I’ve been selected to be a contestant on Countdown. This is the culmination of everything that I’ve ever done in my life — I’ve been watching it since I was two years old, I cannot wait, I’m terrified.
So I thought I’d ease my suffering by sharing my training along the way.
Also, before I begin: a special shout-out to Apterite who commented on my last post with a link to www.apterous.org – a place where you can play against live competition and even challenge yourself against old games of Countdown!
Tip The Second — The Numbers Game
Now I’m perfectly in love with all of Countdown: the clock, the gentle whiff of terrible jokes and death emanating from Dictionary Corner, the sense that Nick might want to kill half the contestants, the letters, the numbers, all of it.
That said, I’ve always had a preference for letters over numbers. There’s less risk involved in letters, as you’re likely to get at least something, but in the numbers round it’s fairly common to get flummoxed by a bad selection or an impossibly awkward / high target. It’s all very pressured.
But over the years I’ve managed to put together a few tips which I hope will get me over the hump on the day.
Rule 1: Learn Your 75 Times Tables!
It’s the first rule of Countdown numbers. Learn your 75 table. Learn them!
75, 150, 225, 300, 375, 450, 525, 600, 675, 750, 825, 900, 975… these are the numbers that will help you out in times of need.
Rule 2: Add, Then Multiply
You’ve got a 50, you’ve got 7, you’ve got a 5, you’ve got a 3 (and probably two other numbers), and you need to get 636.
While the instinct might be to add the 7 and 5 to get 12, then multiply by 50 to get yourself to 600 (and then use those remaining numbers to finish it off), you’d be missing a vital step.
Adding a number before multiplication can reap major rewards, allowing you to piggy-back a small number on a multiplier and leap-frog closer to your target. Piggy-back AND leap-frog. That’s right.
So in this case, 5 + 7 = 12 … 50 + 3 = 53 … and 53 x 12 = 636
Rule 3: Multiply, Then Add, Then Multiply Again
This is a corollary to the above but is used much more rarely and therefore deserves a number all of its own.
Let’s say you’re working with 6, 4, 7, 3, 2 and 25 – and your target is 571.
Again, instinct might say to go for 6 x 4 = 24 … 24 x 25 = 600, but once you get there that 29 difference will get in your way. So what you can do here is split the multiplication.
If you say 6 x 25 = 150, then you make an addition or subtraction here, in this case 150 – 7 = 143. After that 118 x 4 = 572, and from there it’s just 4 – 3 = 1 … 572 – 1 = 571.
Warning: this only works with multiplication — example number two wouldn’t fly with this because the 7 and 5 were ADDED to get the multiplier.
Rule 4: Know Your Factors
This is one I’m still getting my head around, but being able to quickly divide your target by one of your numbers can make very difficult numbers rounds much simpler.
In most games, you will have 5 small numbers (between 1 and 10) and 1 large. If you consider that there are only 140 prime numbers between 1 and 1000, and a significant number of non-primes are divisible by single-digit numbers, then it makes sense to check if the numbers you have can evenly divide into the target. This strategy works best when you have all small numbers and a high target.
For instance, if the numbers you have are 6, 8, 3, 1, 5 and 9 – and your target is 576.
This can seem daunting, until you introduce this division rule.
576 / 9 = 64 (suddenly this target isn’t seeming so large)
From there you just say 6 x 8 = 48 … 3 x 5 = 15 … 48 + 15 + 1 = 64 … 64 x 9 = Ta-da!
It may seem counter-intuitive to work backwards from your target like this, but it’s great for when you’re stuck with small numbers.
Rule 5: The Selection
That’s right, it’s the area people who watch Countdown don’t think about – actually getting to choose the number arrangements. In order of difficulty the selections are…
1 from the Top, any other 5:
What It Says About You: Playing it safe, just looking to get through the round.
2 from the Top, any other 4:
Difficulty: Less Easy.
What It Says About You: You’re looking to stand out a little bit by not picking the obvious, but actually are playing it safe.
3 from the Top, any other 3:
Difficulty: Even Less Easy.
What It Says About You: You’re a weirdo. Nobody picks this selection.
4 (i.e. All) from the Top, any other 2:
What It Says About You: Selections like this tend to be either solvable or not in a relatively short time. Considering you have to work with a 25, 50, 75 and 100, the small numbers will dictate the accuracy you can get with the target. This probably means you’re afraid of your competitor so are hoping neither of you will get points.
6 (i.e All) from the Bottom:
What It Says About You: This arrangement allows much more flexibility, in fact the most, but the 30-second time limit can seem very short to work in. Firstly, any number over 500 (i.e. half the possibilities) may well be impossible to get as they’re too high, so neither of you might score. Other than that, it requires very fast-paced calculations to get where you’re going — as mostly you’ll have to use all your numbers. Probably means you’re confident and are trying to screw over a less capable competitor.
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now — until my next post, watch this man do crazy numbers and make Carol Vorderman’s head explode.