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Writing common link tossups (especially history)

Posted: Wed May 31, 2017 3:42 pm
by Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov
I'm trying to write some common link tossups (all subjects, but mostly history) but am finding it hard to find clues. If I use Wikipedia to find clues, what articles to I draw them from? Any and all advice about finding sources for common link tossups is appreciated. Thanks!

Re: Writing common link tossups (especially history)

Posted: Wed May 31, 2017 4:06 pm
by Skepticism and Animal Feed
I haven't really played or written quizbowl in the last few years, so I'm not up on the latest trends, but I wrote hundreds of history tossups, including entire history-only tournaments, in the years 2007 - 2013 and perhaps not everything I know is obsolete. Also a lot of the sample clues I use below are totally made up.


So generally common link tossups in history fall into a few buckets. There are "One person with this name" tossups, where the answer is something like "Michael" or "Zoltan" and the clues are all like "One person with this name issued the Golden Bull allowing Saxons to settle in Transylvania. Another person with this name assassinated the Prime Minister of Bavaria during the Meigs Crisis", etc. You could, in theory, look at the Wikipedia article "Michael" or "List of Michaels" for content for this tossup. Another common variant is "One member of this dynasty" where the answer is something like "Braganza dynasty" and the clues are all like "One member of this dynasty issued the Golden Bull of 1276. Another member of this dynasty issued the Golden Bull of 1501", etc. etc. Similarly, you could theoretically read the Wikipedia article "Braganza Dynasty" and then articles on individual members for content. Another variant is "One person with this position" where the answer can be something like "Foreign Minister of Austria" or "US Secretary of Transportation" and the clues are all like "While holding this position, one person controversially suggested that Indonesians are not fit to serve as traffic engineers. The holder of this position during the Ford administration was nicknamed 'Old Molly'", etc. You could read the Wikipedia article about "Secretary of Transportation" for clues, and look up individual articles on them. You could also theoretically write action common links, where the answerline is something like "invading Austria" and the clues are like "One person who performed this action convened the Grand Sanhedrin in 1806", etc. Once you venture into these less reified common links, you don't necessarily have helpful lists to work off of. A variant is the document common link, where the answerline is something like "Golden Bulls" or "Pragmatic Sanctions". Further down the line you have common link answerlines like "Pink Scares" ("during one of these events...") and geographic answerlines like "The Black Sea" ("one battle that took place in this sea...")

Anyway, you could do a lot of the Wikipedia jockeying above and write a passable common link tossup. They will probably sound uninspired and artificial to a lot of players. A better approach would be to simply just learn a ton of history and ideas for common link tossups will come to you as you see patterns in your knowledge. This will let you write common link tossups that play better with players who know a lot of history and will sound, for a lack of a better word, more "natural" to them because they'll see those same patterns. It will also let you ensure that all the clues you mention in your tossup are actually important and well known. I have played so many bad common link tossups on things like "Golden Bulls" that mention 5 totally irrelevant, unimportant golden bulls that nobody cares about and then drops a really famous one in the last clue, and it basically becomes a one line speedcheck question.

Also insert standard disclaimer about making sure that clues are unique. For example, the current Secretary of Transportation used to be Secretary of Labor under a previous President. If you put a clue relating to her in the first clue of a common link tossup on "Secretary of Transportation", make sure it doesn't also apply to a potential answer of "Secretary of Labor".