Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Brian and Victoria add their views on the whole future of the game thing. Note that I didn't read theirs in advance of what I wrote today, just dumb luck that.

Those of you who watched 24, two questions:

1. Do we have any idea what the heck was going on with that opening scene? Do the South Koreans have some sort of torture involving removing someone's internal fluids and replacing it with bavarian creme donut filling? 'Cause that's what it looked like to me, and really, I'm having a hard time imagining a worse way to go.

2. If I ever utter the phrase "I'm going to need a hacksaw" will you please be kind enough to get out of my way? I'll do the same for you.

Stuff from the office vending machine: They've developed the Banana Nut granola bar. Much like South Korean Bavarian Creme torture, once you get past the hideous yellow/gold color, it's not bad eating.

Accessibility, and a building.

Okay. I just want to start you off with a mental image. Imagine a skyscraper, not a really tall one, maybe 7 to 10 stories tall. Across the street there's a parking garage, with a walkway that connects over to the building on the third floor. People in this building work there all day, some of them go down to the basement where there are a couple of fast food places for lunch, then come back up on the elevator, but the majority pack their own. Some people come in off the street and eat at the food court, then go back out. Everything is nice and reasonable. One day you come to the building, having never been there before, and you try to enter on the ground floor. Only one problem, there's nohing on the ground floor there, no entrance, just windows, and you can't see anything in there, except for where the elevators would be, but they're just a column. It looks like the whole building's empty. So you go wandering around, and you find the stairs into the basement. You ask someone who just comes there to eat, and they're happy, but they don't really see what's going on upstairs, and besides, those folks keep to themselves. So you go ask someone who came down on the elevator, and they tell you they don't know how to get in the building that way, they always park at the parking garage. They've never had to think about coming in from the street.

Welcome to how I see the circuit. We tend to spend all our time going from the parking garage (HS) up to our work on the upper floors, doing our work, and not even realizing what's going on below us. (Incidentally, the upper floors are all the formats, NAQT, TRASH, ACF, some are very difficult, some are less difficult but all are up there on all of those high levels.) Down in the basement we've got CBI, which the circuit has all but separated itself from, by moving up to the higher floors. In the process we've left the lower floors empty, but with no way for anyone to take up residence. There's plenty of space down there, but since we've been conditioned to enter in a different way, it doesn't occur to us that we have this accrued experience that makes us think that there's anything down there. We advertise things as accessible, but that we don't realize that that means accessible for those people already here.

The promising sign is, for the first time this year, I've seen people make an effort to realize that these levels of quiz bowl are unoccupied, and that people might want to occupy that space. TRASH's junior bird was a major step in that direction (see my previous effusiveness for that set). NAQT's IS sets are getting there, and the only team-written set I've seen recently that could get down in there was Cornell's set from a couple years back. Merely providing the questions, however, is only half of how to make that level habitable. We need to break open the routes to allow people from the outside in. All three of those sets get dinged for being "too easy", but that's because the teams that played on it were already integrated into the circuit. Expose those to people not used to quiz bowl, and then you have something.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

First of all some fun bits:

24 premieres tonight. Just watch it. If they manage to make it half as good as last year, you can thank me later.

I ran across someone mentioning this short biography of Piet Hein I had run across his work in old Martin Gardner columns, but it appears that he's an order of magnitude cooler than even I thought. Anyone who can combine mathematics, architecture, and satire is one formidable dude. The superellipse was the first thing that I ever looked at and immediately was able to grasp its aesthetic virtue.

Maybe it's the only flower of the season, but maybe it's just the first.
Word came from Eric Bell that he had had a school sign up for one of his HS events which qualified under Title I. That's one of the good signs. If we can draw in more teams like that, that's a big step toward dropping the stigma of quiz bowl being just for "elitist suburban schools." Yeah, we still get dogged by that.

In reply to the reply to the reply:

Eric, I'm not underestimating the value of travel, but when travel for most teams consists of enjoying the great Motel 6's of the world, arriving late at night, playing, and then leaving after the tournament to head back home, I have to think that you might be overestimating the value. The majority of tournaments aren't exactly travel destinations, but a few are. There's room for both.

And as for the question of playing with the university money versus your own, it may be true, but should that matter? Whether your team has to fight for the budget money, or earn their own cash, it's the same shade of green. You may not be able to spend university funds in all the same places, but the investment principle is the same; it's a resource that needs to be divided up, and we should all be watchful of how it gets divided. If you want to argue this as the extension of my old rule that high school teams will spend their budget in the least logical way, you're welcome to.

As for the argument that new people will possibly be annoying... Well, would it be any less annoying than the circuit is now? The circuit talks more angrily than it's ever done before. I may be privileged in remembering a time when the circuit forums were actually reasonably pleasant, but it's really nasty out there, and the lesson being broadcast out there is if you want to be heard, speak louder and flame more hurtfully. I grant you it's a possibility that what is brought in will be worse that what's here, but the favorable outcome is far more probable.

Why I think the density can be achieved (certainly east of the Mississippi, beyond there, or California, it's iffy.): Take a look at any listing of the colleges within your state (I used the list at It is my belief that any school with 1000 students could support a team. There should be enough people familiar with the concept of quiz bowl there that they could do it (not will, but could). It doesn't matter whether it's Directional State or Ivy Tech. If we can just put them all together... I'm not foolish enough to think that will happen overnight, but give us five years, and there's hope.

Eric is essentially correct in saying that there's not a groundswell supporting the idea of growth. For now. Like anything else, it needs a catalyst. It demands someone looking beyond this year, beyond even when they might not even be part of the circuit. I admit I'm trying to raise some rabble, but I'm also trying to raise awareness. If you've ever had that feeling during a tournament, "there has to be more than this." I'm trying to scratch that itch for you.

Let me tackle Eric's four components, they do summarize the basics requirements:
1. (a sufficiently motivated individual with organizational skill) is easy enough.(the actual level of organization needed at the beginning is remarkably small, it's only when you formally organize as a club that this comes into play.) And component 1 will easily collect component 2 (people interested in competing). Component 3 (money, basically) is harder to come by, but does have some degree of scalability. You can get by with less. (fewer tournaments, certainly, but what's required for one tournament isn't much. No one ever required teams to go to every tournament.) 4 (the catalyst to put everything in motion) is the mystery. To a certain degree we've fallen into the expectation that 1 will find 4 for themselves (maybe they find the Yahoo club, or something similar). The problem is that 4 is pretty inert. Part of what I'm proposing is reversing that order. What happens if 4 actively seeks out 1? What if we make 4 more available? Now I'm not exactly talking about prosetlyzing the masses. Nobody's got the time for door to door sales. But a more open and active presence is possible, increasing the awareness of what we do outside of our little box.

Progress is achieved where the altruistic interest intersects with the Machiavellian. I've had this phrase rolling in my head now for a couple months. Whether I picked it up as a quote or I have formulated some new maxim, I don't know. But it came into play today.

Eric challenged me on the issue that my advocacy of circuit growth may really be a front for an NAQT profit motive. It's a fair criticism, given my connection, and I would admit that a larger circuit would benefit NAQT, and it's a nice one since it can't really be disproven, short of having me shoot NAQT in the foot, and since to a certain degree those are my toes as well... The thing is, even if I wasn't with NAQT, I would still wholeheartedly advocate it. Everyone benefits from a larger circuit. More teams means more teams at tournaments, and more hosts for tournaments, more events, more moderators, more packets, and more money flowing (the dreaded profit motive). [Before someone throws the natural follow-up "But NAQT will benefit first!" No, unless NAQT is the next event on the schedule. Before someone throws the natural follow-up "But NAQT will benefit more!" No. The people, teams, and organizations who are most able to make new teams welcome, feel accepted, and happy will benefit more. That may be NAQT, but it's no guarantee. It's also the best check against the "NAQT will get a big head and forget us all" line of reasoning.]

On a purely personal basis, I just want new teams, they're fun to watch, they're excited about playing, and they laugh at my jokes. But I'm not expecting them to dominate, I wouldn't make that the ultimate measure of whether teams should be considered successful in the circuit. I'm expecting them to enjoy themselves, learn something, contribute some enjoyment to the game, and yeah, maybe they will become dominant. Nothing wrong with them reaching the top, nothing wrong with them not reaching it either.

I hold that there is also a second set of reasons for growth, which play in into the altruistic viewpoint, but that I also to be true and fundamental. Those items spring from the idea that quiz bowl has value in and of itself, that there is value in playing and interacting with the circuit, beyond wins and losses. That it is fun, enlightening, and honorable. And it is those things that make quiz bowl good, that draw people in, and make them want to play. Those things are not highlighted enough. You play, you learn, you enjoy, you meet new people, and you grow as a person. I believe in those ideas. I've believed in them since before NAQT was even concieved, and I bring those ideals into the NAQT discussion. So if you're assuming that what I'm saying here is because of how NAQT does things, well, to quote Willy Wonka, Strike that...reverse it.

Now filling in Eric (and everyone else) on the idea of reducing overall costs.
I mentioned that we should have a reduction in costs. Well, here's how I see it. Over the past month, I've seen the following pattern with events that I've driven to. Tournament fee is around $60-70. That's equal to the cost of one room for one team per evening. (Since I was driving my own car, we didn't enter car rental into this, but the gas is usually around 2 tanks per trip. $40.) If any of those trips had been within day-trip range, we wouldn't have needed hotels, or the second tank of gas. $100 is sufficient to go to another tournament. I concede that there will be tournaments that will be worth the travel cost, but you can't say that about every tournament (besides, with a larger set of teams to draw from, those tournaments will have new teams replacing those from far out). If one distant tournament can be replaced with two closer ones, then there's a serious benefit. If we can populate the circuit with more teams, then this would be a real savings, and it would keep a higher percentage of money within the circuit.
I'd also love to see the tournament fee structure drop if this happened. But I recognize that really becomes a question of what the market will bear, and really, I've yet to see someone suffer sticker shock so bad that it's kept them from going to a tournament. Until that happens, and makes it public, we won't see a drop.

One other point that Eric raised was one of "how do you get a critical mass at a new location?"
Well, sometimes you need a team to come together. But sometimes you need to just have one or two interested people, if their passion is strong enough. That's pretty much how we restarted Cornell, there were several tournaments where we took two people, because that was all that were interested. Eventually we were able to collect a team, but if we weren't tenacious that way, we never would have gotten there. Doing that sort of thing isn't a bad thing, as long as you concede that you're going to learn, not necessarily to win. This also makes the winning that much better.

More later.

Monday, October 28, 2002

Hayden, Fred, and Brick(October 23 and August 15 entries) have added their takes on this.

I'd like to thank everyone who's participated, and please continue the discussion. I've found it enlightening, and more than a little frightening. Not because of any particular vision of the future, but because every version that has been presented lacks one simple component: what can be. While everyone has brought up concerns worthy of consideration, the prevailing notions take one of two forms: either that "if we fix the problems I'm bringing up, we'll be all right" or "there's nothing wrong here that won't always be wrong. So why bother?" The latter I find simply wrong, and the former I find to only address part of the problem. Neither gives us anything more than a view of the future other than a view of today, perhaps a little better polished.

I have to take a few things as given which, though my work has demonstrated to be true, there will be a few who doubt whether they will be true.

Premise #1: There is an immense number of people not currently served by the circuit, who, if exposed to it, would like to be involved. This is true whether we are discussing the collegiate level, high school level, or even the post-college level.

Premise #2: While the circuit is by any measure healthier than it was previously, in no reasonable way can it be considered healthy.

To a certain extent, the last wave of great circuit expansion via currently available means is over. And really that wave, the expansion of the circuit into community colleges was a cheat, since there was an existing circuit that was merely integrated. Without that sort of group integration, we've only seen about a 5-10% growth in the new teams on circuit per year over the past 5 years. And when you factor in teams that have fallen off the circuit, the growth is more like 0-5%. Let's consider that the baseline, and let's consider that the fundamental problem: that five years of progress on the circuit will leave us exactly where we are. Except we will have spent five years generally grinding on each other's gears. If you think that is our fate, that's fine, and I won't be able to stop you from thinking that. I'm hopeful for more than that, because it means that quiz bowl will be available to more people, and because there are benefits to the circuit in growing.

Now let me tell you what I think is possible, should everything roll together correctly. (Admittedly this is the ultimate extension of wish fulfillment, but the components to make this happen are at least possible, and available. I couldn't say that five years ago.)
In 5 years, it should be possible to have all of the following, given sufficient effort:
400-500 teams participating on the circuit.
10-20 tournaments every weekend across the country, hosted by circuit teams, either for college or high school.
An existing and vibrant masters circuit, competing in a variety of formats, throughout the year.
A reduction in tournament costs such that everyone is able to play as much as they want.
A 50% increase in high school teams competing in quiz bowl, as we percieve it, and a 500% increase in high school teams competing in quiz bowl events hosted by circuit schools.
And finally, for NAQT's (Okay, maybe more for my sanity's) sake, at least one full-time employee.

I will freely admit there are a couple of ugly little cheats involved in this which I will get into later, but I want to give you the possible, not necessarily the assured. In most of the cases above, the actual number is not as important as creating enough growth to actually be able to shift from the stable point we're in now, to another stable point with a larger, more inclusive circuit. Just 100 new teams would be a tremendous jump. But each of these bits interacts and plays off each other, making all the other parts more probable, and easier to pull off.

I'll follow this up with the advantages, drawbacks, and necessary actions to achieve these in later entries.

Friday, October 25, 2002

It didn't ship yesterday. I swear this is software release is a breach baby.

If you thought I was running short yesterday, today is nothing. Thankfully we've got a triple open mike night: Allison sent a link to her take in to me while MattW and Mark sent in via the email. First Matt, 'cause he hit the inbox first.

I know that NAQT's difficulty has gone down since 1999
from reading and then playing their sets. I know that
ACF's difficulty has gone down since 2000 from same;
the spring 2001 regionals and the 2001 fall tournament
were perhaps as close to perfect difficulty as packet
submission can get. Invitationals remain all over the
map: I wrote perhaps the most accessible invitational
packet of my life, a freelance round for GWU's
tournament, in between writing rounds for the
intentionally challening Bongo. If I personally can
switch difficulties when my purpose requires it, then
I'm sure that entire tournaments can do the same.

The idea that difficulty in general is still rising is
not the only misconception in the discussion; another
is the assumption behind that statement, that
difficulty is the major factor in retaining new
players. There are loads of teams out there who keep
upwards of five freshmen a year, including some teams
who seek out harder events--Michigan and Maryland
being the most obvious examples. Giving people a good
atmosphere, providing insight and resources on how to
be either a casual or a dedicated player as each
individual might wish, and above all treating freshmen
with respect is of the utmost importance. The biggest
problem with the rise of grad students is not an upset
to competitive balance; it's a widening of the age gap
between the elder people on teams and on the board and
the newbies, leading to lots of patronizing or
insulting comments. It is never appropriate to tell
someone that their opinion is invalid because they are
younger or less experienced than you; argue the
merits. Likewise, coddling your freshmen by taking
them to tournaments which do not represent what
quizbowl is all about can only lead to a shocking
discovery as they find themselves playing Chicago on
an Anthony de Jesus packet as sophomores. The approach
from the teams with good track records on recruiting
seems to be, teach freshmen to write, but only require
it a few times a year. Don't prevent them from going
to a difficult or competitive tournament if they want
to. If they say something stupid, correct what they
said, but don't tell them to shut up until they're

The most important factor in continuing growth,
besides bringing in new players and new teams, is
creating new writers. Teams with good writers can do
this by teaching internally; new programs will need
the help of tournament editors or nearby volunteers.
It's often proposed that editors at submission events
should issue specific comments to each team about
their packet, yet I've heard of this happening only
once in the past two years (this year's Cornell
tournament.) It should be widely encouraged--perhaps
highminded programs could offer entry discounts to
anyone who hosts a commented submission tournament
during the same academic year. New, more detailed
documents on writing to complement the excellent
Michigan guidelines should be proliferated to teams as
well, along with a range of sample packets from all
common formats and difficulties.

I remind everyone yet again that three and a half
years ago I was struggling to put up 20 points a game
on high school questions. All I've done since then to
improve is write questions whenever possible (as well
as read more respectable literature, but I probably
would have done that anyway). I've never used
flashcards or lists and I rarely read reference books.
Improving to at least an average level in college is
not difficult for those who are motivated, and I think
with the few small changes above we can make the game
more welcome both for those people and for people who
just want to play the questions without working.

In the larger picture, we probably all need to start
being more "professional," as painful as that will be.
I've been told by the TD that there is a possiblity of
a certain upcoming tournament for which people have
purchased plane tickets being cancelled. Routinely,
tournament directors write finals packets during lunch
or make up tiebreakers on the fly. Tournaments are
announced mere weeks in advance, rendering teams
unable to present yearly budgets in the fall. If we're
ever going to achieve the levels of funding and
respect that similar academic club activities (chess,
debate, model UN) get from their schools, then we will
need to start acting like them. They know their own
rules, they know not to act like they're doing people
a favor by taking their money, they are experienced in
seeking funding, and you will never see someone
attempt to end a dispute on a chess mailing list by
posting "it's just a game so it doesn't matter." I
believe that activities can both "be just a game" and
"matter." Until more of us do, we will not be taken
any more seriously than we take ourselves.
--Matt Weiner

I’ll take a stab at this.

Quick personal background: With the exception of one or two years as an undergrad, when the BU program was crawling out of the primordial ooze, I’ve been involved in some sort of quiz bowl-type pursuit since 1982 (yikes!), starting in eighth grade and not looking back. Over the last 5 to 7 years, I’ve taken on more of an advisory role with college teams (BU and, now, Babson College) and am involved in one of the question-writing ‘businesses,’ TRASH. I still play, generally only trash.

I think about why I’m still involved with this pursuit, and it involves three things:

1. I still like to play. It’s a reasonably healthy outlet for my competitve nature, and one that doesn’t necessarily become harder as I age. I find the information interesting, and like to see where the breadth and depth of my knowledge lies.

2. I like the people. My usual trash teammates are among my best friends. The folks I work with for TRASH are fun to interact with, be it over email as we get questions ready or at tournaments (TRASH or otherwise). A bulk of the other people who play this are also fun to hang out with, even if I don’t see or talk to them regularly.

3. There’s a lot of room for individual accomplishment, achievement, and growth. You can become a better player, question writer/editor, found a team, lead it, and so on. There’s never a shortage of opportunity for folks who want to get deeper into the pastime.

The problem I see with quiz bowl’s future is that the first two points, which are probably common for most players, are being met less and less. I’ve never been much of a quiz bowl theorist, but I’ll try to ascribe reasons as best I can.

Enjoyment of the game requires, I think, a certain level of familiarity with the material. Losing when you recognize all 20 tossup answers is easier to take than losing when you recognize, say, half that. It doesn’t mean that all 20 tossups have to be obvious, written from the World Book questions. One could write a very challenging pack where answers would include, say, George Washington, Macbeth, and oxygen.

But that doesn’t happen. Or at least not as much as one would hope.

Some argue that there’s an arms race going on regarding question difficulty. Not sure if that’s necessarily the case; looking at some recent packs, I see more recognizable answers than say from 1997. I do think, though, that there’s a lasting effect whereby questions with ‘obvious’ answers aren’t looked upon as quality.

The problem, for me at least, is that there’s little intermediate quiz bowl. You’ve got junior birds for new players, while packet submission invitationals seem to cater to the experienced player. If you’re in the middle& well, there’s not much out there.

To my mind, this discourages the casual player, who could be the core of a huge expansion in quiz bowl. Craig mentioned beer league softball, and without taking it to that point (though we’ve all kidded about having to chug after missing questions), and thinking about the teams I’ve been involved with, there’d be great interest in a level of competition for the casual player.

Consider my new team at Babson. Babson is a business school, and while there are liberal arts and science requirements, they do not lend themselves to the sort of depth much of quiz bowl requires. It also means we don’t have the ability to get a cross-section of majors to put together on one team.

Playing on standard invitational questions is a challenge for Babson students, in that they don’t take advanced classes in literature, chemistry, physics, history, etc. It’s discouraging when, in practice, we go 5 or 6 questions with answers no one in the room other than I have heard of (and for me, only heard of because of experience, not knowledge).

I suppose I have two ideas for keeping the game enjoyable on this level-

1. Bringing back what some would consider over-used subjects, but with new facts. I think I see this happening a bit, but not enough to see it as a movement.

2. Making quiz bowl tournaments more like high school debate tournaments, where teams are grouped into novice, intermediate, and varsity levels. There is a practicality issue here in that you may need three sets of questions, one for each level. You could write one set for novice/intermediate and one for varsity, as NAQT has done in the past. In any case, offering opportunities aimed at specific skill levels will help players decide what they want from the experience. Casual players can stay in intermediate competition, while folks looking for a more hardcore experience can move up to the top level.

I don’t see the latter happening, but the slow grown of division 2 brackets is a start.

The biggest problem with quiz bowl comes from my second point- there are a number of people who make the quiz bowl experience less than fun. It’s actually not a ‘number’ as much as a small group whose vocal nature gives them influence beyond what would be expected and whose abrasive personalities turn off even experienced players.

It’s this group of people that dominate the Yahoo! group and generally act as beknighted members of the community. In many cases, their Platonic ideal of quiz bowl (shared or not) blinds them to the limitations that ideal places on growth. In many cases, this ideal seems to be that all events would be organized and written such that the winning team would go X-0, the second place team X-1, and so on. Questions would be written to reward depth of knowledge only.

Should quiz bowl come to this, it’d be a very small circuit. I’m sure they’d be very happy, but they’d also be very insular and not particularly friendly to new folks outside of the very determined or the very arrogant.

Which leads me to a side issue. Whenever this topic comes up, about the personality of quiz bowl, someone inevitably says that quiz bowl is, at its heart, elitist, and that explains why people act the way they do.

Bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, BULLSHIT.

Quiz bowl can cater to elite ‘competition’ without the rudeness that seems to attach itself to high levels of play (or people who think they play at a high level, or who see themselves as some sort of pivotal member of the community). I can’t say why there seems to be this corollary, perhaps it’s related to self-esteem or fear that the ‘common folk’ will take over what the ‘nerds’ have built for themselves.

What I can say is that acting like an ass, in person, at a tournament, or on a public forum like the Yahoo! group isn’t the way to develop a healthy, growing pursuit. I will say that, with both teams I’ve been involved with, it allows for a certain level of comic relief. But I think the long life of the BU team is due, in large part, to the success they’ve had catering to a wide array of skill levels. They’ve stayed involved in all major formats because they appeal to at least some sector of the team.

Given both where questions are going and the public ‘face’ of quiz bowl, I’d have a hard time seeing where growth is going to come from. I’ll take New England as an example. Over the past 10 years, there have been only five truly stable programs ‘ BU, Harvard, MIT, Dartmouth, and Williams. Recruitment ebbs and flows, but unlike the mid-1990s, you don’t see teams that can send 3 or 4 teams to a tournament regularly. Yale gets props for coming back from the dead (there was a big chunk of the 1990s where they weren’t around), and probably are more stable at this point than, say, Williams.

But there aren’t many new schools. Brandeis, Wellesley, and BC are as close to ‘new’ as you get. Had I not come to Babson to work, the students here who have started playing never would have started on their own. Much of this is getting the word out to programs on how to start, but there’s not much out there to support the new teams and keep them going. Certainly getting involved and getting the perception that college bowl is all about being an annoying font of obscurity doesn’t help.

I don’t know if I’ve made much sense here. I definitely feel that there’s a problem, and don’t know if I’ve best expressed where I think it’s coming from and what it may do to the future of quiz bowl. I tend to think that there is a possiblity for quiz bowl to embrace a variety of skill levels and interests, but it may not happen because of a cadre of true-believers who draw the focus towards their specific idea of what quiz bowl should be all about. There’s no sense of inclusion, and without that the rank and file aren’t going to stick around.

Mark Coen
Residence Director
Office of Campus Life
Babson College

Thursday, October 24, 2002

I believe it shipped, though the fact that they didn't call a traditional 4 o'clock kegger worries me. Hopefully they'll be a bouncing baby product on the PR Newswire tomorrow. Cross fingers. Note this is also why I'm running short today.

Open mike night: Craig's take today. If I don't get any more in my inbox tomorrow, I'll start mine, giving first what I think is possible, and then following up with my justifications on either Friday or Sunday (depending on how my schedule plays out), and now Craig's take:

As a matter of personal experience, I am entering my 11th year of association with quiz bowl in some form. I pride myself that I played on two teams that never required me to study, and in doing so, I have made myself into a quality player, being fortunate enough to be a member of several national championship winning teams and an occasional all-star at tournaments, both academic and trash. I was never hard-core to many people, because I discovered that I didn't like certain formats from my freshman year, but I never complained about them because I didn't play them. The freedom to decide like that is kind of an amazing principle that sometimes gets lost in the desire to play as many tournaments as possible. I never kept a notebook, I never wrote a flash list, and I never wrote a thousand questions to get better. By the same token, I am one of the hard-core dinosaurs that people hate, because I have been around forever, I have heard tens of thousands of questions, and I spent way too much time in any given week thinking about quiz bowl or working on quiz bowl related things. The amazing thing is, there is a place for me, in part because I have retired from all but the one format that still permits me to play (which also happens to be the one I am quite good at.) I moved on to other ways of partaking in the circuit, writing and working for NAQT, coaching at my high school, reading at Michigan tournaments. All of these things are the underrated and under-appreciated side of the game. We need people, whether they are undergrads, grad students, or alums, or even just interested people, to help us, because the key to everything we want to do is manpower.

Interestingly, I think that one of the key things that no one ever mentions is how the quiz bowl community in general could benefit seriously from reaching out to the business students in their campus community. There could very well be a number of people who could help them run the organization's ugly side: the finances, PR, marketing, outreach, and the things which we seem to lack. Everyone wants to join a quiz bowl club to play, but sometimes, having people who are more willing to run the show without touching a buzzer could be beneficial. How often are players put into positions in their club which they are ill-suited to fill, simply because they are the only ones willing to do the job, or the club is so small, that everyone has to do something? Finding people who would like to build their resumes by running what amounts to a small business while hanging out with some fun people certainly could help a number of us.

I lament the fact that my breed of player is going to die, the ones with the almost eerie ability to anticipate where a question is going and jump on it quickly. Over the past few years, many of our questions have become so obscure in so many of our lead-ins that players now sit through six seconds of inane one-upmanship before they get to the part of the question that anyone can answer. The pyramid point is now the size of a pin, and we have to start sliding down before anyone who hasn't spent the last two weeks in the grad library translating Tolstoy from the original Russian into French will be able to get it. (Not that there's anything wrong with that as your idea of fun, you're just not going to find a broad cross-section of people who are going to find that fun.)

The fundamental problem I see with quiz bowl is not the game, it's the players. Arrogance is required to be a good quiz bowl player; you have to be willing to put yourself out on the line and risk looking foolish AND losing points if you are wrong, so you better either know the answer or be willing to take the ego hit, which means your self-esteem needs to be pretty robust as well. Couple this with the fact that, generally, we have been socially ostracized so much over the years by our age-peers for being smarter, for knowing more, or for being socially awkward (speaking in very broad generalities here, but experience has shown me that while this is not always true, it can generally apply in one form or another to a broad swath of quiz bowl players) that when we get a chance to be recognized by people who share our interests, who prize knowledge and revel in being "smart", we want to embrace it fully. But if quiz bowl were just about being knowledgeable, we could just have the questions written out in test form. So it's something more; it's about knowledge and speed and anticipation and pattern recognition. The problem becomes that in a general sense, arrogance and competitiveness go hand in hand, and it is rare that anyone in the QB community, with their healthy ego rolling from their playing ability, is going to want to appear weak by saying that this was out of their league. Some will take it as a sign that they just need to hit the books harder, well, we have reached them, no problem. But what about the person, who, upon looking upon this paradox, decides that quiz bowl is no longer worth their time because they will never be good enough to win given they time that they can and are willing to devote to this pursuit. There has to be a place for them in the community as well. Do not rec softball leagues have different classifications for different levels of commitment from "softball guy", in his Oakleys with his three different ceramic bats, who laced it up in college, and the beer league, where a bunch of 45 year olds are trying to make it from second to third without spilling until they can get a refill from the third base coach. These two teams would never meet in the field of play, and yet, I suspect, that they both enjoy what they do for completely different reasons. People like winning better than losing, for goodness sakes, it's why we keep score, but isn't having fun, having a good time, having a chance to win in more games than not, also important? It will keep people coming back; it will keep people wanting to put in the time it takes to go to tournaments, to write questions for those tournaments, and the like. They cannot help but get better, but maybe that isn't what matters to them. Maybe they just really like playing the game, and really, what's wrong with that? No one is asking them to win a national championship; maybe all they would like is to make a playoff round every so often. This team is just as important as the overall health of the circuit as a perpetual contender is, just as the Kansas City Royals are as important to the overall health of Major League Baseball as the New York Yankees.

Circuit quiz bowl grew up with a DIY mentality, in stark contrast to the corporate side that so many teams became frustrated with. When you think about it, it makes sense, if you don't like the game, make your own. Sometimes you will succeed, sometimes you will fail, but with some experience, some luck, and some wisdom, you'll create something that people want and will want to help build. Have we reached the limits of DIY for the circuit? Certainly not. Whether you like ACF or not, what they do is exceptional, they take packets written by the players themselves and hold three tournaments a year to determine a champion in that field. They do it for very little compensation, but, for what I suspect, is a sense of duty, loyalty, and commitment to the game. Each of several exceptional players willingly sacrifices a shot at playing at one of their tournaments annually to provide a much needed service. ACF has grown because of commitment from these people, so I don't suspect that there is any reason that we should think the end of the DIY mentality is neigh.

Are there ways of studying to get better, well, yes, no one can deny the results that we have seen who have committed themselves to improvement, but I think even those who are the staunchest advocates of studying would probably also tell you that writing questions is one of the best ways to get better. This, of course, has the two-fold effect of improving your game and providing fodder to be submitted to an invitational tournament. People cite stats about a question a day, but it's scary to consider. If you wrote one toss-up and one bonus a day every working day for a year, you would have roughly 260/260 for use for whatever you saw fit. You would also have added benefits of learning key resources to look up questions, refining your understanding of pyramidal structure, and expanding your breadth of knowledge. Is every question you write going to be great, no, but that's why you have, hopefully, people who will edit your questions. Even if you have a lack of experienced players in your small circle, a second set of eyes can prevent even the most egregious mistakes from getting through. Similarly, reading your questions aloud are a great way to be nice to moderators and make sure you have not made a difficult question to read, whether you include pronunciation guides, or even just a comma or two. Does this mean that question writing is the only way to improve either? Of course not, just like you find, over time, what works best for you when trying to prepare for an examination, you're going to find a method of preparing that meets with your satisfaction.

Question difficulty. Has anyone ever considered that instead of writing "easy" questions with "hard" answers, we write hard questions with easy answers? How often do you hear Abraham Lincoln as a packet submission tournament anymore? Probably never, because the factions will claim that all of the clues are trite, all of the lead-ins well worn, all of the ground already trod upon. But you know what, if you have never played the game (and can we assume for a moment that there are a number of people who discover the game in college for the first time through the playing of intramural tournaments or during a campus activity fair or what not), you don't know those clues, and while you would be beaten to them, at least you have heard of them. I am not saying that the better players shouldn't win games, and in general, "better" means more experience in quiz bowl, having heard more clues, written more questions, played in more games. What I am suggesting is that question writers at least have answers that not just a group of quiz bowl regulars are intimately familiar with, but a wider cross-section of potential players. At least then, if you're getting smoked early in your tournament life, you at least have heard of the things they are asking questions on, and that is somehow less discouraging, because as you expand your knowledge base, you'll be taking what you know and making it better.

On the principle of studying, I have a fundamental problem with it as being the only solution to a player's ills. Certainly a goodly number of players who play college bowl are doing as an something fun to do on the side, they like going to practice to meet with like minded people, and to play trivia and have fun. Are they ever going to win a national title, probably not, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for them in the great big ocean of quiz bowl. Carrying 15 credits already gives you enough headaches of reading, being told that you also need to read Master Plots, Benet's and other assorted works merely to be competitive is not going to keep people in the game. Winning is better than losing, but without other teams to beat, those victories will be hollow. There must be room made in the circuit for all players of all abilities, all time commitments, and all experience levels.

One of the other fundamental problems I see with the theory that there is no difficulty problem is that too many people assume that the entire universe of people who play quiz bowl post on the Yahoo! board and since no one ever complains about things being too hard, we must be doing fine. Since I have seen over many moons what happens to a person who dares voice an opinion that is out of step with the mass of squeaky wheels, I would never even consider posting to the board about things being too hard. The squeaky wheels are the best players, the players looking for the next challenge, and since they play the most, tournament directors must please them or risk being pilloried on the message board for running a bad tournament. And heaven forbid that teams come out of nowhere and do well at a tournament while established teams struggle, because then obviously the results of your tournament are fraudulent. And heaven forefend that you use the packets as you got them with repeats and hoses removed, you might as well shoot yourself in the foot, because your tournament has just become a low quality pariah. Perhaps if more tournament directors had the courage to aim for the middle, to aim the tournament's difficulty at the middle team and let the best teams play it out to high scores while the less experienced teams still put up quality points. Losing 400-200 is far less discouraging somehow than losing 200-0.

One last thing to remember: Like a poorly edited tournament, history repeats itself. If we do not commit ourselves as a community of people who believe in something larger than ourselves and our own personal enjoyment of the game, we will never make the game more mainstream and enjoyable for more people. There are those who would probably be very happy about this, but there are many more, I suspect, who are willing to go to the front and make the charge, they just need someone to yell Virginians and raise their sword. People with vision can start it, but will they have the ability to sustain it. But it doesn't have to be one man, one woman, one group. It can be a number of us, if we are willing to speak, to hear, and to understand, be willing to compromise and be willing to be flexible, then we may have a sun rising on our game than setting.

Craig Barker

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Mike pointed this out to me, it would make a good companion site to BevNet, for your Pop Culture: Food & Drink needs.
Also please take note that Mike is looking for nominations for the Trash Nobels, to be awarded next week. Help out by nominating.

Little else to report today, save we got the last of the big beast done last night, and hopefully we kill off the next big one tonight. Meanwhile the day job has set tomorrow as the absolute final drop on the latest release. It goes tomorrow, and at this point, speaking as a tester, I can only say get it out of here.

Open mike night again: Tim and Anthony and Ed and Bill and Charlie's posts on the Yahoo club are available, and even Seth manages to make a good point on qbflame, once you clean the bile off it (bucket of club soda and a wire brush). If I don't get to one that you post on the Yahoo club (and there have been a lot of good takes on this) I apologize, but you can always send it here. Phil sent this one in to me(yes, I know it's a rebroadcast)

The Future of the Circuit

Just so everybody understands my perspective – I am a 3rd-year law student at Villanova who has been playing since 1994. I guess you could call me a dinosaur. I played while an undergrad at Georgetown, and currently can be seen at various trash tournaments around the country, or reading at events. Even though I am a so-called dinosaur, I will scare no one at an academic tournament. I do serve as the advisor for Villanova, as we try to integrate ourselves into the circuit.

The circuit has cockroach-type survival ability, and I suspect that in five years, it will still be around, with the 50 or so schools that are always around being there, and the 30 other sporadic schools dropping out and other ones catching on, with a few exceptions.

Almost all invitational tournaments are too hard. There are several reasons for this. One is the one-person written set, in my estimation, largely an exercise by a good player to try to get even better by doing all the research and legwork, but further squeezing what should and should not be asked. Another is existence of tournaments such as Michigan’s Kleist/Artaud, whatever you wish to call it. Please do not posit the argument that if you don’t want to play, don’t show up, that’s not what I’m driving at. My point is that people get the idea to write the hardest questions they can find, and this directive from one of the most successful and prominent programs (Michigan) permeates the circuit. It’s a difficult to measure trickle-down effect, but I think it is there.

The biggest reason for difficulty skyrocketing is TD’s desire to please only the best players. Anyone who understands basic marketing can tell you that you should shoot to please the greatest number, so let’s say the aim is to please the middle 50%, not the three best players/teams, or the top 25%. It seems to me that the infamous Chip Beall may have figured this out, and CBI has to a degree. I am not arguing we should mimic them, but I think there is a way to structure circuit packets/activities in the same way.

Graduate students are needed. Think of the tournaments you attended in the past year, and who was running them. I attended 2 NAQT tournaments, Penn Bowl, JCV, and Pitt’s Omar Bongo. NAQT largely grad students and beyond, PB is run by Samer T. Ismail, and Tim Young is at GW. Only Pitt was undergrad-free, and the finals were bastard teams made up of grad students and beyond. My point is that’s who is running the circuit these days. I would love the idea of the Masters Competition Circuit. Every year I’ve read at ACF, some older hangers-on invariably play. It’s bothersome and should be stopped.

I’ve argued for a schedule before, I do think it would help. Basically, a central body would schedule the tournaments. Attendance is very sparse at many events, causing a waste of extremely limited resources. More stuff seems to be cancelled than ever before. If fundraising is the issue, high school tourneys provide much better margins.

So, in conclusion, the circuit will remain, but no one seems to have the vision to move it forward. The qb community are largely not salespeople by nature, and some degree of marketing will be needed to ensure its expansion. It’s a great game, and it survives through dedication by people; I’d like to see their efforts go more rewarded.

Phil Castagna
JD/MBA 2003
Advisor, Villanova ACC

Monday, October 21, 2002

First of all, is there anything more frustrating than scheduling a vacation day, then getting sick right on top of it? (For those who saw me at Delaware this weekend, it left the throat and is now just a normal sinus cold waiting to happen. Apologies to anyone I may have infected.)

I was really impressed with what TRASH rolled out this weekend. It may get lost in the shuffle, but this was worth seeing in action, if a run of this is coming to your neck of the woods, make an effort. It may not please hard core trash players, but in terms of giving everyone an opportunity to hit stuff in their areas of knowledge, this really did the trick. More importantly, this is the type of thing that's most needed in quiz bowl. Easy, accessible sets which will bring people into the game. This was the first time in a long time that I've seen a set that a team experiencing their first tournament wouldn't be beaten down by the packets. They may lose, but the battle for them was between themselves and the teams they played, not between themselves and the packets.
That's probably the only bad thing about this set, that initially it won't be used by those who can use it the most.

And now, it's open mike night. Remember, I'm looking for opinions on where the circuit is headed. I've seen a couple posts in other forums, which means people are reading, much thanks. If you want to speak up here, kidder at naqt dot com:

When I played QB in high school, we didn't have NAQT.
Our primary exposure to the world of quiz bowl was in
two televised formats: a local show, called "TV Honor
Society," and a Huntington program called "Hi-Q."

Once I joined the team, I found out that the team also
played in several tournaments at high schools
throughout the area, but for all most people knew, all
we did was go on TV every now and then.

"TV Honor Society" used questions submitted by the
coaches. "Hi-Q", as I learned just within the year,
was affiliated with Chip Beall.

If it hadn't been for my introduction to Quiz Bowl
through a Beall format, I wouldn't have played in
college at all; likewise, I never would have
discovered Trash (or TRASH) if I hadn't shown up to
that first CMU meeting expecting academic questions.

Here's my new analogy: Quiz Bowl is Van Halen. That's
right, Van Halen. They started out with a flamboyant
frontman named David Lee Roth, who went on to a failed
solo career. Then they picked up solo artist Sammy
Hagar to sing for them during their "Van Hagar"
period. After they kicked out Hagar, people thought
they'd get Roth back in; but to surprise us all, they
chose Gary Cherone, former lead vocalist from Extreme.
From what I understand, Cherone's already out of
there. It's probably only a matter of time before
anyone reading this is considered for the job of Van
Halen frontman.

Just about everyone has one favorite "lineup," though
the rest of the band has remained the same: Alex Van
Halen on drums, and Eddie Van Halen on guitar. It
doesn't matter what the rest of the guys are doing,
though, because whoever's out front seems to determine
whether you like them or not.

So, Quiz Bowl is Van Halen. In the backfield, you have
trivia geeks, a buzzer system, and questions. Out
front, you have names or acronyms, like ACF, TRASH,
NAQT, CBI, or even Chip Beall. Fundamentally, it's all
Van Halen, but the difference is in who's writing the
lyrics and singing them. If they get a new guy to
sing, it's still Van Halen.

I checked in on the boards recently, and that's
exactly what I saw: the Roth fans are telling everyone
that most of Hagar's lyrics are badly written. People
that own albums from all three incarnations are
complaining about Hagar's decision to open a bar in
Mexico. There's always the ongoing debate that Gary
Cherone never belonged in the band in the first place.

Meanwhile, the other three guys who have been in Van
Halen throughout it all just sort of sit back and
laugh, because they've seen in all before, and they've
realized one thing: they'll get royalty checks no
matter what.

And that's where QB differs from Van Halen, because
with all of the bickering and infighting, people
aren't seeing the big picture. It's all Quiz Bowl, and
one hand shakes the other. We're all a bunch of trivia
geeks gathering in rooms with buzzer systems, trying
to impress everyone else with what we know.
(Incidentally, the often overlooked Michael Anthony
plays bass.)

Personally, I think Roth is overrated, Cherone's
tenure with the group was too short-lived to matter
much, and the Hagar period saw some of the most
diverse and memorable Van Halen tunes ever. Other
people, I'm sure, have their own opinions. But
fundamentally, the same three guys were involved each

With all of the bickering over who the better vocalist
is, it's not unthinkable that all of the Van Halen
fans might just give up on them completely and start
listening to Winger. Van Halen will lose their record
contract, stop touring, and break up, and all we'll be
left with is a vague memory of how well Eddie used to
play guitar.

If memory serves, Roth and Hagar were planning to go
on tour together since they were both kicked out of
Van Halen. I've drawn out this analogy long enough, so
draw your own conclusions.
--Carey Clevenger

Friday, October 18, 2002

Two mistakes in interpretation, and a chance for you to interpret.

First, please don't mistake the statement that NAQT members are leaving with the possibility that we, as a group, aren't listening. In fact we listen intently, pass the word on, and will act on those statements, more so than any other format. And that's exactly why we don't speak officially without considering our statements carefully. Responding rashly in a forum is counterproductive, and when statements are designed to goad an argument, well... Besides, you can always email us.

The more fundamental point is this, having members of NAQT not read the forum is not a unique occurance to us. Rather, people are abandoning or ignoring it, or seeing it once, and being frightened away. The Yahoo club is losing whatever hegemonic position it held as a central repository of information. Whether that is actually a bad thing will hinge on the reaction of those that remain, if they fail to see the world outside is changing, developing, and growing, then it could Balkanize the circuit. (yes, even worse than it already is.)

The second mistake is the recurring notion that because NAQT is a company it somehow it makes it somehow less pure of a pursuit than other formats, or somehow puts profit over the health of the circuit. As cool as it is to bash companies today, such an argument omits the benefits as applied to quiz bowl.

The big one originally is the often noticed, but rarely understood part of the LLC attached to our name. Limited Liability. Remember the era of feared nuclear winter in quiz bowl? The fear of nuisance lawsuits regarding claims of intellectual property? If not, ask someone old enough to remember. Such things had killed more than one previous entrant to the field, as the threat to the principals of those groups extended to financial risk hanging over their personal finances. That NAQT exists as an LLC prevents those possible attacks from being a lethal curtailment of services. Is it something to be afraid of today? Not as much, but it could happen at any time, to any format, but NAQT is at least built to withstand it. That doesn't make us evil, it makes us prepared for the worst, should it come.

The second advantage is structure, stability, and the ability to have a long term plan. NAQT's charter sets us up to last for 50 years as an LLC. We, the company plan to be here for at least that long, even if it means we, the people involved now, are not. It means our committment extends beyond the school year.

The irony is NAQT's daily work isn't all that different from running any part of quiz bowl life, questions to write, edit, put into packets, recruiting teams, setting up events. It's only a question of scale.

Okay, enough of me talking. A question for everybody: Where is the circuit going to be in five years? Are we going to be back where we were five or ten years ago, where we are now, will we have grown, shrunk, turned completely topsy turvy?

I'm asking for a reason. I've yet to see a long view openly articulated by anyone, but I think it's one of those things that we all sort of have, but because we have a bunch of immediate obstacles in front of us, the next practice, the next packet, the next tournament, we never find time to move it past a fuzzy vision in the distance. If we never take the time to move it beyond that, the only thing we guarantee is the status quo. But if we can put our ideas in front of other people, they might, just might agree, and that's a basis for moving forward. Think about it, and send me your idea. I'll post up everyone's here, unedited, including my own.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

Something that just struck me.

Two nights ago I flipped through an infomercial for some highly pseudoscientific tooth cleaning product. Sonic somthing. S'anyway, I was jsut sitting here and realized the guy doing the pitching was Robert Urich.


Okay. I needed to vent that.
Another reason I'm not worried about people talking about high plane fares.
The airline industry's in enough of a funk that they just need the seats to be occupied, and will make the seats cheap. As evidence of this: Since last Tuesday I've had Travelocity Fare Watcher keeping an eye out on PIT-LAX and PIT-MYR.
PIT-MYR 199->139
PIT-LAX 299->223->173 as of this morning.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

A small amount of self-righteousness. Speaking for myself, not out of anger, but out of bewilderment.

Three mistakes you've made:
1. They haven't run a tournament before.
2. They were asked to be a host by us.
3. This is all some sort of nefarious plan to separate NAQT from the rest of the circuit, and set ourselves up as evil clones of Chip.

As for the first, it's not like they haven't run tournaments down there before. They've run tournaments with our questions in past years.

As the guy who mans the phones, I can tell you that we didn't have to go beg them to let us host it there. They called us up, and came to us with a plan. It's not the first time that someone other than a college has come to us with a plan, and it probably won't be the last.

As for it being a "Chip location", well, yeah, if you mean it's a place people would want to go. Does that mean we won't be having people come to help out? No. Does it in any way reduce our committment to the quiz bowl circuit? No.

Is this a risky move? Sure. IF we fail, then you can deliver whatever level of spite and derision you want to fire off. Is the risk worth taking? Yes, and best of all, the risk doesn't fall on the circuit.

NAQT has always reserved the right to be innovative, from power tossups to partnerships in new markets. If we kept ourselves locked into the same old patterns, we'd have died off years ago. And those who told us we couldn't create a cheap IM set, an international college championship, a high school championship that teams want to come to, all those people would have had their hearty laugh. But the primary beneficiary of all our work has always been the circuit, college and high school.

As for the more obvious question of why don't we announce such things, well, I'd say that for the majority of us, we prefer action to discussion. That's probably why most of us don't post in the Yahoo club anymore, we know we'll be criticized whether we post there or not. So is it worth our time and aggravation, when we could be making things better?

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

While I find this story interesting, I can't stop thinking the research was done at the Sebastian Janikowski Institute.

If only I could get joy from this argument, but I don't,

I should, I should, be happy in seeing that I was forthright enough in arguing about the issue of packet quality. I had argued that by having packet swaps we had effectively mortgaged the future of question writing, by not giving vital feedback to new writers by seeing their packets read. Problem is, I argued that in fall 1996, before NAQT had even gotten a tournament out.

The problem is, in order to facilitate this (more writers doing better) we need two things, neither of which people are going to be willing to do.

The first is being tolerant of new packet writers. I don't see this as happening any time soon. Every tournament editor seems to be so afraid of having a single bad question, that the entire packet gets edited or rewritten. They have to learn somehow, and we are failing to teach people what is right and wrong by seeing their own questions judged in this way.

The second is realizing that by piling restriction upon restriction, the unwritten rules of what you can and can't write about, we make the process of writing an order of magnitude harder than it is. We've now gotten to the point where we're arguing that you must know the subject to write about it so the person who knows the most about the subject will get it, and it befouls the packet for this to be otherwise. That's the route to making writing the duty of the priestly class, and that's an even worse path.

Why don't I think these will happen? Well, put yourself in the editor's chair? You don't want to offend established players, and risk having your touranment trashed in a forum. You also do get a better quality tournament in the short term, but at the longterm cost to the circuit. And if the
majority of circuit players can't see past the next round, much less the next year, there's no benefit.

The irony is quiz bowl writing has never been easier, and it should never demand massive amounts of writing. It merely demands a dedicated approach.

Fun fact: If you have 10 people in your club, and they simply wrote one tossup and one bonus every week, you'd have 500 questions on April 1, 2003. And more interestingly, if they keep that rate up, by the first of September, you'd have 920 questions. Roughly enough for 15 packets.

So how do we solve this? Watch this space I guess. I'll see if I can come up with any ideas. And encourage everyone to write, even just a little.

Monday, October 14, 2002

Interesting. A single boldface tab screws up the image that badly...Lesson learned.

You'll forgive me if I seem more messed up than usual today. I managed to be able to flip between two films late Sat. night, and I'm not sure the mutual cognitive dissonance hasn't popped any neurons out of alignment. The films:
On BBCAmerica: A Clockwork Orange
On SciFi: Incubus

That pairing is sort of your do-it-yourself Ludovico method.

Last thing I expected to hear during NFL Prime Time last night: References to the NIFL's Louisiana Bayou Beast in relation to NFL journeyman Michael Lewis (he of the two return TD's.)
Speaking of which:
Note that this is NOT the reason we chose Myrtle Beach for the HSNCT. This is just one of those happy accidents you get when you are doing the right thing.

Day 20.
20A. Medals of the World
20B. Britannica
20D. The Great Heresies
20E. The Simpsons Archive

Friday, October 11, 2002

Okay, the word from Hungary is: Who is this guy? I have a feeling this guy's going to end up being Elias Canetti II:Electric Boogaloo

Meanwhile, Big Jimmy is down with NPP. Rock on. Craig noted he is our best ex-President, which is true, though TR gives him a good run. Hopefully this balances out every time I have to explain the Peter Principle and I use him as an example.

I don't even know what this means, but Wednesday night I got drivethru at the Burger King before CMU practice, and I've begun working my way through the talking value menu. At one point while driving I came up with the following thought: "How in God's name can any item that has ketchup on it be this hot?" The mix was definitely off, or something, but I think I got straight heating compound in one section of the taco, while seeing where they had whiffed and spilled ketchup from the other half of my order. Either that or BK just blew past Taco Bell and Black Jack Pershing on the "egregiously Caucasian abuse of Mexico" scale.

On Thursday, I killed a few minutes in a bookstore, and made the disquieting discovery that they're making SparkNotes for the Harry Potter books... Nothing to add here, I think that speaks for itself.

Oh and if isn't going to do it, I will.
Teresa Edwards (10/10)
Looks like they finally got her.

Day 19.
19B. Historical Atlas of the 20th century
19C. SparkNotes (though most of the site is blocked by registration, what's there is still useable)
19D. Virtual Museum of Computing
19E. Wikipedia

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Cees desisted, but a good one for Hungary.
The interesting vibe I'm getting off of all of these reports is that it doesn't seem like Imre Kertész is overwhelmingly known in his native country. I'll check with my sources tonight. Cool to see the Hungarian language get a winner, though. It's a language that's proved a better resistance to invasion than practically anything. Now please don't run this guy into the ground. If only two of his novels are published in English, that's probably a good "Never Cross" boundary.

This one should be interesting, and I'll be curious if this results in the partisan flip of the New Jersey campaign.

Light reading: How to make molasses.

Back in college, a particularly boastful suitemate of mine mentioned this sort of thing, for purposes other than contraception. No one is more surprised than me that it may have some scientific basis.

Not just evil squirrels: evil albino squirrels.

Day 18.
18A. Bardweb
18B. InfoPlease
18D. Chemistry Hall of Fame
18E. 100 Events that Shaped a Century of U. S. Business
Several bits approaching a full thought.

Just when I was getting really ticked at Bill Simmons (and incidentally, as fast as the circuit has turned on Bill Simmons, you'd think he welched on a tournament), he went and hit a soft spot for me. In this week's bit he brought up Polar Seltzer Cranberry Lime. He's right, it is addictive (they had it in Ithaca and Connecticut), and could probably get myself a good smuggling operation getting it into Pittsburgh. That and the stuff where they dump orange juice in the seltzer.

Craig is doing a battle of the songs (I would expect most of my readers have already seen it, but to quote the great Joaquin Andujar: Youneverknow.) There is no greater joy in quiz bowl than being able to drop the phrase "anapestic heptameter" into a discussion of Aerosmith. Well, with the exception of watching people's reaction to that. Essentially that's why I've never found any logic to the separation of trash and "legit"; neither side, kept isolated, is as amusing and compelling as they are when integrated.

Incidentally, "Save the Anapest Campaign" has replaced the "National Kidney Bean Foundation" as the "Fake Charity Name I'd Love to Run, Were I Inclined to Fraudulent Behavior."

Just when I thought Sesame Street couldn't get weirder...this

Quick, name a Dutch fiction author! Do it NOW! Unless you're Dutch, or I've done this to you before (or Joe did it to you, or Paul Harm maybe), you can't. It'll make your head hurt. I'm putting my penny down on Dutch author Cees Nooteboom in tomorrow's Nobel sweepstakes. Mostly because I saw a predicted short list a few years back, and well, it's an awesome name. Vonnegut wouldn't hurt either, but I have little hope for that ever happening.

Day 17.
17A. Historic US Maps
17B. Famous Trials
17C. Amino Acids
17D. A Great Day in Harlem
17E. History of Economic Thought

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Monday, October 07, 2002

"'It does not appear to be epidemic,' he said. "
Yes, this is a tragedy. But I defy you to get through this, reading it closely, without busting out laughing. I've now got two points running through my head. First, that Reebok(or Nike, or whatever company) ad with the crazy French being dubbed into English makes a heck of a lot more sense now. Second, we will, of course, be doomed when the word gets out among them that we taste like them.

Brian points out this story. I'll add one point to this, which makes it exceedingly cool to me. I'd have to look at a very close map, but I probably lived right next to the disputed area when I worked in Connecticut. I was definitely within 40 feet of the state border, or if this report is correct, within 100 feet.

As an only child, there are certain things I simply won't understand about sibling relations. However, while I was reading to get to sleep I ran across the following statement:
"When his brother had a gall bladder operation, [Benjamin] Franklin invented the catheter..."
This of course required some checking of facts, and it appears the important word "flexible" was missing from that statement.
Now then, those of you with siblings, riddle me this: If your brother was sick, would the first thing you would think of doing would be to stick a tube in him. And perhaps more importantly, would you let your brother stick his new toy in you?

The Nobel Prizes are being announced this week. Please keep up with this all week so you can score the cheap 150 points all year. Last week's Ig Nobel Prizes will probably also net you a quick 50 or so.
I especially approve of the concept of the Chemistry winner, if only to allow us to take King Missile at their word that they did, in fact, saw the legs off the periodic table.

Day 15.
15A. The Constants and Equations Page
15C. Ethnologue database
15D. AllAfrica
15E. Monarchs of Britain

Thursday, October 03, 2002

I hereby nominate this as the canonical example of irony.
I hereby nominate this as the canonical example of letting the still-bitter-Pats-fan write the headline.
I hereby nominate this as the canonical example of why one should not bet on a strong third party coming up any time soon.

Kenny sent me this one. Interesting to note how it's guys like this who make our sport possible.

For the record: I didn't laugh. Smiled a little, but no laugh.

I hadn't thought about this before, but the quote is excellent and his case is compelling: A comment someone posted about scientists actually verifying Dorothy Parker's rule of thumb.
"How odd. I've had a thing for women wearing glasses ever since I was five years old. The Baroness, from the GI Joe cartoon, was the ideal fantasy female in the mind of five-year old Whelp. Upon reflection, I realize that she still is. SHE wore glasses.

Beautiful. Brilliant. Well financed. Utterly evil. Who could ask for anything more?"

And finally: something you really can use. CNN's putting a set of articles together this week chronicling the competitive election races for this year. I would advise everyone to read these. It's rare something can guarantee you 100+ points this year if you absorb it thoroughly.

Day 14.
14A. Biographical Dictionary (excellent props to my old teammate, Eric Tentarelli, for compiling this)
14B. The Smoking Gun
14C. Hickok Sports History
14D. Webmuseum
14E. The Catholic Encyclopedia

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Coming this weekend! Those of you in the Boston area, may want to take advantage.

I just note this one because if you've ever edited, you know this to be true.

A fistful of Light Reading:
Profile of Willie Nelson
Profile of Roberto Clemente
The dossier provided by Tony Blair relating to Iraq.
Profile of autourination

Day 13.
13A. The Atomic Archive
13B. Epguides -- Television series episode guides
13C. Rulers
13D. Concordance of Great Books
13E. The Particle Adventure