Saturday, June 03, 2017


It's really very hard to refrain from drinking cherry coke, you know. It's just so tempting. Maybe I should change tack and just try to persuade some reputable-sounding scientist to tell the newspapers that it's good for memory. I mean, I already know it is, but nobody believes me when I say so.

It's definitely better for you than omega 3, and to prove it, here's documentary evidence that Omega Three Planet was blown to smithereens ages ago, while Coca Cola Planet, to the best of my knowledge, is still fine and dandy.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Birmingham gets Friendly

The Friendly Memory Championship happened in the scenic surroundings of the William Penn room in the Priory Rooms, Birmingham city centre. All the conference/meeting rooms in the very nice building are named after prominent Quakers, in honour of the place's original purpose. It turns out (from the plaque on the wall outside) that William Penn shared my birthday, so the whole thing could have been seen as some sort of gathering in tribute of our fellow October-14th twin, the late Roger Moore. If we'd thought of it at the time, anyway.

The room was the perfect size for a memory competition, and equipped with a big screen and projector for my snappy powerpoint displays. The George Fox room next door was hosting a gathering of Mensa members (always trouble, those lot), who were occasionally noisy, but apart from that it was an ideal venue! It's sort of tucked away out of sight of the main road, so we hung around outside to grab lost-looking memory people as they walked by.

We were a little short of competitors - two last-minute drop-outs on the grounds of having a cold and getting on the wrong train, because clearly it doesn't take much to put a memory competitor out of action - and might have had a championship with four entrants and three arbiters, but the imbalance was enough to convince Ian Fennell, quiz enthusiast who'd come along to help out, see how memory competitions and techniques work and maybe try his hand at a numbers discipline, to take part instead. So with myself and the ever-awesome Nick Papadopoulos running the show, we had a lineup of five - Ian and Marlo Knight from England, Gordon Cowell representing Scotland, Lars Christiansen all the way from Denmark and Silvio di Fabio all the way from Italy. International!

It all ran more or less smoothly - in the first discipline I somehow forgot the way I've always timed things (using my trusty stopwatch, starting it running at the start of the one minute preparation time and stopping it after the five-minute memory time when the stopwatch shows 6:00) and announced "ten seconds remaining" a minute too early. Marlo waved at me, I remembered, and added "And one minute." Hey, there have been worse timing blunders in bigger memory championships in the past. Everything else was clean and efficient, and we were able to stick to the tight schedule and finish on time at 5pm.

A good time was had by all - Marlo won in great style, Silvio beat his best overall score, Gordon demolished his best speed cards time, and there was the usual constant flow of memory-chatter that's always such a delight to host. Afterwards we went for a celebration drink in the Square Peg pub down the road (which is a weird TARDIS-like pub that goes on forever) and toasted the continual success of the Friendly Championship. I can see I'll have to keep on hosting it forever now, it was silly of me to suggest ever stopping it...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

I admit it

I didn't get round to describing what happened at the Cambridge regional othello tournament the other week, and I really should say something, because otherwise people will look it up on the internet and realise that I lost all my games and came last, and assume I'm deeply ashamed of the fact and trying to conceal it.

Actually, it was still fun - the competition was very nearly cancelled because nobody was going to attend, but I'd been umming and ahhing about whether or not to go, and finally had my mind tilted in the right direction when it turned out that Singaporean memory man Wellon Chou was in Cambridge that day as well, so we could have a drink and a chat in the evening if I went along to the othello. So I did, despite not having played a game for so long I could barely remember the basic rules of the game.

In the end, there were four of us there - Imre, Iain, Roy and me. And I didn't really play terribly badly, just not well enough to win any of the six games in the double round-robin. Adelaide joined us for the traditional pub lunch too, and a good time was had by all! I resolved to go along to the next regional as well, down south in Salisbury, but then forgot about it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


This coming Saturday sees the twelfth (!!!) annual Friendly Memory Championship. I've been saying for years that I might stop doing them, because there are so many other memory championships around nowadays, but there's always a small minority of people out there who want the Friendly, and I hate to disappoint them. Even if only four or five people turn up, it's always a fun day for everyone, and always inspires at least someone to take up competitive memorising, so it can't be a waste of time and effort. I'll probably still be hosting the things fifty years from now...

Monday, May 22, 2017

Find your level

Here's the other memory thing I've been meaning to blog about for a while - Belts!

Or, to give it its official name, the New IAM Levels System. It looks like this:

What you can do is go to the site here and type in your best score in each memory discipline. For each one you get a number of points based on the highest level you've achieved, and your overall level is the average of the best ten of these - with at least one discipline having to come from each of the five groups (numbers/cards/names/words/miscellaneous).

The whole thing is just a proposal rather than an actual thing yet, but it's a very cool idea. It naturally leads (in my mind, at least) to coloured belts as in martial arts, with level 10 being the black belt and any levels above that being 'dan' rankings for the ultimate memorisers. There currently aren't any ultimate memorisers according to these tough standards - two black belts (Alex and Simon), and two brown (Johannes and Marwin), and a few people (like me, as above) on purple. It's genuinely very motivating to know that I could bump myself up to the next elite level by slightly improving my top scores in three disciplines!

The proposal also sticks with the "grandmaster" title, which I think is a mistake. It would be fine if not for the fact that there are HUNDREDS of people out there who have already qualified to call themselves a grand master of memory, by different rules, and so there's no way an "IAM Grandmaster" title could ever be meaningful to anybody. I think we should have actual physical coloured belts - imagine the photo opportunities! Local newspapers around the world would lap it up.

Admittedly, some people have said the Belt idea is "slightly corny", and admittedly the people who say this include the two black belts themselves, one of them being the current world champion and the other being the main person who decides things like this in the IAM, so it's just possible I won't get my actual purple belt... but come on, just imagine the coolness! They could be thin (inexpensive) coloured fabric belts with little metal clasps on each end, bearing the IAM logo. So desirable! I might have to make my own.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Cats cats cats

The German Memory League Championship is happening right now - you can watch the fun on the Memory League website! They've just had the surprise task of the quarter-finals - images, except all 30 images are cats! It's brilliant, you can see the memorisers struggled with remembering which cat came in which sequence (there are also a couple of people dressed as cats, one that's just the word "Katze", one picture of Cat Stevens, one of Katie Kermode...)

The whole Memory League thing is awesome, as I've mentioned before. We're also currently running frequent online competitions - there's a Swiss tournament going on at the moment between memory people of all levels and nationalities, and a "purge" competition where the aim is to get a certain score, increasing at each level, to avoid being eliminated. Coming up soon is a full-blown league structure, four divisions with all-play-all in a 'season', promotion and relegation, and a knockout competition in between each one. It's great!

There will also, we can only hope, be a second UK Memory League Championship, live and in person, later this year. This does depend on finding a location for it - I've insisted repeatedly that finding and talking to sponsors isn't something that's within my capabilities, but nobody else has come up with anything, so I suppose I'll just have to book a room somewhere and then see if the competitors are prepared to pay for it. It's more complicated than a pen-and-paper memory championship, because the whole thing falls down if the room doesn't have a rock-solid internet connection...

But in the pen-and-paper line, we have the Friendly Memory Championship next Saturday! It's at the Priory Rooms in Birmingham city centre, a nice building full of little meeting rooms (and a really cool big lecture-theatre style room too, which would be great for a more swanky kind of event) where the company I work for in my day job has its board meetings. Not that I go to board meetings, I'm not the director type, but I've been there once and really liked the look of the place. I'm currently printing out lots of papers and things - one day, you never know, memory competitions might move into the 21st century and be entirely on computer, just like the Memory League. It'll save a lot of trouble and expense, albeit at the cost of replacing it with a different, more up-to-date kind of trouble and expense. Progress!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The state of British wrestling

You know, I really must write more on this blog. I'll try to keep up a daily ramble from now on - there's absolute tons of things happening in the memory world alone that I feel morally obliged to tell the world about.

But to start with, here's another subject in the "everybody who might plausibly be interested in what I say already knows all about it" category - TV wrestling, of the specifically British variety.

You may remember that at the new year, ITV put on a World of Sport wrestling special, of the family-friendly, Saturday-afternoon, mainstream type, immediately following which the WWE Network inaugurated a UK Championship title with a two-part special edition of the strictly-for-the-wrestling-fanatics type. Comparing the two was really quite fascinating. ITV, naturally, went for 'colourful and entertaining' to appeal to the mainstream audience of normal people, while the WWE emphasized 'technical skills' to excite the nerdy internet people who watch the WWE Network. [It's surprising how very, very nerdy wrestling fans on the internet are, incidentally - Star Trek forum contributors are ten times more macho and well-balanced]

Well, since then, both sides of the UK TV wrestling coin have been more or less in limbo. Tyler Bate has defended his newly-won title here and there - a couple of times on NXT, the WWE Network's 'development' show for wrestlers honing their craft before being introduced on the 'real' shows that appear on real TV; a couple more times at non-televised WWE events. Some more of the guys from the UK Championship special have shown up on NXT and the like once in a while, too. It's not been forgotten, but then it's not exactly been made a big deal of, either.

As for World of Sport, it's had problems. After announcing an alliance with Impact Wrestling, the distant-second-biggest US promotion, there was a special press conference on the internet, in which some of the wrestlers from the new year special stood on the stage and got rounds of applause, followed by a little bit of squabbling and chaos, which promised well for the future - a new 10-part series would be filmed in May, with a regular weekly show expected to follow.

There was a slight hint of not everything having been agreed - Dave Mastiff featured on the poster, but wasn't seen or mentioned in the YouTube video, with Sha Samuels being positioned as 'main baddie'. The awesome Grado, though, was still there as the main attraction, and he's really good. Give him a weekly series and he'll be Big Daddy levels of popularity, no problem. The others who showed up were Zack Gibson (placed with the goodies, though he was a bad guy on the new year special), Viper, Kenny Williams, El Ligero, Johnny Moss, Ashton Smith and Rampage Brown, plus new guy Magnus as the square-jawed-hero type I said at the time was strangely missing from the new year special. It looked like being a lot of fun!

And then it was abruptly cancelled, "as a result of contract negotiations". The internet seems to think that the problem is between ITV and Impact, rather than the wrestlers themselves, which makes you wonder why they need Impact in the first place - surely it's within ITV's budget to pay for a dozen or so wrestlers, a half-decent scriptwriter and a ring in a studio? Oh well.

But WWE, on the other hand, have just done another "UK Championship Special" on the network last night - smaller in scale than before, but as a build-up to a title match on tonight's big live "NXT Takeover" special. That's the most prominent the UK Championship title has been, maybe it'll lead to an ongoing series eventually...

It was pretty good, though some of the technical details didn't seem to be quite right - there was one cameraman just outside the ring who was really terrible, and for the first match the crowd was almost inaudible, so it didn't feel like a big event. Still, good fun all round - we started out with Wolfgang beating Joseph Conners in a doesn't-count-for-anything match; Wolfgang is still really, really good and deserves to be the main event, probably at some point when someone else is the reigning champion. Then, strangely, Dan Moloney joins up with three Americans from the WWE's cruiserweight division for a tag team match, Moloney and Rich Swann against TJP and The Brian Kendrick. He seemed out of place.

The main events were rather predictable, but well done - Pete Dunne beat Trent Seven in a match to determine who would be the challenger in the NXT Takeover title match, and the more I see Pete Dunne the more impressed I am with him. He's a great villain! Then there was a title match to finish it off, between Tyler Bate (rather unwisely having changed his cool and distinctive previous appearance to a beard and floppy fringe) and Mark Andrews (who already has a beard and floppy fringe). Not so much high-flying and agility from Mark Andrews this time round, it was a bit disappointing. There was never any doubt that Tyler would win, but that doesn't excuse putting on a match that looks like they know they're going through the motions...

Still, it's all entertaining, and now I'm cheering for Pete Dunne to win the title and go on to headline a new series. And fingers crossed, maybe we'll still get a World of Sport series too!