Being a Good Quizmaster (QM)




The Quizmaster (QM) is an integral and highly important part of the trivia match. As well as being an arbitrator, the QM is there to ensure that everyone has a good time. That's easy to understand if you're having a trivia match in your own home -- the role of the host is an obvious one to assume. We assign each QM to a specific pub for the season, and we want them to be the host for the evening.

Now that doesn't mean making sure everyone has enough beer; that's the pub's responsibility, and they're usually quite good at it. No, the Quizmaster must at all times remember that this is NOT a life-or-death struggle, but a social outing. That means no put-downs for wrong guesses, and a certain amount of latitude in making rulings. Timing to the split second, and hairsplitting in determining a correct answer, can quickly turn the players off.

An example will illustrate the point. The question asks for the first name of the classical composer Brahms (the correct answer is "Johannes"), and the player answers "Johann." The picky QM will simply say "incorrect," and move on. A lenient QM (especially one who has given the other team a close ruling earlier) will accept "Johann". A QM somewhere in the middle might say "you're close -- try again." This latter is something we frown on, but it is occasionally the right thing to do.


The Inscrutable QM

It's important that the QM not give clues when making a ruling; simplest is just to say "No, that's not correct" and move to a team answer, or to the opposition for a steal. This is especially true when the answer consists of more than one item. Suppose, to give an example, the player has been asked to name four of the Great Lakes, and responds "Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Winnipeg". The QM must simply say "incorrect", without giving away which or how many of the parts of the answer were actually incorrect.


Incomplete Answers

Often a player will give an incomplete or partially correct answer. In these cases, the QM should ask for clarification, or for "more information". For example, the player has been asked a question to which the correct answer is "watermelon", but the answer they give is "melon". The QM should not mark this incorrect, but should ask for more information or "could you be more specific", giving the player the chance to refine the answer and come up with the particular melon that is wanted.


The "Smith Rule"

Answers that are people's names can be a problem for the QM. What do you do if a player answers the question "Who was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963?" with the name "John Fitzwilliam Kennedy"? Was it close enough or were they actually thinking of a different person? We get around this, and help out our poor QMs, by having a generic rule called the "Smith Rule". The Smith Rule states that, unless the name is something common like Smith or Jones, only the last name need be given. In a lot of cases, the QM will decide whether the Smith Rule applies or not.

However, where the Smith Rule does apply, any player giving more than just the last name does so at their own risk. In the previous example, under the Smith Rule, the player would be ruled to have given an incorrect answer, while "Kennedy", or "John Fitzgerald Kennedy" would both be acceptable responses. Similarly, if the question were "Who was the host of the game show You Bet Your Life?", the answer "Marx" would be greeted by a request for more information. With too many alternative Marxes to choose from (and don't forget Karl, who Monty Python fans will know was a game show regular, as well as Harpo and the rest), the player must come up with Groucho Marx to get the point(s).


Alternate Answers

Quizmasters often run into situations where they have to rule on "alternate answers". This can happen for several reasons; most commonly, however, it happens because of imprecise or inaccurate question setting: the question as asked has more than one answer, or the answer given is just plain wrong! Let's face it -- anyone can make an error in setting the questions.



Protests will now be settled at the time of play through the checking of disputed answers on the internet.
The Quizmaster's word at the game itself is law -- for that night. And at home, that will be the end of the matter (unless you want to check references on the Internet at the break!). However, in our league's play, there is a protest mechanism. When the QM cannot deal with a suspected error by themselves (a matter of personal general knowledge as to whether or not to allow the player's alternative answer), a protest is written on the back of the scoresheet, is then researched and responded to by the person who set the question(s). The personal or team score is adjusted if necessary if the protest is upheld. (This is actually a major difference between our league and some of the others; the others do not change scores as a result of protests.)



Like a soccer referee, the QM is the sole timekeeper. Start timing the sixty seconds as soon as you have finished reading the question; if they ask you to read it again, the clock keeps going. Give time checks -- announce "thirty seconds", "fifteen seconds", and "five seconds". Similarly on steals, the other team should have been using their time well, and five seconds should be plenty. You may, however, be asked to recap the first team's incorrect answers, which is fair.


A Good Game Is a Good Time

Always remember that the purpose of the game is for everyone to have a good time. Enforce the rules as Quizmaster, but never in such a draconian way that people become aggrieved or upset. Err on the side of leniency in all matters.