ACF Nationals question feedback

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magin
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ACF Nationals question feedback

Post by magin »

If any teams want feedback on the packets they submitted to ACF Nationals this year, please email me at [email protected].

Also, would people be interested in a public post exploring some common problems with the submissions and ways to fix them? Obviously, I'd get permission before posting any submitted questions, and would post them anonymously.
Jonathan Magin
Montgomery Blair HS '04, University of Maryland '08
Editor: ACF

"noted difficulty controller"

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Muriel Axon
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Re: ACF Nationals question feedback

Post by Muriel Axon »

magin wrote:Also, would people be interested in a public post exploring some common problems with the submissions and ways to fix them? Obviously, I'd get permission before posting any submitted questions, and would post them anonymously.
I would.
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Victor Prieto
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Re: ACF Nationals question feedback

Post by Victor Prieto »

Muriel Axon wrote:
magin wrote:Also, would people be interested in a public post exploring some common problems with the submissions and ways to fix them? Obviously, I'd get permission before posting any submitted questions, and would post them anonymously.
I would.
Me too.
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magin
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Re: ACF Nationals question feedback

Post by magin »

It's been some time, but I figured I should finally write up something useful. So using some examples from ACF Nationals, I'll explain what I looked for in submissions and suggest a few simple things you can do to help ensure your questions get used in tournaments.

The very first thing I looked at when selecting questions to edit was answerlines. I can't speak for all editors, but when I saw an tossup choice that was simply too hard for the field, I had no qualms not using it. For instance, one of the literature tossups I received was on the Halldor Laxness novel The Fish Can Sing. While Laxness is certainly an author famous enough to ask about, a good tossup should have an answerline that players realistically have different levels of knowledge about. Since I think that most players don't know even the basic plot of The Fish Can Sing, it would become a one-line tossup that would result in players guessing whatever Laxness novels they knew in most games, which is a very inefficient use of tossup space.

I will admit that I probably misjudged the fame of some of my own answerlines, such as the tossup on Ama Ata Aidoo, who is frequently read in African/postcolonial literature classes but probably doesn't have the general exposure that lends well to good tossups. It happens to everyone, even experienced editors.

A similar problem occurred with answerlines that were too specific. The Duino Elegies tossup at ACF Nationals was submitted as a tossup on the second Duino elegy. After looking at the tossup, I didn't think that most players knew enough about the second Duino Elegy for it to realistically get many buzzes before the end. So, I turned the answer into the Duino Elegies, kept the best clues about the second Duino Elegy, and added clues from the more famous first Duino Elegy, as well as a giveaway, which I think allowed for more pragmatic gradations of knowledge.

Here are the original and edited tossups, for a comparison:
Hermann Wiegand noted this poem’s “bold deviation from German grammatical usage” in its assertion that “wir können ihm nicht mehr nachschaun in Bilder, die es besänftigen.” This poem describes a “strip of fruitful land of our own, between river and stone” and “ridges reddened by dawns of all origin.” The speaker of this poem asks, “Does the cosmic space we dissolve into taste of us then?” and, “Weren’t you amazed by the caution of human gesture on Attic steles?” After mostly completing this poem, the author’s depression prevented him from continuing the rest of its collection until 1913. The first stanza of this poem invokes “almost deadly birds of the soul” and alludes to the Book of Tobit, asking, “Where are the days of the Tobias, when one of the most radiant of you stood at the simple threshold?” after stating that “every angel is terrifying.” For 10 points, name this poem that immediately follows a poem asking, “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic orders?” in a collection by Rainer Maria Rilke.
ANSWER: second Duino Elegy [or zweite Duineser Elegie; prompt on Duino Elegies or Duineser Elegien]
The final stanza of one of these poems exclaims “if we could only find our own a strip of fruitful land between river and stone” after questioning “weren’t you amazed by the caution of human gesture on Attic gravestones?” One of these poems asks “Does the cosmic space we dissolve into taste of us then?” and claims “we, when we feel, evaporate.” The opening lines of the second one invoke “almost deadly birds of the soul” before wondering “Where are the days of Tobias.” The first of these poems observes that “we are not really at home in our interpreted world” and calls beauty “the beginning of terror that we are just able to endure.” Their author claimed that he was inspired to write them after taking a walk along seaside cliffs and hearing a voice say “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic orders?” Written while their author was staying at the title castle, for 10 points, name this group of ten poems by Rainer Maria Rilke.
ANSWER: the Duino Elegies
I don't think the edited tossup is perfect, but I think it allows for people to buzz on more parts of the question instead of waiting for the famous lines about angels or the giveaway.

After determining that the answer realistically allowed for different levels of knowledge, it's time to examine if the clues actually allow different levels of knowledge. Take the following submitted tossup on Brahms:
The first movement of a chamber work by this composer features repeated, insistent descending fifths in the development followed by a recapitulation with two-octave bridges over a fortissimo repetition of the first exposition. That work by this composer has roots in the Baroque: the opening theme of the first and third movements are drawn from Contrapunctus 4 and 13 respectively of Art of the Fugue; that work is a Sonata for Cello and Piano. This composer re-wrote part of the third movement of one work as the song Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer, which in the original is an extended cello solo, followed by a lyrical dialogue with the piano. The theme of that work by this composer is introduced at the start by the French horn, whose extended role makes the piece prominent in the horn repertoire and is this man’s second Piano Concerto. For 10 points, name this composer who commenced on his first piano concerto immediately after Schuman’s 1854 suicide attempt.
ANSWER: Johannes Brahms
There's no doubt that Brahms is a fine answerline at any level, since he's such a well-known composer whose works are frequently performed. However, looking at this tossup, I see a lot of clues that reward in-depth Brahms knowledge, but up until the giveaway (which isn't really a giveaway, since it doesn't talk about the relationship between Brahms and Schumann or mention any of Brahms' famous works), the most you get is a description of Brahms' second piano concerto. While that's definitely a prominent work in the classical music repertoire, I don't think that enough people will buzz on that description to make it the pre-giveaway clue. So, I decided to add some new middle clues and a new giveaway, resulting in this edited version:
The third movement of this composer’s first cello sonata begins by quoting Contrapunctus 13 from The Art of the Fugue. This composer used the cello solo from the third movement of one of his piano concertos as the basis for the song Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer. His second piano concerto begins with a solo French horn playing a theme echoed by the piano, and includes a second movement he jokingly called a “little wisp of a scherzo.” At the age of twenty, this composer was introduced to the music world by the 1853 article “New Paths” in the New Journal for Music. The critic Eduard Hanslick championed this composer’s “absolute” music against the supporters of Wagner. After the death of his close friend Robert Schumann, he fell in love with Schumann’s wife Clara. For 10 points, name this German composer of twenty-one Hungarian Dances and a renowned lullaby.
ANSWER: Johannes Brahms
This edited version also condenses the clues from the original tossup: "The first movement of a chamber work by this composer features repeated, insistent descending fifths in the development followed by a recapitulation with two-octave bridges over a fortissimo repetition of the first exposition. That work by this composer has roots in the Baroque: the opening theme of the first and third movements are drawn from Contrapunctus 4 and 13 respectively of Art of the Fugue; that work is a Sonata for Cello and Piano." became "The third movement of this composer’s first cello sonata begins by quoting Contrapunctus 13 from The Art of the Fugue," allowing room for new middle clues.

After making sure that there were enough middle clues in a tossup to distinguish different levels of knowledge, I checked for problems with the leadin. Ideally, I want the leadin to be something that rewards deep knowledge, that isn't absolutely impossible to know, and that doesn't make the answer to easy to guess. As an example of the latter, I received a submission about the Henry George book Progress and Poverty (a fine answer), which had solid middle clues, but whose leadin was:

"A passage in this work argues that, after making an initial purchase, a person is guaranteed to get rich even if he “go[es] up in a balloon or down a hole in the ground.”

Even though I didn't know this particular clue, the idea that investments in property (especially land) tend to accrue wealth through increased rent is one of the major ideas of Progress and Poverty. I decided to replace this clue because putting one of a book's major ideas in the leadin would lead to a game of chicken in which informed players might buzz on simple educated guesses or refuse to buzz in out of disbelief.

Another problem I encountered was finding sources. For instance, a submitted music tossup on the phrase "Gradus ad Parnassum" included this leadin: "According to its composer, a section of a larger musical work that is titled after this phrase should be played every morning on an empty stomach beginning in moderato and ending in vivace." Upon scouring the internet, I couldn't find any reference to this clue, which apparently refers to "Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum" from Debussy's "Children's Corner" suite. That's a big problem: if you can only find one reference to a clue, there's no way to verify if it's accurate or if anyone else could possibly know it. The more references to a clue you can find in different sources, the more likely that your clue is good, and vice versa.

Finally, I'll go through a tossup I wrote and explain my thought process while writing it.
This author profiled NASCAR driver Junior Johnson in his essay “The Last American Hero.” In 2000, this author responded to criticism from Norman Mailer, John Irving, and John Updike by writing an essay calling them the “three stooges.” This author proclaimed that American novels needed to return to social realism in a 1989 article he wrote for Harper’s Magazine, “Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast.” His most recent novel concerns Nestor Camacho, a policeman who arrests a Cuban refugee yards from American soil, causing a crisis in Miami. This author wrote a collection named for an essay about Ed Roth and California’s custom car culture, as well as the novel Back to Blood. He pioneered “New Journalism” in books such as The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby. For 10 points, name this American author of A Man in Full and The Bonfire of the Vanities.
ANSWER: Tom Wolfe
First, I determined that Tom Wolfe was an appropriate answerline that had many possible clues available, including leadins and middle clues. Now, to go line by line:
This author profiled NASCAR driver Junior Johnson in his essay “The Last American Hero.”
This essay is part of The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby and is often read on its own, making it easily well-known enough to be a leadin without making the answer obvious.
In 2000, this author responded to criticism from Norman Mailer, John Irving, and John Updike by writing an essay calling them the “three stooges.”
This clue should allow thinking players to figure out which contemporary writers might get into spats with those authors, as well as rewarding people who know about that much-publicized (at the time) dispute.
This author proclaimed that American novels needed to return to social realism in a 1989 article he wrote for Harper’s Magazine, “Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast.”
This essay is frequently referenced in contemporary debates about the American novel, and is something I wouldn't be surprised that well-read people know.
His most recent novel concerns Nestor Camacho, a policeman who arrests a Cuban refugee yards from American soil, causing a crisis in Miami.
This clue should reward anyone who keeps up with contemporary fiction, as this novel was prominently reviewed in major literary periodicals and newspapers.
This author wrote a collection named for an essay about Ed Roth and California’s custom car culture,
This clue refers to the title essay of The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby, which is a prominent Wolfe book. People who didn't know the earlier clues should be able to start putting the pieces of the answerline together now.
as well as the novel Back to Blood.
Now, you get the novel's title, which should be a buzz point for some players.
He pioneered “New Journalism”
This is a major Tom Wolfe achievement, and if you know what New Journalism is, you've narrowed down the answer to a select few people now.
in books such as The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby.
And now, the title of The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby, which was described earlier, and a bigger buzz point.
For 10 points, name this American author of A Man in Full and The Bonfire of the Vanities.
Major novels by Tom Wolfe are finally mentioned to allow everyone who knows them to buzz in.

In short, I would not be surprised if a player buzzed on any of these clues, because I'm confident that they're all concrete and reward different levels of knowledge about Tom Wolfe. Additionally, Tom Wolfe is a better answer than something harder like "The Last American Hero" because a tossup on that would almost certainly go dead anywhere and would have to disguise the fact that it's an essay about NASCAR. To make this point further, there are many different types of clues about an answer like Tom Wolfe. His essays, his novels, his journalism, his public debates are all fruitful sources of clues since it's probable that players have some exposure to them, in contrast to a minor figure like Edward Eggleston (please don't write tossups on this guy).

Anyway, this is a long enough post, but I hope this is helpful, and I look forward to any reactions.
Jonathan Magin
Montgomery Blair HS '04, University of Maryland '08
Editor: ACF

"noted difficulty controller"

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