Vancouver Estival Trivia Open — Question Packets

These guidelines are for the 2018 Vancouver Estival Trivia Open.


This document borrows heavily from:
If you have any questions that aren't answered here, send e-mail to Peter, the VETO Vancouver site coordinator, at pmcc -at- alumni -dot- sfu -dot- ca . (Replace "-at-" with "@" and "-dot-" with ".")


Purpose of this Document

The goal of our tournament is to have fun. Given the nature of our game, the fun that we have depends largely on the questions. Ideally, questions will leave both the winning and losing teams with a sense of satisfaction that they are richer for having played the game. Questions that rely on retread material or the rote association of two entities (title and author, for instance) do not provide the same stimulation as does a well thought-out question that brings to light one or two interesting facts. This is not licence to write questions that contain only minutiae (as that extreme is very frustrating); instead, our aim is to guide players in creating original and interesting questions.

We understand that good questions take much longer to craft than unoriginal ones and that beginning players often do not have the experience to realize what separates a good question from a mediocre ones, so it would be unreasonable to demand perfection from every pack. We simply ask that you try to create a pack of questions that you would enjoy playing. (This should not be confused with creating a pack of questions concerning only subjects that interest you.)

To help you with construction of the pack, we have included a list of guidelines. Some of these are written to help moderators who will read your packet but are not on your team or at your site.

The Topic Areas and Reference Sources section contains many links and particular advice for each subject category. The idea is to make it easy for you to write your packet while this window is open, going through each category in turn. The biggest problem that we've found in writing a packet is simply coming up with ideas on what to write about. We hope that this section will be as helpful to you as it is to us.

How Packets will be Used

1. "Guerrilla" format

VETO will again be a "guerrilla" style quizbowl tournament. This means that every team is entirely responsible for editing its own packets, because nobody else will be doing so. Players will know exactly whom to congratulate on a good packet — but also whom to blame for a bad one.

Do not send your packet to the VETO contact person, because he'll probably be playing on it!

2. Question Security

The usual rule at packet-submission quiz bowl tournaments is that nobody sees any part of any other team's packet. But we recognize that some VETO teams will have players that have written whole tournaments by themselves, and other teams will have no players who have ever submitted questions to a tournament. In order to allow more experienced teams to help novice ones, we are allowing the novices to get help in writing and editing their packet from those who have more experience. But you must follow these important rules:

You can think of this as having some teams "adopt" one and only one other team. The purpose of the above rules is to allow more freedom in scheduling, so that no more than two teams are required to have byes in a round. If you're on team C and you got help from both Bob on team A and Doug on team B, then all three teams would have to sit out your packet. That's a situation we'd prefer to avoid.

3. Sending it off to the other site

We expect there to be a mirror in Toronto. A few days before the tournament, you'll need to e-mail your packet to a person who's playing in Toronto if you'll be in Vancouver, or in Vancouver if you'll be in Toronto. You will be informed of who your counterpart will be.

As long as you still have 24 tossup and 22 bonuses, you may omit the multimedia questions in the e-mailed packet, although visual questions are usually easy to send by e-mail.


A tossup question is read until a player buzzes in, at which point the moderator stops reading the question, and the player gives an answer. If the answer is correct, then that player's team earns 10 points and a bonus question (on which it may earn up to 30 more points). If the player's answer to the tossup is wrong and the moderator hasn't finished reading it, then the team loses 5 points and the moderator continues reading the tossup to the members of the other team only.

Tossups are intended to be interrupted at some point. The clues in a tossup should progress from hard to easier, and must not trick players into giving a wrong answer. In addition to whether it has interesting clues, the three main criteria to judge whether a tossup is good are:

Each of these criteria will be discussed in detail after we show a couple of examples.

1. Anatomy of a good Tossup

Consider these examples.
TOSSUP (good)
This city originated as a hunters' camp named Pile o' Bones, after the remains
of buffalo left there.  With the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway
in 1882, it began 23 years as capital of the Northwest Territories as well as
headquarters of the Northwest Mounted Police, later the Royal Canadian Mounted
Police, which still has its academy there.  For 10 points, what is this city,
named after Queen Victoria, that has since 1905 been capital of Saskatchewan?

Answer:  Regina
This is a straightforward, factually dense question. It has many substantial clues, most of which can refer only to Regina:
  1. originally named Pile o' Bones (uniquely specifying the answer);
  2. buffalo were hunted there (a more general clue, but suggests the region);
  3. the CPR arrived there in 1882 (also suggesting the region);
  4. capital of NWT for 23 years from 1882 (uniquely specifying clue);
  5. NWMP headquarters was there (uniquely specifying clue);
  6. RCMP academy is still there (uniquely specifying clue);
  7. named after Queen Victoria (not unique to Regina, but rules out most other possibilities);
  8. now capital of Saskatchewan (uniquely specifying clue).

The following example is modified from Gerard Magliocca:

TOSSUP (good)
This author's wife, Elaine, was upset when she saw his classic 1939
novel in a Japanese bookstore translated as "Angry Raisins".
For 10 points, name this American author who described Rose, Sharon, Ma,
and Tom as the Joad family travels during the Great Depression from
Oklahoma to California in The Grapes of Wrath.

Answer:  John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr.
This question has an interesting lead-in that will appeal to both players and spectators alike, making the question entertaining and memorable. It also has many substantial clues:
  1. the name of the author's wife;
  2. the date of the novel;
  3. the translation;
  4. the nationality of the author;
  5. four of the characters in the novel and the main family name;
  6. the time setting of the novel;
  7. part of the plot of the novel;
  8. the title of the work.
Someone who has read the novel a dozen times may be beaten by someone who is able to figure out the answer based on the mistranslation "Angry Raisins". This question, unlike the previous example, is more like a puzzle in the beginning, rewarding more than "pure" knowledge (but not punishing it). Many of the best questions have this quality. (Update: the story about "Angry Raisins" may actually be an urban legend.)

2. Length

Every tossup should have at least four separate concrete clues, like those listed in the examples above. Don't write one-clue tossups like this one:
TOSSUP (bad: don't write like this)
For a quick ten points, what is the capital of Afghanistan?

Tossups should not be too long, either, because long tossups slow down the game. You should not exceed six (6) lines if writing in an equally-spaced font with 79 columns per line.

3. Answerability

Answerability means whether the question can be expected to be answered by people who will be playing at VETO. A related notion is "recognizability", which is whether people have heard of the answer, even if they might not even know what it is. For example, there are many great literary works that almost every educated person has heard of, but most have not actually read. Our advice on recognizability is: Every tossup answer should be something that you think at least one person on every team has heard of. Then, even if nobody gets it, at least when they hear the answer, some players will think, "Oh, that's what that thing is about." If you think that only a few people at VETO will have even heard of the answer, then consider asking it in a bonus question instead of as a tossup.

Always write the words "for ten points" in the last sentence of every tossup, right before the final set of clues. This is how you indicate to players that the "giveaway" is coming up. And don't make it too hard. Example:

TOSSUP (ending, bad)
... For ten points, name this novel in which Henry Clerval ends up
dead on the shores of Ireland.

Answer:  Frankenstein
If that is your easiest clue, then not many people will get it. Here is a better choice to be more certain that the tossup gets answered:
TOSSUP (ending, good)
... For ten points, name this Mary Shelley novel about a Swiss doctor
and his monstrous creation.

Answer:  Frankenstein

There is a very simple reason why tossups should be answerable (beyond players enjoying getting questions right). If tossups go dead, you've wasted time writing the full complement of bonuses. If 6 tossups go dead, bonuses 15-20 will never be used. If you wrote it, you may as well try to have it used.

Try to write your tossups at such a level that you'd expect about 90% of them to be answered in a typical game at VETO, and about 80% of the tossups to be interrupted before the final clue if two good VETO teams are playing. How do you estimate that if you've never been to VETO before? To get an idea, you can look up the results postings from VETO since 2002 on the CAQL results page. Each year's VETO results page has links to (most of) the packets that were used, and also the scores (including number of tossups) that teams got on each round.

4. Clarity

Clarity should be the easiest criterion to meet, because unlike answerability and pyramidality, it doesn't require an estimate of what the players know. Here are some tips on how to make your tossup questions clear.

     No misleading questions.

Avoid misleading questions which penalize knowledge and speed. These questions are supremely evil in competition and are to be avoided. Since each tossup potentially means a swing in the game score of 85 points, it is crucial that tossups be written clearly and fairly. Neither of the following is an acceptable question.
TOSSUP (bad: don't write like this)
A German chancellor, a U.S. state capital, an archipelago northeast of
New Guinea, the sea enclosed by that archipelago, and the largest city in
Equatorial Guinea.  For 10 points, which is not named Bismarck?

TOSSUP (bad: don't write like this)
He served as German chancellor from 1871 to 1890 and was known for his
policy of "blood and iron".  For 10 points, spell his last name.

     Watch pronouns and antecedents.

Pronouns almost always must refer to the answer. The first pronoun in a tossup had better refer to the answer, or else it will mislead the players. The confusion is easily eliminated by placing a pronoun (or "this novel", "this building", etc.) in the first clue that refers to the answer. Example:
TOSSUP (beginning, bad)
Even though he looked silly presenting several signed golf balls, the
former prime minister in this investigation ...

Answer:  the Gomery Commission

In that example, "he" is the first pronoun, and could lead players to buzz incorrectly with "Chrétien" after hearing "golf balls". A better way to phrase it would be:

TOSSUP (beginning, good)
In this inquiry, a former leader made a spectacle by presenting
several signed golf balls...

Answer:  the Gomery Commission

Here, "this inquiry" makes it clear what type of answer is being sought. As a stylistic note, since the beginning of the question refers to "a former leader", you should include his name, Jean Chrétien, somewhere in the rest of the question, probably in the last clue.

     Avoid beginning tossups with vague clues.

Tossups should be full of names, dates, and places. Here is a bad way to begin a tossup:
TOSSUP (beginning, bad)
This playwright brought the problems and ideas of his day onto the stage,
and created realistic dramas of psychological conflict ...

Answer:  Henrik Ibsen
A player with an encyclopedic knowledge of theatre would be able to think of several possible answers, and would be at a disadvantage compared with someone who had only superficial knowledge of a few big names like Ibsen. This problem could be fixed easily by adding something concrete:
TOSSUP (beginning, good)
In his plays, such as John Gabriel Borkman and An Enemy of the People,
this dramatist ...

Answer:  Henrik Ibsen
Some questions have several possible answers after a few words have been read.
TOSSUP (beginning, bad)
Facing legal difficulties because of alleged financial chicanery, he
resigned as Vice President of the United States...

Spiro Agnew is not the only answer. Calhoun had similar difficulties in his time, though they may be less well remembered today. Some players will interrupt the question at this point. Players who are waiting to differentiate between Agnew and Calhoun will be at a disadvantage to other players who are thinking of only Agnew. Or, a player who is aware of Calhoun may bet the odds and incorrectly answer Agnew. Either way, this question might trap a better player, penalizing knowledge.

One might choose to add additional information at the start of the question to minimize this ambiguity and precisely target the desired answer as soon as possible, as in:

TOSSUP (beginning, good)
This former American state governor, facing legal difficulties because
of alleged financial chicanery...

There is nothing wrong with questions in which the answer is not the immediately obvious one. Further, there is nothing wrong with more general introductions (This U.S. President...). However, you should strive to minimize question ambiguity as much as possible, especially when the introduction narrows the possible answers to just a few probable answers (This Norwegian playwright...).

     A tossup may have multiple answers, but include a warning.

Once or at most twice per packet, a tossup may require two (or more) closely related pieces of information to be given as answers. If a toss-up does require two answers, then begin it with the phrase "Warning: two answers required".

TOSSUP (good)
For most of their lengths, they are roughly parallel, running southeast about
three hundred kilometres apart until the longer one makes a ninety-degree turn
at Zaporizhia ["zap-a-RIDGE-ee-a"].  Their estuaries are about one hundred
kilometres apart on the Black Sea's Odessa Bay.  The shorter one forms part of
the border between Moldova and Ukraine.   The longer one passes through Kiev.
For 10 points, what are these two rivers with very similar names?

Answers:  Dnieper ["NEE-purr"]   (or Dnepr or Dniapro or Dnipro)
and Dniester ["NEE-stir"]   (or Nistru or Dnestr)

Multiple answers on a tossup should all be of the same type: for example, two rivers, or two countries, or two people, that are somehow natural to ask about together. (In the Dnieper-Dniester case, people often get them confused with each other, so a question asking for both of them is probably more likely to get answered than a question asking for only Dnieper, or only Dniester.) Avoid toss-ups that require "non-parallel" pieces of information to be given, such as both a book and its author, or both a country and its current ruler. In any case, tossups with multiple answers can get unwieldy, so you're often better off asking the question as a bonus.

Don't write tossups that allow for "two possible answers", such as a rewriting of the Dnieper-Dniester tossup above:

TOSSUP (bad: don't write like this)
For most of their lengths, they are roughly parallel, running southeast ...
[rest is same as above]
A tossup should have a single correct answer. Now it's possible that the answer might be expressed in more than one correct way (such as a person's real name / common pseudonym, or a title in the original language / translation into English), and if so, you should write those alternative answers, but there's no need to state outright that there are two (or more) possible answers.

      Be careful of beginning a tossup with a list.

If a tossup begins with a list, there should be a proper identifying pronoun so that the players know what type of answer is sought, if more than one type of answer is plausible. Example:
TOSSUP (bad: don't write like this)
Henry Clerval, William, Elizabeth.  These are all victims of what creature?

Answer:  Frankenstein's Monster
The lack of identification could have a player buzz in early with Frankenstein, since that list is of names of characters in the novel. A better way to phrase the question would be:
TOSSUP (beginning, good)
Its victims include Henry Clerval, William, and Elizabeth ...

Another "puzzle" type of question is a tossup that begins with a seemingly incongruous list of things and challenges the players to try to figure out what the things have in common. Example:

TOSSUP (good)
Six letters to Ronald McDonald. A list of all 3-letter legal Scrabble words,
plus one "non-regulation word".  The first hundred thousand digits of pi, with
one digit wrong. All are in this novel narrated by Ethan Jarlewski about himself
and five co-workers at a videogame company in Burnaby, B.C., whose surnames all
begin with the same letter. For 10 points, name this 2006 book that begins,
self-referentially: "Oh God. I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel." 

Answer:  JPod

Although it isn't clear what kind of answer is sought until the third line, in this case it's extremely unlikely that the initial set of clues could refer specifically to anything else. The tossup does state half-way through that the answer is a novel, but by not making that clear right away, the question encourages lateral thinking, which can be interesting — as long as it doesn't mislead.

     Beginning a tossup with a date or a number.

Some people dislike tossups that begin with what they call "useless" clues, such as "Born in Toronto on April 30, 1959, ..." The complaint is that very few people memorize unimportant information like that. On the other hand, it is always important to avoid vagueness by including names, dates, and places, not so much because some player might actually "know" them, but because they provide a context of time and location. But sometimes they might get out of hand. True story: this writer once heard a tossup that began "Born in St. Petersburg in 1904" and then buzzed in with "Ayn Rand" and got a -5. After a player on the opposing team gave the correct answer of George Balanchine, this other player explained that he didn't buzz at that earlier point because he knew that "Ayn Rand was born in 1905". The trouble, then, is that some people do know stuff like this, but if you reward them for it early on, nobody gets to hear anything interesting about the subject of the tossup. This is especially true of Nobel prizes. Never begin a tossup about a Nobel prize winner with a clue like "He received the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1971 ..."

5. Pyramidality

Pyramidality may be a word you have never heard of before, but it is frequently used in quizbowl circles. Think of a tossup as a pyramid, starting at the top and working down to the base. The top of the question would have clues that could only be answered by a small number of people, but clues get easier so that a wider range of people can answer as the tossup approaches its end. Essentially, clues in a tossup should go from least answerable to most answerable.

Here is a an example of a non-pyramidal tossup:

TOSSUP (bad: don't write like this)
Known as the Iron Chancellor, he was in Paris on September 18, 1862, when he
received a telegram that read "Periculum in mora.  Dépêchez-vous.  L'ami
de Maurice Henning" that was sent to him by War Minister von Roon.  Five days
later in Berlin, he succeeded Prince Adolf of Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen as head of
government.  For 10 points, name this nobleman who ruled Prussia from 1862 to

Answer:  Otto Eduard Leopold Prince von Bismarck 

In a real match, that question would likely be over in 5 words. It could be rewritten as:

TOSSUP (good)
He was in Paris on September 18, 1862, when he received a telegram that read
"Periculum in mora.  Dépêchez-vous.  L'ami de Maurice Henning" that was
sent to him by War Minister von Roon.  Five days later in Berlin, he succeeded
Prince Adolf of Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen as head of government.  For 10 points,
name this nobleman who ruled Prussia from 1862 to 1890, earning the nickname,
"the Iron Chancellor".

Answer:  Otto Eduard Leopold Prince von Bismarck 

Ordering the clues can be difficult, particularly in subjects that you are not good at (which is why it is encouraged to spread question-writing duties to teammates who are best with specific categories). Broadly speaking, in a typical tossup of four or five clues:

Ideally, the majority of your tossups should be answered somewhere in the middle, so that everybody hears the first full clue, and somebody has already answered before the "giveaway" clue gets read. In every tossup, try to have a lot of steps in your "pyramid" of difficulty so that there isn't one point when a whole lot of players try to buzz in at once. Buzzer races make the game less fun because they make it more about luck than about knowledge and anticipation. The giveaway clue should only be there for matchups featuring two weaker teams, a -5 on one side, or the fluke of no one knowing a particular category.


A Bonus question is read to a team if a player on that team has just answered a Tossup correctly. Teams may (and are encouraged to) confer on answering a bonus question, which has either several parts or several answers (and usually both).

Every Bonus question is worth 30 points. Scoring must be such that the number of points a team may earn on any particular Bonus will be some multiple of 5 points, in the range 0 to 30.

Bonus questions are supposed to test deeper knowledge than tossups. Since they will be read in their entirety, it is not necessary to put more obscure facts before more obvious facts — unless these facts are given in separate parts of a multi-part question. If a bonus has multiple parts, there should be some sort of theme connecting the parts. The theme could even be a hidden one that won't become obvious until the whole question is read.

Please avoid writing bonuses that ask for rote associations, such as "given the country, name the capital", or "given the title, name the author". Too many people still write questions of the form "given the title, name the author". There's nothing wrong with asking for the author of a book, but if you do, please include something about the book's contents.

1. Length

No Bonus may allow for more than four (4) separate team conferrals. Thus we are not permitting Bonuses with 5 or 6 parts, simply because these take too long.

No part of a bonus should have a text that exceeds six (6) lines.

2. Bonus formats

     Three parts, 10 + 10 + 10.

At least half of your bonuses should be of this type. The parts of the question should be of varying difficulty so that a team with an "average" knowledge of the subject should get some points but not a perfect score. Example:
BONUS (good)
Just as the U.S. has states like Alaska and Hawaii that are not contiguous
with the rest of the country, France has a number of overseas departments
scattered around the world.  Identify these departments for 10 points each.

A.  The most populous of the overseas departments, this island in the
Indian Ocean has been part of France since 1642.

ANSWER:  La Réunion

B.  Divided into the twin islands of Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre, this
Caribbean department is home to the dangerous volcano Soufriere.

ANSWER:  Guadeloupe

C.  Located 25 kilometres off the Newfoundland coast and occupied by the French
since 1604, this department is the last remnant of the French North American
colonial empire.

ANSWER:  Saint-Pierre and Miquelon

When writing a three-part bonus with a clear easy, medium, and hard part, it may occur to you to assign 5 points to the easy part, 10 to the medium part, and 15 to the hard part. But this is not a good idea, because the "hard" 15-point part is a double penalty: not only are teams going to have trouble getting the points because the question is hard, but if they can't get it, they lose access to half the points on the bonus. Assign 10 points to each part instead. You can have the hardest part first, last, or in the middle, depending on the interrelation of the parts of your question.

      Four parts, 5/10/20/30 or 10 + 10 + 5 + 5.

If you want to ask four questions on a common theme, one common way is to give 5, 10, 20, or 30 points depending on whether one, two, three, or four correct answers are given. Example from B2B:
BONUS (good)
Answer these related questions. Five points for one, 10 for two, 20 for three,
and 30 for all four: 

A.  Those born following the post-World War II baby boom, this term was the
name of a Billy Idol band and the subject of a 1964 Jane Deverson study of
British youth.

Answer:  Generation X

B.  Jenileigh Sawatzke currently holds this title. No one has ever been
elevated from this title, as representative of the Equality State, to the
position of Miss America.

Answer:  Miss Wyoming

C.  Set in Dorian mode, this song about loneliness was on the Beatles' Revolver

Answer:  Eleanor Rigby

D.  Generation X, Miss Wyoming, and Eleanor Rigby are all novels
by this German-born, Canadian novelist.

Answer:  Douglas Coupland

If a four-part bonus has two easy parts and two harder parts, you could assign 5 to each easy part and 10 to each harder part.

     Multiple answers to the same part.

Possibilities include: Example:
BONUS (good)
The Talmud states that "seven prophetesses preached to Israel". For 5 points
apiece, name any six of these female Jewish prophets.  You have 15 seconds.

Answers:  Abigail (or Avigayil),
Deborah (or Devora),

When asking for a reasonably long list like this, you should give more than the usual 5 seconds allotted to a bonus prompt. Fifteen seconds is a good amount. If the time limit is more than 5 seconds, you must write it in the question. The time limit is not up to the moderator's discretion, because it's supposed to be the same in every room.

If you've got a visual bonus with some labelled things in a picture, you could ask for players to name some number of things of their choice on the picture. An extreme example from VETO in 2005 showed the official photos of all members of the Senate (grouped by province or territory, and listed in alphabetical order within each) and asked players to name any six of them for 5 points each, in 15 seconds.

     Multiple answers in a certain order.

Avoid asking questions that give a list of things and ask the team to put them in some order.
BONUS (bad: don't write like this)
Place the following men's explorations in chronological order from
earliest to latest.  You'll get 5 points for each explorer placed in the
correct position, plus a bonus 5 for all correct.  They are:
Jacques Cartier voyages to Canada;
Henry Hudson sails into Hudson Bay;
John Cabot explores the east coast;
Champlain founds Quebec;
Martin Frobisher searches for the Northwest Passage.

Answers:  1.  Cabot     (1497-1498)
          2.  Cartier   (1534-1541)
          3.  Frobisher (1576-1578)
          4.  Champlain (1608)
          5.  Hudson    (1610-1611)

The problems with questions like this are:

On the other hand, under some circumstances, it is reasonable to ask a question that requires multiple answers to be given in a certain order. Example:

BONUS (good)
There was a British general election on May 5, 2005.  For 5 points for one, 10
for two, 20 for three, or 30 for all four, name the four parties that won the
most seats in the House of Commons, in order from most to least seats won.
You have 15 seconds.

Answers:  1. Labour Party
          2. Conservative and Unionist Party
          3. Liberal Democrats
          4. Democratic Unionist Party

     Progressive: 30/20/10, or 15/5 + 15/5.

Unfortunately, people seem to love to write bonuses that ask for one answer "for 30 points after one clue, 20 after two clues, or 10 after three clues". But it doesn't seem right that a team should get 30 points for uttering a single word. Anyway, these questions are really tossups in disguise, so you might as well rewrite them as tossups. You may include one or two 30/20/10 questions if you have a really good reason, such as use of multimedia (which don't work well for tossups). Example:
BONUS (good)
Name the location, for 30 points after one clue, 20 points after two
clues, or 10 points after all three clues.

For 30:  The location's name occurs in the title of the opera from which I'll
play an excerpt of its overture.
[[ PLAY audio1.mp3 ]]

The location's name occurs in the title of the film for which this is a poster.

It's the city pointed to by the arrow in this satellite photo.

Answer:   Algiers (al-Jazaa'ir), Algeria

In any progressive bonus, the first clue must specify the answer uniquely. (In the example above, there's only one location named in "The Italian Girl in Algiers".)

Less objectionable than 30/20/10 bonuses are bonuses that have two answers, each of which has two clues, the first one for 15 points and the second for 5. Example adapted from Mitchell Szczepanczyk:

BONUS (good)
Name each of these movies from the year of release and the working title for
15 points, or from an additional clue for 5 points.

A.  For 15:  1995, I was a Teenage Teenager

    For 5:  Alicia Silverstone starred in this adaptation of Emma.

Answer:  Clueless

B.  For 15:  1990, 3000 dollars

    For 5:  3000 dollars was the amount that Julia Roberts and Richard Gere
    agreed on in this movie. 

Answer:  Pretty Woman

Don't write bonuses asking for three answers progressively, 10/5 + 10/5 + 10/5, because if the team needs the 5-point clue every time, that's a total of six conferrals, which is too many. (Four conferrals on a bonus is the maximum number allowed.)

     Multiple choice, with at least four choices.

Multiple-choice questions are discouraged, but if you do write one, there must be at least four (4) choices in the list. Don't write Yes/No, binary and ternary (three choices) questions.

The most popular type of multiple-choice question gives a list of things and asks whether each item in the list is of one type, another type, both, or neither. Example by R. Hentzel and Dwight Kidder:

BONUS (good)
Fermion, hadron, both or neither? Given each particle, identify it as a
fermion, a hadron, both, or neither. You'll earn 5 points for one, 10 points
for two, 20 points for three, and 30 points for all four. The moderator will
give answers at the end. 

A. electron

Answer:  fermion

B. pion

Answer:  hadron

C. photon

Answer:  neither

D. neutron

Answer:  both

Don't write more than a couple of multiple-choice bonuses.

     Other bonus formats.

You can allocate bonus points in other ways, as long as the maximum possible is 30 points (and minimum is zero), the only possible values are multiples of 5, and no more than four team conferrals are required.

On bonuses, unlike on tossups, you can have points depend on a numerical range, such as a part that asks "for 10 points for the exact year, or for 5 points within 5 years". Example:

BONUS (good)
Give these distances in kilometres.
You get 10 points if your answer is correct within ten per cent,
or 5 points if it's correct within twenty per cent.

A.  What's the distance from the earth to the sun?

Answer:   147.5 million km
(accept in range 132.75 — 167.86 million km for 10 points,
or otherwise in range 118.00 — 183.12 million km for 5 points)

B.  What's the radius of the earth?

Answer:  6367 km (accept in range 5721 — 7016 km for 10 points,
or otherwise in range 5085 — 7654 km for 5 points)

C.  What's the distance from Bonavista to Vancouver Island, as the crow flies?

Answer:  4983 km (accept in range 4484 — 5481 km for 10 points,
or otherwise in range 3986 — 5980 km for 5 points)
Notice that you, the writer, need to include the numerical intervals in the answers you provide. The moderator doesn't have time to figure them out on the spot.

Questions that require calculations are much better suited as bonuses (or more precisely, parts of bonuses) than as tossups. When writing a calculation question:

BONUS (part, good)
B.  If a blackbody radiates one hundred watts at a temperature of
two hundred kelvin, how much will it radiate at a temperature
of four hundred kelvin?

Answer:  1600 watts
(The radiation scales with the fourth power of absolute temperature.)

3. Differences between criteria for tossups and for bonuses

Now back to those three criteria for tossups. Do they apply to bonuses?


Compared with tossups, it is not quite as important for bonuses to be answerable, or to have answers that are recognizable to everyone. Aim your difficulty level so that in a typical VETO game, players will get about half the bonus points. (Some teams should do better than this, some teams worse.) Of course you shouldn't write any questions that you don't think anybody at VETO will possibly get.

Another difference with tossup answerability is that all the bonuses in a packet should be roughly equivalent in difficulty level. Players get frustrated when their team is asked a bonus question that is clearly more difficult than a bonus question that they heard the other team being asked earlier in the game. (For tossups, it doesn't matter if some questions are notably easier or harder than others, because both teams have equal chances at answering tossups.)


It is just as important for a bonus to be clear about what it's asking for as it is for a tossup, though lack of clarity tends not to be as much of a problem because a bonus isn't intended to be interrupted. But here are some bad examples:
BONUS (part, bad)
For 10 points each, name the two men who backed the Gallipoli campaign
during the First World War.
Backed in what way? There were hundreds, if not thousands of men who were directly involved in the Gallipoli campaign, and there were other men in politics, finance, the press, etc., who supported it.
BONUS (part, bad)
Answer  the  following  about  the  AngloSaxon  epic  Beowulf 10 points a
Where  does  Beowulf  travel  to?
There are several possible answers: Denmark, Zealand, Heorot Hall, or back home to Sweden. The question should ask "which kingdom", "which island", or "which hall", and somehow specify that it refers to the beginning of the story.

One thing you do need to watch out for when writing a bonus question is that you must be very clear about how the question will be scored, and how many answers are required. Sometimes players miss these things if the question isn't worded clearly enough. (And occasionally the writer forgets to include them.)


Pyramidality (harder clues before easier clues) doesn't need to apply to bonuses, except in the progressive format (30/20/10 or 15/5) in which the team gets more than one chance at the same answer. But still, within a single bonus part, even though you're going to read the whole thing, it's a good idea not to put the best-known information first, because if you do, the players might know the answer right then, and not bother listening to the other interesting information you dug up about the answer.

Notes on Style

1. Packets should be easy to read aloud.

If you have time, try reading your questions aloud to your teammates. Avoid confusing wording, unintended tongue-twisters, and run-on sentences. Use at least as much punctuation as you would in normal text, in order to provide natural pauses for the reader. Some wire-service texts intended for radio announcers capitalize the word "NOT" when it occurs; this is usually a good idea, because you do NOT want the reader to miss this word.

2. Use correct grammar.

Writers must use correct grammar. Although many strict grammatical rules may interfere with the flow of questions ("the kind of English up with which I will not put"), you must use grammar that is at least colloquially correct ("the kind of English I will not put up with"). Use simple past tense ("they did") when appropriate, and past perfect tense ("they had done") to refer to events completed at or before a time spoken of.

3. Write out formulas in words.

Don't expect moderators to be able to read formulas the way you want them to be read. Example:

TOSSUP (beginning, bad)
Its moment-generating function is (1-2t)-N/2 ...

This would be better written as:

TOSSUP (beginning, good)
Its moment-generating function is the quantity one minus two t
raised to the power negative N over two ...

You might even consider writing out big numbers in words, such as "one million forty-eight thousand five hundred and seventy-six" instead of "1,048,576". A moderator is less likely to make a mistake when reading the words.

4. Pronunciation guides.

For foreign or unfamiliar words or names, include a pronunciation guide in square brackets immediately following the word. Use CAPITALS to indicate stressed syllables. Examples:
The acid/base indicator phenolphthalein ["fee-nole-THALE-in"] is used in ...

The economist John Maynard Keynes ["KAYNZ"] wrote his General Theory ...

Unfortunately, we can't expect readers to be familiar with the International Phonetic Alphabet, so you're limited to English-looking sounds in your pronunciation guides.

Remember that you, the writer, have time to look up the pronunciations of words or names that may be unfamiliar. The moderator does not have that luxury.

5. Avoid obscene language.

Prudes who don't like hearing indecent language — or, even worse, having to use it in reading your packet or in answering your questions — will usually feel too intimidated to voice their objections. Replace obscenities, in creative ways if necessary, with abbreviations or "expletive deleted". Examples:
Name these things in the tirade located at www dot F the south dot com ...

C.  At the end of the rant, the red states are told that they can't
have their (expletive deleted) convention here next time.

6. Avoid "Who am I?" format.

A lot of players competed in Reach For The Top in high school and heard questions that referred to the answer as "I", as in "I was born in ... I worked for ..." Don't do this. Use "he" or "she" or "this explorer", etc., instead of "I".

7. Don't use the abbreviations FTP, FAQTP, FTPE, FFPE, FTSNOP.

The only practical benefit to using these quiz-bowl in-crowd abbreviations is that you may possibly save one sheet of paper. You can't be sure who will be reading your packet, so don't expect the reader to know what the abbreviations mean. If you are in the habit of using them, then do a search-and-replace with their expansions:

Acceptable and Alternative Answers

1. General format

To be clear, write the answer immediately below the question, following the word "Answer:". The minimum information required for a correct answer must be underlined.

Include any and all alternative answers that mean the same thing. Examples:

Answer:  spam

Answer:  George A. Hormel and Company

Answer:  acetone or 2-propanone or dimethyl ketone or (CH)3(COCH)3 
If you'll be using ASCII format, so that underlining isn't possible, then put _underscores_ around the minimum information.
Make sure you underline all of the needed words in your answers, and only the needed words. Don't leave it up to the reader of your packet to judge whether or not a player has given enough of the answer.

2. Names of people

If the answer to a question is a personal name, then:

3. Foreign-language answers

If the question asks for the title of a literary or artistic work, and the original title is not in English, then both the original title and English translations must be accepted. Whatever you do, don't penalize players for knowing the original title! Examples:
Answer:  Casse-Noisette, or the Nutcracker ballet or suite

Answer:  Voina i Mir, or War and Peace

Answer:  Hepta epi Thebas, or Seven Against Thebes

Answer:  die Zauberflöte, or the Magic Flute
To find the original title, consult a literary encyclopedia such as Benet's, or try a library catalogue, many of which are on-line.

Translations of the title into languages other than English should not be accepted. So, for example, "La guerre et la paix", the French translation of "Voina i mir", would not be accepted unless the question were actually asking about a French translation.

Non-"standard" translations of original titles should also be accepted, especially if they are better than the standard ones. For example, the title of Dostoyevsky's Bratya Karamazovy is usually translated as The Brothers Karamazov, even though this is not correct idiomatic English. Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu is usually translated as Remembrance of Things Past, even though this is a mistranslation of the title. Include a literal translation when possible, together with translations that have appeared in print. Examples:

Answer:  A la recherche du temps perdu, or Remembrance of Things Past,
         or In Search of Lost Time [literal]

Answer:  Bratya Karamazovy,  or the Brothers Karamazov
Additional comment isn't needed in the last example, because the moderator should be aware that "The Karamazov Brothers" means exactly the same thing. Similarly, in the following example:
Answer:  Die Entführung aus dem Serail, or The Abduction from the Seraglio
an answer of "Kidnapping from the harem" would also be accepted, even if it does sound somewhat less refined.


Basically, a multimedia question is one that requires the moderator to do more than just read the text on the page. You must have one set of whatever props are required for every game room.

We are requiring at least one multimedia question in every packet, because these questions are fun to play on. But they're also fun to compose! These questions are banned in most American quiz bowl tournaments, but we think that this fact just adds to the thrill. You can appeal to all five senses:

1. visual

The easiest kind to do. Look up http://images.google.com or http://www.picsearch.com for a picture of a person or place or thing or work of art or map or diagram. Print out copies and ask about the picture, or individual features.

2. auditory

Let us know if your packet will be using audio! You'll need a player in every game room. We usually use laptops or cell phones.

As a source of audio clips, you need not limit yourself to your own CD/MP3 collection: the World Wide Web offers a wealth of MP3 and RealAudio files that you can record off your computer. You can look around on YouTube and then convert to an MP3 file via services such as YtMp3.

In our experience, it's best to limit each sound segment to at most 20 seconds, unless you have a bonus with several parts asking about a single sound segment, in which case up to 30 seconds is OK.

3. tactile

Bring something for players to handle, and ask questions about it. In 1999, Joel brought some leaves and asked the players to identify the trees they came from.

4. olfactory

Bring something for players to smell.

5. gustatory

Bring some food or drink and ask questions about it. (No alcohol, please.) In 2008, Bruce brought some bags of chips and asked the team that got the bonus to identify their flavours.
As you can imagine, multimedia questions tend to work a lot better as bonuses than as tossups — especially if the moderator (who may be from another team) is not familiar with the question beforehand.

Subject Distribution

VETO rounds will be untimed, with 20 tossups played in each. But you will have to write more than 20 tossups and 20 bonuses, because:

So your packet should include (at least): Use the following subject distribution for tossups, and the same distribution for bonuses:
Science, Math, Technology 3 — 4
History 3 — 4
Literature 3 — 4
Geography 2 — 3
Current Events 2 — 3
Fine Arts 1 — 2
Religion, Philosophy, Mythology      1 — 2
Social Science 1 — 2
Popular Culture, Games, Sports 1 — 2
General Knowledge 0 — 3

Avoid writing more than one question in the same narrow subject area, such as Manitoba geography or Margaret Atwood literature.

Canadian content quota:

Of the first 20 tossups, at least 4 must refer to Canadian people, places, things, events, or created works. The same goes for the first 20 bonuses.

Don't include more than 50% Canadian content overall. The person who wrote the all-Canadian packet in 2002 now regrets having done so. Also spread your Canadian questions around the various subject areas, rather than concentrating them in Geography or Literature for example.

Difficulty level:

Aim for a level of difficulty approximating that of questions you've heard at NAQT Division I sectionals. Try to keep the questions in your packet at a roughly similar level, especially for bonuses, because players may get mad at you if they're given a bonus that was much harder than the previous one given to the opposing team.


Mix up the order of your questions, so that you don't have a bunch of science questions followed by a bunch of history questions, etc.

Topic Areas and Reference Sources

Among the most reliable sources on the World Wide Web are the on-line encyclopedias:

Search engines and directories provide access to more pages, but caution: you may find not only a lot of useless links, but also completely bogus stuff written by any fool with an account on the Internet. You have to judge the reliability of sources you find:

Biographical sources: MIT OpenCourseWare includes course materials for classes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

OpenStax has textbooks for university subjects, available for free download.

The Packet Archive at Stanford University contains many American quiz bowl packets going all the way back to 1989, and the Collegiate Packet Archive has packets from more recent tournaments. These are great sources of examples of the format (some good, some bad). They can be good places to find inspiration for questions on similar topics. For example, you might see a question about a particular novel, and copy its structure in an original question about a different novel. Or, if you read a question on a subject you know a lot about, it might make you realize that you could write a more interesting question on the same subject, with different clues and different answers. A couple of caveats:

  1. DO NOT copy questions or parts of questions from the archives. Many other VETO players have seen these questions. These people will recognize copied questions and will lose all respect for you if you include them.
  2. DO NOT treat the archives as reliable sources of correct information. Confirm facts with a separate source. Many of us have written questions that we later discovered contained details that were incorrect — and they ended up in the archives.
Also check out the question packets from VETO in previous years: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005. 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. Since we'll have a lot of returning players, please write about something new. :)

Also see the list of categorized answers from VETO in 2005 through 2017 from the packets that were made public.

1. Science, Math, Technology:   3 — 4 tossups, 3 — 4 bonuses

This category includes, but is not limited to:

Your questions in this category should cover a diversity of subdsciplines.

Some possible answers to questions in this category:

Avoid questions that ask what letter is used to represent a physical quantity, or vice versa.

Some multimedia ideas:

WWW sources:

2. History:   3 — 4 tossups, 3 — 4 bonuses

Most teams seem to find that it's easier to write questions about History than about the other two major categories, Science and Literature, probably because History questions ask about names, dates and places, which are the emphases of quiz bowl.

You've got thousands of years and a whole planet to choose from. (Questions about extraterrestrial history usually fall under the category of Science, or perhaps Religion/Mythology.) Overall, your history questions should cover multiple time periods and geographic regions.

Don't forget about the world beyond North America and Europe, and don't obsess about wars. Wars are obviously important in history, but if more than half of your history questions are about wars, then it can seem excessive.

Some possible answers to questions in this category:

Some multimedia ideas:

WWW sources:

3. Literature:   3 — 4 tossups, 3 — 4 bonuses

This category includes, but is not limited to:

Your literature questions should be about works in several of the genres above; in particular, novels, poetry, and plays should always be represented in a packet. Include questions about works written in a variety of places and times. At least half of the literature you ask about should have been written originally in English, but literature in other languages should also be represented.

Writing questions about literature is hard for some of us who are not confident of our own level of literacy. Are we asking about works that are too obscure? If we ask about well-known works, are our questions too easy?

Some possible answers to questions in this category:

Some multimedia ideas:

WWW sources:

4. Geography:   2 — 3 tossups, 2 — 3 bonuses

This category includes:

Include questions about a variety of types of geographical features in a variety of parts of the world.

Some possible answers to questions in this category:

Some multimedia ideas:

WWW sources:

5. Current Events:   2 — 3 tossups, 2 — 3 bonuses

For the purpose of distribution quotas, questions about recent happenings in literature, popular culture, science and technology belong to those categories, not this one.

Some multimedia ideas:

WWW sources:

6. Fine Arts:   1 — 2 tossups, 1 — 2 bonuses

This category includes:

Some multimedia ideas:

WWW sources:

7. Religion, Philosophy, Mythology:   1 — 2 tossups, 1 — 2 bonuses

This includes:

Some multimedia ideas:

WWW sources:

8. Social Science:   1 — 2 tossups, 1 — 2 bonuses

This category includes, but is not limited to:

When asking questions about terminology in these fields, make sure that it's a standard term and not used only by your textbook or professor.

WWW sources:

9. Popular Culture, Games, Sports:   1 — 2 tossups, 1 — 2 bonuses

This includes most of the subjects that are covered at the "Trash" quiz tournaments, such as:

Some multimedia ideas:

WWW sources:

10. General Knowledge:   0 — 3 tossups, 0 — 3 bonuses

This category sweeps up the questions that are not subsumed in any other, such as:

WWW sources:

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