Verbal spontaneous problems require verbal responses. They may incorporate improvisation or dramatization. Teams are scored for common and creative responses, and usually team members give responses in order and have a limited number of responses each.

Verbal problem tips

  • Speak LOUDLY AND CLEARLY. It is the team's responsibility for the spontaneous judging team to hear them. If the judges can't hear a response, they will either ask the team member to repeat the response (wasting the team's time), or they will mark the response as common.

  • Deliver responses with energy. Sometimes the way an answer is presented can give an added meaning, and sounding confident or adding a dramatic flourish (vocal inflection, hand movement, an accent) might make a common answer creative.

  • Understand time limits. Verbal problems with responses will always have response cards (limiting the number of responses), so if there are 3 minutes to respond and each team member has 7 cards, responses should be fast. However, if the time limit is 9 minutes (very common at world finals spontaneous problems because of the need for foreign teams to have interpreters), the team should slow down.

  • If stuck and the problem has limited time, give a quick common response. This technique not only allows for more responses but also gives the chance for a team member with a creative idea to potentially respond. (Note: some problems have a “pass” card to allow team members one pass, but it is still better not to use it and give up an opportunity for a point.)

  • Use the surrounding environment to generate ideas. Spontaneous problems are often held in classrooms with plenty of random objects to spark creativity.

  • Avoid excess elaboration of responsive. One word takes less time than ten.

  • Prepare special categories of ideas beforehand. If a team member likes sports, he or she could try and think of responses relating to tennis if stuck. Books, food, movies, and TV all make excellent “idea palaces.”

A guaranteed creative response: the pun

In verbal and verbal hands-on, one of the easiest ways to receive creative responses is to use puns. While thinking of puns takes time and practice, a simple way to quickly think of numerous puns is to deconstruct the picture or object that you are responding about, think of related words and objects, then build back these related words into a response.

For example, if you are trying to think about puns relating to animals gathering at a pond.

  1. Deconstruct: there are many different animals to choose from. Ducks, frogs, deer, beavers.

  2. Relate: If you are thinking about ducks, think about words or phrases associated with them – quack, eggs, “duck and cover,” mallard, and ducklings.

  3. Respond: Then think if any of those words could be used in a pun by changing the spelling or pronunciation, or be using it in a common catchphrase: “The ducks love to eat quackers” “People were throwing water balloons so they had to duck and cover.” Repeat this step for each animal you deconstructed.

You can also think of characteristics, generalizations or behaviors for the animals. For example, a raccoon might have the appearance of a thief because of their face-fur, so you might say “The raccoon is stealing off the page.” Herons have long legs and necks, so you might say “The heron was afraid of sticking his neck out in the conversation or stepping on anyone’s toes.” “Now Eye See it Two” and “Ponder Why” are two great problems to practice puns - a version of Ponder Why was a World Finals problem.

Practice puns as much as possible. Before spontaneous at competition, a great warm up exercise is simply “think of puns relating to ___” (space, food, school, etc). No materials needed, and it starts the kids into the groove of making creative responses.

Types of verbal problems

While every spontaneous problem at a tournament is unique, problems generally fit into these broad categories.

  • Simple response: name things that are blue, what did the parrot say to the pirate, name a different use for socks. Example problems: “Piece of Cake”, “Down the Highway”, “Be Patent

  • Two part: name a discoverer and what s/he discovered, name a kitchen object and a new use for it, a trip you would take and what you would bring with you. Example problems: “Get Emotional”, “New Slogans”, “If I

  • Picture response: give a caption for this picture, what could the object in this picture be used for. Example problems: “Cat Helmet”, “The Chameleon”, “What do you do with that?

  • Objects: describe different uses for objects (spatula, battery, mattress). This type sometimes comes in hands-on verbal form. Example problems: “What's in the Box”, “In my Day”, “Pizza

  • Story with no props: tell a story incorporating a certain set of words, tell a story with characters A, B, and C, or tell a story using only 5 word responses. Example problems: “Suite Yourself”, “Candy Bar Caper”, “Fortunately Unfortunately

In January 2015 this clarification was released detailing a new version of the verbal problem:

  • We have added a new procedure in SOME types of verbal problems. In these problems, team members will be given paper and pencils and are allowed to brainstorm during think time. They are allowed to write down the responses that they will use during response time. They may write as many as they wish and are not limited to those responses when it is their time to respond. During response time they will be able to refer to their own lists, so that they may choose the responses they think are the MOST creative or give a new response. Each team member will also have a set of cards with two values on them (for example one card may say 2/4; another 3/6)…. When they give a response they will decide if their response is creative and will hold up a card. The judges will then score that response using the lower number if they think the response is common, and the higher number if they think it is a creative response. A card may only be used once. As a result, teams can impact their score by predicting the creativity of their responses. The more creative responses should have higher numbers and questionable responses should have lower numbers.