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Trivia On-Air Guide
Guide to Writing On-Airs and Matching Songs to Them
On-Air Questions and Answers
It's a good idea to phrase an on-air question to encourage short answers.
(These are excerpts from my emails to the Wombat listserver back in spring 2004.)
Guidelines for beginning question-writing:
- You do NOT need to have a realm, subrealm, and song match on questions when you initially submit them. If you do, that's just great and peachy and wonderful â€“ but if you don't, we can always add them later. Don't neglect to send a good question just because you can't think of a brilliant subrealm or something. Provide them if you have them, but don't worry about it if you don't. The question is really the point - the rest is just frosting.
- You DO need to check your facts. Seriously. It's very not-cool to get into a contest and find that the reason no one is getting the answer is because the answer is wrong. Generally, checking facts for a question takes roughly 30 seconds, so it's worth the effort.
- And finally, when you get a good on-air idea, write it down, write it down, write it down! People are always having great ideas and then forgetting them before they reach their email. That's sad. Don't do that.
Guidelines for slightly more advanced question-writing:
I thought I'd help out those of you who haven't written many questions before by providing what I think are two of the keys to making a good factoid into a good Trivia question, if you're interested:
QUESTION: A man in Europe found something weird in his house. What was it?
BETTER QUESTION: Last January, Pierre Duchamp returned from a shopping trip to find something highly unexpected in his kitchen. What was it?
It's not hard to figure that there are roughly 5 squintillion correct answers to the first question, and no way for a team to know which we want. The second, though, narrows the field enough that we can safely assume there's only one answer. This means that teams are far less likely to yell at us, which is good.
2. Comic timing.
QUESTION: Joe Schmoe holds the record for most raw giant squid eaten in one sitting. How many raw giant squid did he eat?
BETTER QUESTION: On March 27, Joe Schmoe set a new world record by eating 67 of these in 30 minutes. What did Joe Schmoe eat?
This one's simple - the most entertaining part of a question should almost always be the answer. Eating 67 squid is hardly more interesting than eating 52 squid or 74 squid, but eating 67 squid *is* more interesting than eating 67 cheeseburgers. Think of the answer as the "punchline" to your question, and organize it accordingly. After all, if you're going to wait the length of a song to hear an answer, you want it to be worth the wait.
Team Deine Mutter ist eine Geekenwehrmachtstaffel strove to keep all songs between 2 and 4.5 minutes long. The idea is not to have a song go on for too long but also make sure the teams have enough time to call in and make their guesses.
In general, a good song match gives oblique hints to the answer and may also relate, by song title or artist, to the topic or to the answer.
Also, given that Trivia goes on overnight, keep as many of the songs as you can perky and peppy. Save extra-peppy songs you don't have a good match for to have played during the 4:00 a.m. break.
The Perfect Williams Trivia Song
Des Devlin, 2004:
The perfect on-air song was released eight years ago. The perfect on-air song got a lot of radio airplay, and was all over MTV, too. It peaked in the Billboard Top 10. It's three minutes and five seconds long. Naturally, it's up-tempo, maybe even dancey. The group that performs it never had as big a hit again. If we're lucky, they had no other hits at all. Everybody playing Trivia used to hear the perfect on-air song three times a day, for 6 weeks, eight years ago, but hardly ever since then. The recording artist has a provocative band name (or else the song title's unusual-- hey, why not both?) which can be exploited to create a non-linear connection with a trivia question. This connection ideally involves sex, mayhem, or smug superiority on the part of the team asking the question.
To sum up: there is no perfect on-air song.
But, if you keep all the songs in the 2:30-3:40 range (editing mercilessly where required)....
....if you choose an eclectic mix of big bouncy hits, and naggingly familiar obscurities....
....if you play 90+ songs that haven't been used in previous Trivia contests....
....if you emphasize music from the last decade, but make sure to span a wide range of eras....
....if you keep the sound generally peppy, especially your first 10 songs and your last 30....
....if you get a lot of teammates involved in nominating songs and matches, so that the whole contest isn't filtered through one set of ears....
....if you really work hard, free associate, and don't give up looking until you have at least 20 truly witty matches, so that a question about doors doesn't always end up paired with a song by the Doors....
....well, then people will STILL complain about the music. But Baby Jesus in Heaven will know you did a good job.
Steve Homer, May 18, 2005:
"Including a "hint" to the answer in the song choice is a far, far cry from giving away the answer. The best hints are oblique, and preferably funny.
Here's some examples of what I would consider "good" song matches, all from the Click Here contest:
Question: Oh, baby! What's going to get 9 inches longer in 2004?
Answer: The NCAA basketball 3-point shot.
Song: "Beat Surrender" by the Jam
Question: The town nearest the center of Utah is Levan. How did Levan, Utah get its name?
Answer: "Navel" spelled backwards.
Song: "The Hardest Button to Button" by the White Stripes
Question: As many websites will tell you, we're down to 155 days. For what?
Answer: For the Olsen Twins to become legal.
Song: "Let Me In" by the Sensations
Question: Uncombined alkali, carbonates and various mineral matter make up 0.56% of what product?
Answer: Ivory Soap.
Song: "No Scrubs" by TLC
Question: According to a recent study, how do herring communicate with each other underwater?
Answer: Flatulence. Scientists call the fishies' system "FRTS"-- Fast Repetitive Tick Sounds.)
Song: "Tiny Bubbles" by Don Ho
Question: According to Mensa, who is the smartest movie character ever? Who's second?
Answer: Will Hunting; John Nash.
Song: "I Dig Your Mind" by the Nervous Breakdowns
Question: Hall of Fame NFL coach George Allen is known for developing the "nickel defense," as well as creating offseason training camps. However, another popular football tradition didn't work out as well for him. What happened in Allen's final game, when he was coaching Long Beach State?
Answer: His players dumped a keg of Gatorade over his head. He contracted pneumonia, and died weeks later.
Song: "Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leppard
Question: What is the unique literary accomplishment of the Star Trek novelization "The Brave and the Bold"?
Answer: It includes characters from all 5 "Star Trek" TV series.
Song: "Stay Together" by N.E.R.D.
Question: Harmon Killebrew is the Jerry West of baseball.... or conversely, Jerry West is the Harmon Killebrew of the NBA. How so?
Answer: They're the models for the silhouettes in their sports' respective logos.
Song: "Shapes of Things" by the Yardbirds
Question: What was atypical about the opening credits for last year's "Daredevil"?
Answer: They were in both English and Braille.
Song: "Fingertips" by Stevie Wonder"
Rachel, May 18, 2005:
"I've always thought that a perfect song match is one which
relates to the question but doesn't make the answer obvious. I'm willing to use a song that gives away the answer if it's a really funny pairing, or if the song is just too fantastic to resist (often, for me, that means it's a wacky cover, or something truly geektastic) but my preference is to go for songs that relate to the question but keep the answer obscured.
Then again, I don't think it's a hard-and-fast rule."
Laura, May 18, 2005:
"It can be rather annoying to start
googling for an answer and realize just as you're about to figure it
out that the song gives it away anyway..."
Sandy, May 18, 2005:
"The music wins you a separate point for a reason. It shouldn't be an automatic two points when you call in.
The way I learned it (and I've now run my fifth contest and selected music for four of them), a song should be related to the question but never hand you the answer -- except maybe if the question is really obscure without a strong hint, or it's just too funny a match to resist.
I expect this is one of those aesthetics-of-Trivia things that give each team its own style."