Local introductions

Getting to know you…


The big UTS tournament introduced the contenders, but now the local events have started up.

New Brunswick had its first SchoolReach tournament on Saturday, held at Sugarloaf Senior HS. There were four teams at the senior level and ten in the intermediate level. Kennebecasis Valley HS “A” went undefeated in their double round-robin and won the tournament. Fredericton HS was the only other representation at the senior level, but hopefully there will be more variety of schools as the regional tournaments move on to other parts of the province.

On the quizbowl front, McMaster hosted “MacIntro III” last week. UTS, Westmount, and a team that needs anonymity were in attendance. UTS was still not at full strength, but convincingly swept the field and answered roughly 80% of the questions they heard. Westmount and the “A” team from the other school also put up strong numbers that could have won in a different field. Stats for the tournament are here.

The following weekend, Lisgar hosted with that set of questions. This brought out local teams, including some that don’t play in the Ottawa SchoolReach league. Ten teams from seven schools participated, with Colonel By SS going undefeated. Stats for the tournament are here. Colonel By and Lisgar did not run their true “A” teams out of respect for the “novice” spirit of the tournament. I think Glebe was missing one of their “A” players, but they and Nepean are close to what to expect for regional competition later this year. With Colonel By not in the SchoolReach league, those two will be in a tight fight for the provincial qualifications (assuming Lisgar is already in the mix for one of the spots).

U of Toronto and Carleton U will run quizbowl tournaments on December 2 that will bring out more “A” teams. New Brunswick also continues their SchoolReach regionals that day.

If tournaments are starting up in your part of Canada, I’d be happy to share it. Local tournaments are a great way to warm up before the official events in the spring.

2017 UTS fall tournament results

Let the season begin!

The University of Toronto Schools held a fall Reach-style tournament on October 28. UTS has held several independent tournaments in the past, but this is their first under new management (and the first where I have full results).

Traditionally, the UTS tournament attracts many southern Ontario teams, and occasionally has visitors from other parts of the province and the well-traveled KVHS team. Because of the wide variety of Ontario teams (and its original April date), the UTS tournament had been a good measuring stick for Ontario SchoolReach provincials.

This year’s tournament attracted 32 teams from 20 schools. The top four teams from 2017 Nationals and top six teams from 2017 Ontario provincials were in attendance. Teams were split into four pools of 8, but only completed five of the round-robin games for the morning preliminaries. This left an uneven schedule for some teams, as will be seen later. For the afternoon, the top 8, next 8, next 8, and bottom 8 teams were separated into “elimination” brackets, though all teams continued playing to resolve every rank from 1 to 32. Martingrove CI won the tournament, with a 410-280 victory over London Central SS “A” in the final.

The stats, including the R-value, are found at this link. The initial pools were divided as follows:

Pool A (313 PPG) Pool B (282 PPG) Pool C (253 PPG) Pool D (293 PPG)
  • Agincourt
  • Assumption A
  • Chaminade B
  • Central B
  • Richview
  • UCC A
  • UTS A
  • Westmount
  • Assumption B
  • Centennial CVI
  • Bethune A
  • Lisgar
  • Central A
  • Michael Power
  • TMS B
  • UFA A
  • Assumption C
  • Chaminade A
  • Bethune B
  • Martingrove
  • Oakville Trafalgar B
  • TMS A
  • UFA B
  • “Hat team”
  • KVHS
  • Oakville Trafalgar A
  • Oakwood
  • St. Michael’s
  • UCC B
  • UFA A
  • UTS B
  • White Oaks

I’ll look at the champions, Martingrove, first. Despite having the second-highest points haul, they only ended up with a raw R-value of 123% (7th overall for that stat). Their R-value was hurt by their extremely easy schedule, in which they faced the lowest-recorded strength of schedule for a complete tournament. Not only did the strength of schedule lower their R-value, but I suspect their points haul was lower than expected for at least one of these reasons:

  • With easy opponents, games were settled fairly early, allowing Martingrove to ease off.
  • Martingrove could play more loose and risk mistakes and wrong answers

Once the playoffs rolled around, they reverted back to their usual strong persona. If their playoff games were incorporated into their total R-value (which I don’t do, because of the significant play difference between prelims and playoffs), their R-value becomes 172%, which is closer to expected.

Central and UTS’ secondary players put up their usual strong performances. UTS A was part of a lions’ den in Pool A, which gave a large boost to those teams’ strength of schedule and R-value. Considering UTS’ result, this bodes well for when they bring in their true “A” team.

Hands up if you said Westmount would have the highest R-value. I knew they would be a decent team this year, but the curse of Hamilton’s strength of schedule struck again: Westmount’s SOS was at least 10% higher than any other top-flight team, including almost 60% tougher than Martingrove’s. They had to play full-throttle to keep up with all their opponents, and the combination of lots of points and a tough schedule created a perfect storm for a high R-value. Westmount deserves notice this year, but I don’t think they are yet at the echelon of UTS or Martingrove.

KVHS is probably disappointed with their final placement. They went undefeated in the morning, and as a reward, had to face UTS A in the first playoff game. They only lost to the UTS teams that day.

Lisgar had a completely new lineup from their previous national championship squad. The deep Lisgar program still produced a team that can put up the points, but three consecutive losses to Central, Martingrove, and KVHS settled their fate and gave them a good gauge for how they stack up in the national picture this year.

Chaminade is a school I know little about. They went to a few UTS events, but my only record of them is 15th at the 1999 Ontario provincials. They ended up in the top flight thanks to being the “best of the rest” in the Martingrove-dominated Pool C. I suspect the “Hat team” in that pool was an exhibition group to replace a strong team that had to drop out suddenly, but it ended up leaving the pool weak overall. Chaminade, like many other GTA teams, will have a tough go to get out of regionals with all the strong established Toronto teams.

The biggest outlier is Upper Canada College. They had an R-value of 144% and crushed the third flight, but statistically, they should have been vying for a top 8 finish. Being stuck in Pool A didn’t help, and even if they hypothetically beat Agincourt, they still would have only ended up in the second flight. I know it can be hard to judge team strength at the beginning of the year, but placing four 2017 ON playoff teams (and the B team of a fifth) together gave the unsurprising outcome of a stacked pool. Hopefully, UCC will get another tournament before provincials to see if they can do better.

I noticed an interesting comparison with the two Oakville rivals White Oaks and Oakville-Trafalgar. They were placed in the same pool with almost the same SOS and identical point tallies. Their round-robin match was decided by 10 points. They met again in the playoffs, with a 350-300 victory for White Oaks to determine 13th place. For several years, these two have faced each other regionally and provincially; it looks like it will be a paper-thin margin between them again this year.

Overall, I got the impression that this was a good tournament by UTS. The schedule issues are mostly nitpicking at this stage; for an early-year tournament, the most important thing is to see how the other teams are doing, rather than worry about final rank. There will be other Reach-style opportunities at Lisgar and possibly Westmount.

Finally, McMaster held a tournament yesterday, but I will recap that after Lisgar runs their event with those questions next week.

On distribution

A topic about topics

As teams get started for the year, a common question is “What should I be studying?” Good teams usually have a system for splitting categories among players, so what actually is important?

Ideally, there is a topic distribution. A thorough distribution usually has fixed numbers of questions for each broad subject per pack, and fixed number of questions for each subcategory over the course of a set. For example, a set might have 15 science questions per pack, with 10 geology questions spread over the twelve packs in the set. Topic distributions are well-established in the quizbowl circuits south of the border; not only does it offer guidelines on what to study, but it also organizes the submission of questions editors receive from writers.

There is no official distribution in Reach. I found this out while setting up a writing effort in 2014, and I don’t think that has changed since. I will return to that later, but I will start with my brief foray into coaching in 2012. For that year, I tried to reverse-engineer a distribution from the limited number of complete sets I had on hand at the school (the 2010-11 and 2012-13 intramural sets). The chart:

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 4.52.04 AM
Broad subject distribution of 2010 & 2012 intramural sets. Error bars are standard deviation based on amounts from each individual pack.

A brief explanation of the broad subjects:

  • Pop Culture: TV, movies, music, games, and sports. I generously lumped all books (even Twilight) with literature. The largest subcategory was sports, with about 7.1% of total question content.
  • History: Anything under the domain of history up to 2000, unless it fit more specifically into a smaller category like science or arts. I subdivided history into Canadian, US, post-Roman Europe, Ancient, and World. Europe had 6.7% of total content.
  • Science: For this case, science includes solving math problems, though I tallied them as a subcategory separate from math concepts. Some topics, like Newton discovering gravity, fell under history if I deemed it more suitable. Perhaps surprisingly to some, neither computational math nor chemistry (via elemental symbol questions) was largest; it was biology with 5.4% of total content.
  • Geography: The catch-all for identifying things on a map. Theory of geography was non-existent. There was a fairly even balance between Canadian, European, and “rest of World”, with “rest of North America” being the subcategory that lost out. I can’t recollect fully, but I think “rest of world” was largely dominated by identifying capitals, while Canadian geography got its point haul from several who-am-I questions.
  • Literature: With less than 10% of total content, even after throwing in “pop lit” and children’s books, this is the most lacking subject in the distribution. Most quizbowl distributions place literature around 20% as one of the “big three” with history and science. In the sets I reviewed, Canadian, US, and European literature combined (the rest of the world was non-existent) came to 7.1% – the same as sports.
  • “Words”: This is another catch-all for questions in which the word itself is more important than having background knowledge in a subject. The three subcategories I used were “definitions (incl. translation)”, “spelling”, and “wordplay”. “Wordplay” includes anagramming and those quirky questions where you add a letter to make a different word. For “definitions”, I was willing to place science/history/etc ones in that corresponding subject, but a lot were just things like “what does genuflect mean?” In my opinion, none of this “words” category belongs in quizzing, but it’s there.
  • Miscellaneous: The last catch-all for questions that don’t fit another subject. Provincial flowers, mixing colors, slogans, and so on. It is possible for legitimate topics to appear as “miscellaneous” (even quizbowl accounts for this), but I’m not holding my breath for questions on administration, shop class, nursing, and other studied material that fall between the subject cracks.
  • R/M/P: This is a quizbowl clumping. It stands for “religion, mythology, and philosophy”, which are topics that can often overlap. “Religion” in this case refers to practices and beliefs; events (such as the life of Buddha or the 95 Theses) usually fall under history. Dominated by identifying Greco-Roman gods, the mythology subcategory leads the way with 2.6% of total content.
  • Fine Arts: This category has your visual (painting, sculpture, etc) and auditory (music, opera, etc) arts. Smaller topics like dance, architecture, and certain films find their way in as well. Music is slightly favored over visual art in the sets I reviewed, but the subject as a whole is fairly small.
  • Current Events: Topics after 2000 that wouldn’t be considered “pop culture” or sports are found here. It ended up being fairly evenly split between politics and other newsworthy events. This is a subject that can be difficult to “study” for; it tends to require a habit of being world-aware.
  • Social Science: Got an interest in economics, anthropology, psychology, linguistics, or dozens of other social sciences? Too bad.

Take all this with a grain of salt. It is only a sample size of 2 sets, and sets do evolve as the difficulty and years change – a modern Nationals set is not likely to have much wordplay, for example. However, it is still reasonable to expect that the “big 3” of Reach will be pop culture, history, and science this year.

When I wrote in 2014, I used the following distribution:

  • 19.3% History. I tried a roughly even split between Canada/US/Europe (all eras)/World, but shifting some US to Europe.
  • 19.3% Science. No computational math. I restricted questions on elements to not make any reference to their symbol, except possibly as a gimme at the end of a what-am-I or long question.
  • 17.9% Literature. This was my weakest subject, but it needed a big boost from what existed.
  • 12.9% Pop culture. Sports was toned down to balance out with movies, TV, music, and games.
  • 8.6% Geography
  • 5.7% Fine arts
  • 5% R/M/P
  • 4.3% Current events. So much for that category when my questions started showing up three years after the fact.
  • 2.1% Social sciences
  • 5% miscellaneous. No “words”. Usually, “miscellaneous” became a multi-clue question that spanned several different subjects (like how “blue” appears in science, literature, or music, for example).

It should be noted that the list above is what I submitted. Editorial control determined what topics appeared in question sets, and it needed to accommodate questions from other authors.

I don’t know the future of a distribution in Reach. Ever since quizbowl showed up, there have been rumours of players trying to adapt the topics, but rarely do they get to the point of writing and submitting. Quizbowl writing is a more lucrative venture, which discourages any new talent from coming in at Reach. There is also the problem that the majority of customers would resist change, even a change to better reflect a school curriculum (when was the last time you used anagrams or Drake in class?).

For now, if you’re looking for something to study, find the biggest topic no one else on your team is covering. That’s the best bet. How to study is another matter…