Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The goal of a tossup is to provide as many helpful clues as possible; the easiest way to make room for more clues is by cutting down on excessive wording that isn’t providing clues! In this lesson, we discuss how wording can be condensed, using two example tossups that were taken from the fall 2015 Provisional Writer Program.

Example 1:

This man once asked to borrow a pinch of snuff and left the room in response to a rival’s interrogation. He was accused of being a “dandy,” an “effeminate fop,” and an “incorrigible snob” by Davy Crockett. One speech attacking this man was called the “The Regal Splendor of the President’s Palace,” but is better known as the Gold Spoon Oration. That speech helped ensure that this man lost his bid for re-election to William Henry Harrison. For ten points, name this man who was President during the Panic of 1837 and succeeded Andrew Jackson.
Answer: Martin van Buren

In my first feedback on this tossup, I suggested adding a clue to the lead-in to make it more specific; specifically, “After tense questioning from Henry Clay, this man avoided the situation by borrowing a pinch of snuff from Clay and leaving the Senate.” Let’s see how we can further condense this sentence.
The point of this clue is that “Clay yelled at Van Buren, so Van Buren borrowed some snuff from Clay and walked out to avoid the conflict.” One aspect of the clue can probably be inferred by the players — why Van Buren walked out. Of course he walked out to defuse the situation; what else would that be doing? And even if that’s not clear, that part of the story is the least important to the execution of the clue. If someone has heard this story, they’re buzzing at “pinch of snuff” or “leaving the Senate after Henry Clay’s questioning,” not “the result was a defused situation,” so that point can be somewhat safely removed. I’d edit this sentence down to “After tense questioning from Henry Clay, this man borrowed a pinch of snuff from Clay and left the Senate.”

Sentence two: “He was accused of being a “dandy,” an “effeminate fop,” and an “incorrigible snob” by Davy Crockett.” The clue here is “Davy Crockett hated Martin Van Buren,” and that point can be expressed with just one of the three name-callings. This is a common place for condensing; when there’s a list of things, pick one for your clue. The extra names here don’t help. I’d edit this sentence down to “He was accused of being a “dandy” by Davy Crockett.” I’d probably look to combine it with another phrase to make a larger sentence, though this only works well if the two phrases are related — it had better be another rival or opponent complaining about hating him.

Sentences three and four: “One speech attacking this man was called the “The Regal Splendor of the President’s Palace,” but is better known as the Gold Spoon Oration. That speech helped ensure that this man lost his bid for re-election to William Henry Harrison.”
The clues here are (the name of the speech), (the other name of the speech), and (the effect of the speech). The three clues here take up about as much space as the connecting words between them. In character count, the important phrases “The Regal Splendor of the President’s Palace, Gold Spoon Oration, lost re-election to William Henry Harrison” take up 108 characters, while the rest of the words take up 113. The connecting language is crowding out clues! My first edit was “His lavish lifestyle was attacked in Charles Ogle’s speech “The Regal Splendor of the President’s Palace;” that speech, later called the “Gold Spoon” oration, helped ruin his re-election campaign against William Henry Harrison.” It’s basically the same size, but it adds the subject and speaker of that speech. It took me a pretty long time to get the language the way I liked it on that edit, and I’m not even thrilled with it yet, but it’s got 5 clues in 220 characters, so I’m not going to complain. The important thing here is that the connecting language got cut down significantly; the only phrase that doesn’t provide clues is “that speech, later called the.”

I originally wanted the Davy Crockett sentence to tie in with the next clue in a single sentence. Though this sentence does hit the “opponents of MVB theme” well, it’s long enough as it is. We’ll leave it alone.

The giveaway doesn’t have any language that needs cutting, but by removing words earlier, I was able to expand the giveaway to include more context. Here’s my final version:

After tense questioning from Henry Clay, this man borrowed a pinch of snuff from Clay and left the Senate. He was accused of being a “dandy” by Davy Crockett, and his lavish lifestyle was attacked in Charles Ogle’s speech “The Regal Splendor of the President’s Palace.” That speech, later called the “Gold Spoon” oration, helped ruin his re-election campaign against William Henry Harrison. For ten points, name this U.S. President who took power just five weeks before the onset of the Panic of 1837, largely caused by his predecessor, Andrew Jackson.
Answer: Martin Van Buren

 

Example 2:

During one battle of this campaign, a force defended the village of Wizna for three days while outnumbered by a ratio of over 40 to 1. Though it is untrue it is commonly believed that one side in this campaign charged enemy tanks on horseback. At one point in this invasion over ten percent of the city of Warsaw was destroyed by aerial bombardment. For the point, name this invasion that began on September 1, 1939 and started World War II.
Answer: Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland

Before you read the below lesson, use this tossup as an exercise. Copy it into a word processor and underline all the language that could be condensed away.

 

Going sentence by sentence…
“During one battle of this campaign, a force defended the village of Wizna for three days while outnumbered by a ratio of over 40 to 1.”
The brunt of this clue is “defenders at Wizna were heavily outnumbered,” so my version is “In this campaign, forces defended Wizna against an army 40 times larger.” Phrases like “In this campaign” or “In this war” are always preferable to “During one battle in this war.” We’re about to describe fighting anyway, so you don’t need to say “battle.”

Next sentence: “Though it is untrue it is commonly believed that one side in this campaign charged enemy tanks on horseback.”
Pay careful attention to the two bits to this clue — “horse-based cavalry charged against tanks” and “this didn’t happen.” A TON of famous stories have the “this didn’t happen” aspect; we need to make sure we’re telling the players that (so they don’t learn it as gospel truth) and that we’re telling them that quickly (because it’s just making the clue take longer). My version – “According to myth, the defenders in this campaign charged enemy tanks on horseback.”
“Supposedly,” can preface facts that may or may not have happened. It would not be appropriate here, as the fact in question is much closer to “false” than to “true.”
“According to legend,” can be used similarly to “According to myth,” but I prefer saving it for situations where it’s at least a little questionable whether the story is true.
If something is blatantly false (like this Polish horses charging German tanks story), then we’ll call it a myth.

“At one point in this invasion over ten percent of the city of Warsaw was destroyed by aerial bombardment.”
Here’s a good place to check your underlining.
Clue: “10% of Warsaw was destroyed by aerial bombardment”
Not clue: “At one point in” “over” “of the city”
Not clue, but helpful: “this invasion” (We remind players of the pronoun in each sentence.)
My version: Air strikes destroyed 10% of Warsaw.
My version doesn’t give a pronoun, but it’s also short enough that it can find a home with another short clue in a larger sentence, and they can share a pronoun.

The tossup so far:
In this campaign, forces defended Wizna against an army 40 times larger. According to myth, the defenders in this campaign charged enemy tanks on horseback. Air strikes destroyed 10% of Warsaw. For the point, name this invasion that began on September 1, 1939 and started World War II.

There is definitely room for more clues now – and high on the priority list is expanding sentence 3 with another clue, because at the moment it doesn’t say “this campaign.” This lesson is just about condensing clues, though, so we’ll leave it at this.

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