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August's featured article
CECIL is a random number generator used to set three-digit target numbers for numbers rounds on Countdown. CECIL is an acronym, short for "Countdown's Electronic Calculator in Leeds". Although production of Countdown moved to Manchester in 2009, the name CECIL is still used today. In the first episode of Countdown, presenter Richard Whiteley stated that the name CECIL was an affectionate nod to ERNIE, the random number generator used to generate Premium Bonds winners. The choice of name is a tribute to the late Cecil Korer, former Head of Entertainment at Channel 4, who first commissioned Countdown in 1982.
Before each numbers round begins, CECIL is reset and displays "000". During the round, a co-presenter – originally Beverley Isherwood, later Carol Vorderman and most recently Rachel Riley – places six numbered tiles into recessed boxes directly below CECIL's three-digit display. To prompt CECIL to generate a random target number, which the contestants must reach using the numbers on the tiles, the co-presenter then presses a button. CECIL's digits then briefly flash at random, before settling on a three-digit number which is declared the target figure. The target numbers generated by CECIL were originally 100 to 999 inclusive, but the lowest possible target was later revised to 101. A 100 tile is one of the four large number tiles used in numbers rounds, and therefore the target could potentially be reached without needing to perform any calculations. Notably, pressing the button which prompts CECIL to generate a random number without resetting CECIL beforehand will cause its digits to flash again, then settling on the same target figure as before. This is a precaution in case retakes need to be filmed with the same target figure.
CECIL's appearance has varied throughout Countdown history to match the set design of the time. However, the functionally of its surroundings has remained unchanged. Beneath its display and the aforementioned six recesses is a sheet of card, on which the arithmetician writes down solutions to the numbers rounds. Collectively this is known as "the numbers board". Throughout most of Countdown's history, the numbers board has been integrated into a wall of the main studio set. For Championship of Champions XI in 2003, a new striped set was introduced which moved the numbers board to a separate island isolated from the main desk. The current set design, introduced when Jeff Stelling became the main presenter of Countdown, has CECIL mounted directly behind the board used for letters rounds. With the advent of Countdown being produced in high definition, CECIL's display was upgraded from a segmented LCD display to a flat-screen monitor. (more...)
This article will appear on The Countdown Wiki's Main Page throughout August.