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March's Featured Article

The Countdown Marathon was a twenty-four-and-a-half hour long game of Countdown played to raise money for the charity Comic Relief. The contestants were Mark Deeks, who originally appeared on Countdown as an octochamp and semi-finalist in Series 65, and Innis Carson, who had also achieved octochamp and semi-finallist status during Series 61. The game was played at the Pleasance Theatre, Islington, as part of comedian Mark Watson's 25-hour Comedy Marathon for Red Nose Day 2013. It lasted from 11pm on 28 February 2013 until 11:30pm on 1 March 2013, mostly taking place backstage but with three rounds – including the conundrum – played onstage before a live audience.

The format for the game was four letters rounds followed by one numbers round, repeated as many times as possible. The number of rounds played was not decided in advance, to allow for downtime preparing to go onstage and the changing pace of the game owing to participants' sleep deprivation. Late in the game it was decided to end play backstage after 449 rounds, before playing the conundrum onstage to bring the final number of rounds up to 450 – the equivalent of 30 consecutive 15 round games, or six weeks' worth of Countdown on television. A live video stream and dedicated score-keeping website (developed by Graeme Cole) allowed the online community to follow the game in progress, but the match looked to be a foregone conclusion as Carson steadily built up a lead of 60 points by the game's eighteenth hour. However, Deeks rallied to reduce his arrears to just two points by round 448, almost seven hours later. A straightforward final numbers round meant that, almost unbelievably, the game was decided by a crucial conundrum. Countdown series producer Damian Eadie had prepared a conundrum for this very situation and, at 11:25pm, Deeks and Carson were tasked with unscrambling WERELAPSE. After one second, Carson buzzed – or rather hit a piano key, as no-one had thought to bring any buzzers – to declare SLEEPWEAR, to claim victory by 3,128 points to 3,116.

The match was hosted and adjudicated by Countdown super-fan Zarte Siempre, assisted by Countdown's arithmetician Rachel Riley for the concluding 57 rounds. Riley had agreed to donate money for every round in which one or both contestants found a nine-letter word, with the amount given rising from £5 to £50 as the game progressed. (Further tributes to her altruism were her surprise attendance of the event, arriving with a replica letters board for rounds played onstage, and choosing to spend the final two hours of the event backstage helping with the Countdown Marathon rather than relaxing with the other celebrities present.) In total, the Countdown Marathon raised more than £2,700 for Comic Relief. (more...)

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