9 January 2013

Da da da da da-da-da-da BOOM!

This is Benjamin's Blog's account of the nine preliminaries in Series 68 (aka the 30th Birthday Championship) of Countdown.

Please be aware that this page refers to recent editions of Countdown. If you do not want to have the episodes "spoilt" for you, then do not read this until you have seen them.

If you think this tune seems familiar, that's because it is. It's the Countdown theme, and I have always been interested in Countdown (theme with a small puzzle below).

This, however, is no ordinary Countdown series. This is the 30th birthday championship, or, put simply, Series 68. 41 of the best players in Countdown's 30-year history have been invited back to put themselves against each other to try to win the title of "supreme champion".

The rules:


- Nine letters are chosen by saying "consonant" or "vowel". Rachel puts them up on the board. The clock is started and the contestants have to try to find the longest word that is in the dictionary using only the letters available, so if there is only one S, it can only be used once. The contestant who had the longer word scored the value of however long it is (so seven points for a seven-letter-word), except for nine-letter-words (using all the letters) which score double. The other contestant scores nothing. If both contestants got an equal length, they both score.


- Six numbers are chosen from two categories, large numbers (25, 50, 75, and 100, one of each) and small numbers (1 through 10, two of each). So one can have anything ranging from no large numbers to four large numbers. The random number generator selects a target number between 101 and 999. The clock is started and contestants have to try to find that target (or as close as possible) using the numbers only once, and using +, -, x, and /. You don't have to use all the numbers. If a contestant can prove that they can get the target bang on, 10 points, 7 points if within 5, and 5 points if within 10. Only the contestant that is closer to the target scores, and, again, if they both get it, or are both the same place away, then they both score.


- As soon as a jumbled-up nine-letter-word is revealed, the clock is started. The contestant must buzz in as quickly as possible and announce what the word is. If they get it wrong, the rest of the time goes to the other player (well, we can't be here all day!). If they get it right, 10 points are awarded.

Episode 1 (Preliminary 1)

7 January 2013

Nick Hewer introduces the concept with the somewhat customary trophy, has a forced chat with Rachel Riley, and gives a customary preamble about the contestants, but, like I said, these are no ordinary contestants.

Contestant 1: Tom Hargreaves. First appeared on Countdown on Boxing Day in 2001 (when Countdown was so popular it ran right through Christmas!) and became the first ever octochamp (you retire after winning eight games on the bounce and they invite you back for the series finals) when the show was given a new format in 2001, with an average score of 106.25 for his eight preliminary games, a total of 850. Prior to this match, he had only ever lost two games: the Series 47 Grand Final (to Chris Wills) and the Championship of Champions XI Grand Final (to Graham Nash).

Contestant 2: Nicki Sellars. First appeared on Countdown in 2010, just missing out on octochampdom by three points to her "main competitor", Lee Graham, who played each other thrice - twice by chance and once for a "special". She passed through to the Series 62 finals as number 7 seed, waltzing through the quarter-finals and beating Lee Graham in the semi-finals to play the number 1 seed in the grand final, and, predictably, lost.

Nicki held on for the first few rounds to Tom, but when Tom managed to spot DILATED as opposed to Nicki's MOATED (see the second picture), he pulled seven points ahead, and Nicki sort of lost steam after that, but when someone gets a nine, it's hard to pull it back, as demonstrated by Rachel in the third picture, and when you then have BOXGATE disallowed, it's not good news.

Wait, no, hold on, Nicki says she has a nine (even though she's now nearly 50 points behind). An older way of spelling DEMONS is DAEMONS, so if DEMONISE is valid for eight, then surely DAEMONISE must be too? The answer from the lexicographer (word-checker), Susie Dent, is "no". Tom has obtained an unassailable lead with three rounds to go, and is through to the first round proper.

Episode 2 (Preliminary 2)

8 January 2013

Contestant 1: Wayne Kelly. First appeared on Countdown in 1994 and made it through to the Grand Final, only to lose to the man who is now the Executive Producer, Damian Eadie. Prior to this match, he had been given a thrashing in the first Supreme Championship in 1996, a thrashing in the Championship of Champions VII, and was not fancied against...

Contestant 2: Nick Wainwright. Appeared on Countdown in 2007 and won Series 56. He returned for the Championship of Champions XIII in 2009, and was hotly fancied, only to lose out to eventual winner Steven Briers.

The question was would the gap of nearly 17 years in appearances do for Wayne? Besides, Nick was fancied anyway.

Two nines in two days is a very rare thing, but it happened, as everyone spotted WEARINESS (even if the enunciation was disputed).

Another rare thing happened: a numbers game where it's impossible to get within 10. Okay, Nick picking 6 small didn't help, but he had had two words disallowed in the last four rounds so he needed to do something.

Now 20 points behind the underdog with five rounds to go, Nick had to live up to his name, but Wayne matched him word after word, meaning Wayne had won with two rounds to go.

Episode 3 (Preliminary 3)

9 January 2013

Two of Countdown's greatest players (arguably) did not get byes.

Contestant 1: Mark Deeks. First appeared on Countdown in 2011 but lost in controversial circumstances in the semi-finals, as his opponent won his second game when everyone thought the time had run out, but the stopwatch said it had a quarter of a second to go.

Contestant 2: Jack Hurst. Statistically the greatest player ever, with 946 from his eight games at an average of 118.25 with his lowest score as 110, but failed to take the highest score off Julian Fell's 146. He waltzed his series' finals and was granted a place in the championship.

Mark Deeks tried to get OUTLEAPT to beat Jack off the line, but it was ruled, surprisingly, as invalid. Jack went into the lead with PROLATE, but Mark tried to psychologically beat Jack with POOING in round 4. Jack laughed it off but they both missed POONING in the moment, costing Mark dear.

For the rest of the game, Mark didn't score in only one round, when Jack beat him with CONSUMER, but no nines meant that the game was oh-so-close. But if Jack scored in the penultimate round, he would win. And he did. So he did. But Mark would have a party piece to play in his famous "blink-and-you-miss-it" conundrum skills.

It became only the thirteenth game whereupon both players scored over 100.

Episode 4 (Preliminary 4)

10 January 2013

The first all-champion showdown of the championship.

Contestant 1: Ben Wilson. First appeared on Countdown in 2001 immediately after the show's new format was introduced, although he wasn't an octochamp as they were restricted to six games for one series, becoming a viscount. He won Series 46, got to the quarter-finals of the Championship of Champions XI, and had a knack for choosing six small numbers.

Contestant 2: Conor Travers, boy wonder. First appeared on Countdown in 2005 in Countdown's longest ever series, Series 54, and won. He was immediately invited back for the Championship of Champions XII, although he lost to Paul Gallen.

One of, arguably, the greatest matches ever could be played. And it certainly looked that way as they started in deadlock, but when Ben got STOTTY he, surprisingly, leapt into the lead. Cue an idiotic scene when trying to pick the numbers.

Ben Wilson: "I'll have 5 small please... [Rachel picks up 1 large] ...and one more small."

Conor hits back with a stunning round. Despite not being able to pronounce it correctly and a patronising Nick Hewer, Conor gets the nine FLORUITED, and retakes the lead.

Nick becomes even more patronising after Conor and Rachel engage in some Oxford v Cambridge banter (Conor studied Maths at Cambridge, Rachel studied Maths at Oxford), but Conor now has a healthy lead of 16 points.

More rounds ensue. Conor protects his lead but Ben can still win, provided that Ben trounces Conor on the numbers round (and considering that Ben had a record of 88% on numbers games with Conor on 83%, if it was very hard, then the Conorbot could be beaten here) and Ben would have to get the conundrum (unlikely, as Ben has only solved 63% of his conundrums to Conor's 79%).

But when you want a hard one, you never get a hard one, and Conor was through into Round 1. However, if Ben could solve the conundrum, it would be the first ever double-century over two consecutive matches.

Damian Eadie, the series producer who sets the conundrums, somewhat kindly decided not to have "URESOOBIG" (you're so big) against his Series 28 nemesis, so he left it to the grudge match of Ben Wilson and Conor Travers. However, Conor had French in his mind, as he had just used a French word which is in the English dictionary, so he spotted BOURGEOIS in a second. Is this Mark Deeks in disguise?

Conor finished on 117, Ben on 91. It's looking very likely that it could be the two favourites in the final at this early stage (Conor Travers vs Jack Hurst).

Next time on Countdown is a battle of the old guards: Mark Tournoff and Nick Deller.

Episode 5 (Preliminary 5)

11 January 2013

Contestant 1: Mark Tournoff. Won the last series to be broadcast whilst Richard Whiteley was still alive (I'm not including Series 53, whereupon the final was broadcast after Richard's death) in 2004. Published a book about the experience (titled as such because he won the series with three seconds to go) and played Paul Gallen twice: once in the 2004 final and once in the Championship of Champions XII final.

Contestant 2: Nick Deller. Appeared on Countdown in 1994 (yes, again) but only won three games and did not qualify for the finals, losing his fourth game by four points.

Nick Hewer teases us with a historical fact by saying "it's important to anyone related to Countdown" - 11 January 1986. Annoying there wasn't a game transmitted that day, but it was Rachel Riley's birthday.

The match beings deadlocked with Mark and Nick staying on the same score until round nine when Nick makes the mistake of trying to out-psych Mark by trying TICHIER rather than the much safer ITCHIER, and Mark opens up a seven-point lead.

An easy numbers game results in a distracted Mark, and surely certain victory?

No! Mark tries VAGUES, it's (surprisingly) disallowed, and Nick is back in it. The scores are 78 - 77 with four rounds to go, and Nick has the next letters round. He asks for several "continents". Why do we even bother?

A LIFEBOAT and a missed UPROAR (which I got!) later, there are two rounds to go. One numbers, one conundrum. The numbers round was so easy that even an U-grade GCSE Maths student could do it. Ugly, but they could do it.

So, just one round to go. The conundrum. The first crucial conundrum of the championship.

Dim the lights (much too slowly and too obscurely) for extra intensity. 101 plays 100. Pause for breath. Fingers on the buzzers. Please now reveal today's... Countdown conundrum!

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. BUZZ.

Nick Hewer just interrogates like a dictatorial parent: "WHAT... HAPPENED... HERE? Who was that? Nick!"

Nick hopelessly, in a "complete guess", goes for CRINADITY.

Let's take a look.


Mark will be pleased to know that he gets the rest of the time. All 0.25 seconds of it.


Mark Tournoff scrapes through by just one point. It's another double-century game. Wow. Just wow.

Episode 6 (Preliminary 6)

14 January 2013

Rachel has a poorly voice. Everyone at Benjamin's Blog is hoping her a speedy recovery.

Contestant 1: Darryl Francis. First appeared in Series 1 way, way back in 1982. Returned in Series 6 and won (this was 1985). Lost in the Championship of Champions III to David Trace in the semi final. Over 1,000 episodes later, he returned for the Supreme Championship, only to be outclassed by Allan Saldanha in 1996. Now, 5,608 episodes after his first appearance, he's back.

Contestant 2: David Webb. Appeared in Series 21 in 1991, lost to Chris Waddington in the semi-finals and contested series 57 winner, Craig Beevers, in the National Scrabble Championship in 2009. This is his first appearance on Countdown for over 4,000 episodes.

Darryl started early with HERAPIN, beating David's HAMPER, but at least you can eat one, continuing the "obscure-food" theme. Martin Lewis, financial expert, is the dictionary corner guest, and sounded like a socialist to me, describing a banker as a PIRANHA.

Round two was surprising as the words LOGICISE and LOGICIZES were disallowed. To make matters worse, Dictionary Corner's LOGICS was also invalid as well...

A few RIGOUROUS CONFLATIONS (RIGOUR and CONFLATE) and a missed FLECTION later, this seven-point lead refuses to wobble one iota. That is, until Martin Lewis talks about TREASON being related to a SENATOR. Did it put David off and make him gamble on GEOCARPS (which isn't in this particular dictionary, but that is Countdown's bible).

However, David manages to get ABUSED with two rounds to go, beating BEAMS. The gap is nine points with two rounds to go.

The target is 503. Daryll declares 504.

"75 - 2 = 73."
"73 x 7 = 509..."

"It's 511."

Daryll loses his provisional points. The gap is just nine points with one round to go. Put your fingers on the buzzers. Drop the lights (which, thankfully, were more noticeable than last time) and please now reveal today's Countdown conundrum, which is illegal as it has two solutions. Hence, EDUCATION has never been used as it is an anagram of CAUTIONED and AUCTIONED (although there was one occasion where one of the real words was revealed as the scramble - RELAPSING/SPANGLIER).



It's Darryl.

FORMULAIC, he says. He's got more of a chance today, but...

It is!

Darryl Francis is through. The statistically better player shone through, and Darryl is in to round one, which starts on Friday 18 January with Peter Lee and Tom Rowell.

See you tomorrow, and, as Nick says, "be sure of it".

Episode 7 (Preliminary 7)

15 January 2013

This is the vary rare occasion of a rematch. This time, it's a replay of 1991.

Contestant 1: Series 21 runner-up Jackie McLeod. Appeared in 1991 and lost in the Grand Final to today's opponent. Returned for the Championship of Champions VI and lost to Chris Waddington. Appeared in the Supreme Championship in 1996 and lost to Joyce Cansfield, Series 1 winner.

Contestant 2: Barry Grossman, Series 21 winner. Also played in the Championship of Champions VI and also lost his first match. He also appeared in the Supreme Championship in 1996 in lost to Harvey Freeman, who many think is the greatest player ever, who won the Supreme Championship, Series 10, and the Championship of Champions III.

So after Martin Lewis gives us some more anti-banker propaganda five rounds early, the match starts. There's nine in the frame; let's get on with the game.

Both contestants make themselves feel SKILLED in the first round, but Jackie is OUTSPENT in round two when it is discovered that one cannot be UNPOSTED. Very unlucky, as I am waiting for something to arrive which should have arrived on the 29th December!

Barry increases his lead after the break as they both miss VERONICA. However, Jackie immediately comes back with WAGONER. Barry has an awful spell, as one cannot MISDIET, so Jackie comes within 11 points. So, Nick, that's your cue to start favouring one contestant over another. This time, it's.... Jackie!

Nick introduces the Teatime Teaser: SPLATFRY - "The only time they shut up is when they are eating." I immediately shout out: "Nick Hewer!"

But as Barry's UPBEAR is disallowed, Jackie can only get five. However, a preceding poor numbers round for her increased the gap. The gap is now 16. To make matters worse, LADYFIES is disallowed for Jackie. With three rounds to gap is 22.

However, Jackie is not going down without a fight. RESUMING is her word which brings the gap down to 14 - that's beat Barry on the numbers and get the conundrum. Nick patronisingly urges her on.

But... disaster! Her pen runs out! She's one away. Barry gets it. That's it. Game over. A conundrum which made me shout out three of the letters repeatedly (R, R, and R) is revealed.

Episode 8 (Preliminary 8)

16 January 2013

On we go.

Contestant 1: Andrew Hulme. First appeared on Countdown in Series 42 as an 11-year-old, losing his only game on the conundrum. Returned for the Junior Championship and won. Returned in Series 61 and became the number one seed and set what was then a record of 930. The quarter and semi finals were easy, but he came unstuck against Chris Davies.

Contestant 2: Steve(n)* Briers. He lost his Series 55 quarter-final, but was bizarrely called back for the Championship of Champions XIII (rare for a quarter-finalist). He won after Charlie Reams comically buzzed in with GANDISEEG, mocking an earlier contestant. *He called himself "Steven" in Series 55, "Steve" in the Championship of Champions XIII, and has now reverted to "Steven".

Right then. This could be the clash of the titans (I've lost count of how many times I've said that already).

Both contestants start off nicely with two sevens and an eight, but when Andrew tries to say that one can TROIL, it's disallowed and Steve(n) is in front. A horrible six small selection puts Andrew back in front.

After they both JOKE[D] about NAUSEATE-ing, Andrew tries COMPIE and, once again, is disallowed, putting Steve(n) back in front. However, it's now Steve(n)'s turn to have a word disallowed (FAIDS).

Benjamin's Blog would now just like to make a tribute (in conjunction with Nick Hewer) to Michael Winner, who, at the time of writing, has died. The teatime teaser obviously honoured him.

Back to the game, then. The nine STRATEGIC comes up and Andrew gets it, putting him further ahead. Steve(n) never recovers and Andrew is through.

Episode 9 (Preliminary 9)

17 January 2013

Let's propel things into the 21st century.

Contestant 1: Ed(ward)* McCullagh, who appeared on Countdown in 2011 and won, beating Adam Gillard. Won a special versus Graeme Cole, and has never lost a game. *Called himself "Edward" in his 2011 matches.

Contestant 2: Jonathan Rawlinson, the runner up of Series 66 in 2012. He was only the sixth contestant to have solved all of their conundrums in an octochamp run.

Both contestants kick off with eight apiece, then seven apiece, then eight apiece, then... WAIT! It turns out that one cannot be OVERWORN, so Martin Lewis' annoyance comes in again by saying that "I'm doing really well to beat them".

Ed(ward) gets a fiendishly difficult six small which puts him seven ahead at the first teatime teaser. They match each other through the next section of letters, but when Ed(ward) gets 770 on a numbers round on which Jonathan makes a mistake, Ed(ward)'s propelled into the lead by 10.

They match each other still, until the last numbers round. The gap stays at 10 as they both get it. Fingers on buzzers, and reveal today's crucial countdown conundr--- BUZZ. Jonathan's STONEWASH brings the scores level after 15 rounds, so that means we have to have a tie-break conundrum. Fingers on buzzers, and please now reveal the second, even more crucial, countdown conundr--- BUZZ. Well, so much for the tension. Deja vu?

So, that means Jonathan gets through. The scores finish 94 - 104. Tomorrow, the first round starts proper. "Be sure of it".

Countdown can be seen at 2:40pm GMT on Channel 4 every weekday, 3:40pm GMT on Channel 4 +1, and 4:45pm GMT on 4seven. The championship continues until 1 March 2013.

No comments:

Post a Comment