Quizbowl Lexicon

By Stephen Eltinge

This lexicon defines terms that come up frequently in conversations about quizbowl. It is intended to be both beginner-friendly and comprehensive, and includes both technical terms and colloquialisms.

20/20 format: A game format in which a game consists of 20 tossups, with a bonus every time a team answers a question correctly. The 20/20 format does not use any clocks or timers. All ACF tournaments, NSC, and almost all invitationals use the 20/20 format. Compare four-quarter format and timed format.

Academic Competition Federation (ACF): The primary organization for the promotion of college quizbowl. As the name suggests, ACF is a loose federation of individuals involved in quizbowl rather than a centralized organizational body. It produces four question sets per year: ACF Fall, a low-difficulty set in October; ACF Winter, a regular-difficulty set in November; ACF Regionals, a regular-difficulty set in February; and ACF Nationals, a national championship in April.

accessible: (adj., of a question or question set) Written in such a way that many teams of varying skill levels can successfully answer the question(s).

ACF: See Academic Competition Federation.

ACF-style final: A format of final used in many invitationals. If two teams are tied in win-loss record, they play a single-game final. If one team is one game ahead of the other (for example, team A is 8-0 while team B is 7-1), then the teams play an advantaged final, with the team with the better record holding the advantage. If a team’s win-loss record is two or more games better than that of every other team in the field, that team “clears the field,” winning the tournament outright.

advantaged final: A type of final game series in which one team (the “advantaged” team) can win a tournament by winning only one game, while the other team (the “disadvantaged” team) must win two games in a row to win the tournament. Advantaged finals are a key component of the ACF-style final.

A-set: See Introductory Invitational Series.

bagel: (colloquial)
1. (v.) To earn zero points on a bonus by not answering any questions correctly (e.g., “we bageled that bonus”).
2. (n.) A bonus which is bageled, or the lack of points not earned on such a bonus (e.g., “we got a bagel on that bonus”).

big three: The general topics of science, history, and literature, which make up the bulk of the quizbowl distribution. In most 20/20 formats, each one is allotted 4/4 (4 tossups and 4 bonuses per packet), for a total of 60% of the questions.

bonus: A set of questions directed at a team that has correctly answered a tossup. Teams are encouraged to confer on bonuses. In modern quizbowl, almost all bonuses consist of three short questions on a connected theme, each of which is worth 10 points.

1. A game format in which incorrectly answered bonus parts “bounce back” to the team that does not control the bonus, which also gets a chance to answer it. NSC used to use a bounceback format.
2. A bonus part which bounces back in such a format. May also be called a rebound or, when answered correctly, a steal.

buzz (in):
1. (v.) To use the buzzer system within a match; this stops the reading of a tossup and gives the player a chance to answer.
2. (n.) The point at which an individual player buzzed and answered a tossup (e.g., “His buzz on the first clue of that world literature tossup was awe-inspiring.”)

1. The signaling device which a player uses to indicate that they knows the answer to a tossup (known as “buzzing in”).
2. An entire buzzer system.

buzzer race: (colloquial) An event in which multiple players know a tossup answer on the same clue and attempt to buzz in simultaneously.

buzzer system: A set of buzzers, one for each member of each team. Also called a lockout system because when one person buzzes they “locks out” other players from buzzing.

canon: (colloquial) The set of clues or answers that come up often in quizbowl questions.

card system: An implementation of power matching used at HSNCT and some other tournaments. Each team is given a card with a number between 1 and the number of teams, which is printed with a schedule of rooms to go to. Before each game, teams give their cards to the moderator. After the game, the winning team gets the card with the number closer to 1, and the losing team gets the card with the higher number. The card schedules are set up so that a team will always play an opponent with as similar a record to its own as possible.

CCCT: See Community College Championship Tournament.

chestnut: (colloquial) See stock clue (definition 1).

circle of death: (colloquial) A situation in which three (or sometimes more) teams finish with exactly the same record in a pool, and some of them must be chosen to advance to the next level of play. Resolving a circle of death usually requires playing tiebreaker games.

clear the field: (v., colloquial) To win a tournament without needing to play a final game. Usually refers to finishing with a record two or more games better than those of any other teams in a format which would have otherwise used an ACF-style final.

clock: A countdown timer, used for timed formats. In modern quizbowl, national championships run by NAQT are the most prominent tournaments to be read “on the clock.”

clue: A piece of information in a question that may help a player identify the answer. In good quizbowl, clues should be factual, uniquely identifying, and helpful to players.

Community College Championship Tournament (CCCT): The quizbowl national championship for community colleges run by NAQT.

confer: (v.) To communicate with one’s teammates, either verbally or in writing. Conferring is not allowed during tossups and will be treated as if it were a neg. However, conferring is allowed and encouraged during bonuses.

convert: (v.) To answer a question correctly and get points for doing so.

dead: (adj.) Describes a tossup that goes unanswered by either team (“goes dead”).

distribution: (n.) The range of topics covered in quizbowl, along with the relative weight given to each one. While distributions vary between question sets, major components always include the big three (science, history, and literature), RMP (religion, mythology, and philosophy), and fine arts, with topics such as social science, geography, trash, and current events occupying smaller parts of the distribution. The distribution is often notated using the format “x/y,” where x is the number of tossups and y is the number of bonuses on a subject in a single packet (e.g., “this question set will have 1/1 biology”).

double elimination: A tournament format in which every team plays until it has two losses, at which point it is eliminated. While formats that use pools are generally preferable because they maximize the number of games for all teams involved, in some cases a double elimination playoff format may be necessary due to time constraints (e.g., for very large tournaments such as HSNCT).

four-quarter format: A game format in which gameplay consist of four distinct phases, each of which has different rules and question types. The most prominent four-quarter format in modern quizbowl is the National History Bowl format. Compare 20/20 format and timed format.

fraud: (colloquial)
1. (v.) To correctly answer a question without knowing the clues that have been read so far, usually by using contextual information such as the language of proper nouns or the time period.
2. (n.) A player who successfully answers many questions without much direct understanding. A derogatory accusation.

FTP: Abbreviation for “for 10 points,” the phrase that begins the giveaway to a tossup.

FTPE: Abbreviation for “for 10 points each,” the most common way of apportioning points to the parts of a bonus.

generalist: (colloquial) A player who is capable of answering questions on a wide range of topics. Compare specialist and supergeneralist.

giveaway: The final sentence of a tossup, which contains the easiest clue(s).

good quizbowl: Quizbowl that adheres to a set of principles designed to reward knowledge of academic topics. Properties of good quizbowl include, but are not limited to, using pyramidal tossups; using clues that are factual, uniquely identifying, and helpful to players; using questions with proper grammar and mechanics; emphasizing academic content over “trash” or popular culture; and emphasizing the straightforward display of knowledge over “game-showy” or ostentatious game elements.

grail: (colloquial)
1. (n.) A victory in which one team answers every single tossup in a round.
2. (v.) To earn a grail.

1. In the 20/20 format, a brief pause after 10 tossups have been read, which may not literally be the temporal halfway point of the game. Teams may make player substitutions at this point, and there is usually a score check.
2. In timed formats, a brief pause after time has run out in the first half. As in the 20/20 format, teams may make substitutions and the score is checked.

High School National Championship Tournament (HSNCT): The quizbowl national championship for high school students run by NAQT. HSNCT uses timed games with nine-minute halves. The tournament format consists of a card system on Saturday and Sunday morning in which every team plays 10 games, followed by double elimination playoffs on Sunday afternoon for all teams that finish 6-4 or better.

hose: (colloquial)
1. A tossup clue which is deliberately misleading in order to “trick” players into buzzing early and giving a wrong answer. An example of a tossup with a hose might be:

One of the United States’ founding fathers presided over the Constitutional Convention, led the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and served as the first President. Who was his wife?

Hoses of this type are generally regarded a penalizing players for displaying accurate knowledge, and are therefore strongly proscribed in good quizbowl.
2. A tossup which, probably unintentionally, uses a clue which may mislead a player, perhaps by not being uniquely identifying. While not as egregious as a deliberate hose, hoses of this type are also to be avoided.

housewrite: (n.) A question set produced “in-house” by the college or high school team hosting a tournament on said set. Also used to refer to sets produced by two or more collaborating teams when those teams seek to host the set. Housewriters often seek to mirror their set at sites besides that of the writers.

HSNCT (also styled HS NCT): See High School National Championship Tournament.

hybrid: A type of quizbowl tournament which contains roughly 50% academic content and 50% trash content. While hybrid tournaments used to occur with some regularity, they are fairly rare now.

ICT: See Intercollegiate Championship Tournament.

Intercollegiate Championship Tournament (ICT): The quizbowl national championship for collegiate students run by NAQT. ICT uses timed games with ten-minute halves. The tournament format consists of preliminary and playoff round-robin pools.

International Quiz Bowl Tournaments (IQBT): A question vendor. In addition to producing question sets, IQBT runs NASAT every year.

interrupt: See neg (both definitions).

Introductory Invitational Series: One of the two types of invitational high school question sets produced by NAQT, the other being the Invitational Series. Its questions are shorter and easier than those in an Invitational Series. Also known as an A-set.

invitational: A standard regular-season quizbowl tournament, usually hosted by a college or high school quizbowl team. Despite the name, teams do not generally need a formal invitation to register for or attend an invitational. Invitationals are usually held on Saturdays, or occasionally Sundays in some regions. Their schedules often involve round-robin formats with pools.

Invitational Series: One of the two types of invitational high school question sets produced by NAQT, the other being the Introductory Invitational Series. Its questions are longer and more difficult than those in an Introductory Invitational Series. Also known as an IS-set.

IQBT: See International Quiz Bowl Tournaments.

IS-set: See Invitational Series.

1. The first sentence of a tossup, which contains the most difficult clue(s).
2. The first sentence in a bonus, which informs the players of the general topic of the bonus.

lightning round: A directed round of 8 to 10 short questions issued to one team, usually with a timer (hence “lightning” for the fast speed with which teams must answer to hear all the parts). Lightning rounds are not used in the NAQT or PACE formats, but appear in National History Bowl, the Virginia High School League Scholastic Bowl, and some local events.

lock down: (v., colloquial) To have extremely deep knowledge of a specific topic or set of topics, such that one can almost always be the first to answer tossups on those topic(s).

lockout system: See buzzer system.

Middle School National Championship Tournament (MSNCT): The quizbowl national championship for middle school students run by NAQT.

1. (n.) A tournament which uses a question set produced elsewhere. At the high school level, this term usually applies only to tournaments using housewrites (e.g., “a mirror of GSAC”), though on the collegiate level it may apply to more centrally produced question sets (e.g., “the midwest mirror of ACF Regionals”).
2. (v.) To use an external housewrite as one’s question source for a tournament (e.g., “we’re going to mirror GSAC at our tournament”).

moderator: The game official who reads questions, judges the correctness of answers, and generally controls the game room. The moderator may also keep score and reset the buzzer system, or those tasks may be performed by a scorekeeper.

MSNCT (also styled MS NCT): See Middle School National Championship Tournament.

NAQT: See National Academic Quiz Tournaments.

NASAT: See National All-Star Academic Tournament.

National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT): A company that produces questions for a wide variety of quizbowl competitions. Its products include Invitational Series and Introductory Invitational Series sets. It also runs several national championship tournaments every year: MSNCT, HSNCTICT, CCCT, and SSNCT.

National All-Star Academic Tournament (NASAT): An all-star tournament run by IQBT every year. Teams at NASAT represent states rather than schools, drawing players from one or more schools within their state.

National History Bee (NHB): An individual history competition for middle school and high school students run by National History Bee and Bowl. Regional sites take place throughout the year. The high school national competition takes place alongside the high school National History Bowl championships in Washington, DC.

National History Bowl (NHB): A team-based history competition for middle school and high school teams run by National History Bee and Bowl. Regional middle school and high school sites take place throughout the year, and the high school national competition takes place alongside the National History Bee championships in Washington, DC.

National History Bee and Bowl (NHBB):
1. The organization that runs the National History Bee and the National History Bowl.
2. Both of those competitions referred to collectively.

National Scholastic Championship (NSC): The quizbowl national championship run by PACE. NSC uses untimed games in the 20/20 format, with 20-point powers. The tournament format consists of a series of round-robin pools.

1. (v.) To buzz in and answer a tossup incorrectly before the tossup is over. In most formats, a neg results in a 5 point penalty for the player’s team and the loss of the opportunity for any team member to answer the tossup. In the PACE format, there is no point penalty, but the player’s team is still locked out of answering the question.
2. (n.) An instance of negging.

NHB: See both National History Bee and National History Bowl.

NHBB: See National History Bee and Bowl.

NSC: See National Scholastic Championship.

one-person team: (colloquial) A team of multiple players in which a single individual predominates in scoring; usually somewhat derogatory to the other players when used in context.

overtime: See tiebreaker (definition 2).

PACE: See Partnership for Academic Competition Excellence.

pack: (chiefly Canadian) See packet.

packet: The set of questions played during a quizbowl game.

Partnership for Academic Competition Excellence (PACE): An organization that promotes the nationwide growth of high school quizbowl. PACE members write and run NSC every year, award the Cooper Awards, and are involved in promoting quizbowl in the regions in which they live.

pool: A group of teams that play a round robin. Many tournament formats involve grouping teams into preliminary pools, playing a round robin within each pool, and then regrouping teams into playoff pools based on win-loss records in the preliminary pools.

1. (n.) In some quizbowl formats, extra points obtained by answering a tossup sufficiently early. In many formats, a player answering a tossup for power receives 15 points instead of 10. In the PACE format, a player receives 20 points instead of 10.
2. (v.) To answer a tossup for power.

power mark: A mark in a tossup, often an asterisk, that indicates the last place one can buzz and still receive a power. Power marks are “blind;” that is, they are not indicated verbally by the moderator.

power matching: A tournament format in which teams are matched up in each round against teams with similar win-loss records (ideally, identical records). The most notable instance of power matching in modern quizbowl is HSNCT, which uses a card system in the preliminary rounds.

power-neg: (v., colloquial) To neg early in a tossup (literally, in power).

PPB: Abbreviation for “points per bonus,” the average number of points (between 0 and 30) a team scores on bonuses it hears. For most question sets, an average team will score roughly 15 PPB, while top teams may put up 22-25 PPB depending on the set.

PPG: Abbreviation for “points per game,” which has two meanings:
1. The average number of total points from both tossups and bonuses that a team scores per game.
2. The average number of tossup points that an individual scores per game.

prime: (v., colloquial) To slightly depress the button on one’s buzzer, hoping to increase one’s ability to buzz in quickly. Priming can be risky, as the player may press too hard and accidentally buzz in.

1. (v.) To request more information from a player who has given an answer that is partially correct, but insufficiently specific (e.g., saying “Brontë” when the desired answer is one of Anne, Charlotte, or Emily). A moderator will often prompt by saying “prompt,” or by saying something like “I need more.”
2. (n.) A single part of a multi-part bonus (the “bonus prompt”).

protest: A complaint which claims that an error was made in the moderation of a game. Most protests claim that a correct answer was not accepted due to a mistake or ambiguity in the packet. Some aspects of gameplay, such as timing calls by moderators, may not be protested. Protests are usually only resolved if the potential swing in points would affect the winner of a game.

pyramidal: (adj., of a tossup) Containing several clues in decreasing order of difficulty. The purpose of a pyramidal tossup is to reward players who know a lot about a subject by allowing them to answer a tossup on the earliest clues, while still allowing less knowledgeable teams to answer most tossups by their end. Pyramidal tossups are an important component, but not the only one, of good quizbowl.

question set: A set of packets (usually 12-16, though national tournaments may use up to 27) which are read at a single tournament. Prominent vendors of question sets include NAQT, while many other question sets are produced as housewrites.

quizbowl (also styled “quiz bowl”): An academic competition in which teams of players face off, using buzzers to answer tossups and being presented with bonuses for correctly answering tossups. While there are many local formats of quizbowl, there is also a widely prevalent national format, the rules of which are discussed in this lexicon.

quizbowl alliance: (n.) An organization of college players, coaches, and adults that comes together to host tournaments and promote growth in its local area. Examples include the Missouri Quizbowl Alliance (MOQBA) and the Texas Quizbowl Alliance (TQBA).

rebound: (n.) See bounceback (definition 2).

RMP: An abbreviation for religion, mythology, and philosophy, a trio of topics often combined when discussing distributions due to overlaps and similarities in their subject matter.

round robin: A tournament format in which every team plays every other team exactly once. Small tournaments may run full round robins among all the teams in attendance, while larger tournaments may divide into pools and run a round robin within each pool.

scholastic bowl: A term for some local formats of quizbowl, such as the Illinois and Virginia state competitions.

set: See question set.

side event: (colloquial) A secondary quizbowl tournament played alongside a main tournament. Side event question sets are usually shorter than regular sets and often cover specialized material from a specific topic. Typical side event content ranges from general topics such as “literature” down to the subject matter of a particular TV show.

single elimination: A tournament format in which a team is eliminated from competition once it has lost one game. Single elimination tournaments are generally discouraged in good quizbowl, as they give most teams fewer games than could be achieved with a pooled round-robin format.

Small School National Championship Tournament (SSNCT): The quizbowl national championship run by NAQT for teams from small high schools. SSNCT uses timed games with nine-minute halves. The tournament format consists of a card system on Saturday in which every team plays 9 games, followed by double elimination playoffs on Sunday for all teams that finish 5-4 or better.

specialist: (colloquial) A player who mainly answers questions in a few categories. Compare generalist and supergeneralist.

speedcheck: A quizbowl format which uses very short (often one sentence) tossups. It is essentially impossible to make speedcheck tossups meaningfully pyramidal, so speedcheck tournaments generally do not qualify as good quizbowl.

SSNCT: See Small School National Championship Tournament.

steal: (n.) A successfully answered bounceback.

stock clue: (colloquial)
1. (older) A clue which is used in questions much more frequently than its merit as an academic fact would suggest. For example, many old questions on Michael Faraday mentioned that he was apprenticed to a bookbinder, which is not relevant to his research or his legacy. Stock clues in this sense have become much less common in recent years. Also sometimes referred to (somewhat more affectionately) as a chestnut.
2. (newer, frowned upon by those who prefer definition 1) A commonly-used clue, regardless of its importance or relevance.

sudden death: A form of game tiebreaker in which tossup questions are read until one is answered correctly. In some formats, a neg will end a sudden death sequence. In the PACE format, since a neg does not result in a point penalty, it does not end a sudden death sequence.

supergeneralist: (colloquial) A player who is extremely good at answering questions on all or almost all quizbowl topics. Nationally competitive teams often have one or more supergeneralists providing the majority of their scoring, helped by specialists who lock down specific categories. Compare generalist and specialist.

superplayoffs: In some tournament formats, a third phase of pooled round robins after an initial preliminary phase and a repooled playoff phase. NSC uses superplayoffs.

sweep: (v., colloquial) To answer every question in a set of directed questions, such as a bonus or a directed round, correctly.

Swiss pairs: The more common term outside of quizbowl for the class of tournament formats which includes power matching.

1. A game played between teams with equal records in order to determine which one advances to the next stage in a tournament.
2. A question or series of questions played at the end of a game which has ended with a tied score. Also referred to as overtime.

timed format: A game format in which the length of the game is determined by time elapsed, rather than by the number of tossups read. The most prominent timed tournaments in modern quizbowl are NAQT’s national tournaments: MSNCT, HSNCT, and ICT. Compare 20/20 format and four-quarter format.

tossup: A question which all players have a chance to answer. Tossups are pyramidal, having several sentences containing clues in decreasing order of difficulty. Players work individually to answer tossups; conferring between teammates is not permitted. A player answers a tossup by buzzing in and giving an answer. If the answer is correct, the player receives 10 points (or more in the case of a power) and his or her team has the opportunity to answer a bonus. If the answer is incorrect and the question is not over, the player generally loses 5 points and his or her team may not buzz again on the tossup (a neg). There is no point penalty for an incorrect answer at the end of a tossup, but the player’s team may not answer again.

tournament: An event at which quizbowl teams play several games against other teams to determine a champion. The most common type of tournament is an invitational.

trash: Quizbowl questions on popular culture (movies, television, sports, music, etc.). Trash questions are present in small amounts at most quizbowl tournaments, with the exception of NSC and ACF Nationals. While rare, there are also tournaments consisting entirely of trash questions.

uniquely identifying: (adj., of a clue) Pointing unambiguously to a specific answer in a helpful way. “This character’s father is dead” would not be a uniquely identifying clue for Hamlet, while “this character’s uncle Claudius poisoned this character’s father” would be.

vulture (or vulch): (v., colloquial) To buzz in and answer a tossup early, without waiting until the end, after the opposing team has negged. Usually considered strategically unwise and/or a breach of team etiquette.