Think Different best practices

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Think Different best practices

Postby Vermonter » Mon Dec 07, 2015 2:00 pm

I've now hosted five Think Different games, and thought I'd share the lessons I've learned from each of them. My aim is to help new hosts, while perhaps giving veterans some additional food for thought. Some of this comes from the excellent list started by RandyG a few years ago.

There is really only one rule to hosting a TD: This is YOUR game. Let your personality shine through and have fun with it. At the same time, however, running a TD is time-consuming, so you want the highest return on your investment.

Over the past few years, I've become aware of one psychological quirk of human nature: People are always unconsciously looking for reasons to not do things. Make it easy for players to enter. Whether your rules are too tricky or your topics are too obscure, the more twists and turns you throw in, the fewer entries you’ll get.

And no matter what, even if it's your tenth time at the helm, it never hurts to ask someone for feedback on your game: both the rules and the questions. I am always happy to help out, and I know several others here are, as well.

Questions

Keep the questions general: think Trivial Pursuit categories. Exceptions can be J! wheelhouse topics, such as U.S. presidents, British monarchs, world capitals, and Shakespeare. When my focus is general knowledge, I aim for at least one general question in each Trivial Pursuit area.

It's much better to make the questions overly easy than to go for obscure or niche information. Ask yourself: can everyone playing this game give at least 2 or 3 correct responses? If not, I'd suggest ditching it, or refining it to make it more accessible. There have been several times when I started my entry for a TD, got hung up on one question, put it off for later, and forgot to submit.

10-12 questions is ideal. More questions means more fun, but too many questions will scare people away. I like for each question to have between 9 and 15 possible responses: large enough to give players options but small enough to force them to think through their decisions.

Do as much as you can on the front-end – particularly writing tight, accessible prompts to cut down on clarifications later. JBoard has a lot of members who are good at sniffing out technicalities. For example, when I asked for the "number of men on the field at the start of a professional soccer game", I knew I was asking about the number of players, but what if they were women? Do the refs count? (Trivia writers call this "pegging the question.")

Mix up the presentation! Images break things up and might even attract players on the fence. I like to think at least one person entered TD 271 just because they saw my map of the U.S. and said, "Hey, I know most of those interstates!"

Format

If it's your first time running a TD, consider the bare minimum in terms of additional rules. DROP (zero points) is easy to implement and is universally understood.

If you're ready to throw in a wrench, keep the quirks simple. More strategy is fun, but there are quickly diminishing returns with increased complexity. You'll have to spend time explaining how things work, and potential players might be too confused to enter.

Personally, I never offer a SHEEP option (automatically take the highest score). The only reason to have a SHEEP is if your questions are too obscure. Fix those instead.

Penalties for incorrect answers should be tied to some variable: either the sheep score for that question or some proportion of the number of players. Fixed penalties can be advantageous to later entrants, as I found out when I offered 11 points.

Problematic topics

  • Obscure one-off responses with a low bar for qualification. For example, "Name a character who has appeared on Family Guy" is a bad question, because some random appearance by an otherwise-unknown character makes him eligible. If you're willing to go through every minute of footage to get the complete list, sure, go for it; otherwise, expect some pushback after the reveal.
  • City populations. The distinction between "city limits" and "metropolitan area" is confusing. For example, New Delhi proper has a population of 250,000 but over 20,000,000 live in the metro area. Do not expect your players to know the difference.
  • Billboard charts / AFI rankings / box-office take. I generally don't know if an album sold 20 million copies or 20,000, or whether some quote was picked by some subjective committee, or how much Titanic made (whether adjusted for inflation or not). If you do use a question like this, add some extra information – perhaps the director/star of the movie or a line from a song in the album – that could help players zero in on the correct answers.
  • World capitals. When I ask about them, I always put lots of disclaimers about which alternate/planned/de jure cities I won't accept.
  • Rankings with an arbitrary cutoff. If you're going to ask for the top X of something, make sure there's a big gap between the last possible answer and the first incorrect answer; perhaps even give the identity of the first incorrect answer and why it failed to qualify. Take particular care to peg your definition properly here.
  • Jeopardy! history. Yes, this is JBoard, but questions on the show tend to draw a lot of ire.

Feel free to add your own thoughts and experience below!
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby patkav » Mon Dec 07, 2015 2:10 pm

Oh, sure. NOW you publish this. Where were you yesterday when I needed you? :roll:

I kid. Thanks for this, VTer. Good stuff.
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby Blue Lion » Mon Dec 07, 2015 2:37 pm

I've hosted two TDs, and really enjoyed the experience--and the constructive feedback I got from my fellow boardies. It's very easy to write questions that lend themselves to ambiguity.

My experience:

One topic that proved very problematic is the stock market. My first game had a question about companies with the largest market capitalization. There were more incorrect than correct answers, and a number of players used up their lifelines rather than get dinged. I ended up throwing out the question. I tried again on my second game with what I thought was an easier question: name one of the companies in the Dow Transports. A number of players submitted well thought-out but incorrect answers because some arbitrariness is involved in selecting 20 companies. Lesson learned: no more financial page questions.

I also erred by introducing an extra level of complexity in a couple of questions. My first game asked for animated films that won the Annie Award. That proved to be negbait for players who answered with an Oscar-winning film that didn't also win the Annie. My second game asked for a play that won both the Tony and the Pulitzer within a given time frame. After further review, it would have been better to ask for either a Tony award-winning musical or a Pulitzer winner.

Vermonter, your best practices are very helpful. They'll help me when I design my next TD.
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby dhkendall » Mon Dec 07, 2015 2:41 pm

To piggyback on the "World Capitals" pinning, any question involving countries should be pegged as "country" is nebulous. It's usually best to go with "UN member state" instead since that's an indisputable definitive list, but it may require a clarification to avoid a negbait. For example, a question on a UN member with over 80% Roman Catholics it might be best to remind the crowd that the Vatican isn't a UN member. Or for a UN member with Chinese as an pfficial language might remind people that Taiwan isn't a UN member.
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby BobF » Mon Dec 07, 2015 3:30 pm

Actually, I noticed after hosting two rather topic-specific TDs that the general topic ones seemed to be more popular. Although crafting one like that is not in my wheelhouse, I came up with an idea that will help me for the one I'm hosting in roughly 4 weeks. So thanks for confirming my observation.

Of course, since this is me we are talking about there will still be sports and classic rock themed questions :-)
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby Magna » Mon Dec 07, 2015 3:46 pm

Vermonter wrote:Personally, I never offer a SHEEP option (automatically take the highest score). The only reason to have a SHEEP is if your questions are too obscure. Fix those instead.

I ran a TD where I offered a sheep-equivalent for every question. It was about the TV show Lost, so I knew it probably wouldn't attract a lot of contestants. This option made it possible for people to enter even if they couldn't remember answers to many of the questions. A good number of contestants relied on this option, so I think it helped.

A number of others have done something similar, with a predicted-sheep that people could use or not. If memory serves, some of them featured some kind of fixed score (either a particular number, or a formula) for giving that answer, while in others it was just a free answer that people could choose if they wanted, and it wasn't necessarily a sheep answer.

By the way, if you opt for something like this, I'd suggest eliminating the DROP option - no real need for it.
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby Woof » Mon Dec 07, 2015 3:58 pm

One thing not directly addressed in your guide (though hinted at) is to generally avoid using subjective lists (e.g. Rolling Stone's list of greatest rock guitarists) in favor of rankings based on some quantifiable metric (e.g. 10 most populous states in 2010 US census). A corollary to this is to always cite the source of your information -- and be ready to defend your choice if it's Wikipedia :mrgreen:
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby Magna » Mon Dec 07, 2015 4:30 pm

Woof wrote:One thing not directly addressed in your guide (though hinted at) is to generally avoid using subjective lists (e.g. Rolling Stone's list of greatest rock guitarists) in favor of rankings based on some quantifiable metric (e.g. 10 most populous states in 2010 US census). A corollary to this is to always cite the source of your information -- and be ready to defend your choice if it's Wikipedia :mrgreen:

I agree. Try to make it a major, recognized source rather than an interest group or webzine. And be sure to include the date the list was compiled, since that could change the answers.

If appropriate, give the criteria the list-compilers used. It will help steer people away from answers that should have made the list but for some rule the list-compilers put in place. For example, if countries are ranked by crime or incarceration rates, the compilers probably selected from a limited number of countries with good data, or defined "crime" or "incarceration" in a certain way that might not be obvious. People will need to know that, and will be justifiably irked if their answer didn't make the list because of criteria you failed to mention. Sometimes looking into those rules will make it clear to you that you should choose some other source or rewrite the question.
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby 9021amyers » Mon Dec 07, 2015 9:25 pm

During my first attempt at hosting a TD (TD 252), I think I broke every rule mentioned at the top of this thread. Questions that were too niche and too difficult, too many of those questions, and a twist in scoring that was received so poorly, I scrapped it the day after publishing. I was dabbling with a second quiz format even as I was putting the finishing touches on TD 252; using the feedback I had received from my first hosting attempt, I had a 90-percent complete TD ready when a fill-in was needed for TD 254. I'll be hosting again next week, and the quiz I have loaded up will stick to a reliable format. (I have a more ambitious idea that I wasn't quite ready to commit to. That must wait until next time.)
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby goforthetie » Mon Dec 07, 2015 11:00 pm

Vermonter wrote:[*]Rankings with an arbitrary cutoff. If you're going to ask for the top X of something, make sure there's a big gap between the last possible answer and the first incorrect answer; perhaps even give the identity of the first incorrect answer and why it failed to qualify. Take particular care to peg your definition properly here.


Good stuff. To go along with this one, I'd recommend that hosts try to game out what the most common wrong answers might be to each of your questions. Then ask yourself, would you feel bad having to neg people who gave that answer? If the answer is yes, then find some way to steer people away from it. It can be as simple as stating it in the question text.

(I find questions to be much more elegant if they aren't just a collection of 10 separate trivia questions that have some loose theme, but instead follow the "name one thing out of a certain collection" template. The above advice really applies to this latter type of question, which was how almost all TDs were constructed for at least a few years. Go back through the TD archive to see what I mean (thanks for maintaining it, Randy!)... and also to see if your questions have been used before!)
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby MarkBarrett » Mon Dec 07, 2015 11:12 pm

goforthetie wrote: Go back through the TD archive to see what I mean (thanks for maintaining it, Randy!)... and also to see if your questions have been used before!)


I'm one person, but I do not mind the repeat of questions. Seeing how the ranking of answers changes or stays the same is fascinating.

$ ranking lists on the other hand? For me it's either burn a help or go for the most super obvious commonest answer and hope it's okay being unafraid to attempt any kind of depth.

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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby Caboom » Tue Dec 08, 2015 4:59 am

9021amyers wrote:During my first attempt at hosting a TD (TD 252), I think I broke every rule mentioned at the top of this thread. Questions that were too niche and too difficult, too many of those questions, and a twist in scoring that was received so poorly, I scrapped it the day after publishing. I was dabbling with a second quiz format even as I was putting the finishing touches on TD 252; using the feedback I had received from my first hosting attempt, I had a 90-percent complete TD ready when a fill-in was needed for TD 254. I'll be hosting again next week, and the quiz I have loaded up will stick to a reliable format. (I have a more ambitious idea that I wasn't quite ready to commit to. That must wait until next time.)

TD 252 is my favorite TD ever. ;)
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby goforthetie » Tue Dec 08, 2015 7:42 am

MarkBarrett wrote:
goforthetie wrote: Go back through the TD archive to see what I mean (thanks for maintaining it, Randy!)... and also to see if your questions have been used before!)


I'm one person, but I do not mind the repeat of questions. Seeing how the ranking of answers changes or stays the same is fascinating.


I'm not saying there needs to be a ban on repeating questions. But hosts should be aware of when they're doing so, and at least try not to repeat within the span of a few months.
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby BobF » Tue Dec 08, 2015 7:45 am

goforthetie wrote:
Vermonter wrote:[*]Rankings with an arbitrary cutoff. If you're going to ask for the top X of something, make sure there's a big gap between the last possible answer and the first incorrect answer; perhaps even give the identity of the first incorrect answer and why it failed to qualify. Take particular care to peg your definition properly here.


Good stuff. To go along with this one, I'd recommend that hosts try to game out what the most common wrong answers might be to each of your questions. Then ask yourself, would you feel bad having to neg people who gave that answer? If the answer is yes, then find some way to steer people away from it. It can be as simple as stating it in the question text.


One thing I really like that people do in their TDs is if they ask something like "Name one of the 10 most populous cities in Maryland" and then add something like "the 11th most populous city is Westminster with a population of 20,000"

Note: Westminster's ranking and population are just numbers I pulled out of a rear orifice and should not be mistaken for anything that is even remotely accurate.
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby caknuck » Tue Dec 08, 2015 10:40 am

I intend to break at least two of these rules with TD 276.
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby MitchO » Tue Dec 08, 2015 11:13 am

I've been quietly working on a TD for like 2 months in the background, and after reading all this I'm ready to just crumble it up, throw it out and start all over again. :lol:

I think we should have a rotating list of TD testers; doesn't LL do something like that for the Minis and One Days? I'm concerned too many of my questions are "random list" rather than "trivia knowledge", and I still need to come up with another question or two in my theme.
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby patkav » Tue Dec 08, 2015 11:17 am

I can recommend that you have testing done early on your TDs. Otherwise you may find yourself the day you're scheduled to post tossing in random huge arrays of possible easy answers because your theme has made the quiz too difficult.

Not that I have personal experience with that, of course. I just see where it could happen to someone.
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby Woof » Tue Dec 08, 2015 12:00 pm

MitchO wrote:I've been quietly working on a TD for like 2 months in the background, and after reading all this I'm ready to just crumble it up, throw it out and start all over again. :lol:

I think we should have a rotating list of TD testers; doesn't LL do something like that for the Minis and One Days? I'm concerned too many of my questions are "random list" rather than "trivia knowledge", and I still need to come up with another question or two in my theme.


It used to be standard practice to recruit at least one other boardie to serve as editor on your TD and who would help play test it for you. I highly recommend that approach, especially for first timers.
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby Magna » Tue Dec 08, 2015 12:26 pm

Woof wrote:It used to be standard practice to recruit at least one other boardie to serve as editor on your TD and who would help play test it for you. I highly recommend that approach, especially for first timers.

Hear, hear!
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Re: Think Different best practices

Postby Vermonter » Tue Dec 08, 2015 12:45 pm

goforthetie wrote:I'd recommend that hosts try to game out what the most common wrong answers might be to each of your questions. Then ask yourself, would you feel bad having to neg people who gave that answer? If the answer is yes, then find some way to steer people away from it. It can be as simple as stating it in the question text.

This is a great point. On the books question in my last TD, I stated two possible answers were wrong. I didn't disqualify 20,000 [Leagues Under the Sea] because I felt the cover gave enough information to preclude it.

caknuck wrote:I intend to break at least two of these rules with TD 276.

I didn't intend these to be rules, just guidelines based on what has worked (or hasn't) for me.

MitchO wrote:I've been quietly working on a TD for like 2 months in the background, and after reading all this I'm ready to just crumble it up, throw it out and start all over again. :lol:

I'll be happy to look it over and give you feedback, if you like.

Magna wrote:
Woof wrote:It used to be standard practice to recruit at least one other boardie to serve as editor on your TD and who would help play test it for you. I highly recommend that approach, especially for first timers.

Hear, hear!

Yes, definitely! Even for experienced hosts.
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