# How to improve at Countdown

“Improve at Countdown” refers to the British TV game show. In Australia it is called Letters and Numbers. It is screened regularly 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, which has been running on Britain’s Channel 4 since 1982. In Australia **Countdown** is renowned as a popular music show hence the change of name 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 does Countdown” which is now broadcast in Australia as well as the UK and US.

**Letter Rounds**

In all the versions of the show I have seen, two contestants vie to win the letter rounds. They have to find the longest word from a total of nine letters – a mix of consonants and vowels chosen by one of the contestants. They have thirty seconds to find the word. In Australia there are five of these **Letter rounds **in each game**.**

As an example of a Letter round a screenshot from the Letters and Numbers app demonstrates the principle.

“Addled” might be a good bet.

### Number rounds

Three number rounds are included in Australia’s show, Randomly drawn numbers are used to try 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. Below is a screen shot of a conundrum which shows the solution and how it is marked in the Letters and Numbers App.

You can look up the definition of any word so even if you did not get the correct answer you can find it out and also find out what it means – a good way to expand your vocabulary.

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. In our app we call this game Wordmix.

## How to improve at Countdown ?

**Numbers rounds need a knowledge of BODMAS**

Contestants 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 some 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. However below is a tip which suggests you could do very well with four large numbers

## To improve at Countdown do the following:

### How to improve at Countdown in the Numbers rounds

#### 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 25, 75, 125 and even 175 times tables

It is quite easy with the 75 times table 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. In our app called Spelling there is also a section to practise the more difficult to remember but very useful 13, 75 and 125 times tables.

The app is available from Apple. In the next update we will be adding the 175 times table. The reason why is explained below.

Download the Spelling and Tables app – its free to try. Click on the icon to get to the Apple Store.

### The app is also available for Android devices on the Google Play Store

Click on the Play Store icon

### How to beat competitors

Above we mentioned that the best way to get to the exact number is with two large and four small. **However if you want to do better than others you might try four large numbers.** This idea is suggested by a few people who have written about Countdown. This is what Alaric Stephen had to say.

“In number rounds of Countdown you have to pick six numbers in total, some of them large and the rest small. There are only four large numbers:

25, 50, 75 and 100

Most people pick either one or two large numbers and try to multiply a large number by some combination of the small numbers to get in the vicinity of the target. Then they use the rest of the small numbers to fine tune it up or down a bit. This strategy works well.

**The problem is that everyone does this,** so it is hard to get much of an advantage over your competitors.

### When playing countdown the goal is not to try to get as close as possible to the answer, it is to get closer than the other player.

Some of the top competitors pick all four big numbers (which are always the same) and learn lots of tricks beforehand that your competitor has not learned. By learning your 75 times table you already have a huge advantage over a casual player. It is also worth knowing your 125 and your 175 times tables really well.

eg You have the numbers 8, 9, 25, 50, 75 and 100 and want to get to 847.

Straight away we can see 8 x 100 gets us close. Adding on 50 gets us to 850. We have 9, 25 and 75 left 75/25 =3. Subtract this and you have the answer.”

The writer advises to hold back on the 25 and not use it straight away. In the above example you used the 25 to eventually get the number 3.

There is a lot more advice you can follow on the alaric stephen website

He does have advice on how to more easily get to the 900’s using four large numbers – it is called 937.5 and is very interesting. He argues that the 900’s are difficult to get but 4 large numbers make it easier.

You can try out using four large numbers on our app

If you select practice mode you can try out his theory without being timed until you have mastered some of the tips he gives.

### How to improve at Countdown with Conundrums and Wordmix

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. Improving your vocabulary and word knowledge is the way to go. Have a look at the Vocabulary app which is aimed at improving your word knowledge and extending your vocabulary.

But the letters rounds? You might get lucky!

**How to improve at Countdown in the Letters rounds**

Start thinking as soon as the first letter appears – do not wait for all nine to be in front of you. There are a few strategies you can use:

#### Building words from parts

Generally words are short. Most words of 7+ letters are made up of a short word root combined with a common ending or prefix. Once you have spotted one of these, your job of finding a long word becomes much simpler.

These four endings are extremely common in longer word and should always be considered when they appear in a selection.

**-s**

**-ed**

**-er**

**-ing**

In the nine letter sample below -ed sticks out as a word ending

### S W R T H E A D T

If you use ed you could easily find

HATED 5

DARTED 6

TARTED 6

And maybe even THWARTED 8

### M G E S R A N I U

You could look for -s endings, -er endings or -ers ending but the ing ending is always a good bet

MUSING 6

ARMING 6

MEASURING 9

A few more very useful word endings you can try

-est, -er, -iest

-y, -ly, -ily

-sion, -tion

-Ist, -ism

-able, -ible

#### Letter frequencies

Some letters found more frequently in English than others.

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. Use first the most frequent letters. Rare letters are a distraction and although you may have time in Scrabble to eventually use an x or z and get a good score, in a timed game it is not so easy.

## Practice may not make you perfect but ,,,,,,,,

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

In addition you can download our app for free from the App Store or the Google Play Store. This screen shot shows the app offers all the aspects of the TV show – the combo option is like the format of the show. You can just play numbers or any of the other options. Combo would be the most challenging.

### Click on the icons below to download the app for free to try.