Monday, January 19, 2004

The Odyssey Quiz, Chennai

One of India's largest open quizzes. The details (from the QFI yahoogroup):

Name of the Quiz: Odyssey Quiz 2004
Date: January 26th, 2004
Venue: The Music Academy, Chennai
Teams of three each. The quiz is open to all.
Prilims: 3PM (Teams to be seated by 2.30PM); Finals: 5.30PM
Registration forms available at Odyssey (Adyar), Best Wishes (Nungambakkam), H-Style (Anna nagar), Arena Multimedia(Vadapalani). Completed forms to be dropped off at Odyssey only.
Outstation teams that want to participate are requested to send complete details (Team Name, Members, Contact details and address) to Gopal Kidao.

1st: Gift Vouchers for Rs.45,000/-
2nd:Gift Vouchers for Rs.30,000/-
3rd: Gift Vouchers for Rs.21,000/-

Quizmaster: Dr. Praveen Goday
Quiz Content: Dr. Praveen Goday, Diwakar Pingle, Quizician (Rajiv Rai, Gopal Kidao, Anustup Datta & Movin Miranda)

Sunday, January 18, 2004

What's in a name?

Notes and Stones forms the url of this blog combining two words with deep BC associations.

Notes: In old BC quizzing times, the word "note" was often used to mark a piece of trivia as "noteworthy". Anything new or unheard of was tagged by saying "note".

For instance, the question "What is the name of the planet Pluto's only satellite?" has the answer Charon. This is trivially special as Charon is the boatman who patrols the River Styx and thus the entrance to the underworld realm of Hades in Greek myth. Hades, of course, is the den of Pluto. For those who perhaps knew the name of Planet Pluto's satellite as a matter of fact could now note the fact that its origins had a deeper significance.

Stones: The BC's method of Quality Control. Implemented in the form of instant geological feedback. Any obnoxious, silly, farcical, contrived question would earn the person asking that question a shower of stones/rocks/material-small-enough-to-hurl. It would serve as both entertainment and criticism. Almost all quizzers have collected their quota of the igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic, cement concrete & bitumen lumps.

Classic case (I'm sure this one merited a boulder): Connect Superman and Rahul Dravid. Answer: (Nothing to do with underpants) Dravid played county cricket for Kent and Superman is, as every banian manufacturer knows, Clark Kent. Will keep the name of the quizzer as an open secret.

Hence, in keeping with this blog's stated aims, both Notes and Stones will be commented upon in equal measure.

The Interrobang Story

Another Mensa homage. I first heard about this punctuation mark from one of Niranjan's questions. Quite simply, the Interrobang is a combination of the question-mark and the exclamation mark. ? obviously forms the Interro- part, while the word -bang will be familiar to typesetters and Unix shell scripters as signifying the !. This blog is all about these two realms of thought - it aims to question the process of questioning and answering, and aims to exclaim loudly on these aspects. It also gives this blog some depth, which is what much of good quizzing is all about - exploring knowledge for the sake of meaning and sense.

A Few Tips More

Rounding off the guidelines:

* Setting Audio/Video questions: All too often, we see quizzes where there are mandatory audio-visual rounds and the questions may be set thus: A pic(song) is shown(played). After some brain-racking, the participants come up with their guesses. Then the quiz master goes on to reveal the pic/song and the real question is indirectly connected to the pic/song. The problem with this is the pic/song isn't central to the question. The q may well have been asked without the pic/song without diluting its focus. So when setting a audio-visual qn, ask yourself whether the qn could have been reframed without the pic/song & still have all necessary clues/focus to it. If yes, chuck the pic/audio. You don't "need" to have an A/V question in the quiz. Any deviations from plain text need to make significant contributions to the question.

* While conducting a quiz, try & do away with time limits to answers. Working out requires time, give that to your participants. I guess, after taking the effort to make the qns, u do want to provide all conditions for the qns to be attempted in the best possible manner. One can be a good judge of time, a wayward answer can be dismissed fast & a answer that is being worked out correctly can be given the time to proceed. Working out answers is sometimes like tugging at the loose thread in a sweater. A decent yank & the whole thing unravels magically. That's mostly the kick in answering such qns.

*Setting qns is also a matter of fairness. Niranjan mentioned this in context of covering as many fields as possible. This gives everyone in the quiz a decent spread of qns to answer. Some qns will be cracked only by the domain experts. But many should be able to atleast take a decent guess at most qns. Fairness also applies to the amount of hints one hides in the qn. This is a judgement call to be made by the setter: Too many clues make the qn easy, too less & u lose workability, Also lesser the clues & the domain expert is happy (no one but her/him will be able to answer the qn). Make the q such that the lay quizzer will be have a decent chance against the expert in that field. Niranjan made a bar graph of question areas couple of yrs back at Mensa to note the spread of fields. Analysis like this gives one perspective on the quiz.

*Try & set many quizzes, small & large.

*Use the quizzing books, sites to help u set qns. Don't pinch qns, reuse them. There is a difference in plagiarism & inspiration. The trivia from such resources can be used to set connect qns et al. At least reframe. It's pretty humiliating when the other quizzers find out (& generally they do) the "dhaap"-ed qns.

*Pay attention to how others frame qs in their quizzes. Ask for & take home a copy of the qns from a quiz. Most decent quizzes are happy to give u a sheet. Don't mug the answers, read the qns & think about the framing.

And slightly digressing:

*Go to a quiz for the qns & not only for the moolah.

* If u don't make it thru to the finals, stay on to watch them. You still learn a lot this way.

* Quizzing & setting are pretty much artistic endeavours. One doesn't get it right at the first shot. Plug away at it constantly. Don't approach it very academically.

* Quizzing is also about pocketing little pieces of info in some recess of your mind. You may have to use it not in the next quiz or the one after it, but some day deep into the future. Try & make sure you don't pull a "Karna" then by forgetting it :-)

* Once u start putting a tag of quality on ur qns, u'll find that its difficult to compromise on even 1 qn.

* When u find the same trivia cropping up, try & use connects to reuse well-known trivia.

* Pay attention to standard trivia, these like "singles" in cricket are an easy source of points. They are also useful in setting qns. A qn leading to standard trivia, but which is cleverly framed in a novel fashion, will draw applause from the experienced quizzers.

* Asking questions is like reciting "shair-o-shairi". The spontaneous "Wah-Wah" that a good work of art receives is all the encouragement & pat-on-the-back that u will need & enjoy.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Thanks to Saket for generously giving his comment box for this blog. Commenting is up!

Monday, January 12, 2004

Continuing Niranjan's Primer on organizing a good quiz - "Setting a Quiz"

1. Go for infinite rebounds rather that direct-and-passed questions method. it is a great way to eliminate the inconsistencies caused by the d&p method.

2. Do not comment a lot on the content of the answer (other than witty remarks, of course), as it provides unfair hints to others.

3. Never provide hints in the middle of a round. it is unfair to the earlier teams.

4. Keep spare questions handy in case of a tie. use the same questions (preferrably best of three) for all the teams involved in a tie.

5. Do not assume a stiff posture in contesting an argument by a participant/audience. settle the issue quickly, either by an (assumed) authoritative gesture or by a corrective action such as cancelling the question. (authority is generally mistaken for rudeness, which is not among the best interpretations of the word).

6 This one is a recent addition. many times, it so happens that due care is not taken by the quizmaster in using his/her discretion when it comes to accepting an answer or crediting team(s) with partial points. I myself have been guilty of causing such scoring discrepancies and also of objecting to such discrepancies in the middle of a quiz. the quizmaster, most of the times, is trying to be fair, but may not succeed every time, unless he/she is well prepared. probably, it is best to formulate a strategy for each individual question and decide a priori on the acceptable contents of an answer and respective scoring. i myself have not adopted such a strategy upto this point, but would certainly be practicing it the next time I get an opportunity to set a quiz.

6. According to me, quizzing is an intellectually satisfying activity, the prime purpose of which is to have fun, and NOT to make money, get recognition, satisfy egos, taunt other participants and so on. so, it is better to leave our egos at a suitable place and not let them interfere in these 'trivial' pursuits, especially in a live quiz. newsgroups always come in handy for all flaming and 'impolity'..;-))

7. At the end of the quiz, you have every right to be pleased /displeased to hear the comments of the participants /audience, to ponder over why little went right and so much went wrong. but the feeling that stands out, is that of intellectual satisfaction that you derived out of the whole activity.

8. After setting a quiz, cast a retrospective glance on the quiz. treat all the constructive criticism - by yourself and by others - with respect, try to incorporate what you can in the next quiz. use your own discretion in separating the comments to be incorporated from the comments to be ignored. after all the quizmaster's decision is final! and it would be helpful to remember what ghalib said: 'ghalib, buraa na maan, agar vaaiz (preachers) buraa kahen duniyaa mein koii hai, jise achchhaa kahe sabhii???'

I refuse to claim that these are decrees or even guidelines. these are merely some experiences that I had the fortune of sharing with you.

Friday, January 09, 2004

This being a quiz blog, it would be a good idea to give alerts of quizzes to come. The ones coming up are sadly only for kids, but here they are nevertheless:

1. The ESPN School Sports Quiz is back for the year 2004 and contest forms are on the website.

2. Basu and co. are doing the Indian version of yet another Western quiz - India's Child Genius is the name and apparently the original was on Fox. Strictly speaking, it's not just a quiz, it's Spelling History Geography and more Bees all rolled into one. And if you're brave enough, you can attempt the Sample Test.

It has been a long held view at the BC that quizzes that have sensational prizes have questions from the gutter. Probably the only question to break that thumb-rule has been ESPN School Sports Quiz. Among some of the excellent prizes, the winners can choose a sporting event of their choice that they wish to attend. The winners this time,the crack pair of Robin Dey & Aditya Bagri from Birla High School, Kolkata picked the Sydney Test Match between India and Australia, and if their beaming faces were anything to go by, they were having a great time. Richly deserved of course, for last year's finals were three of the most competitive matches we have seen in a while.
This had to be one among the opening posts of this blog - this text, put together by Niranjan is a compendium of what some of us have considered the best ways of creating good questions. It also describes the driving spirit behind the BC style and offers a glimpse into its philosophy. (The lawn quizzes apart from being a crucible for experimentation helped hone and perfect these ideas). It is also my personal tribute to the best quizzes I've ever participated - the four Mensa quizzes from 1998 to 2001.

This appeared originally on the Inquizitive egroup on 15 Feb 2001 and a redux version appeared later that year on 29 Oct. BC Alumni will have great fun re-relishing these words.

How to set a quiz or sweet scorn soup for the quizzical soul

My qualified abilities may restrict me from making me qualified to provide advice. Furthermore, being a consultant, I cannot stand the thought of advising without being paid. so, all I can do is to share my trivial experiences in setting (as in preparing, not as in 'fixing' - since we have seen some examples of 'setting' quizzes that way) quizzes.

Following are the things i say to myself standing in front of a mirror <excluding 'aainaa hamen dekh ke hairaan saa kyuun hai?', if you have seen the film 'gaman'>, while doing the following:


1. Never ever refer to a quiz book, a quizzing site, past quizzes and so on for finding questions (I have become wiser following my own experiences in this regard). the quizzers, these days, are a busy lot. They keep on scanning the net day in and day out to look for readymade questions. Some of them have been reported to cite the site, the quiz number and the question number just based on olfactory stimulus emanating from your mouth, even before you begin asking a question. the only way to counter such organisms is to devise your own questions.

2. Look for abstraction. look for commonalities in facts. try lateral thinking to link different things together. Think about the commonest things that you know, and try to explore the dark, unknown territory that surrounds the facts.

e.g. Please refer to this question:

"Make a small cross of two light strips of Cedar, the arms so long as to reach to the four corners of a large thin silk handkerchief when extended; tie the corners of the handkerchief to the extremities of the cross, so you have the body of a ____." What is the significance?

If you visualize the objects mentioned in the question, you may think about a kite. That may lead you to Benjamin Franklin's famous lightening experiment. And that is the answer. The question is derived from the well-known experiment, but little is known about the background of the experiment or tinier details such as Benjamin Franklin's own description of the experiment. There you have a possible question before you, standing in the dark, enticingly inviting you to explore more about it. You hack the net (or a library!) in and out, till you get to something like above and derive the satisfaction of having set a decent question.

A triangle and a square, a flowering reed and a noose, a lion and two vultures, a hand and a mouth. What do these constitute together?

Pure lateral thinking. These are the picture alphabets used to spell Cleopatra's name on the Rosetta Stone.

3. Use old trivia only as building blocks. Hack the surrounding knowledge space to construct new trivia.

'I don't especially like it, at least not raw. And second, I found it impossible to chew, swallow, and be ready for the next stuff. We tried substituting other vegetables, including apples and celery, but with unsatisfactory results. The solution was to stop in between so that I could spit it out into a wastebasket and then proceed.' An explanation that dispels a myth. What?

Most of us who have been visiting the boat club lawns on saturdays for a considerable amount of time must be remembering a very likable question which went like:

Mel Blanc was allergic to carrots. What is he famous for? Well, he was the voice of Bugs Bunny! That is a question which has been repeated here for n number of times, n being a very large number, rivalled only by a googol. But, this itself forms a good foundation for a new question. So, one searches the net for Mel Blanc and finds about his career, likes, dislikes and stumbles upon a gem of a fact that blanc himself has recorded in his autobigraphy, about the origin of the myth of he being allergic to carrots.

4. General knowledge, to some, is about how much you know and how much you can reproduce (no, not that way). Isn't such one-question-to-one-answer task a mechanical activity? According to me, the amusing part of the whole deal lies not in 'knowing' and 'reproducing' the answer, but in 'locating' it.

Keeping this in mind, an important guideline can be stated as - make the questions:

a) Workable - there should be a hint regarding the answer hidden in the question (which, of course, should not make the answer obvious). If half the answer lies buried in the heap of the question, the fun on the part of the quizzer lies in detecting the first half from the question and finding a complementing fact to complete the puzzle.

e.g. Centigram (formerly Speech-Plus Inc.) is working on the British version of its program 'Prose-2000'. What has been one of the chief motivations?

What are the hints? Computer software, speech, british. these are enough for some members of the new generation of cunning quizzers to surmise that the question is regarding the software that was built to enable the great stephan hawking to communicate. In fact, he said about the current system: 'the only problem with it is that it gives me an American accent!'

Another one. What is so significant about Zyclon-B, a commercial pesticide patented by IG Farben (a DuPont subsidiary) as a remedy on typhus-bearing lice? Typhus is a disease that appears when people live together for long periods without bathing. It is carried by lice that infest hair and clothes.

Hints are in the statement about many people living together for long periods. The name Farben is distinctly german (if not gujarati..;-) that may lead one to concentration camps, but Zyclon being a pesticide may even lead a few enlightened (at that time) brains to discovering the fact that it was the gassing agent used by the nazis to exterminate jews in the notorious gas-chambers.

b) Inverted - 'who did ...' with the 'who' being a relatively unknown variable, does not guarantee amusement. The '...' deed of the 'who', which, hopefully, is a much more known fact, should be a part of the answer. In a nutshell, keep the answer easy and well-known and the question relatively obscure, so that, on missing such an answer, one feels like hanging oneself to death by a suitable stringlike object available nearby. (Avoid keeping such objects in the vicinity, if you want to miss the fun part.)

e.g. Mehrab Hussain Opee c Khaled Masud b Saifulla Khan 21;
February 20, 1998. What was peculiar to this?

This question could also be framed as 'how did Raman Lamba die?' but then that takes out the whole punch of the sad but true fact. Instead it could be framed as above, with reference to the date, the players (with distinctly Bangladeshi names)

This product was originally called 'Bib label linthiated'. To rename it, six alternative names were considered. What is it called now?

Seven names up, so it was called 7-up. 'what was 7-up called initially?' would not qualify as an exciting question to any sane quizzer.

c) Interesting - you cannot have a quiz without participants and would certainly prefer to have an audience. So make each and every question interesting to involve the audience. Even if the scores indicate a massacre of sorts, the audience should still feel that they should have been sitting in place of the participants, rather than stretching their faces and concealing their yawns (they are not so polite, believe me.)

e.g. 5 petals, 3 petals, 4 petals, a pipal leaf. Justify the series.

Makes one think about the question. Requires a lot of lateral thinking with some factual knowledge to come up with the answer that these are the shapes of the awards PADMA SHRI, PADMABHUSHAN, PADMAVIBHUSHAN,BHARAT RATNA. Most won't get it, but they would be happy to have come across an interesting fact.

d) Truthful - as much as possible, let there be some element of truth in the fact that resides in the question. verify each and every question from 2-3 sources (and hopefully, not Sandhyanand).

5. Conducting a quiz is not about posing difficult questions. One is better off not assuming a posture of a sadistic exterminator, who is as elated at the sight of helpless victims suffocating under the virulent cloud of incomprehensible esoteria. At the worst, it could be a rollercoaster ride, where everyone knows that the scare is not going to last long.

6. There is no excuse to a failed question, if you wish to really feel good about your own quiz. To a real quizzer who sets questions, a question is not a formality, it is a part of himself. it is his/her own representation on paper. So, if you have a hundred questions in a quiz, let at least 90 satisfy the above criteria.

7. Try to cover as many fields as possible. This may not be possible, if you lack the manpower to cover all the fields, but try to be as generic as possible.

8. A very good way of setting interesting and cryptic questions is setting 'connect' questions. This is one sure-shot way of combining different fields and letting the quizzers engage in some lateral thinking. It is extremely satisfying on part of a quizzer to crack such a question, since it, many a time, ends up being the high point of a quiz rather than the final victory.

Some examples:

What's common to Winemaking, Tailoring and Wife-beating? ;-)

The term 'Thumb rule' originates from these. Temperature measurement in a barrel for winemaking, a unit of proportions for tailoring, and 'If a stick is used, it should not be thicker than the man's thumb.' with respect to wife-beating..;-)

What is common to Shammi kapoor, Oracle and Gulliver's Travels?

Yahoo! (junglee, Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle, tribe from gulliver's travels)

What is common to the following quotes?
A) "Well, gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel."
B) "How about this for a headline for tomorrow's paper? French fries."
C) "I'd rather be fishing."

Last words before execution on electric chair by George Appel, James French, Jimmy Glass respectively.

A visual one. A painting of sigmund freud in brown and the famous shower scream scene from hitchcock's psycho. connect.

Uses the well known trivia that the blood used in the scene was in fact chocolate syrup, the movie being black and white. in fact, the painting is made by using the same brand of 'bosco' chocolate syrup. incidently, it happens to be of Freud.

This was very much related to the then current affairs.

Connect the following: Padosan, McDonald's, Breathless, Watson, Kansas City / Red Indians. bhola (sunil dutt from padosan), burger, shankar (mahadevan), doctor (watson) and chief (of a red indian tribe). These were the nicknames of the hijackers of the IC 814, a very current event at the time of the quiz.

Many of us have generated a good amount of connects on the bc lawns and have witnessed some memorable connects during Chakravyuuh, BCJ and Mensa quizzes. Thanks to Chakravyuuh for coining the original terms 'radial', 'cascading' and 'meshed' connects.

Next week: Niranjan on CONDUCTING A QUIZ
This is a quizzing blog, but it's not quite about swapping questions. Rather, it proposes to serve as a notepad for myriad thoughts on the techniques of setting and conducting quizzes, investigating further into the nature and concepts behind the universally acclaimed and sometimes elusive "good question". This blog will be updated each Sunday. Tthere may be a few posts in between, but they will usually be small updates or corrections or announcements - the meat will usually be on the weekend. This will help keep the blog focussed and provide enough time for thoughts on a topic to coalesce. This blog is also open for contributions on the subjects. I don't foresee any problems in having enough material to write upon, so lack of posts should only be a function of lack of time.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Testing, Testing, One, Three, Yeh blog leak ho raha hai kya?