How to not suck at Cross-ex part 1

At the last few tournaments of the year I have seen some bad cxs. BAD. I don’t mean run of the mill useless, I mean aggressively in your face offensive to your intellect bad. I am pretty sure I have written about a lot of this before but I would like to now pen the definitive guide to what not to do in CX.

1. CX is the time to ask questions, not make arguments


I cannot stress this enough. No one flows CX  the way they flow a speech- even if you make the greatest argument of all time (and here is a free tip- you aren’t) you have to repeat it in a speech anyway- so whats the point of asking in cx? Why would you say the same thing twice?I can already hear some of you arguing with this- consider this article a part of CX and stop making arguments. YOU ARE WRONG. It’s ok, most people get it wrong from time to time- and this issue for some reason prompts a lot of pushback from young debaters. At some point you need to understand when every single judge you have ever had thinks your CX is totally ineffective- it may be time to try a different approach.


CX is the time to use questions to establish the basic premises you will use later to make your arguments. You want to ask questions where the answer sets up an argument, not questions where the answer gives you the round. This is because no one ever concedes in CX


“Isn’t your China advantage stupid?”

“Yes! It is! I ‘m a fraud, give them the win and double 30’s” Said no one ever


What people are doing when asking these stupid “shouldn’t you lose” questions is basically trying to make an argument. They wan’t to say

“there is no internal link to multilateralism” but they know they have to “ask a question” so they say something like

-where does your card say this? it doesn’t

-Why is this the key issue instead of XYZ other issue

-don’t you think other countries don’t care about the Cuba embargo

These questions go nowhere. They are compounded by beating a dead horse (see point 4).


So how do you go about asking questions that set up these arguments for later? Continuing with multilateralism, if you are reading a CP you could ask

“What are the factors that make repeal of the Cuba embargo sufficient to solve multilateralism”

Now one of two things happens

1. They list factors- you now just have to explain why the CP captures said factors- for example “lifting the embargo restores trade leadership”- now read a CP that restores trade leadership. “Embargo repeal boosts hemispheric cooperation”- read a cp that does that etc.

2. They can’t answer- now you have the basis for a solvency attack “they can’t explain why the plan is enough…”


Maybe you are asking about a K alternative, dont say

“Doesn’t global neoliberalism swamp the alternatives ability to do anything”

This is an argument you want to make, not a question to ask. This also brings up another reason the argument question is stupid- you are essentially giving them free speech time to respond to your point- why would you do that?


So instead I would ask a question that helps set up the arguments about what the alternative does- you want to stick to fact based questions

“What is an empirical example of activism similar to the alternative?”

Any historical example you probably have arguments against -Occupy, WTO protests etc- forcing the negative to draw an analogy makes the alternative more concrete, and thus easier to pin down.


“Derp, but they probably won’t do that, they will probably be all vague and stuff”


This is true of many k teams who don’t know what they are talking about. But terrible vague answers are also useful- you can use them to help support a 2AC argument about why the alternative fails because it doesn’t have a concrete political strategy- I’m sure you have a million cards on that.


2. Make snide comments/asides


This has become an epidemic, most CXs have at least 3-5 of these. A snide aside is something like this


“where does your ev say X”

“blah blah blah”

“well I don’t think it says that”


Get the basic formula? You ask a terrible question, they give you an answer (good or bad) and then you give your commentary on that question. I have no clue how this started, but it needs to STOP. CX is the time to ask questions, not make arguments. The snide aside is not even an argument actually, it is just you being petty- you asked a bad question and didn’t get the answer you wanted and now you are taking it out on all of us. WHAT ARE YOU HOPING TO ACCOMPLISH WITH THIS????? Well, I actually asked people at the last few tournaments after the round. Their answers were things like this


“Well, I want the judge to know their answer was wrong”

Assume for a second this is a laudable goal: your method here sucks. No judge is convinced by your little remark. If you want to make an argument, make it in a speech.


Now, lets attack the actual premise. Are you so worried that the judge is going to be swayed to vote against you by a random terrible answer to a pointless CX question that you need to comment on it at exactly that moment? 75% of judges aren’t paying attention anyway, and those who are paying attention are well aware of the answer being potentially stupid


3. Reading random parts of cards- I don’t know who is teaching people to do this at camp, but I can tell you this-I have a particular set of skills, and I will find you… This is largely a subset of 1 – you are trying to make an argument about what their evidence says ( or more often that their evidence is bad) so you read a part, they disagree and say you aren’t reading the right part, no one brings any of this up in a speech making it a total waste of time, and life drags on.  Instead of asking questions about lines from the evidence/the author, you want to ask questions that set up that argument for later in the debate. Here are some examples


1. Authors- in one of my golden moments from HS debate the team we were debating read a 1AC card on a totally irrelevant issue from the author who was to be the advocate of our counterplan. So in CX I asked ” Who is this Dean character and why is he qualified?” – a seemingly nOOb question. The 1A then went off for about a minute as to why he was the only qualified author capable of discussing the issue.


2. Thresholds- for things like miscalc we all know its a garbage debate construct, but you don’t want to come out and say that in CX. You want to ask questions that set up your standard defensive arguments. The classic answer to miscalc is “hotlines”- miscalc is basically the idea that some sort of crises arises where we don’t fully understand/know the intentions of an adversary and so we overreact and go to war. “hotlines” are basically red batman telephones designed to prevent just such an event from occurring- they are a form of communication that allows us to figure things out in crises. So you would want to ask some CX questions like

“What does miscalc mean/how does it occur” to get them to describe the scenario- most likely they will say something about communications break down and now hotlines solve. Or maybe they say its about “rational choice” – now evidence about economic interdependence/deterrence is a better answer to their miscalc argument because it affects rational policy choices. You’re doing all this to set up the argument that we won’t cross the threshold to war, getting the affirmative to describe what causes us to cross said threshold makes it easier for you to defend that we won’t.


Another classic example is economic decline. Once a tournament I see people ask the question ” Why didn’t 5 million past economic declines cause war”. Instead what you want to ask is “how far does the economy have to fall/by what measure to trigger the impact” – now either they tell you and you can pick examples to empirically deny it, or they can’t and you say their adv is ambiguous and stupid.




4. Don’t beat a dead horse. We get it- you had a brilliant CX strategy, you are undoubtedly the best. Unfortunately the other team either artfully dodged out of it or stubbornly refuses to give you the answer you want. Trust me, we are as devastated as you are that their dastardly tactics have ruined your perfect moment in the sun. That being said, stop asking the same question for 3 minutes after you don’t get your answer the first time- no team eventually caves and gives you the answer you want if you just keep pushing.






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