Weaver's Week 2014-06-29

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Countdown Series 70

YTV for Channel 4

We've had five champions since the last Update. Three of them – Neil Green, Sean Fletcher, and Samir Pilca – will appear during Finals Week. Roy Taylor looked set to join them when he won five games, but offered some dubious words in most of them. This came back to bite him in the sixth match, when no fewer than five of his offers were rejected. James Wall would have run Roy close even without the champion's errors, and James won two more heats before interruption.

QF1: Mark Murray beat Andy Gardner, 95-63

Mark was the number one seed, notching up eight centuries around Easter, for a total of 902 points. Andy had a top score of 97 when he had six wins in January and February; he's the eighth-best player of the heats. Mark got off to the better start, spotting "Saloons" in the opening round, but Andy pegged him back with a better three-large numbers solve, and a tennis score after the opening salvo: 15-15. The lead didn't last, Mark had "Intoned" and a 29-22 lead after a numbers game proves impossible. Mark Foster tells us about his descent down the outside of the Post Office Tower. "Just lean back." Buzby will catch him.

Andy's offer of "flakers" isn't allowed by the dictionary. The press has noted that Countdown will be using computers to adjudicate from the July series, it'll allow Susie to tap into the latest Oxford corpus of words. The offered word still isn't valid, and Mark has "Ironized" (made ironic) to pull further ahead, 54-32 at the interval. He offers "Minques" after the hold, but it's not happening, so Andy is still in there. Not for long: his "broomed" is ruled out, and we cannot see a sense in which the nerb (noun-to-verb form) exists. Mark's winning score is the lowest of his career, thanks to an impossible numbers task and that disallowed word.

QF2: Samir Pilica beat Priscilla Munday, 119-44

Samir got his eight wins at the end of May, five centuries and a top score of 120, in a total of 801 points. Priscilla won six games in late January, her top score was 101 in a total of 561, and she lost a close game to Andy Gardner (who we saw last time). Nick welcomes us with a discussion of National Fudge Day. This sounds like a skit from The Day Today. Straightaway, we're into "Bonuses", Samir has a winner in the opening round. "Vampire" is another winner for him, and a skilful numbers games puts him 21-7 ahead after the opening exchanges. "Outliers" and "Congress" are also winners for Samir, and he's 47-7 ahead at the anecdote. Mark Foster talks about the Commonwealth Games.

Just when we thought the game was over, Priscilla comes up with "Loftiest", a winner, and she starts the impossible comeback. It looks shaky when Priscilla gets the second numbers wrong, allowing a 60-21 gap at the interval. Both players compare the "Formate" in a round that also has "Meerkat" available. By the time Samir offers "Adipotes" in the second-last letters round, the winner is clear; the nine-letter winner "Regionals" just adds to his score. It's been a good day to run up the score, much easier numbers and a couple of niners meant today's maximum was 143, compared to 117 last time.

Countdown Andy Gardner and Priscilla Munday.

QF3: Andy Naylor beat Bobby Banerjee, 86-70

Nick Hewer talks about the day's main sporting event, the Wimbledon Rainwear and Umbrella Exhibition (Incorporating Today's Cagoule). It's sponsored by a fruity computer company and its range of iMacs. Andy was the first octochamp of the series in February, a top score of 110 and a total of 781. Bobby won the first six games of the year, a total of 597 included one century.

It's Bobby who gets off to the winning start, "Diverges" in the opening round; flat rounds make it 24-16 after the opening exchanges. Andy pulls back with "Mutates" in the next phase, and it's 39-38 to Bobby at the anecdote: Mark Foster on health. The lead changes when Bobby's "peated" is not allowed, allowing Andy to win with "Taped". In the next round, Andy offers "Organism", there are reasons why this is not a six-letter word.

Andy pulls further ahead with the next numbers game, 58-47 at the interval. "Diploma" and "Overeats" put the game beyond doubt. Susie is talking about some "world cup" of something. Thought that was next year. Bobby pulls back the final numbers game so that the score more accurately reflects the game; Bobby was good, Andy a little better.

QF4: Neil Green beat Sean Fletcher, 84-55

While Nick remembers when he saw Bruce "Bruce!" Springsteen at Wembley in (we reckon) July 1985, we'll talk about today's show. Neil won six games in April and May, Sean won six in May. These players met on the May Day bank holiday, when they played to a 90-90 draw; Sean won a tiebreak to progress in the contest, and was unseated by Samir (qv). All of the quarter finals have begun with an advantage for one player, and Neil keeps up the record with the winner "Treason". Neil gets one away on a numbers game, to be 21-7 ahead after the early skirmishes.

After the break, Sean grinds out "Seee-ee-even, not written down"; his version of "asorbic" needs an extra C; Neil has a safe six, and then blows a simple numbers game, so it's only 34-17 at the anecdote, Mark talks about how he hits golf balls long. Two rounds later, Neil has the winner "Outdrive", and credits Mark with inspiration. Sean pulls back on the numbers, so it's 50-32 at the break. Neil pretty much wraps it up with "Unified" and "Walkout" and "Toggled". Sadly, Sean's game seems to have fallen apart today, but he does pull out a tricky numbers game and the conundrum to restore some pride.

Countdown Sean Fletcher and Bobby Banerjee.

SF1: Mark Murray beat Neil Green, 89-64

It's a year since Rachel marked 1000 programmes, and a well-known sports personality dropped by the studio. Nick would like to meet his contemporary Jesse Owens; Rachel's next target is David Beckham. The tradition of an upset in the first round hasn't happened; the new tradition of a winner in the opening round is maintained with Neil's "Increase". With both having a disallowed word and Mark spotting a tricky numbers game, it's 10-8 after the early rounds. Good spots on the letters, and perfection on a numbers game where we were stumped, and the scores reach 35-33.

And then Mark goes for "Oxidase", a term in biology; a pair of "Unitizes" and a 100x6+25 solution, his lead is 57-48 at the interval. All very clinical, this, nothing much has happened. "I'm going to try a nine", says Mark, and an excited murmur runs around the audience. "Normative" is his word, eighteen points his score, and that feels like game over.

Neil has to gamble for "sneerily", in the style of Jeremy Paxman, but adverbs have to be specified in the dictionary, and this one isn't. Both offer "Outlands", but it's not in either, and that really is game over. Neil strikes back when Mark has a word disallowed, but his effort to restore the score flounders with an error in the last numbers – the fourth time he's had a solution disallowed. Neil does pull in the conundrum, it's Mark's lowest score, and perhaps the top seed can be beaten.

Countdown Neil Green.

SF2: Samir Pilica lost to Andy Naylor, 79-96

We're reminded that Samir is originally from Bosnia-Herzegovina, a country that tasted victory in the recent men's football world cup. This is in a way that Andy's native side (England) didn't. For the last five shows, there's been a difference in the first round. Not today: both contestants are "Moderates", both secure the perfect start. Round two, that's the difference, "Auditor" gives Samir the lead, 35-28 after an unchallenging numbers round.

"Boletes", we didn't understand Susie's definition, only that Samir doubled his lead. It halved when Andy was better at the numbers, and the contestants heard Jon Culshaw discussing the telly show Life on Mars at 48-41. In the next round, Samir risks "Jingoes", Andy decides not to risk it, and the lead's back to 14. Sharp "Intakes" in the next round, Andy has the winner, and this up-down lead is down again: 65-58 after another nice simple numbers.

Six rounds for Andy to pull back. Seven each on the first. Seven each on the next. And then Andy has "Impair", it's good, it's a winner, it's only a six, Samir still has the lead. "Hoariest" is there, it's another winner for Andy, and that is the game changer. With two rounds to go, Andy has taken the lead, he is 7 ahead.

Six small? "Could be a coin flip", says Rachel. Andy declares 348, the target, not fully written down. He's able to tell Rachel how to fully write it down. And that is an unlikely victory! The conundrum defeats both players, the only thing today that has. Third over second is an upset, but there was never much between the players from the heats. Samir will perhaps be more annoyed at finishing his career on 999 points.

Countdown Samir Pilca.

Final: Mark Murray versus Andy Naylor

And so we reach the final. Two unbeaten players enter, only one can leave. Who will win? Andy? Murray? Will this match follow the usual pattern, will a player take the lead right from the off? "Tangelos" says Andy, offering one of those great Countdown words. "Elongates" says Mark, offering one of those unbeatable words. Sevens each in the letters, and then Mark forces Andy into an error on the numbers; neither player spots the really difficult solution. It's 32-7 already.

After the break, "Notarise" is another winner for Mark, then both players "Stooped" to seven points. A nasty little numbers game is possible, and both players need the full 30 seconds to come up with the right answer. There was a moment when Andy thought he had gone wrong, but he'd gone right. The gap is 57-24 at the anecdote, a piece of poetry from Jon Culshaw. Both players are "Overpaid", and then Mark risks "Solacing". One of those awkward nerbs, the action of giving solace is sufficiently familiar to the Oxford lexicographers. Another nasty numbers game falls to Mark's insights, 960 has lots of factors – Mark succeeded with a multiply by 8. And that makes it 83-32 at the interval.

Countdown Runner-up Andy Naylor.

Both players "Matured" at the start of the final period, and Mark is far enough ahead to risk "aircoms". It's not in, so Andy picks up with "Crimes". And then both players go to the "Antipode", it's the only eight in the selection, and it confirms Mark's series championship. Both players finish with sevens, and what we reckon is the easiest numbers puzzle of the day manages to fox the new champion – Andy is spot on. The conundrum foxes both players equally, but would anyone know "Amaryllis" normally?

With a score of 105-70, Mark Murray is the seventieth series champion. The standard of Countdown has improved in recent years: Mark's grand total of 1191 points is some way short of the record. Perhaps we've been spoiled: five years ago, we'd have reached for the superlative dictionary to describe Mark's performance. Not every season will have the natural talent of Kirk Bevins; not every season will have a self-improvement story like Callum Todd's.

The best thing about Countdown is its history. We've had over thirty years to watch this show, to play along, to marvel at these people who are always better than us. Though there are occasional innovations (from this week, electronic dictionaries) Countdown is stable: we know exactly what we'll get. It's a bit improving, we know about a tangelo and appreciate a moonset. Countdown is all about making the most of what you have: building a word from a set of letters, building numbers into numbers, building fame from talent. There are no antiques, there are no facile questions, everything is there for you. We hope it remains for a very long time.

Countdown Mark Murray, the champion.

Only Connect

Semi-final 1: Welsh Learners v Relatives

On the hottest day of the year, it's pantomime season! Oh yes it is! Victoria proposes A Connectmas Carol, involving lots of spirits. At least, it says here that there are lots of spirits. All we see is lots of empty glasses. Anyone?

"Gruesome", the host's description of tonight's questions. Welsh Learners are batting first, and get two points on restoration of the monarchy. We thought the next question was right up our street, being misspelled names, but it's actually people who were replaced by Johnsons, a bonus for the Learners. 3-0.

Four white men in the picture round. "Drinks?" offers the Relatives, and we're surprised the host doesn't take them up. It's white men whose surname starts with a number. "Huddersfield and New York" is, of course, the route of HS4 the high-speed transatlantic railwayroad. Rugby league and NFLball teams that share a nickname, two for the Relatives. 3-2.

"A happy silence, it's not the music question." Apparently, it's people who lost their shoes, ending in Cinderella and two points to the Learners. The music round sounds like it's four hymns. "William Blake??" offer the Learners, reckoning that they may as well say something, and they're promptly amazed to find they've picked up a bonus. 6-2 ahead.

Going to Sequences, which begins with the Harshad numbers, which are integers where if you add up the digits, and divide into the number you first thought of, you get an integer quotient. 42, 4+2 = 6, 42/6 = 7. Obviously. Fundamental constants indicated by e, f, g, and h are for the Relatives, and they remember Planck's constant for a piece of two-by-four. (Well, two.) 6-4.

Algeria / Algiers, Greece / Athens, Japan / Tokyo, and USA / San Francisco? Er, no. This is a dark question: Peru / Lima is a viable answer, as the number of letters in the capital city is the same as the number in the nation. Pictures for the Relatives are quickly decoded into strokes in a swimming medley relay, for two points, and 6-6.

Pillars of (Sunni) Islam don't detain the Learners for long, finishing with Hajj for three points. The Relatives get the grisly fates of characters in Antony and Cleopatra, ending with the famed asp scene. 9-6 to the Welsh Learners.

Wall 468 detains the Relatives, though they quickly find some industrial (in)action. There are a lot of lighthouses in this grid, and the team spends a chunk of time trying to get these out. Inspiration strikes in the closing seconds: a group of words that hide a national capital in the middle. They're defeated by types of fence, but still. Seven points!

Welsh Learners kick off with Welsh counties, and then we reckon there's a set of Yankee foreign ministers. The team are concentrating on Philip Marlowes, and talking a lot more than they're pressing. Deeds score points, words do not. Words hiding the WC evade them, as do things that can be knitted. Four points!

So, going into Missing Vowels, it's 13-13. EU countries in English and their own languages slips to the Learners 3-1, Just So stories is difficult, it ends up with the Relatives 3-0, and they get the one point from two song titles in one. Relatives have pulled it off, winning by 18-14. They go to the final. Stu Hearn of the Welsh Learners goes to write up his experiences.

This Week and Next

Splash! off. According to Broadcast magazine, it's "most unlikely" that ITV's diving show will come back for a third series. Tom Daly has better things to do, and on the evidence of this year's ratings, so do the viewers.

Splash! Tom Daly and some models.

We have to lose the sax solo. Lawmakers in Ireland have been handed a petition to send "My lovely horse" to next year's Eurovision Song Contest. After RTÉ's failure to get out of the semi-finals this year, TDs have been asked to send Ted Crilly and Dougal Maguire to fly the flag in Vienna. Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, chair of the Dáil's petitions committee, said that they "didn't have the necessary musical expertise" to make a judgement. Not that that stopped the Irish public this year...

BARB ratings in the week to 15 June.

  1. World Cup 2014 England vs Italy pulled in 13.35m on BBC1 at 11pm. Don't expect a series. Top game was Celebrity Masterchef on 4.95m.
  2. Mr and Mrs returned on 3.75m, followed by The Cube (2.2m) and The Chase (2m).
  3. Big Brother took 1.7m, with 1.2m watching Big Brother's Live Surprise on Monday night. This was neither live nor a surprise.
  4. Fifteen To One The Celebrity Edition was seen by 870,000, some way behind 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown (1.42m).
  5. Only Connect took 720,000 viewers. ITV2's I Wanna Marry Harry entertained 380,000; the number who believed it's really a royal family person will be somewhat lower.

This week, the return of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (Radio 4, 6.30 Mon), James Cordon does Deal or No Deal (C4, 8pm Fri), and – subject to football – Tipping Point Lucky Stars (ITV, 7.30) with Joe Swash and others.

Photo credits: Yorkshire TV, Two Four / Eyworks.

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