2017 WAO: Thanks and General Discussion

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2017 WAO: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by naan/steak-holding toll »

Thank you all for playing WAO! I hope you enjoyed playing the tournament as much as we enjoyed writing it. I'm very proud of my co-workers - Joey Goldman, Jason Cheng, Jonathan Luck, James Lasker, Naveed Chowdhury, and Athena Kern - for having put together this tournament in such a short period of time. Shan Kothari also contributed several music bonuses, which helped me greatly in getting through crunch time.

Please post here if you have gneneral thoughts about this tournament I'm going to save my energy for giving packet feedback, but I'm interested in hearing perceptions of how the set felt overall.

A few undirected thoughts:

- This set definitely had a degree of "personal flavor" to it, in the sense that a lot of the categories definitely bore the stampl of their authors. The social science was full of interdisciplinary questions and the "other social science/etc" distribution had a lot of things that I just personally find interesting. The British lit and philosophy brought in a number of important 20th century British intellectual and literary figures; other areas of literature often took a genre/history/contextual approach in the sort of way that Jason often likes to approach things, etc.
- I don't think this aforementioned "personal flavor" approach is appropriate to editing a national tournament, but for a fun open like this I think it's okay, especially because the writers had a lot of great ideas and I wanted to let them implement them
- I put a lot of effort into this set's history to make it "real" (i.e. approach things from a "big picture" perspective) and to try to drag the boundaries beyond a "traditional" history distribution, i.e. by using more archaeology, historiography, and cross-category types of questions in the space I explicitly made for those
- The auditory other arts and music were rush jobs, and I apologize if this was apparent
- I'm not a scientist, but I think James deserves serious praise for his work as a first-time editor for chemistry, physics, and other science (and Jason/Jonathan for their first efforts at college-level bio editing)

EDIT: I also tried to make some mild attempts at humor, i.e. the lead-in to the Sholokhov bonus, the Game of Thrones comparison in the bonus on the FitzGerald family, keeping the Chris Ray humor in the submitted Thanksgiving bonus, Mishima's adventures, occasional light mockery of people who submitted silly bonus leadins, etc. I hope these mostly went over well.
Last edited by naan/steak-holding toll on Wed Jan 25, 2017 5:57 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Lake Winnipesaukee Mystery Stone »

This set was pretty great, and I've got very few criticisms or quibbles, at least in the areas on which I have a vague qualification to talk about.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Aaron's Rod »

This set was a lot of fun to read, thank you for all the editors and people who submitted. I may have more things to say later.

It feels like I'm more or less going to go to the grave asking for more/better pronunciation guides, but not having them in place for words like "Pirahã," "HWÆT," and "bejtexhinj" seemed a little irresponsible. I know smaller and open tournaments tend to have more experienced moderators, but I would really encourage you to include those (and double-check for others) for the upcoming mirrors.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by naan/steak-holding toll »

Aaron's Rod wrote: It feels like I'm more or less going to go to the grave asking for more/better pronunciation guides, but not having them in place for words like "Pirahã," "HWÆT," and "bejtexhinj" seemed a little irresponsible. I know smaller and open tournaments tend to have more experienced moderators, but I would really encourage you to include those (and double-check for others) for the upcoming mirrors.
This is a good criticism. We will be adding these this week.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Mike Bentley »

The tournament was a lot of fun to play. Thanks to all of the editors and writers for putting it together. I hope that there continue to be tournaments like this each year.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Jem Casey »

This was a very good set, and one that truly had that coveted "intellectual experience" feel to it. Perhaps authorial intent has no place in quizbowl discussion, but what Will said about "personal flavor" was a plus for me; many questions felt charged with the enthusiasm that they were written with, making them more fun to listen to and more exciting to follow up on after the tournament. Big thanks to all the editors for making this happen.

In so far as I'd critique WAO, I'd say that the difficulty control in some categories occasionally bordered on irresponsible to the announced difficulty of "solidly regular-plus." Excluding the hardness of the early to middle clues of most tossups, which I assume was an understood consequence of an intentional effort to use "fresh" clues, I've listed some issues below. Most examples are drawn from the lit and visual arts, which seemed to have the biggest problems with difficulty.
1) Too many open-level tossup answers. This also includes common-link tossups that had accessible giveaways, but could not help but be open-level in their clueing, e.g. secularism. I did appreciate that the tossups that broke the regular-difficulty canon--"Tradition and the Individual Talent," Ferrante, Ruscha, Manetho, Flavius Aetius, Charlotte Temple, and others--were generally on irl famous topics, but it seemed a bit indulgent of the editors (who, I believe, chose all the above answerlines) to write on so many topics that fell outside the announced difficulty range.
2) Unforgiving easy and middle parts. Middle parts seem to have been chosen with the philosophy that anything that comes up at hard tournaments--Goldoni, Sebald, Woe from Wit, Gautier, Wittgenstein('s Mistress), Lucian Freud, The Princes in the Tower, space (in French thought), etc--is fair, and easy parts with the philosophy that anything "you gotta know" to be a college-level specialist in that subject is easy enough--how else to explain easy parts on Le fleurs du mal, Achebe, Coetzee, and Bellow that didn't even obliquely mention the most famous things about them?* Needless to say, I do not think this is how regular-plus bonuses should be constructed. It should be obvious how frustrating--and often needlessly so--this style can be for inexperienced teams or for solid teams that haven't yet scaled the open canon, like VT and Maryland B, respectively, at the UVA site.
3) Very difficult hard parts. I group this separately from (2) because it affects a different part of the field, requires a different sort of methodology to avoid, and was an occasional instead of systematic issue. Hard parts of this sort ranged from the truly obscure--The Chinese Wall by Max Frisch and "Halpin Frayser"--to arguably notable things that nowhere close to 10% of the field has a chance of converting--J.H. Prynne and Singaporean literature. Part of delivering a high-quality tournament is checking and double-checking one's initial instincts about difficulty, and choosing playability over personal interest when necessary; I guess I'd like to have seen more evidence that all the editors took this approach.

*these exclusions seemed more a deliberate decision than, say, a similarly difficult easy part on the Migration series, and I'd love to hear what the philosophy behind them actually was!
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Megachile dupla »

I liked the set a lot and wanted to note a couple positives from it. One is that the editors did a pretty good job keeping difficulty consistent through different packets and categories. This wasn't perfect, as Jordan notes, but good given the vague "regular plus" stated difficulty. I also thought they did a good job avoiding gendered pronouns on tossups about men to avoid transparent questions.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by naan/steak-holding toll »

Jordan's criticism is fair - this tournament ended up harder than intended. As editors, we recognized and accepted this because we felt that our audience, for the most part, wanted a somewhat tougher tournament with some tougher answers, though still with a majority of not-tough answers, and I think we delivered that. Still, there definitely could have been a more concerted effort to control easy parts and reign in super-tough hard parts, which often rob knowledgeable people of points in an unkind manner.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Jason Cheng »

I did try to control difficulty as one of my two main goals while editing the literature--I also wrote on answers such as The Age of Innocence and Madame Bovary, for example. I was worried about this tournament turning into a death march overall given the rushed nature of the production process, so I aimed to set an average difficulty that ended up at somewhere below the nationals level. If this led to difficulty inconsistencies, then I apologize.
Jem Casey wrote:"Tradition and the Individual Talent," Ferrante... Charlotte Temple,
Sebald,
Le fleurs du mal,
The Chinese Wall by Max Frisch and "Halpin Frayser"
Singaporean literature

*these exclusions seemed more a deliberate decision than, say, a similarly difficult easy part on the Migration series, and I'd love to hear what the philosophy behind them actually was!
As the writer of these questions (and editor of the Bierce bonus), I'll cop to being a little negligent on the _flowers_ bonus part cluing Le fleurs du mal--I was in a rush and just threw in the first clue I could think of that I thought was easy, but I should've gone back to take a look at it when we were packetizing. The same goes for the moment when I was a little irresponsible and decided, "good enough," when I saw some source mention that Frisch's only play to be translated into English was The Chinese Wall. For the Bierce bonus, I was actually about to turn the submitted hard part on "Halpin Frayser" into a hard part on Bierce with that story and, like, "Oil of Dog" or something, but then two separate books I found in UCSD's library mentioned it as a notable Bierce foray into Gothic literature. I realize now that I should've been more rigorous with checking something like this, and that the "turn it into a hard part on _Bierce_" is a much better idea, but I was in a hurry to get the majority of the literature in working order in the roughly three weeks we had to create the bulk of this tournament.

RE: Ferrante and Charlotte Temple, I had no idea they'd be considered canon expansion towards the difficult--I thought Ferrante was just an author that hadn't been tossed up yet (and was about to write a tossup on her when Mike Bentley submitted one mostly on her works, so I just ended up merging our two tossups together instead), but would easily be considered a "hard end of regs" answer line because of how ridiculously famous she is and has been for the last five or so years, especially in 2016. For Charlotte Temple, I kind of just assumed that it was famous based on my knowledge of it (that it existed and was famous but I'd never read it) from before I started doing quizbowl, which is a bit of an oversight in my approach to WAO that I'll get to in a second. For "Tradition and the Individual Talent," I assumed that this was just a standard thing that gets asked about at harder stuff (and, like you said, highly influential as the driving manifesto of T.S. Eliot and the shadow under which all poetry in the 20th century was written), so I wrote a tossup on it.

RE: Singaporean literature, I'll just say that I was a bit hazy on our difficulty and breadth target in terms of "open" vs "stanford housewrite" or something," but I ended up somewhere along the lines of "an open tournament in terms of topics, but on average easier than most opens," so I made a conscious choice to try and push the limits of what could be asked by throwing in things like Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, The Tale of Kieu, Ocean Vuong, all that literary criticism, etc.

To respond on overarching themes, I'll say that I vigorously agree with the idea that easy parts should be easy because they're famous and important, not because they're bread and butter topics in quizbowl--EFT, the other tournament I worked on this year, reflects that philosophy better than this tournament did (and I guess also the high school tournament CALI, which is the only other set I've played a major role in producing). I feel a lot of sympathy for this goal because 1) the majority of my college career in quizbowl has been spent trying to build up Southern California's circuit from almost scratch, which is composed almost entirely of clubs and players who, in spite of their great enthusiasm, aren't even used to the regular canon, to say nothing of open tournaments, and 2) I myself am one of those players who didn't/doesn't really know what the hard canon entails.

I was hesitant to edit this tournament because it would be my first foray into putting together a hard set and I actually don't know that much about the quizbowl canon (or just in general), so handling the entirety of a major distribution of a last-minute packet submission "tough" tournament in less than a month's time while simultaneously having little idea what quizbowl asks about at hard things wasn't particularly appealing to me. I've played a total of three nationals tournaments and no open tournaments (and two of them were just riding Auroni's coattails as some 10 ppg dude), and I wouldn't say I've studied a lot of packets. In the end, I decided to approach this challenge by just mimicking the style of open tournaments on the DB (which is also why I included so many canon-busting topics and whatever people have been calling "intellectual flavor"*). I would hope that the rest of the literature distribution and the biology distribution besides these examples reflects some amount of care on my part to not simply throw in questions on things that I thought were stock clues from the hard canon because I don't actually know stock clues from the hard canon, and because doing so directly contradicts my philosophy in question writing and how I feel about quizbowl in general. For the questions that did, however (e.g. medium on _Sebald_ which I didn't know was an unforgiving medium), I hope this combined with the very short production window the team had (and I think heroically performed under) provides the explanation you're looking for--I apologize for my inexperience and hope I'll be able to deliver a higher quality product the next time I work on a set, as has been my goal for each set I've worked on in any major capacity.

*"intellectual flavor": I've obliquely referenced this in these forum discussions of WAO before, but I'm really not sure I agree with Will's assertion that our "intellectual flavor" was particularly out of the ordinary for a set, since asking about cool/interesting/intellectual things that the writer thinks is important just sounds like quizbowl in general, and I'm sure we made a concerted effort to ask about a wide variety of things on top of that.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by csheep »

FWIW as someone who reads a lot of lit but is pretty clueless about "quiz bowl canon" and is a pretty mediocre quiz bowl player, I thought the lit in this tournaments was pretty good at rewarding "real" literature knowledge. Stuff like Ferrante and Sebald felt very easy and accessible to me. Just my two cents, I have no real experience with high level quiz bowl so maybe the fact that i like it isn't necessarily a good thing :lol:

I do vigorously protest anything that works towards legitimizing Rupi Kaur as literature however :mad:
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by vinteuil »

Jason Cheng wrote:The same goes for the moment when I was a little irresponsible and decided, "good enough," when I saw some source mention that Frisch's only play to be translated into English was The Chinese Wall.
What?? Did you even THINK about double-checking that claim? Like, The Firebugs/The Arsonists has been published in translation for like 50 years?? (About as long as The Chinese Wall.)

(This is an overreaction, but I sincerely hope that that research process wasn't representative! Fact-check your sources! Don't use sources that are apparently from 1962!!)
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Jason Cheng »

I don't remember where the source was, but maybe said first play to be translated into English then--in any case, I admitted that bonus part was written mostly because I was in a rush at that point and I apologize for the mistake. I didn't include that tidbit itself in the question for that reason, since I usually do double check clues.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Red Panda Cub »

Yeah, I'm not sure what evidence is being (or could possibly be) adduced for the claim that "middle parts seem to have been chosen with the philosophy that anything that comes up at hard tournaments is fair." Of the things pointed out in my categories, I think a lot more of it is about a misjudgment of how things translate from UK to US knowledge bases: Freud is on a par with Bacon here; The Princes in the Tower was the intended hard part of that bonus (Delaroche's Lady Jane Gray is one of the most prominently displayed paintings in the National Gallery, and by far his most famous painting here). I did check all of these with other editors, and while we may have made mistakes, I am perplexed by the suggested motivation for these mistakes.

Also, J.H. Prynne is not "arguably notable", but is pretty unquestionably one of the most important British poets of the last 50 years.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Jem Casey »

Short-beaked echidna wrote:Yeah, I'm not sure what evidence is being (or could possibly be) adduced for the claim that "middle parts seem to have been chosen with the philosophy that anything that comes up at hard tournaments is fair." Of the things pointed out in my categories, I think a lot more of it is about a misjudgment of how things translate from UK to US knowledge bases: Freud is on a par with Bacon here; The Princes in the Tower was the intended hard part of that bonus (Delaroche's Lady Jane Gray is one of the most prominently displayed paintings in the National Gallery, and by far his most famous painting here). I did check all of these with other editors, and while we may have made mistakes, I am perplexed by the suggested motivation for these mistakes.

Also, J.H. Prynne is not "arguably notable", but is pretty unquestionably one of the most important British poets of the last 50 years.
Yeah, sorry that my original post appeared to impute motives or "philosophy" to you and the other editors; all I had meant was to say was that a lot of the middle parts were things that mostly come up at hard tournaments, which seemed inappropriate for the announced difficulty. From your posts, it's pretty clear that you and Jason selected answers not based on misplaced devotion to the upper-level quizbowl canon, but your own intuitions about the difficulty and importance of things derived from real-world engagement with the subjects, which is obviously a far more commendable approach. However, I do still maintain that the resulting bonuses were often not of MLK+ difficulty, but instead better suited for a "housewrite"-like set or even Nats/CO.

And I do think that the test of "realistically, how many quizbowlers might know this?" could have been applied more rigorously to many answer selections. For instance, I wouldn't infer that Delaroche's Jane Grey painting is an appropriate middle part by virtue of it being prominently displayed in a museum. While it is a famous painting, it's been mentioned all of 3 times in quizbowl, and is not discussed in any of the major art histories (Gardner, Stokstad, Janson, Gombrich, etc) I can think of. Same thing goes for J.H. Prynne. I believe you that he's a big deal, but I'm not sure how more than a few people, at least at the American sites, would know about him. He's never been mentioned in quizbowl; he is not in any major anthology I know of; the NYRB reprint of White Stones clued in the bonus part was not reviewed on any widely-read websites; and articles about him generally mention his significance and his obscurity in America in the same breath. For the vast majority of quizbowl teams, even very good ones, this bonus part is going to be purely educational, which can be fine for CO or nats but is less ideal for this difficulty range. If I wanted to ask about Prynne, but was faced with evidence that a bonus part on him might go nearly unconverted, I would look for other ways to reward Prynne knowledge while increasing accessibility, e.g choosing an answer like _Cambridge_, _stone_s, _kitchen_s, etc.

Finally, let me reiterate that what I subjectively saw to be difficulty issues with the set did not impinge on my enjoyment of it, and I was glad that the editors made a conscience effort to introduce players to new, cool, and "real" things. In many ways, missing bonus parts on the likes of J.H. Prynne can be just as exciting, if not more, than answering questions on more familiar topics.
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Re: Thanks and General Discussion

Post by Ike »

While I agree with Jordan's line of thinking here, I think the most important thing that this tournament could work on (at least in terms of difficulty), is consciously choosing easy parts that reward knowledge, are accessible, and not "find your ass" easy. I was pretty baffled by the Migration series easy part too*, and I think for the non-Chicago field, the set could have benefited from those more often.

Maybe I'm just really bad at judging difficulty in old age, but I didn't feel the set was too whacko in difficulty. Not every tossup worked or was as polished as it needed to be, and I think it's fine given the relatively impromptu nature of the set. Also, for a fun open like this, a few kooky questions are fine -- you can thank yours truly for that TU on naumachiae, which is probably a bit out there for a tournament like Nats.

*I loved this bonus, since four years ago the entirety of Touissant L'Ouverture series was at the UIUC art museum - but that bonus part is pretty out there, and I wouldn't be surprised if I was one of two people who would get that part.
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