Academic Competition Federation

Interview: Rahul Keyal

Rahul Keyal, a junior studying computer science at the University of California-Berkeley, is co-president of the Cal Quiz Bowl Club. He is a frequent writer and editor who subject-edited 2018 ACF Fall and head-edited 2019 ACF Fall. ACF representative Caroline Mao spoke with him about his editing experiences.

CM: Let’s talk about your editing journey and writing. Where did you start with that, and how’s it been going?

RK: There were a few other people in the Southern California circuit who would write little events and host them at their competitions, and that just seemed like a lot of fun and a really good way to write questions. So one of my high school teammates, Kevin Yu, and I wrote a short set my senior year that was science and fine arts. Just having people play my questions and seeing the time I put into them come to fruition was really exciting for me. It made me fall much more in love with the idea of question writing, not just as a way to prepare for quizbowl, but a way to spread things you’re passionate about with others.

My freshman year at Berkeley, I got to work on the Cal’s Mid-Spring Tournament, which was an almost nationals-level difficulty tournament hosted in the spring of 2018. I hadn’t written questions at that difficulty before, but we needed a lot of questions and so I contributed a lot. Working with such a smart and talented group of writers, and getting feedback from my brother and Will Nediger — both of them really helped hone my craft and point me in the right direction. That was really valuable and made me understand my strengths and the process of writing questions.

I’ve also worked on Words and Objects. It was a side event that I wrote with my college teammate, James Malouf, in the spring of 2018. That was also something I very much wrote for fun.

I’ve also worked on ACF Fall 2018 and then EFT 2019 and then ACF Fall 2019.

[Seeing people play my questions] made me fall much more in love with the idea of question writing, not just as a way to prepare for quizbowl, but a way to spread things you’re passionate about with others.

CM: One of your recent projects was head editing ACF Fall. Congratulations on that! Why were you interested in editing Fall?

RK: I had the experience of working on Fall 2018 as an editor, and so had just come out of that experience. I was definitely on the fence about Fall. It’s obviously a lot of work. But it’s also one of the most important sets of the year, and for many people, it’s the first college set they’ll play. So making sure I can do a good job in that role and also show what college quizbowl is about and how it’s distinct from what they did in high school, whether that was quizbowl or other academic competitions — those are things I really wanted to pull off well and I knew that if I worked on the set, I could achieve my vision of it.

CM: Could you talk more about your vision for ACF Fall?

RK: There are definitely a few things I think a set at ACF Fall difficulty should be achieving. It should go more into topics one might not encounter as much in high school but see more in college, things like the social sciences or world literature. Identifying why people should care about these topics and showcasing them is very important. [So is] keeping a consistent difficulty that isn’t intimidating, because so many of the players are new. Watching difficulty tightly is very crucial to success.

Another thing on my vision of the tournament is that ACF has recently made strides in making sure the process for selecting editors has become much more open. Part of the vision for the tournament is making sure we’re preparing a batch of editors for the years to come. In the past, ACF Fall in particular has been one of the avenues for new editors to crop up. Many of today’s great editors are people who got their start today through ACF Fall, so continuing that tradition is something I wanted to try to achieve.

CM: Do you have a favorite part about editing Fall?

RK: Definitely being able to work with such a great group of editors this Fall. The diverse set of ideas and approaches that come out of such a large group of people with such varied backgrounds is a wonderful surprise. Just seeing the different ideas that could be written about and approaches I might not have considered if I was just writing the set by myself really impressed me and made me very happy.

Also a highlight was that as ACF Fall is a packet submission tournament, we’re taking questions from the players and turning them into questions for the final set. Giving the players the opportunity to write definitely has benefits in that many people’s first experience writing will be through ACF Fall. If they can put together a question that’s really exciting and interesting, and that gets into the set, I hope that’s something that motivates them to continue pursuing writing in the future.

CM: Do you have any advice for other head editors, on ACF or otherwise?

RK: One of the things I think is really important for head editors is maintaining constant communication with your editors and making sure everyone is on the same page, in terms of progress of the set and in terms of vision of the tournament you’re trying to put together. I think that’s really crucial and if you don’t have good communication, the other things you might still do well but the set might not turn out as good as you’d hope.

In general, it can be intimidating for people to get into quizbowl writing and quizbowl editing, because it feels like you need to have some sort of connections or know certain people in quizbowl to step into those roles. I think ACF has done a great job in showing them that’s not the case.

CM: Is there anything else that you’d like to say?

RK: I want to say a little more about ACF Fall and its role in training editors. I think it was 2017 or 2018 that started the open application process for ACF Fall, and that was a really great adjustment in how ACF does things. In general, it can be intimidating for people to get into quizbowl writing and quizbowl editing, because it feels like you need to have some sort of connections or know certain people in quizbowl to step into those roles. I think ACF has done a great job in showing them that’s not the case; it’s all about talent and hard work. If you work hard on becoming a better writer, fixing your questions, writing more pyramidal questions, more engaging questions — then if you want to get into those roles, all you need to do is submit to those things, talk with people. I’m happy that there are more transparent avenues to get into those roles. In particular, ACF Fall and ACF Regionals this year were both application-based, so I hope people who are interested in editing try to take advantage of opportunities like that. [Other application-based opportunities from this year include NASAT and WORKSHOP; the latter set in particular aims to mentor new writers.] If those don’t pan out, just reach out to people and figure out ways in which you can get more involved. There’s tons of questions that need to be written, and most people would be happy to have another helping hand.