“Nine in a line, thirty seconds is the time!”
I’ve been a fan of Countdown for quite literally as long as I can remember. I’m told I watched it avidly at eighteen months, and learnt the alphabet from Carol Vorderman as she placed the letters on the board… likewise, I’m in no doubt that late great Richard Whiteley had a lasting influence on me too, such is my fondness for a weak pun, naff slogan or abhorrent tie, or perhaps all three together.
I’m sure, however, I was most taken by the iconic centrepiece and true star of the programme: the clock, and its hypnotic signature tune… it was only when I was quite considerably older that I could possibly appreciate the engaging game of which it is an integral part. I was obsessed with clocks as a child, so the Countdown timepiece was always going to capture me. About seven years ago now I began replicating the mechanics of the clock on my computer, beginning with a simple PowerPoint. Later, I found I could actually work rounds into these programs, and it morphed into what could be a very useful educational tool for teachers; at school there were few games played more in maths than the Countdown numbers round. Rounds and puzzles could be stacked and tinkered with to their heart’s content. I uploaded the presentation to a teaching site, and no end of users contacted me about using the graphics; all came back with positive words. Parents spoke quite movingly of how their child has recalled letters in a similar way to I presume I did. Rachel Riley, the hostess on the show, even used them for some of her school visits. It was incredibly rewarding to hear of something having such a positive impact. It was just a basic PowerPoint presentation! How wonderful, and testament to the real value of Countdown.
In 2012 I began working with Cinema 4D, a very exciting 3D design package. I’ve been chipping away intermittently at the Countdown set since then, purely for recreational purposes, though they were later used in annual New Year quizzes and charity events. But in the past couple of days I’ve turned the clock back – chiefly through boredom, I must confess, and because I have to split up my David Pevsner posts somehow… – and have rebuilt them to look like the Countdown of its infancy in the 1980s, before I was even invented. With the rather basic make-up of the original set, I thought it would be easy. I was wrong! It took quite a bit of graft, and some parts are quite rickety as it’s very much in progress. Redressing the various boards was a nightmare. Why did I inflict it on myself? Who knows. Oh well.
Here we go then. Tick tock! I’ve included a brief overview of the rules for each discipline, for those who may be outside the UK, or those that have just been under a rock for the last thirty-odd years.
Head to the very foot of this post for the answers.
The Letters Game: The contestant selects nine letters, requesting either a consonant or a vowel. When all nine are picked, the clock is started and there’s thirty seconds to make a word. You may only use a letter as often as it appears.
The Numbers Game: The contestant asks for six numbers, requesting up to 0-4 ‘big’ numbers (25, 50, 75, 100) and the rest ‘small’ numbers (1-10 twice over). When these have been picked, a three-digit target number is generated. Thirty seconds is given to make that number using the tiles selected; you can only use addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and you must keep to whole numbers. You don’t have to use all of the numbers, but you can only use each tile once.
Countdown Conundrum: A simple buzzer round where the first to unearth the nine-letter word wins the points. The answer is given at the end of the video.
I was originally going to set a conundrum with JACOB in it somewhere, just to be self-centred. Thank goodness the conundrum used doesn’t describe me in any way. Oi. I see that look. Don’t say anything.
If you’d like to see what I was using as my guide, see below… it’s quite startling to see how stilted Richard seems here, and generally how stuffy and slightly po-faced the whole thing appears in comparison to the Countdown I loved growing up. And the music is atrocious. Thankfully, it was up all round from here!
And you can’t mention Countdown without this:
So, there we are. Something different from drawings, anyway.
If you actually had a go at the puzzles in the videos, here are some solutions for you:
Letters (also SEXISTS; probably no need to define either of these words for you)
Numbers (according to a solver, there are twenty-two ways of reaching 649)