Want to tax your brain? Try a ‘Countdown’

Published 8:59 pm Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Twelve years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit England and France with my family. There is truly nothing more exciting than getting the chance to visit one of those places that previously was just a “splotch on a map.”

During that trip, I was introduced to a game show unlike anything that I had ever seen in the U.S. It was called “Countdown,” and I remember sitting and watching an episode and thinking, “Wow, this is really fun.” Unfortunately, the show never made it stateside, so I figured it would be the only time I ever would get to watch this unique quiz program.

However, some clever person invented a website called “YouTube,” and all it takes is a quick search for “Countdown game show,” and you are greeted with an endless stream of episodes to enjoy.

Email newsletter signup

When I’m bored at home, I just grab a piece of paper, pick a YouTube “Countdown” clip that I’ve never seen before, and play along with the contestants. The game is essentially a mixture of Scrabble and math puzzles. In the word game, the players select nine letters at random — at least four vowels — and are then given 30 seconds to come up with the biggest word they can make. For example, given the letters “W, S, P, E, A, N, P, R, E,” the best solution would be the nine-letter, “newspaper.” However, contestants only had to beat their opponent’s longest word in order to gain points — if Player 1 could only find the six-letter word “prawns,” then Player 2 could win points by finding a word with seven or more letters, like “snapper.”

The math game is a bit more complicated. In this game, contestants are given six numbers and then have to use arithmetic to get to a final “target number.” For example, if the target number is “505” and the numbers given are “3, 2, 3, 8, 100, 25” one solution would be “(2+3) x 100 = 500; 8-3 = 5; 500+5 = 505.” A longer solution that uses all the numbers would be “25 x 8 = 200; 200 x 3 = 600; 600 – 100 = 500; 3 + 2 = 5; 500 + 5 = 505.” These problems are fun — but definitely tax your brain — because they often have multiple solutions.

I’m not sure why this game show never was given an American version, like its British cousins, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “The Weakest Link.” It’s certainly a little more of a “brainy” show than most, but so are “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune,” and those are successful.

If you’re the kind of person who likes puzzles, I’d recommend that you hit up YouTube and try playing along with an episode or two. Just don’t blame me if you start talking in a British accent.