Glossary of quizbowl jargon

Over the years, the quizbowl community has developed its own somewhat specific jargon. While its knowledge is certainly non-essential to play the game, it is useful to be familiar with some of the commonly used terms, explained below.

Bonus/bonus set: A set of three questions linked by some theme, which are awarded to a team after they correctly answer a tossup. Unlike on University Challenge, bonuses are worth 10 points in quizbowl, and there are no music or picture bonuses. Teams may confer on bonuses, but not tossups. Most bonus sets will have a relatively easy, medium and hard part. ‘Ten’, ‘twenty’ and ‘thirty’ are all occasionally used as verbs.

Bracket: Many tournaments have too many teams for them all to play each other; in this case, teams will play in a ‘prelim bracket’ in the morning against a proportion of the field, and then play teams with roughly the same number of wins as them in the afternoon. The teams with the most wins in a prelim bracket will play in the ‘top bracket’.

Briticise: The act of getting an American question set and replacing/editing questions to make it more suitable to a British audience. This usually involves removing content that is much harder in the UK than in America (such as American sports and history), and making questions on British history and current events harder.

BSQC: British Student Quizbowl Championships. The most prestigious collegiate tournament of the year, with the largest field.

Cap: The number of teams which can play in a given tournament: constraints on rooms and number of people willing to moderate may lead to small field caps. The largest UK tournament has a field cap of 24 teams.

Collegiate: A tournament which is only open to teams comprised of current university students.

Distribution: The way in which different topics are spread in a given packet. Most packets will contain questions on science, literature, history, art, classical music, religion, mythology, philosophy, social science, geography and ‘trash’: this rewards teams with a wide range of expertise. Distributions are usually described in the form X/X, where X is a number; this means the number of starters and bonuses respectively of a category that will appear in an average packet.

Grail: The act of getting all of the tossups in a match. This happens very, very rarely.

Housewrite: A tournament that is hosted at a university, with questions mostly written by members (and alumni) of that university. The two largest housewrites in the UK are Oxford Open and Cambridge Open.

Mirror: A tournament that is held on questions written by people other than the moderators of the tournament. Most British quizbowl tournaments are written in America and mirrored in the UK.

Mod: The official in charge of reading questions and interpreting answers from the teams. Mods will usually score as well, although larger tournaments may have separate scorers. Mods will decide which team has buzzes, whether answers are correct and whether to prompt answers.

Neg: The act of interrupting a tossup before it is finished, and giving an incorrect answer. Performing a neg loses your team five points, and means that they cannot buzz again until the next tossup.

Open: A tournament that is open to everyone: current university members, university alumni and people who have never been to university. These tournaments often have larger and more challenging fields than collegiate tournaments.

Packet: The set of questions that each quizbowl match is played on. Most packets will consist of either 20 or 24 sets of tossups and bonuses, as well as a tiebreaker tossup if the match finishes with the scores level. Every match is played until all the tossups have been read, and not until a given time has elapsed.

Packet submission: Tournaments that require teams to write a packet in order to play.

Power: A particularly early correct buzz in a tossup, which earn the player more points. Powers usually are worth 15 points, and correct buzzes ‘out of power’ are worth 10. Not all tournaments have powers; the tournament director will usually make this clear at the start of the day.

PPG: Points per game; the number of points you have earned through buzzing divided by the number of games you have played.

Prompt: An answer to a question that is not specific enough, but not incorrect. For example, a team answering ‘King Henry’ to a question about Henry VIII would be prompted, but a team saying ‘Henry III’ would not.

Pyramidal: One of the core principles of quizbowl, questions being pyramidal means that tossups should start with relatively obscure clues that reward in-depth knowledge of the topic, and then become progressively easier until the final line, the ‘giveaway’, which most teams are likely to know.

Set: The collection of questions which each tournament is played on. Each packet within a set will comply with that tournament’s distribution.

Side tournament: A tournament, usually held the day after a collegiate or open tournament, with questions on one specific area of the distribution. Last year, side tournaments were held about films, sports, history, visual arts, literature and classical music, but this can vary from year to year.

Tossup: Question on which teams can buzz on to earn points, similar to starters on University Challenge; correctly answering a tossup will also give a team a chance to answer a set of bonuses. Tossups are significantly longer than University Challenge starters: most are between five and ten lines long, and are pyramidal. There are no tossups that involve looking at pictures or listening to music, although some may describe artworks or musical pieces.

Tournament director (TD): The official in charge of a whole tournament. Any protests about moderator decisions should be directed to the tournament director, and their word is ultimately final.

Trash: What quizbowl calls questions about films, sport, television, popular music, video games or other non-academic content. Trash is not a derogatory term in quizbowl!

Vulch: Because questions are pyramidal, and tossups become easier towards the end of the question, teams will usually wait until the final sentence of a tossup before buzzing after the other team has negged; not waiting until the end of the tossup in such situations is called vulching.