Box Clever



Emlyn Hughes


Question reader: Dr Sue Kingsman (from Oxford University)


BBC1, 31 October 1986 to 8 May 1987 (24 episodes in 1 series)


Clever, ahead-of-its-time, fast-paced general knowledge quiz with a smidgeon of nascent video game action. A real gamers' game, the Turnabout of its day.

Imagine, if you would be so kind, a 9x9 grid of squares broken up into a number of irregular shapes, ranging from one to five squares in irregular arrangements. Each shape is given a different elevation to instill a sense of the third dimension into the grid. This formed the board on which the main game was played.

Two teams of three (coloured red and, for a change, yellow) competed to capture territory upon the grid; capturing a majority of the grid - at least 41 of the 81 squares - would secure victory and send the team into the endgame.

A turn would consist of one team answering quickfire questions for 30 seconds, extending to 45 seconds if the game remained unwon after three rounds each. Each correctly answered question permitted the team to move the little hoppity-man cursor about the board, and turn any one white square into the team's colour. Shades of the Q*bert video game, there. The intrigue in the game comes from the fact that filling in any square in a partially-filled shape also claimed any squares in the opponents' colour for you.

Accordingly, filling in all squares but one in a shape and having time in a turn run out is a disastrous result, for the opponents only need to answer one more question to earn the last square of the shape and so turn the entire shape to the opponents' colour. The colours of squares in filled shapes could not be changed. All coloured shapes had to form a contiguous block.

So this made Box Clever a game of trying to estimate whether or not there was sufficient time to attempt an entire shape's worth of questions; teams who concluded that there was not sufficient time might choose to end their turn early ("Stop!") rather than half-completing a shape and making it easy for the opposition to complete it. A sufficiently savvy (or lucky) team might earn two shapes' worth of squares in a turn as a result of either stealing their opponents' half-finished shape or simply answering enough questions correctly to blitz through two entire shapes.

Upon securing enough completed shapes to have secured a majority of the board, a team might declare "Box Clever!". The squares that would connect to the opposition's squares would take their colour, and the squares fenced-in by the declaring team would take their colour. This is reminiscent of the scoring in the game of Go. One would hope that they would not "Box Clever" early to the point where sufficient squares would be conceded to make the opposition win.

The bonus round, played by the winning team, was a pure video game: drive a car round a simple line maze over fifteen symbols to turn them your colour within sixty seconds - but watch out, there's an enemy tow-truck, which can take you back to the start-point, thus wasting valuable time. Colouring at least ten within a minute paid off at ten pounds per symbol coloured - paid in record vouchers, groovily enough. A later game involved the team moving a dog round a garden to eat ice-cream before it melted.

Key moments

The joystick that controlled the car in the bonus round had to be passed from player to player every fifteen seconds. Accordingly, two players would get one turn "at the wheel" each and the final fifteen would be controlled by a player of the team's choice. (Inevitably the youngest!)


Cecil Miller, Patricia Owtram and Robert Richardson

Theme music

Robert Lockhart


Time running out on a turn when the team had completed some, but not all, squares in a shape would trigger a Crackerjack-like descending-raspberries "whoops" punitive sound effect in addition to the usual end-of-turn jingle.

Web links

Opening titles from the BBC Motion Graphics Archive


The very first episode.


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