Speed-check questions (or speedchecks) are very short tossups that are usually only one sentence or one line long. Thus, they are rarely pyramidal and are usually considered (especially when sloppily written) bad quizbowl.
Speed-checks are usually bad quizbowl because they do not let players who know more about a topic demonstrate that they know more by buzzing earlier than players who know less. As the name implies, speed-check questions often merely reward players' buzzing speed (i.e. finger speed) on very well-known clues; such buzzer races are very frustrating. In good quizbowl, tossups use multiple clues to distinguish players' levels of knowledge.
The two questions below are bad quizbowl speed-checks:
Name the 41st President of the United States.ANSWER: George H. W. Bush
Who wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?ANSWER: Mark Twain
This question is bad because it does not differentiate between players who have more knowledge of the book itself (its characters, its importance, etc.) than just its title. (In fact, a player who knows that there are other books whose titles begin with "The Adventures of," such as The Adventures of Augie March, might easily lose a buzzer race to a player who reflex-buzzed on "Adventures of" and only knew The Adventures of Huckleberry 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 George H. W. Bush example, a more pyramidal question might end with "the father of George W."
Name this 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:
- Several clues roughly in order from harder to easier
- No misleading information or hoses
- 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.
As practice material and "impossible speed-checks"
A recommended technique for players who wish to study and improve the breadth of their knowledge is to write many speed-check-style questions as practice material. Because speed-checks are usually short tossups on very difficult answers, they can be especially good preparation for bonus hard parts, where the few clues given are often the most important clues on the answer. (The process of writing questions in general solidifies information learned via research quite effectively.)
Several difficult question sets that are intentionally made of speed-checks have been written, including ones with the tongue-in-cheek name "Impossible Speedcheck." These questions (often two lines long or slightly longer) are not considered bad quizbowl, however.
Speed-check-style questions often appear in lightning rounds, where it is usually more acceptable as they can test a number of related points of knowledge quickly without leading to the issues inherent with buzzer races.
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.