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Des chiffres et des lettres

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Revision as of 19:42, 10 January 2008 by Mglovesfun (talk | contribs) (UK version: main article banner is not very useful)

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")

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.


Numbers given  : 8 — 4 — 4 — 6 — 8 — 9
Target number  : 594
8 + 8 = 16
16 × 4 = 64
6 − 4 = 2
64 + 2 = 66
66 × 9 = 594

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 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.


  • 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.


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.

UK version

The long-running United Kingdom TV show Countdown began in 1982, and is a close adaptation of the same format. The main differences are that the rounds last only 30 seconds instead of 45; only one contestant chooses the letters in each round and the "duels" are replaced with the "Countdown Conundrum", a nine-letter anagram.

The style of presentation is notably (and deliberately) more old fashioned, and prides itself on featuring no computerised elements whatsoever, other than a random number generator for the numbers round. Whereas contestants on Des Chiffres Et Des Lettres use computer touch-screens to registers their words / number solutions, Countdown contestants use pen and paper. Unlike Des Chiffres Et Des Lettres' computerised displays, Countdown's letters and numbers are displayed on boards, with the time limit being measured using a huge clock face at the back of the set. The clock, and the music played during rounds, have become icons of the UK show, and have become very famous.

No major prizes are offered, with contestants mostly receiving a dictionary, and a special Countdown teapot depicting the show's clock face. The winner of each series receives a leather bound complete set of the Oxford English Dictionary. The low-tech and low-budget nature of the production is a subject of numerous jokes within the programme.

Spanish version

The Spanish TV show Cifras y Letras (Digits and Letters) is another adaptation of Des chiffres et des lettres. There are four rounds consisting of a number game followed by two letter games . Between the second and third round there is a duel that consists of finding two words on the same theme from the nine letters provided.


  • Words are worth one point per letter, but a nine-letter word is worth double; that is, 18 points.
  • The correct sum gets 9 points.
  • The duel is worth 10 points. Just like the French show, only one answer is accepted, but if the answer is wrong the other player gets 10 points.

The winner wins 602 euros and gets to play again the next day. If both players tie, they both get to play again the next day and each player wins 301 euros.

See also