Monday, July 28, 2014

Hot and friendly!

The ninth Friendly Memory Championship attracted a crowd of people in a very hot room on a very hot day at Attenborough Nature Reserve. I had been worried at one point about not having enough arbiters, what with the ever-present Dai living in Hong Kong, but he's back in Britain and was there to help out, Nick The Greek came to arbit too, and with the ever-awesome Phil, we practically had more arbiters than competitors.

The competitors were the Knight brothers Marlo and Clay (note, he's called Clay and not Cole, as I said in my blog about the Welsh championship. I nearly got it, and we were in a part of the world where they dig coal out of the ground a lot more than clay, I'm sure), other English friends Phill and Jake (a pairing of names that had me singing the Adventure Time tune to myself all day) and Scandinavian Søren and Yanjaa. The latter was new to me, but she's been touring the world of memory competitions lately, and is super-enthusiastic about the whole thing, which is always good to see! I like it when people come to these events with the clear intention of being the world champion. Mongolian-born, Swedish-residing and attributes her American-accented English to Cartoon Network, which I approve of hugely, of course.

We also had Jon from the telly, filming bits and pieces but generally just being there to find out what memory competitions are like and get to know the people - I think we made a good impression, since he came to the pub afterwards as well, and the post-friendly-championship drink is always the best way to get to know us. And we had newcomer Bryan, who couldn't be persuaded to give memorising a go, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time.

The event perhaps didn't go entirely smoothly - the heat in the room killed the overhead projector quite quickly, meaning we couldn't use my trademark Powerpoint slides, and it probably stopped everyone from achieving their best scores. I also had a problem with the spoken numbers - I'd prepared them on Powerpoint as usual, but found they wouldn't play on my new laptop (rather too late, during the competition, I realised that this was because the sound files were stored on the old laptop). No problem, though, I'd just bring my old broken laptop instead. But then it dropped dead the night before the event, so I had to resort to plan C - using one of the online spoken-number generators. But it didn't work quite right, possibly because of a dodgy internet connection, and the other one (plan D) wasn't working at all. So we did Plan E, involving Jake's iPhone (or whatever it was) and the WMC Ladder app.

That worked fine, so we didn't have to go with Plan F, which would have been me reading the numbers out myself. Still, it was the kind of flamingo-up I would have been hugely sarcastic about in my blog if it had been someone else's competition, so I'll just invite you all to make fun of me for being so generally rubbish, please.

Marlo led from start to finish and took home the grand prize (a bottle of good champagne that my boss gave me a while ago - I don't like champagne, so I thought it'd be better appreciated by a specially-selected memory competition winner). Yanjaa was a very strong second, and Søren an excellent third.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Friendly Memory Championship 2014, part 10

And finally! The climax of every memory competition (nearly)

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Speed cards is fun to watch and exciting to compete in and makes a great finish to competitions. But what would the scores be like if it was the first of the ten disciplines? Or somewhere in the middle? A lot of the time, the competitors have to get an okay-but-not-spectacular score, to make sure they finish in the position they're aiming for, so there's not always a lot of opportunity to go for that record-breaking fast time.

And speaking of records, when will we see a sub-20-second pack of cards? And on a related note, why was 30 seconds seen as the "four minute mile" of memory competitions for so long? Yes, it's a nice round number, but back in the day, people were really really serious about it as being our Everest.

Long long ago, back in 2006, there was a competition called the Speed Cards Challenge, which consisted of nothing but head-to-head speed cards. It was great, and should happen again. The XMT comes close, obviously, and it'll be interesting to see how the speed cards times go in the future with that - memorising on a computer screen is probably a bit faster than memorising physical cards; it's harder to drop them on the floor, anyway.

I might not hold the record any more, but do I hold the record for the most sub-30-seconds packs in competitions? I probably do, but I don't want to count in case I'm wrong...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Friendly Memory Championship 2014, part 9

Spoken numbers!

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The world record is getting close to a perfect 400, which was the level at which they changed it from one-every-two-seconds to one-every-second, back in 2001. Will it be changed again? One every half second? Every three-quarters-of-a-second?

There's always the question of language - the attempt to provide the numbers in the language of the competitors' choice way back in 2005 didn't work as well as it might, but it was the right idea and it's strange that nobody's wanted to try it again. So, will it always be in English at every memory competition except the German ones?

I've always suspected that the people who are good at spoken numbers are the people who don't review their written numbers many times, but go through them slowly and carefully to start with. I can't really back this suspicion up with any kind of evidence, though - maybe I'll gather some one day.

The interesting question is why not have other spoken discplines? Or flashing-up-on-screen disciplines? Or, well, any kind of alternative to things written on paper? I can't think what that other alternative would be, but I'm sure there is one out there somewhere.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Friendly Memory Championship 2014, part 8

Historic Dates! Also known as Historic and Future Dates. Or just Dates.

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The most recently-invented discipline apart from Abstract Images, this one came along in 2001 - I wasn't really involved in memory competitions back then, but I think it came about because they'd decided it would fit the whole millennium standard idea better if there were ten disciplines rather than nine, and Gunther dreamed up this one. He made most of the rules in those days, actually.

The dates range from 1000 to 2099. I have no idea why that was chosen, but it suits my system very nicely, so I can't complain. For the 2000s I use the images starting with H from my cards list. It's a lot more inconvenient for people with a two-digit-image system, because you get a lot of 19s, 18s, 17s and so on.

As has also happened with abstract images, the 1000-point standard lagged behind the top scores for quite a while, leading to the top scorers in this one getting a disproportionate amount of points compared to the other disciplines. I've always thought it would be better to go back to the system of the top score in each discipline gets 100 points, and everyone else's score is proportionate to that.

Thinking up a brief description of a historical event is easy at first, but once you've done a few hundred of them, it gets harder and harder. Actually, it's interesting to go to different events and see how the individual writers of each list approach it. Some people are 'funnier' than others.

Back in ancient times (2002), a few of the events on the list were sort of jokey and related to the year listed, which really shouldn't be done. I'm pretty sure they're always randomised now.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Friendly Memory Championship 2014, part 7

It's the discipline whose name really doesn't describe it... Abstract Images!

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Here's some useful trivia for you - the first time abstract images was ever included in a memory competition was at the very first Friendly Memory Championship (or Cambridge Memory Championship, as it was called back then), in 2006. Gunther Karsten got the highest score, with 200.

Now, I've said it before and I'll say it again, but we need to do something about Abstract Images. Get rid of it altogether, or change it so that it becomes the kind of test it was supposed to be in the first place. See, you don't need to look at the shapes of the images at all, mostly, you just need to look at the pattern they're filled with. There are 158 of these patterns (I counted them again, I always tell people it's 140-something, but it's definitely 158), and it's pretty simple to learn to recognise them and assign an image to each one, for the purpose of memorising them.

All well and good, but there's no practice material available - the only person who can create abstract images is Phil, and he has to manually convert them into black and white, because the wonderful image-generating program that works so hard to create different shapes that nobody needs to look at creates them in colour, and it was decided early on that colour images would be too easy to memorise without looking at the shapes. This means that long-time competitors have a big advantage over beginners here (and I'm going to keep on saying that, despite Jonas setting world-record scores as soon as he started), and that the whole thing is far more removed from the understanding of 'normal' people than any other discipline in memory competitions.

And it was supposed to be a test of 'natural' memory that would be difficult to apply systems to. That was the original idea behind it, and it was completely subverted by the WMSC getting an external company to create the program and somehow not being able to afford to get them to change it when the program they provided was nothing like what it should have been. I don't know, I just despair about the whole thing, I really do.

On the other hand, it's fun! I like to go down the columns and memorise the images in that order, so that when it comes to the recall I have a choice of five options for each image. It uses up a lot of journeys, though - one day, if I don't manage to get the whole discipline scrapped, I'll think of a way to convert each image into a number from 0 to 9, and turn three of them into one of my objects...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Friendly Memory Championship 2014, part 6

More numbers...

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In the world championship, this makes more sense. There's a 60-minute numbers event, and a five-minute numbers where you get two attempts of which the best one counts. In National Standard competitions like this one, we get a 15-minute numbers and a 5-minute numbers - it's a bit too similar for my liking.

'Speed numbers' is what this discipline was traditionally called, but that kind of name is discouraged nowadays, because it causes confusion with speed cards (in which speed is what counts). But I really think we should follow the old German example and give the disciplines individual names - "5-minute numbers" sounds so sterile. Let's call it the Numbersprint.

I once held the world record for this discipline, with 333. We've had a 50% improvement in the years since then!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Friendly Memory Championship 2014, part 5

Cards!

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Everybody loves memorising playing cards! When the World Memory Championship was first invented, it was done with the knowledge that the two memory-themed world records anyone had heard of were memorising pi to thousands of places, and memorising a shuffled pack of cards amazingly quickly. And in those days, 'amazingly quickly' meant three minutes!

Memory competitions traditionally finish with the speed cards and have a 'marathon' cards discipline somewhere in the middle, although in National Standard competitions, the marathon is only ten minutes long. Ten packs in ten minutes has never been done, but I'm sure it's possible. I used to practice with nine, and it was a challenge, but if I'd spent the last six years doing more training, I might well be up to ten by now. I wonder who'll break that barrier first?

If there's one thing I'm particularly proud of in my memory-contest accomplishments, such as they are, it's the 'Ben System' for cards. The idea of turning two cards into one simple image was unthinkable until I did it, and now it's quite commonplace. But who'll be the first to do three?