two styles of writing: a close reading

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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Nabonidus » Fri May 15, 2015 9:05 pm

grapesmoker wrote:That's one good example. Another example that may be closer to what I had in mind was my much-maligned-at-the-time tossup on Tony Judt in Nats 2011. While that question may not have been optimal for that particular context, it, and things like it, are actually the kind of stuff that you encounter on a regular basis while participating in the Internet Life of the Mind, broadly understood. There's just a lot of stuff out there that you pick up on if you're the kind of person who reads book reviews of contemporary literature or goes to plays or participates in political discussions or whatever; all those things count, in my view, as legitimate intellectual engagement, and there's no reason in my mind why they should be off-limits. My perspective is that reading old packets and basing future packets on them tends to result in a kind of fossilization of the acceptable answer space. The tendency becomes to repeat old content because that's what's come up before, rather than searching for interesting new content that may not be "known" because it hasn't wormed its way into the "canon."
I didn't mean to imply that learning stuff of a generally academic nature that way should be looked down upon; I study bioethics (biobanking, pharmaceutical policy, assisted reproductive technology, yada yada yada), so a lot more of my buzzes have come from pursuing tangential interests than from my actual research or curricula. Furthermore, I agree that there's no real way to stamp a fact as being relevant to scholars or not, and favouring a looser interpretation of "academic" probably does lead to more interesting and rewarding questions. Rather, my initial post in this thread had to do with Ryan's statement juxtaposing "quizbowl things" with "knowledge acquired in the course of other academic interests" as if they ought to be mutually exclusive. What this brings to mind for me are those tossups that begin by describing minor details of paintings... I don't know whether it's common for people to memorize an entire painting in other contexts, but to me those clues seem completely ungettable unless you've made a deliberate effort to learn about visual art qua quizbowl topic rather than visual art qua important part of culture.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by vinteuil » Fri May 15, 2015 9:14 pm

Nabonidus wrote:What this brings to mind for me are those tossups that begin by describing minor details of paintings... I don't know whether it's common for people to memorize an entire painting in other contexts, but to me those clues seem completely ungettable unless you've made a deliberate effort to learn about visual art qua quizbowl topic rather than visual art qua important part of culture.
Obviously this isn't true for every painting, and not every quizbowl question does this in a way that aligns with academic art studies, but the detailed analysis of iconology and form in paintings has been a staple of the field for a long time now.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Fri May 15, 2015 10:24 pm

vinteuil wrote:Obviously this isn't true for every painting, and not every quizbowl question does this in a way that aligns with academic art studies, but the detailed analysis of iconology and form in paintings has been a staple of the field for a long time now.
This is certainly true; here, as Ike has articulated, quizbowl has a lesson worth learning from academia: many of these minute features often aren't particularly notable or uniquely on their own, and even when they are, it's a probably better idea to reward people for engaging with the visual arts beyond simple surface-level detail. After all, that is how academics and the majority of normal people (apart from people only looking to gaze at pretty pictures and get nice Facebook backgrounds - not to say that this is a bad thing) approach the subject.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Nabonidus » Fri May 15, 2015 10:31 pm

Disclaimer: I know very little about art except for the exasperating postmodern stuff that involves shocking people with a frozen-blood sculpture of your own head or getting plastic surgery to look like the Mona Lisa.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by grapesmoker » Sat May 16, 2015 12:32 am

Nabonidus wrote: I didn't mean to imply that learning stuff of a generally academic nature that way should be looked down upon; I study bioethics (biobanking, pharmaceutical policy, assisted reproductive technology, yada yada yada), so a lot more of my buzzes have come from pursuing tangential interests than from my actual research or curricula. Furthermore, I agree that there's no real way to stamp a fact as being relevant to scholars or not, and favouring a looser interpretation of "academic" probably does lead to more interesting and rewarding questions. Rather, my initial post in this thread had to do with Ryan's statement juxtaposing "quizbowl things" with "knowledge acquired in the course of other academic interests" as if they ought to be mutually exclusive. What this brings to mind for me are those tossups that begin by describing minor details of paintings... I don't know whether it's common for people to memorize an entire painting in other contexts, but to me those clues seem completely ungettable unless you've made a deliberate effort to learn about visual art qua quizbowl topic rather than visual art qua important part of culture.
Ah, I see. Well, this question probably deserves a longer answer than I feel up to writing at the moment, but the gist of Ryan's argument, which I hope I'm not representing unfairly, is that there's value in packet reading and you should be rewarded for looking at stuff in old packets. And he's not wrong, because old packets typically contain lots of good information. Where (I contend) this theory runs aground is when you make "thing has appeared X times as (clue/bonus part/tossup)" a criterion to justify its inclusion in further tournaments. So, you get all sorts of weird things making an appearance just because they've made an appearance before. The other problem with using old packets as reference is that you end up with a skewed notion of "what matters." Back in the day when this was a problem, I used to rage about every Murakami or Oe question because there were tons of them, each either recycling old clues or delving into absurd depths to extract the next Murakami story that would become the next stock clue to... well, you get it.

Anyway obviously there will be lots of overlap between stuff that comes up in packets and stuff that comes up in classes just because of the nature of the game, and it's never a bad idea to check your intuition against what's come up before as a safeguard. But I personally think that relying overly on old packets as a guide tends to either end up promoting unanswerable stuff to the front lines or repeating lots of popular answers just because they're popular.

edit: as for the art stuff, I personally get something out of those clues, or I did when I actively studied art for quizbowl.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Sat May 16, 2015 7:51 pm

I think answerlines of "plebeian secessions," "Rome" based on clues about plebeian secessions in Rome, and "plebeians" are all hideously awful ideas for a tossup. I think they'd all be very hard to write without various degrees of transparency, and all of them would play poorly in most instances.

I expect many of you folks would disagree. But, I suppose that makes sense - because this seems to be a seminal concrete example of the type of question I'd generally despise, while others might feel it more intellectually rewarding.


As a side note, Matt Jackson's statement about everyone reading Postwar at the same time to mine clues is really frustrating to me. This "insider quizbowl bookclub" phenomenon is a thing that happens, and an awful thing.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Sat May 16, 2015 7:52 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote:This "insider quizbowl bookclub" phenomenon is a thing that happens, and an awful thing.
Wait, are you joking? Everyone reading a good book is an "awful thing," but everyone STUDYING PACKETS is the epitome of laudable quizbowl behavior??
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Ike » Sat May 16, 2015 7:59 pm

As a side note, Matt Jackson's statement about everyone reading Postwar at the same time to mine clues is really frustrating to me. This "insider quizbowl bookclub" phenomenon is a thing that happens, and an awful thing.
Is this actually happening? Did a bunch of high level quizbowlers agree to read it and writers were populating their tournaments with clues from that book? If so, I agree that that is not good. I'll say that writers should, in general, be very careful with disseminating what they read as sources of clues - it really does give the game away.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Sat May 16, 2015 8:04 pm

Also, this is a good thread because Jerry, in his initial post, has quite eloquently defined the differences in two identifiable styles that appear in this game. I think he's defined it in a way that makes sense to more people - we usually just use loaded terms like "transparent" or "real knowledge" in a way that confuses a lot of folks, especially ones who don't know all the meaning thats been packed into those terms over the years.

But, the argument presented here isn't new at all. Many people have argued to me on many occasions that they find questions more difficult in general when they don't provide a lot of contextual details. Those are probably the players who, like Jerry, want to feel like they're "moving closer" to the answer as the question progresses - they want to try to put together the puzzle pieces, because that's how they answer questions. They also seem to feel like that's a more intellectually rewarding experience than just trigger-buzzing off one isolated clue.

That argument makes some sense intellectually to me, but doesn't jive with my experience of the game, because that's not how I've ever played the game. When questions keep rapidly spitting out "one-to-one mapping" clues, it actually makes the game easier for me, because eventually I'll run into a clue that I know (and haven't yet forgotten) - probably way sooner than I'll ever successfully put those damn puzzle pieces together. There are many other players who, to varying extents, are really good at doing the same thing - and are likely benefitted by having contextual clues kept to a minimum.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Sat May 16, 2015 8:30 pm

Ike wrote:
As a side note, Matt Jackson's statement about everyone reading Postwar at the same time to mine clues is really frustrating to me. This "insider quizbowl bookclub" phenomenon is a thing that happens, and an awful thing.
Is this actually happening? Did a bunch of high level quizbowlers agree to read it and writers were populating their tournaments with clues from that book? If so, I agree that that is not good. I'll say that writers should, in general, be very careful with disseminating what they read as sources of clues - it really does give the game away.
I wasn't part of any collusion or conspiracy that I'm aware of -- it just seemed like a good book to read at that stage in my QBdevelopment and so I read it. I only read it about a year later in summer 2012 and didn't find out other people had also done so until I was writing a bunch of questions for sets like NHBB and NASAT and sussed out through playtesting of tossups that a few other people knew the same clues. As far as I can tell the game did not break. Pretty much every person who sets out to bs a myth player has at least browsed the Eddas, the Iliad, and the Odyssey -- that doesnt break the game either.

I share Marshall's incredulity at Ryan's post. It can't be a bad thing for the game that people happen to read the books that will get them better, and if it is, it is utter hyppcrisy to dislike that and laud those same people for all reading the same packets. I am not going to apologize to anyone for reading and it is kind of silly that you people are making me defend myself for doing the very thing this game is meant to encourage.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Sat May 16, 2015 8:49 pm

Oh, to be clear, I don't mean this as any sort of charge against MJack, and I don't think anyone is deliberately "colluding."

But, it does seem that certain books can covertly "make the rounds" in quizbowl at certain times, and magically appear as clues in questions after they do - my only issue is the insider nature of this effect. The packets (unlike several years ago) are all publicly available, and everyone knows they are a source for learning the game.


But, as an aside, just as Matt won't apologize (and shouldn't apologize) - people shouldn't apologize for reading packets. Do you know how sometimes tennis players will score a point by hitting the net and having the ball dribble over - and then they'll offer up an apology to their competitor for that cheap point? I feel like we're getting to an age where people implicitly do that when they buzz on a clue they learned from an old packet. Maybe I'm just paranoid about that, but I will always fight against it.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Sat May 16, 2015 8:52 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote:But, it does seem that certain books can covertly "make the rounds" in quizbowl at certain times, and magically appear as clues in questions after they do - my only issue is the insider nature of this effect. The packets (unlike several years ago) are all publicly available.
This is also true of books, thank God.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Ike » Sat May 16, 2015 8:57 pm

Matthew J wrote:
Ike wrote:
As a side note, Matt Jackson's statement about everyone reading Postwar at the same time to mine clues is really frustrating to me. This "insider quizbowl bookclub" phenomenon is a thing that happens, and an awful thing.
Is this actually happening? Did a bunch of high level quizbowlers agree to read it and writers were populating their tournaments with clues from that book? If so, I agree that that is not good. I'll say that writers should, in general, be very careful with disseminating what they read as sources of clues - it really does give the game away.
I wasn't part of any collusion or conspiracy that I'm aware of -- it just seemed like a good book to read at that stage in my QBdevelopment and so I read it. I only read it about a year later in summer 2012 and didn't find out other people had also done so until I was writing a bunch of questions for sets like NHBB and NASAT and sussed out through playtesting of tossups that a few other people knew the same clues. As far as I can tell the game did not break. Pretty much every person who sets out to bs a myth player has at least browsed the Eddas, the Iliad, and the Odyssey -- that doesnt break the game either.

I share Marshall's incredulity at Ryan's post. It can't be a bad thing for the game that people happen to read the books that will get them better, and if it is, it is utter hyppcrisy to dislike that and laud those same people for all reading the same packets. I am not going to apologize to anyone for reading and it is kind of silly that you people are making me defend myself for doing the very thing this game is meant to encourage.
I don't think Ryan is and I'm certainly not, attacking people for reading books. I think what we're saying is that if you're going to write on say, a topic like European History, you shouldn't be privileging one secondary source over another. I believe this was the reason why people complained about NAQT writing all of their current events out of one month's issue of The Economist.

As to The Iliad, I think it's perfectly fine to mine the Iliad for clues because it's a primary source for myth. I don't think it's okay to write 7/7 myth for a tournament out of Charles Gayley's The Classic Myths, if that makes any sense.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Nabonidus » Sat May 16, 2015 9:59 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote:Many people have argued to me on many occasions that they find questions more difficult in general when they don't provide a lot of contextual details. Those are probably the players who, like Jerry, want to feel like they're "moving closer" to the answer as the question progresses - they want to try to put together the puzzle pieces, because that's how they answer questions. They also seem to feel like that's a more intellectually rewarding experience than just trigger-buzzing off one isolated clue.

That argument makes some sense intellectually to me, but doesn't jive with my experience of the game, because that's not how I've ever played the game. When questions keep rapidly spitting out "one-to-one mapping" clues, it actually makes the game easier for me, because eventually I'll run into a clue that I know (and haven't yet forgotten) - probably way sooner than I'll ever successfully put those damn puzzle pieces together. There are many other players who, to varying extents, are really good at doing the same thing - and are likely benefitted by having contextual clues kept to a minimum.
I think this depends a lot on the length of question? One of the reasons I've so far enjoyed ACF over NAQT is that those tossups seem more amenable to contemplating the first couple clues and how they might relate to each other, whereas briefer questions less often give you enough time to fall behind and "put together the puzzle pieces". I would also guess that questions which provide a gradual increase of cross-referenceable information produce fewer buzzer races than those which advance like a ratchet, although I have no idea whether that holds up empirically and am probably biased by my stupor-like buzzer speed.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Sat May 16, 2015 11:32 pm

Ike wrote: I'll say that writers should, in general, be very careful with disseminating what they read as sources of clues - it really does give the game away.
Sure, to a reasonable extent -- it is just poor strategy to wear your bookshelf on your sleeve. Especially if you're about to submit a question on a work you read in an upcomung packet. This is why I didn't join Goodreads and recommend against serious quizbowlers doing so.
I don't think Ryan is and I'm certainly not, attacking people for reading books. I think what we're saying is that if you're going to write on say, a topic like European History, you shouldn't be privileging one secondary source over another. I believe this was the reason why people complained about NAQT writing all of their current events out of one month's issue of The Economist.

As to The Iliad, I think it's perfectly fine to mine the Iliad for clues because it's a primary source for myth. I don't think it's okay to write 7/7 myth for a tournament out of Charles Gayley's The Classic Myths, if that makes any sense.
I don't disagree with this either. I wouldn't want an insider advantage to accrue to teams because they knew what the contents of Jerry Vinokurov's bookshelf were and got the questions on "the Jerry books" or whatever. Thankfully there are enough books in existence, and most prominent writers have wide-ranging enough question writing tastes, that that isn't an issue in today's QBworld.
No Rules Westbrook wrote:I think answerlines of "plebeian secessions," "Rome" based on clues about plebeian secessions in Rome, and "plebeians" are all hideously awful ideas for a tossup. I think they'd all be very hard to write without various degrees of transparency, and all of them would play poorly in most instances.

I expect many of you folks would disagree. But, I suppose that makes sense - because this seems to be a seminal concrete example of the type of question I'd generally despise, while others might feel it more intellectually rewarding.
Well, if you declare up front that a certain kind of question is going to be awful based on the fact that you "generally despise" that kind of answer line, of course all questions on it are going to look terrible to you! Look: the plebeian secessions were a finite set of concrete events about which there are real unique clues. Some questions on it might be poorly written due to transparency, but given the literal thousand years of Roman history, I don't think the mere use of Roman personal or place names would cause that. Would you object on similar grounds to tossing up "sacks of Rome," as happens all the time?
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Sun May 17, 2015 1:41 pm

I just don't think the "quizbowl bookclub" effect that Ryan's describing actually happens with any frequency. As I understand it, Ryan's complaining about times when books or articles popular on quizbowl social media become "fair game" for questions for no other reason than that. I think there was one time in 2010 when we faced a sudden barrage of Bohumil Hrabal questions for that reason, but that's pretty much it. If you've learned anything lately, it's that literature writers all hate each other and couldn't stand to form a book club anyway.

Sometimes important articles attract attention from a number of social networks, including quizbowl, and then become questions; I don't see that as a problem at all. Other times, a previously-unknown question topic shows up at 4 or 5 tournaments in a row just because people copied the first writer and wanted to learn the clues; this is a problem, but it's evidence against Ryan's preferred "canonicity" method.

The point I really want to obliterate, though, is Ryan's implication that using previous questions to choose your answers is less "insidery" than the alternative. It's the old argument that "the packet archive is the new player's best friend." In my experience, that's absurd. If you have to tell your club, "You can make yourself useful at the highest level by spending over 100 hours memorizing clues from old hard tournaments," it's not gonna go over well. Usually, the freshmen will give up on trying to gain the "inside" footing and they'll be right to do so. When we're mindful not to let stupid rules like the "canon" dictate what we ask, and reserve large parts of the set for answers that educated non-quizbowlers might know, non-insiders have a lot more fun.

It goes without saying, of course, that I benefited tremendously from packet study early on. I'm not saying anybody should apologize for packet knowledge, although this "nobody should read packets to learn things ever" thing that Ryan and others brought up is a ridiculous strawman that nobody's actually arguing. We should just know not to use packets as a basis for future questions.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Sun May 17, 2015 4:35 pm

I'm not sure you can write a good "sacks of Rome" question for a tournament above ACF Fall level.


And, 100 hours of packet reading!? That's just crazy.

You should be doing way, way more packet reading than that. Packet reading is the equivalent of a basketball player practicing their free throws. Get to it, kids.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Sun May 17, 2015 4:38 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote:And, 100 hours of packet reading!? That's just crazy.

You should be doing way, way more packet reading than that. Packet reading is the equivalent of a basketball player practicing their free throws. Get to it, kids.
I can't believe this isn't trolling, but if it is serious: no, don't. Do your homework, get good grades, write interesting research papers, pursue your interests further through non-assigned reading, and embark on a very rewarding lifetime journey of becoming and being a knowledgeable person.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Sun May 17, 2015 4:45 pm

It isn't trolling at all. The free throw analogy is adept - packet reading builds your "canon mastery" stat, and that's something that I absolutely think this game should require players to demonstrate in order to be dominant players. To the extent that qb writing is moving away from making players demonstrate that sort of mastery, I object and will continue writing questions that send you to the free throw line.

You can be an intellectually interesting person at the same time, and I think almost everyone in this community is.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Sun May 17, 2015 6:26 pm

I personally have gotten a lot out of reading packets because I generally like to spend time looking up the things I read about as opposed to developing one-to-one answerline mappings. Only reading packets won't get you to the top because then you won't be armed with any new knowledge for new clues that haven't come up before. People approach this game in different ways that not only have differential efficiencies for getting better at the game, but different outcomes for what sort of knowledge they develop, and that is completely okay.

This being said, people are correct to realize that advertising packet reading as the primary way to get better at this game isn't really very attractive to getting new players into the game. My preferred way of getting better remains to write down things I don't know, look them up later, and learn what they are - plus maybe to look up previous questions on that topic as well. This is what I'll always tell new players to maximize their utility, if you will, assuming utility is a function of both competitive strength and intellectual/personal development.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Sun May 17, 2015 7:11 pm

Packet reading is a very good way to get you very competent very fast. Virtually no good-to-excellent (rather than just competent) players got good through packet-reading alone. These observations have relatively little moral weight.

If you are actually a competent-to-good quizbowl player and really want to stand on a hill and proclaim that you're never going to read packets on your own, that's all fine and dandy, but (a) I don't actually believe you, as you almost certainly go to your team's practices to hear old packets at minimum (b) you also thereby declare that you're fine getting beaten to questions often to people who have learned things by reading packets -- no crowing about how "fake" or "robotic" everyone else is. Similarly, if you really want to stand on an opposing hill proclaiming that reading packets is the way and the truth and the life, that's also fine and dandy, but you should be aware of the limitations of being exclusive about that approach. Again, as I posted above, virtually every good-to-excellent player does a lot of mutually-reinforcing things to get better and all of them involve actually learning. Virtually no good-to-excellent quizbowl player would want to stand on either of these hills as a consequence.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Sun May 17, 2015 7:14 pm

Matthew J wrote:Packet reading is a very good way to get you very competent very fast. Virtually no excellent (rather than just competent) players got good through packet-reading alone. These observations have relatively little moral weight.

If you are actually a competent-to-good quizbowl player and really want to stand on a hill and proclaim that you're never going to read packets on your own, that's all fine and dandy, but (a) I don't actually believe you and (b) you also thereby declare that you're fine getting beaten to questions often to people who have learned things by reading packets -- no crowing about how "fake" everyone else is. Similarly, if you really want to stand on an opposing hill proclaiming that reading packets is the way and the truth and the life, that's also fine and dandy, you should be aware of the limitations of being exclusive about that approach. Again, as I posted above, virtually every excellent player does a lot of mutually-reinforcing things to get better and all of them involve actually learning.
I think it's worth taking a larger view here. You're undoubtedly right about quizbowl qua quizbowl, but what about the extrinsic value of the activity to larger life concerns? I'll state outright that the position I've advocated on these matters throughout my involvement with the game has been motivated by my wish that the game had an acknowledged didactic agenda and that its internal payoff structure serve that agenda.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Sun May 17, 2015 7:17 pm

Tees-Exe Line wrote:I think it's worth taking a larger view here. You're undoubtedly right about quizbowl qua quizbowl, but what about the extrinsic value of the activity to larger life concerns? I'll state outright that the position I've advocated on these matters throughout my involvement with the game has been motivated by my wish that the game had an acknowledged didactic agenda and that its internal payoff structure serve that agenda.
Sure. I 110% think it's absolutely a great thing when the game of quizbowl encourages people to broaden their academic horizons "for real" beyond what they'd otherwise do. It's also a great thing when the game rewards people for intellectual engagement that couldn't have come merely from playing the game (as happens often enough when there's a fresh hard part, clue, or tossup idea -- more so as the difficulty level increases). I've had both of those experiences many times over and am better-off for it. I don't believe I've wounded my other intellectual pursuits in any serious way by having "study to win quizbowl tournaments" be among the things I have done with my time. Then again, "my time" might not mean the same thing to me as it does for others, depending on a ton of factors (I haven't yet gone to graduate school, for example).

I don't know if I'd change anything major about how quizbowl is written or played now to encourage this even further, as I believe the current setup of game -- packet-cramming included -- offers many people a ton of chances to develop new interests, and there's no way to force people to become interested in something if it doesn't flow organically from responses they have to the world they inhabit. In other words: This game is great at leading the horse to water, and while I certainly encourage said horse to drink, I don't know if, either "culturally" or on a game level, there's much to do that we aren't already doing to make it drink.
Last edited by Adventure Temple Trail on Sun May 17, 2015 7:25 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Sun May 17, 2015 7:19 pm

Matthew J wrote:This game is great at leading the horse to water, and while I certainly encourage said horse to drink, I don't know if, either "culturally" or on a game level, there's much to do that we aren't already doing to make it drink.
Well, what sparked this whole discussion was the contention that Ryan's style of writing and editing history questions is deficient on precisely those grounds.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Sun May 17, 2015 7:22 pm

Tees-Exe Line wrote:
Matthew J wrote:This game is great at leading the horse to water, and while I certainly encourage said horse to drink, I don't know if, either "culturally" or on a game level, there's much to do that we aren't already doing to make it drink.
Well, what sparked this whole discussion was the contention that Ryan's style of writing and editing history questions is deficient on precisely those grounds.
I mean, writers should do what they can to make their questions interesting, with the known caveat that not everything is interesting to everyone and they might not always be able to succeed at that on a question-by-question basis due to other gameplay concerns. Speaking personally I don't think of Ryan as someone who fails to make his questions interesting tout court. So if that's a premise someone has I disagree with it (even though some of his views perplex me).
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Ike » Sun May 17, 2015 7:47 pm

I really don't have a problem as using old packets as a guide as long as you are judicious about it. For one - it's how you get usable packets from teams who don't know any better at times - I'm reminded of John Lawrence's 2013 packet with completely usable biology and chemistry - without the canon to guide him would he have produce great questions in science?

I think we start to run into problems when people start ramming Bose Einstein Condensates and the Marangoni Effect (circa 2009) into the canon through old packets - that sucks, and we should avoid that. Just be judicious while getting inspiration or whatever through old packets- if you open a packet and see tossups on 2013 CO's octonions and 2015's Nats questions space filling curves, should you go out and write about those? (Hint: I would say that it's fine to toss those things up 1 every 10 years or so!)
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Heh, I don't know if this is directed towards me, but I think there is only one "literature writer" (and hint: it's neither Evan or Tommy!) with whom I have an issue. I think you'll find that 1.) literature writers are friendly people who talk with each other about reading - (how can you not be friends with Rob?) and 2.) quizbowlers are actually generally very social and love talking to each other about books. As an example, I am friends with Andrew Wang and Eric Mukherjee, and I had to make an explicit effort to not tell them that I found a collection of revenge plays at my local bookstore all this year so as to preserve the integrity of my ~The Atheist's Tragedy~ tossup.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Sun May 17, 2015 8:11 pm

Naturally, I've been flippantly overstating my position in the last couple posts, as I think people can sense. You should absolutely not be content with just reading packets on its own, but rather use those packets as a guide to do your own research - which you have to do if you're writing questions anyway (as almost all of the regular community members are) - in addition to pursuing your own reading independently.

Everyone who writes questions knows this is all just a bunch of pissing in the wind anyway. The same 12 people who are really good at writing questions are going to keep writing questions and editing tournaments - they may slightly modify their style in response to feedback, but all of the writers generally use all of the styles at one point or another. Like always, certain editors and the way they write is going to be beneficial to one group of players, and not beneficial to another group of players.

If you're Marshall, you're probably not going to fare as well over the very long stretch on my questions as you will with some other writers. Conversely, the fact that certain players may struggle a little more on my questions in general will make it easier for a different group of players to play well on them. But, the effect is never really all that drastic - since I just keep making sports analogies, it's really just like an umpire's strike zone for different games.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Sam » Sun May 17, 2015 10:43 pm

Matthew J wrote:Like Ryan, I also didn't get to this thread. What I was going to add was this: Edmund's post is interesting, because it reveals that often times, players have types of knowledge and thought processes that editors can't readily predict. And most of the time, that's an argument that the "one-to-one" style isn't actually as bland as it might seem (and might not actually be that different from the "attempting to put in context" style) -- as seemingly plain clues can tend to generate their own "context" for people who do have specialty knowledge of some sort and are capable of reading between the lines.
I enjoy the figure-it-out aspect of quiz bowl and find answering those questions to be the most satisfying, but I worry that writers explicitly taking that into account leads to questions more difficult than anticipated. This may just be me projecting my own question-writing shortcomings: frequently it turns out context clues are much more obvious when you already know the answer than in the middle of a game. I agree with Matt and Edmund that it's very possible to achieve Vinokurovian ends by Westbrookian means, and would add that I think Ryan's method can very often be "safer" for hitting target difficultly.
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