Sunday, April 13, 2014

They are the X-Mem!

Interviews with the top favourites for the Extreme Memory Tournament (and also with me) can be seen on that link. But the main reason to tune into that website is for the draw for the group stages, this Tuesday, at 5pm British time (midday EST)!

Here's how it works - we're in four groups of four, and each one in a group has one head-to-head match against each of the others for each of the four disciplines (names, numbers, cards, words), making twelve matches in total for everyone. There'll be one from each seedings pot in each group, so they'll be arranged like this:

Pot 1: Johannes Mallow, Simon Reinhard, Jonas von Essen, Ola Kåre Risa
Pot 2: Ben Pridmore, Boris Nikolai Konrad, Christian Schäfer, Gunther Karsten
Pot 3: Andi Bell, Bat-Erdene Tsogoo, Marwin Wallonius, Mark Anthony Castaneda
Pot 4: Erwin Balines, Annalena Fischer, Johann Randall Abrina, James Paterson

So, what's a good group for me, and what's a group of death? In terms of the four disciplines, I'm very good at cards, pretty good at numbers, okay at words and bad at names. With words and names counting for half the points, I really need to pick up a couple of wins in those, as well as in my 'specialist subjects', so I'd like to avoid the people who are particularly good at those. I'd also like to avoid the best people at cards and numbers, because it's easier to make a mistake and get a low score in those two, especially if you're trying hard to beat a close rival.

Okay, so, pot one - obviously you're not going to get an easy opponent there. But here's a thing to consider: there are five people in the world who've done a pack of cards in under thirty seconds in competition, and one of them is me, one is the sadly-missed Wang Feng, and the other three are Johannes, Simon and Ola. Jonas is the one of that group who I'd feel most confident at beating at the cards. Am I really hoping I get drawn against the world champion? Well, maybe I am - I can say from experience that motivation tends to be at a low ebb the year immediately after a WMC win, after all. Johannes is the best in the world at 5-minute numbers and will probably be the best at 1-minute numbers as well. Simon isn't far behind him there and is the world's best at speed cards. The two of them are also very hot at names and words, more so than the others. So, weird though it sounds, my hope is to end up in a group with Jonas, or else with Ola.

Pot three - we go from one extreme to another here, no pun intended, with the man who's been in memory competitions almost since the start in Andi, and the youth who was barely even alive when Andi won his first world championship, Bat-Erdene. I tend to assume that young people are better at fast, computer-based challenges than old people (and, strangely, I still consider myself to be a young person when I'm making that kind of comparison), so I'd prefer to have the old man in my group than the young boy. But Andi was always very good with speed cards in the old days, he was always very good at names back when the world championship rules were the sensible kind that we have in the XMT, rather than the silly kind they're using now, and he's probably still the most dangerous all-rounder in this pot, elderly though he is. I'm crossing my fingers for Mark Anthony here, just because he doesn't have the long experience of Andi or the youthful energy of Bat-Erdene and Marwin, and because he's tended to shine in just one or two disciplines in the big competitions, and been less exceptional than the others elsewhere - he's the only one of these four not to beat the 40-second barrier in speed cards.

Pot four - got to avoid James here. He's in that pot because he's not so hot at cards and numbers, but he's fearsome at names and words, and I wouldn't give myself any chance of a win in those two disciplines against him. When it comes to cards, Johann is the one to avoid, and Erwin too - they're maybe not quite as fast as the top competitors, but they're getting closer. If I'm to have any chance of getting to the coveted second day of competition, I really want to collect maximum points against the lowest-ranked in the group, and I think my best hopes of that are against Annalena.


So, in summary, best group - Jonas, me, Mark Anthony, Annalena.
Group of death - Simon, me, Andi, James.

Or am I entirely wrong in my estimation of my opponents? Very probably.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Memorisin' all over the world

Yesterday it was the Welsh Memory Championship in the scenic surroundings of Llanover. I got a lift there and back courtesy of Darren and Claire Ferguson, and we had a great turnout of the cream of English, Welsh and Danish memorisers. Simultaneously (except for the four-hour time difference), the US Memory Championship was happening in New York - Nelson won that one, which is awesome.

Back in Wales, Dai put on another fantastic competition - it was a close-fought thing for the Welsh title between John Burrows and James Paterson, but John came through in the end with a few new national records along the way. Not having done any training for this kind of event (it's all been Extreme for the last month), I was quite a long way from my best, but I managed a 35-second pack of cards at the end to beat off the challenge of the increasingly great Marlo Knight. His brother Cole made his debut too - we really need more sibling rivalries in memory sports, and we welcomed another newcomer Dan Evans and not-newcomers-any-more Phill Ash and Jake O'Gorman, as well as the international contingent Søren Damtoft. Am I forgetting anyone? I bet I am, I always do.

We also had a team of arbiters led by the irreplaceable Phil Chambers, so the whole competition went super-smoothly, even though the village hall was double-booked with an army of singing children. That's the kind of thing that tends to get in the way of a memory competition, but it really didn't. And we all filled in a questionnaire from a psychology PhD student, so she'll no doubt come to some disturbing conclusions about memory people in general and publish them for the world to see.

But I return to Belper loaded with cool gifts from Dai, including a totally awesome shiny gold clock with elephants on it, which is hanging precariously on my wall (blu-tack probably isn't going to work, but you never know). I've been wanting to get a clock for the living room for ages.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Let's get Extreme!

I have been practicing for the Extreme Memory Tournament for the last week, morning and evening. Except yesterday, when I had a hangover. But I've still had fourteen trial runs of each of the four disciplines since I started this regime - they're Extreme because they're fast. But let me catch you all up with what I'm talking about, if you haven't been following the Extreme latest.

All details are on this website


The Extreme Memory Tournament (XMT) is new type of memory competition. The tournament leaves the traditional style of memory competition by breaking down every event into short, exciting, head-to-head memory battles. The XMT is an attempt to crown the best memory in the world by challenging competitors with various intense memory tasks.


Extreme. And entertainingly different from the competitions we've had before! I really am looking forward to it!

The Basics
•The Competition will be...◦two-day event held on April 26th and 27th, 2014

held at the Dart Neuroscience Convention Center in San Diego, CA


sponsored by Dart Neuroscience and Washington University in St. Louis (WUSL)


offering money prizes from a pool of $60,000



16 of the top mental athletes in the world will be competing to ensure that the competition is at the highest level.


The competitors will be split up into 4 groups of 4, mixing the best and worst in each group to maintain fairness.


The competition will be run first in group stages (Day 1) and then single-elimination Quarterfinals, Semifinals, Runner-up Match, and Finals (Day 2).


All matches will be head-to-head competitive style, with competitors facing each other (1-on-1).


All events will be digital. All memorization/recall will occur on a laptop. For XMTs, a laptop may or may not be used (this will be announced prior to the task).



I forget whether I've mentioned it before, but I'm down to number 6 in the world rankings now, meaning number 5 in the list of seeds for this tournament (Wang Feng isn't coming, although he is doing a Chinese TV show with Boris next week), meaning I'll be in a group with one of the top four. Unless I improve my ranking at the Welsh competition at the end of the month, but I can tell you now that that's not going to happen. The people in the third and fourth seeding pots are also the kind of people who'll beat me at this, too, so I suppose it doesn't matter whether I'm in the first or second.

Good things about this - computers! I mean, it is the twenty-first century. And the software being designed by Simon Orton, who always knows what he's doing, and tested extensively by him and Nelson Dellis, who likewise knows his onions, before it's released to the competitors to practice with, and before it's used in the competition. Not to name names, but there are some other competitions where it might have been a good idea to test whether technology works or not before using it.

Day 1 - Group Stage
•There will be 4 events throughout the Group Stage matches:◦
1-Minute Names

◦1-Minute Numbers
◦1-Minute Cards
◦1-Minute Words


3 minute recall time for all events.


Overall percentage memorized correctly will be calculated after each event and used in the case of a tie-break.


Each competitor will face all others in his/her respective group, for each of these memory tasks. 6 different matches, with 4 events each = 24 different head-to-head battles per group. 96 total matches on Day 1.


Points will be earned if a match is won (3 points) or tied (1 point). No points for a loss.


The top two leaders in each group (by points, or by tie-break percentage if necessary) will advance to Day 2.


All 4 memory tasks against an opponent will be split up over the course of the day to keep things moving, light, and interesting. That way, the point accumulation can be a close race till the very end.



Actually, what's interesting here is that three points for a win is a very football kind of thing. You wouldn't have thought a competition organised by Americans would have done that, would you? There'll be two head-to-heads happening at the same time (the two in the same group going simultaneously), so there'll be the opportunity to watch everyone else. It should be a much more fun spectator sport than most memory competitions!

Day 2 - Single Elimination Stage

All matches will be head-to-head, with the competitors facing each other (1-on-1 style).


Each match will be a best-of-7 series (first to 4 wins).

•In addition to the 4 events listed above, there will also be:◦
XMTs (Extreme Memory Tasks)



All 4 Quarterfinal matches will begin at the same time so that XMT #1 is revealed and executed at the same time. *All QF matches will execute the same XMT.*


Both Semifinals matches will begin at the same time so that XMT #2 is revealed an executed at the same time. *All SF matches will execute the same XMT.*


The first match of each match will always start with an XMT. This will decide who gets the first point. The loser of the XMT gets to choose the next event. From there on forward, choice of the next event is given to alternating competitors. The same discipline cannot be chosen twice in a row.


Same rules apply for the 4 disciplines as in Day 1, only with some additional tiebreak rules, which are outlined on the event pages.

•There will be an additional Third-place Match between the losers from the SF round. This match will decide the 3rd and 4th place positions.
•The Finals will be a best-of-9 series (first to 5 points) to make it as interesting as possible.◦
There will be 2 XMTs in this event.


XMT #3 will be to used to decide the first point and will be the same task as the one used for the Third-place Match.


XMT #4 will be used to decide who the 4th (total) point. (i.e. when the score is 3-0 or 2-1)




Yes, I'm curious about the XMTs. We'll be told what they are ten minutes before we do them, apparently. No clues.

I need to clarify whether "The same discipline cannot be chosen twice in a row" means that you can't choose the one your opponent just chose, or that you can't choose the one you chose two events ago, or both. Probably both, but remind me to ask Nelson about that.





Names



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------




The Basics
•1 minute memorization.
•3 minute recall.
•30 names (first name only) and photos (head-shots).
•+1 point for a completely correct name. No points for an incorrect name.

Details
•Simple international name selection (normal, common names).
•The timer can be stopped if the competitor is finished and confident.◦Once the timer is stopped, that competitor's information vanishes and the other competitor is notified (his screen turns a light shade of blue).
◦The other competitor can continue until the 1 minute is over or until he hits the timer as well.

•The winner is decided by:
1.Better Score (total points)
2.If Equal Score, the Better Time wins.
3.If Equal Score and Equal Time, a draw is given to both competitors.
•TIEBREAK (Day 2 only): A random face will be shown (one that was correctly memorized by both competitors). The first competitor to buzz in with the correct answer, wins (3 seconds to respond orally). Best of 5 (first to answer correctly 3 times).


I've been practicing this (and numbers and words) on Memocamp. If you pay them the reasonable amount of money for a subscription, you get the option of 'free' training where you can specify 1 minute memorisation and 3 minute recall. I got a score of 14 tonight, which I was really quite happy with, but I really think I could do better if I get myself a list of "normal, common names" and work out in advance what that name makes me think of, and develop some kind of working system for associating these things with the facial features of the photo.

I'm still going to be rubbish, of course, but I feel like I could make an effort here.





Numbers



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------




The Basics
•1 minute memorization.
•3 minute recall.
•60 digits.
•+1 point for a correct digit. No points for an incorrect digit.

Details
•The timer can be stopped if the competitor is finished and confident.◦Once the timer is stopped, that competitor's information vanishes and the other competitor is notified (his screen turns a light shade of blue).
◦The other competitor can continue until the 1 minute is over or until he hits the timer as well.

•The winner is decided by:
1.Better Score (total points)
2.If Equal Score, the Better Time wins.
3.If Equal Score and Equal Time, a draw is given to both competitors.
•TIEBREAK (Day 2 only): A random position in the 60-digit number will be shown (one that was correctly memorized by both competitors). The first competitor to buzz in with the correct answer, wins (3 seconds to respond orally). Best of 5 (first to answer correctly 3 times).


This is an interesting one. 60 digits is 20 images - six fewer than speed cards. My best time so far is just over twenty seconds, but I'm thinking I can go a bit faster than that. The important thing, though, is to make sure I get them all recalled properly, because there's no point doing a fast time if I only get 57 digits correct and my opponent takes a whole minute to do 60. The thing about numbers is that you don't get the double-check of using each of the 52 possible cards once. But with more practice, hopefully, I can get more consistently reliable if I'm memorising at top speed.





Cards



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------




The Basics
•1 minute memorization.
•3 minute recall.
•1 deck.
•+1 point for a correct card. No points for an incorrect card.

Details
•The timer can be stopped if the competitor is finished and confident.
•◦Once the timer is stopped, that competitor's information vanishes and the other competitor is notified (his screen turns a light shade of blue).
◦The other competitor can continue until the 1 minute is over or until he hits the timer as well.

•The winner is decided by:
1.Better Score (total points)
2.If Equal Score, the Better Time wins.
3.If Equal Score and Equal Time, a draw is given to both competitors.
•TIEBREAK (Day 2 only): A random position in the deck will be shown (one that was correctly memorized by both competitors). The first competitor to buzz in with the correct answer, wins (3 seconds to respond orally). Best of 5 (first to answer correctly 3 times).



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Ahh, the old classic. Wouldn't be a memory competition without speed cards. I've been training with this one on the Online Memory Challenge site - being Simon's design, it's probably closer to what we'll get in the tournament, and also the speed cards layout on Memocamp isn't very good (they're too small to see quickly when you look at all of them on the screen at once).

The 3 minute recall is the key here - I understand Nelson's been being asked to increase it, but I hope he holds firm. It's challenging, but still doable.

I won the speed cards at the Memoriad by a surprisingly comfortable margin, but surely someone's going to do a very fast time here - under 20 seconds wouldn't surprise me too much!





Words



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------




The Basics
•1 minute memorization.
•3 minute recall.
•50 words (in language of choice).
•Your score is up to your 3rd mistake (to allow slight leniency for misspellings).

Details
•The timer can be stopped if the competitor is finished and confident.
•◦Once the timer is stopped, that competitor's information vanishes and the other competitor is notified (his screen turns a light shade of blue).
◦The other competitor can continue until the 1 minute is over or until he hits the timer as well.

•The winner is decided by:
1.Better Score (total points)
2.If Equal Score, the Better Time wins.
3.If Equal Score and Equal Time, a draw is given to both competitors.
•TIEBREAK (Day 2 only): A random position in the 50-word list will be shown (one that was correctly memorized by both competitors). The first competitor to buzz in with the correct answer, wins (3 seconds to respond orally). Best of 5 (first to answer correctly 3 times).


I don't get why the rules are different for this one. I'll ask that to Nelson, too. It'd make more sense if it was one point per correctly recalled word, same as the others.

My best so far is 31, and that's looking at each word twice. Should I experiment with trying to read all 50 in a minute, really quickly? I don't know if I'll get any kind of reasonable result that way. On the other hand, the words on Memocamp are occasionally weird in English (there's a few that slipped by the translator, I think), so maybe I'll find the tournament easier after training with it. Except that I bet they'll use American spellings...


Overall - can't wait! And I'm determined to keep up the training for the next month-and-a-half!

Sunday, March 02, 2014

It's the EGP!

It seems like ages since I went to an othello tournament. And incidentally, Blogger, stop auto-capitalising "othello", please - I've always spelt it with a lower-case o, and I don't intend to stop now, whether or not the general consensus is a capital letter even for the board game. Not that Blogger knows I'm talking about the board game, the stupid thing, it thinks I'm talking about Shakespeare, I bet.

Where was I? Oh yes, Cambridge. I was in Cambridge this weekend, for the British leg of the European Grand Prix, also known as the Cambridge International. Lots of capital letters there, and I bet Blogger wouldn't auto-correct half of them if I'd forgotten them. We were in the luxurious surroundings of the Old Combination Room at Trinity College - I have no idea why it's called that, but it's dominated by enormous life-sized full-body portraits of illustrious people and basically looks like the kind of room that you'd find in Buckingham Palace if they held Othello tournaments there. The college porters, that army of bowler-hatted men who wander around the university doing unfathomable portery things, call it "the OCR".

We had 27 competitors from all around Europe - 9 British, 6 Dutch, 4 French, 2 Belgian, one each from Germany, Greece, Italy and Norway, and an American and Malaysian who live in Europe and came along to make it super-international. I'm so out of practice that I did really terribly, but that was only to be expected. It's just fun to be in the surroundings of an Othello competition - the click-clack of flipping discs, the buzz of conversation about games that have just finished, the sssssssh from someone who's still playing their game and wants the conversation to shut up so they can concentrate, the very-slightly-quieter-for-a-split-second conversation continuing unabated...

Highlights for me included a chance to apply my Golden Rule of othello (see, it doesn't get a capital letter even now) - always play a Stoner trap if it's possible, whether or not it looks like it might be a good idea. This all comes from a time when I decided not to play one and it turned out to be a good idea after all. And this time, it worked! Also, I won a really quite exciting game against Benkt, 33-31 that made up for losing quite a lot of other games in horrible ways.

I ended up with 5 points from 11 rounds, including one for a bye, and finished 20th out of 27 - which is obviously worse than the half-way point I normally aim for, but I don't really mind. The excitement came at the top end of the leaderboard - Imre was all-conquering on the first day but was caught up on the second by the European contingent; the final ended up between him and Nicky van den Biggelaar, who won 33-31 in the final game!

It's good to be back in the othelloing swing of things, although from now until the end of April I'm going to try to devote myself to memory. And not just normal memory, EXTREME memory! I'll blog about it at length tomorrow, if only to keep myself properly motivated.

Monday, February 24, 2014

This is awesome! This is awesome!

Perhaps there are better things you can do with your time than watching six men pretending (very convincingly) to beat each other up, but that still didn't stop the long-awaited wrestling match between The Shield and The Wyatt Family from being the coolest I've ever seen. Seriously, this is how wrestling should be, and usually isn't. I didn't bother watching the Royal Rumble last month when they made it clear it'd be dominated by old men who used to be cool wrestlers in the past (watching the New Age Outlaws doddering arthritically around the ring isn't really as much fun as their fans insist), and I think I'll skip Wrestlemania for the same reason (Hulk Hogan's coming back, once more), but the fill-a-gap-in-the-schedule pay-per-view (you don't have to pay for it in this country) Elimination Chamber was just great.

Admittedly the main event was dull by comparison to the clash-of-the-bad-guys, and some of the filler stuff was dreadful, but one really good "fight" is enough to satisfy my bloodlust for a couple of months at least - I'll tune in again the next time a thrilling storyline like this one builds up...

Friday, February 14, 2014

What's my age again?

This evening at the Co-op I was at the till behind a teenager insisting she was 35 years old in an optimistic attempt to buy a bottle of booze. It just makes me think, though - not once in my life has anyone asked me for proof of age. I've always looked old and ancient, apparently.

I should get some kind of expert make-up artist to make me look youthful, just so I can be refused alcohol or cigarettes in a shop. It'd be a great experience. I'm sure all I'd need is some trendy young people's clothes and maybe a baseball cap.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Illusion is the ultimate weapon

Someone found this blog by googling "mask cartoon vehicles". Which is interesting, because I don't remember ever blogging about the vehicles from the cartoon MASK, much though I actually am interested in the subject. MASK was cool. Not as cool as Transformers or Thundercats, but still pretty cool in its own way.

The most interesting thing about the vehicles was that they came with a driver who had a mask that had special powers, and the way this was phrased on the box was always along the lines of "Dusty Hayes with Backlash mask which pretends to create sonic waves." All the masks "pretended" to do something - the people who played with them didn't pretend, it was the mask itself.

The figures were also available without the vehicles, if you were too poor to afford the cool big toys. Cleverly, the manufacturers made sure that poor children could never be completely satisfied with this purchase, because the masks that came with the sold-separately figures were slightly different from the ones that came with the vehicles; the masks were sort of extended downwards a bit with some extra plastic, making it impossible to take the figures into primary school and tell people you'd got the vehicle at home.

The comic was also quite good (although again, not as good as the Transformers comic... it was probably about as good as the Thundercats comic, which was rubbish compared to the cartoon, but did have the advantage of a Lew Stringer comic strip - rating 30-year-old toy-tie-in comics can be hard work), and most notable for the way it would be filled with characters breaking the fourth wall - villains as well as heroes. There would always be an advert for subscriptions in which evil Miles Mayhem announced to the readers that he was going to buy every copy of MASK from the newsagent to stop you reading about Matt Trakker thwarting his evil plan, and one time the cover had the bad guys fighting over the chew bar that was that issue's free gift. "Stop pushing, Rax! You know I like chews!"