How to Beat Your Friends at SBS’s Letters and Numbers (Countdown in UK)

Get Better at Letters and Numbers

Letters and Numbers appears on our TV screens in Australia in a late afternoon slot. In our house we have been watching it on and off for some years.

The game has a simple concept. The mix of the show as described is based on the Australian not the British show.

Letter rounds

There are five letter rounds in which points are awarded for the longest word produced from a series of randomly drawn letters. There are two contestants who gain points if they have the longest word.

Number rounds

Three number rounds are included in which randomly drawn numbers are used to produce an answer as close as possible to a target number. The contestants choose how many large or small numbers they want. In the image below you have the target number 681. You have to get as close as possible to 681 using two large numbers 50 and 25 and four small numbers 6, 5, 4 and three.


In the above example you could get pretty close by doing the following:

(25*5) = 125    125+50 = 175   175*4  = 700   700-(6*3) = 682   This can be written as ((((25*5)-150)*4)=(6*3)).  You do have to know about the hierarchy of functions and how to use brackets. There is more on this below.

As you can see you are given the six numbers and can use add, multiply, divide and subtract putting in  brackets where necessary.

Conundrum round

Conundrums score highly in the TV show. These are anagrams. Click on the video below to find out more about conundrums.

Tea time Teaser

In addition in Australia there is a tea time teaser. Just before the ad break there is an anagram question which unlike the conundrum has a clue.

The show in Australia is presented by Richard Morecroft and he is assisted by mathematician Lily Serna and wordsmith David Astle. It is easy for the viewers to participate with only a pencil and paper required for scribblings. It is great watching with the kids and grandkids as everyone can participate.

A show in many countries and over many years

The show is screened regularly in Australia and I was surprised to learn that there had in fact only been two series of the show  and the last episode was in 2012 so the show is now generated by repeats.

The programme was based on the British Show “Countdown”, which has been running on Britain’s Channel 4 since 1982. In Australia Countdown is renowned as a popular music show hence the change to Letters and Numbers. The original show which was produced in France was also called Letters and Numbers (Des Chiffres et des Lettres). In France the show has run continuously since 1965 to the present day. There have been versions of the game is many countries.

There is also the spin off comedy show “8 out of 10 cats do Countdown” which is now broadcast in Australia as well as the UK and US.

How to improve at Letters and Numbers?

Numbers rounds need a knowledge of BODMAS

As stated, In the program there are two contestants. In the numbers round one contestant chooses six out of 24 face down number tiles. These are arranged into two sets: there are 20 small numbers (two each of numbers 1 to 10); and four large numbers of 25, 50, 75 and 100. The contestant first decides how many large numbers are to be used, from zero to four, and then six tiles are randomly drawn and displayed.

A random three-digit target number is then generated electronically. The contestants have 30 seconds to work out a sequence of calculations with the numbers displayed and the final result should be as close to the target number as possible.

They may use only the four basic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and do not have to use all six numbers. It is often necessary to use brackets as the sequence of mathematical calculations is of paramount importance. BODMAS is an acronym or mnemonic used to help pupils remember the correct order to complete mathematical calculations. Click on the underlined link for more information on the order of operations.

So many different outcomes

In some games, there are many ways to reach the target exactly. Not all games can be solved, and for a randomly generated numbers it is impossible even to get within 10. It is most difficult when six small numbers are chosen and the target number is quite large. One large and five small numbers is the most popular selection, despite two large numbers giving the best chance of the game being solvable exactly. Selections with zero or four large numbers are generally considered the most difficult.

To get better at letters and numbers do the following:


Practise mental arithmetic

You should be fast enough to try several different methods to reach the target in 30 seconds, in case your first ones aren’t successful. Know your tables.

Try split multiplication

 This involves adding or subtracting smaller numbers from a given large number to get closer to the target when you multiply up. If the target is 472 with the numbers 75, 8, 6, 4, ’75 x 6′ is 450 and ‘8 x 4’ is 32 so (75 x 6) + (8 x 4) = 472.

Learn the 75 times table

It’s quite easy when you realise that every four lots of 75 take you to 300, so for instance 9 × 75 is the same as 2 × 300 + 75, which equals 675.


For the conundrum, there is a lot of luck involved. Look for common prefixes and suffixes (e.g., RE-, PRE-, SUB, -ING, -ED) and hope for the best! This is something which true Letters and Numbers addicts put hours into mastering, so there’s no easy solution. Sorry.

But the letters rounds? You might get lucky!

Letters rounds

Some letters occur more commonly in the English language than others, and the Letters and Numbers letters pile is weighted to reflect this. For instance, there are many more E’s and S’s than Z’s. This means that words made up purely from very common letters – DISASTERS, NOTARIES, PRINTERS, DESERTED, and hundreds of others – are more likely to occur regularly. Learn a few, and you’ll probably get the chance to look very clever without needing to be an anagram expert. Better still, learn which letters you can combine with these words to make a longer word.

Practice may not make your perfect but ,,,,,,,,

Above all practise, practise, practise and the best way to practise is by downloading our Letters And Numbers app. In Free Mode you can practise without time constraints.

download letters and numbers game play store

download Letters and Numbers on the app store

1 thought on “How to Improve at SBS’s Letters and Numbers

  1. Countdown has been going here for years, in fact I know exactly when it started as it was a new programme for Channel Four, which started when my daughter was born. We had phases of being addicted to it, watching with pen and paper in hand; there was national mourning when the original presenter died. Hardly ever got the conundrum.

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