LightSpeed and QU12 Individual Open Buzzer Quizzes

Question Setting Guidelines

A set of guidelines to provide consistency when setting quiz questions, with especial sections on

  • General principles of question setting,
  • Principles of buzzer question setting,
  • LightSpeed quizzes, and
  • QU12 quizzes

    Rule 1; The only immutable: Be consistent

    General Quiz Setting Guidlines and Rules


    Use spreadsheet format, with the following columns

    A: Number: The number of the question within a set
    B: Question: The Question
    C: Answer: The Answer
    D: NB: Any extra information
    E: Genre: Genre
    F: Topic: Topic within the genre
    G: Author: Author of question
    H: Set: Overarching question set

    1Who holds the record score for a test inningsBrian Lara400 n.o.SportCricketSKOKset 35

    Columns B and C, questions and answers and should be 'wrapped'. These are obviously the critical components. Remaining columns should be 'shrink to fit'.

    Of course, bespoke columns can be added, and apart from questions and answers may be removed or not regarded. Just be consistent!

    Font: Verdana

    Font size: 14

    Embolden the critical part of the answer (e.g. Barrack Obama)

    Indent answers

    Borders: None

    Border Spacing: 1mm

    Do not punctuate the end of a question when it is in spreadsheet format

    Italicise titles and quotes if you can be bothered! Put quote marks outside the italics, unless they are part of the quote, e.g.

    Who had a UK number one with Mouldy Old DoughLieutenant Pigeon
    Which Milton sonnet ends with the line, "They also serve who only stand and wait"When I Consider How My Light is Spent

    Number column width: 0.75 cm

    Question column width: 13 cm

    Answer column width: 5.25 cm

    Row height: 'Optimal Row height' add 1 mm

    Page: A4

    Margins: 1 cm all round

    Quotation marks: Use only with actual quotations, not titles (see above). There are different types of quotation marks used in electronic word processing, which become indistinguishable, and do not always transfer as required

    Year Dates: When recording a date in Excel which is non-year dependent, enter it as being 1900 and format as mmmm d

    On what date do Americans celebrate Independence Day July 4 This is somewhat unsatisfactory, but Excel always needs a year for a date formatted cell.


    At all times discretion should allow correct alternative answers. e.g.

    Who wrote The Casual VacancyRobert Galbraithcould also be answered Rowling, Joanne Rowling, or J. K. Rowling

    We are blessed to live in an age when the great majority of information can be accessed instantly, there is no excuse to deny perfectly good answers with "That is not what's written on the sheet"

    Any quiz or question can be predicated with provisos, so for instance "Christian name required" might be a necessary understanding (see first names, below)

    First names: Generally use them and index answers by them, e.g. Emma Bunton, Emma Stone, Oliver Stone, William Shakespeare.

    First name requirement: A first name is often unnecessary, e.g.

    Who played Howard Hughes in The Aviator" Leonardo DiCaprioDiCaprio is sufficient.

    Where there is room for obvious ambiguity it is ultimately the responsibility of the answerer to make it clear, e.g.

    Who won the 2012 Olympic TriathlonAlistair Browleeshould be answered as a whole name, to distinguish him from his brother, Jonathan, who I believe came third


    Articles: Without doubt one of the thorniest issues is Do you include 'A' and 'The' in the answer? If you can avoid them, do so. For sure don't put them in for fun, for example

    Which mythological sisters had snakes instead of hair The Gorgons-The 'The' is a waste of space and confuses indexing

    There are (many) cases where the article should be included, so for example

    For which 1967 film did Mike Nichols win the 1968 Academy Award for Best Director The Graduate

    It is a vexing issue, I know, and there is no perfect solution, but for now it is 'The Sun' (newspaper and star), 'The Moon', and 'The Solar System', yet only our 'sun', Earth's 'moon', and a 'solar system'. Group names I leave it out (Beatles, Who, Doobie Brothers), but in song titles they remain (The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde, The Cutter) For feck's sake don't ask me what to do with Los Lobos and La Bamba! (Actually I would leave it at that, on the pretext that 'Los' is an inherent part of the group's name, but, technically, that might be wrong)

    Initials: where initials are the traditionally accepted form of a name use them. Do not add space within strings of initials, e.g. W.B. Yeats and D.B.C. Pierre, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

    U.S. or U.S.A. is 'United States' by default

    Self-stylings: Do not use them unless they are universally accepted. Billie Piper is not Billie and Geri Halliwell is definitely not Geri. Elvis may be 'Elvis' if you really insist

    Maiden and Married names, changed names: Use the most common one, e.g. Cheryl Cole, Yvonne Goolagong, Prince

    Honorary Titles: Avoid them whenever possible, as they are fraught with ambiguity, many peers, for instance, having held the same title. It is an absolute minefield for question-setters, I mean, look at the Wikipedia entry for Lord Halifax. It is redirected to this page, which doesn't even mention Lord Halifax

    Bob Geldorf and Paul McCartney are 'Sirs', but that is not a requirement to indicate understanding and plays havoc with indexing. Lord Nelson? Accept it as an answer but index as Horatio Nelson. Sometimes it is unavoidable; if so tilde the alterantive title after the proper name, for example

    Who was Prime Minister at the outbreak of the Crimean WarGeorge Hamilton-Gordon ~ Lord Aberdeen

    Somtimes the titled name is the more common version, so for instance

    Which English poet famously had a dog named BotswaineLord Byron ~ George Byron

    Use the Wikipedia entry for guidance on names. Add Lord Hairyballs if you feel you need to.

    Saints: In answers, Whenever possible avoid using saint to prefix the name of of a Saint. e.g. Say Luke The Evangelist as opposed to St Luke (see tautology, below). The majority of place names with saint in are written as St, e.g., St Albans, St Andrews, but not all, e.g. St. Louis. The stop should be used as the default users of the name use it.

    Ordinal numbers: Ordinal numbers should be written as plain numbers, e.g. Edward 2, World War 2. This allows them to sort.

    By default any name answer which has an ordinal number should have that ordinal number apart from 'the first', where although it may be added is not absolutely critical. It is always assumed that King Edward is King Edward 1 by default. (One good reason is that if, for instance King Stephen 2 was crowned in the future, there would be no need to change all the books about King Stephen for the past 900 years). Obviously a question-master may have a personal preference for the primary ordinal and require e.g. King Edward 1 but they would, if fair and consistent, also require Of England. To re-iterate, as long as an answer is reasonably unambigous, if it correct it should be given, e.g.

    Who was King of England in 1300Edward 1could be given as plain Edward, or Longshanks perhaps Hammer of the Scots, or even Malleus Scotorum

    Demonyms 1: It is assumed that if a name has a demonym (e.g. King Henry 8 of England), that the place is the place where the question is being asked, e.g. in an English quiz Henry 8 would be fine. For some places, providing there is no scope for ambiguity the demonyms can be omitted, e.g. Ramases can be safely assumed to be Egyptian unless indicated otherwise. In the hierarchy of assumptions, Open refers to golf, and The Open is The British Open golf championship. Otherwise a sport reference should be mentioned, e.g.

    Who won the US Open (tennis) in 2012Andy Murray

    Demonyms 2:To help indexing, try to avoid demonyms as answers, frame the question to require the place name, e.g.

    What country did Michael Schumacher representGermany

    As opposed to

    What nationality is Michael SchumacherGerman

    It is better to use the name of a country than a demonym, so use them, e.g.

    What nationality is Michael SchumacherGermany

    This may look uncomfortable, but it is much easier to detect replicated questions, especially with Holland/Netherlands/Dutch answers

    Holland is always Netherlands unless specifically stated otherwise

    AD or BC: AD by default

    "Mount", "Lake", "Isle of" etc Follow Wikipedia for guidance, so Portree is on Skye, but Douglas is on the Isle of Man, Annapurna is big, Mount Everest is bigger By all means embolden just the critical part, e.g. Mount Everest

    Line breaks are quite awkward in spreadsheets as they can transfer into seperate fields. Instead of line breaks use a spaced vertical bar, normally typed by SHIFT+/

    Who wrote "This is the Night Mail crossing the border, | Bringing the cheque and the postal order"W.H. Auden


    Tautology: Where something is in the question don't put it in the answer, e.g.

    Which Saint is attributed with the expulsion of snakes from IrelandPatrickas opposed to St Patrick

    Avoid writing surnames only unless absolutely unavoidable, e.g. Ludwig van Beethoven as opposed to Beethoven. By all means highlight the surname.

    Commas on serial lists. A 'serial' comma should go before the conjunction and in a list of three or more items, e.g.

    Who starred in The Cable Guy, The Truman Show, and Dumb And DumberJim Carey

    Time Setting: Endevour to make a question last forever, e.g.

    Who became the Chacellor of the Exchequer in 2010George Osborne

    As opposed to

    Who is the Chancellor of the ExchequerGeorge Osborne

    For fuck's sake don't do answers in block capitals. Why? because if somebody else wants 'sentence case' answers in block capitals, they just highlight the answer column and 'change case'; 'Caps'. But if the answers are capitalised only 'Capitalize every word' is available. Just don't do it, it's mimsy.

    Be careful with the use of the word 'famous'. It is often pointless. Eg: Who famously ran the first four minute mile? is just long winded (although I suppose there is a case for someone running one before!) That goes for other subjective/tautolgical additions and answers. Sometimes you may need it, Eg: Who most famously said "God doesn't play dice"?

    For tough 'How Much' questions think about awarding for small percentage error (Eg 10%)

    For 'what year' questions think about awarding half a point for a year either way

    Beware of 'buts' in buzzer questions (e.g. Julian, Anne, Dick and Georgina were all members of The Famous Five but who had a hit with "Take Five"?). in addition, commas, full stops and colons should always be double checked for swerviness.


    This list will cover most topics. Some subjective judgement is required. Of course there are many sub-topics, like I said, this is to a degree subjective, but don't put football on its own, call it Sport:Football or something like that. I use the 'incorporating' headings to lable my questions.

    Music incorporating Pop, Jazz, Classical, Radio, Musicals
    Arts incorporating Art, Architecture, Food, Language, Literature
    History incorporating History, Biography, Myth, Politics
    Pastimes incorporating Sport, Games
    Visual incorporating Film, TV, Theatre
    Current incorporating Froth, News, Celebrity, Fashion, Crime, Business, Lore (i.e. everything else)
    Science incorporating Maths, Technology, Nature, Medical, Chemistry, Biology, Astronomy, Physics
    Geography incorporating Geography, Social Sciences

    I'm sorry if you are the type of person who likes the answers written upside down on a different page; I really am.

    James WebbBuzzer Quiz Questions

    The Perfect Question: A guide to setting 'buzzer' questions

    Bearing in mind that variety is the spice of life (and quizzes) and that the most difficult questions should be saved for a table quiz, Buzzer quiz setters should strive to attain questions where:

  • The answer is unambiguous from the earliest stages of its asking,
  • The answer might become gradually more obvious as the question, or time, wears on,
  • The answer may be apparent to at least one competitor from an early stage,
  • The answer has a reasonable chance of being apparent to at least two, if not all, competitors by the completion of the question

    and the question master will:

  • Stop asking the nanosecond a buzzer goes off.

    Having said that, the perfect question, like the lost chord, is probably non-existent! Nevertheless, when asking a question for any buzzer quiz there are some intuitively logical guidelines. 'Perfection' may be unobtainable, but excellence and/or adequacy is/are quite possible.

    Primarily, if a buzzer quiz question is not eventually answered correctly it is a waste of valuable time and effort, not least on behalf of the question master. This does not preclude 'non-got' questions from being asked; they will be pitched in occasionally, as no question master can know the limits of the contestants' knowledge. One must imagine, however, that these 'non-got' questions are best saved for a 'table' quiz, i.e. a quiz designed to establish the boundaries of an individual's or a team's knowledge.

    Here are two independent yet broadly coincident perspectives of buzzer quiz question setting. One from Pat Gibson; not only both a champion buzzer and table quizzer, but also a writer of questions of great humour, interest and exquisite craft. The second thread will revisit some thoughts and examples published around Ian Weaver's most excellent Weaver's Week review on the UK Games shows web site.

    Pat Gibson on Buzzer Quiz Questions:

    With harder questions, or at least questions that start off very hard and then get easier the potential for a buzzer traffic jam is reduced.

    If people step forward for a buzzing quiz then they should expect material with a bit of 'chew' in it.

    At the very least the later stages should have the tougher material - if one can assume that the main players are contesting these later stages. There will still be flurries of mass buzzing as the question gets easier, with the additional 'clues' appearing, but the early bird (the first person with the correct answer) stands a better chance of catching his (rightful) worm.

    The question master should stop speaking immediately a buzzer is heard; it is human nature to finish a word or even a phrase but ideally the QM should go mute instantly - mid-word if needs be.

    Three scenarios...


    QM: "What is the capital of...
    Player: BUZZ
    QM: ...Australia?"
    Player: "Canberra"

    Is to be avoided at all costs - it is quite unfair on the non buzzers that the buzzing player gets to answer a question they did not get asked. The buzzing player is welcome to take his chances with an outrageous 1 in 250 guess - Good luck to him - 'psychic' answers are remarkable and exciting, but when the QM keeps going there is no guesswork left, the buzzer has been rewarded unjustly and the other 3 players have been diddled.


    QM: "What is the capital of Aus...
    Player: BUZZ - "Canberra"

    Is to be applauded The player took the 50/50 Australia/Austria gamble and was successful.


    QM: "What is the capital of...
    Player: BUZZ - "Canberra"

    Is to be applauded to the skies - the player took the 1/250(?) gamble and was successful. Of course a long streak of such extraterrestrial guesses might spook everyone in the room.

    N.B. I don't know if Pat was teasing, but in the 2003 quarter-final of University Challenge Leeds v Worcester Oxford, Leeds were on the ropes at 50-15 and Paxman asked

    "Shakespere, Cromwell, Gladstone, Emu and Kookaburra were among the names suggested for which Commonwealth capital city at the beginning of the 20th century?"

    Leeds buzzed in first and said "Melbourne".

    I could've died, as I was the dope who said it.

    Weaver's Week on Buzzer Quiz Questions:

    Ian Weaver is an astute critic of what should be the benchmark buzzer quiz starter standard of University Challenge. He is particularly scathing (rightly so) about the 'swerve' question which punishes the brave and sometimes brilliant. In his column dated 15th February 2003, he is describing the Sheffield v Merton game. ('Thumper' is Jeremy Paxman, by the way).

    Then comes this starter, and it's getting beyond a joke:

    Thumper: "Producing a narrow beam of coherent light, capable of travelling over vast distances without dispersion..."

    Subhaniel Lahiri, Merton: "Laser."

    Thumper: "Wrong, lose five points" ... and of being focused to give enormous power densities, the device known as "laser" has what full name?"

    Grimshaw, Sheffield: "Light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation."

    This exchange neatly sums up everything that is wrong with University Challenge this year. Week after week, we have a run of starters that set out on one course, arrive there, and set off on a completely different course to find the answer. This column has been pointing out some of the more egregiously long starters; though long questions do serve to break up the staccato rhythm of short, sharp starters, they need the brief counterparts to establish that sound. Week after week, we have to listen to Thumper drone on in this manner. It's not the host's show, it's the contestants'.

    More to the point, these unpredictable starters devalue University Challenge as a serious quiz

    Ian and friends went on to run a competition to find good buzzer questions. An edited version of the result page gives good guidelines and a sweet winner.

    My criteria for judging were:

    The question must be reasonably short. Anything over 75 syllables was marked down as over long.

    The question, or the answer, or the combination of the two, should be interesting to the casual viewer.

    The answer must be unambiguous, and the question must lead directly to the answer with no detours. In particular, it should be possible to buzz in part way through the question and either give the answer or a fact revealed in the question.

    The best single question was submitted by James Webb. It packs a lot into a short length, has multiple opportunities for a speculative buzz, and most of the UC audience will know of the answer, even if they can't answer the question itself. The winning entry:

    "Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders", meaning "Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise" is a famous quote from a speech given at the Diet of Worms in April 1521 by which religious reformer?'

    Answer: Martin Luther.

    But chill, most questions are OK!

    Finally, here is a video of a great set of questions from Chris Curtis, representative of some of the great stuff we get at LSQ, and hopefully the embodiment of what is written above.

    LightSpeed Quiz

    An LSQ requires 8 sets of 20 questions each, using the genres above as a guide. Obviously many questions will leak into other genres, and many questions are cross genre, but attempt to make a descision on what the 'clincher' is, so, for example for

    What name is shared by the a professor of anatomy and chemistry at the University of Oxford, 176697, the director of the 1976 12 minute film The Girl Chewing Gum, and the leader of the Labour Party from July 1992 until his death from a heart attack in May 1994John Smith

    would come under 'Politics', as the question is extrordinarily unlikely to be bagged on the first two clues.


    One day somebody else other than the author will set a QU12, but until that time here are the guidelines anyhoo.

  • For a preliminary (qualifying) round (Round 0) you will need about 30 LightSpeed quiz style random questions for perhaps half a dozen competitors.
  • For Round 1 you will need 60 questions that start meaty for the first dozen and gradually, by the time nine minutes has gone, have got to be Tracy from Essex standard. As of February 2017 the record is 52 questions in 12 minutes
  • For Round 2 you will need 12 questions, each one that starts rock hard and get to Tracy from Essex's pet cat's flea standard, all divided up into six parts. I like to split them with the old verticle line, obtained by pressing SHIFT+\ simultaneously, eg.

    |6| how many countries border Turkey, |5| how many US states begin with the letter M, |4| how many records on Desert Island Discs, |3| which number generally carries the asterisk on a keyboard, |2| how many lanes must a swimming pool have to be Olympic size, and |1 How many legs does a spider have8

  • For Round 3 I like to set 50, though it can be all over in less than 30. The majority (95%+) should be 'gettable', and I like to link them together, it makes for enjoyable setting and interesting, dynamic, and often breathrtaking buzzing, e.g.

    Two very similar TV characters, Silvio Dante in The Sopranos, and Frank "The Fixer" Taglione in the series Lilyhammer are both played by which guitarist from The E Street Band Steve Van Zandt
    In which year did Lillehammer host the Winter Olympics, the first to be held in a different year from the Summer Olympics, and the first and only one to be held two years after the previous winter games 1994
    Who won a Silver Medal at Lillehammer in 1994 seven weeks after she was clubbed in the right knee with a police baton after a practice session at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit in an assault planned by her rival Tonya Harding's ex-husband Nancy Kerrigan


    And try to be right!