I’d like to take a brief look at assigned questions in SchoolReach. This will be my second review of a specialized question, following my post on shootouts.
Assigned questions are a set of eight questions directed individually to each player in the match. Assigned questions began in Top of the Form and were brought over to Reach for the Top upon its establishment (team scrambles and who-am-I questions are the other specialized formats imported from the UK show). Assigned questions have had some variation over the years in how they played – they always begin with a question directed to one player for full value of points, but incorrect responses could lead to the question being dead, an option for a corresponding player on the opposing team to reply for full or half value, or rarely an option to open the question to buzzing. In modern SchoolReach, assigned questions are posed individually in seating order with an opportunity for the facing opponent player to pick up on incorrect answers, with all correct responses being worth 10 points.
Assigned questions represent a little less than 10% of gameplay. They are found in most packs, and usually occur in round 1. Assigned questions are not often the topic of post-game banter and highlights, even though it is the question format with the most points available to a team. I imagine it gets overlooked because each player only needs to listen for two questions, it’s hard to control play for a full 80 points, and round 1 can get overshadowed by impactful buzzes late in the game. Assigned questions are still worth looking at – certainly more than shootouts…
As a person that dabbled in writing a variety of assigned questions, I can say that they are potentially the laziest to write, or the most difficult. There are sequences out there that clearly required no effort to write, for example, picking eight world capitals or eight song titles and providing an introduction of “given a thing, name the thing it is connected to”. Unfortunately, those sequences give very little consideration to equality for each player; in a set of eight with Norse gods as answers, one player will be lucky enough on a default guess of “Thor” (not to mention the potential imbalance of a whole team getting easier parts than the other side). Another issue is that assigned questions are usually in a single subject (history, sports, literature, etc). Modern top teams are not built to have every player dipping their toes in each subject, but rather with players specializing in a few subjects. If a sequence has harder questions, it could all go dead except for the single player on each team that knows the topic (art questions can be particularly prone to this). Getting equality and accessibility in a single subject is actually a challenge to pull off, and was an exercise in frustration for me when I followed my distribution grid and saw that it was time for an assigned question on sports or social science!
Good assigned questions will be a hurdle as overall question quality improves in SchoolReach. I found them to be the most draining type to write, especially compared to a who-am-I or scramble that former quizbowl writers would find comfortable. It may be time to consider alternate ways to use an assigned format. The shootout is one, but perhaps there is room to incorporate assigned parts into relays or lists. For example, have a relay on a subject that starts with easy answers that the weak players in the subject can buzz on (and then step aside), leaving the remaining hard answers for the specialists. Or take a cue from Top of the Form: if you don’t earn your assigned part, your team can first buzz and bail you out for half value before it goes to the opposite side. Assigned questions should still play a role in SchoolReach as a way to reward teams that diversify from just a single monolithic player, but we may need some creativity to keep it fair.
I’ll offer a strategic hint for the current format of assigned questions. If player seating order is not a significant factor for your team, have the most generalized player sit fourth. This person might not necessarily be the top player, but is someone who could get a tiny bit of everything. By sitting fourth, the generalist will be able to eliminate answers that already came up in the phase, narrowing down the potential options for the question they will hear at the end. This is particularly useful for answer spaces that come from a somewhat limited list, such as Shakespearean plays, provinces, religions, or parts of a cell. But then again, take it with a grain of salt, as it would really only affect one question out of a game of more than eighty.
I will be off for the rest of the summer. I will return after Labour Day with a preview of the upcoming year, so feel free to bring any insights.