Chris Philpot TV Production & Digital Marketing

How to Beat Your Friends at Countdown

Originally published on my personal blog on the 22nd of June 2013.

The de-facto Channel 4 game show Countdown is right back in fashion – and unsurprisingly, I'm delighted. I have countless fond memories of the show which taught me the alphabet, entertained me through the nineties, and provided my TV quiz début.

Though the (more or less) original presenting team of Richard Whiteley and Carol Vorderman will always hold a special place in my heart, it's exciting to see how the latest line-up has revitalised the timeless format. Combining dry old bugger Nick Hewer, thinking man's crumpet Rachel Riley and enlightening lexicographer Susie Dent has opened the show up to a whole new audience. What's more, the popularity of spin-off 8 Out of Ten Cats Does Countdown has made the show quite, well, cool. I've spoken to several people offline recently who had caught themselves and their colleague playing along with Countdown over a late liquid lunch. So how do you beat your buddies?

Numbers rounds

I'll start by talking about the numbers rounds and conundrum, because they're the parts of the game where you're unlikely to stumble across an impressive answer. For the numbers rounds, in which you're given six smaller numbers to reach a three-digit target number, it's all the usual stuff:


For the conundrum, it's blind luck. Look for common prefixes and suffixes (e.g., RE-, UN-, -ING, -ED) and hope for the best! This is something which true Countdown legends put hours into mastering, so there's no quick fix for your casual pub games. Sorry.

But the letters rounds? You might get lucky!

Letters rounds

Some letters occur more commonly in the English language than others, and the Countdown letters pile is weighted to reflect this. For instance, there are many more Es and Ss than Zs. This means that words made up purely from very common letters – ASTEROID, NOTARISE, PAINTERS, RATIONED, and hundreds of others – are more likely to pop up on a regular basis. Learn a few, and you'll probably get the chance to look very clever without needing to be an anagramming guru. Better still, learn which letters you can combine with these words to make a longer word, and you could look very clever indeed when you beat your mates with an obscure nine-letter word!

To get you started, here's a Sporcle quiz I made to help my recall of these tricky words that stem from a much more common word – e.g., STRAINED + C = DICENTRAS. And once you start to get somewhere, subscribe to Apterous – the online interactive Countdown game where every recent series champion has refined their linguistic and numerical skills before playing the game for real in the studio. Speaking of which, if you really enjoy playing Countdown, you should 100% apply to take part in the programme! It's a brilliant experience.

I hope this post sets you on the path to possessing that fabled Countdown teapot… or, at the very least, earns you a cheeky pint!

Numbers round times tables

× 25 50 75 100
2 50 100 150 200
3 75 150 225 300
4 100 200 300 400
5 125 250 375 500
6 150 300 450 600
7 175 350 525 700
8 200 400 600 800
9 225 450 675 900
10 250 500 750 1000
11 275 550 825 1100
12 300 600 900 1200
13 325 650 975 1300
14 350 700 1050 1400
15 375 750 1125 1500
16 400 800 1200 1600
17 425 850 1275 1700
18 450 900 1350 1800
19 475 950 1425 1900
20 500 1000 1500 2000