Quizbowl questions are meant to be both playable and educational; a player should be able to decide whether to buzz during the tossup and able to learn from the clues presented in the tossup afterwards. Therefore, we don’t want a tossup to just string together a random collection of facts; the clues should be related to each other by some substantive theme. Doing so makes it easier for players to follow the ideas presented, which helps players both to decide whether to buzz in and to learn from the tossup after it’s done. So, in choosing the topic of a tossup, a writer should choose not just the answer of the question, but also a theme for the tossup’s clues.
For example, if you’re writing a tossup on George Washington, you may want all of the clues to focus on his military career, or on domestic issues during his Presidency, or on his farewell address. A good tossup could incorporate some about all three, but it is easier and generally better to stick to a tighter theme.
Your giveaway can incorporate the theme, too, but you don’t have to avoid a proper giveaway just to make the theme work; your “Washington’s military career” giveaway should still mention “first President of the U.S.” at the end, even if it adds “Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army,” as the easiest military clue.
Consider this tossup from 2015-16 NHBB C-Set.
Prior to one battle, this man had a vision of enemy soldiers “falling like grasshoppers.” After a brief exile in Canada, this leader surrendered and was held at Standing Rock, where he was later killed in a botched arrest attempt. For 10 points, name this chief who toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West well after leading the Lakota Sioux to victory over American forces at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Answer: Sitting Bull
This tossup begins with a clue from the Battle of Little Bighorn, then moves to his later life, then returns to mention Little Bighorn in the giveaway. This isn’t necessarily bad, but a more effective tossup may look like this, also taken from 2015-16 NHBB C-Set.
One work by this man shows a member of the White League shaking hands with the KKK above a shield that reads “Worse than Slavery.” Another artwork by this man shows a man’s head replaced by a moneybag, and he depicted one institution as a tiger mauling a woman in a Roman Colosseum as faux-Emperor Boss Tweed looks on. For 10 points, name this 19th century cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly who feuded with Tammany Hall.
Answer: Thomas Nast
This tossup exclusively focuses on examples of Nast’s cartoons, making it somewhat easier to follow.