Bird is the word – twice! – as Chafer-Cook seals win in Bournemouth.

Bay View

FOCAL returned to the south coast on Saturday 18th August as Sean Fletcher and Jeff Clayton welcomed 19 entrants to the Royal Bath Hotel’s Sea View suite for a second tournament in Bournemouth. Among the contenders, last year’s winner Rob Foster, and some new faces from Hampshire, Essex and Cheshire.

Based on the World Cup format in football, contestants were drawn into pools of four for the Groups in which they played three 15-round heats matches. A 20th player, Prune, was invented to complete the line-up, competitively set to play one below the available maximum in every round.

From the heats, everyone went forward into Divisions (eight in A, six in B, six in C) for the quarter-finals, with the five players who finished top in their groups qualifying automatically for Division A.


After three games, top of the tree was Rob Foster followed closely by Tom Cappleman — both on 373 points, both notching up individual high scores of 128, separable only on points conceded. Two other group winners, Tim Down and Robin McKay, were also unbeaten. And whilst Toby Pereira posted an upset in defeating Tom Chafer-Cook 98-95, centuries in his other two games saw TCC emerge top of his group to qualify 5th. Nonetheless, Toby’s 279 points were enough to nick the last slot in the top flight, with Jonathan Wynn ahead in 6th and Martin Thomas 7th.

Into the quarters
The next phase of the competition reverted to 9-rounders for the quarter- and semi-finals. Wins in the quarters for seeds 1, 2, 3 and 5 meant Rob Foster would take on Tom Chafer-Cook and Tom Cappleman met Tim Down. Defending champion Foster was then defeated 53-57 in the semi-final whilst Down triumphed 50-46, setting him up for a third Grand Final this year.

The mainstream final, the 14-round format of olde with four numbers games and two conundrums, played out at around 16:30, led by the Third Place Play-Off which Tom Cappleman narrowly claimed 89-86 over Rob Foster. Our two grand finalists sat this match out but took the opportunity to practice and prepare for their encounter, the
event’s showpiece.

The Grand Final
Having qualified as the higher seed, Down called the coin toss but lost, where Chafer-Cook opted to be Player One, knowing he would select the first and fourth numbers games.

Both players opened the scoreline with a steady 6 from FLCAAONEE, the best available, before Chafer-Cook cautiously offered an 8-letter winner in DIABASES. The plural of DIABASIS, the only other 8 in the round, this concerns the state of transitioning from one phase to another, and Chafer-Cook showed early signs of moving the final to something bullish.

A straightforward 1L numbers put ten more points on the board before AEIOARRGB — five vowels and four consonants, coined “a Tim Down special” during the day — added 6 points onto 30-22. BORAGE was declared but BARRAGE was overlooked!

Next, LMNIAEPAN produced PEAIMAN and MANIPLE but both finalists missed the 9-letter MAINPLANE, a principal wing on an aircraft.

Onto the second numbers and Down opted for four large to redress the balance. With 4L 2 7 for 658, both spotted the divisibility by 94 to move their scores onto 47-39. And then the first conundrum, scrambled by Sean as TRANSCALE, went unsolved. On seeing the solution, ANCESTRAL, Chafer-Cook remarked “LANCASTER” for an alternative jumble.

At half-time, there was a brief reprieve with details of upcoming FOCAL events, and Tony Atkins provided some information on the Countdown tournament he is hosting at the Mind Sports Olympiad in London on Sunday 26th August. Full details on the MSO website, where tickets can be purchased in advance.


Into the second half, and Chafer-Cook stepped up his game as TTMEIETJO led him to the six-letter winner MIETJE (variant of MICHI) — both pronounced and spelt correctly, it is the imitative sound of a cuckoo in South Africa. Scoreline TCC 53-39 TD.

PELOIDES and POLISHED were the two 8s from HPLIEODES, before Down changed tactics in the numbers with a six small. The spread of numbers and relatively low target yielded lots of solutions; score TCC 71-57 TD and time was starting to run out for Down.

Four rounds to go, and Chafer-Cook moved more than 20 points in front from MDPIOARIU with the impressive 7-letter max MAROUDI, a tree-dwelling bird resembling a pheasant in Guyana.

Another missed opportunity in the last letters, as the finalists produced FUSSED from OOUUESFDS. Throwing this open to the audience, Suzy Turner’s 8-letter DOOFUSES was applauded, backed up by James Burley spotting the 7-letter variant DUFUSES.

A tricky 1L in the last numbers saw Chafer-Cook eight adrift of the target, whilst Down regained 10 points with a well-spotted method using distribution before multiplying up. Scoreline TCC 84-73 TD.

Into the last round, the second conundrum COBODUELS was unravelled in seven seconds by Chafer-Cook. “SUBCOOLED?”, he said, slightly hesitantly, was right. Final score, Tom Chafer-Cook 94 – 73 Tim Down (solo rounds: TCC 4-1 TD).

Bournemouth GF write-up (png)

…were awarded to:

– Tom Chafer-Cook, Division A winner
– Tim Down, 2nd place
– Tom Cappleman, 3rd place
– Mark Murray, Division B winner and Crossword Solver
– Toby McDonald, 2nd place in Division B
– Dave Ryan, Division C winner.


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FOCAL standings
Chafer-Cook’s victory moves him up the FOCAL rankings from 31st to 27th, whilst Down’s silver medal lifts him one crucial place from 9th back into the Top 8. Good performances from Tom Cappleman and Jonathan Wynn also strengthen their hold in the top flight; a separate blog post will follow with the updated Tour standings.

The flightpath into FOCAL’s 2018 Finals consists of three more events:

Finals Day is in Birmingham on Saturday 24th November.

Another blog post will follow in the coming days with the updated “as things stand” tour league table.


Updated: “As things stand” results table, FOCAL 2018

Our resident statistician Zarte Siempre has filed this report after his Milton Keynes tournament earlier this month, along with this spreadsheet setting out the latest movers and shakers…


Well, it’s not unfair to say that it’s slightly harder to find the energy to write this review having run the event in question, however 48 people descended onto my patch of Milton Keynes to take part in the biggest FOCAL event outside of the capital this year!

Once again, Tim Down made the final, but once again, he was pipped to the post by a player going unbeaten on the day. This time that player was Callum Todd, who after several missed attempts to take a title, has now won two on the bounce. It’s unlikely to see him through to the finals though, as I suspect this may be his last event of the year as a player.

Get your lift music ready (which Jason will be able to provide you with), because we’ve got some serious elevation going on after that event. In 3rd place is Jessica Pratesi with a super jump from 78th to 34th! In second place, with her best ever event performance I believe, jumping from 127th to 81st is Sarah Bladon – 46 places! But not quite as wow as a FIFTY-SEVEN place jump from 129th to 72nd for Mr. Dave Ryan!

And what of the highest new entries? Well for the year alone, that honour goes to last year’s FOCAL champion, whose only come out into the light for the first time this weekend. A 5th place finish sees Rob Foster go into 50th place. But possibly even more impressive is our highest brand new player, who with an 8th place finish soars into 53rd place – well done Luke Johnson-Davies!

Callum’s 2nd win a row proves that sometimes it only takes one to bring out the confidence to build up some momentum. He becomes the sixth person to win their second event in their next appearance after their first win! The others are Chris Wills (Lincoln 2005/2006), Mark Deeks (Lincoln/Reading 2013), Jack Worsley (Leamington/Countdown Aces 2013), Oliver Garner (London 2017/2018) and the only person to win their first three on a bounce, Ed McCullagh (Dublin 2016/2017, Newcastle 2018).

Now to the yearlies – we have now had 325 separate entries this year by 156 individuals. This lists the average attendance to 36 per event. Compared to MK this time last year, this means the average is constant, but as we’re down one event, we’re 33 down on separate entries. However we’re only five down on total players, so we’re doing a pretty good job of spreading the game.

Next time, it’ll be Sean Fletcher and Jeff Clayton, giving it their full welly down in Bournemouth on Saturday 18th August. I imagine a sea breeze will be lovely in this enduring hot weather, so why not consider heading to the coast now! Good luck to the gents running it.

Until next time!



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Meals seal the deal for Todd — second successive win of 2018 at Milton Keynes


Yorkshireman Callum Todd took the title at FOCAL Countdown’s Milton Keynes tournament on 4 August with a narrow win over Tim Down in the Grand Final — Callum’s second consecutive title since Cambridge in mid-June.

Zarte Siempre and Innis Carson played hosts for a fourth consecutive year in Buckinghamshire as 48 contestants from around the UK and Ireland took part in eight nine-round matches across the day, using a custom-made letters and numbers board for this now regular classroom format event.


Milton Keynes also played host, for the first time, to ten-letter conundrums.

Callum was the only contestant on the day to come out of all eight games unbeaten, closely followed by Tim who qualified second with 455 points from seven wins. That gave Tim an average of 57 in each game, with impressive high scores of 71 over Graeme Cole (notably with two nine-letter words in the first two rounds) and 69 against Jen Steadman. His only defeat of the day was to his would-be grand finalist.

Match sheet for Graeme Cole vs Tim Down; Tim amassed a giant lead by the end of the first half.

And so to the Grand Final — neck-and-neck for six rounds, until MGMPAUAES set Tim’s PAGES apart from Callum’s AGAPES (pronounced a-ga-pays), meals taken in Christian fellowship.

With the letters done, a four large numbers pick still couldn’t separate them and, as Callum maintained his six-point advantage going into the conundrum, CHANCEROAD eventually went unsolved on stage. It was then unscrambled successfully by Mauro Pratesi from the audience.

Grand Final results, and available maximums.

Callum’s win adds 96 FOCAL points to his 2018 total, taking him to 294, and Tim’s second place sends him up to 308 — not quite enough for the Top 8 as things now stand, after nine events:

1 – James Robinson – played 7, 452 points, up 1
2 – Edward Byrne – played 6, 392 points, up 2
3 – Tracey Mills – played 7, 386 points, up 2
4 – Zarte Siempre – played 6, 382 points, down 3
5 – Graeme Cole – played 6, 369 points, up 1
6 – Bradley Horrocks – played 6, 355 points, up 1
6 – Jonathan Wynn – played 6, 355 points, up 2
8 – Thomas Cappleman – played 4, 332 points, down 5.

And so, to sunny Bournemouth on Saturday 18th August with Sean Fletcher and Jeff Clayton. Entries are still open at £12pp — full details available at Some of the Top 8 have signed up, but not all of them, so expect some interesting movers and shakers on the leader board before long!

See you at the seaside!


Need a place to stay for CoBirmingham on 2nd December? Read on…

To fully enjoy the fun and festivities at our end of year tournament in Birmingham, you might want or need a place to stay for the night. Luckily, our venue – the Strathallan Hotel – has given us a deal on booking hotel rooms that weekend.

We have 14 rooms reserved for the Friday (1st December) and the Saturday (2nd December) at £73 for single occupancy, or £99 for twin or double occupancy – all prices include breakfast. If all 14 rooms at this price are sold, you’ll have to pay full price… so don’t delay! The deal expires on November 3rd. Download the booking form HERE: CoBrum booking form 2017.

If you’d like a room but can’t commit to it until closer to the November 3rd deadline, for whatever reason, email and we can update you on availability closer to the date, or prod you if rooms are going quickly.

And don’t worry if the rooms are beyond your price range – you certainly don’t need to stay at the venue to take part in the event!  Sign up by sending the £12.50 entry fee to Chris Marshall, FOCAL treasurer, via PayPal at (please remember to select ‘payment to friends and family’), or via cheque (address available on request).

See you in Birmingham…?

Lincoln and Bristol, the 2 oldest Co-events, return for 2018!

The Co-event scene has been going since 2005, so it’s fitting that the first two events to be held in and announced for 2018 are the two oldest events!

COLIN – or Countdown in Lincoln – has been running every year since 2005, and was joined in 2014 by a Sunday event, aptly named The Hangover. Next year’s event, held on the 27th and 28th of January, will follow the same pattern as previous years; it’s still run by Series 46 champ and career misanthrope Ben Wilson, still has the same format, and will still give a bump to the profits of the Fox & Hounds pub in North Hykeham and the Thorpe-on-the-Hill Travelodge in South Hykeham. CLICK HERE for all the event details!

COBRIS was the second event to happen, originally run by Jerry Humphreys until 2007. The south-west then went eventless until 2015, when Series 70 champ Mark Murray resurrected the event with recent semi-finalist Jeff Clayton – and it’s been going strong ever since. CLICK HERE for the event page, with all the details!

You can sign up now – so why wouldn’t you?! See you there!

Countdown in Waterford report: The Afterword

The perfect venue, in the perfect setting… but then, as proof of the existence of a piss-taking God, it got plonked right in the back-arse of rural Ireland, making for a very hard sell to a fanbase that is largely UK-based.

When the news came in that there were no flights operating out of Waterford Airport, one attendee expected there might be maybe 3 participants if we were lucky. In the end it was 7 times that number. 21 people found their way to Woodstown to play some Countdown in the Summer heat.

1. Of the 21 participants, there were 10 female and 11 male.
2. Seven players had attended at least one co:event before.
3. We had 28 players signed up.
There were NINE last minute dropouts.
There were TWO last minute additions. Mike and Elaine were originally going to spectate only, but fair play, they stepped in to compensate for the unexpected drop in numbers.
4. One UK-based player attended.
5. Just four of the participants would describe themselves as “Apterites”.
6. Aside from the four Apterites, only Shane had appeared on the show and won a teapot.
7. Of the 21, eight stayed over in the dormitories.

Champ Tom with Carol Sinnott’s very impressive Countdown clock cake!

1. There were one or two culture shocks. Alan remarked, “We’re not in Dublin now!” on hearing that the security arrangements were a little looser than anticipated. Also, in relation to the laid back nature of things, Thomas at one point mused, “I think I’m too English for this…”

2. Turns out Eddy is some man on the guitar. Properly talented. He can do a mean David Bowie, and could jam along with most stuff.

3. At the very end of Saturday night we managed to cobble together a thoroughly enjoyable version of “Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs”. All we were missing was Mark Mills to row in with the “Big ship sails…” countermelody.

4. Saturday was an excellent day for Co:gender-balance, as around half the participants were female, and Hazel became the first female Co-event finalist.

5. Food on the day included lunch [loaded potato skins, broccoli salad, cous cous salad, pasta & blue cheese salad, bean salad, tossed green salad], dinner [garlic & sweet chilli chicken, with rice and/or chips], Carol’s wonderful Countdown Clock Cake, plenty of crisps & chocolate… and free flowing tea, coffee and soft drinks. No-one went hungry anyway!

6. Eddy did a great job of sending over messages so the final could be live-tweeted by FOCAL, but there are 2 things that need to be added in. Just to mention firstly that there was a touch of culinary commentary in the conundrum scramble. It was EGGSARPOO… and since they smell like fart, I feel it is fair. Also, the final numbers game was solved within the 30s by one of the spectators (Kevin Jackson).

7. We adopted P!nk’s “So what?” as theme tune for the day, played each time a 9-letter word was available in the selection. (It didn’t take too much in the way of mental acrobatics to imagine she was singing “Co:Wat?!” instead.)

8. “Word of the day” would to go to Hazel Drury for the darrenic 8, BASENJIS.

9. Everything mainly went to plan, but there were two major errors. One was in the final when GALIPOTS was mistakenly allowed, only for the 8pts to be retrospectively deducted. The final score was Thomas Carey 101 – 82 Hazel Drury. The other was that the scores for the final round of games went unrecorded… so had to be collected during the days after the event.

Hazel, Tom and Gerry, the top 3 on the day.

“The presence of so many local people helped add to the event.”
Gerry Tynan

“Is there a prize for last place? Think I may be in with a good chance there!”
Clodagh Irish

“Now I’ve won, I should probably pay the entry fee!”
Thomas Carey

“I liked how there were trophies for the winners of each of the 3 groups. The atmosphere was great, and I liked how there was music when there was a 9, making it more exciting.”
Hazel Drury

“The accommodation was fantastic, the food was amazing, and the price was unbeatable.”
Eddy Byrne

“At some stages I was in hysterics and couldn’t stop laughing, sorry. Well, I’m not really cos the laugh made the day for us…”
Carol Hayes Sinnott

“Hey, I just found NEMO!”
Mike McDermott

And now to the key part of the report… What were the standings?

The standings from the first half of the day, which determined the final stage groups, were:


And the final stages, after the group quarter finals, semi finals and final were thus:


A very long-overdue update…

Apologies for the silence! This is just a quickie (wahey) to summarise the highlights of the last few months:

  • FOSTER’S ON FIRE: Rob Foster is yet to appear on the show, but he’s the man to beat at our events at the moment. A community veteran, he’s won 3 of the last 4 FOCAL tournaments – those in King’s Lynn, Bournemouth and Milton Keynes (he didn’t attend Waterford) – and also made the final of Countdown in London. Currently placed 5th, he’s a good bet to make the FOCAL Finals in December. Want to have his skillz? Sign up to
  • RODENT WINS CO-EVENT: Thomas Carey, the Series 73 semi-finalist known as ‘Maus’ owing to his rodentian appearance, won the inaugural event in scenic Waterford back in June. He won all his games to take home the title, and currently sits in joint 2nd place in the overall FOCAL rankings.
  • GIRL POWER: Hazel Drury made history at Waterford by becoming the first woman to make a Co-event final, with her 2nd-place finish being the highest female finish ever. Although the final didn’t go her way, she finished the game in some style by unscrambling EGGSARPOO as GASPERGOO, a type of fish, in just 1 second. With strong recent finishes for Ann Dibben (3rd at Bournemouth) and Jen Steadman (3rd at Milton Keynes) as well, we may soon see our first female champion…
  • EVENTS AREN’T A POPULARITY CONTEST, BUT: Despite a slow start to sign-ups, Milton Keynes had its best attendance ever, filling its capacity with 52 keen beans. This means that the three largest Co-events ever (London, Lincoln and MK) have all taken place this year!! So thank you to everyone who has been a part of this so far, whether you’re an old hand or an excited rookie. We’ve also smashed last year’s number of new players. Last year we managed 43 newbies, but this year – with 5 events still to go – we’re already on a staggering 53. We’re so grateful to all the new players who have taken the plunge and joined us… and even more so that virtually all of them seem to have enjoyed themselves. We hope to see you all back at another event soon!
  • PARTY TIME: The details for Countdown in Birmingham and the FOCAL Finals have been announced! And entrance is over 10% cheaper than last year. Sign up now by sending £12.50 to, and you can be part of our anti-Christmas-themed end-of-year spectacle!Our next tournaments are in Huddersfield on 7th OctoberDublin on 21st OctoberGlasgow on 4th/5th November and Birmingham on 2nd December.

    We’re hoping to have a provisional calendar of 2018 events up soon, as well as the details for the 14th Countdown in Lincoln (and the 4th Hangover event). Subscribe to our updates for hopefully more prompt notifiers than this!

Sign up to our upcoming events please xoxo