A bit of a departure this week, as we pay a visit to the world of Countdown Masters. Conceived as a five-minute filler for the Channel 4 Daily, the channel's new breakfast-time news service launched in the spring of 1989, it was initially broadcast every weekday at both 6.05 and 8.19.
The programme consisted of five separate broadcasts, each containing one letters round, one numbers round and one conundrum. Richard, Carol and a lexicographer performed their usual duties, but there was no guest in Dictionary Corner. The basic premise was to pit former Countdown contestants against each other, and the person with the highest score at the end of a 52-week series would win a leather-bound set of Oxford Dictionaries worth £3,000 (presumably, for former champions, to go with their other set!).
The first ever programme featured Series 13 number one seed and Edinburgh Countdown Club founder Nita Marr and Series 5 number one seed John Wallace. Catherine Clarke was the resident lexicographer.
Monday saw Nita moving into an early lead by virtue of a one-second conundrum, and the gap was then maintained throughout Tuesday's programme, as no one managed to solve the second conundrum. Normal service was resumed on Wednesday morning when Nita and John were equally good on the letters and numbers, but Nita proved the better on the conundrum again, unravelling CUTSUNCLE in 27 seconds. The letters games were proving tough (it must have been the early start!) with neither contestant getting more than six (although Catherine offered FINALES on Round 7).
Thursday saw the first word to be disallowed on Countdown Masters - John Wallace offered "MOISTS", which Richard jumped on straight away as being 'obviously' wrong. EGOTISM was offered by Ms Clarke. It must be something about Thursdays (as Arthur Dent once commented in "Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy"), because the numbers game also proved to be less than perfect with both players only getting 7 points for being within 1. Carol duly showed them the way they could have done it. Another one-second conundrum and the lady from Edinburgh moved further into the lead, so much so in fact that John now needed a 9-letter word to have any chance of winning!
Friday started with the scores at 90-55 in favour of Nita, which gave her the option of choosing either letters or numbers
on the final day of the contest. The nine-letter word John required to stay in the game didn't look like coming, as the
letters PGSWBIUIA were gradually displayed. Disappointing four-letter words probably did nothing to lift the man from
Crawley's spirits, and it was all over with two rounds still to play. Nita went on to score maximum points in the
remaining rounds, and with yet another one-second conundrum under her belt, she ended the week with 114 points, which
was to prove one of the best scores in Countdown Masters. Obviously sharing a birthday with Richard is not necessarily
a bad thing!
This review was originally published as Game of the Week - 19 Feb 2001.