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Help me make an awesome trivia night!
December 17, 2011 1:30 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone help me come up with a pub trivia points system?

Hi, I'm an unemployed stand up comic who has come to the conclusion that in this down economy, I need to make my own job while trying to find one.

So I've decided to either create a system of points allocation for a pub trivia night at a bar I already put stand up shows on at, or use an already existing system that is either cheap to licence for use, or some sort of 'open source' free to use game system.

A third option would be to take an already existing trivia board game and play that but i dunno if there is some sort of copyright implication involved with that.

I live in the US in Oregon if any of this matters.
posted by keepmathy to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is there a reason you're looking for a points system per se? Most pub quizzes I've done simply go with 1 point for each correct question, sometimes with added bonus points ("What is matthowie's dog's name? For one bonus point, what color is he?") and that's all. After all, it has to be a system that still makes sense after a few beers...
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:41 PM on December 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Yeah, the questions are the tricky part, not the points. I play a lot of pub trivia and I HATE the versions with weird points rules. One question = one point (with maybe a few bonus points or 2-part questions where each part is worth half a point) is the only way that doesn't suck.
posted by brainmouse at 1:54 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

2-part questions where each part is worth half a point

People are bad at fractions. If you want to have a lot of 2-part questions, make the "normal" questions worth 2 points and make the parts of 2-part questions worth 1 point each.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:00 PM on December 17, 2011

My favorite pub trivia is something like the following (I think - it's been awhile since I've been to this place):

Round 1 - 10 questions, 1 point each, 1 2-point bonus question (all questions on a particular category/topic)
Round 2 - 10 questions, 1 point each, 1 4-point bonus question (all questions on a second particular category/topic)
Round 3 - 10 questions, 1 point each, 1 6-point bonus question (all questions on third particular category/topic)
Round 4 - 10 questions, 2 points each (or maybe some other number, I forget, but it's bigger than 1), 1 8-point bonus question (questions in this round are all random wild card sorts of things)

Now here's the tricky part: you may only try for the bonus once. If you attempt the bonus in round 1 and get it wrong, you may not try for a bonus again. On the other hand, if you hold out for the bonus question in round 4, and then don't know it, you have also screwed yourself out of earlier possible bonus points. Keeps things exciting.

I hope I explained this in a way that makes some sort of sense.
posted by naoko at 2:04 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

During a 'music round' where you play the first few seconds of a song, it's common to have one point for song title, one point per artist. Otherwise, one or two points consistently per question is good. Don't change it around too much from question to question or round to round.

As others have said, coming up with questions with good, concise, exact and non-controversial answers (and not *too* obscure) is the main work involved.
posted by gimonca at 2:12 PM on December 17, 2011

Great answers ya'll, I really appreciate the input, I thought for some reason that I would need some complex sort of scoring system but I think noako really nailed it for me.

Keep any other suggestions coming! Especially if they pertain to trivia sets that are free and or cheap:)
posted by keepmathy at 2:36 PM on December 17, 2011

The guy who runs the trivia night I like says he mostly uses Wikipedia and IMDB and the like to come up with things. Also, sometimes when he is (presumably) feeling lazy he'll do a map round, where the 10 questions are just the names of countries or seas or whatever and you have to label them on a map (which he has printed out a bunch of in advance) - generally he would pick a continent and include a mix of absurdly easy things (Eqypt) and hard-for-the-non-geo-nerd things (Cameroon, where the ef is that?) in the list.
I also like things with songs.

Also, take my advice re: points with a grain of salt, since a lot of folks here seem to think that sort of thing is annoying. I love it though.
posted by naoko at 2:44 PM on December 17, 2011

Some tricks I used when I set the quiz in my local:

One way of coming up with a good question is to take a preposterously specific one that no one would know, like "what was the flight number of the plane that landed in the Hudson River in January 2009" and turn it around, so the specifics are in the question, and the answer is more general: "In what river did US Airways Flight 1549 to Charlotte, North Carolina land in January 2009?" The aim is to make the question fair, but still give people an enjoyable "ah ha!" moment.

I did a round (5 questions) of guess the year: birth of famous person, death of another famous person, and event, e.g. "Birth of Princess Eugenie, Death of puppeteer Jim Henson, Nelson Mandela freed from prison". I gave 2 marks for exactly right, and 1 mark for a year either side. It's fun because most people have enough information to make an informed guess, but getting both marks is difficult. Wikipedia makes setting these really easy.

Depending on your format/prize, you might need to prepare a tie-breaker. This needs to be a big number question, so that the teams are making educated guesses (not knowing the answer) the closest team wins, e.g. "What is the current population of the European Union, as estimated by Eurostat, its in-house statistics office".
posted by caek at 3:02 PM on December 17, 2011

My trivia pub does this: top 3 teams in each round get an entry in a draw (the pub uses keys engraved with numbers). As trivia has become more popular, that's been enlarged to the top 4 scores, allowing ties (so there might be 5 or 6 teams placing). There are 3 rounds, so you can get a total of 3 keys, if you place in each round. At the end of the game, the overall winner gets all the remaining keys. Then the pub draws a key for a winner. So the winning team has the best chance, but it's possible for others to win too.
posted by smorange at 3:15 PM on December 17, 2011

Have you ever attended a pub trivia night? This is going to be a lot easier and much more successful if the answer is yes.

Especially if they pertain to trivia sets that are free and or cheap:)

Do you mean trivia questions? This is by no means an unsolved problem; there are loads and loads of trivia sets online. You can get them for free or buy sets for $20 or under. There are also entire libraries of books for setting questions.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:25 PM on December 17, 2011

I think I'm fine in the questions dept. It's really the points and round system that I was most curious about. The mechanics seem like the hardest part.
posted by keepmathy at 3:29 PM on December 17, 2011

Also, I have attended and won a few bar trivia nights.
posted by keepmathy at 3:30 PM on December 17, 2011

The mechanics are only hard if you make them hard. Just as a bunch of questions, and award two points for correct answers. Optionally: group batches of questions by theme, and set a picture round. Anything more complicated is a pain to set, explain and administer, slows things down, and is not what anyone I've ever met comes to pub quizzes for.
posted by caek at 3:48 PM on December 17, 2011

You need to have a rule whereby teams above a certain number of people (say 6) are penalised one or two points for each extra person. This allows differently sized teams to compete, without breaking up large teams or dooming small ones.
posted by pompomtom at 3:57 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I went to a trivia night that used an odd points system that seemed to make it more exciting:

Each round is 5 questions, on a particular theme. For each of those 5 questions, players can assign a weight of 1-5. The question they are most confident in the answer, they give it a five, down to the answer they are least confident in where they assign it a 1. If you get the question right, you get that many points. There is no deduction for wrong questions. It wasn't too complicated, and added a nice layer to the game.

There was a final question that was different, and for that one, I believe you could wager all (or none) of your previously won points. This was a delightfully heartbreaking twist...
posted by gjc at 3:59 PM on December 17, 2011

So, I'm going to dissent with the crowd and say mechanics have a bigger impact than you think.

The two main trivia nights I've frequented have dramatically different mechanics and they have a big impact on the way things go down. One is read a question, accept written answers for a few minutes while music is on, then give correct answer and then read the next question. The other format is a round of 10-15 questions, then clarifications and repeats of the questions, then 10 minutes to turn in answer sheets, then next round.

The first has more even pace to the night, but you answer fewer questions. There's more time to chat with people get drinks, and has a more social atmosphere. It also places less stress on the MC. The second format has a much more pronounced ebb and flow of action, where people listen very carefully for like 5 minutes at a time, focus on the answers for like 10 minutes, and only have a break in the 'action' for side chatter/socializing once or twice a half hour. The other thing about the second format is that it has the MC interrupting conversations for about 5-10 minutes at a time, and if the MC is not comfortable with audience yet, or not a very good comic personality, it can be really dry. The MC who is currently doing the trivia at the bar with the second format has developed like a college hipster comic personality (imagine a lot jokes about Full House and shitty 90's bands) that helps make the format entertaining... so if you've got experience doing stand-up it may suit you well and play to your strengths, but you have enough rope to hang yourself and it is very possible to bomb a night of trivia.

The first format doesn't have that problem. The MC at that trivia night IS NOT a very good comic, he has an entertainer's personality and has kinda developed a stage presence, but only interrupting the music briefly every 2-5 minutes puts a lot less of the onus on him.

The exact scoring system of the first format may be under copyright but I'm not sure how much that could be enforced. Basically there are six rounds of three questions and two bonus questions. Each round there are three point values that the contestant/team can assign to the questions as they choose, so they can make am answer THEY KNOW worth 9 points and leave the 2 point value for a category they don't know very well. The three categories of the different questions in each round are read out at the beginning of the round, so the participant can strategize a little bit with their point allocation. I'm probably making it sound more complicated than it is, but its actually a pretty good system, keeps things interesting, questions can be worth more points later in the game keeps teams in the game, etc.
posted by midmarch snowman at 4:15 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

At my favorite trivia night (hosted by Twitter's @NYCTrivia), there are 5 rounds of 10 questions each, one point per question. Round 1 is "On this Date" (questions relating to things happening/people born/people died on this date), Round 2 is an Audio Round (name that Artist of each short clip), Rounds 3-4 are different random themes each week, Round 5 is Tri-Bond.

The only twists: After Round 2, and after hearing the categories for Rounds 3 and 4, you indicate on your score sheet which (round 3 or round 4) you want to be your bonus round, for which you receive double points. And the final question of the night is the "Scrabble Question", which has a number for an answer -- something no one would ever guess exactly [except for one magical night, when a team knew the exact height of Mt. Kilimanjaro]. So named because the team with the closest guess earns 1 point for each team, and all the others lose 1 point [like your unused tiles at the end of a Scrabble game]. This was eventually adjusted to just giving a 7-point (I think) bonus to the correct team, since there could be more than 20 teams competing, which would be a huge swing at one point/team.
posted by bah213 at 4:58 PM on December 17, 2011

We used the Naoko Method at a bar trivia night I used to host and it worked really, really well. Consider this another vote for that method - easy to keep track of, keeps the audience involved.

Occasionally there would also be a round where the first answer had one answer/one point, the second question had two answers/two points, the third question had three answers/three points, and it was all or nothing for each question. So if, say, you could name all six members of the brat pack you got six points, but if you only got five of the seven wonders of the world your team didn't get any credit for that question. Something kinda different to consider, mix up the format a bit.
posted by troika at 5:04 PM on December 17, 2011

OH, also: the other thing that I really loved about my old favorite trivia night was that there was not only a prize for each night's winner, but also a bigger prize at the end of each "season" for whichever team had racked up the most cumulative points over the last x months - definitely an incentive to keep showing up, without being something that screws newbies over (e.g. I have been to another trivia night where the winner got to add on extra points to their tally automatically the next time they showed up - which was exciting to me since my team won, but maybe not super fair). There was a serious crowd of regulars at this place.

Damn, I miss DC.
posted by naoko at 5:52 PM on December 17, 2011

I used to do a trivia night that was almost exactly what gjc suggested, and it was a lot of fun because there was this additional element of managing your points by weighting the answers by your own confidence.
posted by gauche at 6:26 PM on December 17, 2011

My guy does this: four rounds of escalating difficulty, with each question worth 1,2,3, and 5 points. One of the middle rounds is either a 50/50 (e.g. a list of events that had to be categorized before or after 1920, or a list of news anchors categorized into CNN/Fox News) or a theme round (e.g., each answer contains the name of a US state). Between rounds, he gives 'name that tune' for small prizes or candy.

Good luck!
posted by supercres at 9:27 PM on December 17, 2011

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