On the box

“Countdown” July 2021

Back in 2017, in this piece, I wrote about “Countdown”, the game show that was the first programme broadcast when Channel 4 launched in 1982. It continues to be aired most weekdays at 2.10pm, with repeats at 6am. The show has been in the news recently because it has a new host, Anne Robinson. She took over from Nick Hewer in the episode broadcast on Monday 28 June, and she is the show’s first female presenter.  

Earlier this week (on Monday 12 July) “Countdown” featured its first ever all-woman line-up: alongside Ms Robinson were regular co-presenter Rachel Riley, lexicographer Susie Dent, Dictionary Corner guest Philippa Perry and two female contestants. It was also (Ms Robinson told us) the anniversary of Henry VIII’s marriage to his sixth (and final) wife Catherine Parr.  

The Dictionary Corner guest the previous week, appearing for the first time, was writer Grace Dent. On all the shows that she appeared in, at least one of the contestants was male, so we had to wait for the 13th show with the new presenter for the first ever edition without at least one man onscreen.  

Over the last few years, “Countdown” has mainly caught my attention at the end of each series, when the best eight contestants compete for places in the Grand Final. This happens in June and December, and that’s when I set the “Series Record” option for the show again. Then, when the next series begins and I start running out of disk space again, I cancel “Series Record” and catch the show less frequently.  

I associate regular “Countdown” watching with the Christmas holidays. 20 years ago I would record the last week or two of the show (on video) and was often catching up with it when my brother and his family were over, visiting from Spain. Whenever he watched with us he would always ask the same question during the numbers round: “Do you have to use all the numbers to reach your target?” You don’t, but the question has become something of a catchphrase for us, and if time allows I will try and find a solution that incorporates all six numbers. They could be “One from the top and any other five”, “Two big and four small”, “An inverted T”, “Whitehall” (1-2-1-2) or any number of other combinations.  

In honour of the show’s new presenter I have watched all of the 14 episodes hosted by her so far (occasionally fast-forwarding through parts of it, like when the contestants select the letters). Susie Dent’s “Origin of Words” segment is rightly praised as a highlight of the show by Ms Robinson, as it was by her predecessor Nick Hewer. Over the last two weeks she has revisited some of her “Greatest Hits”. We have heard about “eggcorns” again, and the derivation of words like eavesdrop, muscle and disaster.  

For a change, while watching the first episode of the new series, I jotted down my answers and kept score, something I have previously done maybe 20 times. My tally of 126 is probably my highest, boosted by a 9-letter word (which scores 18 points) and getting all the numbers rounds (10 points), and getting the conundrum at the end.  

Before I throw that piece of paper away, here’s what I wrote.  

Monday 28 June 2021

Letters game 1: Pouted (6) 

Letters game 2: Inertia (7), running total (r/t) 13 

Numbers: a target of 303 using 100 / 50 / 9 / 8 / 6 / 4 

[(50 x 6) + (8+4-9)] (10), r/t 23 

Letters game 3: Boatsmen (8), r/t 31 

Letters game 4: LGCEIUDSN gives Secluding (18), r/t 49 

Numbers: a target of 297 using 25 / 7 / 5 / 5 / 4 / 1 

[25x(7+5) = 300 + (4-1)] (10), r/t 59 

Letters game 5: Recall (unused letters: KRA) (6), r/t 65 

Letters game 6: Digit (unused letters: PMAT) (5), r/t 70 

Numbers: a target of 874 using 100 / 50 / 9 / 9 / 2 / 1

[(100×9) – (50/2) – 1] (10), r/t 80 

Letters game 7: Wilder (unused letters: JVW) (6), r/t 86 

Letters game 8: Unseats (unused letters: GW) (7), r/t 93 

[Origin of Words: About rules that we follow without realizing it – Jolly Green Giant rather than green jolly giant, Little Red Riding Hood rather than red little riding hood – and Ablaut Reduplication / We say Ding-dong and Flip-flop rather than ding-dong and flip-flop, and there are rules about this.] 

Letters game 9: Hoofers (unused letters: LA) (7), r/t 100 [Flashers is another 7, but Foolers is not a word] 

Letters game 10: Petite (unused letters: HOG) (6), r/t 106  

Numbers: a target of 654 using 25 / 10 / 9 / 8 / 7 / 6

[(25 x 8) x (10-7) = 600 + (9 x 6)] (10), r/t 116  

Conundrum: SINTHESIC = Itchiness, r/t 126  

Blimey, transcribing those 15 rounds took longer than drafting the rest of this piece. I won’t be doing that again, but I will continue to keep an eye on events in “Countdown”-land.  


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