Endemol UK Productions for Channel 5, 5 August 2002 to 8 March 2007 (approx 1200 programmes)
Later shows credited to Cheetah Television West
Cheap 'n' cheerful live daytime show that became a surprise hit before being embroiled in one of the biggest TV scandals of recent years.
Various word games were featured, none particularly original (indeed some are parlour games going back to... oh, I dunno, let's say the Victorian age) but they were eminently playalongable and good fun.
The games included:
Scramble: A word is split up into two- or three-letter segments which are mixed up and the first person unravel them gets five points. For example, if you were presented with AS NTE AI ER BR then the answer would be "Brainteaser".
Crossfire: Not really a word game at all, rather a general knowledge round with answers inserted into a grid, Crosswits style. Sadly, the grid was always the same which was a bit cheapass.
Trio, Tri-i-i-o!: Three letters come up on screen and the contestants get ten points for being the first to come up with a word that uses the letters in the right order, so if you were given MTH you could have MYTH, MOTHER or even SMITH. Very similar to a round in Masterteam and the main game from Catchword. And, indeed, a mainstay of "games to play on car journeys" books since number plates were invented. Something of a classic game, you might say.
Clued Up: The players are given a series of clues to a person, TV programme, sport or just about anything else, really. As you would expect, first to buzz in with the correct answer gets the points.
Wordstorm: Contestants are given the first and last letters of a word, and its length. Points to the first to come up with a valid answer and again, anything that fits will do, thanks to some nifty computer-assisted adjudication. Actually quite a tricky round, although some letter-combinations gave plenty of easy word-options.
Pyramid: The endgame starts with the contestant given a three-letter word, for example YES, then they have to identify a four-letter word which is made up of the same letters plus one new one which is put in position for them, e.g. ? A ? ? - which would be EASY. See? Repeat to create a five-letter word, and so on. Get five right in 45 seconds and they win the top prize of £3000. The important change here was that only one word was valid in each combination, so an alternative word that happened to fit the grid would not be accepted - well, they had to make it a bit harder for the endgame, didn't they? Every time contestants got the new word, they would be given the choice of carrying on or taking the money and running. In the original version, if they failed to get the correct word and ran out of time, they'd go home with nothing, but this later changed to ensure that they would leave with £100, the initial amount, if they failed.
The original structure within the one-hour show was two heats, each with two contestants, then the winners went head-to-head in the final, and the overall winner played the Pyramid game. In November 2006 this was changed, so that now all four players start at the very beginning and at certain stages the lowest scorer is eliminated. So that no game is repeated, there were three additional games in later series:
Wordplay: An anagram is displayed on screen, then the letters "drop" one at a time into the correct place below, first to buzz in correctly gets the points. Rather like the word clues on All Clued Up, but "Brainteaser's" decent twist on this was the fact that if a contestant buzzed and gave the wrong answer, the other contestant was only given one more letter, thus adding the all-important 'maybe, maybe not' factor as to whether the latter would manage to capitalise - 'All Clued Up' simply gave all but one of the remaining letters, which was usually a dead giveaway. This was one of the original Brainteaser games in the old format, before being dropped in favour of Trio.
Word Wheel: A word of ten or more letters is displayed in a circle, first person to correctly identify it gets ten points and first crack at making another word out of the same letters, e.g. on one show the word was ABOMINATION, so you could have said "nation", "moan", "tomb", etc. Players take it in turns to provide a word until time runs out, and it's one point for each letter used.
Definitions: Multiple-choice definitions round, with questions phrased thus: "Hepatic refers to the heart, the liver or the kidneys?".
The final structure was: Scramble, Clued Up, Trio - First elimination - Wordplay, Definitions, Word Wheel - Second elimination - Crossfire, Wordstorm - Final elimination - Pyramid.
There was also a phone-in competition, and you can't miss it because they plug it between every round - sometimes in order that contestants can be shuffled around while the camera's on the host(ess). Obviously premium-rate phone lines are not among our favourite things, and being cajoled to phone in is quite annoying, but we can at least say that the presenters' ability to talk nineteen-to-the-dozen through these bits is still reasonably entertaining. Though of course we'd rather they just got on with the game. They have to plug the competition though, since it's the money made from the phone lines that pays for the show (indeed, Five gave Endemol a budget of £0 for the slot). And at least you've got a better chance of getting on than you have with Millionaire.
In October 2004, a contestant called Gillian collapsed at her console at the beginning of the first crossword round. All you heard was an almighty clatter. Fortunately the camera was on John at the time. For Round 3, they hastily recruited contestant Gail to substitute for Gillian. Gail was the next contestant in the second pair - so when she had done her bit as instant substitute she then took her place at the console again as the real Gail!
The show was taken off air in March 2007 when Five discovered that Cheetah TV had used fake names as "winners" of a viewer puzzle, and that a staff member had posed on air as a winner. This deception occurred when the producers were unable to find anyone with the correct answer in the list of callers after lines had closed. Ofcom later fined Five a record £300,000 for offences in January to March 2007.
Based on a phone-in format repeated in many other countries.
Brainteaser reached its 1000th edition on 4 September 2006.
Originally filmed in Oxford, but moved out in 2004 (as with sister show Memory Bank), initially to ITV1 West Studios in Bristol and then to a disused warehouse complex at Paintworks, literally just down the road from ITV1 West where Deal or No Deal is also filmed, creating Endemol West studios.
Ofcom adjudication into the programme (PDF file)