Thursday, August 5, 2010

Let The Countdown (Ahem) Begin

Well, I'd been waiting for it for weeks...the Australian version of Countdown, titled Letters And Numbers, premiered Monday, August 2.

I've talked a lot on here about Countdown and how I think it's an amazing show that should - but never will - make its way to America. I keep saying that, yet I've never said anything about how Countdown is played beyond "it's a word game vaguely akin to Scrabble." Well, now that I'm reviewing a version of Countdown, I suppose it's finally time to explain the game.

Countdown\Letters And Numbers (I'm probably going to just keep calling it Countdown) is composed of three types of rounds - Letters rounds, Numbers rounds, and the Conundrum. The sequence of these rounds frequently differs from country to country; to give one example, the new Australian version is played in nine rounds - Letters, Letters, Numbers, Letters, Letters, Numbers, Letters, Numbers, Conundrum. In the Letters rounds, the player whose turn it is picks how many consonants and vowels will be included in the nine letters drawn; both players then have thirty seconds to find a word, and whoever gets the longer word gets a point for each letter. In the numbers rounds, the player whose turn it is picks how many big numbers (25, 50, 75, and 100) and small numbers (1 through 10) will be included in the six numbers drawn. A three-digit target number is then randomly determined, and the contestants have thirty seconds to add, subtract, multiply, and divide the six numbers drawn to reach the target number. Points are awarded based on how close you are to the target; in Britain and Australia, it's ten points for getting the target exactly, seven points for being within five, and five points for being within ten. The final round is Britain and Australia is the Conundrum, in which a nine-letter anagram is displayed and the first contestant to buzz in with the correct word gets ten points.

That's it. No prizes, no real flash, just a straightforward test of your anagram and arithmetic skills. I personally think it's great - but I also realize it just wouldn't fly in America, or probably even in Britain if it weren't a twenty-eight year institution. I suppose we'll have to see if it works in Australia. I certainly hope it does.

If I must get into the specifics of the Australian version: host Richard Morecroft annoys me a bit, but that could just be because he's explaining all the rules I already know. The set is a carbon copy of the British version - meaning it's tacky, but I won't complain. I will complain about the music, which sounds rather tinny and comes nowhere near the Countdown theme, which is nearly as iconic in Britain as the Jeopardy theme is in America.

I like this show. I like it a lot - but that doesn't change the fact that it's a cheaply produced daytime word game. Remember when American game shows started in daytime and got bigger-budget primetime versions once they were a proven success? Now, of course, it's the other way around, meaning that unless someone can devise a way for Countdown to fit the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? model, it's not coming to America.

I suppose I'll have to live with that.


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