the quizbowl canon

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the quizbowl canon

Post by grapesmoker »

I wanted to branch this off from the discussion of the ICT because I think this is a worthy enough topic in and of itself.

I have kind of a long post that I've been preparing in order to express my thoughts on "the canon," but I'm curious as to what other people think of it. Namely, the questions I want to explore are: do we have a quizbowl canon? Should we? How is the canon determined? How easy is it for new players to learn it? Anyway, I want to hear people's thoughts on these and related issues before I go boring you all with too many words.
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Post by BuzzerZen »

I shot Jason Mueller out of the quiz bowl canon.
[ducks]
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Post by grapesmoker »

BuzzerZen wrote:I shot Jason Mueller out of the quiz bowl canon.
[ducks]
Stand still while I return the favor, you comedy genius, you.
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Post by Sima Guang Hater »

Does quizbowl have a canon? How is it determined?
-Yes, in a sense, IMHO. From my limited observation, it seems like quizbowl questions have an evolutionary character, i.e., a particular question will spawn more questions like it, and (in a sort of analogue to he Red Queen Effect) clues from questions will spawn their own questions (Cloudcoocooland from "The Wasps" tossups, Paschen-Back effect from "Zeeman" tossups come to mind from this years' ACF nats). In that sense, there seems to be a canon in that there is a population of answer choices and clues that evolve with time, and its determined by what's been asked, what people learn about what has been asked, and what new developments take place (new Booker Prizewinners, etc).


Should we have a canon?
-It feels almost inevitable; a lot of questions that I've written, for example, are about things that I've heard of in previous tournaments that I wanted to learn more about. People say, "Hey, that clue/answer sounded interesting, I'm going to go write something on it". I know this doesn't really answer the question, but I'll leave it to the heavyweights who actually know "the canon" to debate its merits.

How easy is it for new players to learn it?
-I consider myself a very new player (sophmore, didn't play much real quizbowl in high school). My knowledge of the canon is quite limited, but I don't find it hard to learn, necessarily, in the sense that its an approachable task that I enjoy doing. But the time necessary to read or read about all of the fiction on an NAQT frequency list, for example, is phenomenal. Its not hard to learn it, but it takes a lot of work, and that's the point; quizbowl rewards you with points for your hard work. So yes, its hard in one way, and its not hard in another.

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Post by Mr. Kwalter »

ToStrikeInfinitely wrote:stuff
While Cloud Cuckoo Land is from the wasps like Piaget is from France, Mr. Infinitely is definitely on the right track. Yeah, there's a canon. There's a group of things on which tossup(s) at accredited tournaments have been. I do think that's where we draw the line at the basic canon, though. Things on which there have been tossups. I say this because when we see a tossup on, say, cloud cuckoo land, we call it canon expansion. There is, of course, a peripheral canon made up of things that are worth mentioning in bonuses but may not be cardinal enough to merit tossups. For instance, many of us have seen multiple tossups on Kanem-Bornu. That topic is solidly canonical, as it was present at ACF Nationals 2007, Jerry Singles (a dubious canonical distinction perhaps) and a couple of older ACF tournaments. That being said, while its most famous King, Idris Alooma, is important and often near the giveaway for tossups on Kanem-Bornu, I don't think there has ever been a tossup on him. It is here that we come to bonuses. A bonus on Kanem Bornu would obviously be acceptable. If we take Kanem-Bornu as the easy 10, then the second part could clearly be Idris Alooma. That's easily a nationals level bonus, as not only is Kanem-Bornu only suitable as a tossup at an ACF nats-level tournament, using it as the "easy" 10 means there's gonna be a third part harder than Idris Alooma. You could use lake Chad as the other part if you wanted to make it easier, but if not, you could expand the peripheral canon. I don't think there has ever been a bonus part on noted Kanem-Bornu capital Ngazargamu, for instance. Probably for the best.

To explain my idea of the "peripheral canon," I put forth a rule for canon expansion provided to me a while ago by the ever wise Chris Romero. In order to justify a tossup on a given subject, there should be three mentions of that subject in bonuses present in tournaments created by reliable editors. In order to justify a bonus part on something, that thing should have been a clue in at least three tossups. So if you can find Ngazargamu as a clue in three tossups on anything, then at least in theory it should be acceptable as the hard part of a bonus. Now, this needs to be mediated by common sense, but it seems like a decent way to control the gradual introduction of material into the canon.

An example of a time when this rule is commonly violated (in some cases necessarily so) would be contemporary literature. If I wanted to include a bonus part on, say, Anita Desai, I'd have trouble finding mention of her in a tossup, even though she's a very reputable author. In such a case perhaps it is at the discretion of the question author to include the person in the bonus. She shouldn't be a tossup, though, at least not right away. Just like we shouldn't go around writing tossups on last year's booker winner in academic tournaments (trash fine, in fact I fully support such ventures as long as they're marked as trash). For this reason I took issue with the entire bonus on Edward P. Jones at Nationals. The Known World was a pretty good book and very popular, but if we're gonna introduce Edward P. Jones to the canon, perhaps it should be a little more gradual.

Anyway, yes, there's a canon. Yes, there should be. It's not confined to frequency lists or any such nonsense, but it can be observed empirically by going through packets. Expansion of it is ok, but it should be extremely limited and go through a strict approval process.

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Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed »

I'm a big fan of the status quo, as I've expressed on numerous occasions.
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Post by grapesmoker »

Bruce wrote:I'm a big fan of the status quo, as I've expressed on numerous occasions.
What is the status quo? I'm asking seriously because I'm not sure what that entails.
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Post by No Rules Westbrook »

Well, of course, I'm a huge fan of the canon...and I think that a big key for newer players and any player really is to have them gain an appreciation of what the canon is, instead of just having them listen to a flood of answers and buzz on the things they happen to have encountered or know about. This entails that they have access to and study the worthwhile tourneys that have taken place at least in the last four years (earlier too, though obviously that's more dicey).

Kwartler's description is pretty good. When I see a bonus on Edward Jones, I think "that seems hard" because I don't think I've ever seen him appear as tu or bonus answer (now, rather recent lit is a subject where that can happen and be just fine, as was mentioned, so it's not that surprising). But, if I were to see an organic chem reaction tossup answer that I'd not seen a previous tu or bonus answer on, I'd rightly think "that's very hard."

A big part of what makes me a little...let's say less restrained...than many of my colleagues when it comes to difficulty etc. is that after I see something come up three or four times as a middle clue in a tossup or as a bonus answer, I tend to think "well, time to write the first tossup on this." The objection to this that people a little more pragmatic than I might make is that this sort of "progressively expanding canon" makes it very difficult for beginning players. The people who are already "on the trolley" can move forward with some scant effort, but it creates a greater hurdle for people tackling the canon from the start.

Still, I'm convinced that this bulging canon is not a problem, but that we really need to hammer home how important the canon is as a concept. People need to see that what's happening is a methodical and reasonable outward push and not a haphazard blitz of random information; they need to be provided with enough material so that they can see where the canon is and where it's going. Then, when they see a tossup on Idris Alooma (a perfect example), they can think "well, big deal, I know Kanem-Bornu and he's a dead giveaway clue for that - so it's hardly any tougher than Kanem itself." Then, with due time, maybe they think that about whatever is the corresponding clue for Idris Alooma. Instead, a lot of times the result is that people get their panties in a bunch and yell "isn't asking for some guy in the Kanem-Bornu overreaching?...I mean, come on, what's next, asking for King Impossible III of the nonexistent Blargifargian tribe?" They need to see that Idris Alooma is "next" because it makes sense for him to be next (at acf nats), not because some off-his-rocker loonball like me simply decided that he was super cool (which he assuredly is, but that's neither here nor there).

Now, I'm not saying as I'm sure people will protest that everything that appears in previous packets is gold and we should learn it like it's the...er, won't say Bible...the collected works of Ayn Rand. No, we should write on "important" and "interesting" things and all that jazz - however we define those terms. If someone writes a tossup on something that's just not important or stupid, then we should say "this is silly" and cut that line of questions off. But, the canon as such is an invaluable reference point that more people should be taught to digest, and the result of such digestion might be less quibbling and disagreement in general about stuff that comes up.

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Post by cvdwightw »

Warning, long post.

I think having a quiz bowl canon is absolutely necessary, for the sole purpose of defining exactly what is important and what isn't. I don't think we have a set "canon", though. Beyond things universally agreed upon as canonical (e.g. major works of Shakespeare, introductory organic chemistry reactions), there is a vast gray matter of what should be canonical and what shouldn't. I remember Matt Weiner's list of things that would never come up as answers at his tournaments included the Khazars, which were the subject of a perfectly fine tossup in Editors 1 at ACF Nationals. So, unless the writer of that question was deliberately "expanding the canon" (which I doubt), there is a clear difference in opinion between Matt Weiner and one of the ACF editors over whether "Khazars" is canonical.

I don't think we can explicitly define the canon, because there are all sorts of differences like this among prominent writers/editors. However, I think the canon can be defined in terms of what people at a certain tournament are expected to know. The "canon", for any given level, is what the target audience for that level is expected to know. Asking a question about Par Lagerkvist at a novice tournament is probably ridiculous, and not really "canonical", but there have been at least 2 bonuses on him and a tossup on one of his works at previous ACF Nationals. Does this make him slide down to the Regionals canon based on "three mentions at ACF Nationals" criterion?

So, I think there are really three tiers to the canon:
1. "Definitely canonical", which is essentially stuff you would expect as tossup answers or easy parts of ACF Fall bonuses. Generally, a match between two novice teams with good general knowledge (but not necessarily good quiz bowl knowledge) should see almost all of the questions in this category be converted.
2. "Usually Canonical" entails having come up at several reputable tournaments as tossup answers, but still being obscure/difficult enough that non-specialists are likely to have acquired this knowledge through playing quiz bowl and having heard/written questions on it (as opposed to stuff that people would reasonably be expected to know from lower-division courses, which should almost certainly be in category 1). Some stuff shows up more often than others, so this might further be divided into "comes up about once a tournament" and "occasionally comes up", which I term "gettable" and "heard-of-able" (as in stuff we should have heard of), respectively. Note that this category contains a lot of things which we might consider "easy" but are really the result of having heard it come up over and over, and that a novice with good knowledge but not good quiz bowl knowledge is likely to let it go dead.
3. "Peripherally canonical", which as Eric mentioned is stuff that either keeps coming up as clues or is important to actual classroom study (and reasonably tested in the standard quiz bowl format) but that no one has written a tossup on. It may be as obscure as Idris Alooma or as obvious as the sodium-potassium pump. I would say things like modern literature and engineering topics go here, because they're certainly important, but don't fit into categories 1 or 2.

Most tournaments' "difficulty" is really the proportion of stuff in categories 1, 2, and 3. This isn't to say that stuff in category 1 shouldn't come up at ACF Nats, but that we should expect a heavy dose of stuff at the more obscure end of category 2 and some stuff in category 3. Conversely, a novice tournament should have much in category 1, some in category 2, and very little in category 3.

So, given this, it should be fairly easy for new players to learn the canon. As someone who came into college with a good grasp on the then-high school canon, I am at the point where I could reasonably convert on average between 16 and 18 out of 20 ACF Regionals tossups against an empty chair, which I consider reasonable mastery of the canon in terms of answer choice. I'd imagine that after three or four years of playing (or less if you're at a good program with good players who make you write lots of questions) people start to really master category 2; that is, by the time most people are done playing at the undergraduate level, they have a good idea of what comes up and what doesn't.

If this is true, then why aren't we seeing evidence of it? The bigger obstacle to new players mastering the canon is the canon of clues. This is much harder to define than the canon of answer choices, and contributes to a steeper learning curve. After three or four years you've heard enough tossups to know that certain things come up, but it's an entirely different thing to master the set of giveaways for a given answer, then the set of mid-level clues. To give an example, at some point in my freshman year I learned that this thing called the Zeeman effect was more or less canonical. After this I started to learn clues so that I could actually get questions on the Zeeman effect without guessing. I still haven't mastered the mid-level clues for it; I invariably get beat to it by people who have. There then needs to be some stratification in this part of the canon too; between giveaways (things that most people who have heard of it should be able to get it off of), mid-level clues (things that some people who have heard of it should be able to get it off of), and lead-ins, or alternatively, easy, medium, and hard parts of bonuses. Now, granted, this system of stratification is more-or-less in place now. But if we're going to define when answers truly enter the canon, we also need to define when clues trickle down from lead-in to mid-level and mid-level to giveaway. Does "I've heard that lead-in at three tournaments" mean we need to make it a mid-level clue?

So, really, it's a two-step process to mastering the canon. First, there's the answer choices themselves, and then there's the clues for those answers, which (unless you write a question on something) you learn pretty much starting at the giveaways and working your way up through the mid-level clues. It's not enough to have completely mastered "the canon" of answer choices if you don't know any clues that go with it. Someone could write a ridiculously difficult question on Henry James or George Washington. It's not necessarily a good idea, but it could be done. Would that be canonical? The answer is certainly canonical, but if the clues aren't it doesn't help anyone.

So the idea of a single canon just doesn't work in my book. There needs to be two separate canons, one for answers and one for their associated clues. Furthermore, each of these should be stratified. Knowing that certain things will come up, and what clues can reasonably be expected for those things, will give newer players a sense of familiarity that the stuff they're not getting now is going to keep showing up and that maybe if they remember one or two things about it they'll get it next time. Having a "canon" is important, but the concept of a "canon" is too complex to simply say that some answers are canonical and others aren't.

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Post by ArloLyle »

I'm not sure how much this helps the discussion, but I find interesting how the canon seems to evolve. I've been playing college level quiz bowl for about 6 years now and I had to wait 4 years to hear a Yukio Mishima question. Now I hear them rather frequently. The same with Yevgeni Yevtushenko. I've even heard some questions on them at some of the high school tournaments we have hosted. On the same token, its seemed like when I started out there was a Amahl and the Night Visitors or Menotti question at every tournament I went to. Now I can't remember the last time I heard one.

If a new college player is good, they will more than likely be caring over a lot of knowledge from high school which will help them in college. Also, if they go to a decent number of tournaments and/or their team has a good amount of fairly recent tournament packets to practice on, they can easily pick up on topics that are in the canon.

A canon is inevitable, because no matter who you are or where you go to school there are topics you are going to learn in school that most everyone else is learning too, and most people write questions on what they know. Though that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to step out of the canon at times, within reason of course. Obviously I'm not going to write a question about a book some yokel from my hometown of Booneville, AR wrote, but to take an example from recent lit I think Kazuo Ishiguro and Richard Russo are fair game, but rarely come up (at least at the tournaments I've been to).

The problem is, and this is inevitable too, that people fall back on the canon. They are trying to finish a packet at 2am for some deadline and need a Chinese lit question or 17th century Italian composers question or whatever. People in that situation aren't going to spend the time to research a "new" question, they are going to think back to some question they heard in the past and change it.

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Post by theMoMA »

Canon talk!

I talked about this before, but I really think it's true. The college canon expands a lot compared to the high school canon because of the turnover inherent in the high school ranks. I think this scares away a lot of new blood that would otherwise put effort into becoming good players. There's an aspect of intimidation to the high-level canon that can undermine players before they start to get good. Most talented high school players who choose not to play in college are lost causes who have been coasting on natural ability and refuse to put in the work, but there is a distinct segment of players who don't know they can be good because the canon is intimidating.

A challenging canon is a great thing. But I do think that the attitude of trial by canonical ordeal is draining talent from the ranks. To the entering player, the canon really looks hard. It's easy for me to see why dedicated high school players could believe that getting good is hopeless. We need to be supportive: have a hearty 'you can do it!' attitude to go along with canon expansion.

Also, we need to make sure that the trickle-down effect doesn't make the leap from the fairly static high school difficulty to the potentially expanding novice college set harder than it already is. Answers at all tournaments (but especially at novice tournaments) should be defined not only by what is askable at higher levels, but by what is being asked at lower levels as well.

Regarding canon expansion. I don't think a hard canon is the way to go. I want leniency to write innovative questions at any level of play. At the same time, I think there are examples of expansion for expansion's sake. I would like to suggest that when an answer seems overused and expansion necessary, we try to use a policy of internal canon expansion. In other words, if Catcher in the Rye is a tired answer, write a question of Phoebe Caulfield. Answers become tired when people know a lot about them. It makes sense to delve into the major points of such answers to create new questions instead of pulling answers from higher difficulties or thin air.

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Post by ecks »

theMoMA wrote:Most talented high school players who choose not to play in college are lost causes who have been coasting on natural ability and refuse to put in the work, but there is a distinct segment of players who don't know they can be good because the canon is intimidating.
I would hesitate to say this. I know at least a few guys in high school who were quite good at quiz bowl and put in a lot of effort (e.g., memorizing all the presidents/vice presidents/dates/what religion they were/homestates before a tournament because in the previous tournament we had lost a match on a question about Van Buren) but didn't decide to play in college (for the president-memorizing-guy, it's because he was a Biomechanical Engineering/Chemistry double major at Johns Hopkins).

Anyway, I guess that was a long way of saying that are multiple reasons why good high school players don't play in college: not enough dedication to quizbowl (which is almost, but not quite, what you said; it doesn't have to be laziness), a feeling that college quiz bowl just isn't as fun as it was in high school (which I've heard from a lot of people), or simply the lack of a program altogether (although not starting one up by themselves might relate back to the 'dedication' reason).

Or, in summation, anecdotal evidence, anecdotal evidence, anecdotal evidence.
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Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

Something I've noticed about the evolving canon - I've read pyramidal tossups from the early-mid 90s with the very first clue being something that is now towards the end of a question simply because that clue has become ingrained in quizbowl since those questions were asked.
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Post by No Rules Westbrook »

I would like to predict that, if this thread continues and people (outside of the 10-15 usual suspects) keep sharing there feelings about what is canon and what isn't, it will do a splendid job of proving my whole point: that people have only a foggy and distorted idea of what the "real canon" is, and therein lies our problem.

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Post by Frater Taciturnus »

My friends and I sang the quizbowl canon.
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Post by Mr. Kwalter »

ArloLyle wrote:I'm not sure how much this helps the discussion, but I find interesting how the canon seems to evolve. I've been playing college level quiz bowl for about 6 years now and I had to wait 4 years to hear a Yukio Mishima question.
That's bizarre.
On the same token, its seemed like when I started out there was a Amahl and the Night Visitors or Menotti question at every tournament I went to. Now I can't remember the last time I heard one.
I'm pretty sure I wrote an Amelia Goes to the Ball question sometime in the last year. Not to mention, things have peaks and valleys. If Menotti has been going through a vacant period then maybe you'll start seeing more of him in qb. This especially works because good writers like to write on things that are clearly canonical but may not come up all that much at a given time.
Obviously I'm not going to write a question about a book some yokel from my hometown of Booneville, AR wrote, but to take an example from recent lit I think Kazuo Ishiguro and Richard Russo are fair game, but rarely come up (at least at the tournaments I've been to).
Kazuo Ishiguro and Remains of the Day are fine literature tossups. He's kind of an anomaly that way along with a few others (J.M. Coetzee, for instance, or Salman Rushdie). Richard Russo is trash, just like, say, Never Let Me Go is trash. If you want to try to change that, mention him as a part in a literature bonus and maybe you'll have some success.
The problem is, and this is inevitable too, that people fall back on the canon. They are trying to finish a packet at 2am for some deadline and need a Chinese lit question or 17th century Italian composers question or whatever. People in that situation aren't going to spend the time to research a "new" question, they are going to think back to some question they heard in the past and change it.
For one thing, why is "falling back on the canon" a problem? Shouldn't the first impulse be to write on something that has come up as a tossup before rather than expand the canon? Also, I'm pretty sure most good writers don't just think back to osme question they heard in the past and "change it." If anything that situation leads to them writing in their niche areas, which doesn't remotely preclude canon expansion.

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Post by Birdofredum Sawin »

Kit Cloudkicker wrote: Kazuo Ishiguro and Remains of the Day are fine literature tossups. He's kind of an anomaly that way along with a few others (J.M. Coetzee, for instance, or Salman Rushdie). Richard Russo is trash, just like, say, Never Let Me Go is trash. If you want to try to change that, mention him as a part in a literature bonus and maybe you'll have some success.
Um, how is Ishiguro "fine literature" while Never Let Me Go is "trash"? I don't get how that is supposed to work.

More generally, a minor point: contemporary literary fiction is, in fact, "literature" for the purposes of the game. There's really no good way to define questions on Coetzee or DeLillo as "literature, but anomalous literature" while eliminating questions on Ishiguro or Bret Easton Ellis from the "canon." The only criterion that could rule out the latter would have to be something like "they haven't stood the test of time," but that would also rule out the former.

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Post by ArloLyle »

I thoroughly disagree that Richard Russo is trash, but thats not a conversation for this thread.

The problem I see with falling back on the canon is that a lot of people out there writing questions are mediocre question writers, myself included. Good question writers aren't a problem, otherwise they wouldn't be good question writers :)

As for a question writer's first impulse to be writing on topics that have come up before I disagree, but then again I disagree with a lot of "quizbowl convention". As I mentioned earlier I think a canon is inevitable, but I don't think that means it should be explicitly perpetuated. Expanding or evolving the canon, in my opinion, makes the game more fun. I'm not talking about expanding it to cover trash or stuff no one knows. There are plenty of acceptable topics out there that I don't recall ever coming up at tournaments I've been to. When I write questions I try to throw in a few questions like that. Maybe people hate me for it, but I try to write questions I would enjoy playing myself. This is probably why I've never been more than just a decent player, because I'm not big on "learning the canon". I enjoy variety and hearing questions on topics that haven't been asked before. Hmm, I'm rambling.

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Post by Mr. Kwalter »

Birdofredum Sawin wrote:
Kit Cloudkicker wrote: Kazuo Ishiguro and Remains of the Day are fine literature tossups. He's kind of an anomaly that way along with a few others (J.M. Coetzee, for instance, or Salman Rushdie). Richard Russo is trash, just like, say, Never Let Me Go is trash. If you want to try to change that, mention him as a part in a literature bonus and maybe you'll have some success.
Um, how is Ishiguro "fine literature" while Never Let Me Go is "trash"? I don't get how that is supposed to work.

More generally, a minor point: contemporary literary fiction is, in fact, "literature" for the purposes of the game. There's really no good way to define questions on Coetzee or DeLillo as "literature, but anomalous literature" while eliminating questions on Ishiguro or Bret Easton Ellis from the "canon." The only criterion that could rule out the latter would have to be something like "they haven't stood the test of time," but that would also rule out the former.
I was making an empirical observation. According to the observable rules of the canon, tossups on Ishiguro and/or Remains of the Day (maybe also pale view of hills) are acceptable, but tossups on Richard Russo or later works of Ishiguro are not. If we want to standardize things, fine, get rid of the tossups on Ishiguro and Coetzee and Dellilo, I'm just saying that such is the quizbowl canon that currently those things are acceptable for the lit distribution.

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Post by ArloLyle »

Birdofredum Sawin wrote: More generally, a minor point: contemporary literary fiction is, in fact, "literature" for the purposes of the game. There's really no good way to define questions on Coetzee or DeLillo as "literature, but anomalous literature" while eliminating questions on Ishiguro or Bret Easton Ellis from the "canon." The only criterion that could rule out the latter would have to be something like "they haven't stood the test of time," but that would also rule out the former.
I wasn't going to say anything more about this, but since someone else brought it up. All the contemporary authors we mentioned here, except Ellis, have won major literary awards. Does Oprah picking The Road for her book club diminish Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer? I don't think so. If someone has won a Pulitzer, National Book Award, Booker Prize, etc, they are fair game for a lit question in my opinion.

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Post by Mr. Kwalter »

ArloLyle wrote:I wasn't going to say anything more about this, but since someone else brought it up. All the contemporary authors we mentioned here, except Ellis, have won major literary awards. Does Oprah picking The Road for her book club diminish Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer? I don't think so. If someone has won a Pulitzer, National Book Award, Booker Prize, etc, they are fair game for a lit question in my opinion.
That is patently ridiculous. The 2006 winner of the National Book Award was (apparently, I had to look it up) The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. Maybe you, Dan Passner, and Andrew have read that, I dunno, but to me it's not remotely question worthy. Neither is, I'd say, the 2006 pulitzer winner, Geraldine Brooks' March. I could go on for a long time about awards, they mean nothing when it comes to canonicity.

That being said, by "trash" I clearly didn't mean unworthy of anyone's time. Empire Falls was a fine novel. But if I saw a tossup on Richard Russo in a packet I'd expect it to be trash, while I'd expect a tossup on Coetzee, Rushdie, Ishiguro, maybe The God of Small Things, or a few other select anomalies to be included as literature. The reason for their anomalous treatment in qb is simple--the critical world divides contemporary award winners into two categories, "literary" and "non-literary," without expressly saying so. Disgrace, many Rushdie novels, The Remains of the Day, and The God of Small Things are now relatively commonly taught in both high school and college classrooms. The dichotomy is inevitable, and those that end up coming down on the "literary" side critically end up that way in qb as well.

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Post by Matt Weiner »

Kit Cloudkicker wrote:I was making an empirical observation. According to the observable rules of the canon, tossups on Ishiguro and/or Remains of the Day (maybe also pale view of hills) are acceptable, but tossups on Richard Russo or later works of Ishiguro are not.
I don't see how this works. I've never heard of Ishiguro's academic relevance being challenged, and the rule to me has always seemed to be that all of an author's works are in if the author himself is in. Asking on a very recent novel like Never Let Me Go certainly is more difficult than asking about Ishiguro or Remains of the Day, but it would hardly be seen as bizarre or unexpected.

To Arlo: Not trying to be insulting, just honest--go to more good tournaments. Mishima is probably one of the 10 most common authors who comes up because almost everyone writes on him for the world lit requirement. He's the most famous author in quizbowl's most well-known non-Western literary culture. There are dozens of tossups on him, The Sea of Fertility, and The Temple of the Golden Pavilion; there are bonuses on those answers with a harder work (often Confessions of a Mask) all the time; there was a tossup on The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea at ACF Nationals this year.

Bret Easton Ellis writes books about serial killers and evil bisexual college students that are known via movies starring that guy from Dawson's Creek, come up at trash tournaments, and sell a million copies to people whose other reading consists of Harry Potter and Wheel of Time books. I consider that trash. Sure it's canonical because it still comes up all the time, but I think it belongs in the trash canon and not the lit canon, just like Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

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Post by ArloLyle »

Matt Weiner wrote:To Arlo: Not trying to be insulting, just honest--go to more good tournaments. Mishima is probably one of the 10 most common authors who comes up because almost everyone writes on him for the world lit requirement. He's the most famous author in quizbowl's most well-known non-Western literary culture. There are dozens of tossups on him, The Sea of Fertility, and The Temple of the Golden Pavilion; there are bonuses on those answers with a harder work (often Confessions of a Mask) all the time; there was a tossup on The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea at ACF Nationals this year.
No insult taken. The first four years of my experience were at Tulsa and the number of tournaments held in that area was relatively small at the time. It has gotten better over time and especially since I left and the variety of tournaments here on the east coast is better, so that probably explains why I've heard so many questions on him in the latter half of my playing experience. Unfortunately I'm graduating in a month and don't have immediate plans for getting a PhD, so I'll be restricted to Trash and open tournaments.
Kit Cloudkicker wrote: That is patently ridiculous. The 2006 winner of the National Book Award was (apparently, I had to look it up) The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. Maybe you, Dan Passner, and Andrew have read that, I dunno, but to me it's not remotely question worthy. Neither is, I'd say, the 2006 pulitzer winner, Geraldine Brooks' March. I could go on for a long time about awards, they mean nothing when it comes to canonicity.
I'm not saying that these books deserve to be in the canon. My point is that they are literature, and by that measure should not restricted from being used in a tournament or two. Unless you are saying that the only questions that should be used in academic questions are those in the canon. Again I disagree, but I wouldn't be surprised if some people thought that.

I haven't actually read The Echo Maker, but I am familiar with it and try to be familiar with all the winners of the major literary awards as a fan of reading. I was a CS major, currently an AI masters student and haven't taken a lit class since high school, so I don't think that stuff is too hard, but thats me. I've heard a lot more obscure lit questions at NAQT and ACF tournaments.

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Post by Mr. Kwalter »

ArloLyle wrote:I'm not saying that these books deserve to be in the canon. My point is that they are literature, and by that measure should not restricted from being used in a tournament or two. Unless you are saying that the only questions that should be used in academic questions are those in the canon. Again I disagree, but I wouldn't be surprised if some people thought that.

I haven't actually read The Echo Maker, but I am familiar with it and try to be familiar with all the winners of the major literary awards as a fan of reading. I was a CS major, currently an AI masters student and haven't taken a lit class since high school, so I don't think that stuff is too hard, but thats me. I've heard a lot more obscure lit questions at NAQT and ACF tournaments.
Yeah, actually, I am saying that pretty much the only questions that should be used in most academic tournaments are those with canonical answers. You cannot go vandalizing the canon because your favorite author (and maybe lots of people's favorite author) isn't included. For what it's worth I'd love to see Richard Russo in the canon, I think he deserves to be there. I've definitely seen trash tossups on him before. So maybe I'll write a bonus that includes him but, at the very least, allows most teams to get 10 points without any Richard Russo knowledge. You seem to continue to confuse "hard" with "canonical." Tossups on works that are more "obscure" than The Echo Maker are fine because they're still in the canon. Richard Powers and his books are not.

Also, Andrew, I'm curious. If you think Never Let Me Go is an acceptable answer in the lit distribution, why were there tossups on The Terrorist and The Road at CO trash I think 2006?

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Post by Birdofredum Sawin »

Kit Cloudkicker wrote: Yeah, actually, I am saying that pretty much the only questions that should be used in most academic tournaments are those with canonical answers. You cannot go vandalizing the canon because your favorite author (and maybe lots of people's favorite author) isn't included. For what it's worth I'd love to see Richard Russo in the canon, I think he deserves to be there. I've definitely seen trash tossups on him before. So maybe I'll write a bonus that includes him but, at the very least, allows most teams to get 10 points without any Richard Russo knowledge. You seem to continue to confuse "hard" with "canonical." Tossups on works that are more "obscure" than The Echo Maker are fine because they're still in the canon. Richard Powers and his books are not.

Also, Andrew, I'm curious. If you think Never Let Me Go is an acceptable answer in the lit distribution, why were there tossups on The Terrorist and The Road at CO trash I think 2006?
Richard Paul Russo, the author of sci-fi books, is "clearly" trash. Richard Russo, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Empire Falls (and one of the funniest novels of the last two decades, Straight Man) is to my mind academic. However, he isn't "canonical," if only because nobody (as far as I know) has asked about him. If people start including him in bonus parts, he can worm his way into the literary canon just as surely as someone like Ishiguro has.

There seems to me a confusion between what is or is not "academic" and what is or is not "canonical." Richard Russo, Richard Powers (who sucks, but who is surely at least as important a contemporary American novelist as, say, Ishiguro is a contemporary British novelist), Bret Easton Ellis, and Don DeLillo are all "academic." People read them in classes, they write dissertations on them, conference papers are delivered on their work, etc. Of these, however, only DeLillo is completely "canonical," because there have been a ton of questions on him (many of which were written by me). But any of them are potentially canonical, if people start writing questions about them and their books. In the same way, Jose Saramago and Imre Kertesz are equivalently "academic," but only Saramago is canonical. You can ask tossups on him at lower-level tournaments, and tossups on his major books at ACF nationals, but a tossup on Kertesz's Fateless at any level is pretty clearly out of bounds. However, if we see a rash of Kertesz questions over the next few years, then he too will enter the canon.

By the way, it gives me pleasure to agree for a change with Matt when he says "the rule to me has always seemed to be that all of an author's works are in if the author himself is in. Asking on a very recent novel like Never Let Me Go certainly is more difficult than asking about Ishiguro or Remains of the Day, but it would hardly be seen as bizarre or unexpected." That seems exactly right to me. Pynchon is squarely in the canon, so we don't have to wait years before we can start asking about Against the Day.

As for my decision to write tossups on Everyman and Terrorist for last year's Keller trash tournament (I wrote on The Road for IO last fall), they were both included as tossups on "current bestsellers." Also, they were part of my "deliberately infuriating TRASH purists" quota, and as such should perhaps more properly be grouped with the tossup on Matt Weiner's head.

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Post by Mr. Kwalter »

Birdofredum Sawin wrote:As for my decision to write tossups on Everyman and Terrorist for last year's Keller trash tournament (I wrote on The Road for IO last fall), they were both included as tossups on "current bestsellers." Also, they were part of my "deliberately infuriating TRASH purists" quota, and as such should perhaps more properly be grouped with the tossup on Matt Weiner's head.
I fully support this pursuit.

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Post by MikeWormdog »

I wrote a Richard Russo tossup for this past year's BOB tournament. It probably wasn't perfect, but don't recall anyone griping too much about it or thinking it was overly difficult. If someone wants to dig it out and post it, I wouldn't object. By the way, I agree with Andrew's assessment of Straight Man.

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Post by Mr. Kwalter »

MikeWormdog wrote:I wrote a Richard Russo tossup for this past year's BOB tournament. It probably wasn't perfect, but don't recall anyone griping too much about it or thinking it was overly difficult. If someone wants to dig it out and post it, I wouldn't object. By the way, I agree with Andrew's assessment of Straight Man.
4. His funniest novel is set at a middling Pennsylvania college and centers on English professor Hank Devereaux who threatens, while being interviewed on TV, to kill a duck a day until he receives his departmental budget. That work is Straight Man, and similar dissatisfied middle-aged men living in dying industrial towns are the protagonists in Mohawk and a work turned into a Paul Newman movie entitled Nobody’s Fool. His most famous novel revolves around Miles Roby’s dealings with Mrs. Whiting, the manipulative widow of an industrialist in the title Maine town. FTP name this American novelist who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls.
Answer: Richard Russo

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Post by No Rules Westbrook »

Blah Blah...Contemporary Lit...Blah Blah...I Read Books!...Blah Blah.

For the record, I agree with Andrew and Matt (if I were Andrew, I'd note how unspeakably rare that is). The authors mentioned are either clearly "in" or clearly "out" of the canon as it exists today; that can change as time passes if they work their way in by the process I outlined above. But, "contemporary lit" is a pretty peripheral topic and it's the exception rather than the rule when it comes to canon dvelopment anyway. So I don't really see much of an issue here outside of the usual "hey, I like this author!...oh yeah, what about this author, he's totally the coolest!...this author won an award!...this one uses words!" snoozefest.

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Post by waspman23 »

The "canon" should be everything available in your average university library, as long as enough distinguishing facts are available on the subject.

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Post by grapesmoker »

waspman23 wrote:The "canon" should be everything available in your average university library, as long as enough distinguishing facts are available on the subject.
Is everything at the university library equally accessible to all players? Surely that's not the argument you're trying to make, is it?
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Post by Kyle »

Hey, I bet I could find something in one of our 83 libraries so obscure that it has never come up in any quizbowl tournament and that no one on the circuit could answer a tossup on it.

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Post by Mr. Kwalter »

Stop boasting you elitist fool!!! He said an average university library, which clearly has only 3 novels by Edith Wharton and no books whatsoever on the Kings of Kanem-Bornu.

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Post by grapesmoker »

Brown has a special library devoted to all of John Hay's private papers. Dividing the number of said papers by the number of university libraries in the United States clearly implies that John Hay's writings should come up at least once every tournament.

I encourage you all to prepare for ACF Nationals 2008 by reading Castillian Days.
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Post by dtaylor4 »

UIUC's library has every single Playboy ever printed (Hef's an alum, and a teammate of mine works in the library), so I hope you read up on those 'articles.'

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Post by Captain Sinico »

waspman23 wrote:The "canon" should be everything available in your average university library, as long as enough distinguishing facts are available on the subject.
No.

MaS

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Post by Aaron Kashtan »

grapesmoker wrote:Brown has a special library devoted to all of John Hay's private papers. Dividing the number of said papers by the number of university libraries in the United States clearly implies that John Hay's writings should come up at least once every tournament.

I encourage you all to prepare for ACF Nationals 2008 by reading Castillian Days.
If you're thinking of the John Hay Library, then it's not just devoted to John Hay's private papers. I happen to know that that library also contains a collection of comic books, a collection of historical documents relating to Brown University, and some books bound with human skin.

Logically, therefore, there ought to be more questions on comics, on Brown University, and on whatever information is contained in books bound with human skin.

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Post by Kyle »

[quote]What Thompson calls “the most famous of all anthropodermic bindingsâ€

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Post by Mr. Kwalter »

Kyle wrote:I just finished a tossup on "anthropodermic bibliopegy," but I had to scrap it because your "average" library doesn't have human-bound books. But Hahvahd has three. Take that, Kwartler.
Owned.

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