Common Links Across Scientific Disciplines

This forum is for discussing tournament formats, question styles, strategy, and such.
Post Reply
User avatar
Posts: 176
Joined: Sun Nov 20, 2016 7:05 pm

Common Links Across Scientific Disciplines

Post by VSCOelasticity »

I've been wondering about writing questions that cross unrelated sciences. The idea being that a term is more obscure in one domain but more well known in others. Here are some sample questions to demonstrate what I mean:
FST written by me wrote: The intent of a design pattern named for one of these structures is to decouple an abstraction from its implementation, and, unlike the adapter pattern, is usually designed up front. Some of these structures that stabilize protein structures are usually formed with glutamic acid or aspartic acid as the acid and arginine or lysine as the base. It’s not hills, but Lutz and Reid observed swarms of the ant species E. hamatum exhibiting collective intelligence by building living types of these structures. The catenary formed by free (*) cables is deformed into a parabola when the cables are attached to the deck in one kind of these structures. Another type of these structures is used to connect the half-cells of an electrochemical cell. For 10 points, name these structures that come in cantilever, arch, and suspension types.
ANSWER: bridges [accept salt bridges; accept suspension bridges]
2014 NASAT wrote: The size of particles that can be carried by a river is proportional to this power of the flow velocity. The deuterated version of DMSO has this many deuterium atoms, and the DnaB helicase in eukaryotes is an oligomer with this many subunits. A common nonpolar solvent is a mixture of isomers of the alkane containing this many carbons. In transition metal chemistry, fac-mer isomerism occurs in complexes containing this many ligands, which have d-orbitals split into t sub 2g and e sub g levels. In the first step of glycolysis, this position of glucose is phosphorylated by glucokinase, and glucose, fructose, and galactose all have this many carbons. For 10 points, give this number, which is also the number of ligands in an octahedral complex and the atomic number of carbon.
ANSWER: six [or 6]
2017 ACF Fall wrote: Vertically aligned nanotube arrays have been used to produce the most intense known form of this color. The Lyman absorption forest is formed by lines of this color emitted by quasars. This color describes objects that can be approximated by a cavity in a hole and have an emissivity of one. This is the color of spectral absorption lines, as well as the background of an emission spectrum. The Rayleigh-Jeans law describes radiation from bodies named for this color. Gravitational collapse can form an object named for this color, which has a Schwarzschild radius that marks its event horizon. For 10 points, name this color that names “holes” from which not even light can escape.
ANSWER: black [prompt on no color or equivalents]
I'm interested in what everyone's opinions are of these types of questions. Is transitioning between sciences too jarring (for the lack of a better word)? Since they are often in the Other Science subdistro, do they take away too much from under-asked about topics?

I will say that one of the reasons I wrote the above TU on bridge was to clue some interesting topics like design patterns and ant bridges while also making the question convertable and enjoyable for players by cluing from other bridges. Looking back, I'm not sure it was a good idea. I guess what I want to ask is: do you think these questions systemically trend towards poor construction based off of one or two clues rather than challenging players' knowledge across different science categories? Is there space for these types of questions if they are tightly controlled with very few per tournament and only cluing between two fields, or should they be avoided completely?
Jon (he/him/his)
User avatar
Oh No You Didn't
Posts: 924
Joined: Sun May 23, 2010 10:03 am

Re: Common Links Across Scientific Disciplines

Post by Oh No You Didn't »

I'm not a tremendous fan of these kinds of tossups when they try to link a common word since often there are other names used for a term of art which can often lead to questions being confusing if you're only familiar with the alternative terms. An example of this was the 2017 CO tu on "Scanning" which clued scanning from electron microscopy, and scanning from voltammetry, as they're two very different concepts and I was confused on clues I knew because scanning in voltammetry is just changing the voltage and has nothing to do with raster scanning from SEM
Andrew Wang
Illinois 2016
User avatar
Posts: 1192
Joined: Mon Oct 18, 2004 2:41 pm
Location: Columbus, Ohio

Re: Common Links Across Scientific Disciplines

Post by setht »

I think the idea of writing cross-disciplinary questions is fine, but they need careful execution. There are ways to mess up cross-disciplinary questions that aren't really a concern for straightforward, single-topic question. Andrew already pointed out one important possible stumbling block. I would add that carelessly jumping between "unrelated sciences" while asking for a shared term can be more disorienting for the most knowledgeable players, to the point of causing the most knowledgeable players in the room not to get the question.

One thing that can help is to give clear signals for the jumps: "In engineering, this term refers to . . . In chemistry, it denotes . . ." If you're looking for one part of a phrase (e.g. salt bridges), it helps to indicate clearly that you want part of a phrase, and perhaps what part of the phrase you want. E.g. you could say "In chemistry, this is the second word in the name of structures used to . . ." Or you could refer to "the 'salt' type of these structures" or something—but that can still be a bit confusing, since a salt bridge isn't really in the same group of structures as a suspension bridge. Actually, it can help to orient the entire question on a particularly well-known example—e.g. "bridges of the sort that go over rivers"—and then phrase all other clues to highlight the relation to the central answer. So the bridge pattern is "a design pattern named for these [physical? engineering? whatever] structures" (which you said in your question); a salt bridge is "named for" your intended answer, etc. And you only drop the "named for"-type phrasing when you're presenting clues about "bridges that go over rivers."

I don't think there need to be "very few" of these questions per tournament, as long as they're executed well. I also don't think there need to a bunch, or really any, of these questions, in any given tournament. And it's worth noting that a lot of times this type of question idea is much easier to execute as a bonus ("answer the following about bridges in different fields of science" or whatever).

Moving from your central query to the specific examples you posted:
-I think the "bridges" question is the strongest, content-wise. All of the clues seem reasonable for people to know—there's nothing that feels like you had trouble finding a clue to fill some part of your tossup and wound up throwing in something absurd. It is often harder to judge the difficulty structure of multi-field questions like this one, but what you've got here seems plausible. I would suggest making some changes to the phrasing for clarity, and to help signal that you don't want answers like "hydrogen bonds" or "ant rafts" or whatever. But aside from that I think this looks like a fine idea for a multi-field tossup.

-I'm less sure of the clue content of the tossup on "6." In particular, the lead-in ("The size of particles that can be carried by a river is proportional to this power of the flow velocity") seems problematic. I know that quizbowl questions can't always give a full account of the relevant context for each clue, but particle transport in flows is so complicated that I have to believe the flow velocity dependence is strongly affected by various factors that are not discussed here. (Does "size" mean maximum size, or median size, or something else? For that matter, are we talking about diameter, or volume, or mass, or some other measure of size? Are we talking about the suspended load, or the bed load, or the dissolved load, or some other mode of transport? Is this laminar or turbulent flow? Maybe this really is a universal result that doesn't depend on most/any of the specifics I asked about, but I would be astonished if that were the case.) Whatever result is being alluded to here, is it really an exact power law with power index of 6 (as opposed to an approximate power law with index 5.87)?

-I think the tossup on "black" is fatally flawed (at least with the current clue content). I understand that black is a color in casual parlance, but it really is not when you start talking about spectroscopy. It makes zero sense to say that the Lyman alpha forest is formed by emission of black lines; the "color of an absorption line" would be determined by the wavelength of the line (and would be e.g. "yellow"); the "background of an emission spectrum" is generally "a continuous spectrum whose [non-black!] color is determined by the temperature of the body producing the background." Absorption lines take the appearance of dark/black lines in an otherwise bright spectrum, but "the color of a line" has a meaning and that meaning precludes saying "the color of this line is black."
Seth Teitler
Formerly UC Berkeley and U. Chicago
President of NAQT
Emeritus member of ACF
User avatar
John Ketzkorn
Posts: 197
Joined: Tue Oct 08, 2013 2:54 pm

Re: Common Links Across Scientific Disciplines

Post by John Ketzkorn »

With respect to "this many" number tossups specifically, I think they're nearly always bad. You'll have a hard time constructing a numeric tossup where all the factual values are well known (like glucose being a 6 carbon sugar), and some of the clues end up playing out like math problems / name games. For instance, the DMSO clue is just asking you to do 2 * 3 if you know it's "Dimethyl sulfoxide." The geometry clues (chemistry and math) tend to ask you to "count up x" which as a player, is frustrating to do because it requires you to take the time to *produce* an answer rather than recall a fact. Overall, I think there are almost always better answerlines that aren't any more difficult to construct.
Michael Etzkorn
Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy '16
UIUC '21
Post Reply