Monday, August 21, 2017


And I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

(Probably) All In The Mind

Yes, the Mind Sports Olympiad is up and running again! While various other board games and things were going on around us, a small but select group gathered in a quiet room away from rattling dice and things, to compete in the Marathon Memory Championship.

This is part of the larger MSO Memory Championship (discussion of what exactly to call it continued into the day, when it turned out that the database still calls it the Memory World Cup, but I do think "Mind Sports Olympiad" is a prestigious enough title in its own right!) which continues today with Natural Memory (words, names, images) and Speed Memory (dates, numbers both spoken and written, and everybody's favourite, speed cards). But the Marathon event was all about sustained concentration, 30-minute memorising of binary digits, then decimal digits, then cards.

With an MSO double-timeslot to fit the competition into, we actually had plenty of time - ten in the morning till six in the evening gives us eight hours to accommodate four and a half hours of actual memory stuff. We could maybe expand it to include hour cards and hour numbers if we did this format again, though it would be a bit of a tight squeeze. I remember the non-standard MSO competition at Loughborough in what was probably 2002, which included the hour marathons both in one day, and that was a lot of fun! Today we had rather lengthier breaks between disciplines than is ideal, and also had to wait around to present the medals at the end of the day - and as everyone knows, I hate delayed prizegivings at these things. But never mind, it gives people time to talk among themselves!

Katie dominated the competition despite her specialist subjects being in the Natural event, with 2850 binary, 1080 numbers (always satisfying to beat 1000 at the 30-minute numbers) and 7 packs of cards (tiredness setting in by the end of the day, I think). Lars was an excellent second place; he's really improving rapidly just lately! Scores went like this:

The medal presentation was worth waiting for - the MSO has this year invested in an actual podium, and red carpet! The podium came in three bits, and the carpet wasn't fastened to anything, and it seemed a bit of a health hazard, but it did look good on camera! Marlo couldn't stay to get his medal, and with Lars being so tall it looked a bit unconventional - even with Katie standing on a higher level, Lars was still about a foot taller than her, and a long way above the top of the backdrop. Even so, it looked brilliant!

After that it was the othello, and I wasn't sure anybody else would be competing - none of the regular othello crowd were there, and the allure of Texas hold'em was more attractive to MSO people. But in fact there was a huge attendance, 22 players! A big crowd of Korean youngsters, a smaller crowd of, um, somewhere-in-South-America youngsters and a respectable smattering of adults from various countries too! It was a five-round Swiss, and I lost to Paul Smith in round 4 - might have got a medal, depending how the tie-break worked, but to be honest I was feeling so worn out that I left while the harassed organiser was still trying to juggle the pairing cards. It was a great event, though!

Friday, August 18, 2017

It was twenty years ago today, the MSO taught the mental athletes to play!

Yes, tomorrow I'm on my way to London for the 21st Mind Sports Olympiad! It's surprising how much my life has changed in the twenty years since I came across this new and exciting-sounding thing in Mensa Magazine. I've got a beard now, for example. I had a stupid-looking moustache in 1997, and even though my instinctive mental impression of "looking good" is still based almost entirely on what my dad looked like (I'm sitting here in a short-sleeved shirt, wide open at the neck, as we speak), I think I look cooler now I've grown up.

I've also advanced from basically just competing in the Intelligence championships and a couple of other things, into an MSO all-rounder who's even organising some of the competitions this year. My printer is whirring away printing out the memorisation papers for one of the three interlinked memory championships right now, in fact. Yes, it's a bit late in the day to still be printing things out, but there are multiple reasons why I'm running late this time, and only one of these is the fact that I got very drunk last Friday and decided to spend the weekend recovering in bed, turning Printing Things Out Weekend into Printing Things Out Weekday Evenings After Work. But it'll all be fine by the time I trundle off down to London tomorrow lunchtime!

When I get there, I'll check into my student accommodation and then hang out in the big city on Saturday night, doing what the cool city kids do (staying in my room, playing on the internet). Then on Sunday (because the venue is Jewish and doesn't do mind games tournaments on Saturdays), the fun begins! Here's my schedule:

Sun am/pm - Marathon Memory
The one for hard-core memory athletes! Three 30-minute-memory, 60-minute-recall disciplines, one after the other. Binary, decimal and cards!

Sun eve - Othello
The MSO has settled into a tradition of 15-minutes-per-player games, as opposed to the 25 minutes in other tournaments. It'd be good to bring back the old blitz and 10x10 tournaments, too - maybe I'll volunteer to run them next year...

Mon am - Natural Memory
This one's the one where memory systems are of less use. Words, Names, and Images.

Mon pm - Speed Memory
And this is basically the catch-all for the other four disciplines in 'international standard' memory competitions, but they're all fast - dates, spoken numbers, speed numbers, speed cards. And no, I don't know why spoken numbers isn't the penultimate discipline, like it always is. When I wrote the description of the event down for some reason I put it before speed numbers, and there's no good reason for it not to be there, so I'm pretending it was a deliberate thing.

Mon eve - London Lowball
Poker in the evenings! Always the best way to round off a day at the MSO. I did unusually well at lowball a couple of years ago, so fingers crossed. My poker strategy is "be freakishly lucky and get dealt the right cards at the right time", and sometimes it works!

Tues am - Mental Calculations
I haven't done a mental calculations competition for aaaaaages! I can't remember how to even do it, but hopefully it'll all come flooding back when I sit down with the question paper in front of me...

Tues pm - Continuo
It's a good way to fill an afternoon. I have no idea about strategy.

Tues eve - Omaha
More poker!

Weds am - Decamentathlon
The MSO classic. I can't even remember the last time I did the deca. I won the gold medal in 2001, I think it was, but mainly because everybody who was good at it was doing something else.

Weds pm - Mastermind
I always like this one, I used to play it even before I'd heard of the MSO!

Weds eve - 5 card draw
The most boring kind of poker...

Thurs am/pm - Monopoly
I've never played monopoly at the MSO before, and I'm a little worried that it's not the best kind of game to play competitively. Monopoly should be played in a friendly, and slightly drunken, way - drunk enough to think it's hilarious to win second prize in a beauty contest, not drunk enough to think it'd be hilarious to try to rob the bank. Playing it with people determined to win medals and pentamind points might not be such fun, but we'll see.

Thurs eve - Pineapple
The silliest kind of poker!

Fri am/pm - Lines of Action
Fun game that's always been at the MSO, but I only remember playing once or twice at most. No poker on Friday evenings; the card-players have to be out of the building before sunset.

Sun am - Shogi
And this one I'm pretty sure I've never played at the MSO before - I know the rules, but I'm a definite novice.

Sun pm - Chinese Chess
Whereas this one I used to be something like 'advanced beginner' level, but it's years since I played...

Sun eve - 7 card stud
It's been said to me before that this is the kind of poker where memory is the most useful, but I'll just stick to the usual 'blind luck' approach. It's more fun that way.

Mon am/pm - Countdown
As in, the TV show with Richard and Carol! Or whoever does it now. And not on TV, and not with the new Richard and Carol. But it should be great!

Monday, August 07, 2017

Pin-up of the week

Here's the Men's Health article I was talking about a little while ago. So it's official - I've had my picture in two different continents' editions of Men's Health, holding me up as a shining example of masculine well-being. They asked me for a photo for that sidebar, and I admitted that I don't own any pictures of myself - I did try taking a selfie, but it looked so hideous I didn't want to inflict that on the healthy men of America, and they found a rather nice one somewhere, so it all worked out all right in the end.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

The new season!

Yes, it's an important sporting weekend! The football season has started, if you care about the Community Shield, the extra preliminary round of the FA Cup, or the Championship. But while you're waiting for the real football to start next weekend, the Autumn Season* of the Online Memory League Championship has also kicked off. Well, started. We don't kick things in memory competitions.

I've ended up in division 1, which makes me a favourite for relegation, and considering that it was my job to randomly choose the schedules, the random number generator on Excel really hasn't been kind to me. My first five matches are against Simon, Katie, Marcin, Hannes and Alex, all of whom are likely to thrash the pants off me (not literally - we all keep our pants on in memory competitions). All my games against the few opponents I have a half-chance of beating come towards the end of the season, so I think the best I can hope for is a miraculous last-gasp escape. It's great fun, though!

*Simon Orton pointed out that calling it the autumn season is inappropriate in Australia - I can see we're going to have all kinds of confusion about this. Maybe it's the August-October Season instead.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Jet Joe

I've been on holiday this week, not venturing any farther than Nottingham (still in 'not spending money unnecessarily' mode) except for one jaunt down to Reading yesterday. The purpose of the visit was to see the venue for our exciting new memory competition happening in November, and I'll tell you all about that shortly, but the real reason anybody goes to Reading is to see what's in Just Imagination Memorabilia, and it didn't let me down. Check it out - another one of those Video Brokers pre-cert video tapes of Force Five, significantly rarer than hens' teeth and that an absolute maximum of three people in the whole world think are cool! 

When I'm in 'frivolously spending money like it's gone out of fashion' mode again (within a year or so now, I'm sure), I'm going to buy that whole shop.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

RIP June Foray

Yikes, I feel like I put some kind of witch's curse on her just a fortnight ago. It's very sad, but nobody can deny she lived a full life.

I do have big announcements about memory competitions and rare cartoon video tapes to share with you all, so stay tuned tomorrow when I'm less worn out from travelling around the country.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Online Memory League Championship

An ongoing football-league-style competition for Memory League starts soon! It will work like this...
Competitors are divided into divisions of twelve players. For the first season, they are allocated to divisions based on their average position on the leaderboard (as at 18:00 GMT on 31 July 2017) and in the online Swiss tournament that ran from May to the start of July. Players who didn't compete in the Swiss are based solely on their leaderboard position.
In a season, each competitor will play each of the others in the division once, with one match per week, on a schedule drawn randomly at the start of the season. Players can be flexible about when they play their matches, depending on availability and circumstances, but should try to stick to the schedule as much as possible.
Matches will consist of six games - each player chooses three different disciplines, with the choice alternating. The first player on the scheduled match list chooses the first discipline; the schedule will be arranged so that each player gets a roughly equal distribution of 'home' and 'away' matches. Draws are possible, both in individual disciplines and in the match as a whole.
If the match is a 3:3 draw, the players can (if they both agree to it) play a one-game 'decider', which can be any discipline they choose. If they don't both agree to play the decider, then the match is a draw.
The league table gives two points for a match won, one for a match drawn. Players on the same number of points are ranked by number of disciplines won.
At the end of the season, the bottom two in each division are related to the division below, and the top two in each division are promoted to the division above. There are play-offs between the 10th-place in the upper division versus 3rd-place in the lower, and 9th-place in the upper versus 4th-place in the lower to determine promotion and relegation.
The top four in the first division go into play-offs for the grand title. 1st versus 4th and 2nd versus 3rd, followed by a grand final to determine the League Champion!
Play-offs and semi-finals are best of 9 games - players still can't choose the same discipline twice, so if it gets to 4-4, the final discipline will be the one discipline that Player A (the higher-ranked in the league, who gets the first choice of discipline) hasn't yet chosen.
The Grand Final will be best of 11 - the first game will be a Surprise Task! The loser of that game gets the first choice of discipline for the second, and once more the players can't choose the same discipline twice.
Seasons will last three months - the schedule for the first season (Autumn Season 2017) looks like this:
Match week 1 05/08/2017
Match week 2 12/08/2017
Match week 3 19/08/2017
Match week 4 26/08/2017
Match week 5 02/09/2017
Match week 6 09/09/2017
Match week 7 16/09/2017
Match week 8 23/09/2017
Match week 9 30/09/2017
Match week 10 07/10/2017
Match week 11 14/10/2017
Playoffs and semi-finals 21/10/2017
Grand Final 28/10/2017
Then the Winter Season starts on 04/11/2017!
If you want to join up, post a comment on the Art of Memory thread here or on the Facebook thread.

Here are a couple of examples of how matches will work: