Series 49 contestant Martin Gardner first appeared on Countdown on 14th May 2003, following the octochamp run of John Davies. He beat fellow rookie Anthony Wilson 107-81 before racking up a futher seven wins, including a further three centuries. He returned for the quarter-finals as number 2 seed and the series' only other octochamp, beating four-times winner Peter Jeffery before losing out to artist David Wilson with a scoreline of 98-86. This is Martin's tale in his own words...
My love affair with numbers has been lifelong, and it is that which really got me into Countdown. I used to watch the show as a child of no more than 11 and match the contestants on the numbers game. It wasn't until I rediscovered Countdown at a later age that I managed to do the letters as well. It was just pure competitiveness in my nature that got me into Countdown. I was determined to keep watching until I could equal the contestants... and in time I was able to. As I kept watching, I found I was able to not just equal the contestants, but also often beat them; the natural progression was to apply for the show.
I wrote off to Channel 4 via Neb's Countdown site, as it had the email address listed on it. I asked them for an application form and sent them my address. A few weeks later the form arrived.
It was tough deciding what to put on the application; luckily the bit about the criminal record was straightforward. I signed it, sent it off and waited.
I got a letter through the post a few months later informing me of an audition in early in the year 2003.
At the audition, I had a solid start getting seven, but then made a mess of a nine-letter word and had it disallowed. I managed another nine, then one away on the numbers. A bit of a rough start really. I started off with another two sevens and a six, got a numbers right, then got one away on the next one.
It was a pretty average performance, and I was really annoyed about blowing a possible nine. It's fair to say I was worried. I told everyone I thought of about my audition and then began to wait and wait again. I received a letter...
The letter said that I had failed the audition. It was sad, but also partly relieving to know I had failed. The audition had been less fun than I had anticipated and I wasn't all that sorry I had failed.
In the meantime, I told all the people at work about my audition, and how I had failed. I even emailed Julian Fell (with whom I had been corresponding for weeks) and he suggested I have another go because the Series 'needed more good players' (more on this later). I told him one of the nines in the audition and he cheekily posted it on the Countdown web-group, and someone replied saying how good it was! I was disappointed to not pass, as I almost never failed to beat at least one contestant at home.
But then, a phone call...
Damian Eadie, the show's producer rang and asked me to be the reserve for the current series. This meant that if there were an Octochamp, I would be on to take his vacant seat. I was excited, but also feeling stressed as it basically meant more waiting by the phone and trying to be available to get to Leeds centre when needed. Weeks passed...
I received a phone call that a player had six wins, and if he got two more I would be needed. The player's name was John Davies I was hyped up about this as very few players win six then lose the next one. I was pretty sure I would be needed. I got to the studio with my bag full of shirts and sat nervously. I was sat next to a guy called Anthony, who was due to play third on the day. Anthony and I were both really nervous and started chatting. He told me about the trains from Scotland, I told him about the ten-minute cab journey from South Leeds! We had a good chat and soon realised we were due to play each other, as he would be missing John Davies by one game.
Game one: Current champion John Davies starts off ahead, but is pegged back by RAUCOUS. Remember, I need John to win eight for me to get on. John gets in front on the numbers then uses SAMURAI to get further ahead. It's a close game, with John having TENDRON disallowed, but in the end the conundrum isn't crucial, and my chances of getting on stay alive. John spots SUBTITLED in one second.
Game two: I am really getting nervous now, as the prospect of playing gets closer, but things take a turn for the worse when challenger Jerry gets ahead with HOARSER. Could John lose and send me packing back to Tingley? Well not as yet, since he strikes back with HUMOURS, MASTOID and NOTICED. Jerry gets seven on the numbers and manages a few good words of his own to draw level. Going into the last numbers, my heart is racing at 1,000 bpm as the prospect of an early taxi looms. Both players get ten, now the conundrum. ABDUCTING! John gets it in one second and I am assured of being on the show. Relief! And yet tension as well as my TV debut is just seconds away. Richard comes to me, and I have to admit I didn't get the conundrum. I was too busy willing John to buzz and save me, and yet scared that he would do.
I am disconnected from my mike and it is off to change my shirt. I put on a shirt and tie; well, I am on TV after all!
I am sat in the challenger's chair being miked up. It's hard to know what to think, do I think about the game, or try and think about nothing? RW comes in and I instinctively start chatting, taking my mind away from the fear ahead. I wish Anthony good luck (same as he wishes me) we are just wanting to get on with it.
Anthony Wilson vs. Martin Gardner:
The game starts with me spotting CLEANS then UNCLEAR (with no method of using the S). Anthony gets seven as well, although DC makes some obscure eights. Seven will do nicely. I see PARTIED and DIOPTRE, but decide to go with the more obscure PAROTID, although it takes ages for Alison to find it. After this, I slow down with the obscure words. Now it's 14-7 and we both get an eight then a six, with an easy numbers.
Next comes letters and I make a bit of a mess of this one, and miss ENTICED and HEEDING. Scores go level. We both manage sixes and eights, then comes the next classic word ACONITES. Now ACONITE uses very common letters, and the word comes up very often. DC praised it but it wasn't that hard to find. Now it's numbers: two from the bottom for me... and FOUR FROM THE TOP! Luckily the target is easily obtained by saying 81 x 9 = 729, not that hard for all you mathematics fans out there. This puts me on an excellent 70 before Part Three even begins!
Next comes a six and two sevens. Anthony has QUORIA disallowed and I am now 16 ahead. Numbers again, and I stick to four large but the target fools everyone as I just about manage one away (there is no exact solution, by the way). Now to the conundrum, and heck I am clear and already on 97. You can't see the score while you are playing, and I really hadn't realised that it was quite high. The conundrum is SENTMINOR and it takes me about 14 seconds to see that it is INNERMOST (MOISTER+N+N). 107 and a one-time champion. All is very well!
Not only this, but I have beaten John's highest score (which was 106, as we were discussing while having photos taken). It all goes a bit to my head. I was especially proud to win as Anthony was a tough opponent. He hadn't come from Scotland to give up easily, and he didn't.
But all isn't well afterwards. All the adrenalin leaves my body and I am left tired, dazed and confused. I just feel drained. The next game comes after a fairly unwanted hour break, but I have to drag myself from the tiredness to play.
Martin Gardner vs. Pat Elkington:
I am still feeling pretty bad, and this shows as I miss the dead easy SAUNTER to start off with. I take a risk to get even, SHAMENS which is duly disallowed for misspelling. Things are looking bad, and this relaxes me. Nothing to lose as I am far behind. Pat makes a huge mess on the numbers and I am only three points behind now.
I am feeling more relaxed now, and I get PRANCED, OPTION, MIGRATES and LIGHT without DC beating me on one. A good-looking numbers game (73 x 12 = 876) follows and I am a long way ahead. I get beaten by FOOTLED (a word I have never heard of) and miss an easy solution to the numbers, but still win with a pathetic 72.
I don't feel so bad after this game, as the huge adrenalin rush was never there in the first place. No high to come down from.
Martin Gardner vs. Bernard Gudgin:
Bernard was very nervous before the game started. He said that when he gets a four he opens champagne! Being a champion, it's just not your role to play but to assure the other contestant. No matter how much I wanted to do well, I wanted my opponents to do (almost as) well too. I reassure him that it was easier when you get started and we played on.
This game starts much better as I equal Dictionary Corner in the first two rounds. I am pegged back to six in the next round, but finish the part with a seven. The numbers (four large, as usual) fools us all, and my score is 'only' 27.
I miss MAJORED but managed to equal DC with ATOMISE, BANDIEST and COASTED. The numbers I find hard but I am very lucky to get five points (I was trying to get 18 x 25 rather than 19 x 25 which you have to do). 60-13 at this stage. Bernard had got the answer right but had misdeclared. He later told me he knew he had it right, he just said the wrong thing. What a shame, he beat me cleanly.
The next letters do a pretty good job of fooling me too, as I get a four and miss the appropriate INANE for five. An eight (TOENAILS) for both players erases that bad memory, and a six, and ten on the numbers leaves me with 88 as the pre-conundrum score. THISNUDGE is revealed, and I can think of... nothing, (DEHUSTING isn't a word). It turns out to be UNSIGHTED and I should have got it, I was too focussed on the –ING.
End of the day, and I know I will be back for at least one more on the next day. I have no idea who my opponent is going to be.
I head to the bar and have a few words with Anthony about that 729 solution and the journey back to Scotland.
I'm lucky enough that the lovely Alison is sat alone so I go and talk to her. I notice Alison is alone at the free bar. I sit next to her. At first we talk shop, asking what audition there was to be a 'lex'. Then I tell her that I had had romantic problems with another girl called Allison, and she comments that she read a message to that effect when searching her name on the Internet, and it turns out I had written it!!! We continue talking about my personal life, and she firmly advises me NOT to crawl back to Allison (more on this later). I tell her about my Countdown web site and I cheekily ask her to do an interview. She says yes!
Anyway, its time to go now as I need my beauty sleep. I have already achieved my ambition of winning three games of Countdown so I have little trouble getting to sleep.
I wake up the next morning early, but refreshed. I get my taxi to the studio and arrive a one-day veteran.
I find out that I am playing Richard Brooks from all the way in Brighton. Generally when people have come that far, it's because they are committed and you expect the younger contestants to do better than older ones. He told me he had been lucky at the audition, but I thought it might be close.
Martin Gardner vs. Richard Brooks:
The game starts off 8-8 as we both see simple eights. I got CONSTRUE, but was hoping for an I to get COUNTRIES. A seven and a six each and it is 21 all. Next game I see MISFILE, and SLIMIER, but eventually I put it all together to get FLIMSIER. Richard tries FILMERS and it isn't allowed. Ten points on the numbers after a complicated solution using all six numbers and I am looking good on 39.
Next comes disaster as I miss HAPPEN, which was nearly spelt out in order. He's 12 behind now. Three sixes, keep this margin, until I spot the numbers (307 x 3 = 921) and he doesn't. A 22-point lead now. Two sixes and a seven can't separate us, and I dominated with 15-0 in the last two rounds. In the end, a convincing margin, but he had me worried most of the way.
Now it's time for Gloria. She hadn't got the conundrum in the last game, despite it being an –ING word and I taking an epic seven seconds to solve it.
Martin Gardner vs. Gloria Crossley:
A bad start as I miss REALISED and RELAPSED, two words I never miss when sitting at home. Better with CABINET and FORMATE, and yet another (now trademark) 10-0 victory on four large numbers gives me a solid lead.
I miss HOSTELS but other than that play well and am unbeaten until the second numbers, where Gloria produces a elegant solution of her own to get seven.
The only other notes are my getting of PISTOLE, a word I had learnt from anagram solvers and that Dictionary Corner at the time had never heard of (So different now). I notice that Dictionary Corner continues to miss some words that have beaten them in the past (such as from Julian Fell) – GERONTIC being one. Everyone seems to have jumped on the PISTOLE wagon.
The final note is that Gloria offered a ten-letter word on the conundrum. I buzzed in a second later and got it right.
Martin Gardner vs. Dave Mackenzie:
A customary slow start by me, missing PUNDITS, but Dave can only match my six. Next I get rocked by Dave's WHITENED and ENCORES, I am behind now and need some luck with my trusty four large numbers. I get it; the solution is the easily (sort of) obtained 102 * 9. I'm one point ahead.
I am feeling nervous now, and I am forced to risk SCOUTER when POUTERS was there. I miss FRAGILE (credit to Dave) but hit back with BOULES and the obscure MEDIANTS (which has been my word of the day on my website!).
Another bad round for me, as I miss RATIONAL and RAINCOAT, simply because I stopped concentrating. Luckily, I beat Dave with both DROOP and the slightly impressive MAGNETIC. This puts me 13 ahead going into the numbers, and Dave does me a favour choosing one large and five small. I get the target easily. The conundrum, DANKBOWER is unsolved but I am already over the line. That is my sixth win!
Martin Gardner vs. John Carpenter:
A good start to the game as I see sevens including PETUNIA. I'm feeling confident now as I have six wins and am number two seed, certain to make the finals. This is followed by ARMPIT and SPOILAGE. John finally gets off the mark with DEVOUT. A tough numbers game follows, and I just about get 455 with some trouble. I get the seven points though.
Next round sees me pull further ahead with SCOUTER (yes again!) and I am feeling super-confident by now. Moving to the numbers, another real stinker, but I use the seven twice to what would have been a great solution. Shame! No points.
More points with INTAKE, LENDER and MANICURE, and a strong finish in the last five rounds getting maximum points (well, except for KAINITE, which DC missed). A nice one-second conundrum, now that really feels good! Bring on game eight!
Martin Gardner vs. Tracy Murrell:
A good start for me, seeing PARENTAL. I immediately spotted PARENTAL, PATERNAL and PRENATAL, but thought that Tracy would probably offer a seven. She gets PATERNAL. I had planned on offering PATERNAL and saying 'bit premature, but paternal!' but Tracy spoiled this. I pull ahead with VICTIM and DESOLATE and a decent solution to yet another impossible numbers game.
The next part becomes a bit of an exhibition, as I offer four obscure words, NITRATE, INHUME, STEALERS and DIOPTRE. All the fear and tension has gone out of my body now, and I am just playing, not thinking. A bit of a lazy numbers game gives me another seven, and it's on to 'half three'.
This time it's Tracy that comes up good, playing the excellent PAGODA (didn't see it) and CALORIES (again, didn't see that one). Ten on the numbers (Tracy taking the easy way, me the hard) and a few jokes from Richard and it's on to the conundrum. HACKBLADE is revealed, and Tracy finally manages to beat me on something. BLACKHEAD.
So it's straight to the bar, and I am much the happiest person in the building as I am the only contestant of the day to win at all! I sat with Tracy and her boyfriend and discussed the game, in particular whether I had let her get the conundrum (NO!) and why we couldn't get 536 in Round 10. I got reasonably drunk, talked to Damian about the finals and about Octochamp scores. I must admit that since I had four centuries and John had three, that I thought I would be seeded one. How much would this affect the finals? I rang Julian from the bar and told him that I was an Octochamp second seed. I also mentioned that I had got one of his most famous words, CORTINA, although there was a nine, CANTORIAL. Julian without hesitating said 'RATIONAL and RAINCOAT for eight'. What talent!
Meanwhile, I get home and emailed Alison. She never replied! The good news is that I would have a chance to confront her at the next recordings!!!