Speed-check questions are very short questions in quizbowl, usually one sentence or less than a line in length. Such questions are rarely pyramidal due to their length and are usually considered (especially when sloppily written) bad quizbowl.
Examples of Speedchecks
Speed-checks are usually bad quizbowl because they do not allow for players that know more about a topic to demonstrate that they know more by buzzing earlier than players who know less. As the name implies, speed-check questions often reward the winner of a buzzer race on a well-known clue, a frustrating experience that occurs far less frequently when there are multiple clues to distinguish players' levels of knowledge.
For instance, a speed-check might go:
...Name the 41st President of the United States.
ANSWER: George H.W. Bush
Who wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?
ANSWER: Mark Twain
These questions would both be considered bad quizbowl speed-checks. The former is due to asking about a relatively trivial fact rather than anything important about the actual life or presidency of George H.W. Bush. The latter is due to not differentiating between players who have more knowledge of the book itself (its characters, its importance, its impact, etc.). In fact, a player who knows that there are other books that begin with "The Adventures of" (say, The Adventures of Augie March) might easily lose a buzzer race to a player who reflex-buzzed on "Adventures of" and only knew Huck Finn.
Because they usually contain few clues, speed-checks also may lack a clear giveaway and thus lead to dead tossups while a more pyramidal question could provide more clues and lead to increased conversion. For instance, in the HW Bush example, a more pyramidal question might end with "the father of George W."
It is possible to introduce elements of pyramidality into speedcheck questions. For instance:
...Name the US President who hired "the Plumbers" and was responsible for the Saturday Night Massacre, which led to his impeachment and resignation in Watergate.
ANSWER: Richard Nixon
This is a very short question, but it contains:
a. Several clues in rough order from harder to easier
b. No misleading information or hoses
c. A clear sense of what it is asking for (a US President) from the very start
Though a longer pyramidal question would be more ideal, this question is still roughly pyramidal. For television shows that often prefer shorter questions, pyramidal speed-checks can be an acceptable compromise.
Speedchecks in Bonus Rounds
Speed-check-style questions often appear in lightning rounds, where it is usually more acceptable for them to be used as they can test a number of related points of knowledge quickly without leading to the issues inherent with buzzer races.
Users of Speed-Check Questions
Note that when mixed in with longer, more pyramidal questions (or other bad quizbowl questions such as hoses that force players to wait until the end of the question to figure out what it's even asking), speed-checks can be even more frustrating as it will never be quite clear to players if an opening clue will be a true lead-in or the end of the question.