"As the countdown to a brand-new channel ends, a brand-new Countdown begins."
Richard Whiteley's first words on the Countdown debut, alluding to the show's precursor Calendar Countdown (which aired as a brief regional series in 1981).
The thinking man's game show, and the face of Channel Four in Britain, having been the first programme aired on the channel in 1982 and running ever since. Two contestants face off in a series of Letters and Numbers Games, each hoping to score more points than the other. Every round is timed to 30 seconds, with a big clock ticking down behind the contestants. It was a companion to Fifteen To One until that show's demise, and nowadays is with Deal or No Deal.Countdown is based on a French game much more straightforwardly titled The Numbers and Letters (Des chiffres et des lettres).The rounds are as follows, with the first two repeated several times:
Letters Game: Each player chooses nine random letters by saying whether a consonant or vowel is requested. In the current rules, at least three vowels and four consonants must be chosen. During the time, the players must make the longest word they can using those nine letters. Longest word wins the points.
Numbers Game: The player requests anywhere from zero to four large numbers (25, 50, 75, or 100) at random. The remaining numbers (up to six) are small numbers with two of every number from 1-10. The computer chooses a random three-digit number that the contestants must achieve using the basic principles of math (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). The player closer to the number wins the points, provided their method is without flaw.
Conundrum: Used to end each show. A nine-letter word is scrambled, and the first player to buzz-in and get it right gets 10 points. In the event that the Conundrum will determine the winner, it is known as a "Crucial Countdown Conundrum". A second Conundrum is occasionally played as a tie-break.
Game Show Host: Richard Whiteley is the most well-known note He was also a presenter on Yorkshire Television's regional news programme Calendar, earning him the nickname "Twice Nightly Whiteley". He was replaced after his passing by Des Lynam, then Des O'Connor. Jeff Stelling began hosting the show upon the departure of O'Connor. Stelling left the show in 2012, and was replaced with Nick Hewer (yes,thatNick Hewer).
Lovely Assistant: Primarily Carol Vorderman and Rachel Riley, but the earlier seasons had more of them before Carol took over.
Carol Vorderman's initial role was just that of checking the working out in the numbers round and providing a solution if the contestants couldn't, carrying the humorous (if slightly sexist-sounding) job title "vital statistician"! (She also shared this role with Linda Barrett in the first two series.) Other hostesses were involved in dealing with the letters and numbers tiles. (They included, at various time Cathy Hytner, Beverley Isherwood, Karen Loughlin and Lucy Summers.)
Dictionary Corner, made up of a lexicographer (usually Susie Dentnote Originally the role varied between different lexicographers but Susie is now a permanent fixture) and a guest who changes each week.
Think Music: About as iconic in the UK as the Final Jeopardy! music is in America, to the point that people who never even watch the show will start humming it as a hint that you need to hurry up and make a decision). Have a listen.
The winner of series 31, David Acton, refused to accept the leather-bound dictionary because of his strict veganism. He recieved the dictionary on CD instead.
Artificial Stupidity: The computer which generates the Numbers Game puzzles has a habit of throwing out ludicrously easy puzzles from time to time, usually by using just two of the six numbers selected. Here's an example. Note that sometimes contestants try to be clever by using all the numbers when only two or three are needed; 9 times out of 10 this backfires and hands the round to the other contestant, who just picks the obvious solution.
Corpsing: Richard Whiteley loses it while telling a joke once; amazing how he can even make a bad joke funny.
Cross Over: Being as iconic as it is, the game has appeared in other shows as part of some kind of task — notably to embarrass Ant And Dec on Saturday Night Takeaway, and as a shopping budget task on Big Brother.
A more straightforward crossover happened with 8 Out of 10 Cats as part of Channel 4's "mash-up" night in 2012. The format proved so popular that it has developed into a series in its own right.
Early-Installment Weirdness: the basic format hasn't changed that much since the show started on Channel 4, but there have been some peripheral changes which make watching anniversary repeats a bit strange. For example the existence of several female assistants instead of one (who essentially acts as co-presenter now), the extending of the show from half an hour to three quarters, no Susie Dent as resident lexicographer with her own "origins of words" featurette, no "Teatime Teaser" book-ending the commercial breaks, and (in the first episode) the fact that things did seem a lot more awkward.
Before Channel 4 there was also an earlier incarnation, Calendar Countdown which was shown only on Yorkshire Television as an offshoot of regional news programme Calendar. If the pilot (kicking around YouTube somewhere) is anything to go by, the format was a lot different, with rounds not making it into the more famous Channel 4 incarnation and the clock ran for 45 seconds.
Golden Snitch: Parodied in one of the 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown editions, where the team of Bob Mortimer and Lee Mack (trailing 54-0) seemingly arbitrarily persuade host Jimmy Carr (with some help from Joe Wilkinson) to make the final conundrum worth 100 points. They still manage to lose the conundrum anyway.
Long Runner: Compared to some, pretty short, but it's Channel4's longest-running show — partly because it was the first thing ever shown on the channel.
Luck-Based Mission: Even with the Scrabble-like distribution of letters, forming long words can be tricky. Likewise, not all Numbers Game combinations are possible.
Serious Business: If the two players are within 10 points of each other for the final Conundrum, it becomes a Crucial Countdown Conundrum, and the lights dim to emphasize.
Ship Tease: Considering how much Richard and Carol seemed to get along on-air, this isn't surprising. To a lesser extent, Des O' and Carol.
Significant Anagram: The longer the word, the more points it is worth. Conundrum anagrams are worth 10. On the rare occasion that the 9 letters randomly drawn in a Letters Game can be rearranged to form a 9-letter word, it is worth a whopping 18 points to the contestant who spots it..
Take That: When Preston North End got relegated from the Championship, a producer who was a Blackpool fan assembled the Conundrum "PNECRISIS".