.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Matt Weiner »

I still remain unconvinced that people's criticisms of these particular questions are based in reality. I certainly didn't see any of this widespread buzzer-racing when I was reading, and the idea that people with real knowledge were unable to buzz on the non-canonical answer lines is in fact the opposite of what I am alleging (did Kurtis Droge become some sort of expert at social history of the classical period without me being aware?) Surely every set has things that can be criticized, but when I read 14 rounds of the set and saw neither the usual quizbowl theatrics that go on when people lose buzzer races, nor, you know, multiple people attempting to physically buzz on questions at the same time, I find it hard to believe that "difficulty cliffs!" is anything but a post-hoc attempt to justify some other kind of unease with the questions. You can't have it both ways--Andrew is recapitulating Ted's argument from VCU Open two years ago about why "common link" questions are bad, and people are praising him while denying that they have a problem with common link questions.

In the larger sense, I think there's a lot of terrible trends in tournament discussion as a whole and I'm choosing to use this event to make my stand against them for no particular reason beyond the fact that I'm peripherally involved in it. Kurtis's post in particular is just jaw-dropping, but also instructive as to why discussions on this board suck. It has two different critiques that outright say "don't write literature tossups on things that have been adapted into musicals/suites." No explanation either for the general principle or for the allegation that one can somehow absorb all the plot points of Peer Gynt by listening to Grieg, just a statement ordering people not to write on The Phantom of the Opera or Peer Gynt, ever. Then we get this gem:
I've read May Pole of Merry Mount. How am I supposed to know it's set on May Day?
which reads like something out of the Quizbowl Tribune. More hilariously, Jarret Greene then comes in and echoes the sentiment! I find it hard to believe that two more-than-competent quizbowl players are both this stupid in the same way, so that seems pretty damning evidence of an echo chamber effect.

I'll re-post something I said in IRC because I think it's worth discussing:
I think ultimately this sort of criticism where people just list questions that made them feel bad and make no attempt at providing an overall argument for what writers are to do is the outgrowth of a generation of players raised on the mid-00s naqt ideological framework. Where hentzel/yaphe scoff at the idea of there being an objectively correct way to write and everything is just the democratic sum of people's preferences (which you are born with and it is neither possible nor desirable to change through argument). So of course people think that just saying "I DON'T LIKE QUESTIONS ON Z" constitutes some sort of meaningful discourse. Because in that framework it is the only discourse possible.
If this describes you, try to make it not do so any longer. As a concluding note to what will be my first volley in a larger meta-critique of the awful way that tournaments are discussed, I will make the sad observation that I think one of the reasons there is so much dumb criticism of this event is because Evan actually came into the forum to apologize and change questions in response to the criticism. If he had just pulled a Jerry and started yelling at people who found fault with his questions about how important Mongo Beti is, I think we'd be seeing a different thread. It's never good when rational discourse and results-oriented discussion is disincentivized, and a lot of what happens on the forum seems to have that effect in various ways.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by theMoMA »

Matt Weiner wrote:Surely every set has things that can be criticized, but when I read 14 rounds of the set and saw neither the usual quizbowl theatrics that go on when people lose buzzer races, nor, you know, multiple people attempting to physically buzz on questions at the same time, I find it hard to believe that "difficulty cliffs!" is anything but a post-hoc attempt to justify some other kind of unease with the questions.
I don't think that I'm alone in thinking that some of the questions revealed themselves in less-than-ideal ways. I wouldn't necessarily say that there were a ton of difficulty cliffs (I dispute the fact that, for instance, my buzz on a line from "September 1, 1939" was somehow not ideal; the lead-in line [about being true to the wife, etc.] isn't, to my knowledge, a particularly famous part of the poem, which happens to be a work that I've read multiple times and written a critical analysis of for a class; Ted just also happened to know that clue, so it's unfortunate for him that he was playing in a room with someone with an equal amount of knowledge and an itchier trigger finger, but not in any way reflective of the question quality). There were a few cliffs, however, and several tossups that seemed to invite good players to take the plunge and buzz with a somewhat obvious answer. There may not have been several questions per game in which a bunch of people were mashing the buzzer simultaneously, but there were a lot more "oh, it was that" moments in this tournament than many recent ones I can remember.
You can't have it both ways--Andrew is recapitulating Ted's argument from VCU Open two years ago about why "common link" questions are bad, and people are praising him while denying that they have a problem with common link questions.
I'm not really recapitulating those arguments so much as attempting to frame the terminology. I'm not saying that tossups on the "artificial common link themes" are in any way illegitimate, I'm just saying that they don't really test for the knowledge of the same valuable framework that more organic common link themes do. By definition, if you write on random titles that have "blue" in them, you're testing for knowledge of random titles with the word "blue" in them, and that's all I'm pointing out. I'll let others make their aesthetic choices about whether they want to write those kinds of tossups. I guess I'm mildly prescriptive when I say that the organic themes test for more valuable thematic knowledge, but I think that's also somewhat definitional. If your theme is just a common word, knowledge of the theme itself is going to be less valuable than a common topic that people study as such; there's a body of knowledge propped up around the latter that doesn't exist around the former (for example, I know of no critical study of works that have "blue" in their titles).
Kurtis's post in particular is just jaw-dropping, but also instructive as to why discussions on this board suck.


Yes, I think this manner of discussion is practically useless. "Why did you write this tossup this way; I would have gotten it if you wrote it that way!" is not a tenet of serious quizbowl discussion.
I will make the sad observation that I think one of the reasons there is so much dumb criticism of this event is because Evan actually came into the forum to apologize and change questions in response to the criticism. If he had just pulled a Jerry and started yelling at people who found fault with his questions about how important Mongo Beti is, I think we'd be seeing a different thread. It's never good when rational discourse and results-oriented discussion is disincentivized, and a lot of what happens on the forum seems to have that effect in various ways.
I don't think this is true of most of the serious, non-"why did you write this this way?" discussion in this thread. For example, I believe Ted has made the same argument consistently, regardless of how vitriolic the head writer proves.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Auroni »

I don't think that the tossup on blue rewards artificial knowledge at all. It rewarded you for paying attention to no less than five paintings. It also rewarded you for knowing a critical piece of information pertaining to a modern artist, the name of a well known art movement, and a widely used label to describe a kind of Picasso painting. It was an adequate and complete question on its subject and I liked it a lot.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by theMoMA »

Blanford's Fringe-fingered Lizard wrote:I don't think that the tossup on blue rewards artificial knowledge at all. It rewarded you for seeing no less than four paintings. It also rewarded you for knowing a critical piece of information pertaining to a modern artist, the name of a well known art movement, and a widely used label to describe a kind of Picasso painting. It was an adequate and complete question on its subject and I liked it a lot.
You didn't understand the distinction I'm making then. I'm not arguing that the knowledge is artificial; I'm arguing that the connection is artificial. You cannot go into a bookstore and find a tome on "Blue Art"; the connection is merely a word, not a theme about which a body of knowledge exists. But you can find serious scholarship on, for example, "Durer's self-portraits" because those works have an organic connection to one another.

I do think that artificial common-links tend to be worse questions than organic ones, for the reasons I stated above (they tend to test for surface knowledge, they tend to have unity problems with difficulty [i.e. how is a "blue cloak" in Brueghel less famous than a "blue hood" in Holbein, or whatever; there is no body of "blue" knowledge that makes these judgments easily justifiable, so the pyramid pattern tends to look like grapeshot fired at the canon], and, most detrimentally, they tend to encourage writers to work from the baseline of an already-selected answer line to find any possible clues that can be made to fit the theme). But like I said, I leave the aesthetic choices to the writers. There's nothing intrinsically bad about artificial common link themes, just various difficulties that often come along with them.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Ringil »

Matt Weiner wrote: In the larger sense, I think there's a lot of terrible trends in tournament discussion as a whole and I'm choosing to use this event to make my stand against them for no particular reason beyond the fact that I'm peripherally involved in it. Kurtis's post in particular is just jaw-dropping, but also instructive as to why discussions on this board suck. It has two different critiques that outright say "don't write literature tossups on things that have been adapted into musicals/suites." No explanation either for the general principle or for the allegation that one can somehow absorb all the plot points of Peer Gynt by listening to Grieg, just a statement ordering people not to write on The Phantom of the Opera or Peer Gynt, ever. Then we get this gem:
I've read May Pole of Merry Mount. How am I supposed to know it's set on May Day?
which reads like something out of the Quizbowl Tribune. More hilariously, Jarret Greene then comes in and echoes the sentiment! I find it hard to believe that two more-than-competent quizbowl players are both this stupid in the same way, so that seems pretty damning evidence of an echo chamber effect.

I'll re-post something I said in IRC because I think it's worth discussing:
I think ultimately this sort of criticism where people just list questions that made them feel bad and make no attempt at providing an overall argument for what writers are to do is the outgrowth of a generation of players raised on the mid-00s naqt ideological framework. Where hentzel/yaphe scoff at the idea of there being an objectively correct way to write and everything is just the democratic sum of people's preferences (which you are born with and it is neither possible nor desirable to change through argument). So of course people think that just saying "I DON'T LIKE QUESTIONS ON Z" constitutes some sort of meaningful discourse. Because in that framework it is the only discourse possible.
If this describes you, try to make it not do so any longer. As a concluding note to what will be my first volley in a larger meta-critique of the awful way that tournaments are discussed, I will make the sad observation that I think one of the reasons there is so much dumb criticism of this event is because Evan actually came into the forum to apologize and change questions in response to the criticism. If he had just pulled a Jerry and started yelling at people who found fault with his questions about how important Mongo Beti is, I think we'd be seeing a different thread. It's never good when rational discourse and results-oriented discussion is disincentivized, and a lot of what happens on the forum seems to have that effect in various ways.
Perhaps I am horribly unenlightened, and excluding aesthetic things like "I hate literature tossups on things that have been adapted into musicals/suites", what is the ideal way to discuss a tournament that asks for comments on individual questions in an effort to improve future mirrors? Because it seems to me that commenting on misplaced and unhelpful clues, questions that didn't play well, and answer lines that can be improved, etc is the most efficient way to try to improve a tournament for later mirrors. But perhaps you can tell me a better way so that I can make my criticism better.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Auroni »

theMoMA wrote:
Blanford's Fringe-fingered Lizard wrote:I don't think that the tossup on blue rewards artificial knowledge at all. It rewarded you for seeing no less than four paintings. It also rewarded you for knowing a critical piece of information pertaining to a modern artist, the name of a well known art movement, and a widely used label to describe a kind of Picasso painting. It was an adequate and complete question on its subject and I liked it a lot.
You didn't understand the distinction I'm making then. I'm not arguing that the knowledge is artificial; I'm arguing that the connection is artificial. You cannot go into a bookstore and find a tome on "Blue Art"; the connection is merely a word, not a theme about which a body of knowledge exists. But you can find serious scholarship on, for example, "Durer's self-portraits" because those works have an organic connection to one another.

I do think that artificial common-links tend to be worse questions than organic ones, for the reasons I stated above (they tend to test for surface knowledge, they tend to have unity problems with difficulty [i.e. how is a "blue cloak" in Brueghel less famous than a "blue hood" in Holbein, or whatever; there is no body of "blue" knowledge that makes these judgments easily justifiable, so the pyramid pattern tends to look like grapeshot fired at the canon], and, most detrimentally, they tend to encourage writers to work from the baseline of an already-selected answer line to find any possible clues that can be made to fit the theme). But like I said, I leave the aesthetic choices to the writers. There's nothing intrinsically bad about artificial common link themes, just various difficulties that often come along with them.
Actually, the usage of various hues of blue as a color in paintings is a pretty important theme that actual art historians care about. Maybe this particular question didn't explore those themes enough, but I found the end product to be pretty satisfying and good anyway.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Rufous-capped Thornbill »

Matt Weiner wrote:
I've read May Pole of Merry Mount. How am I supposed to know it's set on May Day?
which reads like something out of the Quizbowl Tribune. More hilariously, Jarret Greene then comes in and echoes the sentiment! I find it hard to believe that two more-than-competent quizbowl players are both this stupid in the same way, so that seems pretty damning evidence of an echo chamber effect.
I agreed with Kurtis because when playing that tossup I felt as confused as he did. The May-Pole of Merry Mount does not explicitly say that it takes place on May Day. In fact, the opening lines allude to the story taking place in July or August.
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: Midsummer eve had come, bringing deep verdure to the forest, and roses in her lap, of a more vivid hue than the tender buds of Spring. But May, or her mirthful spirit, dwelt all the year round at Merry Mount, sporting with the Summer months, and revelling with Autumn, and basking in the glow of Winter's fireside. Through a world of toil and care she flitted with a dreamlike smile, and came hither to find a home among the lightsome hearts of Merry Mount.

Never had the Maypole been so gayly decked as at sunset on midsummer eve.
I guess the tossup states that the celebration is done in the "tradition of" May Day, but that is still a little confusing, but it may be that my narrow American views don't naturally filter May Day as a holiday.

Still, I don't feel like that criticism was out of place nor stupid. If two players both felt that the tossup was confusing to play, is there really a problem with them commenting on that confusion? As it's been said above, tossups often don't play perfectly even if the concept is fine and the writing is logically solid.

EDIT: Added more
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by at your pleasure »

What was the second clue from the Blue tossup? If it's something on "Mary wears a robe of this color in a Holbein" painting, then that's actually a fairly important iconographical thing that an art historian would study. Also, I'm a bit confused-is the issue people had with the Blue tossup that Yves Klein was too early or that there was a common link tossup on the color blue in the first place?
In the interest of providing substantiative and usable critique, I think majolica is marginally better-known than fritware, but that's probably not a huge deal.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

Inkana7 wrote:I guess the tossup states that the celebration is done in the "tradition of" May Day, but that is still a little confusing, but it may be that my narrow American views don't naturally filter May Day as a holiday.

Still, I don't feel like that criticism was out of place nor stupid. If two players both felt that the tossup was confusing to play, is there really a problem with them commenting on that confusion? As it's been said above, tossups often don't play perfectly even if the concept is fine and the writing is logically solid.
How on earth do you not know that May Day is the holiday that May Poles are for?

And no, two players having the same problem playing a tossup because they are playing poorly is not always a problem that needs to be taken seriously. That's not what I was saying at all. If the tossup is played poorly in lots of rooms because of some kind of structural reason that extends beyond "I don't know that when I hear May Pole I should know they're talking about May Day," then yeah, it should be discussed. If that's all you've got, though, then I encourage you to not waste everyone's time.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Rufous-capped Thornbill »

College Park Spyders wrote:
Inkana7 wrote:I guess the tossup states that the celebration is done in the "tradition of" May Day, but that is still a little confusing, but it may be that my narrow American views don't naturally filter May Day as a holiday.

Still, I don't feel like that criticism was out of place nor stupid. If two players both felt that the tossup was confusing to play, is there really a problem with them commenting on that confusion? As it's been said above, tossups often don't play perfectly even if the concept is fine and the writing is logically solid.
How on earth do you not know that May Day is the holiday that May Poles are for?
Because I'm stupid.

But really, I do know, during that tossup I just couldn't pull it together. I almost buzzed with "Easter" because I knew it had something to do with Spring. It was probably just a case of me being dumb on that tossup.

EDIT: Punctuation.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by grapesmoker »

I just want to reply to some things in the area of my expertise:
kdroge wrote:The Moon tossup didn't play very well; I buzzed off John Couch Adams and said Neptune. I understand that wasn't a smart thing of me to do, but I don't think the scientists at our tournament were happy with this TU either.
I don't understand how you can buzz with "Neptune" there when the preceding clues pretty clearly refer to all sorts of calculations done by Laplace, who died well before the discovery of Neptune. If you know that 19th century astronomers liked to calculate things about the moon, you can figure it out, but that's a fairly specialized sort of thing to know. It's a fine question from my perspective.
The Dasein tossup I'm not a huge fan of. It talks about this word and then says some German stuff. I'd just rather see a TU on Being and Time.
The clues in that question were very Heideggerian, but the answer could be any number of things. I overthought that and negged with "art" (as I'd thought I heard something referencing Heidegger's theory of aesthetics) but "German stuff" doesn't translate into "Dasein" in any meaningful sense.

The Airy tossup is really long. I didn't notice this when it was played, but it seems like some info could be cut from it. Also, John Couch Adams is referenced again, though I'm not sure how helpful that clue is (I almost negged with Le Verrier, but didn't given the result of my previous Neptune-related buzz) and it seems more history-of-science ish rather than actually something that people would study in a class (though I would happily defer to someone with more knowledge than I).
It wasn't the ideal tossup on George Airy, and could have used some better examples of what Airy functions are actually for. But it didn't strike me as being either overly long of particularly faulty.
Why would you ever toss up Harriet Taylor in the first place? Even so, it very early says "her" to queue that it's a woman, and mentions a date, and then says "she's known for a chapter of a larger work." This is basically 0 for 3 in terms of stuff that should not be mentioned early on in a tossup on her and leads to "figuring it out" rather than actually knowing it. I'd much rather see this as a TU on "The Subjection of Women."
First of all, there were plenty of female philosophers active during that time (I briefly contemplated a Harriet Martineau neg) so it's not like there's only one person it could be. And Taylor's collaboration with Mill was hugely important and relevant to his work. Sure you can figure it out, but it takes a lot of background information to get there, so figuring out that answer isn't a bad thing.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

Ringil wrote:Perhaps I am horribly unenlightened, and excluding aesthetic things like "I hate literature tossups on things that have been adapted into musicals/suites", what is the ideal way to discuss a tournament that asks for comments on individual questions in an effort to improve future mirrors? Because it seems to me that commenting on misplaced and unhelpful clues, questions that didn't play well, and answer lines that can be improved, etc is the most efficient way to try to improve a tournament for later mirrors. But perhaps you can tell me a better way so that I can make my criticism better.
If I may indulge in some meta-critiquing, you and other Michigan people are some of the worst posters on the board when it comes to posting about how a clue you knew came too early because it was easy to you, or how you didn't like the way a question was written because of some personal aesthetic reason that has absolutely no grounding in actual problems with the question's execution. Kurtis and Michael both did a terrible job of not succumbing to that, and you have all the time in the past. Tournament discussions should not be dedicated to good players who clearly have imperfect knowledge of how this game really needs to work clamoring for questions to be harder because if they knew it, it must be easy, which is what long posts critiquing every individual "misplaced" clue boil down to. They don't help anything, and they can at worst serve to convince editors that they need to make their sets even less playable than normal. Your idea of how tournament critiques should happen are really only trustworthy when absolute experts do it, and they almost never do because they understand there are better ways to go about tournament discussion.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Cody »

Both of the Astronomy things were changed slightly, Jerry. JCA was originally at the beginning of that sentence, which wasn't the optimal ordering, and I removed about a line of clues about Airy spirals from the Airy TU and rephrased the dispute with JCA part to shorten it up a little bit.

I don't know if they two philosophy things were, but I think the Harriet Taylor one may be largely unchanged judging from the critique and my memory of the tossup text.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by grapesmoker »

SirT wrote:Both of the Astronomy things were changed slightly, Jerry. JCA was originally at the beginning of that sentence, which wasn't the optimal ordering, and I removed about a line of clues about Airy spirals from the Airy TU and rephrased the dispute with JCA part to shorten it up a little bit.
Ok, that makes some sense. I guess I would be wary of buzzing with Neptune just because I wouldn't expect the most famous thing to be in the first line. As for the Airy function question, one clue that would have been useful there is their connection to the WKB approximation (they are used in the connection formulas) but it's no big deal that it's not there.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Ringil »

College Park Spyders wrote:
Ringil wrote:Perhaps I am horribly unenlightened, and excluding aesthetic things like "I hate literature tossups on things that have been adapted into musicals/suites", what is the ideal way to discuss a tournament that asks for comments on individual questions in an effort to improve future mirrors? Because it seems to me that commenting on misplaced and unhelpful clues, questions that didn't play well, and answer lines that can be improved, etc is the most efficient way to try to improve a tournament for later mirrors. But perhaps you can tell me a better way so that I can make my criticism better.
If I may indulge in some meta-critiquing, you and other Michigan people are some of the worst posters on the board when it comes to posting about how a clue you knew came too early because it was easy to you, or how you didn't like the way a question was written because of some personal aesthetic reason that has absolutely no grounding in actual problems with the question's execution. Kurtis and Michael both did a terrible job of not succumbing to that, and you have all the time in the past. Tournament discussions should not be dedicated to good players who clearly have imperfect knowledge of how this game really needs to work clamoring for questions to be harder because if they knew it, it must be easy, which is what long posts critiquing every individual "misplaced" clue boil down to. They don't help anything, and they can at worst serve to convince editors that they need to make their sets even less playable than normal. Your idea of how tournament critiques should happen are really only trustworthy when absolute experts do it, and they almost never do because they understand there are better ways to go about tournament discussion.
Then what sort of criticism is helpful to editors looking to improve their sets for upcoming mirrors?
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

Well, the most useful way to go about this is to first focus on questions that have factual errors, are confusing for actual reasons (like the tossup that referred to empress Wu as a man at that one ACF Nationals), have problems with their answerlines, etc. The other thing that is useful for editors is to know if there are systemic flaws in the set - say, you didn't like that half of the world literature was about 20th century Japan, or if there are individual questions that flat out didn't work at all and need to be ditched. The only time I ever find it to be useful to critique individual clue placement in tossups are the following ways:

If a clue is wildly out of place - not too egregious, but certainly not good for this level that fits this is the Torrijos clue.

Relatedly, the standard I judge these things by the most is to see if a clue is obviously easier than clues that come after it in the question. It's really not at all common for a tossup to contain too many badly chosen, way too easy clues, so I rarely find it to be the case that those sorts of things need to be changed. Rather, it's much more helpful to look at a tossup that includes "This man wrote about the Queen of the Night in his opera about a magical instrument, and he also wrote the "Coronation" Mass" and point out to the editor that they misjudged which clue should come first. They're both good clues, but the Coronation Mass is harder. These sorts of mistakes are really due to the editors just having imperfect knowledge like everybody else, but don't rely on changing the nature of the tossup. It makes it a whole lot less likely that you're going to end up getting the editors to make the set harder, which is a bad thing, and it's actually instructive for people who aren't in the know.

The only other thing that's useful to critique is when questions are way too hard and use unbuzzable clues for large fractions of the question. Sadly, that critiquing doesn't happen anywhere near enough.

These are way more helpful things to point out than "this was a difficulty cliff," where difficulty cliff is defined 90% of the time as the point in a question where you suddenly knew what the answer was, because that's what happens all the time in questions, and you happened to buzz in at the same time as somebody else who also happened to figure out what the answer was because they also happened to know the same clue, or insisting that a clue you buzzed on was too easy, when in all actuality you just happened to know it because you are a good player. The reality is that most questions out there basically have as good a selection of clues as you can ask for, and sometimes that means you'll get some buzzes that are early on things you know. That's what a lot of your posts are, and they're incredibly annoying and serve no real purpose.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots »

I will say that VCU Open probably had a couple too many common links of the "parrots" type, and they tended to get on your nerves after a while. Some of them were great, though, and I'd defend that "Troy" tossup to the death.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by vcuEvan »

In most cases, I agree that nitpicking about individual questions is a bad way to assess tournaments after the fact. However, I specifically asked for problems with individual questions in this case, in order to put on a better tournament for the rest of the teams playing. So in this case, I'm actually grateful for that kind of criticism from the Michigan site, although some of it was a little wacky.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Magister Ludi »

I really like Andrew's distinction between artificial and organic common links and am glad he came up with the terminology to explain the distinction I was trying to make earlier. I also disagree with Matt's claim that Andrew is just hawking my defense made in an earlier thread and especially reject the claim I'm not just criticizing things I dislike without any guiding logic behind my critiques. If anything, I think the position I put forward is greatly strengthened by the fact that Andrew (another English major) naturally felt the same distinction with common link questions and articulated such a similar argument.

Artificial common link questions basically ask for needless specificity that penalize people who read books (because they might easily forget the name of minor details) and reward people who know masterplots and have rote memory. To double check that this feeling didn't just derive from my own distaste for such questions I asked the other people who study literature at the tournament what they thought and Jonathan, Andrew, and Ike all agreed that they found these questions asking for minor details from books to be confusing and lead to buzzer races. Also, I am convinced that these common links are written with people just randomly searching through masterplots to find enough parrots or Pilars to fill out a tossup regardless of how well known these details actually are in the real works.

Lets look at a couple tossups to illustrate the various problems with artificial common link questions.

Problem One: The Elevation of Minor Details

These are the leadins for the "parrot" tossup:

(1) In the chapter of Platero y Yo named for one of these animals, it belongs to a French doctor and comforts his patients. Jonathan has read Platero y Yo yet was completely unable to buzz on this vague minor anecdote from the book that is unimportant to the larger work. So this question has penalized one person for reading.
(2) In Walcott’s play Pantomime, Jackson strangles one that belongs to Harry Trewe. I believe that Jerry (or maybe Andrew) had read this play but couldn't remember the specific detail. This question has penalized two people for reading.
(3) The mummy in Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata believes it is one of these animals. I've read this play but couldn't remember the minor detail. Now three people have been penalized
(4) Antoinette is horrified to watch one named Coco burn alive in Wide Sargasso Sea. Now I've read Wide Sargasso Sea and was buzzing at this point, but Jerry beat me to the punch. Theres a pretty good chance that Jerry has read that book as well, but the fact of the matter is we will never know who actually knows more about that novel because the question devolved into a one line buzzer race.

In many of these cases I think that players would be able to answer these questions if the clues were reversed. So if a tossup on Strindberg had cited the clue about the Mummy or a tossup on The Handmaid's Tale had dropped the clue about the Mayday movement I would be able to answer a tossup on works I've read with confidence.

Problem Two: Masterplots tendency to simplify situations that are much more open-ended in the real work.

For example, the leadin to the San Francisco tossup from Maugham's "Rain" was very confusing for people who have actually read that story. The clue reads, "In Somerset Maugham’s story “Rain,” the Davidsons convince the governor to send Sadie back to this city, where she is wanted by the police." First of all this is one of those pointless details that I discussed above but miraculously I was actually able to remember it. But, this clue has even a further problem. In the story there is a struggle about whether Sadie should be sent back to SF or can go to Sydney (her preferred location), and the story ends without resolution for this issue because all the reader knows is that Mr. Davidson succumbed to her seduction. I had a similar feeling for the music teachers tossup. I had three books mentioned in that question but was unsure of what exactly was being asked. A clue about The Glass Bead Game said one of these mentored Knecht, but he has so mentors in that book I was rushing through my mind to figure out exactly which one was wanted.

This is related to the debate about the May Day question. You can yell at people all you want for not playing smart, but the objective reality is this: People who had that work were confused because the situation is more complicated than masterplots leads one to believe. Someone who had never read the Hawthorne story could easily buzz saying, "Oh, The Maypole of Merrymount is obviously about May Day" but the person who has read it needs to stop and think because they are aware that it isn't exactly a May Day celebration but a celebration in the tradition of that holiday. And considering how minor some of the details used for common link questions had been, it's not outlandish for someone to pause for a moment to consider if it's asking for the obvious thing.

Conclusion:

A lot of small details often look much more prominent in a summary than they are in reality, and the problem with many artificial common tossups is that they reduce to shitty 3 line tossups on a subject that erases any advantage someone has for having greater depth. Almost all of these artificial questions play better as a straight tossup on one of the works mentioned in the question. If an artificial common link question confuses three or four people who have a read work (such as the May Day tossup) for the sole reason of adding the (supposed) excitement of having a slightly different answer line, I don't think it's a good tradeoff. Basically I think these artificial questions are the equivalent of FUNN in literature questions. For better or for worse, the May Day question (and many other common link literature tossups) confused people with real knowledge, so you cannot convince me that it wouldn't of been better as a tossup on Hawthorne. A responsible editor should try to write questions that will let people with real knowledge buzz with confidence and that should always be valued over pointlessly specific but potentially FUNN answer lines.

So if one of the four best literature writers in quizbowl has screwed up so many of these common link literature questions, why should we continue to defend them?
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by vcuEvan »

Some responses:

A lot of these comments have made it seem like common link tossups made up a large percentage of the literature tossups. That isn't true. Only five or six out of about sixty-five lit tossups were common links.

I'm still not convinced by the arguments Ted and Andrew are putting forth. I haven't seen Ted or Andrew point to a single clue in these questions that would be out of place or illegitimate in a tossup about a work or author. For some reason, these clues become insignificant when put into the common link format. I find this attack on minor details silly. Good questions, including Ted and Andrew's own lit questions, often lead-in with minor details. I thought this was widely understood, but leading in with major details will lead to way too many buzzer races. I'm sure I could go through dozens of questions you've written on books that I have read and find a lot of clues that I don't remember. Apparently all these questions have penalized me for reading.

I'm even more puzzled by the example of the San Francisco lead-in. Ted read the story, remembered the clue, and answered the question. You're really calling this detail unmemorable while relating that you remembered it? I'm more sympathetic to the complaint with the Glass Bead Game clue, although the music master is the only character named for his profession. But that's a clue that should have been fleshed out and expanded, not a problem with the concept of common link questions.

Finally, I'll address the arguments in the format of "this should have just been a tossup on Pantomime." Ted argues that my only reason for including them is in "adding the (supposed) excitement of having a slightly different answer line." I don't remember saying this. Common link questions add some variety to games, but they also add a lot more. My single greatest concern with this tournament was keeping difficulty at a level where it would be enjoyable for both the great teams and the not so good teams. Common link questions are a good way to do this. For example, the "Pilar" tossup allowed me to ask about a major character from I the Supreme, while also including clues about crucial characters from Garcia-Marquez and Hemingway. Maybe you'd prefer the Chicago Open solution of simply tossing up "The Stolen White Elephant," but the May Day tossup gave me the opportunity to both test knowledge of an important Fitzgerald story and to explore the recurrence of May Day events and their importance to labor issues in literature.

The classifications Andrew puts forth make sense, although he's kind of poisoning the well with their proposed names. I'm not convinced that "organic" common link questions are better than "artificial" ones though. And yeah, I guess a tossup on the color blue in literature could reward the surface knowledge of a Soyinka title with the color blue in it; but this situation is almost identical to a question on Soyinka rewarding a player for knowing the Soyinka title with the color blue in it.

I have no problem continuing this discussion, but I don't want it to detract from the tournament discussion in the same way the post-co discussion did. I'd be fine with a moderator splitting this thread.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by akessler »

Magister Ludi wrote: A clue about The Glass Bead Game said one of these mentored Knecht, but he has so mentors in that book I was rushing through my mind to figure out exactly which one was wanted.
In this case at least, while I'd like to see the question again, I think it's fairly clear that they're referring to the Music Master -- he's Knecht's first mentor and has by far the longest-lasting influence on him.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots »

akessler wrote:
Magister Ludi wrote: A clue about The Glass Bead Game said one of these mentored Knecht, but he has so mentors in that book I was rushing through my mind to figure out exactly which one was wanted.
In this case at least, while I'd like to see the question again, I think it's fairly clear that they're referring to the Music Master -- he's Knecht's first mentor and has by far the longest-lasting influence on him.
That clue did need to be fleshed out. Rob and I were both cycling through Elder Brother, Thomas van der Trave, Father Jacobus, and everyone else trying to think of a title profession.
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Re: VCU Open 2011 Thanks & Discussion

Post by Matt Weiner »

Evan has explained the fallacy of "I will allege that this particular clue in a common link tossup was unimportant and conclude from that that all common link tossups are invalid" better than I planned to, so I'll just post the other thing I wanted to, which is that the dumb appeals to authority/popularity contests that have come into this thread even after I declared war on bad arguments are really odious. Ted literally argued that a question is bad because noted "person who studies literature" Ike Jose didn't like it. I fail to see why Ike Jose, a computer science major who is not exactly known for his mastery of good question writing, is supposed to be some sort of trump card against the literature-writing work of Evan Adams, actual English major and reader of books who has a legitimate case for being the best writer in quizbowl right now.

The arguments against common links have failed to convince me of anything besides the unwillingness of the anti-common link crowd to explain what their real problem with these questions is.
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