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Thursday, November 21, 2002

This morning I read Dwight’s analysis of why there are fewer current events questions in today’s quizbowl packets. I agree with most of it, but I wanted to add my two pence.

I too like current events questions (the idea as well as the questions themselves). I too have seen them become a smaller and smaller share of quizbowl in general. And Dwight had a lot of cogent things to say on the topic.

The quality control factor I think has been the #1 reason for the disappearance of current events questions in quiz bowl. It’s hard to write the questions well – many of them are either answered on the first clue or get blank stares from players at the end. They tend to heavily lean towards the biographical, a category of question out of favor with current standards. And of course there is the repeat factor, where the number of significant world events in the weeks that lead up to the tournament is finite in some sense that the answer universes in the other categories (including pop culture) are not.

I think the proliferation of trash tournaments has also led to a notion that academic quizbowl needs to be more explicitly academic, and that current events was tossed out along with popular culture, general knowledge, and sports. While there is something to the idea that academic questions ought to dominate, I don’t see current events questions (or geography questions, also seemingly out of favor) as detracting from an academic atmosphere. It’s a tricky line to draw sometimes, but I think of it this way: current events and geography are still undisputed staples of high school academic competition, where coaches often express annoyance whenever general knowledge or popular culture come up at our high school tournaments.

There’s also a slight bias, particularly in the world of ACF, to write questions designed to archive well. Most current events questions have generally made infamously poor archive questions. I don’t think there’s a QB player out there who hasn’t come across an extremely stale current events question and chuckled while playing on an old packet at practice.

I don’t know how to address this fully, except to note that what little CE there is in more recent packets has generally been of higher quality and more archive-friendly. I’m not as worried about this as the more ACF-inclined, and I’d rather see questions skipped over in practice as stale than have CE pushed more to the sidelines.

As for people opening Newsweek or, well…the laziness problem was always there, and therefore the repeat problem was always there. Dwight seems to operate under the assumption that in the good old days, people never submitted packets under deadline pressure (whether on time or late). He should know better, as he began running tournaments in 1995, and submitting packets in 1992. Now maybe there’s something to the fact that we have less tolerance for repeats in tournaments than we used to, but it’s not as if there was ever a time when people didn’t complain about repeats, whether in the CE realm or elsewhere, at invitationals.

The way I dealt with this as a TD (when I had the time) was that I wrote a small bank of CE questions to insert into packets to replace repeats. I like to think I was a good writer of current events questions. (though Dwight is correct when he cites Eric Tentarelli and Pat Matthews as the masters of such questions) If a host has directors, editors, or staffers who excel at such questions, then it might be better to have them handle of larger share of the questions in that category. If not, then asking for more CE questions might be an alternative, if imperfect, solution.

I don’t dispute that the various campaigns for other categories and sub-categories (non-operatic music and non-Western literature and/or history, to name three) have helped push current events (and pop culture, come to think of it) to the sidelines, although I think this is minor compared to the other reasons I listed above. Maybe it’s time for a campaign for its restoration to importance, for the same reasons Dwight cited.

Maybe if I have time and influence, I can start the effort at tournaments run here at George Washington, an ideal locale for such an experiment, given the heavy representation of international affairs majors here.


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