The conundrum is a 9 letter word, presented to contestants in the form of an anagram. The first person to buzz in and provide the answer scores 10 points. If neither contestant gets the answer within 30 seconds then it was often thrown over to the studio audience. A correct answer from an audience member won them a Countdown mug.
A crucial conundrum occurs when the two players are within ten points of each other before the final conundrum round, and hence the winner will be whichever player can solve it. Since 2003, the studio lights are dimmed on a crucial conundrum. With the introduction of the current studio since 2017, the ceiling and table lights will turn pinkish-purple. From Series 81 onwards, the colour has changed to red.
In the early days of the show, if the scores were level on a conundrum, the game was declared a draw and the contestants returned the next day for a rematch, except in the series finals, where tie-break conundrums were necessary. In the modern format, draws are resolved by a second "sudden death" conundrum. If the second conundrum goes unsolved, and the scores remain tied, a third conundrum is used (and so on, presumably, ad infinitum.) Only a few games have ever required a third conundrum, and fourth Conundrums are even rarer, with none ever having been televised.
If a Contestant buzzes in with an incorrect answer in the 30 seconds, then the Countdown is re-started, and their opponent is given any remaining remaining time to try and solve the Conundrum, with the Contestant who initially buzzed in now disqualified from buzzing in again before the 30 seconds have elapsed, irrespective of whether they later spot the correct answer or not.
If both Contestants offer an incorrect answer to a Conundrum in the 30 seconds, then the Countdown is stopped and the solution is revealed immediately, with neither contestant getting another opportunity to solve the Conundrum.
For the purpose of differentiating between which Contestant presses their button to offer a solution first on a Conundrum, both the Champion's and Challenger's nameplates have a lamp which illuminates when their button is pressed, with the Champion's button also sounding as a "bell", and the Challenger's as a "buzzer".