Special Topics In Gameology

Countdown

British Game Shows: Countdown

The most British game show of them all.

By John Teti • May 21, 2012

Special Topics In Gameology is an in-depth look at a specific corner of the gaming world, in miniseries form. For our first edition of the feature, John Teti reviews the current slate of British game shows. The first entry introduced the series with a review of Pointless, and last week came The Chase. This week: Countdown.

Countdown

Countdown is the most pleasant game show on television. It might also be the most British. It’s a prim game of letters and numbers in which the winners receive not cash but a porcelain teapot. A hideous porcelain teapot.

When Britain’s Channel 4 launched in 1982, Countdown was the first show it aired, and the show remains a throwback to a previous era when the public-service aspect of broadcasting was expected to play a significant role in programming decisions. That principle has eroded over time in the U.K., and of course it’s even more archaic here in the States, where the market interests of television networks are considered paramount as a matter of fact.

Played by two contestants, a Countdown match comprises 11 rounds of the “letters game,” three rounds of the “numbers game,” and a “Countdown Conundrum”—each of which is played with a 30-second time limit.

In a letters round, players are given an assortment of nine letters and asked to make an English word; whoever can make the longer word earns a point for each letter. (Ties score for both players, and a nine-letter word scores double.)

The numbers round presents players with a set of six numbers and a three-digit target sum—the contestants must reach the target by adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing among the given numbers. For example, can you reach the target of 538 using any or all of the numbers 100, 7, 6, 4, 4, and 3? (The answer is at the bottom of the article.) Whichever contestant can come closest to the target earns the points for the round, and the closer you get, the more points you earn, up to 10.

The final round, the Countdown Conundrum, is simply a nine-letter anagram worth 10 points. The anagram typically has the ring of an actual word, like the Conundrum “RACETYRES,” whose solution is “SECRETARY.” More often than not, one player has a lead greater than 10 points heading into this round, which means that in terms of the score, the Conundrum is usually something of an anticlimax.

But that’s the rub: Countdown is not afraid to be boring, which I mean as a compliment. The show aims to entertain, of course, but it also aims to educate, in its mild way, and to provide companionship. Despite existing in a genre known for its noise and flash, Countdown is less of a glitzy showman than an unassuming houseguest, helping its viewers pass time with a quaint parlor game that stimulates the mind. And because Countdown doesn’t strive to be exciting at every turn, it likewise relieves the viewer from the obligation of being constantly entertained.

And yet, as an American watching this British program, I do find myself entertained by its driest, primmest elements. Host Nick Hewer opens a recent Monday episode with a brief monologue/chat session in which he observes that Scout Community Week is getting underway. Hewer proceeds to give a brief history of the name of Scout Community Week: “It used to be known as Bob-A-Job week, but that’s been scrapped. Scrapped 20 years ago!”

He sounds like an English Grampa Simpson; you almost expect him to start expounding on the tradition of Scouts wearing onions on their belt. But the real purpose of this monologue, as with many Countdown openers, is to pay tribute to the quiet glory of prosaic British life (a life that, presumably, involves watching Countdown at 3:15 each afternoon). “Young scouts have got to volunteer, no cash involved, at community centers and hospitals,” Hewer says. After a second, he adds: “Quite right, too.”

Once he’s praised the quite-rightness of Scout Community Week, Hewer turns to another member of the Countdown cast, Rachel Riley, the winsome math whiz who fills the Vanna White role. She also provides solutions to numbers games when the contestants fall short. Hewer asks Riley if she has ever been involved in the scouting movement, and she says that she was indeed in the Scouts, rather than the Guides or the Brownies, which are apparently female-only alternatives. “Sounds like gender confusion to me,” harrumphs Hewer.

That hilariously fuddy-duddy response that is par for the course on Countdown. Other regularly scheduled chatty interludes include a segment at “Dictionary Corner” with the show’s resident lexicographer, Susie Dent, in which she discusses a bit of etymology. In this episode, she speaks on the topic of new internet words, a lecture that Hewer endures slumped in his chair with a pained expression, uttering the occasional groan. The word “sofalizing”—socializing over the internet from one’s couch—is condemned by Dent, presumably because its newness threatens to crumble the very foundation of British society. Dent concludes the segment with, honest to God, a mention of “planking.” Asks Riley, “That’s dangerous, isn’t it?”

Each show also features a celebrity guest, which in this instance is newspaper columnist Janet Street-Porter. She writes for the Independent On Sunday newspaper and The Daily Mail, a conservative paper whose primary purpose is to provide old white people with a daily supply of things that will make them angry. During an interview segment with Hewer, Street-Porter says, “I’m most cross about language at the moment,” suggesting, quite plausibly, that she has a running list of things about which she is cross.

The British-ness of Countdown comes through most vividly, though, in the quirks that pervade every element of the game. The show holds its idiosyncrasies dearly, as if they were the very fabric of the thing, and maybe they are, because they turn a straightforward exercise of language and mathematics into a ritual—they transform a game into a tradition.

Nothing embodies this tradition more than the huge Countdown clock, which has the apparent capacity to run a full minute despite the fact that every round on the show lasts only 30 seconds. The left half of the clock therefore has a purely ceremonial purpose—it is the royal family to the right half’s Parliament—but without it, Countdown wouldn’t be Countdown.

Despite the fact that anagram software has existed for quite a while now, the words on the show are verified only by Susie Dent and her hardbound dictionary. (Likewise, Riley comes up with the solutions for a numbers round in her head, on the fly.) Such is the show’s commitment to the analog approach that when Dent finds a particularly interesting word during a letters round, the production doesn’t use a fancy graphics package to display it to the home audience. Instead, Dent points a handheld camera—which looks like an oversized lipstick tube taped to a Bic pen, with a long cable snaking out of it—at the dictionary on her desk, and the control room cuts to a somewhat blurry freeze frame of the word in question. Print media lives!

Other touches of tradition abound. When one player has come up with the same word as her opponent in a letters, she must lean across the table and show that she has the word written down on scratch paper. This serves as proof that she’s not just saying, “Yes, I got that one, too!” Twice per show, Hewer offers an eight-letter anagram for the viewers to ponder during a commercial break; this is deemed the “Teatime Teaser,” which is just adorable.

But my favorite ritual of Countdown is both one of its smallest and one of its strangest. A contestant constructs the letter bank for a letters round by asking co-hostess Riley to draw letters, one at a time, from two stacks of face-down tiles—one containing vowels, the other consonants. Riley draws the tile, places it on the board, and says the letter. Then between each draw, as she waits for the contestant’s next choice, she does the weirdest thing. She turns her head around and offers a small, vapid smile to the camera.

This in itself wouldn’t be so odd, except that she does it every single time. There are 11 letters rounds per episode, nine letters per round, which means on each show, Riley performs 88 turn-and-smiles, each one practically indistinguishable from the last. And I find myself mesmerized by this. It’s the dullest motion, made more meaningful—and soothing, in a way—by its repetition.

That’s the tao of Countdown. The game is so simple and unimaginative that its novelty wore off back in 1982, within days of its first broadcast. Because novelty isn’t the point; familiarity is. Countdown is the digestive biscuit of game shows, served every day with tea, a confection that seems dull on the first bite yet provides an essential comfort once you acquire a taste for it. And it’s proof that there is room in the worlds of both gaming and television for a game that’s merely, delightfully pleasant.

(Sample numbers round solution: 10047 = 89; 89 × 6 = 534; 534 + 4 = 538. Check the series introduction for tips on watching Countdown if you’re not in the U.K.)

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  • TonyInchpractice

    RIP Richard Whitely, the jovial Yorkshireman whose brand of gently inane humour defined the show for more than two decades. It was satirised nicely by Fry & Laurie in their third “A Bit Of…” series:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEkjiF_UilE

  • http://twitter.com/GasparLewis Gaspar Lewis

    Definitely a mandatory inclusion. There’s an element that goes half-unspoken and is the reason America’s twin titans of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune have lasted: you can play at home and actually envision how you’d fare at the contestant. In a game this austere you could even score yourself and everyone in the room with you!

    As an amusing side note: for the numbers rounds, there are plenty of times you wouldn’t need to use them all… but if you get bored on the Internet can be just as difficult trying to figure out what the method would be if you did. Using all six tiles, how would get 407 from 100, 10, 7, 5, 4 and 3?

    • CNightwing

      (10+3)-(5+4) = 4, *100 = 400, +7 = 407

      • LimeadeYouth

        Is there any bonus for using every number? In the video example, he could have used the fact 50-25 = 25 to do so.

        • jellybeanpill

          No, there’s no bonus.

        • EvelKareebel

           I’m slightly disgusted in you asking for a bonus in using all the numbers. It seems somewhat against the ethos of Countdown.

        • Bogie55

          If anything, a bonus for not using all the numbers would be more appropriate. Elegance for the win.

  • CNightwing

    I am very pleased to see that you have discovered the zen that likes within Countdown. I watched many, many episodes whilst writing my thesis and it did indeed become a regular afternoon treat. It’s worth noting that for the past 5 years at least, it has been paired with our version of Deal or No Deal, which if you get the chance, is even more relaxed. Noel Edmonds adds a mystical charm to it somehow.

    One of the nicest things about Countdown is the choice of guests. It’s terribly Radio4 really, but they invite erudite and well-spoken types, ranging from sports commentators to arts critics, and they are expected to say something interesting. They might be terrible at the game itself, but Susie generously treats them as a part of her team when they find something that beats the contestants. It’s a rare chance to see more old-fashioned celebrities be on the show for the sake of the show rather than to sell something or promote themselves.

    • Electric Dragon

      Dictionary Corner does get the assistance of the production gallery in their earpieces as well – one of the producers is Damian Eadie, a former champion of the game, and later had the Susie Dent role of adjudicator. One of his jobs is devising the Conundrums – one, set when Preston North End had been relegated, read “PNECRISIS”* because Eadie is a fan of Preston’s local arch-rivals Blackpool.

      The clock shows the full minute because the hand can only move clockwise – it has to be wound forward to reset it for each round.

      *The answer is PRICINESS.

      • http://twitter.com/ChrisPhilpot Chris Philpot

        Another reason for the clock showing a full minute is because when the show was first conceived, rounds were set to last 45 seconds. The full clock face handily gave them the option to cut this back.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Simon-Gamble/100002297342997 Simon Gamble

           The original French programme gives 45 seconds but the time starts immediately rather than allowing for some waffle from the presenter.

    • jellybeanpill

      I hate the guests. They’re either offensively pompous and upper-class or offensively inane and middlebrow.

      And Janet Street-Porter is the fucking worst. Her voice makes me want to kill people. She reminds me of the woman who owns the house in Spaced.

      I didn’t know she appeared alongside the neo-nazis and soft porn in the daily mail, but that makes complete fucking sense. It’s like a symphony of evil.

      • Ville Häkkinen

        I loooove Janet Street Porter. She’s enchantingly, hypnotisingly awful.

      • http://theladyfingers.blogspot.com/ Ladyfingers

         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlUb8jt0WP0

  • Effigy_Power

    As a Yankee, I am pretty unfamiliar with this show, but I think it shows a bit of the cultural divide between two countries.
    Whereas the most popular gameshow in Britain requires advanced scrabble-type skills, the most popular gameshow in the US requires you to guess the price of a can of peaches. That’s not a sign of less or more intellect, but a cultural bias in the US away from smarts and towards consumerism.

    Also I have really only seen Street Countdown and Moss pretty much turned that into particle physics.
    “I think that’s quite enough letters now, yeah?”

    • jellybeanpill

      We have those kinds of shows too. It’s not really right to take two distinct shows and compare two countries, overall we’re much the same. We might have Countdown on University Challenge but you have Jeapordy and College Bowl. You might have Deal or no Deal and The Price is Right but we have, erm, Deal or no Deal and The Price is Right (and even worse shit than that).

      I think the BBC (and Channel 4, which is publicly funded in part) gives us a slight edge, but British culture is nearly as juvenile as American culture.

      • Effigy_Power

         Ah, well, I might have misunderstood the popularity of this show. I thought it was on par in the ratings with “The Price is right”, which IS the most watched game-show in America still today, regardless of the obvious existence of somewhat more complex shows.
        My bad.

        • jellybeanpill

          The show is very well-known. However, it airs at like half 3 on weekdays. It’s watched predominantly by olds, and all the adverts are for laxatives and baths with doors and seats and shit like that.

          Contrary to the US, our ratings blockbusters (save special events, sports, and soaps) are on Friday and Saturday nights. And I assure you sir or madam, our prime-time is wall-to-wall shit.

    • http://twitter.com/BothersBar Brig Bother

      It’s always quite amusing from a British perspective listening to Americans talk about Countdown, specifically the idea that it’s our most popular show. You’re not the first, almost certainly wont be the last.

      What it has is cheapness and inertia. What it is not is a ratings buster.

      • Effigy_Power

         Yeah, as I replied to @jellybeanpill:disqus , I guess I mistook the quaintness for nationwide hype. I retract my statement.

        • http://twitter.com/BothersBar Brig Bother

          No harm done, it’s a surprisingly common misconception. It actually has a similar audience makeup to TPiR – students and old people basically, just under a million on an afternoon.

          What I didn’t realise before watching it from the audience is just how little stopdown there is – Rachel sticks the words up then frantically clears the letters for the next round whilst the host fills for a few seconds. It’s recorded practically live to tape.

        • EvelKareebel

           yeah, but it’s not a million who just drift in and out. If Countdown called on them, they would be a shambling army of pedants.

    • http://twitter.com/IsolaValentine Nat – DSQ ♥(。→‿←。)♥

      I wouldn’t say countdown is the most popular gameshow but it is the most beloved. By this point I don’t think ratings even matter to channel 4 when it comes to countdown, it is really only watched by the retired, the unemployed and students.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Simon-Gamble/100002297342997 Simon Gamble

         That may account for the people who watch it at the time of broadcast.  However, many people watch on 4OD and other catch-up services.

  • Xtracurlyfries

    Ahh, such fond memories watching Countdown while at university. Usually while sitting with my flat-mates in late afternoon drinking tea and eating biscuits.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       And yet your handle calls them “fries” and not “chips.” (Though “curly chips” sounds extremely weird…)

      • Ville Häkkinen

        If they’re curly, they’re fries, not chips. Chips are big fat buggers and fries are long skinny things.

      • violettglass

         Even we Brits call em curly fries because they aren’t remotely like proper chips.

    • Xtracurlyfries

      Also, I’m culturally confused because I grew up in the UK but live in the US. So I’m apt to say confusing things like: “the loo is near the elevator.” Such a magical world I live in.

      • http://www.facebook.com/samhuddy Sam Aronow Huddy

        In my hometown, certain Britishisms and spellings are the norm, but others aren’t. It’s confusing as hell on paper and yet everybody manages to do it the same way.

  • JosephLillo

    Assuming one can use parentheses, I got (100+7)*(6-4/4)+3 = 107*5+3 = 538. Can one?

    • Captain_Internet

      Absolutely. In fact it’s often necessary.

    • jellybeanpill

      Yeah, but when she writes it out on the board it’s set out like
      100+7 = 107
      4/4 = 1     6-1 = 5
      5 x 107 = 535   + 3 = 538 (round of applause)

  • Captain_Internet

    Couple of interesting points: first, presenter Nick Hewer is one of the advisers to Alan Sugar on the UK version of ‘The Apprentice’. Second, as was pointed out by a number of people the other week after I said Countdown was the most British thing ever, the format of Countdown is originally French.

    But those people are miserable pedants, with the emphasis on miserable, since it’s a nine letter word.

    When I was very small my mother always used to watch Countdown. As it turns out, the slow, patient way the letters are placed on the board and then called out is an excellent way to teach a child the alphabet. 

    But my family only know this because when I was about two or three, my older sister went for an eye test and I had to be removed from the room. I kept shouting out what the letters were whenever the optician pointed to them.

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      Not only is Hewer one of Lord Sugar’s Apprentice advisers, but he’s always been the more cutting and critical of the two (although Margaret certainly had her moments of quiet viciousness). It certainly was odd to see Hewer take over the hosting job of this thoroughly homey, friendly show. I think he does a very good job, though. I hope he sticks around longer than the past few post-Whiteley hosts have.

      • Captain_Internet

        Absolutely. His wit suits the show, even though traditionally the host has been picked to let everyone else appear clever. Having said that, I never saw Des O’Connor or Des Lynham as host, so I could be totally wrong.

        I catch it from time to time if I’m working from home. TV goes on for Countdown, off for Deal Or No Deal, and then on again for Pointless. And then largely stays off, because computer games.

      • Afghamistam

        Even though I don’t watch this show, I’d always kind of hoped Jeff Stelling would remain as the host, if only to bring the same brand of anarchic over-enthusiastic dad  energy we all love on Soccer Saturday.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90p0TisVziU 

        • Kip_Hackman

          Agreed, he also had better chemistry with Rachel something Nick is lacking in.

        • unterwasser

          Sadly I don’t think Jeff Stelling worked that well on Countdown, he always seemed reined in by the formality of the format.

          I’d love to see a Gameological type analyis of Gilette Soccer Saturday, though I’m not sure if America’s ready for Chris Kamara.

        • violettglass

          I’m pretty sure every woman I know has nightmares about their partners running off to live with Stelling.

          The man can talk constantly about football results all afternoon and then work out how the points will affect the leagues, in his head. He always throws in little vignettes about managers who are turning 60 or players whose wives are in labour.

        • EvelKareebel

           I remember Johnny Vaughn describing Gillette Soccer Saturday as “autism in action” and it’s so true. It really shouldn’t work, but I love it.

          The other day, as the goals were flying in, Stelling managed to do 2 world class puns on the fly about obscure scottish second division strikers. He’s a national treasure.

      • Electric Dragon

        I miss Margaret. I joked on another blog that Margaret had ascended to a realm of pure energy (although she does return to corporeal form for the interview round). In fact she went off to do a PhD in Egyptian papyrology, which is much the same thing.

    • quinabog

      It is indeed French. (Frenchman speaking) It does feel kind of weird to see the longest-running French tv show (since 1965) defined as typically British. It’s mostly an old people show… I guess being old is a British thing (just kidding). 
      The French prizes are dictionaries/encyclopedias. I remember seeing a Spanich Countdown too.

  • Chris Holly

    That’s Numberwang!

    • violettglass

       What about 23?

    • Effigy_Power

       Sorry, but Ireland is not a vegetable.

    • http://www.facebook.com/samhuddy Sam Aronow Huddy

      YEEEEESSS THAT IS A NUMBER.

  • Daniel Millar

    11 x 9 is 99 when I was at school.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/OGBVX7NW3WCIQGJAERNOICR2LI Phil

    A couple of nitpicks:

    Countdown (and Channel 4) began in 1982, not 1984.

    The Teatime Teasers are eight letters, not nine. (They used to be seven until the production team began to run out of seven-letter words to provide amusing anagrams of.)

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      Oops. I guess I had fours on the brain. Thanks, Phil! Fixed.

    • LimeadeYouth

      Can you make Channel 4 Using the numbers 1982, 1984, 8, 9, 7 and 7?

      • http://ertchin.livejournal.com Robert Hutchinson

        (1984-1982)=2, 9-8=1, 7/7=1, 2+1+1=4. 

        Got nothing for “Channel”, though.

    • JAS84

      A second reference to 1984 in the last paragraph still needs to be fixed.

  • Andrew

    I deem this article a load of sloblock

    • Effigy_Power

       And several tnettennbas.

  • jellybeanpill

    You forgot to mention one of the quaintest parts: when neither contestant solves the conundrum in the 30 seconds, the host turns it over to the audience. You then get a shot of a crowd of grannies in cardigans, who look like they’ve been preserved in time since the show began.

    Also, sometimes the contestants offer swear words, or a swear word is made out of the letters as they’re drawn randomly, It’s all legal by the rules of the game, so the points stand, but the offending round is cut out of the broadcast.

    • Ville Häkkinen
      • JAS84

        That image just redirects to funnyjunk.com. Evidently, they don’t like hotlinking, please reupload it.

    • chrisburgess

      I’ve noticed that since the sexy Rachel Riley joined the show, the studio audience has been comatose. One episode I saw had an audience of 80% young men drooling over Rachel in one of her skimpy wee dresses.

      Needless to say she encourages me to tune in more often.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Gray/100001013678999 David Gray

    The reason this seems so relaxed and genial is largely because the audience is composed completely of old people.  Whenever it cuts to a shot of the audience, have a look!  I defy you to see anyone under 70 in the crowd.

    The same can pretty much be said for the audience at home, apart from students obviously. Because we’ll watch any old daytime crap (I’m looking at you Bargain Hunt)

  • chrisbarton303

    Countdown is the last of the great traditional British quiz shows, there were plenty like it while I was growing up. The unifying theme was always establishing intellectual superiority in lieu of financial reward. “Call My Bluff” was a nice example:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoiKoIZ7wwo

    • Bogie55

      You’re forgetting the best quiz show ever, “Only Connect”. Also, the “University Challenge” prize could hardly be called financially rewarding.

  • LimeadeYouth

    Ya know…Kieth Olbermann is looking for a job…

    • Afghamistam

      Don’t tease us.

  • asbo_zappruder

    “Countdown” is the most weirdly addictive television show I’ve ever seen.  It’s rare that you have television that is trying to make you think rather than distract you.  It’s almost unnerving.  (Although, it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that you didn’t have to use all the numbers in the numbers round.)

    I’m so sorry you had to watch and episode with Janet Street-Porter.  I first saw her on an episode of “Would I Lie to You?” where she actually stood up and walked across the stage to David Mitchell to threaten him.  She really is way too old to behave the way she does.

    Anyway, while we’re sharing clips, here’s Charlie Brooker in an episode of “Screenwipe” introducing a bunch of Americans to UK shows, including “Countdown”:

    http://youtu.be/LgwKU54rO0U

    • CNightwing

      Screenwipe! Fantastic.

  • shitegeist

    I’m absolutely loving these articles, John. The fact that you have researched not only the gameshows, but relevant bits of British cultural background, is really impressive.

    Keep up the good work.

  • http://alexander-dyle.myopenid.com/ Alexander Dyle

    My favourite British gameshow is Nexus, which featured similarly nerdy math/logic puzzles but with the added benefit of Brian Blessed wearing wizard robes and shouting at the contestants. 

    • http://twitter.com/DavidJBodycombe David J. Bodycombe

      I was the series 1 champion of Nexus (trufact!) Every morning he would say “Look over there!” and punch us in the stomach. Got me every time.

      • Electric Dragon

        Wow. Now I wish I’d ever heard of it – sadly can’t find any clips on YouTube. (I have, however, heard of Mr. Bodycombe, question (and Connecting Wall) setter par excellence)

        • Electric Dragon

           I have now found a clip of (presumably) outtakes from the show, featuring BRIAN BLESSED being a bit sweary. (“Palm Pilot? Sounds like a wanking machine.”)

      • http://twitter.com/IsolaValentine Nat – DSQ ♥(。→‿←。)♥

         You were the games devisor for Crystal Maze?! Let me shake your hand sir, I always loved that show!

  • ben lomas

    It used to be on at 4:30, after 15 to 1, and I am still reeling from this change. I can’t watch it even if I leave early from work. :-(.

    • EvelKareebel

       Oh god, I miss 15 to 1. Hey, Alan, you’re a househusband from Rhyl. You got any amusing anecdotes? Well William G Steart doesn’t give a fuck, he needs to know who scipio africanus major defeated during the battle of zuma?

      Too late, it was hannibal. Get one more question wrong and you’re gone beofre the ad break, bitch.

      • Electric Dragon

        (Battle of *Zama*. And I didn’t even make the final 3 on my appearance on the show.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Whitehead/789605656 Dan Whitehead

    In a very similar vein, but aimed at spotty students, was Blockbusters.

  • violettglass

    Please write about University Challenge as well. I think whoever does it would enjoy watching Paxman’s sadistic streak rear its ugly head when there’s a particularly bad team on.

    He also sneers when someone gets an answer about anything that happened after 2000.

    • EvelKareebel

       YOU MAY NOT CONFER, ONE OF YOU MAY BUZZ

    • Bogie55

      Bad(?) news, violett: University Challenge is an American format. Is Paxo superior to Bamber?

      • violettglass

        I don’t know, Bamber was before my time.

        There’s an American version of University Challenge? Is it called College Challenge?

        That makes me sad. If I picture American students they all look like models and are doing shots. Knowing obscure shit about the classics seemed like more of a Brit student thing.

        • http://www.facebook.com/samhuddy Sam Aronow Huddy

          It was on in the 60s, and the kids wore suits.

          I’m sad I missed the days when poor stupid kids didn’t go to college.

        • http://twitter.com/IsolaValentine Nat – DSQ ♥(。→‿←。)♥

          Sorry I clicked the wrong reply button xD

    • Colliewest

      Ra Ra Ra! We’re going to smash the oiks! 
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxA0a5G6ccg

  • http://theladyfingers.blogspot.com/ Ladyfingers

    We had an identical local version in South Africa. I always trounced the morons actually playing,

  • http://twitter.com/creaves creaves

    This whole series is so fun. I had no idea I was so into British game shows!

  • EvelKareebel

    If you are ever at the Edinburgh fringe festival, check out comedy countdown. It’s exactly the same as countdown, but played by comedians, who are drunk.

    The delightfully acerbic Dan Atkinson hosts, and Paul Sinha (as featured last week in this column, as the white suited bloke from “the chase”) is Carole, doing the numbers. I’ve only seen him stumped once. They give out biscuits during the interval, the clock is generally a street entertainer and it’s all charmingly ramshackle and brilliant. They all plug their show at the end, except Sinha always picks a different comedian who’s pissed him off and has a rant about their show.

    Best bit last year was the numbers game, the number picked was 911.

    Dan Atkinson: So paul, did you get nine eleven?
    (big ooh from the crowd)
    Paul Sinha: I don’t want to do it again, Shazia Mirza doesn’t need the career boost.

    • LimeadeYouth

      I had to google Shazia Mirza. E-freakin-gad is she not funny. 

  • http://twitter.com/TheColeberg James Coleman

    Long live Richard Whiteley.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3HXDVYRKBWGTA5A4M5IOPN4DBU Emerson

    First rule of Street Countdown. Is that you really must try and tell as
    many people as possible about it. It’s a rather fun game and the more
    people you tell about it the better.

    • violettglass

       I’ll go tell the delightful looking gang of teenagers on the field right now! They seem to be smoking something illegal but hey who doesn’t love anagrams……

  • TeaCaddy

    Always delightful to read the view from abroad on one of our treasured institutions. Nick Hewer, for the record, earned his media chops as the boss’s right hand man on our British version of The Apprentice, in which he often looks as if he has just been assaulted by a particuarly bad smell.

    Others have mentioned Richard Whitely, the terminally inept, profoundly mediocre original MC, who brought an entirely different (but equally cosy) vibe to the show and will always be remembered for being bitten quite severely by a ferret. He was joined (and outlasted) by Carol Vordeman, a fearsomely intelligent, shapely but slightly bug-eyed and permanently moist would-be temptress who has variously been referred to as ‘the thinking man’s crumpet’ (a mantle she inherited from Joan Bakewell), or less flatteringly as a ‘borderline boiler’ (your brain says no, but your cock says go!).

    I haven’t actually seen the Nick Hewer incarnation of the show yet (his first week was famously inept, I heard) but I shall now watch it with great interest.

  • Tom Foxtrot

    Also the quiz show 8 out of 10 cats does a great episode mash-up based on Countdown:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSe_m5xQY8A Part 1

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZiwFlU6OH8 Part 2

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/BADZJRQ6GCLKGEJJRQAW46KKRA Matt

    Whilst it may not be “THE” most popular gameshow on British Television, if you look at the ratings, it comes in darned close. Sure, British TV isn’t plagued by hours of gameshows like it is in the US (I am British-born but live in the US). Countdown holds it’s own against other regular gameshows such as Deal or No Deal, Eggheads etc. It isn’t even that far behind prime-time shows with stunt prizes, such as Million Dollar Drop or Red or Black.

    What makes it Britain’s most popular gameshow is the fact that it has run for 5 or 6 days a week for 30 years. The viewing figures have remained constant, despite format changes (albeit small format changes – the Brits don’t like change) and presenter changes and despite the fact that the people are competing to win a teapot. 

    It IS quintessentially British, which is ironic, considering the format came from France, however, having seen the French version, they are as closely related as the British and American versions of Deal or No Deal. The French version is high tech, with numbers and letters being chosen by a computer and the host being basically a link between rounds. this would not be tolerated in the UK! Countdown is British because of the slow pace, the throwback to simpler times (It was out-of-date even in the 80s when it started) and the banter between the presenters and contestants. British people, even in this day and age, want their TV to be a part of the family (Hence the popularity of gritter soap operas, rather than Aussie or American fantasy soaps) and watching Countdown, or even Deal or No Deal, is like sitting with friends. Long running British gameshows are basically parlor games.

    The Price is Right, Millionaire… they come – and go – very quickly. And as someone previously said, Blockbusters is an equivalent. I hope the new version is successful, although it is shown on Challenge… which is a challenge in itself. It is sad that one of the networks couldn’t pick it up.

    I would love to see PBS in the States start up Countdown… it could be an underground hit for them. And surely the show only costs about ten pounds per episode to produce?

  • The App Box
  • The App Box

    Such a great show!
    For anybody interested, here’s a link to Countdown for mobile:
    https://play.google.com/apps/p
    So addictive. Best I could get from above letters was Armless. Numbers:-5*100 + 4*25 + 8 = 608