What is FOCAL?
FOCAL is a small volunteer-run organisation that oversees community events that take the form of Countdown tournaments.
These unofficial Countdown tournaments, colloquially known as co:events, have been going since 2005, having been inspired by the Edinburgh Countdown Club. FOCAL was formed in 2016 as the brainchild of Countdown legend and co:event regular Zarte Siempre. It helps volunteers from across the Countdown community organise tournaments all over the UK and Ireland. Players in FOCAL-affiliated co:events earn FOCAL points throughout the year for their performance in these tournaments, and an end-of-year Finals tournament is held by FOCAL to determine the annual champion. See our Hall of Fame for a compendium of all the co:event and FOCAL champions since 2016.
The name comes from an acronym: Finals Of the Co:event Annual League. It’s a bit clunky, but it works, especially as it means ‘word’ in Irish!
So… FOCAL does Countdown tournaments.
How do these events work?
- An organiser books a venue – almost always on a Saturday – from late morning until early evening.
- FOCAL provides support and resources to the organiser before and on the day.
- You pay the entrance fee in advance (typically between £10 and £15), turn up, and play some games of Countdown! It’s that simple.
There are plenty of opportunities to meet new friends during the events, and sometimes with a group meal booked at a pub or restaurant afterwards, too.
How do you play?
Each tournament is different. There are two main styles of play:
‘Lincoln’ style: Three to a table, where one person hosts and adjudicates while the other two play and pick their own letters and numbers in turn. So you play twice and host once at the table, and normally visit two or three tables over the course of the day.
‘Bristol’ style: Classroom layout, where every table gets the same selections on a big screen at the front. All players play to the same letters and conundrums, but thanks to improvements in our software, now you can choose your own numbers pick.
Every tournament has its quirks, and we think FOCAL is all the better for the variety! Don’t panic – it’ll make much more sense once you turn up.
What does the entrance fee pay for?
Mostly the venue – but also the prizes (for a variety of achievements), pens, notepads, and any other mementos. These have included branded bottle openers, Focal calendars, magazines, and framed individual poems.
The organiser also prices in a £1 levy per entrant – this funds our Focal Finals event at the end of the year, with a reduced entry fee and/or some little gifts as a thank you to the community for supporting us throughout the year.
And just in case you’ve got any queries, Focal’s accounts for each year are available on request too.
Am I welcome?
Everyone is welcome. There is no age limit, the youngest player was 9! So whatever your age, gender, colour or creed, we’re always happy to meet new and different people! (Maybe email us if you’re considering bringing a minor, so we can confirm that the event is suitable.)
Plus, you’re very welcome to bring friends, family members, other halves, work colleagues, people you’ve met on the bus… We count on your attendance to make this work.
Are the other players any good?
There’s always a range of abilities represented at events. The high end is staggeringly high, at a level you’ll probably never see bettered. But most importantly, the majority of players enjoy their first event and come back for more. No-one will be judged for how they play – in fact, you’ll be encouraged to keep at it!
Additionally, if you have a bad start to a tournament, you’ll always end up playing those who have also had a bad start – so you won’t have to play six series champions in a row!
I want to win some games, though! How can I practise?
Sign up to www.apterous.org for a completely FREE 30 game trial. After that, you can pay a £20 subscription for unlimited games for a year. This is the best resource there is for improving your game, and it’s how EVERY series champion for the last ten years has practised.
Who runs FOCAL?
See our Meet the Team page.
Can I expect to see Susie, Rachel or Anne at an event?
They’ve not been to one yet, but Susie has been on ZoomDown so maybe one day!
What’s the FOCAL experience like?
How big is the online Countdown community?
There are many places online to meet fellow Countdown enthusiasts. See our Related Sites page.