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ACF Regionals Commentary

Posted: Sun Feb 27, 2005 3:40 pm
by Theory Of The Leisure Flask
Now that Regionals are over and the results are tricking in, I'm curious as to what all of you thought of the set, and of the competition.

I guess I'll start things off with a couple brief comments: first, the only consistent complaint that our field seemed to have was the length of questions (both tossups and bonuses); it seems like it should be possible to trim a little fat when the average tossup length was 8-9 lines (and the average bonus part was pushing 3) and many questions were going until the giveaway in our region (I admit this may not be the case in, say the Midwest, so I'll try not to overstate any sort of case here. Even if the questions in ACF Fall were as long, they would have seemed shorter because we were answering earlier in the question.)

This was mainly a problem against Freeburg. Average tossup plan for those two matches:
1) Read three lines, Freeburg negs.
2) Read two lines, Freeburg figures out the answer.
3) Read two lines, we figure out the answer.
4) Read the last two lines, we vulch and 10 the bonus.

Difficulty wasn't really a problem; the tossups seemed fairly consistently accessible, though in many cases it was the kind of "college-canon" accessible that could theoretically dicourage unwarned novices. (Again, not really a problem, since Regionals isn't aimed towards that crowd.) I would have personally hoped for easier bonuses, but that's mainly an artifact of some gaping holes in our team's makeup, where wide swaths of science and history are guaranteed 0's unless the easy part is really grab-your-ass.

Editing: Generally strong; I certainly appreciate the thorough job the ACF cabal did on our rather sad questions, and there were very few editing snafus. The only example of poor pyramidality I can think of off the top of my head was a "Fragile X" tossup that mentioned X in the first line. A few bonuses seemed to wildly fluctuate from the mean difficulty, but even the world's best editing crew will always have that problem (it's in my opinion the hardest part of the job). Overall, a commendable job.

Posted: Sun Feb 27, 2005 4:00 pm
by Skepticism and Animal Feed
Due to Andrew Yaphe's "second house team splits into two teams for playoff round" rule, I can now honestly say that I was on a team that went undefeated at ACF Regionals. That would be your Midwest lower bracket champion, Chicago C.

Take that, Mr. Mueller.

Re: ACF Regionals Commentary

Posted: Sun Feb 27, 2005 6:16 pm
by Captain Sinico
benjaminthedonkey wrote:The only example of poor pyramidality I can think of off the top of my head was a "Fragile X" tossup that mentioned X in the first line.
Yar. That's my fault. I'd meant to make it "locus q27.3" but I somehow left the "X" there, so it was "locus Xq27.3" which makes it a lot easier, doesn't it? I guess my brain just went on vacation for a few seconds there; sorry about that and thanks for pointing it out.
I'm glad you liked the rest, though. To be completely honest, I thought the science had a few shortcomings, but I'll leave them for others to point-out (being as I'm not editing for myself and have been known to guess this wrong... horribly wrong.) I agree with you entirely that the questions tended to be much too long, and that's something future tournaments will need to address for sure.


Posted: Sun Feb 27, 2005 7:04 pm
by grapesmoker
Mike, thanks for doing a great job on the science questions. I thought that this was a uniformly excellent set in terms of science.

Posted: Sun Feb 27, 2005 7:58 pm
by mrsmiley4
I kind of have to disagree on Jerry's assessment of the science questions (admittedly, I am a humanities person so I have a bias on questions of this type). For one thing, even leaving the quality of questions out of it, there seemed like a LOT more math/science questions than the 5/5 per packet asked for in the distribution. Not having seen the packets themselves I can't make a definitive pronouncement on this, but after about the 8th graph theory question which our team had no clue on the apparent prevalence began to get a little tiresome. I'd be curious to see the breakdown that was actually used in the Mid-Atlantic; is this just a function of the editors having a math/science bias and having to replace a large number of bad questions? (I have to admit that were I editing I'd probably be inclined to replace questions with humanities stuff, but this to me seems less problematic-- see below).

As for the quality of the science questions, I felt that they were particularly jargon-heavy, even for ACF. I admit that for pyramidality's sake there needs to be a certain amount of jargon, but usually non-specialists can at least figure out what a question is talking about by the end of it, which was not the case with a lot of the science on Saturday (and this particular complaint is not just the ramblings of a humanities geek-- a lot of chem and phys tossups went dead altogether in the rounds we played). There's something to be said for avoiding stuff like science biography and periodic table tossups, but there must be some kind of compromise that allows non-specialists to have a chance at getting hard-core science-- otherwise you're putting humanists at a severe disadvantage (I maintain that it is much easier for a science major to learn non-science quizbowl fields than vice-versa). To be fair, there were also a lot of good science questions, and I was even able to buzz early on some of them-- but most of the latter were on less-technical subjects such as CAM respiration and Arthropoda.

I'd also like to add my support to the complaint upthread about long questions (particularly on bonuses-- there's really no reason bonus clues should be more than 2 lines long), with an added complaint about what has been called "step-pyramidality." The set seemed to have an abundance of questions where the moderator would go on for 6 lines, then read a buzzer-race clue. Is the idea to see whose eyes are glazed over the least with this kind of question? Perhaps this isn't fair-- there's usually going to be SOMEONE who knows the early clues on any given subject-- but the "blah-blah-blah Egyptian River" phenomenon happened repeatedly in every match we played, suggesting the pervasiveness of the problem. (Also telling: I finished fourth in individual scoring at the Mid-Atlantic regional, and probably about 40% of the tossups I answered correctly were off of buzzer races.)

To be fair, editing questions for an entire nation's worth of tournaments is not something I would ever, ever want to do, and I have deep respect for the people who did take such a task upon themselves. Moreover, my complaints aside the questions were mostly consistent in terms of accessibility, which is more than I can say about a lot of packet-sub tournaments I've attended. Unfortunately, with the combined problems of excessive length and step-pyramidality, a lot of the questions were also boring-- which is almost worse than having the questions be bad.

Posted: Sun Feb 27, 2005 9:03 pm
by Rothlover
Initial comments, I thought the science tu answer selection was fine, I am not a science person and was able to get 7 science tus in 9 rounds before the giveaway (and my sci knowlege is pretty much stuff at the core of the canon, which should be asked about a lot.)

Lit tu answer selection tended to be incredibly accessible, certainly there was some stuff that was less canonical (and if you are going to have a current lit tu, it should be on something that doesn't belong in TRASH, like Charlotte Simmons, Kafka on the Shore, Plot Against America, Heir to the Glimmering World and several others would have been better, but thats a quibble, and since the final product is largely based on what people submit, harder to control.) I did feel that Shakespeare was underreprested in the packets I heard, with only tus on Corianus and Shakeseapean Sonnets making it in.

I do think that bonuses on the whole were too hard for a regionals level tournament, especially science, and I wasn't alone in our region with this complaint. I only broke down conversion by subject for my team, since thats obviously the only one I have complete details for, and our science ppb was barely over 2, and was 38% of our bonuses, which makes me wonder if the science bonuses were generally earlier in the packet (only 13% of our bonuses were lit.) I wonder if a little more ass finding on science bonuses should have been in order.

There was an overabundance of buzzer races in our region, but I would imagine this was due a lot to the use of tons of new clues (I'd never seen Max Nordau come up ever before in a packet, correct me if I'm wrong,) which made fraud a lot harder on the whole. Also, our region was generally weaker than average, I'd wager. I still did see a lot of individual players who were physically worn out after a day of playing these questions, and some who were decrying their difficulty, the latter were more exceptional, and I saw just as many people who were just as tired after a day of the actual refuse a certain southern TD actually put before us (there were more groans after that "trash" than after the Houston 500/620.) Which, as a side note, it seems like the trash in Regs packets is on the decline. I only recall two trash tus and one bonus (Get Fuzzy, REM and the Frankel film characters bonus,) Last year I recalled at least 6 trash tus, and more legit film questions, I noticed a similar decline between ACF Fall 03 and 04, and I think its a shame, as ACF edits some of the best trash questions out there, although I may be in the minority of ACF players who likes at least one trash question a game as part of the distribution.

Certainly though, it was a kickass set overall, and everyone involved should pat themselves on the back, and I would like to give kudos to Jason Keller who directed what, to me at least, seemed like a very smooth regional.

Posted: Sun Feb 27, 2005 9:32 pm
by Steve Kaplan
Some brief thoughts.

The American history (which I feel qualified to judge) was quite good. Although I would prefer a bit more of it, the questions that did get in were well written and appropriately challenging. I also liked that the questions skewed away from 20th century american history towards the 18th and 19th centuries.

In social science it seemed like there was very little economics (a development that I do not object to) and essentially no law (which was dissapointing but not surprising). If the Danbury Hatters bonus was history, which I expect it was, then I don't recall a single law question.

In literature, I found the difficulty quite high. More notable was the preponderance of literature toss-ups on drama. It seemed like an incredibly high percentage of questions began with clues like "In Act 4..." While there's nothing wrong with questions on drama, I felt that the tournament would have benefitted from more questions on novels. I would have appreciated a few more questions on widely read novels, and a few less on plays I'm utterly unfamiliar with.

In fine arts, I found the visual arts questions excellent. The works asked for were generally well known, and the questions were structured to reward people with knowledge.

Posted: Sun Feb 27, 2005 9:49 pm
by Captain Sinico
Brad, I hear your comments, and I do acknowledge the validity of some of them (which I won't comment on, in the interest of allowing further discussion by others) but I do have to take issue with a few things:
mrsmiley4 wrote:...there seemed like a LOT more math/science questions than the 5/5 per packet asked for in the distribution.
With absolute certainty, I did not submit for inclusion more than 5/5 science per packet. Unless someone covertly added more science questions after I edited them (which is more or less impossible,) there could not have been more than 5/5 science in each packet. Having seen the packets as I was reading them (to clarify, I didn't assemble the packets, but merely edited my part of them and sent it away for final editing and assembly into final packets), my impression was that no packet contained even 5 science bonuses or 5 tossups in regulation (much less more.) I went to whatever lengths necessary to make the edited packets stick closely, both in letter and spirit, to the promulgated distribution.
mrsmiley4 wrote:...after about the 8th graph theory question which our team had no clue on the apparent prevalence began to get a little tiresome.
The tournament certainly did not include 8 graph theory questions. I submitted 3 for inclusion (including one on the four color theorem that contained only hints of actual graph theory,) and one CS bonus that had a graph theory part. Incidentally, all of those questions were submitted by teams. Therefore, there is no way you can justly claim to have heard more than 4 graph theory questions, nor could any round have contained more than 1/1 "pure" math of all kinds (again, neglecting the possibility of someone having added extra science from somewhere.)
I know it can be difficult plaing on questions on things one doesn't know or doesn't think matter, but the packets stuck to the promulgated distribution, so you at least know what to expect.
mrsmiley4 wrote:...the editors [have] a math/science bias...
The tournament was edited (in order of editing authority) by an English graduate, a history graduate, and an engineering undergraduate. While I can't speak for Jeff's or Andrew's personal feelings about science (I'm wild about it myself) my own impression is that it would be accurate, in fact, to say that they feel about science more or less like you do.
mrsmiley4 wrote:...[the editors had] to replace a large number of bad [non-science] questions [with science questions.]
I and only I edited the science and only the science. Every science question I replaced, I replaced with another science question, and I replaced only science questions. Again, unless someone else added more science from somewhere, no question from another category was replaced by a science question.

The rest I may address later, but I'd like to see what everyone else has to say before I do. I do appreciate and encourage you to express your reaction to the questions (that's you plural), but please do try to avoid gross exaggeration or misrepresentation of matters of fact.


Posted: Sun Feb 27, 2005 10:39 pm
by mrsmiley4
That's fair. As noted, I didn't see the packets and wasn't keeping track of the exact breakdown, so my perception of an overabundance of science may be just that-- my anti-science bias and the questions which to me were incomprehensible probably made it seem like there were more questions than there were. The graph theory thing is also a case of me using hyperbole (though I do think that math theory in general is a difficult thing on which to write a good tossup and particularly prone to cause humanists to zone out). I would still like to see a general breakdown of the questions read if you or anyone else on the boards has it, if for no other reason than for my own peace of mind.

Ironically, the first draft of my above post, written after 13 rounds of play and before I had the chance to think about what was good about the set, was even MORE inflammatory ;)

Posted: Sun Feb 27, 2005 10:47 pm
by Important Bird Area
Thanks, everyone, for the kind words about this packet set. I'm very glad to hear that difficulty wasn't a problem. I do hope that this tournament has helped to dispel the hoary stereotype that automatically equates ACF with needless obscurity.

On question length: I aimed at 8 lines as a standard for tossup length. I've found that the hardest part of editing tossups is striking a balance between the length necessary to provide solidly academic, pyramidally ordered clues, and the understandable desire of teams to limit the duration of rounds and tournaments. In editing this set I decided to err on the side of excessive length. In the universe of possible complaints, I find this one far preferable to those regarding either excessively difficult or non-pyramidal questions. Speaking only for myself and not on behalf of ACF, I would agree that the 10 line+ behemoths, of which there were certainly a few at this tournament, find their natural habitat at a national rather than regional level of competition.

I share everyone's concern about bonus length. While I did my best to cut down wordy bonuses, I don't doubt that many of these were still too lengthy, and for that I apologize.

On literature and trash:

"if you are going to have a current lit tu, it should be on something that doesn't belong in TRASH, like Charlotte Simmons, Kafka on the Shore, Plot Against America, Heir to the Glimmering World and several others would have been better."

I'm not sure I understand the structure of this complaint. Are some of these too trashy? If so, feel free to count them against the (apparently deficient) trash distribution. The Plot Against America did in fact appear in this tournament.

As Mike mentions above, this is the first time I have been charged with displaying "math/science bias." I did assemble these packets, and here are three examples:

four tossups (Navier-Stokes, histones, Nernst, gamma ray bursts)
(and a tossup on Karl Popper, but I've been informed on several occasions that biography and philosophy should not be categorized as "science.")
four bonuses (Parkinson's disease, diamagnetism, aldehydes, clique problem)

four tossups (isoprene, four-color problem, piezoelectricity, variational principles)
five bonuses (parts of the brain, nuclear fusion, birefringence, acids, and laboratory devices)

Berkeley A:
five tossups (Chinese remainder theorem, arthropods, polaris, transform faults, adenine)
four bonuses (phase space, Tay-Sachs disease, angular momentum, asymptotic run times)
Speaking only for himself as Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby to the ACF cabal

Posted: Sun Feb 27, 2005 11:12 pm
by Rothlover
guess we didn't play that packet. How many packets were in the final set? Also, which packet was the roth in? Having read Charlotte Simmons, I can name a bunch of recent novels that are just as accessible and more "legit," but as I said, it was a minor quibble.

Posted: Sun Feb 27, 2005 11:22 pm
by Important Bird Area
There were sixteen total packets. The following appeared in the round by the central editors:

11. In October 1940, it was erroneously reported that his plane exploded over the Alleghenies, though he landed safely in the mountains of western Pennsylvania. On October 7, 1942, he vanished after making an appearance in Louisville, which led to widespread rioting and nearly resulted in a declaration of war on Canada. Among those arrested in the aftermath of his disappearance were Lionel Bengelsdorf, Bernard Baruch, Felix Frankfurter, and Fiorello La Guardia, while his wife Anne was held prisoner in Walter Reed Hospital on orders of Acting President Burton Wheeler. After he was elected President on an anti-war platform, life became unpleasant for a family living in Newark. FTP, name this possible Nazi stooge who is at the center of the “plot against Americaâ€

Posted: Sun Feb 27, 2005 11:26 pm
by vandyhawk
Overall I enjoyed the science. There weren't many tu's that I didn't know, and I liked that they weren't as long as most of the other questions while still being pyramidal enough to let people who know more answer them first (although Kelly beat me to Wittig based on the Nobel prize year...). There was a little more materials science/crystal type stuff than I would have liked, but I was happy with the low geology content and a seemingly appropriate amount of astronomy and math. The science bonus difficulty fluctuated a bit more than the tossups, but I guess that's harder to avoid. It seemed like on a lot of them, you could get 20 if you knew what you were talking about, but one part was just damn hard. Some of the bio bonuses were easily 30'ed by bio-type people, though I know that we aren't terribly prevalent on the circuit (esp. biomedical engineers...are there any others?).

I'll echo the length comment on the other questions, esp. lit. Even in matches between the strongest teams, most questions went pretty deep. It seemed like a lot of lit questions followed the exact same formula, which may or may not be a good thing. I'm not a terribly strong lit player, but if I hadn't tuned out the question, I was still able to get some and at least have heard of most of the answers. I don't have very strong memories of the history questions for some reason - guess I thought they were ok. I thought the fine arts questions were quite good, and tu's were accessible, though bonuses seemed a bit tough at times - I remember one about classical composers where CPE Bach was the only even guessable one for a team with good but not amazing music knowledge. Was there more Welsh/Irish myth than normal? It seemed that way, but I can't comment for sure since I haven't looked through the 4 rounds we didn't play on.

Overall, we enjoyed the tournament, but more consistency in bonus difficulty might have been good. Obviously there will be variation amongst rounds in any tournament, but yesterday we had more dramatic swings in bonus conversion than normal (I think...don't have numbers to back that up). The only other general critique is about the questions (Lafayette, Austin, Rhianna, etc.) that went on and on about someone who people didn't know, only to end with an NAQT-ish clue leading to a buzzer race. For tournament vets, it was a very good set, while some less-experienced teams got pretty frustrated. Like Chris said, though, it isn't really aimed at novice teams, and can actually give them goals to strive for in the future. Thanks to all the editors for the time they put in to provide us with a fun tournament set.

Posted: Mon Feb 28, 2005 1:15 am
by ASimPerson
Disclaimer: I did not actually play at ACF regionals this, but I was present and exposed to many of the teams' thoughts about the set, and I also saw many of the packets.

Tossups: I'll echo the usual complaints here. They were about 1-2 lines too long, and teams sat waiting for clues they had actually heard of, creating buzzer races. I heard that there were a few hoses, but I don't have anything substantive on this. Welsh mythology seemed to be really popular, though that may or may not be a bad thing. Also, the act-by-act description formula was a bit...formulaic. (I'm not sure that really helps anyway, after all, I'm not sure how if you don't know what happens in the 4th act of a play that'd you know what happens int he 2nd.) Overall, though, I liked the tossups, and the answer selection was *much* better than last year's regionals. I can't think of anything that stands out, unlike last year's (in)famous Jerome Jerome tossup.

Bonuses: Ugh. If the tossups were more accessible this year, the bonuses went in the opposite direction. More data is needed, but I would like to see what the average bonus conversion this year was. The bonuses were long and overly obscure it seemed like. The one that stands out to me is the Mexican oil field nationalization bonus, particularly the part about "which article of the Mexican consitution enabled this." Maybe this is something that is taught somewhere (I don't know), but at least it was only a five point penalty.

Anyway, back to CS homework.

Posted: Mon Feb 28, 2005 3:55 am
by Skepticism and Animal Feed
One thing I did notice was that the editors were very good about not repeating answers.

In fact, they were too good, to the extent that you could use process of elimination to correctly guess things just by what was asked in that category before. I got the first non-music arts tossup of my life late in the playoff round (Church), and I did it entirely because there had been previous questions about Hudson River School artists, and there were very few ones that somebody like me would know of left. Factor in that the other team negged with a previously unmentioned one before I buzzed, and I basically had a free ten points.

Posted: Mon Feb 28, 2005 5:09 pm
by Nathan
IMHO, superb editing and writing (on the whole) in this packet.
numerous excellent tossups ("vampyre" sticks out in my recollection)....the tossups were virtually all extremely gettable while bonuses were generally challenging without being inaccessible.

a few quibbles: the Austin tossup was a mistake. Anna Landolt should not have been mentioned in the opening of the "Nightmare" tossup. there did seem to be a lot of drama (not that I'm complaining).
the "Ibrahim" tossup's explicit instruction not to take "Abraham" was horribly in error...unless I missed a specific statement at the beginning of the tossup that the Islamic name was required.
several of the clues referred equally well to Abraham (Terah was an idolator in Jewish tradition as well) and anyone listening to the tossup would conclude that it was seeking a pan-religious character.

my 3 cents.

Posted: Mon Feb 28, 2005 5:15 pm
by solonqb
Nathan wrote:the "Ibrahim" tossup's explicit instruction not to take "Abraham" was horribly in error...unless I missed a specific statement at the beginning of the tossup that the Islamic name was required.
several of the clues referred equally well to Abraham (Terah was an idolator in Jewish tradition as well) and anyone listening to the tossup would conclude that it was seeking a pan-religious character.

my 3 cents.
Also, if it was looking strictly for Ibrahim, Azar should have been mentioned instead of Terah.

Posted: Mon Feb 28, 2005 5:34 pm
by cvdwightw
I'm not sure if you heard a different version of the packet than I read. The lead-in states "According to Islamic tradition," which makes it less debatable whether Abraham is acceptable. Azar is mentioned in the middle of the question but I see no clues about Terah.

Posted: Mon Feb 28, 2005 6:26 pm
by Nathan
If the leadin was "According to Islamic tradition," then certainly "Abraham" should be acceptable since that phrase implies that the question is giving one (or more) of several varying accounts around a common character (that phrase would not be used if the character sought was exclusively an Islamic one). Depending upon your religious presuppositions, either "Abraham" is a version of "Ibrahim" or "Ibrahim" is a version of "Abraham"'s a bit like not taking "George Guess" for "Sequoia"....

I buzzed when I heard the clue about his father being an idolator...which applies equally to Terah or Azar.

Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 2:54 am
by zotlbusy
I continue to enjoy comparing people's off-the-cuff responses to question sets to the actual questions. A few things I noticed about this year's ACF regionals set, after doing a quick survey:

1) There were a grand total of two questions on Welsh myth (tossups on Rhiannon and Taliesin), which doesn't strike me as excessive.

2) I was intrigued by the complaint about an excess of questions on drama, since that wasn't at all my perception of the set. (Why should there be more questions on novels than on plays, anyway? Plays have been around since the ancient Greeks, while novels have only really existed for the last 500 years or so.) Anyway, here's the breakdown of the literature tossups:

21 answers were fictional works or characters from fiction
14 answers were plays
10 answers were poems or collections of poetry
24 answers were authors, of which 9 were novelists, 6 playwrights, and 9 poets
2 were miscellaneous ("The Pillow Book," "vampires")

As you can see, fiction was in fact preponderant. Also, of those 14 tossups on plays only 6 took the form "In Act X, this happens," which is perhaps high but not, I think, exceptionally so. Also, none of those plays were very obscure (they included tossups on such notables as Coriolanus, The Three Sisters, The Misanthrope, The Iceman Cometh, Hedda Gabler, Major Barbara, Miss Julie -- in other words, plays most players at an ACF regional might be expected to have heard of).

By the way, I was impressed with the tossups on authors, which were almost never tediously "biographical" ("Born in X, this man went to school at Y. Then he wrote "Some Book," before writing "Some Other Book.") In pretty much every case, the author tossups were written as descriptions of works, not as resumes.

3) I have no idea what Rothlover is talking about. Charlotte Simmons, The Plot Against America (in the form of the aforementioned, and cool, tossup on Charles Lindburgh), and Haruki Murakami (if not Kafka on the Shore) were all tossup answers. Also, there were at least 5 tossups to which the answer was a film, though it is true that there wasn't much trash otherwise.

4) I also have no idea what Nathan is talking about. How is a tossup on John Austin a "mistake"? He's only the most influential British philosopher of the post-WWII era. Also, it seems odd to quibble about one leadin, especially since the set was so full of unfamiliar clues (and I, at least, have never heard of Anna Landolt before).

Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 12:00 pm
by Ethnic history of the Vilnius region
4) I also have no idea what Nathan is talking about. How is a tossup on John Austin a "mistake"? He's only the most influential British philosopher of the post-WWII era.
Assuming John L. Austin was worthy of being a tossup, I think the problem most people had with it was the fact that the giveaway said something to the effect that he shared his name with the capital of Texas. It seems to me that ACF tossups shouldn't need giveaways like that to be answered, and if they do then they just shouldn't be asked as tossups at all. Same thing goes with the Lafayette tossup.

That said, our team thought the questions were quite good on the whole.


University of South Carolina

Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 12:43 pm
by Nathan
>4) I also have no idea what Nathan is talking about. How is a tossup on >John Austin a "mistake"? He's only the most influential British >philosopher of the post-WWII era. Also, it seems odd to quibble about >one leadin, especially since the set was so full of unfamiliar clues (and I, >at least, have never heard of Anna Landolt before).

well....A.J.Ayer would seem to have the stronger claim. but it's the NAQTcutie aspect of the giveaway that seems the most annoying.
as for the Nightmare tossup...I admitted that I was was just the one immediate example that I recalled of a middle-level clue being used as an opening clue (she played a major role in Fuseli's career).
However, the only really egregious error I noticed in the packets was the Ibrahim issue.

Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 1:05 pm
by zotlbusy
I have no personal investment in this ACF set, so I'll pass on defending most of their questions. I'm prepared to believe they screwed up Ibrahim, though one egregious error in 16 rounds seems like an acceptable ratio to me.

But I was excited about the Austin tossup. Nobody reads Ayer any more, but Austin is hugely influential on both philosophy and literary criticism. Check out the dispute between Derrida and John Searle over the proper interpretation of his work, or any of the books by Stanley Cavell that discuss him. He definitely deserves to come up. Now, as long as you've written an entire well-structured tossup on a genuinely important figure, I don't see that a "cute" giveaway is unacceptable. The problem with NAQT is that they write tossups on trivial figures and then toss in the cute ending. On something like Austin, any philosophy player is going to buzz before the giveaway, which is then a sop to everyone else. On those bad NAQT tossups, almost nobody can buzz before the giveaway, because the question is on something stupid.

Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 1:30 pm
by grapesmoker
While I'll comment on the rest of the set later, I'd like to mention that despite not being a philosophy major (my interests in it are purely recreational), I answered the Austin tossup off of the clue on "Other Minds." Though I'm in no position to judge the relative importance of Ayer vs. Austin, it seems to me that he's a perfectly legitimate person to ask about at this level. However, I do object to cutesy giveaways (e.g. Lafayette). If no one in the room can get the tossup off of legitimate clues, I'd rather it just go dead than reward people for totally unrelated knowledge.

Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 7:21 pm
by Matt Weiner
I'm opposed to cutesy giveaways in general, but if they must be there, why not reward people who may have at least heard of the person in the right context instead of people who have never heard of him at all? What I mean, is, the Austin question could have said "shares his name with a state capital" instead of "the capital of Texas." That way, there's at least some vaguely knowledge-like process from philosophy involved in answering the question. NAQT did this a few times ("whose first names were Arthur Stanley" for Eddington), and it was irritating, but I imagine I'd have been yet more irritated if it was a question on "the Philadelphia chromosome" ending "which shares its name with the most populated city in eastern Pennsylvania."

Posted: Sun Mar 06, 2005 8:26 pm
by setht
I really enjoyed the Regionals set. There were many questions where I had no clue, but then there are many subjects in which I am thoroughly ignorant, so that's as it should be. I did tune out some questions as a result, but I do that at every tournament; if anything, I do it more frequently at NAQT than at ACF. Also, there were many questions that I did not tune out, had no clue about, and still enjoyed--the questions were often chock-full of clues that were interesting, amusing, or both, and I really appreciate that. I'm not just referring to the tossups here--many of the bonus lead-ins and prompts had little nuggets of fun, interesting information or commentary.

So, I want to thank all the people who helped write and edit the set. I also want to thank the people who came out to help read and scorekeep at the Midwest regional--the readers were excellent and really helped keep things moving. Last but not least, I want to thank the other teams who came out to the Midwest regional--some of these teams traveled long distances to participate, and some were rather new to ACF. I hope you all had as much fun as I did; thanks for many exciting matches.

Now, back to some commentary on the set. I still haven't heard Kentucky's packet, so I'll confine myself to commenting on the other packets in the set. Here are my thoughts on the myth questions:

The bonus questions seemed fine in general. I felt they were very consistent in overall difficulty, with the exception of a bonus on legendary horses from the Harvard A/Maryland A packet with parts on Xanthus, Skinfaxi, and Borak. However, this bonus was moved to number 21. I would also like to give props to Wesley for his Norse myth bonus, which had a part on the cosmic mill Grottekvarnen; it's cool to have the occasional bonus part that stumps everyone on the Michigan and Chicago A teams.

I think the Rhiannon tossup is in error in stating that Gwawl was Rhiannon's first husband. My memory is that Gwawl has a wedding feast with Rhiannon, but Pwyll regains Rhiannon from Gwawl before the marriage goes through. Thus, the references to Manawydan as the third husband, and to Pwyll as the second husband, are off by one husband. Aside from that, and the rather confusing structure of the second sentence (her child, not her husband, vanished from the court), I think it's a good question.

The Hecatoncheires tossup was very good.

I think the Nessus tossup is as good as it can be, given that it's a tossup on Nessus. He's only known for one thing, and everything in the tossup after the first clue refers to that one thing. I think this might have been better as a bonus part.

Actually, the Nessus tossup reminds of something I noticed about Andrew's editing of the myth. In many cases, myth tossups started off with clues about associated figures and rather indirect references to the answer. I don't mean that there were pronoun issues--I thought the myth tossups were always clear from the start about what answer was being asked--but it was an interesting tactic, and I think people might want to think about trying it more, especially in their Nationals submissions. In other words, you don't always have to start a tossup with a very hard clue pertaining directly to the subject; you can instead start with a hard (or very hard) clue about a related subject, if you make the relation clear.

Some examples: I submitted a rather weak tossup on Typhon. Andrew converted it into a tossup that started with hard clues about Typhon's children. The Rhiannon tosssup starts off with clues about Manawydan. The Nidhogg tossup spends two sentences talking about various animals associated with Nidhogg.

Another thing I noticed in the myth: sometimes the early clues in the myth tossups were made harder by having key bits of information left out. For instance, the Typhon tossup did not mention the names of his children, it only gave circumlocutory clues about them. Similarly, the Nessus tosssup was, aside from the first clue, a series of references to various consequences of his encounter with Heracles; most of the references are kept intentionally vague.

In some cases, I think this works quite well. Among other things, it makes it possible to have a long, pyramidal tossup on minor figures like Nessus or Nidhogg, who are mostly or entirely known for one thing. However, I think it's very hard to strike a nice balance between keeping the early clues hard, and actually giving some unambiguous, substantive information; this tactic can also result in some rather convoluted sentences, as people bend over backwards trying to make sure they don't actually give anything away too early. Finally, I think questions on minor figures should be a small fraction of the myth set, and shunted more towards bonus parts than tossups. But, it's nice to have the occasional question that goes a little farther afield.

I think the first tactic (having early clues that refer to closely associated figures/stories) is fairly safe--just make sure it's clear what answer is being sought. The second tactic is a bit more difficult to pull off, and should probably only be used by writers who feel they can steer a middle course between completely draining a clue of content, and keeping in a clue that is too easy.


Posted: Mon Mar 07, 2005 1:24 am
by setht
Here are my thoughts on the science in the first three rounds. I can see that I'm going to talk way too much, so I'll split things up rather than have a massive post on the whole set.

Berkeley A

Polaris: like most questions on stars or constellations, this one doesn't really talk much about scientific importance--instead, we have clues about components of the system (which must apply to literally billions of systems), the relative brightness, etc. In practice, this type of question becomes an exercise in trying to use fairly unspecific/useless clues to narrow things down within the set of acceptable answers--in this case, I don't think the clue "It's the 51st brightest star in the sky" is really useful, interesting, well-known or important, but people can start trying to figure out what faint stars could be used as tossup answers. I guess there's nothing a priori wrong with this, but I prefer science questions written to encourage buzzing on real, specific science knowledge.

Transform faults: I like this question. Actually, I like the early part much more than the later part, which has two rather confusing bits: the clue "they begin and end at other plate boundaries" seems useless--all plate boundaries keep going until they run into the next plate boundary, so this doesn't help narrow things down at all. I guess it might help clue someone in if they hadn't already figured out this is a tossup on some sort of plate boundary (although "boundaries," "plate tectonics," and "plate material" have already been mentioned, so I really do think this phrase is useless). Also, I'm confused by the phrase "normal displacement stops or changes," it seems like a strange (and possibly erroneous) way of describing the mechanics of strike-slip faults.

Solar wind: I don't like this question at all, so I'm glad it was moved to number 22. Spelling out the ODE governing a phenomenon is only occasionally worthwhile; in this case, I feel fairly confident in guessing that absolutely no one in quiz bowl can figure out "solar wind" just from hearing a string of terms in some strange version of the Euler equation, which definitely describes a whole host of phenomena besides solar wind. Then, as soon as the question turns to explaining the various terms in the equation, it feels like a very easy question--in effect, we're being asked something about a flowing fluid which has something to do with the Sun, and it's not some fluid inside the Sun. Perhaps most people would have trouble translating from these early clues to what I came up with after one sentence, but I'm guessing it's too easy, too fast. And, if that first sentence is not too easy, the second sentence seems to be in nearly exact reverse pyramidal order, and I think the first clues in the second sentence are just as easy as the giveaway. In summary: think carefully before quoting ODEs as clues; the Euler equation is very general; pyramidality is a good thing; good work, whoever moved this to the end--it's not very good as written, and there was another packet with a question on the Euler equation.

Dynamics bonus: seems rather harder than the average science bonus. "Phase space" is the only part that could possibly be answered by someone without fairly specialized knowledge, and that's already a decent level of required knowledge. The Kepler's laws bonus seems a little easy, in contrast.

Berkeley B

Top quark: I generally don't really like particle physics questions, and I feel particle physics is way overrepresented, but if people feel compelled to write particle physics, it's nice to have questions with real clues, like this one.

CMB: this seems rather easy to me, but I hear about it on a near-daily basis. At the least, it seems to me that someone paying close attention to the beginning should be able to figure out "this is something in cosmology" from the first sentence, and then maybe get it off "field" in the second sentence, or "redshift" in the third sentence. What did other people think--were there lots of early buzzes/buzzer races, or am I just full of hot photon gas?

Lasers bonus: this one was so good, it was used twice (once as bonus 18, again as bonus 22). Actually, it was pretty good.

Chicago A

neutrinos: yes, I wrote a particle question. But the first several clues were actually astrophysics; this question is the first salvo in my campaign to undermine pure particle physics questions. I'll probably get tired of this campaign long before it has any discernible effect and go back to bitching about the preponderance of particle physics relative to other, better physics topics.

GR tensors bonus: almost certainly too hard. Sorry, people.

I'd be very interested in any comments or criticisms people had regarding our science. Or anything else we wrote, actually.


Posted: Mon Mar 07, 2005 9:16 am
by ezubaric
My favorite question of the day (even though I screwed it up and inverted the names) was the question on Wallace Shawn. It was interesting, taught me something new, and was well written.

Posted: Mon Mar 07, 2005 11:54 am
by setht
More thoughts on science...

Actually, before I continue nitpicking my way through the physical science questions, I wanted to say again that I really enjoyed the questions. I thought the science questions were good overall--the objections I'm making are minor quibbles compared with the glaring problems in the typical science set, and there are many more instances of "this question is really good" than in the typical science set. Finally, as I've said before, anyone playing quiz bowl for the science questions is touched in the head.

Now, on with the ridiculously long-winded nitpicking.


Green's functions: I found this question confusing. I don't really know what I would have done to try to make it easier and clearer by the end--maybe something like "Name these functions which give the response of a system to a Dirac delta input impulse"? That information is actually pretty much there in the question, but somehow the way it was phrased, it didn't make it through my thick skull. The question is either fine and I'm an idiot, or it's very nearly fine--nice idea for a question, although it's probably pretty damn hard for people who haven't had some reasonably advanced physics/math methods. It might have been good to have a giveaway mentioning Green's theorem, since I think that's more widely recognizable than the other stuff in the tossup, and it's still real science.

WKB approximation: This one also feels like a pretty hard question. On the one hand, I commend the editors for asking a question on real quantum mechanics material; on the other hand, I'm guessing most quiz bowl teams don't have anyone with enough quantum mechanics knowledge to get this, even at the end. I don't know how it is at other schools, but at Berkeley, WKB doesn't come up until the 2nd half of a year-long upper division quantum sequence. Also, it seems to me that it's pretty hard to get a good pyramid on a question like this--if someone learns this at all, they're going to learn all the stuff in the question. I think the ordering of the clues was correct--it went from hardest to easiest--it just seems to me like the easiest clue wasn't that much easier than the hardest clue. I guess, if people haven't seen it in a while, it might take them most of the question to remember which quantum approximation method is which, and the very last clue ("three initials") could clinch it for someone who knows about WKB but has completely forgotten all content associated with it. Anyway, huzzah for real quantum mechanics, and down with particle physics.

Heat transfer bonus: the third part on Dirichlet problems was a bit confusing. It was very tempting to think that the answer was "Laplace's equation," not that that fits the pronouns of the prompt, let alone the phrase "named for a German." But, I'm pretty sure the clue about harmonic functions applies to all solutions of Laplace's equation, not just the Dirichlet problem solutions. Also, except for the phrase "named for a German," I don't think there was anything to keep "von Neumann problems" from being an acceptable answer--that's also a case of solving Laplace's equation in a region with given, well-posed boundary conditions. They're just a different type of boundary conditions. In the interests of clarity, I would recommend putting "solving Laplace's equation" into the prompt, and probably also either mention von Neumann problems, or at least state that the boundary conditions in this type of problem consist of the values of the function on the boundary. In the end, this was just a bonus part, and the prompt as written doesn't really admit any other answers, but I think it could have been more clear about what it was going for with a minor adjustment.

Equations of state, radioisotopes bonuses: I tend to feel that questions on crazy equations of state are kinda ass. Perhaps there are lots of people out there who not only learn this in class, but actually make use of it, but my general impression is that pretty much no one is ever happy to get this sort of bonus. Similarly with radioisotopes: how many people really acquire and make use of knowledge of the thorium decay chain? How many people learn about the specifics of radioactivity at Chernobyl? It's entirely possible to make an educated guess about which atoms are being asked, but guessing the right atomic weight sucks. Strontium-90 seems a bit more reasonable than the other two.

Calculus of variations bonus: this is an interesting idea for a bonus, but I'm not sure it came out so well. Functionals are much more general than just the integral in calc. of variations; in fact, I don't think I've ever heard a teacher refer to the integral in a variational problem as the functional. I don't think I've ever heard a special name for it, aside from "the action" or "the action integral" in mechanics. For the third part, I think "extremum," "maximum," and "minimum" should all be acceptable answers.

Georgia Tech/Harvard B

chemical potential: this was a buzzer race on the first clue ("equivalent to Fermi energy at absolute zero"). I guess that happens when two strong teams play each other--we were playing Michigan on this one. Looking at the rest of the question, I'd say the phonons clue is harder, but other than that I think it's in decent pyramidal order; it just feels like the pyramid doesn't start off too hard.

Bose-Einstein condensate: this question mentions "the collective ground state" in the first sentence. I realize it's kind of slipped in amongst other things, but this seems like a bit of a mistake.

Landau: I don't know anything about this Landau pole of which the question speaks, so I have no idea whether that clue is properly placed in the question; assuming that part's fine, I think this is a really good question. I realize it's probably harder than the typical science tossup, but I still wish it had been put in the first 20 of some packet.

spin bonus: excellent bonus. Huzzah again for real quantum mechanics; it might have been nice to include more of a giveaway on Pauli, since this bonus was probably pretty hard for most teams lacking a physicist, i.e. most teams.

Posted: Mon Mar 07, 2005 12:26 pm
by zotlbusy
I just want to say that I'm finding this meticulous question-by-question evaluation of the ACF regionals packets really interesting, and I want to thank setht for going to the trouble of doing it. I'm competent to tabulate the answers, but not to offer this sort of indepth commentary on the questions. Well, maybe in philosophy and social science, but nothing else. I was wondering if anyone else would be willing to offer a similar analysis of the literature, history, or one of the other categories from the set?

Posted: Mon Mar 07, 2005 1:43 pm
by zotlbusy
I'd still like to see detailed commentary on the lit, history, fine arts, etc. This could be really useful, I think, assuming capable people are making the evaluations.

I don't know if I'm the best person to do it, but a few thoughts along the lines of setht's on the philosophy, which is the category I'm best qualified to judge.

By the way, what's the etiquette on posting the text of questions in this forum? I know NAQT doesn't like it, but I don't know about ACF.


* The much-discussed Austin tossup. It's an OK question, but not very interesting. He wrote this minor essay, these better known essays, these books. Less titles and more of a description of one of the books would have been preferable, but this isn't bad.

* Pascal's wager bonus. The first part is interesting (linking it to modern discussion), and props for the Ian Hacking part. The least lame Pascal's wager question I've ever seen, whatever that means.

Berkeley B/Emory

* Fear and Trembling. A really good question, I think. Well structured, and really rewards knowledge of the book (three solid sentences before you get to the typical quiz bowl clues on it).

* Quine/Davidson/Rawls. I guess Rawls has to be the easy part, but if I hear "this author of the Theory of Justice" one more time I'm going to hit someone. Davidson, like Hacking, deserves to come up.


* Social Contract. A good tossup. By the way, I noticed that all these philosophical work tossups on on very canonical things; no equivalents of the WKB approximation tossup that setht discusses. Any reason for that?

* Merleau-Ponty. This is pretty hard, but I liked it. Most regional teams should get the second part ("most famous book by Merleau-Ponty"), but the first and last are tough. Again, props for asking about Adventures of the Dialectic.


* I guess Great Chain of Being is the philosophy tossup. Sort of confusing, I thought. Basically, it's a tossup on a book almost nobody has read (Arthur Lovejoy?). Still, it's better than the tossup at NAQT on the same subject.

* Is Montaigne the philosophy bonus? Or doesn't this packet have one? This is a pretty good bonus, though. Good teams should be able to figure out the first part on the Essays, and then you have to know some stuff to get the next two.

G Tech/Harvard B

*On Liberty. Again, a good tossup on a standard work. I feel as if I've seen questions much like this before, but it's fine.

* Eros and Civilization. If this is the philosophy bonus, it's OK. But with the Fromm part, it's more likely to be social science.

Harvard A/Maryland A

* Anarchy, State and Utopia. A well-structured tossup on a work that probably deserves to come up more often. At least it's better than the umpteenth Rawls or Theory of Justice or Veil of Ignorance tossup. Nice mention of the "third and last of the titular concepts," allowing people to work it out.

* Dialectic of Enlightenment. What's with all the Frankfurt School? Still, this is an important work that should be asked about, and this is a good question. "Culture industry" is probably OK, but you really need to know the book to answer it.


no philosophy tossup; two religion instead (Reuben; Tao Te Ching)

* I guess the Encyclopedia bonus, with D'Alembert, etc. as answers? This is OK, nothing special. A sad round for philosophy players.

Maryland B

* Critique of Judgment, and things are looking up for philosophy players. I don't know how much you can ask about this book (it's about art, and also about teleology) but this question does a good job of asking it. Kind of like the Nessus tossup setht comments on: there's only so much you can say without getting right to the point.

* Althusser. OK, enough of this 20th century continental crap. This is actually a good bonus, neither too hard nor too easy, and I like the way the author tiptoes around "Capital." But there was philosophy before the year 1900, too.

Michigan A

*Feuerbach. This is a great tossup -- lots of stuff I didn't know, and much more than "Essence of Christianity."

*Boethius. At least it isn't modern. The first part is cool, then it becomes standard (Boethius himself, Porphyry as "editor of Plotinus").

Maybe I'll do the rest later. I hope others will take up some of the other categories, as I've already said. On the whole, even though I'm quibbling this collection of philosophy questions is much better than most: accessible and well-structured tossups, challenging bonuses.

Posted: Mon Mar 07, 2005 2:23 pm
by grapesmoker
I'm guessing Seth and I, due to our shared experience, are going to have mostly similar views on these topics.
setht wrote:More thoughts on science...

WKB approximation: This one also feels like a pretty hard question.... Anyway, huzzah for real quantum mechanics, and down with particle physics.
Seconded. I enojyed the WKB question; playing on a team with Paul Lujan it was a buzzer race to it on an early clue. However, it's one of those questions that if you haven't had the equivalent of Berkeley's 137B class, you're just not going to know it at all. That's what I liked about the physics, by and large. It wasn't fraudable, which is as it should be.
Heat transfer bonus: the third part on Dirichlet problems was a bit confusing.
It should have specified the actual boundary conditions rather than just say "boundary conditions." I think that the "German" clue would give it away immediately to anyone who knew anything about b.c. problems but would not give it away to anyone else. You could, in theory, figure out that the answer was "Dirichlet" by reasoning that in heat flow problems, the specified conditions almost always (well, in all the instances I've encountered) give the value at the surface, rather than its derivative, but that's a lot of thinking to do in 5 seconds.
Equations of state, radioisotopes bonuses: I tend to feel that questions on crazy equations of state are kinda ass.
I also wouldn't mind doing away with questions that ask for units, like the radiation dosimetry question. Perhaps it's one of those things that nuclear engineers learn, but it's not something that's likely to be covered in most physics or other science classes. Also, let's not have anything that requires one to know the periodic table (e.g. radioisotopes, decays, etc.). I can't believe anyone actually memorizes these things unless they work with them directly.
Landau: I don't know anything about this Landau pole of which the question speaks, so I have no idea whether that clue is properly placed in the question; assuming that part's fine, I think this is a really good question. I realize it's probably harder than the typical science tossup, but I still wish it had been put in the first 20 of some packet.
I think the pole should have been the first clue. I've never heard of it, but on the first clue of the question as written, I would've nailed it. Landau did his most famous work in superconductivity, but I thought the inclusion of Landau damping in the question is a good touch. I'm not sure what purpose the "car accident" clue serves, but overall it's a good question and I would've been happy to hear it during the tournament.


Posted: Mon Mar 07, 2005 3:36 pm
by Nathan
"I guess Great Chain of Being is the philosophy tossup. Sort of confusing, I thought. Basically, it's a tossup on a book almost nobody has read (Arthur Lovejoy?). Still, it's better than the tossup at NAQT on the same subject."

actually, I assumed this was part of the lit distribution (at least, I had to read it for an undergrad Shakespeare class)

Posted: Mon Mar 07, 2005 5:22 pm
by zotlbusy
I thought I'd finish off commenting on the philosophy.

Michigan B

* no philosophy tossup, alas.

* Filmer bonus. I thought this was cool, but maybe a little obscure for regionals. Getting to Filmer from Locke is one thing, but starting with a description of Patriarcha might be excessive. Still, it did specify a 17th century British philosopher -- not too many other possibilities, I suppose.


* I guess the Utopia tossup might be philosophy. It's certainly a fine tossup -- lots of stuff I didn't know, and interesting. (The Utopians worshipped Mithras? I had no idea.)

* Foucault's History of Sexuality bonus. Again, why all the contemporary continental stuff? But still, this is a good question. I'm not sure that I could have pegged The Use of Pleasure in particular on the first clue, but the rest unfolds nicely.


* Popper tossup. I liked this one -- some fresh Popper clues for a change, instead of "open society ... poverty of historicism ... falsifiability." I don't know about putting his organ fugue in the third sentence, but I guess that allows real philosophy people who know his books to buzz in first, so maybe it's for the best.

* "justified true belief" bonus. This was awesome, real epistemology. Probably too hard -- I don't see that people who haven't taken a class can get many points on it, since Theatetus isn't that well-known to people who just know the Plato that comes up in the game. But there's room for one or two of these in the set, and at least it isn't another Foucault/Althusser/Adorno bonus.

South Carolina/Texas

*Discourse on Method tossup. With the Fear and Trembling tossup, my favorite in the set. A very important work, asked about in a fresh and interesting way.

* no philosophy bonus, alas. And only one from the RMP category -- a Hindu myth bonus. Boo! At least the tossup was great, as I said.

Swarthmore/Florida B

*Phenomenology of Spirit. Actually, this goes with the Descartes and Kierkegaard tossups. Interesting and well-written. I also enjoyed the philosophy "current events" lead-in -- a new translation "is currently being prepared."

* Santayana bonus. I thought this was good, though those works are a little obscure for regionals. Have either The Sense of Beauty or Three Philosophical Poets ever come up before?


* Buridan. I guess if there has to be a Buridan tossup, this is as good as it gets. I enjoyed the clue about him competing with a Pope for "the affections of a shoemaker's wife." And it is well-structured, since if you think about the doctrines being described you can see how they would lead to asinine indecision.

* ancient Greek philosophers. A standard bonus, made livelier by the amusing Heraclitus clues. ("If there was one thing this philosopher hated, it was the vast majority of mankind.")

Indiana (Wesley Matthews)

* Husserl. Very well-written tossup, with a first clue I had never heard before about Husserl's assistant.

* Albertus Magnus. I don't know much about this, but it seems sort of weak. The middle part isn't so good -- "it reconciled Aristotle and Christian thought" describes most works of scholasticism. The first and last are just standard reflexes -- "He taught Aquinas," "It's a book by Peter Lombard."

On the whole, a really good philosophy set: I applaud everyone who was responsible for it.

Posted: Mon Mar 07, 2005 7:06 pm
by NotBhan
I haven't seen the question set, and I didn't get to play in ACF Regionals this year, but some of these topics sound pretty hard for a regionals set. A WKB tossup?? While some advanced physics topics have wiggled into the realm of general knowledge, that ain't one of them. I just don't see anyone who isn't [a] an upper-level physics major or a really hardcore quizbowler (who isn't a physics major) getting that question even at the end. Even if it ended with "name this approximation method developed by Wentzel, Kramers, and Brillouin," which I reckon some of y'all would complain about, a majority of teams still wouldn't get it, I suspect. It is a topic which lends itself to pyramidal structure (with Airy functions, relation to variational method, Jeffrey, and its various applications as possible clues), but the base of that pyramid is too small to make it a great topic for a regionals set. The same criticism is applicable to several examples cited above.

--Raj Dhuwalia

P.S. One added note. While I'd agree that particle physics is overemphasized among qb physics questions, perhaps one reason for this overemphasis is that one can write a pyramidal tossup on (say) neutrinos which gives a significant advantage to physicists and a substantial advantage to "science players" while still being accessible to most teams at the end.

Posted: Mon Mar 07, 2005 11:06 pm
by mattreece
Anyway, huzzah for real quantum mechanics, and down with particle physics.

My brief dissent (I don't feel like writing a detailed discussion of what I think constitute good physics questions at the moment):

Dude, particle physics is real quantum mechanics. Also, the Landau pole is both. :-)

Yeah, I know people write lots of shitty particle physics questions, but it's perfectly possible to write good particle physics questions. And particle physics is generally more interesting to the layperson than computational methods like WKB.

Posted: Tue Mar 08, 2005 12:02 am
by setht
Of the science tossups that have been mentioned so far, I'd
say the WKB tossup is the only one that feels too hard. I
agree that many bonus parts were quite hard, but I think most
bonus questions struck a fairly good balance between some
reasonably well-known answers and some more challenging
answers; I have cited some bonus questions that I felt skewed
too hard (or, in at least one case, too easy).

I think it is easier to write a lazy, boring particle physics
question (especially a bonus) than any other kind of physics
question, but I am convinced that it is entirely possible to
write a complete set of non-particle physics questions which
are pyramidal, accessible, and start with clues physics
people should know. There are all sorts of well-known topics like "pressure," "electric field," and so on that have scads of important, interesting facts that could be used as clues. Why write another boring tauon tossup? I would argue that concepts like pressure and electric field are far more useful to the typical layperson, as well as the typical scientist.

Matt notes that particle physics is real quantum mechanics. This is certainly true, but I think there is (or ought to be) a bit of a functional distinction in quiz bowl: going back again to my salad days at Berkeley, I can say that the typical physics undergrad (or chem undergrad, for that matter) will see some introductory quantum mechanics by the start of their sophomore year. The typical physics student doesn't get to take a particle physics class until the second half of junior year, at the earliest. Add to this the fact that there are plenty of non-physics classes that cover what I think of as "quantum mechanics," and I think there's a decent argument for why quantum mechanics ought to come up more often than particle physics. Also, there's a reason why it's more common for classes (including astro classes and chem classes, in my own experience) to cover the fundamentals of quantum mechanics than for them to really delve into particle physics--the fundamentals are much more widely useful.

I don't really have much else in the way of arguments here. Matt is correct in pointing out that it is possible to write real particle physics questions; the Regionals set contains at least one example that seems good to me. I guess particle physics is probably sexier to the typical layperson than the fundamentals of physics, but: a) I think "importance" and "usefulness" should probably be weighted more heavily in determining science subdistributions than "interest for the layperson," at least at ACF Regionals and Nationals; b) I think it's entirely possible to write non-particle physics questions on important concepts/people/whatever that will be interesting to most laymen; c) shitty particle physics questions have little or no sex appeal.


Posted: Tue Mar 08, 2005 1:29 am
by mattreece
setht wrote:I think it is easier to write a lazy, boring particle physics
question (especially a bonus) than any other kind of physics
question, but I am convinced that it is entirely possible to
write a complete set of non-particle physics questions which
are pyramidal, accessible, and start with clues physics
people should know. There are all sorts of well-known topics like "pressure," "electric field," and so on that have scads of important, interesting facts that could be used as clues. Why write another boring tauon tossup? I would argue that concepts like pressure and electric field are far more useful to the typical layperson, as well as the typical scientist.

I don't really have much else in the way of arguments here. Matt is correct in pointing out that it is possible to write real particle physics questions; the Regionals set contains at least one example that seems good to me. I guess particle physics is probably sexier to the typical layperson than the fundamentals of physics, but: a) I think "importance" and "usefulness" should probably be weighted more heavily in determining science subdistributions than "interest for the layperson," at least at ACF Regionals and Nationals; b) I think it's entirely possible to write non-particle physics questions on important concepts/people/whatever that will be interesting to most laymen; c) shitty particle physics questions have little or no sex appeal.
I don't understand the structure of the first part of your argument -- it's easy to write bad particle physics questions, it's possible to write good non-particle physics questions. These are true, but it's also easy to write bad non-particle physics questions and possible to write good particle physics questions.

"Pressure" and "electric field" are certainly things one could write questions on; frankly I think any question on "pressure" would be pretty boring, but oh well. "Electric field" would make a good tossup, I think. There are definitely a lot of basic topics one can write challenging tossups on, at all levels. I'm not saying one should avoid any of these things. But particle physics is a major branch of physics and should be well-represented. I'm not asking for it to be a huge fraction of the questions, but there's no reason to disparage it.

I should note that I construe "particle physics" rather broadly, so that anything relating to quantum field theory, string theory, experimental high-energy physics, and various topics in astrophysics and cosmology fall into the realm I'm talking about. No, we don't need a bunch of questions with answers like "neutrino," "muon," and "tau" (one never really hears "tauon"). But one or two per tournament are fine. Where do you draw the line of what is and is not a particle physics topic? Is dark matter? Is dark energy? Spontaneous symmetry breaking? Hawking radiation? Cooper pairs? Landau-Ginzburg theory? Field theoretic methods and concepts have been thoroughly integrated into condensed matter physics and cosmology. Superconductivity is described at some level by an abelian Higgs model. Nambu-Goldstone bosons occur all over the place. These are fundamental ideas in modern physics and it would be silly to exclude them from questions. Many of these things are not generally covered in undergraduate curricula, but I don't think this makes them less worthy of questions. Certainly a lot of these things are known to non-physics-majors with an interest in science. Plenty of people are aware of Hawking radiation, or of Cooper pairs (more are aware of superconductivity). Those probably fall outside the scope of your criticism of particle physics, but I think they suggest that it's not reasonable to ask that the physics distribution in any way resemble the undergraduate curriculum. Instead I think it should reflect topics of interest both to the layperson and to working physicists.

As for "importance" and "usefulness" -- sure, quantum mechanics is useful. WKB? WKB is really hard for a question topic, as I think you agree. I think a good tossup on, say, the pion would be much more accessible than a WKB tossup. No layman will encounter the WKB method. I think "importance" is a good measure of what makes something tossup-able, as is "interest," but "usefulness" is probably not. All sorts of things are useful in physics, and many of them are boring and technical and not really interesting at all even to the people who have to use them.

This is getting to be a long comment -- I think I'll shut up for now.

Posted: Tue Mar 08, 2005 1:31 am
by setht
Harvard A/Maryland A

Random walk: nice question.

Beer's law, Raman: seem kinda easy kinda fast.

Maryland B

Radiation dosimetry bonus: as Jerry already noted, this type of question is complete ass. I actually find radiation dosage units questions even more offensive than other units questions, since I've never been able to figure out who actually learns or cares about this stuff. Anyone have any ideas?

Fermat's Little Theorem bonus: the second part seems almost 100% clue-free. I don't think Leibniz is particularly well-known for being the first to prove Fermat's Little Theorem; if this is in fact the case, the prompt amounts to "guess a person who worked on math 43 years after Fermat." If people paid attention to the intro of the bonus, they'd know that the year in question is specifically 1683. Also, Leibniz gave the first known proof, but didn't publish; the first published proof came from Euler. Admittedly, it did not come in 1683. In any case, I think this part could have used a clue about Leibniz's other work in math.

Michigan A

Standing waves: seems a bit strange, but that's probably mostly because I've never heard an attempt at a "standing waves" tossup before. I think this is a nice idea.

Michigan B

Noether's theorem: this seems like another question where people who know about this will probably get it very quickly, and everyone else will just sit around for the entire question.

Poiseuille equation: this also seems fairly specialized. Also, the order in which the packets were read in our Regional meant that this question came up after the questions on the Euler equation and the Navier-Stokes equation, so this question was an exercise in "name a third equation governing fluid flow."


Hexagonal close packed tossup, defects in crystalline solids bonus: As near as I can tell, these were the physics questions for the packet. Seems like a bit of a shame for all the physics in the first 20/20 to be on a rather specific subdiscipline.

Molecular orbital bonus: pretty hard. We got this bonus, and we couldn't figure out what we were being asked to name.


Navier-Stokes equation: so.. much.. fluid mechanics..

Nernst equation: buzzer race on "forward and reverse partial current densities" in the first line.

Galois: very nice biographical clue.

South Carolina/Texas

Muons: what does it mean that some researchers fired neutrinos at protons and "created two of these particles, one positive and one negative."? Does this mean the researchers created muons and anti-muons, or are there actually positive muons, and people have just been hiding them from me all these years?

Action bonus: I'd say the second part should also include "principle of least action" as an acceptable answer. Also, this bonus is remarkably close to the calculus of variations bonus in another packet, to the point that I'm not sure they should both be in the same question set.

Earthquakes bonus: The second part seems fairly subtle and tricky, and not quite right; I rather doubt this was the intention. The prompt is "Named for a British geophysicist, these waves in the earth’s crust propagate as a result of density differences between the crust and mantle." So the first two clues are "Name a surface wave named for a British geophysicist." So far, there is nothing to distinguish between Rayleigh and Love waves. The next part about propagating as a result of density differences between the crust and mantle is almost a proper clue for distinguishing between Rayleigh and Love waves: technically, Rayleigh waves only need a free surface; in practice, we always see them in inhomogeneous media, which makes them dispersive. A Love wave needs a near-surface waveguide; the density layering near the Earth's surface does result in such a waveguide, but the reason for Love wave propagation is more fundamentally the velocity structure near the surface than the density differences. This is incredibly nitpicky; the main point I wanted to make is that this probably could have used another clue to help rule out Rayleigh waves, since I think people with good knowledge could easily be confused--I think it would have been fine to just go ahead and mention Rayleigh waves in the bonus prompt, I don't think anyone's about to fraud Love waves from hearing Rayleigh waves explicitly eliminated. Anyway, props to whoever decided to write some geophysics.

Swarthmore/Florida B

Mandelbrot, Wegener: both seem fairly guessable rather early in the question.


Moho: decent question, and props again to someone for writing geophysics. Vandyhawk was happy about the low geology content of the set; I'm sure he, like many others, is secretly lusting after more geophysics questions.

Faraday: nice question.

Wesley Matthews

Meteorological scales: I was going to say that this bonus is usually not a good idea since there are only three, but then the third part proves me wrong by asking for a variant of one of the big three. I don't know whether I'm more amused, intrigued, or horrified.

Moon surfaces: I think solar system geography is often written poorly--it's way too easy for people to pick some backwater moon and then look up a bunch of random cracks, craters, and pebbles on its surface. Can anyone name a single surface feature of Umbriel, Phobos, Amalthea, Nereid, or Charon off the top of their head? Given that Wesley's chosen to write this question, I applaud his efforts to tie the surface features to the interior dynamics of the moons; I don't think it's at all likely to help anyone, but I find the question slightly more interesting as a result.

Berkeley A, again

Kepler's Laws: I forgot to mention this earlier... In the third prompt, I believe it should read "divided by four pi squared" rather than "divided by pi" at the end. I'm sure this little boo-boo affected zero games, but I thought I'd point it out.


Posted: Tue Mar 08, 2005 1:37 am
by mattreece
Maybe I can sum up my former posts as follows:

Write good questions about interesting things. Don't write about boring things, and don't avoid writing about interesting things just because other people write shitty questions about them.

I see no reason any of that should be controversial, so I think I'll leave it at that.

Posted: Tue Mar 08, 2005 5:08 pm
by setht
Having talked things over a bit with people, I guess I should say that the Moho discontinuity, which I called a "decent question," is in fact scandalously guessable off the first clue. I suppose I was trying to be encouraging of people writing geophysics, but perhaps consistency in putting everything under close scrutiny is more important. Anyway, people should consider writing about layers/discontinuities other than the Moho; if you are going to write about the Moho, don't use the drilling clue as the opening. Looking at this question again, I'd say it's in pyramidal order, but it could use a harder opening, and maybe a harder second sentence, before it gets into drilling, seismic wave stuff, etc.

Also, from a quick and somewhat crude count, here's what I have for the science subdistribution:

5/5 Astro--the tossups seem fairly well subdistributed, but 4 of the 5 bonuses are on Solar System stuff.

17/18 Bio

18/13 Chem--there were three science bonus questions that I wasn't sure how to categorize, including the radiation dosimetry units bonus and the radioisotopes bonus. Perhaps they belong here.

2/2 Computer Science

3/2 Earth Science--all of the questions are geophysics or close to it.

10/10 Math--someone complained about the preponderance of graph theory questions. I count 0/2.

18/19 Physics--I've attempted to subcategorize the physics questions. I count: 0/1 classical mechanics, 1/1 E/M, 1/2 stat. mech./thermo, 4/2 quantum mechanics, 3/2 particle physics, 3/2 continuum/fluid mechanics, 2/2 solid state, 1/0 optics, 0/1 relativity, 0/1 atomic, 0/1 plasmas, 0/2 dynamics, and 3/2 other/miscellaneous

Posted: Tue Mar 08, 2005 5:54 pm
by Susan
Commentary on a few of the bio/biochem/chem questions (neither as extensive nor as well-informed as Seth's):

Generally, I thought the science in the set was very good in terms of both answer selection and writing (a step up from, say, last year's Nationals on both counts). I felt the answers stayed very accessible--I can't think of a tossup answer that was out of the realm of "introductory bio course" knowledge.

More specific comments:

-Fragile X tossup: I was informed that the "X" in the locus designation "Xq27.3" was left in by accident, which probably made this question a lot easier. Even without that clue, the "namesake structure" clue in the first line, together with the implication that said namesake structure is a chromosome, makes this guessable pretty early.

-biochemistry/proteins bonus (apoprotein, spliceosome, proteome): nice bonus on topics that don't come up all that much.

-Histones tossup: a buzzer race on the first word in my room. I think this could have been a very good pyramidal question if it talked about the HDACs and HATs mentioned without coming out and saying that they were deacetylases and acetylases.

-Parkinson's bonus: I know very little about anatomy, so I'll defer to other people's knowledge, but are the basal ganglia outside the CNS?

-Wittig reaction tossup: best I've seen on this topic.

Again, very good overall.


Posted: Tue Mar 08, 2005 7:46 pm
by Trey
Would it be possible for someone to post the text of the Parkinson Disease bonus? All I remember is the first part starting out by asking something to the effect of "this is where dopamine is" and then going on to list the substantia nigra and various and sundry other basal ganglia structures, then mentioning that oh by the way it's outside the CNS. Clearly my anatomy is rusty, but if the brain is no longer considered part of the CNS, I'm in worse shape than I thought. Also, if there is a finer distinction contained within the immunology bonus question that makes HLA not acceptable for MHC, please let me know. I am unaware of one and was under the impression that HLA was merely the updated terminology for MHC.

Adding to the surreal nature of the PD question, it was immediately followed by a discussion between the moderator and opposing team captain where it was concluded that even if a bonus question contains a mistake such that there is no correct answer, it is not protestable. The concept makes sense for a toss-up, as the question is equally bad for both teams, but not for a bonus. Variable-value bonuses are one of the reasons offered for why CBI is an abomination before the Lord; it seems strange that ACF would tacitly endorse giving a team what is effectively a 20 point bonus because of mistakes/typographical errors/ignorance on the part of the question writer that slips past the editors. Comments from the Cabal/peanut gallery/Mueller?


Posted: Tue Mar 08, 2005 8:06 pm
by setht
Here's the Parkinson's Disease bonus.

Answer some questions relating to Parkinson's Disease FTPE.
A. Parkinson's specifically degrades this collection of cell bodies outside the CNS that comprises the substantia nigra, caudate nucleus, and putamen.
Answer: basal ganglia
B. The major gene for Parkinson's susceptibility has been localized to this chromosome.
Answer: 4p16.3 (also accept 2p13, since there’s apparently a susceptibility locus there as well)
C. Because dopamine is degraded in the bloodstream, and cannot pass the blood-brain barrier, this precursor instead is used as medication.
Answer: l-dopa (or l-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine)

Posted: Tue Mar 08, 2005 8:12 pm
by QuizBowlRonin

4. Name these things related to T-cells, FTPE.
A. The cell-surface proteins that are found on fragments of invading or foreign cells are usually molecules encoded by this group of genes.
Answer: major histocompatibility complex
B. Usually activated in part by a receptor’s binding to an MHC-antigen complex, these cells produce interleukins and various other cytokines like gamma interferon.
Answer: helper T-cells
C. These lymphocytes can eliminate foreign or infected cells using a set of pore-forming molecules or by merely helping to trigger apoptosis within the target cell.
Answer: cytotoxic T-cells (or killer T-cells)

Posted: Tue Mar 08, 2005 8:18 pm
by Susan
The text of the relevant part of the Parkinson's disease question:
A. Parkinson's specifically degrades this collection of cell bodies outside the CNS that comprises the substantia nigra, caudate nucleus, and putamen.
Answer: basal ganglia
Confusion due to the fact that anything ending in ganglia is usually part of the PNS? I don't know.

The text of the MHC bonus part:
A. The cell-surface proteins that are found on fragments of invading or foreign cells are usually molecules encoded by this group of genes.
Answer: major histocompatibility complex
I think HLA should have been acceptable or at least promptable for this. I mean, I guess they wanted you to infer from the reference "invading or foreign cells" that the cells whose MHC proteins they were talking about weren't human, which would make HLA unacceptable, but it's a bit vague.

Finally (and someone who was directly involved in this discussion can correct me if I'm wrong), I think the argument was that if the bonus part is wrong and the team doesn't answer (presumably due to confusion over the wrongness), it is not protestable--that is, teams need to give an answer to the bonus part to be able to protest it. I'm not sure that I agree with this--I probably would have just thrown that part out--but I wouldn't go so far as to say that a flawed bonus is effectively a twenty-point one.


**Actually, the more I look at the MHC bonus part, the less sense it makes to me. Are most of the cell-surface molecules found on invading or foreign cells MHC molecules? No. In fact, most invading/foreign cells wouldn't express MHC at all, unless they were from higher vertebrates.

Posted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 1:39 am
by vandyhawk
Yeah, the MHC part confused me a bit too, but I figured that's what it was after. Foreign particles indeed do not express MHC, since that's how our bodies know what is and isn't foreign - MHC molecules take bits of digested foreign particles and present them on the surface of leukocytes for the appropriate immune response. I think that HLA wouldn't really be correct b/c the group of genes is the MHC, while the various subtypes of molecules are called the HLA's (human leukocyte antigens). As for the basal ganglia, it's a terminology thing - they are in the CNS, but ganglia usually refers to things outside the CNS, and the early physiologists messed up.

Posted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 4:30 am
by Trey
vandyhawk wrote: I think that HLA wouldn't really be correct b/c the group of genes is the MHC, while the various subtypes of molecules are called the HLA's (human leukocyte antigens).
The distinction between the gene and the protein is just as true for HLA as it is for MHC, so I'm not sure if that clarifies the matter. Anyway, I'm still pretty sure they're the same thing, at least for humans. The invading or foreign antigens are only recognized after they're digested and presented by the not-so-cryptically named antigen presenting cells, like Kuppfer cells, etc. In that respect, they're not found on invading cells at all, making the question even more confusing. I suppose it's possible that I'm a little biased toward humans, but after the question said T-cells I sorta assumed we were talking about human immunology, and I really don't know how much it would differ for other species.

Looking over the PD bonus in all its glory... wow. That's why I write physics questions only with much fear and trembling: it's easy to put all of the words that look right together in such a way that you produce nonsense. The substantia nigra is a portion of the mid-brain, and although the lenticulostriatal and other pathways are important in the pathophysiology of PD, the midbrain is not one of the basal ganglia. Being, as it is, in the middle of the brain, it's also hard to argue it's outside of the CNS. I can't remember if we gave an answer or not, but if not, it was probably because I was almost apoplectic trying to figure out what was being asked. :-)

Thanks for posting the questions, and for all the comments.


Posted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 2:36 pm
by vandyhawk
One last quick reply before letting this topic die. Some (less reliable) sources will list the substantia nigra as part of the basal ganglia, but most just call it "associated with" them. The most accepted grouping is the globus pallidus and the striatum, which is comprised of the putamen and caudate nucleus. I like how one of my physio books call them basal nuclei to avoid the location confusion. I can see how those mistakes would get by though, and I'd just blame the source rather than the writer/editor. The questions were still gettable since there was enough correct info.

Posted: Thu Mar 10, 2005 12:14 am
by Nathan
how well did the first clue distinguish the Moho from the Gutenburg?