Trivia formats

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Trivia formats are various competitions played within the trivia community, which is separate from but often parallel to the quizbowl community. These span a variety of very different formats broadly within the category of "not quizbowl", with the unifying thread being a focus on "trivia" topics and pop culture. They are typically not buzzer-based and include both individual- and team-based events.

In the United Kingdom, trivia formats are much more popular and are typically called quizzes or simply quiz, with the act of playing either trivia or quizbowl events termed quizzing.

Matt Jackson authored a post which covers many of the same topics as this article: Quizbowl-"Trivia" Community Relations: What Are They? What Should They Be?

Differences from quizbowl

The tenets of "good quizbowl" are that questions should be pyramidal and that they should fairly reward players who have more knowledge. Additionally, quizbowl explicitly avoids rewarding knowledge of "trivia", which is often held to encompass things that are not "important".

As its name suggests, the various formats and competitions that fall under the umbrella of the trivia have no problems with asking questions about and rewarding things that would be considered unacceptable in quizbowl. This does not necessarily mean that questions are bad, but it does mean that they are very different and are aimed at a very different audience. The relative paucity of buzzer-based competitions also means that pyramidality is not frequently a concern.

Because the competitions are not directly tied to schools, there is less of an emphasis on academic content in favor of more pop culture. This separation from schools also means that the average player of trivia formats is significantly older than the average quizbowl player. This can be easily seen in the pop culture that comes up: while there are typically attempts to produce an equitable distribution, there is much more emphasis on predominantly older media like musical theater, baseball, and network television, as well as more questions on content that is explicitly much older (such as music and sports from the 1970's), at the expense of questions on media aimed towards younger people like video games and Internet/online content.

Almost every trivia format has significantly more permissive standards of acceptability. In quizbowl, titles of works are typically required to be exact, barring slight differences in things like leading articles, a policy sometimes called "things have names"; by contrast, many other formats will often take answers if they're "close enough". There are few, if any, written standards for what constitutes "close enough", but they typically approximate the vowel rule. Answers which differ in major ways, like the placement of consonants or entirely wrong "small words", have been known to be accepted as well.

Overlap with quizbowl

Player base

Many trivia players are former participants in quizbowl and quizbowl-adjacent competitions like College Bowl. The game which these players migrated from was much closer to modern trivia formats than modern quizbowl; in particular, quizbowl of that era was much more willing to give pop culture a berth in the distro and even its own dedicated events. These factors, combined with the fact that quizbowl requires either enrollment in college or the skill to compete in high-difficulty open tournaments, made the transition to trivia a natural choice for many players.

Despite the differences in format and content, many modern quizbowl players also participate in the myriad of trivia formats. Part of the appeal is that there is much more pop culture, which is obviously very popular, and also that the academic content that does appear is almost invariably much, much easier than in quizbowl. As a result, strong quizbowl players with comparably good pop culture knowledge like Matt Jackson, Jakob Myers, Dylan Minarik, Mike Sorice, Yogesh Raut, and Kenji Shimizu have successfully become top competitors in various trivia formats.

It is rarer, though certainly not unheard of, for people to make the jump the other way, and the recent preponderance on online events like Dede Allen, ACRODEMIA, and Buzzword has made this more common than ever. However, the difference in how academic content is handled in trivia formats means that many trivia players can make strong appearances at lower difficulty academic tournaments but struggle disproportionately at harder tournaments. There are, of course, exceptions, with the top trivia players being good enough to be competitive in the open circuit.


Large national tournaments like HSNCT and NHBB have long relied on members of the trivia community to form part of its staffer core, with former Jeopardy! contestants in particular being a staple of the tournaments. Many of the pop culture side events which accompany these tournaments (e.g. ACRONYM, the "Sports and Entertainment Bee") serve a dual purpose as incentives for staff who otherwise only have tangential investment in the community.


Learned League

Learned League is an invite-only trivia competition operated by the pseudonymous "Thorsten A. Integrity" with over 20,000 members. In each day of a given twenty-five day season, players will answer six questions and assign a point value for each (termed "defense") - if their opponent answers a question correctly, they receive the points assigned.

Between each season, various player-submitted one-days (1Ds) on specific subjects are held, in which players must answer twelve questions and assign "moneys" to questions they believe will be poorly converted - correctly answering a monied question will earn them additional points each to the percentage of players who did not get it, on top of a base fifteen points.

Learned League
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World Quizzing Championship

The World Quizzing Championship (WQC) is an annual written quiz with 240 questions, considered to be the premiere event in its format. Quizbowl players Daoud Jackson, Yogesh Raut, and Jakob Myers have distinguished themselves as some of the best Brits and Americans in the event - in 2018, Jakob was the best first time player in the world (echoing their earlier title of Junior NAC champion).

Online Quiz League

Quiz leagues are a staple of British quiz and involves alternating reading questions to individual players on two teams of four - each person has an opportunity to answer for two points or pass to their team for one, with the other team getting a stab if they fail. Some of the biggest and best-known in-person quiz leagues in the United Kingdom are the Merseyside Quiz League (MQL), which developed the format, and the Quiz League of London (QLL).

And yet: Dylan Minarik was at it again.

-Shane Ryan, writing for Defector

After the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Online Quiz League (UK) was started to run competitions using the quiz league format online using Zoom. This quickly crossed the Atlantic and the Online Quiz League (USA) was started by Steve Bahnaman. A 2021 Defector article about Online Quiz League[1] focused on team "4 Out Of 5 Cats", featuring Dylan Minarik.

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Mimirs well.png
Logo of Mimir's Well

The MIMIR format is the individual counterpart to the MQL format. Four individuals are read questions in sequence - if they answer incorrectly, each other player is given a chance to steal the point, with the order based on the number of steal attempts they have made thus far.

Mimir's Well is a MIMIR format competition written primarily by former players Joey Goldman and Daoud Jackson.

While distributions typically have a distribution that includes both academic and pop culture content, there have been both "High Brow" and "Low Brow" Mimir competitions which focus on only one or the other.

Time to answer Less ---X------ More
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Edge cases

University Challenge

Main page: University Challenge

One of the premiere quiz television shows in the United Kingdom, University Challenge (which draws from various colleges and universities around the country) can scarcely be compared to other trivia formats, where applicants need merely pay the entry fee to participate, and its question content is ostensibly significantly more academic than trivia competitions. Nevertheless, its non-quizbowl format and lead role in popularising quiz competitions in the UK makes it similar in more ways than one. Its unofficial spinoff Schools Challenge follows a similar format but lacks the national influence of its inspiration amongst other organisational differences, making it far less related to trivia than it is to quizbowl.


Main page: Jeopardy!

Jeopardy! is the game show whose format and content is closest to quizbowl, with players using a buzzer to answer pseudo-academic questions. There is a long and storied history of quizbowl players participating in Jeopardy! - various top all-time earners like Ken Jennings, Matt Jackson, David Madden, and Larissa Kelly were involved to various degrees in quizbowl.

QB League

Main page: QB League

The QB League (started by Kevin Wang, Ryan Rosenberg, Joey Goldman, and Daoud Jackson) is not really a trivia format - it uses standard quizbowl questions and the ACF ruleset - but borrows the rare-in-college-quizbowl league format and has a distribution which was chosen specifically to appeal to those who were more familiar with trivia formats. As such, it exists between these two worlds.


  1. Online Quiz League Is The Future Of Competitive Trivia