How about choosing a whole new gameplay method—one that doesn’t use buzzers at all?
There are plenty of reasons to avoid traditional buzzers during your Jeopardy game. For one thing, they’re often super-pricey. If you want a good, quiz bowl-level buzzer system, you’ll be shelling out a couple of hundred dollars, minimum. And these buzzers are usually connected to each other via complicated wires that are a huge hassle to set up. Less expensive buzzers are sometimes not connected to each other at all, which can lead to asynchrony when players buzz in and leave you wondering why you bothered to purchase them at all.
Here, we’ve compiled our favorite alternatives to traditional buzzers that you can still use to complete your personal game of Jeopardy. These are all incredibly cheap, if not completely free, and easy to set up or instruct your players to do. They may require a little more attention during gameplay, but knowing quiz nerds, players and hosts alike will be up to the additional challenge.
Whether you’re playing at school, in a quiz club, or at home with friends, these 10 buzzer-free Jeopardy buzz-in methods are here for you. Read on for further inspiration on how to modify your traditional Jeopardy game into a buzzer-less one.
Perhaps the simplest buzzer replacement method is the humble clap. Ask each player (or a member of each team, if that’s how your Jeopardy game is structured) to clap their hands one time instead of buzzing in. Each individual clapping should keep their hands above the podium so that their clap is visible. That way, no one’s clap will be incorrectly attributed to anyone else and the quickest clapper will get credited for their turn.
Not sure if you’ll be able to keep track of whose clap was whose? Consider setting up a video camera or filming the round on your phone. That way, if there’s any dispute as to which player or team clapped first, there’ll be video evidence to prove whose turn it rightfully should be.
A warning—if you choose this method, the audience should be instructed to hold their applause until the end of the round. Otherwise, the added clapping may spur on confusion and derail the game!
Knock the Podium
Similar to a clap, knocking on a podium is another easy way to signal that you’re ready to answer. Remove any unnecessary objects from the podium before beginning the round so that nothing is sent flying when fists make contact!
It’s helpful to have an auditory cue to figure out which players have buzzed in. Thus, a loud knock is suitable to signal when someone wants to answer the question that’s just been read by the host.
Alternatively, contestants could slap the podium to buzz in. Really, any gesture that makes a loud noise and doesn’t send the podium rolling will do. Just don’t hit the podium so hard that you hurt yourself!
Raise Hands on Slo-Mo Video
Why not buzz into your game of Jeopardy using the classroom standard of a trusty ol’ hand raise? It’s a good way to involve the players’ physical reflexes, like pressing a buzzer would.
The thing about raising your hand, though, is that it’s noiseless. There’s no accompanying sound to go along with a hand raised to alert the host who has raised their hand first. Therefore, further measures must be taken to assure that the correct player or team gets credit first and can answer.
The solution? Slow-motion video.
That’s right, with the help of a slo-mo video, it’ll be easy to tell who’s turn it should be if two or more players raise their hand within a split-second of each other. Now that slo-mo is readily available on the camera apps of almost all smartphones, it’s easy to set your phone up in a corner and keep the camera rolling to use in case a dispute arises.
Grab a Ball
For this method, consider arranging all players so that they are sitting around a single desk or standing at one podium. Place a ball in the center of the flat surface on a sticky pad or in a non-skid plastic saucer. Inform all the players that they must keep their hands at their sides until the question has been read in its entirety.
Then, they can grab the ball. Whoever grabs the ball first gets to take a turn. Players should not hand-wrestle for the ball; instead, the player whose hand ends up on the bottom (i.e. on the surface of the ball) is the clear winner and gets the chance to answer.
If they get the question wrong, they can forfeit their turn to the player whose hand was the second-fastest. If the players are skeptical that a certain sitting or standing arrangement gives one of them an advantage, allow them to rotate their places between each round so they’re not answering from the same spot for too long.
This method is a great way to make reflexes a part of your Jeopardy game without the purchase of buzzers. After all, contestants who make it on Jeopardy! often state that the secret to their respective successes lies in the speed of their thumbs on the buzzer. Grabbing an object uses a similar hand reflex skill, at least more similar than some options we listed above.
If your players are overly enthusiastic (or, dare we say, a little too aggressive), you could choose a different type of object instead of a ball— something that won’t roll away if pushed too hard. However, the object should also be round or cylindrical so that no player has access to any easy-to-grab edges—these could create an unfair advantage. A small frisbee is a good option (avoid large frisbees, as they may not allow for any hand overlap, making it harder to differentiate whose hand reached it first). A paper towel roll or sturdy plastic cup placed upside down could also serve your game well.
Use a Flyswatter
Have you ever thought about using a flyswatter as a game buzzer? It sounds a little kooky, but it’s a trustworthy method that adds a fun, interactive element to any game.
When I was in middle school, my favorite learning game was my French teacher’s flyswatter word search. To play the game, two students from opposing teams would approach the classroom dry erase board, on which a large word bank of potential answers was written. Each student would be handed a flyswatter. Then, after the teacher had read a question aloud, students would speed-read the board to search for the correct answer. Once they found a word they’d like to answer with, they’d smack it with the flyswatter as quickly as possible.
The player whose flyswatter struck the correct answer would win a point for their team. And if both players hit the same word, whoever’s flyswatter ended up underneath the other (i.e. actually touching the word on the board) was the clear winner.
This game was always a major hit in my French class—everybody loved the days that we played the flyswatter word search game! There was always an obvious winner because, even if both students swung their flyswatters at the same word, one swatter would inevitably end up under the other no matter what. Thus, there was no controversy or debate when there was a close call and hurt feelings were largely avoided. This allowed students to get as competitive as they liked but gave them no grounds to argue that the game was unfair or rigged.
Using a word bank doesn’t lend itself to a game of Jeopardy, but it might serve another type of quiz game nicely. However, it can still work for a Jeopardy game with some modifications.
Instead of slapping a word bank, all players could aim to swat a designated mark on a wall or podium—perhaps an “X” made of neon tape, or a large sticker. Whoever’s flyswatter ends up on the bottom has time to answer the question.
By giving players a prop like a flyswatter, you add a physical reflex element to your game with minimal chances of harm or violence. Since flyswatters are relatively long (usually over a foot), this method will allow players to distance themselves from one another a little more than, say, the object-grabbing method. Flyswatters might also serve as a good alternative to hitting the podium with one’s hand, which can come especially handy if your players are literally hard hitters—you don’t want anyone leaving the round with a bruised palm!
Roll the Dice
If you want to do something totally nontraditional, why don’t you have any players who’d like to answer roll some dice to determine who goes? Whoever rolls the highest number gets to give their answer first.
This can be a fun way to spice up the game and give it a greater element of chance, if that’s your thing. You can also use it in combination with any of the previous methods if two or more players have called in at the exact same time.
This method is, well, dicier (apologies for the pun) than many we’ve listed before it. A die could roll off of the podium and stall gameplay, or a player could try to sneak in their own fixed dice. Still, it’s a good way to easily narrow down whose turn it should be or tie-break if you need to.
Clearly, this method doesn’t lend itself well to traditional Jeopardy-style gameplay, so only opt for this if everyone involved with your game is on the same page. You don’t want to start an uproar by completely uprooting the buzzer method without warning the contestants and quiz runners first.
Ring a Bell
Another auditory alternative to a traditional buzzer is a bell. Distribute a bell to the podium of every player and instruct them to ring it when they’d like to answer.
We recommend a traditional service bell, used at the front desks of hotels and businesses to get the attention of an employee. These are made to sit on a flat surface without sliding around, and they can be struck with a finger or the palm of one’s hand, much like how a buzzer would be pressed. This is perhaps the closest thing to using a real buzzer on this list, so if you’re a Jeopardy purist, this might be the buzzer alternative for you.
If every team has the same type of bell, have a camera rolling to double-check which team rang theirs first. Otherwise, since each bell’s ring sounds the same, it may not be easy to know who deserves to have a turn in the moment.
You could also go with handheld bells to more easily see players’ arm movements when they go to answer—this is another way to avoid confusion when it comes to determining whose turn it is.
Either way, as long as the host is listening up, and there’s a moderator to solve any disputes, this could be a great way to legitimize your low-key game of Jeopardy.
Designate a Vocal Buzz-in Sound
If you’d prefer a buzz-in alternative that doesn’t involve a hand or arm reflex, we suggest assigning contestants or teams a specific vocal buzz-in sound. Each player should loudly project this sound when they wish to answer.
Each sound could be a variation of a traditional buzzer’s “bzz,” such as “beep!”, “brrrring!”, or “bop!”. Or it could be an unusual sound of each player’s own invention. As long as every sound is clear and unique, this method will work nicely.
This method is best used by players who know how to project their voices. Otherwise, you might set up a microphone at each podium if you have not already done so. The host and audience need to clearly tell who has called in first, after all!
If the Jeopardy game you’re playing is too serious for a funny vocal buzz-in sound, or your players are jokesters whose noises might veer into an inappropriate sphere, perhaps assign every team or player a monosyllabic word to utter instead. For example, they could each have the name of a color as their buzz-in word (“green”, “red”, “blue”, etc.) or a single letter of the alphabet (“B”, “K”, “R”—letters that don’t sound too much alike for differentiation purposes). For teachers, this is a great way to assure that all buzz-in sounds remain well-suited for school.
Write Down Answers
If you’re looking to steer clear of anything remotely resembling a buzzer, you could invite players to write down their answers on a personal whiteboard instead. That way, you avoid calling on individual players and everyone can get a chance to gain points.
After the host reads the question, players can take 10-15 seconds to write down their answers. Then, if you’re the host, ask that they put down their dry erase markers and turn their boards over so that their written response is clearly displayed for all to see.
This is only a good method if you want to abandon traditional Jeopardy gameplay completely, as it involves giving every player a chance to answer every single question—it’s more like a Final Jeopardy round in that way.
You could also combine this method with one that we’ve listed above. For example, if you’re playing with the ball method, and two players reach for the ball, you could give them both a chance to write down their answer on a whiteboard and submit it.
By allowing players to write down their answers instead of calling on a single one to speak, you’re greatly simplifying the game. Therefore, it’s best that there’s a consequence to answering incorrectly to make the game a little tougher. Make sure to enforce that players lose points when they answer a question wrong—that way, surely some questions will only be answered by a single player, mimicking something a little closer to a regular Jeopardy game.
You Could Always Use an App
If purchasing physical buzzers is out of the question for you, there are plenty of apps available that feature on-screen buzzers instead. These apps often vibrate one’s smartphone when the buzzer is pressed or feature fun sound effects to signify a certain player’s turn. Some apps are standalone for individual downloads, while others allow participants to connect to a host’s phone and participate in a specific game via WiFi or Bluetooth.
Check out our recent article, “7 Apps You Can Use as a Buzzer for Quiz Games.” In it, we highlight the best free buzzer apps and weigh their pros and cons.
By using a buzzer app, you can save quite a bit of money on quiz night or Jeopardy! prep. Plenty of the apps we discuss in the article are free, and a few cost only a couple of dollars to download.
A buzzer app can also be a great option if you’re feeling short on time when setting up your Jeopardy game. You don’t have to deal with tangled wires or involved setup and can instead rely on players to buzz themselves in from their own mobile devices.
Just make sure all players are using the same app—there are many similarly named apps available, and consistency is important, especially since even a millisecond of difference can matter when buzzing in.
There can be some drawbacks to buzzer app use, however. Delayed buzz-in times, different sound effects, iffy Bluetooth connections, and disruptive ads can all prevent a game from running as smoothly as possible. If you decide to use an app, just make sure you have a tech guru on hand ahead of the start of the game so you can troubleshoot if need be.
There you have it! The ten ideas above are great alternatives to buzzers. Any one of them will surely make your Jeopardy game one to remember.
Please note: these buzzer-less methods are ideal if you’re short on time or money, but for a high-maintenance, professional game, you’re probably going to want the real deal. Save the buzzer substitutes for your casual, low-key Jeopardy nights.
Have you ever used one of these methods while playing Jeopardy or a similar quiz game? Do you have any helpful hints on how to make the game go smoothly without buzzers? Let us know in the comments down below!