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A buzzer is a common name for a device used to indicate which player has indicated that he or she wishes to answer a question first. They are usually desired for playing quizbowl, as they help avoid any ambiguities in who buzzed in first. When no buzzers are present, teams must play slapbowl, where buzzing is indicated by slapping the desk or saying something like "buzz". These buzzer systems are also called "lockouts".

Buzzer Systems


  • -- based in Chillicothe, Illinois is renowned for their early use of the internet. Since their "standard system", the company has branched out to create systems that better fit various styles of play. One of their newer devices is a separate timing system that can be integrated into a lockout to fit the Illinois format, though supposedly a system that will fit the more widespread NAQT format will soon be available. The "deluxe" system with individual light boxes and hand held sticks are likely the best system they make. Customer service is a hallmark. They have been the exclusive supplier (donated rental) of lockout systems to the IHSA State Championship Tourament since 1996. The owners were a 2007 recipient of the Robert Grierson Friend of Scholastic Bowl Award.
  • The Knot -- aka the QuizWizard II, a system whose only known owners in collegiate quizbowl are the Maryland, Illinois, and Chicago teams. Up to sixteen players can use it at one time, making it useful for large practices or unusual competitive games. At least for the Maryland team, the system has been extremely reliable in the four years since it was renovated, but Chicago has reportedly had more problems with their system. Its name comes from its very long and inextricably jumbled cords, which make it useful for setting up in large spaces. Its drawbacks include the lack of individual lights which necessitate the moderator calling out alphanumeric designations for who has buzzed in and slow down games. In addition, the assignment of letter-number combinations to the buzzers was not planned well--buzzers are labeled A1, A2, A3, A4, B1, B2, B3, B4, C1, C2, C3, C4, D1, D2, D3, and D4. The difficulty in distinguishing the letters "B" "C" and "D" from each other leads to a lot of confusion when neither team picks up the "A" buzzers; one team should always make sure to do so when using this system. Any future editions of the QuizWizard should probably use numbers 1-16 or four letters that do not sound so similar. Another drawback of the system is its price. A QuizWizard II system for 16 players costs around $640, plus tax and shipping, although it is more in the price range of other systems when price per player is accounted for.
  • Zeecraft -- the only buzzer used by College Bowl and the National Academic Championship. Uses "phone cord" style connecting wires, which often leads to the end jacks breaking off. This can be fixed with Radio Shack parts, though most teams don't bother and a lot of Zeecraft systems have wires randomly fall out during use, not to be discovered until someone fruitlessly tries to buzz. Lights tend to break frequently on Zeecraft buzzers, although the company offers repair kits with spare bulbs that can be easily installed with a screwdriver and solder gun. Generally, Zeecraft systems make different sounds for buzzes on different team ports on the main unit, so it is possible to play a game with two broken lights if those buzzers are connected to different team ports. Zeecraft's several systems include one with a button and light on a single box and one with a hand activator and a light. Models with more than 8 buzzer slots are also available.
  • SVBZ -- a company which has attracted the attention of quizbowl within the past two years for selling systems for under $200, a previously unheard-of level of economy. While their original models were prone to completely fail due to lack of shielding against static shocks, they have a good warranty policy and have corrected the flaw in newer systems. Despite this fix, these buzzers still routinely break and are typically the cause of frequent reliability problems at tournaments, especially because the wires are usually wrapped around the buzzing units, which causes the connections to break. Their buzzers have individual lights and use headphone-jack connectors which can be indefinitely split off, meaning that you can attach as many individual units as you choose to buy in order to run a large practice. But make sure to attach and tie off the endless sequence of connecting wires ahead of time, or you'll never figure out how to set the system up properly. As part of their budget-friendly approach, SVBZ buzzers do not come with a carrying case, but they are compact enough to be carried in any tote bag or case you can find. In fact, one advantage of these buzzers is that the whole system is small enough to be tossed in your luggage, so you can always bring an extra system to a tournament without worrying about the hassle of carrying an additional item. An optional AC adapter can be bought, or you can save more money with the battery-powered model. While this allows you to set up the system anywhere in the room (or even outdoors) without regard to the power outlet, it also means that you should keep a supply of batteries with the system to ensure its usability. When inproperly put away, SVBZ buzzers create massive tangles that can result in large delays when setting up the system the next time.
  • Anderson Officiator- A cheap, reliable system with a logical setup of player lights on the activator boxes and ample buzzer-to-control box cord length. The fact that, on one model, all buzzers are connected means that the wires rarely get tangled and set up is pretty quick. (Models are also available where each buzzer has its own cord.) One drawback is that the LEDs included in the standard system are not very bright, making it a little difficult to recognize players.
  • Quizco -- Advantages include the ability to connect with off-the-rack RCA cords of any length and infinite capability for daisy-chaining buzzers onto the end of the line; this means you can accommodate as many players as you are willing to buy individual activators. The Quizco carrying case is also one of the most efficient at combining protection of the equipment with ease of transport. Disadvantages include easy breakage, the fact that one malfunctioning or improperly connected buzzer will prevent the whole team from buzzing in, and the quack-like noise made while buzzing, which is both extremely irritating and too short for a moderator who is reading loudly to notice 100% of the time. You can put a piece of tape over the speaker on the central unit to make the sound more pleasant, but nothing can be done about the duration problem.
  • Quik Pro -- a very common system in both high school and collegiate quizbowl, featuring tiny hand activators and large lights. The hardwired connection between the handheld stick and the cylindrical light is great; the phone cords used to connect the light to the central box less so. Another Quiz Pro system dispenses with the individual lights and uses tiny lights on the central unit, in the style of The Judge. The noise made by Quiz Pro systems is probably the most effective overall at stopping a moderator's speech, as it is both harsh and long in duration.
  • The Judge -- possibly the most iconic system in the collegiate game. Advantages include idiot-proof setup and repacking (everything is permanently wired together and there is plenty of extra room in the case), a pleasing train whistle noise, and the ability to "prime" the buzzer by partially depressing it without activating the system as you wait for another clue. Disadvantages are legion: Short cords force players to sit close together, and make the activators fall onto the floor if not gripped at all times; the system only comes in 8- and 10- player versions and cannot accommodate a large number of players at a practice; there is a "timer" button which is easily confused with the reset button, serves no apparent function, and prevents players from buzzing in when accidentally pressed; the position of the lights as physical protrusions from the case make the lights and light covers very susceptible to breaking; the grip pads on the activators start to peel away immediately; the system as a whole breaks and is impervious to obvious repair; and the whole thing resembles a bomb and will make your passage through airports to faraway tournaments difficult, as chronicled in numerous online discussions. The Judge is sold by Electramatic of Minneapolis, a company which steadily refuses to advertise this product on their website. The Judge is also the only known system that allows for "ties"--two lights coming on at once when players buzz in at the same time--when properly set up.
  • - The "buzzer without a name," featuring aggressive colors, translucent plastic parts, and a mystery third plug.
  • Homemade buzzers-- not a good idea. Occasionally seen on televised high school quizbowl as well as at enterprising quizbowl clubs, these systems break early and often because they do not have years of trial-and-error behind them. Even the world's brightest electrical engineers cannot be counted upon to build a good buzzer system on their first try, as evidenced by an MIT homebrew system bursting into flames mid-game at an early 1990s Yale tournament.

How to buy a buzzer system

A frequent question from new programs at any level is how and where to buy a buzzer system. The important thing to keep in mind is that all buzzers break. It is better to buy two $200-$300 systems with good warranties and always have a backup on hand for when one is being fixed, then buy a $600 system without a warranty just because you've heard the more expensive system is less likely to fail.

Past that, you want a system that provides for easy use in gameplay and practices. Systems such as The Knot, which do not have individual lights and require the moderator to call out who has buzzed, do not suit themselves to timed games and are annoying even in ACF formats. Something with an individual, easy-to-see light on each player's buzzer is the best. Systems such as The Judge have individual, universally visible lights, but they are located on the central unit rather than the activators, meaning that players can sometimes forget who has buzzed in and answer for their teammate.

"Self-resetting" systems are not appropriate for use in any mainstream collegiate or high school format. Make sure to get a system with a moderator reset button that does not require a time delay.

Systems which make a different sound depending on which team has buzzed can be useful and provide a safeguard against breakage--you can play with up to two buzzers whose lights have burnt out on this system, one on each side, and still always know who has buzzed in.

If you buy a battery-powered system, ALWAYS KEEP FRESH BATTERIES IN THE CASE. Nothing is worse than a system failing mid-tournament because of a dead battery.

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