Countdown Conundrums

Now, I wouldn’t want you think I watch a lot of daytime TV, but one of the pleasures of working from home is that I can spend my afternoon tea break watching Countdown. I justify it because it’s a word and numbers game – it’s almost, um, professional development.  For any Brits that have lived in a cave for the last 28 years, and for those of you who live abroad and don’t know about Countdown, each weekday two contestants compete to win a teapot and some other junk. Some of them are very clever indeed.

In the word rounds, they take it in turns to select nine letters, blind, only being able to specify the mix of vowels and consonants. They then both have thirty seconds to create the longest word they can from the chosen letters. It’s a bit like Scrabble except the letters don’t have different values. So it’s a game requiring a great vocabulary, which would take many years to acquire, right? Nope. The winner on Friday, and the number two seed for the entire series because he won eight shows in a row with an average score of 112, is just 14 years old. How can someone as young as Eoin Monaghan know words like ‘viragoes’, ‘prentice’, ‘censure’, ‘imamate’ and ‘rainouts’? In one round Eoin used all nine letters with ‘totalised’. I find it hard enough just to spell his name.

The very end of the show is called the Countdown Conundrum where the contestants race to solve a one word, nine-letter, anagram. The letters on Friday were:


He solved it in one second. Answers on a postcard.

He also scored maximum points on the numbers rounds. Here, they take it in turns to choose six numbers, only able to specify how many ‘large’ numbers (25, 50, 75 or 100) and now many ‘small’ (1 – 10) numbers are chosen. A target number is then randomly generated by a computer and they have thirty seconds using adding, subtracting, dividing and/or multiplying the numbers to get as close to the target as possible. Each number may only be used once and the contestant who’s closest to the target number gets the points. If they can’t solve it, the resident human calculator, Rachel Riley, shows how to do it, if it is indeed possible. Rachel is a maths graduate from Oxford University and is even more attractive than her predecessor (and I never thought I’d say that), the ubiquitous Carol Vorderman who worked on the show for 26 years. (It was the first programme to be screened on Channel 4 when it launched in 1982). Here’s a problem the lovely Rachel solved in under thirty seconds last week:


Target number 299.

Getting 298 or 300 isn’t too hard. But a prize to anyone who can show how Rachel got 299 (and huge respect if you can do it quicker than she did).

To see Eoin in action in Friday’s programme click here:

The series final is this Friday (Dec 17th) at 3.25 p.m but, if you can’t work from home like me, you can watch it later on Channel 4’s on demand service at My guess is Eoin will be in the final against Cambridge student Jack Hurst, who is the grand old age of 18. Older people do take part on the show, they just don’t seem to do so well. I won’t be applying.


2 Responses to “Countdown Conundrums”

  1. Vouchsafe. Took me 3 seconds though!

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