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Des chiffres et des lettres

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Des chiffres et des lettres (literally "numbers and letters") is a French television programme. It was created by Armand Jammot and tests the numeracy skills and vocabulary of two contestants. It's the oldest TV programme still broadcast on French Television, and is notable in the UK for being the original version of Channel 4's Countdown.

The game debuted in 1972. It is broadcast on France 3 and is currently presented by Laurent Romejko, Arielle Boulin-Prat and Bertrand Renard (the latter two check the existence of the words proposed by the contestants; Renard also provides solutions to the number problems that the contestants fail to solve). The show is also seen throughout the world on TV5.


Two contestants play against one another.

As the title of the game indicates, it is based on two skills: numeracy rounds and letters rounds.

In the television version, there are also "duels". These are speed problems for which only the first player to provide the correct answer receives points. Both contestants may receive points in solving the other problems.

The winner of a match is the first player to win two games (manches, literally innings) or a player who wins the opening game by 40 points or more.

Each show is made up of 14 problems presented in five sections. The first, second, fourth, and fifth sections consist of one number problem followed by two letter problems. The third round consists of two duels. If the players are tied at the end of the program a buzzer question is used to break the tie.

Le compte est bon ("the total is right")

Example of a numbers game.

The goal of this round is to arrive at a chosen number (from 101 to 999) using the four basic arithmetic operations (+, −, × and ÷) applied to six numbers chosen randomly from the following alternatives: 1 to 10; 25; 50; 75; 100 (each number is drawn from the entire set, so the same number may appear more than once). Once these six numbers are selected, a three-digit target number is generated. The players combine the numbers arithmetically with the goal of producing the target number. The contestants may use each of the six numbers originally selected once, and the result of each operation performed with them once – for example, if a contestant multiplies 4 by 25 to obtain 100, he or she may no longer use the 4 or 25, but may use the 100 in further calculations. All numbers used must be integers.

Rnd Selection c1 Score c2 Others Max.
8 4 4 6 8 9 → 594  – 

Best: 594 = 4 x (8 + 8) + 2 x 9

Contestants signal that they have obtained the target number by saying le compte est bon. Nine points are awarded to each contestant who arrives at the target number exactly. If neither contestant obtains the target number, the contestant or contestants with the result nearest the target number receive six points each.

Le mot le plus long ("the longest word")

In this round, contestants alternately select a vowel or consonant (each chosen unseen from all possible vowels or consonants) until ten (originally nine) letters have been chosen. Contestants take turns specifying whether the next letter will be a vowel or a consonant. Specific letters may be selected multiple times.

The goal is to find the longest word using the available letters. The contestant with the longest word scores the number of letters in the word; both contestants get points if there is a tie. If a contestant tries a longer word that is not in the programme's dictionaries, his or her word is rejected, but his or her opponent may score the number of letters originally claimed with a shorter word. For example, if a contestant produces a nine-letter word that is rejected and his or her opponent produces an acceptable word that is shorter, the opponent gains nine points.

Recent series have used 10 letters rather than 9.


Example of a letters game.
  • With the following letters:


it is possible to get the French words dictat and amodie.

  • With the following letters:


it is possible to get the French words recruter and erecteur.


Example of l'un dans l'autre - the solutions are BOB and STRING.

There are several variations of the "duel" section:

  • the classic version, which consists of finding two words on the same theme after 9 letters have been given,
  • "l'un dans l'autre" ("one within the other"): with nine given letters, find a nine-letter word and another word, within the first; one a proper noun, the other a common noun.
  • "la bonne orthographe" (the "correct spelling"): a word is proposed and the winner is the one who spells this word correctly first,
  • "le calcul mental" ("mental arithmetic"): the players must complete a calculation (for example, 24 × (32 − 5 × (42 ...) in their heads.

Only one answer is accepted, from the first player to provide one. If the answer is correct, five points are awarded to the player giving it. If the answer is incorrect, the player's opponent receives three points.

Comparison with Countdown in the UK

The format is similar to the English version. Currently there are 14 rounds, which are identical to the rounds used in the 14 round format of grand finals up until Series 46 when the 15 round format was brought in, though the 14 rounds are not in the same order. Other notable differences are:

  • When one player has a longer word than the other player, only the player with the longer word gives his/her word.
  • Instead of conundrums, there are duels, which involve some sort of mental calculation or anagramming feat (but not simply a 9-letter anagram).
  • Players get 9 points for a 9-letter word and not 18.
  • A correct numbers game scores nine points; if neither player has it spot on, whoever is nearer gets six points, no matter how far away the solution is from the target. When in recent series the number of letters changed to 10 the points for numbers changed to 10 to match.
  • If the player declaring a longer word offers an invalid word, the opponent gets as many points as that player was trying to win (for example, if a player proposes a wrong 8-letter word, his opponent wins 8 points even if he only had a 7-letter word).

Very few people have appeared on both the French and British versions, notably Pierre Sandrini from Toulouse, and Tricia Pay from Exeter. Pay lost her first game on both shows, while Sandrini reached the quarter-finals of Countdown, and was undefeated on Des chiffres et des lettres.

See also

External Links