Commuter Quiz



Geoffrey Wheeler


Puzzle compiler: Jack Cross


BBC1 East, 30 January 1984 to 25 February 1986 (21 episodes in 3 series)


Cultural note for our international readers: London does not contain enough houses to fit everyone who works there. So instead they work in London but live in large housing estates otherwise known as Surrey and Essex. Before the advent of the mobile phone, these commuters - having nothing better to do in an overcrowded train carriage - would do the daily cryptic crossword to pass the time. Hence the theme for this quiz programme.

Teams of two, representing commuter towns in East Anglia, competed for the most peculiar trophy you've ever seen in the form of a railway signal. The format was based on a crossword grid with cryptic clues, and teams opted to answer a particular clue. Points were awarded dependent upon the number of letters in the answer. Teams could solve up to three clues at a time unless the other side could steal a failed clue to gain control. The crossword grid was run by a BBC computer, with a 15-second timer bar counting down.

Unlike many other crossword formats, this one used full-blooded cryptic clues very similar to those seen in daily newspapers. Though it wasn't necessary to win the points, the contestants attempted to give a brief explanation of how they arrived at their answer, for the benefit of viewers at home. Crossword compiler Jack Cross was on hand as the 'voice of God' to explain any clues that the contestants couldn't decipher themselves.

Each programme consisted of two full crosswords though, annoyingly, no unsolved answers were explained if the "conductor's whistle" blew to mark the end of the show before the second grid was complete.

It was a knockout competition, with seven programmes in a series.


The 1985 series final was at the Open University's studios, in front of a live audience.


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