Quizbowl lingo

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See also: Category:Quizbowl lingo



The term A-team generally refers to the best team from a school which fields multiple teams, referred to as [School Name] A. The following teams would be B-team, C-team, etc.

It is possible for a team to not follow this convention, either maliciously or because their teams do not have a strict hierarchy of strength.


The term academic has two meanings in quizbowl:

  • In collegiate quizbowl, "academic" tournaments are those tournaments which are not trash tournaments.
  • In general, "academic" material is what mainstream quizbowl thinks questions should be about. Academic material means important facts about important topics in liberal arts fields that are relevant to understanding the context and importance of the topic in the way one might digest it in an upper-level interpretive class. It excludes not only trash but also trivia, riddles and trick questions, memorization of irrelevancies, and math calculation and other performance-based or not strictly factual knowledge. See trivia.


Accessibility is a somewhat nebulously-defined term that describes two things:

  1. For a question, the percentage of games in which a certain question was correctly answered.
  2. For a tournament, the average skill level of a team at the tournament, as measured by conversion metrics.

There is no objective scale of accessibility; if a tournament has an 85% tossup conversion rate, it does not necessarily mean that the tournament is "85% accessible".

In recent years there has been a huge movement toward higher accessibility as the circuit has expanded, with many new teams playing events of regular difficulty or higher.

Laypeople should have it explained to them that "accessibility" more or less means "answerability", and has nothing to do with the unrelated phenomenon of cheaters obtaining improper access to questions that they intend to play later on.

ACF Cabal

Term for the editors of ACF tournaments that was popular in the early 2000s as a sarcastic reference to the supposed secretive nature of that group. Sometimes also used, by synecdoche, to refer to all fans of the ACF format/question style.

Andrew Hart Champion

The Andrew Hart Champion of a tournament is the team with the highest points per bonus, regardless of win-loss record. The term derives from the affinity Andrew Hart has for the bonus conversion statistic.

This is not currently in use.

Andrew Hart Grail

See Andrew Hart Grail for a list of examples

An Andrew Hart Grail is a term used when a team hears at least 10 bonuses in a packet and has a bonus conversion of 30, implying they answered all of the bonus questions correctly.

Arthur's Paradox

See: Arthur's Paradox

Arthur's Paradox is an observation about quizbowl made by Bruce Arthur. It states that while quizbowl players adore concepts that are doubly-, triply-, or otherwise poly-eponymous, virtually no concepts created by quizbowl players to describe quizbowl are poly-eponymous.


Bad Negs

See: Bad Negs

A Bad Neg refers to a particularly comical or ridiculous neg which has been documented for the purposes of sharing.

Bad quizbowl

See: Bad quizbowl

Bad quizbowl is a term used to refer to various forms of quizbowl competitions and questions that do not follow the practices used in good quizbowl that emphasize rewarding greater levels of knowledge and fairness in question structure and competition formats.

Bad quizbowl may consist of any or all of the following: non-pyramidal tossups, questions which are designed to be transparent or reward lateral thinking instead of greater knowledge, formats that use gimmicks, content that emphasizes trivia, math calculation, or trash to an inappropriate degree, and tournament formats that do not seed or rank teams fairly. Hoses, speed-checks, and swerves are often hallmarks of bad quizbowl questions.

Canonical examples of bad quizbowl include the now-defunct College Bowl and the still-running National Academic Championship as well as a number of state-specific formats.


noun. The zero points received by a team that fails to correctly answer any parts of a multi-part bonus question. By analogy to the shape of the number 0.

verb. The process of failing to answer any parts of a multi-part bonus question correctly, thereby receiving no points on the bonus. Synonymous with the verb "to zero" in this context (i.e. "We bageled that bonus on the Franco-Mongol alliance in the first finals match.").

Beast Frosh

Beast Frosh was a term used by Dominic Machado in 2008 to describe Dartmouth freshman James Shinn; presumably to describe his unusual quizbowl prowess for one so young. The term saw brief ironic and non-ironic use in hsquizbowl.org discourse for a short time after, with a few instances as recent as 2018.

Persons Called "Beast Frosh": James Shinn, James Harden, unidentified player on Culver Academies, unidentified player on Western Toronto, Chris Manners

Big Three

In quizbowl parlance, the Big Three are the categories of literature, science, and history. The Big Three are so named because they each take up a comparatively large share of the distribution (and take up a majority of most packets when taken together), and are therefore viewed as particularly important categories to the game.

In ACF and ACF-style tournaments, the Big Three each take up at least 4/4 tossups/bonuses out of a 20/20 packet (so each one takes up about 20 percent of the questions in a packet) and together they make up 60% of any given packet. The amount of any individual Big Three category is almost never reduced or increased from 4/4 without changing the other two as well, because of the imbalances that would result for players specializing in the reduced category (and the complaints that would result over the potential for skewed results and the like). NAQT's percentages are similar, though there isn't perfect parity (NAQT packets feature slightly more science than literature or history) and they can vary slightly from packet to packet.


Biking is a slang term for cheating in online quizbowl matches. Usually, the term refers specifically to cheating that occurs by searching up the answers to questions using the internet, but may also refer to cheating in general.

The concept of biking is often represented on Discord using the :bike: emoji.

The origins of the term are disputed.

burden of knowledge

The burden of knowledge is an often-invoked excuse for why a player did not correctly answer a tossup in a subject area s/he is well-known for liking and/or being good at. Generally speaking, the burden of knowledge arises when a player believes that a clue applies to two or more possible answers, leading that player to wait for a clue to disambiguate the answers, while another player who only knows the clue in connection with one possible answer immediately buzzes and is correct.

This often happens as a result of vague or non-unique clues that are common in bad quizbowl, although sometimes players will invoke it while playing normal pyramidal questions just to save face.

A variant of the burden of knowledge (perhaps the burden of meta-knowledge) occurs when a player discounts the correct answer in the belief that a clue could possibly apply to other answers of which s/he knows nothing, or that an early clue well-associated with one answer would be later in the question if the clue were actually pointing to that answer. This is especially prominent at tournaments that have wild difficulty swings and/or poor questions and is often seen in games of buzzer chicken.

buzzer fake

See: buzzer fake

A buzzer fake is a tactic where one player pretends that they are about to buzz, in the hopes of luring a player on the other team into buzzing early in order to "beat" the faker out, thus inducing a neg.

buzzer race

A buzzer race occurs when two or more players, usually but not necessarily on opposing teams, hit their buzzers at almost the exact same time. This generally occurs when a clue known to many players is read. Many games are won and lost on buzzer races irrespective of question quality, and thus buzzer races are not a hallmark of bad quizbowl; however, poorly written questions can exacerbate the frequency of these occurrences.

buzzer rock

A buzzer rock is a player with a low points per game average who generally does not buzz in more than a few times per tournament. A typical buzzer rock will have a stat line of something like 2 tossups and 0 interrupts in 10 games for a 2.00 points per game average.

The Oxford University Quiz Society's Lexicon defines a buzzer rock as "A player whose sole purpose on a team is to make up the numbers, or be good-looking in the hope of getting on University Challenge. Also called 'warm body'." It is unknown whether this is an example of lexical convergent evolution or whether Muellerisms have indeed crossed the Atlantic.



See: Canon

The canon is the set of answers and clues which can be reasonably be expected to come up again at quizbowl events of a given level in the future based on repeatedly coming in the past. It comprises much but not all of what one will hear in a given quizbowl packet. Being able to ask about an entirely new (and thus, non-canonical) topic in a way that does not compromise the accessibility of a question is a valuable skill for a writer and leads to some of the most well-received individual questions.

Canon expansion refers to the process of getting a subject into the canon by repeatedly mentioning it in packets.


The captain is the nominal head of a team during match play.

In national formats, the only role of the captain is to designate an answer on bonuses if multiple, distinct answers are simultaneously directed at the moderator.

In some state-specific formats the captain takes on additional roles, e.g. being required to give bonus answers absent explicit deferral or being the only player allowed to call timeouts or lodge protests.

The captain can also refer to the administrative lead of a team.


See: flashcarding

Carding is a shorthand for "flashcarding".


Chicken, also called buzzer chicken or playing (against) the packet, is a game-within-a-game. In this game, players recognize the most obvious answer from a clue or set of clues and then must decide whether or not to buzz. It takes its name from the real game of chicken, in which participants drive cars at each other and must choose to veer away.

Games of chicken are very common at tournaments where the difficulty is highly variable or at tournaments with a critical mass of hoses, transparent questions, or just plain bad questions. In most good tournaments, a team can change its strategy to become more aggressive or more passive depending on how hard or easy the questions appear to be - games of chicken occur when there is no clear indicator on how a team should adapt.

Jerry Vinokurov is known to have exclaimed, "The packet wins again!" after losing battles with the packet through games of chicken, regardless of the final outcome.

circle of death

A strange, archaic term for the common tournament occurence of "three-way tie." It is also possible to get a five-way tie, where everyone is 2-2 among the tied teams.

It is considered good quizbowl to avoid paper tiebreakers like head-to-head, PPG, or bonus conversion when possible, though they are used when time or the number of questions is limited. The current ACF rules provide for the use of PPG and then bonus conversion if there are not enough packets to play off the tie.

The term "circle of death" is also used by the NAC to designate the double-elimination playoff at the end of the tournament.


See: Civility

"Civility" is the act of agreeing with or, at least, passively assenting to, terrible ideas about Quiz Bowl. It should not be confused with the non-quizbowl use of the term, which refers to interacting with all other people in an even-handed manner, and has nothing to do with what proponents of civility in quizbowl actually want to see.

This is not currently in use.


See: clear

A question set is '"cleared for discussion" when its writer or tournament director allows its questions to be freely discussed and/or circulated. This usually occurs after all relevant mirrors running on the particular set have concluded or after the corresponding academic year has ended. Before a set is cleared any person who has been exposed to the questions should not discuss them on the internet or otherwise disclose questions to people who may play the set in the future.

Players may also say "clear" or "reset" during a game to indicate that the buzzer system was not reset for the reading of a tossup.

clock-killing neg

The clock-killing neg was a strategy employed during tournaments that use a clock to prevent the other team from answering the final question.

While leading by more than 5, but less than the maximum possible points in a tossup-bonus cycle, a team could buzz in with few seconds remaining, use the maximum amount of allotted time to begin a response, and then deliver as long an answer as possible, thus ensuring that time would expire before the trailing team could buzz. If a tossup-bonus cycle concluded with only a few seconds left, the team ahead could immediately buzz and just wait for time to run out.

The 2008 change in the NAQT timing rule, requiring a tossup-bonus cycle to be completed if time expires after the tossup is begun, has eliminated the clock-killing neg from pretty much all good quizbowl.

A variant of the clock-killing neg could still used in formats with bounceback bonuses. After the trailing team has already missed the last question, if the leading team is up by less than (maximum possible bonus points - maximum possible tossup points), then it may buzz in and intentionally miss the question to prevent the possibility of losing on bonus bounceback points. In formats where the tossup goes dead once any team misses it, a team clinging to a slight lead with only one question remaining may also buzz in and say a wrong answer (or nothing) in order to preserve the victory. Many of those formats deduct the full value of the question for a wrong answer to prevent this exploit.


See: Closed

Closed tournaments have explicit eligibility requirements detailing who can play at the tournament.

By definition, any tournament that is not an open tournament is a closed tournament. Tournaments that do not explicitly state that they are open are assumed to be closed, and thus the term is rarely used in practice.

Closed tournaments require that:

  1. Each team consists of players who attend the same school.
  2. Only teams of college students can attend college tournaments; similarly, only teams of high school students can attend high school tournaments and only teams of middle school students can attend middle school tournaments.

Colvin science

A question that claims to fill part of a science distribution, but that is fraudulently answered by players who know nothing about science. After Matt Colvin.

The presence of these materials in a "science" question will usually identify it as Colvin science:

  • biographical clues about scientists
  • taxonomy
  • the geologic time scale
  • clues about Greek and Latin roots privileged over clues about actual science
  • pseudosciences and antisciences, such as creationism, Velikovskyism, and cryptozoology

This is not currently in use.

common link

See: Common link

Common link questions are pyramidal tossups which arrange clues about several distinct places, works, events, or entities to point to a common word or phrase describing all of them as the answer. They often add creativity to a question set or are used to incorporate important clues that would be too difficult as answer choices of their own.


See: Confer

To confer is to provide verbal or nonverbal signals to one's teammates about one's knowledge of the answer.


1) Converting a question is the act of getting a question correctly (i.e. converting the words of the question into points for one's team).
2) Conversion statistics, which measure the extent to which questions were converted across the tournament. These include metrics like points per game and points per bonus. More recently, NAQT has released category-by-category statistics on the percentage of tossups that were converted across a large sample of game rooms,

conversion metrics

See: Conversion metrics

Conversion metrics are a measure of how hard a given tournament is compared to the field it attracted. While no single conversion metric has been promoted as the best indicator of difficulty, several different conversion metrics combine to give an overall picture of the tournament.

Conversion metrics are often cited to prove a tournament's relative accessibility.

curved yellow fruit

See: Curved yellow fruit

Curved yellow fruit refers to unnaturally easy giveaway clues, or questions that contain them. In the strictest sense, the preceding material must be sufficiently obscure, non-uniquely identifying, or convoluted that almost every buzz on the question will occur on this clue; thus, the entire text of the question reduces to one line that most elementary school kids would be able to answer.


Dairy Queening

Dairy Queening is the act of preferring the more social aspect of quizbowl, as opposed to the more competitive side. "Dairy Queeners" are often stereotyped as attending national tournaments as a fourth-scorer, B-team player, or a C-team player primarily to enjoy the sights and other people also attending, and are satisfied with low PPG or low win rates.

The term generally comes from Dairy Queen, a popular restaurant franchise that can often be found in or around the Hyatt Regencies that host the HSNCT.


See: dead

Going dead is the process of a tossup not being answered correctly by any eligible player (either due to all attempts being incorrect or no attempts being made). A dead tossup is one that is not converted.


See: Difficulty

Difficulty can refer to either or both of the following:

  1. How hard the questions at the tournament were for the players to answer, as measured either subjectively by the players themselves or objectively through conversion statistics.
  2. How hard the writers or editors of the tournament expect the questions to be, by analogy to a previously-played tournament or general standard. This is often denoted target difficulty.

difficulty cliff

A difficulty cliff results when a tossup instantly transitions from "difficult" to "easy" without any intervening middle clues.

Difficulty cliffs are found more commonly in NAQT than ACF due to its shorter questions. While difficulty cliffs are almost always present in bad quizbowl, these mistakes are typically viewed as less egregious than transparency or the use of bad clues.


See: distribution

In quizbowl packets or sets, the distribution (or "distro") of categories is the set of fixed ratios in which categories will appear within a given packet or question set.

Division I

See: Division I

Division I generally indicates any collegiate quiz bowl team that is not eligible for Division II (i.e., contains at least one player who is not eligible for Division II, though it may also contain some players who are). In theory, a Division II-eligible team can choose to play in Division I, but that is seldom done.

Division II

See: Division II

Division II is a designation used in in collegiate quizbowl. The exact definition varies (NAQT has one definition and ACF has another) but essentially, a player is eligible for Division II if they have relatively little experience or success in collegiate quizbowl (though they may have extensive experience in high school and/or middle school quizbowl). A team is eligible for Division II if all of its players are eligible for Division II.



See: flashcarding

Flashcards are used by some quizbowl players for studying. A flashcard is an index card with one piece of information on the front side (e.g. a clue pointing towards a potential answer, a title) and a related piece on the other (i.e. the answer corresponding to said clue, the author of that title). The use of flashcards for study, or the writing of information on such devices, is sometimes referred to as flashcarding or carding.

football coaches

Football coaches are shorthand for two different types of people who affect high school quizbowl negatively:

1) A high school quizbowl coach who insists on developing "strategies," substituting players frequently, yelling at their team, and coming up with practice approaches that involve anything besides learning clues that are likely to come up, is generally acting like a football coach instead of a quizbowl coach.

2) Football coaches are the people who run state athletic associations. They are responsible for single-elimination tournaments, "language arts" questions, three-weekend, 11-match state series, restrictions on out-of-state participation, and generally everything that is bad about "officially sanctioned" high school quizbowl. Whenever someone gets frustrated about the problems with IHSA, MSHSAA, or VHSL quizbowl, they should be reminded that those organizations are run by football coaches, not quizbowl coaches or players, and thus will never understand or care about how to run a good quizbowl tournament (and in many cases will be actively opposed to doing so).

This is not currently in use.


Format is a term with multiple meanings in quizbowl discussion, including but not necessarily limited to the following:

  • (rarely) the typographical formatting of text in a quizbowl packet or other quizbowl-related documents

format war

"Format war" was a magic phrase used to cast a spell on quizbowl discussion fora, causing them to stop the folly of discussing quizbowl. To the wizards using this phrase, any attempt at discussing the merits or drawbacks of any tournament, regardless of the tone or aims of the discussion, was construed as comparing that tournament to some other tournament. Such implicit or explicit comparisons were, for magical reasons, viewed as the precise opposite of what the quizbowl forum should be used for. People such as Hayden Hurst and Doug O'Neal, who were fond of using the "format war" spell (citation needed), apparently believed that any invocation of it automatically showed that they were on the non-judgmental high ground and cast their foolish opponents into the underworld, ending the debate.

This is not currently in use.


Fraud is the practice of getting questions through some means other than actual knowledge of the academic topic being asked. Common forms of fraud include making one-to-one cognitive maps between words and answers without having the slightest idea what the answer really means (e.g., "when I hear 'recoil' I say 'Mossbauer effect'") and memorizing binary-match lists. Getting an academic answer through trash knowledge is also a form of fraud. Calling "fraud" is a judgment on the player, not the question; even the best-written academic questions can be subject to fraud. However, questions which encourage fraud by containing a lot of Nobel Prize clues or trash in academic subjects are worthy of damnation, and are usually referred to derisively as fraudable questions. Fraud is common in questions that name drop.

Reverse fraud is the practice of getting a trash question through academic knowledge, usually because of the whimsical inclusion of an academic-type clue. For example, a question on the moon of Endor from Star Wars that contains an allusion to the Witch of Endor from the Bible is open to a reverse fraud buzz.

freelance packet

A freelance packet is a packet submitted to a tournament by a group of writers who will not participate in the tournament or any of its mirrors and are completely uninvolved in the editing process. The typical reward for a freelance packet is a complete set of the edited questions.

Freelance packets are typically used as playoff packets or tiebreaker packet because they are blind to all teams in the field. They can also be used to allow teams that did not submit packets to still play in the tournament.


See: FTP

The acronym FTP in a packet stands for "for 10 points," and marks the beginning of the giveaway clue to a question.

full-body buzz

The art of full-body buzzing is practiced by various players who seem to feel that involving spastic leg, arm, and head movements is absolutely integral to the act of pressing a button. Waving the buzzer itself is also a common flourish. Having a natural full-body buzz can aid one when attempting a buzzer fake.

Full-body buzzing also applies to a technique used by a number of players, in which one actually exerts the force of their full body in the process of buzzing, deafening the room and perhaps exciting a fountain of sparks that will electrically burn anyone near the system. Jonathan Thompson exhibits almost the precise converse of full-body buzzing, wherein he slowly descends one spindly finger to lightly tap the buzzer.

fundamental difficulty error

The Fundamental Difficulty Error, also known as the Freshman Fallacy, is a very easy error to make when editing or discussing a set. Simply put, it states, "If I know the answer to a particular question, then the question is too easy. If I don't know it, it is too hard." Much like the [fundamental attribution error] that it takes its name from, it is to be avoided, as it is often wrong.

A corresponding Fundamental Difficulty Error for clues states, "If I know the answer to a tossup off a particular lead-in or middle clue, then the clue is too early. If I do not know the answer off a later clue, that clue should be moved earlier." This Fundamental Difficulty Error is largely responsible for the dearth of actual middle clues in many tossups.

An unnamed corollary to the Fundamental Difficulty Error states, "If a question was answered in my room, it must not have been too difficult for the field as a whole."


See: Funn

Funn is the property exhibited by things in quizbowl which meet all of the following three conditions:

  • they violate good and/or standard quizbowl practices
  • someone obviously thought that their violation of good and/or standard practices was more than made up for by how fun they are
  • they are not actually fun



See: Generalist

A generalist is a player whose knowledge extends to all parts of the canon, and thus is capable of buzzing on any subject. Good generalists are often among the scoring leaders at invitational tournaments.

Gentlemen's agreement

The style of "eligibility rules" used for events such as the Early Fall Tournament and ACF Fall. Instead of uniformly barring people based on their experience or educational progress, individuals are encouraged to personally evaluate whether they are the appropriate audience for a tournament. For example, a second-year grad student who is usually a 15 PPG player and is unlikely to massacre the field by themselves may find ACF Fall an appropriate tournament to play, but a junior who is a star player and could dominate the competition may not.

The implementation of this policy has been mixed, with some people who clearly are not the target audience of these events playing them anyway. However, it still offers some advantage over the more inflexible rules for participation in other "novice tournaments," which may bar upperclassmen or graduate students who are in fact "novices" at quizbowl.


A gimmick is some kind of action in quizbowl that departs from directly testing knowledge recall in a normal fashion. Typical examples include lames, "Fifty or Nothing" bonuses, and wagering in the style of Final Jeopardy! They are often found in Trash or bad quizbowl tournaments.

golden chicken

"Golden chicken" is a term that originated in the Bay Area college quizbowl circuit of the early 2000s for a successful player with an exceedingly high ratio of questions gotten to negs [1]. The term has since been used to describe the highest-scoring player at a tournament who did not put up any negs at all.

This is not currently in use.

Good quizbowl

See: Good quizbowl

Good quizbowl is a designation which refers to quizbowl conventions, questions, and tournaments that reward teams for demonstrating differing levels of academic knowledge in a fair and consistent manner. Necessary features of good quizbowl include:

  • Questions that consistently reward knowledge of a topic over buzzer speed, as exemplified by tossups that contain many clues arranged in rough order from most obscure to least obscure (pyramidality) and bonuses/team rounds that contain "easy", "medium", and "hard" parts
  • Questions whose clues uniquely point to their desired answer(s) and which are written clearly
  • A range of topics that the target audience should and does know much about, supplemented by subjects that are not as well known but nevertheless demonstrably important and answerable (the canon for that level)
  • An emphasis on the academic nature of quizbowl and eschewal of questions on excess general knowledge or trash, spelling, and other non-academic "fluff" (see Trivia)
  • A tournament structure and management that is fair to all teams, allows all teams to play many matches, follows rules that are announced in advance, and preferably does not eliminate a team from championship contention for losing one match

Competitions which deviate from the fairness and competitive spirit of good quizbowl by lacking the above are bad quizbowl or not quizbowl.


See: Grail

In quizbowl, a grail is a rare feat wherein one team correctly answers all tossups (usually 20, but this number varies depending on if the match is timed) heard in a game. The team does not need to answer all of the bonus parts correctly to achieve a grail.

guerrilla tournament

See: Guerrilla tournament

A guerrilla tournament, in the strictest sense of the term, is a tournament in which the host school provides no staff, no buzzers, and no packets, only a set of rooms in which to play and (occasionally) a tournament schedule. Participating teams bring one self-written packet each, figure out who is going to bring buzzers, and moderate on bye rounds (sometimes this involves multiple byes in a single round to provide adequate staff). Tournament fees are minimal (usually only enough to cover the cost of the rooms), if they exist at all.



See: Hose

A hose is a quizbowl question that deliberately punishes a player for having greater knowledge of the topic being asked about in the question. Hoses are considered the cardinal sin of quizbowl questions, as they specifically punish players who possess uniquely identifying knowledge of the correct answer at the time the player buzzed. A player who falls victim to one of these situations is said to have "gotten hosed".

Hoses are one of the most prominent, though not necessarily the most common, hallmarks of bad quizbowl. Hoses are related to swerves.


A housewrite is a question set produced independently by a team or multiple teams for their own tournament. Housewrites can be written by and for both high school and college teams, and they are often mirrored in several places.

Tournament directors usually have to decide between using one of many housewrites created each year, as well as sets from professional question sources including NAQT, HSAPQ, and ACF.

Some housewrites are single occasion only, while others are produced annually by the same school(s). Typically, the schools that write a housewrite each year are also the ones who field consistently good teams.


See: Hybrid

Hybrid is an adjective frequently used to describe either teams or tournaments.

Hybrid teams are teams composed of players associated with (usually) 2 schools. Hybrid teams are often formed when attending teams' rosters are filled out with players from the host school. A team composed of players associated with more than 2 schools is occasionally called a hybrid team but more often referred to as a bastard team.

Hybrid tournaments are tournaments that are typically in mACF or NAQT format, but consist of a heavier mix of trash (pop culture) questions than regular tournaments.



Illiterature is a any question that attempts to fill the required literature distribution of a packet with things that aren't literature. It may also describe any attempt to perform such action.

Examples would include subverting ACF's 1/1 British Literature by submitting a Harry Potter tossup and a bonus on Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. According to the government of Brazil and Jonathan Magin, Machado de Assis is literature but Paulo Coelho is not.

In high school, this can also refer to using stupid language arts questions about spelling, grammar, or vocabulary in place of real literature. Questions Galore and other bad quizbowl question writing companies are notorious for this, in no small part due to the distributions of several bad state organizations. NAQT is also somewhat fond of the occasional illiterature question in their sets.

See also CLOOS and SCIENCE!.


Jerry Kill

A Jerry Kill occurs when a tossup goes dead between two good teams. This is (presumably) named for Jerry Vinokurov.

This is not currently in use.


In late-90s and early-2000s collegiate quizbowl, a juniorbird tournament was a tournament designed for novice players, typically with easier questions and stringent eligibility restrictions. In general, all freshmen and sophomores were eligible, and older students could play with the permission of the tournament director; however, the admission of a player with more than two years of experience was rare. Becasue there are only minor, if any, differences between a juniorbird tournament and a novice tournament, the term has since fallen out of use; however, in the past, tournaments run on NAQT IS questions were more likely to call themselves "juniorbird" while ACF-style tournaments with similar eligibility requirements were more likely to call themselves "novice".


Keyser Soze rule

The Keyser Soze rule is a periphasis of a line from the film The Usual Suspects employed by Seth Kendall when asked about the way to become good at quizbowl, in which it is noted that to became powerful all one needs is "the will to do what the other guy wouldn't".

The prototypical example of this was the massive studying regimen in all subjects undertaken by Kelly McKenzie, Kendall's teammate at Kentucky, whose apartment was overflowing with notecards which he spent most of his free (and unfree) time perusing. More generally, this refers to individuals who seek out weaknesses on their team and explicitly study them to fill in gaps.

This is not currently in use.

Kidder's Law

"There is no shame, only points." (Attributed to Dwight Kidder.)


Ladder Theory of Quizbowl

The Ladder Theory of Quizbowl was first elucidated by Jonathan Magin to quizbowl luminaries Rob Carson and Hannah Kirsch on IRC. It is best known for being mentioned a single time and then promptly added to the wiki.

First, learning takes place in three steps:

  1. Being exposed to a topic
  2. Learning facts about that topic
  3. Internalizing knowledge about that topic by applying it, gaining outside knowledge, and strengthening the cognitive map.

Quizbowl helps with the first two processes, but not the third. However, assuming the player in concern is an intelligent human being, not a quizbowl-playing robot, they will perform the third process on their own. Therefore, quizbowl is like a ladder of information that a person metaphorically climbs by successively internalizing more knowledge about new topics.


Laming is an antiquated quizbowl rule formerly common at trash tournaments wherein a team eligible for a bonus can dismiss that bonus (by saying "Lame" or some such) if its subject is not to the team's liking. The next bonus in the packet is then read. Teams are usually allowed one lame per match. While lames increase the writing burden by requiring two extra bonuses per packet, laming quickly went from a gimmick to nearly standard practice in trash events.

Fred Bush is credited with inventing the lame in the late 1990s. While saved communication is sketchy from that time period, lames were still considered experimental as of 1999. [2]

Saving (or claiming) is a laming variant wherein the opposing team has the option of saving a just-lamed bonus for itself. The saved bonus will be read for the opponent at the next opportunity.

Punting is similar to laming, only substitute bonuses are not required. When punting rules are in effect, an eligible team rejects a bonus but forces the opposing team to answer it. The punting team scores points on what the opponent fails to answer (e.g., team A punts a 3-part question; team B answers two parts correctly. Team A collects 10 points on the punt). At Maryland 11, this was referred to as "screwing", similar to You Don't Know Jack.

length limit

See: Length limit

Many packet sets limit the lengths of their questions. There is considerable variation in method of limiting the length, the actual limit, and the strictness with which the limit is enforced.


PACE maintains a quizbowl lexicon for people interested in learning basic quizbowl terms and acronyms. The closest thing on this wiki is this page and the Quizbowl lingo category.

It used to be common for college teams to maintain their own quirky lexicon, but that practice started fading away around 2005. One of the few remaining examples of such lexica is from UCLA.

list bonus

A list bonus is a single question with more than one answer that is used for an entire bonus, with points given based on how correct answers can be enumerated by a team. This is in contrast to the bonus format more common today, in which there are three separate questions, each of which has a single answer. List bonuses are rarely used in modern quizbowl with their usage fading away around the year 2000 due to many players feeling that they were less interesting than other bonuses.


  • You get 5 points for one, 10 for two, 20 for three and 30 for getting all four answers correct. Name the four states that meet at the Four Corners.
  • There are six answers, with five points for each answer. Name the six novels written by Jane Austen.

list tossup

A list tossup consists entirely of a list of things with something in common which the player must deduce. There is typically little to no other structure in a list tossup, though there may be an FTP.

Common conceits for list tossups include: things listed in "We Didn't Start the Fire", months of the French revolutionary calendar, names of novels by an author



"m" (pronounced "mmm" or "em") is a phrase that is frequently used in the quizbowl Discord community to express a sense of affirmation. It is often used in conversations in place of words like "yes," "true," or "indeed."

Some quizbowl Discord servers contain text channels titled #m, which consist solely of strings of people posting the letter "m" in a cult-like fashion.

m stock m

"m stock m" is a phrase used in the quizbowl Discord community. The phrase is ostensibly meant to point out the presence of a stock clue, though it can also serve as a general expression of affirmation. It is frequently used in a humorous or sarcastic manner, though many in the community have (often jokingly) expressed an intense dislike of the phrase.

The phrase originated from Stefan Calin, who often used it ironically to show off his knowledge of very difficult science clues. It has since propagated throughout a variety of quizbowl-related Discord servers.

Magin's Law

Magin's Law, formulated by and named for Jonathan Magin, states that over time, the percentage of competent and dedicated people in quizbowl increases, resulting in a corresponding increase in the quality of tournaments.

mainstream quizbowl

In high school quizbowl, the mainstream is the teams who hold practices and compete at Saturday tournaments, as opposed to teams who only play in after-school leagues or on television or only exist when they participate in a competition. Non-mainstream teams are usually just top students at the school or members of another academic extracurricular such as Academic Decathlon who are recruited to show up to something on a one-off basis.

In collegiate quizbowl, the mainstream is the teams who participate in collegiate-level NAQT and/or ACF tournaments, and independent tournaments held in the ACF style. It excludes teams who participate only in College Bowl, HCASC, or tournaments held on NAQT high school questions.


My face when life.

:mfwlife: (short for "my face when life") is an emoji frequently used in the high school quizbowl Discord community.

The emoji depicts a profile portrait of Fat Ed, an ill-tempered character from the mature TV puppet show Fur TV.

It is commonly used to express a sense of disappointment or exasperation, whether in a humorous or serious manner. The textual phrase "mfwlife" may also be used in place of the emoji.


Mind-reading is the process of attempting to figure out where a bad quizbowl question is going based solely on known aspects of the question writer. It differs from lateral thinking in that the player relies not on past factual knowledge or deductive thinking but rather from heuristics like "The only Romanian leader they ask about is Ceausescu" to buzz in after a question starts "This Romanian leader."

Questions that reward mind-reading are the worst kind of speed checks in that they often punish players who might know about more about a subject (e.g. Romanian leaders other than Ceausescu).

Minnesota Effect

See: Minnesota Effect

The Minnesota Effect describes the tendency for teams with major knowledge holes to finish poorly at mainstream national tournaments but still win CBI NCT.


See: Mirror

A mirror tournament (verb "mirroring") is a tournament where the host obtains the question set from a different tournament, such as a housewrite or a vendor, rather than writing the questions itself. In the strictest definition of a mirror, the host team does no editing or writing (and, if it's a college event, participating teams do not submit packets); in its looser, more common definition, participating or host teams are often required to submit packets regardless of whether they attend the main site or a mirror. Recently, the term "mirror" has expanded even more broadly to merely mean "site where a question set is used," including the main site.

Morlan's Law of Quiz Bowl Writing

Typos are bad, but they're better to have than bad questions.

  • This is a corollary to Unproductive Moderator Complaints and Weiner's Law of Unfalsifiable Complaints, which states that anyone looking to complain about something can always complain about moderators reading too fast, the questions having too few pronunciation guides, or the questions having too many typos, since "too fast", "too few", and "too many" are both subjective assessments and, as measurements of scalable quantities, can theoretically be leveled at any tournament without infinitely slow moderators, infinitely many pronunciation guides, or perfect aesthetics.

muddy battlefield

See: Muddy battlefield

The muddy battlefield hypothesis most generally states that tournaments that meaningfully distinguish between two teams of a given skill level do not meaningfully distinguish between teams of significantly higher or lower skill levels.

Mukherjee's Laws of Organic Chemistry

Eric Mukherjee's Laws of Organic Chemistry

  • No tossup on a functional group that has two or more words in its name can turn out well.
  • No tossup on a functional group which is a combination of two or more different basic functional groups can turn out well.
  • Stop writing on Markovnikov's Rule for difficult tournaments.

Mukherjee-Passner Effect

The Mukherjee-Passner Effect occurs when a player is accused of having bad personal qualities out of frustration by those who lose to that player, despite not actually demonstrating said qualities. The canonical example is the affable and self-effacing Eric Mukherjee being labeled "arrogant" by the Yale team, for the crime of beating Yale at quizbowl (at the time, the word "arrogant" was used as a catch-all term for "person I do not like," even if they are not in fact "arrogant" or it makes no sense to call them "arrogant" in context).

This effect demonstrates Flaxman's Paradox, in which those who profess to not care about quizbowl are the ones who have their intellectual self-worth wrapped up in quizbowl performance and must slander those who beat them, but serious players who spend more time on quizbowl do not fall victim to overvaluing the metaphysical importance of game results.

This is not currently in use.


NAQT Customer Service

See: NAQT Customer Service

NAQT Customer Service is the assertion that NAQT intentionally ignores complaints of mainstream quizbowl participants and/or makes business decisions based on what it thinks a mythical group of casual players wants, rather than what a group of dedicated players is telling them.

NAQT Customer Service complaints were most prominent in the early- to mid-2000s. They have been greatly reduced, though not completely eliminated, since the appointment of Jeff Hoppes as the NAQT Vice President for Communications.

neg prize

See: Neg prize

Neg prizes are awards given (usually) in jest during a tournament's awards ceremony to the player with the most total negs. When multiple players tie for the award, ties are broken by lowest tossup/interrupt ratio. While most team and individual prizes consist of various trophies and books, neg prizes can be, and often are, just about anything.


An unfortunate quizbowl team gets caught in a negstorm

A negstorm is a situation where the negging of one player on a team causes other players to neg more than they otherwise would to make up the scoring deficit. Because the initial neg puts the team at a point disadvantage, other players, believing that points are desperately needed, will buzz earlier during tossups, increasingly the likelihood that they too will neg. The process can become self-perpetuating and lead to a lot of negs by a team in one round, even if it does not usually neg.

More broadly, the term can be used to describe any situation where a quizbowl team negs more often than usual, especially if the negs ends up costing the team a game against another school that they expected to beat.


Novice is an adjective that may refer to a tournament or the difficulty of the packet set used at the tournament.

A novice set or novice-difficulty packet set is one that is intended to be significantly easier than a standard, regular-difficulty set. At the collegiate level, novice sets traditionally include "easy"-level sets ("1 dot" on Ophir's scale) like ACF Fall and Minnesota Undergraduate Tournament, though some community members contend that these sets are too difficult for true novice players. NAQT also produces a yearly Collegiate Novice set that is easier than ACF Fall ("0.5 dots" on Ophir's scale), intended for players who are new to collegiate quizbowl and were not as dominant in their high-school playing career.

At the high-school level, SCOP Novice sets and NAQT IS-A sets are the most widely played examples of novice sets (though the latter are not explicitly billed as such). Recently, some middle-school sets like RAMS and ERIS have expanded their markets by doubling as high-school novice sets.

A novice tournament is one that uses novice sets and has severe eligibility restrictions. Novice tournaments typically restrict eligibility to players who (1) have played mainstream quizbowl for fewer than two years and/or (2) are freshmen or sophomores academically. In college, typically both conditions must be met. In high school, many tournaments require one and disregard the other; tournaments that only use the second restriction are often referred to as junior varsity.


one-man team

A one-man team is a team with multiple players on it whose fate is perceived to be entirely tied to the scoring abilities of one player. Because that player need not actually be male, the term one-person team has also gained currency in recent years. The term is usually mildly derisive, and often implies that the star player would not look as good while sitting next to stronger teammates. These teams cannot usually succeed against well-balanced attacks from multiple good players at the highest levels of either high school or collegiate quizbowl.

Because of the derogatory connotations, and especially the implied insult to the teammates of the "one-man," it is not a good idea to use this term in reference to any team in your tournament when you are the TD or moderator.

If there is literally one person playing at a team tournament, the term "one-man team" or "one-person team" does not apply and the person is instead playing solo.


See: Open

An open tournament is a quizbowl tournament in which anyone may play, as opposed to a normal collegiate tournament which limits its field to teams consisting of players representing the same school, in which all such players are enrolled. Nonstudents of all ages and mixed-school teams are encouraged at open tournaments. However, most open tournaments see a good deal of their field comprised of traditional school teams, since this is the best way for most people to arrange funding and transportation for quizbowl tournaments.


Osmosis is the act of learning a fact through its repetition in quizbowl. Knowledge gained from osmosis is gained when people play many packets as a studying method. Facts learned through flashcards or notes, even if they are made from previous quiz bowl questions, are not generally considered to have been osmosed.


Outreach is the act of seeking to provide more information about quizbowl competitions to teams that may not be aware of a quizbowl competition and schools that may not yet have quizbowl teams.

Outreach can take many forms including emailing, phone calling, going to league meetings, or anything that helps spread information about quizbowl to people who did not know about it. Outreach can also include trying to convert teams from bad quizbowl to good quizbowl.

Outreach is most needed in areas where there are few quizbowl competitions and in areas where there are mostly bad quizbowl formats like Questions Unlimited or Academic Hallmarks.

Some quizbowl organizations such as MOQBA have been founded to help promote outreach within a geographic area by coordinating players and coaches from an area to help change institutions and inform new teams about quizbowl.



A packet is a document containing the questions used in a particular round at a given tournament. In most tossup-bonus format tournaments, an edited packet consists of 20 tossups and 20 bonuses, followed by one or more tiebreaker tossups and one or more extra bonuses. The collection of all the packets for a given tournament is called a set.

At packet-submission tournaments, teams are asked to write a packet of questions and send them to the editors, who convert them to their final forms.

For some reason, quizbowl players in Canada usually say "packs" rather than "packets;" some Canadians make matters even more confusing for American listeners by using the word "packet" to refer to an entire question set. The word "pack" is filtered and automatically replaced with "packet" on the forums.

packet feng shui

See: Packet feng shui

Packet feng shui is the art of constructing appealing quizbowl packets. While there is no consensus on what constitutes good packet feng shui, there are general rules on what not to do.

packet reading

A packet reading (or colloquially, packet) is a type of open practice or scrimmage held on Discord, in which someone reads a question packet to other people over voice chat. Most quizbowl servers have a #packet channel reserved for this purpose. They are usually held in a shoot-out format.

packet sub

See: Packet submission

A packet submission tournament is a tournament that requires many participating teams to write questions (usually an entire packet, hence the name) if they are to play. Packet submission tournaments, while declining in frequency from their height in the early 2000s, are still a common feature of How Collegiate Quizbowl Works. The packet-submission model is not used for high school tournaments.

packet swap

See: Packet swap

Packet swap was a college quizbowl procedure in which tournaments increase the number of packets blind to participating teams by exchanging with a tournament run on a similar date in a different region. A packet swap was differentiated from a mirror by the presence of packets originally submitted by teams participating in the tournament.


See: Paperless

A paperless tournament is a tournament for which packets are distributed to tournament staff electronically and read off of laptops, tablets, or other electronic devices.

A paperless tournament may still use paper; for instance, scoresheets and schedules may be printed out, or in formats with computation, scratch paper may be provided to the teams.

playing under a pseudonym

Sometimes, a quizbowl team may play under a pseudonym, using a fake name for their team. This is most commonly to prevent their school and/or state organization (e.g. MSHSAA, KSHSAA) from realizing that they are violating certain rules, such as geographic or temporal restrictions on tournament attendance. Teams may also play under pseudonyms in hopes of reducing or eliminating their school's liability for problems at tournaments at which they are improperly supervised. Occasionally, the purpose is just to be "funny"—in this case, an in-joke of some kind is often involved.

In the early and mid-2000s, individual players sometimes played under pseudonyms as well, whether to be "funny", to help facilitate cheating, or for other reasons. Sometimes, player pseudonyms were rotated among teammates within a tournament to render individual statistics irrelevant. Both of these practices have largely died out.

The use of pseudonyms damages the usefulness, accuracy, and completeness of statistics. Generally speaking, both of these practices are considered hallmarks of bad quizbowl (although the use of pseudonyms by individuals is generally looked down upon more than if teams do it).

See also: NAQT's policy regarding this whole thing.


See: Poasting

Poasting is a slang term for an exaggerated means of typically content-less posting akin to shitposting. It can occur on the forums, the meme group, the Discord, or any other quizbowl social media. Originating as a more general internet term for "post", the concept of poasting gained prominence in quizbowl via prominent Midwestern quizbowler (and avowed poaster) Jakob Myers. It is the means of fulfilling a "need to poast," referring to situations that are particularly susceptible to be poasted in, like the creation of a controversial forum thread or post.


See: pronoun

In quiz bowl, the word pronoun is used to describe the words or phrases that refer to the answer in each clue of a question. This is a very broad interpretation of the standard English usage of the term.


See: protest

During a quizbowl match, a team may lodge a protest to dispute the acceptability of an answer to a question or the application of rules and procedures. If the protest is upheld, the effects of the original decision are usually undone and some resolution procedure implemented, such as adjusting the scores and/or playing an additional question.


question recycling

See: Question recycling

Question recycling is the practice of reusing questions at more than one tournament. In general, question recycling is only acceptable under the limited provision that it is stated outright and that no one who could have heard recycled questions would be able to attend a tournament where recycled questions are being used without knowingly committing a violation.

Examples of acceptable question recycling include

  • The use of questions at a multi-site tournament where the sectionals are held on the same day.
  • The reuse of a portion of the questions for different divisions of a tournament, held on the same day.
  • The reuse of packets during the same season for different regions, where the questions are prohibited from being discussed in the interim.

Unacceptable question recycling includes

question set

See: Question set

A question set or packet set (or simply, "set") is a collection of all the question packets that are used for a tournament. Most question sets are mirrored at multiple sites across the U.S., Canada, and (sometimes) the world.


See: Quizbowlese

The pejorative term "quizbowlese" is used to refer to formulaic phrases or words that occur much more often in quizbowl question writing than anywhere else. Overuse of quizbowlese makes quizbowl questions harder to read, and makes it more difficult for new players to understand what their moderator is asking them.



Real quizbowl is a shorthand used for playing well-written academic questions. Other forms are known as "fake" quizbowl.

At the college level, real quizbowl refers to all tournaments played on academic, written-for-college questions; that is, NAQT SCT and ICT, the ACF series, and independent mACF tournaments. It excludes tournaments that use trash, hybrid, College Bowl, Honda, or NAQT high school questions.

real knowledge

Real knowledge is actual knowledge of a subject, as opposed to word association and stock clue knowledge, "quizbowl knowledge". Real knowledge implies a higher degree of conceptual knowledge that may also be applicable in tasks such as writing research papers, laboratory work, and critical analysis. Due to the nature of buzzer competition, real knowledge cannot truly be tested under the auspices of good quizbowl. Thus is the case that especially at higher levels of play, successful players have real knowledge as opposed to just memorizing many facts. Taking classes in school is often how real knowledge is obtained, although there are notable exceptions to this. Question writers who have a lack of real knowledge on a subject tend to use inappropriate terminology and constructions, a term that is known as "Quizbowlese".

See also:


See: repeat

A repeat is pair of questions, either tossups or bonuses, in the same question set that share an answerline or are substantively similar (or, more rarely, identical). It can also refer to the second question of such a pair to be heard.

regular difficulty

See: Regular difficulty

Regular difficulty is the difficulty level at which any eligible closed team across the whole range of skill levels can play meaningful games against any other eligible team. I.e.: A regular-difficulty high school set will have a distribution, selection of clues/answers, etc. that allows the more knowledgeable high school team in a given match to consistently win, regardless of whether it's a match between weak teams, average teams, or strong teams.


RMP is an acronym that stands for Religion, Mythology, and Philosophy. These categories are grouped together in the ACF distribution and in the distributions of typical mACF events.

An RMP subject tournament called RMPFest was produced in 2008 and 2009 by Bruce Arthur and others.

NAQT has separate categories called "philosophy" and "theology," and has both "mythology" and "religious literature" categories as parts of its literature distribution.

The question of what to do with topics on the borderline of religion and mythology, such as Hindu deities, is an ongoing discussion within quizbowl, as is how much space to give to RMP in ACF-format packets. Some tournaments have 2/2, some have 3/3, and some alternate 3/2 and 2/3 between RMP and arts.


RMPSS is an acronym that stands for Religion, Mythology, Philosophy, and Social Science. It is frequently used to describe the corresponding sections of many mACF question distributions, especially for high-school sets.

Despite the large differences between the four subjects, high-school players often treat "RMPSS" as a single large category similar to science, history, literature, or fine arts.

RMPSS is sometimes subdivided into "RM" (Religion and Mythology) and "PSS" (Philosophy and Social Science), as each of those subject pairs actually have substantial overlap.



A player or team is said to scale on a particular category if their ability to get good buzzes on questions in that category does not diminish when the difficulty increases. The ability to scale is a hallmark of a good specialist.


SCIENCE! is an exclamation, derived from Magnus Pike's spirited interjection in the Thomas Dolby song "She Blinded Me With Science," which denotes one or both of the following situations:

  • a poorly written science question or a science question on an answer that is borderline science at best (science biography, the Leidenfrost effect, names of programming languages with "Codey McWhitespace invented it in 1968" type clues)
  • a person with no real knowledge of science getting a science question through some kind of fraudulent play

SCIENCE! is closely related to its sub-disciplines PHYSICS! and GEOSYSTEMS!?, the latter of which is the name of actual classes at TJHSST and Wilmington Charter.

See also CLOOS and illiterature.


See: Question set

shadow effect

The shadow effect occurs when two players each score less points by playing on the same team than they would playing solo. It is a direct result of the fact that every question can be answered by, at most, one player on a team.

When more than one player is on a team, each player's knowledge base overlaps, however slightly, with each other player's knowledge base. However, only one player on that team can buzz in and earn points on a tossup. Therefore, two players whose knowledge bases overlap significantly will each see a large decrease in their PPG relative to if they had been on separate teams, while two players who specialize in different areas will each see a smaller decrease. This decrease in PPG is known as the shadow effect.

The shadow effect is a function of each player's knowledge base and each player's aggressiveness. However, as a player's knowledge base cannot easily be quantified, an exact formula for the shadow effect cannot be derived.

The assumption that the shadow effect is roughly the same for all groups of two players is a fundamental flaw in PATH. Nevertheless, PATH is often considered a more accurate indicator of a player's ability than PPG, which does not account for the shadow effect.


The shoot-out format refers to an alternative to team-based quiz bowl play in which each player plays individually; it is roughly equivalent to each player acting a separate team. Unlike conventional formats, more than two incorrect buzzes are allowed (though the specific amount varies from event to event).

Many informal events will be run as shoot-outs, as well as many side events. The rounds of Festivus and the Internet Charity Tournament are run as shoot-outs.

side event

See: Side event

A side event is a small tournament ran in conjunction with a quiz bowl tournament, usually after that "main" tournament is completed. Typically, a "side event" is partnered with an academic tournament so that it can draw in more players.

Subject tournaments are an example of a side event.

Silberman's axioms

Silberman's Axioms concern the effective operation of a quiz bowl tournament.

1. Axiom of Quality: Never run a tournament for which you lack sufficient competent moderators. (Which is to say, the number of competent moderators available should be the limiting factor on field size.)

2. Paradox of Availability: All the good moderators are probably playing the tournament. (Matt Weiner notes that "they probably shouldn't be playing.")

This is not currently in use.


See: Slapbowl

Slapbowl occurs when a tournament has insufficient functional buzzer systems to play every scheduled game with one. Players thus slap the table (hence the name), yell "buzz!", or otherwise make some kind of noise to indicate that they know the answer. Any moderator in a so-called "slapbowl room" should be as impartial as possible and sit as close to the exact middle of the two teams as possible, since all buzzer races will be determined by which sound the moderator claims he/she heard first. It is the duty of the tournament director to ensure that slapbowl is avoided if at all possible or minimized if unavoidable.

small school

Some tournaments recognize the top-placing team that is from, by some definition, a small school. Some tournaments only allow teams from small schools.

External links:


A specialist is a quizbowl player who focuses on depth of knowledge in a single subject, and can almost always get "their" questions on that subject. These subjects range from minor (quizbowl-wise) subjects like psychology to wide swaths of the canon like literature or history. Specialists typically have some knowledge outside their area or areas, but not enough to be considered a generalist. Many specialists later fill in knowledge gaps in all subjects to become full-fledged generalists, and most successful college quizbowl players develop themselves to a point somewhere along the pure generalist–pure specialist dichotomy.


Spite is an emotion that fuels the drive for success in many quizbowlers. Spite often takes root when annoying people are better at quizbowl than the afflicted person, which can often spur dedicated improvement to rectify the situation.

Notable proponents/users of spite include Mike Sorice, who employed spite-related puns for the subtitles of several incarnations of Illinois Open.

stock clue

See: Stock clue

The term "stock clue" originally referred to clues that have been used since approximately the days of the GE College Bowl radio show, or at least the 1990s. For a long time, those clues were recycled as lead-in clues by inexperienced teams who don't know any better, and passed through the final editing stage by editors who should have known better. Such stock clues were often biographical clues, and could also have resulted from excessive name-dropping of a term of actual importance for continuous years.


Subapalooza is a pejorative term for the practice of teams making many substitutions during a game.

This is not currently in use.


See: Swerve

A swerve is related to a hose, in that the question punishes players who buzz in with knowledge of the answer. Unlike with hoses, the player is not the victim of blatantly wrong information (or information that "uniquely" identifies multiple answers); rather, the question "swerves" to a new direction by asking something tangentially related to the rest of the question.

Swerves are considered anathema to good quizbowl because they specifically inhibit players with knowledge from buzzing and/or punish players for not waiting until the end of the question.


Taco Bell Soap

See: Taco Bell Soap

Taco Bell Soap denotes any tossup which contains uninformative, useless, and usually asinine lead-in clues from which no player would be able to even hazard a rational guess. "Taco Bell Soap" lead-ins and "curved yellow fruit" giveaways are considered the pinnacle of bad question writing.

The original "Taco Bell Soap" question appeared as Tossup 3 in the "Fair Game" Theme Packet by Shaun Cassidy & the Grapico Kid for Ghetto Warz III. It was later revealed by the question's author, Dwight Wynne, that this question had in fact been submitted as a literature tossup.

the circuit

See: The circuit

The circuit is the collective name for the group of schools and teams that regularly participate in weekend quizbowl tournaments. By general consensus, "the circuit" does not include schools that only participate in local quizbowl leagues. When referring to the circuit or one of its divisions, it is proper to call it by its name of "the circuit" or "the [insert geographic division here] circuit", rather than just saying "circuit".

Due to obvious geographic restrictions, "the circuit" is divided into several more-or-less autonomous areas, each of which is connected by common national tournaments that teams travel to outside their primary area.

The Knot

The Quiz Wizard II, usually known to quizbowlers only as The Knot, is an infamous and ancient 16-player buzzer system sold by Creative Electronic Design, Inc. [3].

It gets its nickname from the ridiculous number of wires in the system, which is difficult to transport in anything less than a medium-sized plastic storage tub as a result. Because there are no lights corresponding to the individual players' paddles, each paddle has an (often illegible) alphanumeric label etched into the plastic, and a small basketball-scoreboard-like display in front of the moderator displays that paddle's label so it can be read out for player-recognition purposes. As such, matches played on The Knot often include loud interruptions from the moderator calling out utterances such as "D2" or (high school player favorite) "C4".

"The Knot" was a long-time fixture of tournaments and shootouts at the University of Maryland, which owned one for the better part of two decades until around 2013. The University of Chicago also owns a Knot.

The packet wins again!

The Packet Wins Again! is an exclamation often heard after a particular type of hose. In essence, this phenomenon occurs when a player is negged due to not having specific insight into the mind of the packet-writer. An excellent example is a tossup on the Niebelungenlied which leads in with a clue about A, B, and C texts; said clue is applicable more canonically to Piers Plowman.

While this phenomenon can occur in any tournament (as set theory dictates that no set of editors can have knowledge of the applicability of every single clue), it is much more common in tournaments edited hastily by non-superstar teams. The occurrence of this phenomenon is roughly proportional to <math>C*e^(-a*t)</math>, where t is the collective number of good tournaments edited by the group of editors, and C and a are constants.

This is not currently in use.


"Titular" is an English adjective meaning "in title only, as opposed to reality." E.g.: "Following the Glorious Revolution, the descendants of James II were the titular monarchs of England."

It has a rarely used (in formal written American English) secondary meaning, "of or pertaining to the title of something." E.g.: "Binx Bolling is the titular character of Walker Percy's novel The Moviegoer." The much more common and clear way to write this sentence is: "Binx Bolling is the title character of Walker Percy's novel The Moviegoer."

In quizbowl, the word "titular" used where "title" would have been much more appropriate became a meme around 1998, possibly due to HILARIOUS! evocation of a slang term for the female breasts. The intentional use of the word to provoke giggles (or, perhaps, tittering) subsided by 2003. Unfortunately, ever since 2010, a non-ironic use of "titular" has once again exploded as part of the quizbowlese phenomenon. In literally every case, it is better to use "title" as an adjective or consider whether multiple references to "the titular/title character" in your question are helpful in the first place.

Neither word is appropriate to use when referring to "the titular event" or "the title phenomenon" in history or science questions that are not on formal and unambiguous published titles of creative works; the proper remedy when tempted to do this is to jump off a bridge.


See: Transparency

Transparency is one of the hallmarks of bad question writing. It is generally defined as a mismatch between the distribution of points where the question is answered and the distribution of places where the question should be answered.


See: Trash

Trash is the common name for popular culture (sports, movies, TV, video games, non-classical music, comic books, etc) in quizbowl. Though probably a derogatory term when it was first coined, it has been embraced by the most vocal supporters of popular culture content in quizbowl, and the term no longer contains any value judgment.

triple crown

See: Multi-championship achievements

The term "Triple Crown" was popular circa the year 2000 to describe a set of three tournament titles: the NAQT ICT overall championship, the ACF Nationals championship, and the College Bowl national championship. Teams or players might be described as winning a "Triple Crown" in a career or a single year

A modern interpretation of the Triple Crown might refer to winning the NAQT ICT, ACF Nationals, and Chicago Open in the same year, as those are clearly the three most prestigious and popular hard tournaments. No single school's team has done this (nor has any team composed of players from a single school ever won Chicago Open at all).


See: Trivia

The distinction between what is and is not trivia is one of the most difficult and subtle parts of becoming a good question writer for quizbowl. Trivia is knowledge based solely on memorization of an arbitrary fact, divorced from the context of why that fact is important. Knowing that Zachary Taylor won the Battle of Buena Vista is academic, because it relates to why Zachary Taylor is important and is integral to understanding the Battle of Buena Vista. Knowing that the Battle of Buena Vista took place before the Battle of Veracruz is academic, because the relative order of battles is important to understanding why the battles occurred and why the Mexican War turned out as it did. Knowing that the Battle of Buena Vista took place on February 23, 1847 alone is trivia, as its absolute date means nothing out of the context of the other battles' dates. Thus, a question asking on Taylor mentioning that he was the victorious general at Buena Vista, a question on Veracruz mentioning that it took place after Buena Vista, or a question on Buena Vista itself is academic. A question that just asks what year Buena Vista took place is trivia, and therefore not academic.

trophy whore

Trophy whoring is the act taken by a team/coach to intentionally attend a tournament for the purpose of increasing their odds of placing or winning (a trophy) over a weaker field of teams, rather than attending a tournament with a stronger field of teams that might be more commensurate with the team's ability or readiness to improve.

This practice is greatly frowned upon in the good quizbowl community.

Similarly, players or coaches can engage in stats whoring. This is a practice where a player may decide (or a coach may decide for the player) to play an easier tournament, or to intentionally play down a level (B instead of A team or JV instead of Varsity) for the purpose of improving their season statistics for one reason or another. Like with trophy whoring, this practice is frowned upon in the good quizbowl community.

However, it should be noted that in an attempt to make a team more well rounded, it is not uncommon for a program to play a very good player on their B team in order to move up a player who may, after-the-fact, convert fewer tossups, but will make the A team more well rounded and more successful. This is especially the case if two good players have a strong overlap in knowledge base. This is not considered stats whoring.


underground packet trade

The underground packet trade (also known as the underground packet railroad) is a mythical agreement between several prominent quizbowl players and/or clubs that allows these players and clubs to freely obtain packets that have not been made freely available to the public.

The exact workings and connections of the underground packet trade are a well-kept secret. In general, it is assumed that one or more participants in the underground packet trade obtain the packet set used at a tournament (by virtue of attending the tournament, paying for the questions, or writing a freelance packet). These questions are then sent, usually with the implicit understanding of future reciprocation, to one or more contacts, upon which the packets are quickly distributed to all members of the underground packet trade.

Many clubs also have somewhat secret private archives of packets generally not available on more public archives like the Stanford Archive. According to Zeke Berdichevsky, Michigan apparently had an extensive private archive in the early 2000s that they hid from other clubs in order to gain an edge on other clubs by practicing on packets with "good clues".


vanity tournaments

"Vanity" tournaments are side events whose distribution or subject matter is altered massively from standard quizbowl categories or combinations thereof. This can be done to suit the whims of the event's author, point out an underexplored category, or simply for fun/funn. The label "vanity" is sometimes used as a pejorative for regular tournaments that alter a standard distribution to better suit the knowledge of the writing team.


See: Vulching

Vulturing or vulching is the act of racing to beat out teammates to a tossup after the other team has negged. Though many vultures still have the courtesy to wait until the end of the question to engage in the activity, some will interrupt the question. Due to CBI's archaic policy on nonverbal conferral and the vast number of negs piled up in these tournaments, vulturing was allowed and encouraged on CBI questions to ensure you beat your teammates to the buzzer when you had the right answer and didn't know that they did. Since no one plays CBI tournaments anymore and NAQT now allows a tossup begun before the end of a half to be completed after the buzzer sounds, most acceptable reasons for vulturing have been eliminated in the modern game.


Watkins Pole

To be hit with the Watkins Pole is to encounter a category edited to be so difficult in a given packet set that it is all but unanswerable even by the top active players in that category. The name derives from the 2010 Chicago Open, at which the Andy Watkins-edited science proved too much for the second-place team (containing Seth Teitler and Selene Koo) and the third-place team (containing Mike Sorice and Ray Luo), effectively eliminating the science category from the tournament and enabling a relatively science-poor team to take the championship.

Weiner's Law #2

See: Weiner's Laws

Weiner's Law #2 states that no one who announces their retirement from quizbowl ever stays retired; all such people actually have played in at least one further tournament after their announced retirement date.

Westbrook Limit

The Westbrook Limit is the biological cap on the number of times a quizbowl editor can work on easy tournaments before they become monstrously tired of finding new leadin clues for Margaret Mead and insists on only contributing to standard collegiate material or above.

The ability to avoid the Westbrook Limit is sometimes known as Weiner Escape.


Young's Law

Young's Law is an axiomatic observation about quizbowl that states that all good male quizbowl players are Asian, Jewish, and/or gay. It is named for former Dartmouth and GWU player Tim Young. In recent years, the rise of dull heterosexual WASP types like Rob Carson, Andrew Hart, and Matt Bollinger (Hong Kong modeling career notwithstanding) has called the accuracy of Young's Law into question.


zone out

To zone out is to fail to pay attention to the tossup until magically becoming alert at the sound of "For ten points". Players often zone out on questions about areas that they have no knowledge in. This is particularly problematic on science questions, where occasionally every humanities player in the room will zone out off the mention of things that sound like boring science.

Zoning out is generally considered bad quizbowl because players who zone out learn nothing from the question, so that they not only will not get this question, but are guaranteed not to get subsequent questions on that topic.

It has been suggested that on a team with, say, a physics specialist and three players with limited knowledge of physics, it is more beneficial for the three non-physics players to zone out on physics questions to conserve mental energy for tossups in their areas of specialty than it is for all four to listen to the question. However, this argument in general only applies to major national tournaments where fatigue may become a factor in a team's ability to win pivotal games.