What are you allowed to talk about? (re: set content)

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John Quincy Adams's Alligator
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What are you allowed to talk about? (re: set content)

Post by John Quincy Adams's Alligator »

I guess I want this to be a discussion post about the boundaries between facts/clues/jokes you tell your friends and clues you use in tournaments. I've been kinda struggling with this idea a lot, and its always struck me how little seems generally accepted. There are some very broad guidelines of course (volume writers not using goodreads, not directly talking about clues in unclear tossups) but I feel like there is a lot of grey area that I've never seen talked about. It seems very clear cut that reusing an unplayed tossup verbatim is bad if others who will play the set have seen it, but what about reusing a clue? or reusing a theme? Maybe the following questions have clear moral stances that I'm missing, or maybe (worryingly?) the answer really just is "its up to you!" but I feel as though its possible many writers are winging this as hard as I am, and I was curious if there could be a clearer community consensus on how to handle some of these issues.

A couple other questions and musings:
-Is there a statute on limitations on when clues can come up again? If I tell a groupchat of friends an interesting hard clue, is there some amount of time I should wait before using the clue? Is the clue permanently spoiled?

-Is there a statute on limitations on reusing your own clues? Obviously I can't/shouldn't write tossups sharing clues in back to back tournaments, but if I really think that X clue needs to come up more, and I've clued it last year, is it ok to clue again? What about for a different answerline?

-How hard do people need to avoid writing on their "personal canon?" Obviously, the set of works / topics / clues some writers like is significantly more well-known than for others; how much do these people have an obligation to avoid writing about these works? (My personal intuition here is that this is largely based on specificity - a writer who absolutely loves a specific story or novel should stray away from writing about those significantly more than a writer known for writing 20th century French history, which is a subdistro that will likely be represented in many tournaments.)

-What about just talking about clues? If, for instance, I've just read "The Sandman" and have written a question on it, and a friend says a factually inaccurate thing about the story that pertains to the story, am I obligated to sit back and let it slide? What if a friend jokes that he's super certain some clue or answer is going to come up in the set, and that clue or answer does come up in the set? How does one respond there?
(A friend of mine had an interesting view on this, when I asked - he said he talks about clues if he feels he would have mentioned them naturally before writing the question.)

I don't think the answer to these questions is simply never to talk about interesting facts that could be clues - half the fun of quizbowl is talking about cool stuff you've learned.

Obviously, there is a lot of discussion material here, and I don't mean to suggest we compile an encyclopedia of set writing maxims or whatever, but I do think that this type of discussion is underhad and that it would be very helpful for writers to see others' thoughts on this idea. I think sets in the past few years have certainly suffered from writers cluing things that they didn't necessarily leak, but that still favored friends and players "in the know." And I think it's really strange that I've never seen a reasonably comprehensive discussion about this stuff - I certainly would have liked one when I began to write.
Last edited by John Quincy Adams's Alligator on Sat Feb 01, 2020 8:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Vishwa Shanmugam
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John Quincy Adams's Alligator
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Re: What are you allowed to talk about (set content)?

Post by John Quincy Adams's Alligator »

(This is more of a concrete response than I wanted the tone of the original post to be, so I split this off here)
I think one of the better answers to the question is that quizbowl sets should really encourage diverse writing casts, because that minimizes a lot of the above issues. Sets where entire categories are often shaped by single writers lend themselves especially well to players recognizing "well, I know <author> loves x topic" and gleaning meta-knowledge that way. When sets are made up of a mosaic of question writers (especially new, less experienced ones!) these issues naturally mitigate themselves. Obviously, there are pragmatic reasons why sometimes a few people have to write all of a set, but do think this at least consitutes a strong argument in favor of programs that train new writers, and for erring in favor of more writers.
Vishwa Shanmugam
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vinteuil
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Re: What are you allowed to talk about? (re: set content)

Post by vinteuil »

This is a great topic to bring up. Personally, I let my own sense of how long people remember passing information govern my choices regarding the "statute of limitations"—if I mentioned something in passing over a year ago, or clued it in an unused submission two years ago, I won't feel guilty using that clue (although I'll probably reword it).

Similarly, correcting your friend on the detail from "The Sandman" seems perfectly reasonable, so long as you don't make it apparent why that information may be fresh in your mind.

I would use a similar heuristic for the "personal canon" thing: do I think that somebody who knows me well is unfairly advantaged on this clue? How about the "in the know" portion of the community at large? Can I mitigate those advantages? (For instance: if my friends know I like some book, and I think they're unlikely to have actually looked into it, I might—might—be more willing to clue its actual content.)
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Cheynem
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Re: What are you allowed to talk about? (re: set content)

Post by Cheynem »

Here's another scenario:

You just wrote a question and in another context, get a buzz on something off that knowledge, which probably makes it obvious to "those in the know" that you are going to ask about that material in one of your tournaments. I remember for CO 2016 editing/writing a question on Argentina's "Conquest of the Desert," something I know nothing about. On a car ride to CO, I buzzed/answered a question about that topic, and later someone (I think the fiend Will Nediger, but could be someone else) noted it was thus pretty clear (in his mind) that such a topic would come up at that CO. Similarly, at one Side Event Open Weekend, I buzzed TWICE at both Film/Words and Objects on the same clue relating to The Great Train Robbery silent film that I also clued in my same event that weekend (I dunno if anyone else noticed).

Obviously one should not restrict one's buzzing just to keep up a false pretense and in any event, the information listed is publicly available more or less--everyone heard the tossup and the clue you buzzed on, but it's just a reminder to avoid saying too much afterwards. Saying things like "Oh, I just learned that [and let me expound" is probably not a good idea if you've just written on it.
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Re: What are you allowed to talk about? (re: set content)

Post by Mike Bentley »

In general, it's prudent to avoid discussing things you're writing about with active members of the quizbowl community or in places where those people would see them (social media, Discord, etc.). Since you do often want to discuss those things, it can be helpful to have a friend, perhaps a former quizbowler who is now retired, for this purpose.

Repeating yourself is inevitably going to happen if you produce a large number of questions. It can be helpful to have a repository of your own questions to check if you've written on the same thing before. This is not to say you shouldn't ever repeat yourself, but at least be aware of what you're doing.

And, uh, moving to a place like Seattle helps you avoid a lot of the situations like Mike Cheyne described.
Mike Bentley
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