Friday, May 27, 2005

On Fairness

Quizzes are unfair competitions. In a running race, for example, all the athletes run on the same track, and the fastest among them wins. In golf, all the competitors play on the same course under the same conditions, and the most skilled of them wins. In a quiz, however, each team of finalists is asked a different question each time that other teams may or may not get to answer. Hence, many factors such as the seating of teams, the passing format, bias in question setting, etc skew the outcome in a way that may not reflect the ability of the teams.

Okay, so all of that is old news. Today, stuff like Infinite Rebounds as a passing format and drawing lots for seating are pretty standard in quizzes. However, this is not enough. More is needed. Althought the combination of IR and drawing lots has made quizzes more fair than before, it is felt that we should go further to ensure fairness. So the questions is, what more can be done?

The Centaurian System

The Centaurian System is a passing format derived from Infinite Rebounds which is, IMO based on the assumption that equalising the number of Direct question to each team is essential for fairness. Although I have never really understood how it works, anyone wanting to do so should read this excellent description by it's creator, "Centaurian" Abhishek Nagraj. To the best of my knowledge, no quiz has ever been conducted on the Centaurian system, so no data is available

Criticism: The main Criticism of the Centaurian System is that few accept its central assumption, that the number of directs per team really matter.

Drawing lots for Questions

This method seems to be prevalent outside Pune (correct me if I'm wrong). It basically consists of making chits with every question number on them, and having the teams draw them. The teams are asked the question corresponding the number they pick. The beauty of this systyem is that teams have no one but themselves to blame for the questions they are asked.

Criticism: If your quiz is on Infinite Rebounds and teams draw lots for seating, this procedure is basically redundant. You can draw lots either for seating or for questions, but the quantum of fairness is the same (provided the order of questions is fixed). Its just that drawing lots for seating is easier and takes far less time.

Choice of Seating by Qualfying Order

This method is championed by VIT quizzers since it was first used in Quiz-o-mania '05 the SCIT Software Quiz. The finalists are asked to choose their position in the order of qualification. This means that the team qualifying first will get first pick of seats, the second team will get second and so on. The rationale is that the seating arrangement, while suitably random, allows teams to carry forward to the finals the advantage of their performance in the qualifying round. In other quizzes, teams once in the finals are on an equal footing irrespective of their performance in the elims.

Criticism: This method does not really give the first qualifiers an advantage because they have no say in the seating of other teams. Subsequent teams engage in a competitive game, as all teams jockey to get a favourable position. Even so, the middle teams are likely to get the greatest advantage.

Choice of seating by First Qualifiers

This method calls for the team qualifying first to decide the seating order for all teams. The rationale is the same as the previous method.

Criticism: This method gives an advantage only to the first qualifiers, all other teams being on an equal footing. It also relies on the first qualifiers knowing the capbilities of the other teams. A team from another city, for example would not be able to fully take advantage of it.

Round Reversals

As Abhishek has coverd this in great detail in a previous article, I shall not go into it again. Suffice to say, there should be 0>R>N round reversals, R being the no. of Round Reversals and N being the number of questions (with R preferably being far close to 0 than N).

Post Scipt

I have only ennumerated here the techniques that I have come across. If I missed any, please feel free to point them out.

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