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Quizbowl (or Quiz-bowl or quiz bowl) is a family of games of questions and answers on all topics of human knowledge, commonly played in high school and college. In brief, the game is played with buzzers[?] between (usually) 2 teams of (usually) 4 players each. Each match has (usually) 20 tossup questions which are read to all players. The first player to buzz-in correctly gets 10 points and the opportunity for his team to hear a bonus worth up to 30 points. An incorrect buzz loses 5 points and the question is completed for the other team. The game is commonly referred to as College Bowl or "Academic Competition", or variants thereof. "Quiz Bowl/QB" will be the generic term used here.

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Subject Areas

At the college level, most questions are on subjects generally covered in a liberal arts education, or the liberal arts component of a degree. These include Literature, History, Science and Math, Social Science, Fine Arts, Geography, and Religion. The choice of subjects and number of questions on each is called question distribution. To a lesser extent, questions are asked on Engineering topics (including Computer Science), and "Trash".

"Trash" subjects are generally considered to be current events, sports, pop culture, and some parts of the "general knowledge" catch-all. The use of the word "trash" in reference to these subjects was originally derogatory, but "trash-lovers" have reclaimed the word, and many label themselves "trash-meisters" or similarly with pride.

Question Style

Most questions in college level Quiz Bowl rarely look like this: "Who is the original maker of Macintosh computers?"

Instead, they resemble this tossup question:

Q: In 1977, this Silicon Valley garage startup sold its computers for $666.66. In late 1997, it's a Fortune 500[?] company led by one of its two founding Steves, hoping the public will "Think different" and buy more of "The computer for the rest of us.". For ten points, name this company which in 1984 introduced the Macintosh.

A: Apple Computer

College quizbowl questions differ from direct, Trivial Pursuit-style questions in the following ways:

  • Test depth as well as breadth of knowledge
  • Usually have several clues (the more the better).
  • Clues are arranged by difficulty or other patterns (hardest first).
  • Last clue is usually the easiest, and called a 'giveaway'
  • Resemble puzzles more than direct questions.
  • Are comparatively long.


There are several different variants (or formats) of Quiz Bowl, but they share the following rules for playing.

Two teams of (typically) 4 players each sit at a buzzer set, which is like a set of TV game show buzzers. Anyone who 'rings' or 'buzzes' in prevents anyone else from doing so. If a round is timed, a countdown timer is used. Each game is played with a packet of questions, which a moderator reads.

There are two basic types of questions asked: tossups (typically worth 10 points) and bonuses (worth a maximum of 20-30 points).

Tossup questions

Tossup questions (or tossups) can be answered by any player from either team. Tossups must be answered individually, without the aid of teammates or the audience (Just like Jeopardy!). Aid by teammates is known as conferring and is not allowed. The first person from either side to buzz in may attempt to answer the question. Unlike Jeopardy!, one may interrupt the moderator and give an answer. If their answer is incorrect, then no other member of their team may attempt to answer and only players from the other team may ring in. Only one player per team may try to answer.


  • Question interrupted, wrong answer given: -5 points
  • Wrong answer given after end of tossup: 0 points
  • Right answer given, any time during/after question: 10 points

If a tossup is successfully answered, the answerer's team is given a bonus question.

Bonus questions

Bonuses can only be answered by one team. The team may work together (confer) to answer the bonus question. Usually, bonus questions require multi-part answers, and tossups single-part answers.


  • Total of 20 to 30 points possible.
  • Often have multiple parts, each worth a small number of points.
  • No penalty for wrong answers
  • Scoring is only done in multiples of 5

Games are either played in timed halves, or until a set number of tossups are read. In the case of a tied score, a tiebreaker is used. The nature of the tiebreaker varies by tournament and format. If a player or team feels that a question is in error, a protest may be made. This causes the question to be held for reevaluation, at which time points are adjusted. Rules for protests vary.


For tournament purposes, a format covers rules of play and question structure/content. For questions, this includes question topics, clue difficulty, order of clues, and writing style. Most questions contain multiple clues. Rules of play include player eligibility, scoring of questions, acceptable answers, and procedures for protesting a question.

In particular, ACF, CBCI, HCASC, NAQT and UC each have distinctive formats. Also, certain tournaments and programs have developed their own distinctive formats. A few of them include the University of Pennsylvania (Penn Bowl), University of Michigan MLK, Stanford University, and Deep Bench (U of MN/Carleton College).

ACF format has a rigorous emphasis on academics, specifically Western Civ. There is no limit on grad participation. Questions are almost all on academic topics, and are more difficult than other formats. Clues are layered; more difficult clues come first, and a question should be answerable from any clue read. ACF is untimed; questions are generally much longer than CBCI questions. Games are usually played to a total of 20 tossups read.

CBCI or College Bowl format emphasizes comparitively short questions on academics, current events, pop culture, and general knowledge. The limits on participation are 6 years total in CBCI tournaments and only one grad student per team. Questions tend to be structured so that most of the players know the answers to tossups read in their entirety. It is played in 7 minute halves, to a total of 24 tossups read. Game play is relatively quick as a result. Related formats are HCASC (Honda Campus All Star Challenge) and UC (University Challenge).

NAQT format balances the diversity of subjects found in CB packets with question difficulty often seen in the ACF format. The limits on participation are complex; in a nutshell, as long as you're earning a degree, you can play. It is based on the Penn Bowl/MLK format. Game play is markedly different from ACF or CB. Timeouts and player substitution during timeouts is allowed. In addition, there are power tossups, where 15 points may be earned during an early intrarupt. Game length can vary a little, but a standard length for NAQT is 9 minute halves and a total of 28 tossups. National/Regional tournaments follow these formats very closely, while invitationals often modify these formats for their own use.


Quiz Bowl is generally played at tournaments. Many schools hold on-campus tournaments (intramurals) where anyone can play. Some schools have programs which practice weekly (or more) during the school year. These programs are generally open to all students. They often include in their names "College Bowl", "Academic Competition", or "Quiz Bowl". They send teams to invitational tournaments sponsored by other schools or organizations.

For Quiz Bowl, a tournament is a gathering of teams who engage each other in several rounds of games. A tournament winner is determined using some criteria (win-loss record, playoff record, etc....). There are several classes of tournaments, which may use one of several formats.

Intramural tournaments invite students on a given campus to form teams and play. They are often called campus tournaments. On occasion, such tournaments may be open to teams of graduate students, and/or campus staff.

Invitational tournaments involve teams from various schools. They are run by the Quiz Bowl team/program at a given school. Invitations are sometimes sent to individual programs. However, most tournaments give out open invitations for any school to accept.

Major variants of Invitational tournaments include National/Regional, Junior Bird, "Masters", and "trash" tournaments.

National/Regional tournaments are academic tournaments run by organizations not affiliated with a given school. These organizations include:

In addition, CBCI administers the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge[?] (HCASC) for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and licenses University Challenge (UC) in the United Kingdom.

Such tournaments often have qualification requirements, sometimes including purchase of intramural tournament packets, or participation in regional tournaments (or other tournaments). They have unique rules above their associated formats, usually concerning eligibility and number of teams per school.

Junior Bird tournaments are restricted to collegiate players in their first or second season. Freshmen and sophmores are the intended target, but grad students who meet the criteria sometimes play. The intent of these is to support player development by providing experience against other teams of similar skills.

Masters tournaments are tournaments which do not place any restrictions on who may play. They are intended for those who want to play with people from other schools, have graduated, or are otherwise ineligible for college play. The intent behind them varies.

Trash tournaments are similar to Masters tournaments, except that all the questions are on trash subjects.


Eligibility rules depend on the game. For the college game, in official College Bowl, NAQT[?] or other events, there are severe eligibility rules, while other tournaments differ on whether senior or only junior undergraduate, graduate, and even non-students can play. In general the less skilled players can always compete, there is a debate about how much more experience players should be involved (analogous to the hypothetical question of whether NBA players should be able to play college games, or even high school games).

First and second year undergraduates can always play. Junior and Senior undergraduates are typically excluded from junior bird[?] type tournaments. Graduate students are excluded from undergraduate-only tournaments. Non-students are excluded from college tournaments.

The intent is to ensure a degree of fairness, by preventing teams from having too many players who have too much experience who can swamp the entire field. College Bowl in particular allows only one graduate student per team. This is a controversial point.

Non students generally are restricted to certain tournaments, which are open to everyone. These tournaments include "Masters" tournaments, "Trash" tournaments, and the occasional intramural tournament.

Question Sources

Questions come from one of three sources.

1. Organizations such as CBCI and NAQT, or other vendors sell packets for use in intramurals and invitationals. These are written by a small group of professional writers. They also write all of the packets used in tournaments they run, e.g. CB Regional Tournaments, and NAQT Sectionals.

2. The school hosting a tournament may choose to write all the packets used. Members of the host school's team generally write the packets. Typical of many invitationals.

3. Every team which participates in a tournament is expected to write a packet of questions. Typical of most invitationals.

Media Coverage

No form of quiz bowl at the college level is broadcast regularly in the United States on a national basis. From 1959 to 1970, College Bowl was televised on NBC (and was on the radio from 1953 to 1958), and HCASC was broadcast on BET until a few years ago. University Challenge is licensed from CBCI by Granada TV Ltd.[?] and broadcast in the United Kingdom.

There are several local broadcasts of college and high school level quiz bowl.

There is no relationship between Quiz Bowl and Jeopardy! or any of the other TV trivia game shows out there, other than that a few of the contestants may be the same.

See Also

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