Monday, November 03, 2008

I don't remember

How can my rear bike light not be in the same box as the front one? I need it to get to and from work tomorrow without being killed! Maybe I'll just call in sick. They've probably forgotten I work there, anyway, after all this time.

Still, we've got an account of the world memory championships to finish writing, haven't we? Day three dawned hot and sweaty as usual, I put on my Zoom-Zoom T-shirt and headed down to the Gulf again. It's probably worth mentioning here what a long day it is at a world championship - the first two days we started at eight in the morning and finished at six in the evening, and it's even longer for the arbiters, who have to stay up all night marking the hour-long disciplines' recall papers. Day three was scheduled to be just a half day, with only the spoken numbers and speed cards to go, but those are the ones with the highest likelihood of delays, so you never know just how long it's going to take.

I came in to hear that the results of the random words had been posted on the website, although we hadn't officially been told them yet - a new world record for Boris, and Hannes as predicted making up some more ground on me. He reassured me that he'd done badly on the hour cards, only getting ten packs or so, so if I'd done twenty-something, I was safe, but I was sceptical about that. Those headlines mocking my ability to ever win the world championship again were still playing in my head until we had the official announcement of the scores so far.

Boris had indeed made a whopping 255 in words, Hannes was second with 191 and Dorothea picked up another bronze medal with 189. I got 170, and I'm looking at the website, and it says that was the 4th-best score, but I'm quite certain that I remember it being fifth. Has someone been amending the scores since they were announced?

Anyway, it turned out that I had indeed got 25 packs right in the hour cards - top score again by a long way (second was Chuanwei with 15), but yet again short of the world record. And Hannes had only got nine, which eased off the pressure on me quite a bit. After random words the gap had narrowed to a mere 129 championship points, which is nothing, but now with just two disciplines to go, the standings looked like this:

1 Ben Pridmore 6534
2 Johannes Mallow 5805
3 Dr Gunther Karsten 5256
4 Chuanwei Guo 4744
5 Boris Konrad 4634
6 Andi Bell 4413
7 Su Ruiqiao 4346
8 Liu Ping 4027
9 Yip Swe Chooi 3919
10 Yuan Wenkui 3713

Of course, it wasn't all over just yet, despite what everyone kept saying to me. "Stop saying I've won! Don't congratulate me until it's finished!" I kept having to yell at people. The two final disciplines are by far the easiest ones to end up with a tiny score in. Spoken numbers came first - we hear numbers read out at a rate of one digit per second, and have to remember as many as possible. Three trials (with 100, 200 and 300 digits respectively) and the best score counts. But the scoring for this one is brutal - it only counts up to your first mistake. So if you remember a perfect 300 digits apart from writing down the second digit wrong, you score 1. Still, the system for converting raw score into championship points isn't a linear progression like the other disciplines, it's (for some reason) 70 times the square root of the number of digits recalled; so I figured that if I got 100, it would be a decent 700 championship points and I wasn't going to lose any serious ground even if Hannes or Gunther got more.

Gunther is always good at spoken numbers, and Boris (probably in some kind of evil German mind-games) told me before the start that Hannes had been seriously training for this one more than anything else. In more evil German mind-games, Hannes offered me a hundred dollars to eat a hot pepper just before the spoken numbers started - I declined, fearing it might affect my performance, but apparently Lukas (or possibly Ed, I forget), took him up on it.

Anyway, we got down to memorising (the sound system was perfect this year, I didn't hear a single complaint), and to my own surprise as much as anyone's I got a perfect 100 in the first trial. Nobody else had managed that; James Ponder, going into the event about 20 championship points ahead of Ed in their continuing struggle, had got an impressive 89, Gunther had 84. Hannes congratulated me on winning the championship at this point, and I told him not to be silly, there was ample opportunity for me to screw things up yet.

In that kind of positive frame of mind, I did indeed screw things up in the second trial - after only 18 digits I thought "Hey, wait a second, I've added an extra location to my journey here..." and by the time you've waited a second, another digit has been read out while you weren't listening, and you're done for. So no improved score for me there. Andi had taken the lead with 108, it turned out, and Ed had made 94, with James fractionally improving with a 91 and giving Team Britain the top four places. Woo!

This seems like a good point to mention languages - the spoken numbers are spoken in English, we don't have the multilingual options of all the other disciplines. They did experiment with headsets and simultaneous multiple-language transmissions back in 2005, but it was a horrible disaster and they haven't dared to try it again ever since. It IS an advantage to English-speaking people, if only a slight one - you only really need to learn ten words, and I can confirm having done spoken numbers in German a few times that it doesn't make all that much difference, but I still feel a bit guilty about it when I see the Brits topping the table like that. Luckily, Gunther put us all in our place in the final trial.

In the third trial I'd got as far as 150 digits when I thought to myself "Hey, wait a minute, that was 807, why did I think of the image for 871?" and lost track of the numbers. Still, I ended up with a score of 153, which is another personal best for me, if still short of the world record 188. James Ponder, with staggering consistency, had improved his score again, to 92. 89-91-92, that takes some doing. And J├╝rgen Petersen celebrated his personal best 58 so loudly that he got an extra round of applause. Gunther, however, had blown everyone away with 202. Fifth world record of the championship, and not a single one of them set by me! I haven't failed to break a record at a world championship since 2002, when I was still rubbish at remembering things.

Still, with Johannes only having got a disappointing 21, and Gunther too far behind before that huge world record to do anything but sneak into second place, I had to admit the scores looked good going into the speed cards:

1 Ben Pridmore 7400
2 Dr Gunther Karsten 6251
3 Johannes Mallow 6126
4 Chuanwei Guo 5239
5 Boris Konrad 5153
6 Andi Bell 5141
7 Su Ruiqiao 4805
8 Yip Swe Chooi 4394
9 Liu Ping 4377
10 James Ponder 4138

1149 points ahead. It's 1000 championship points for a thirty-second pack of cards, and I'm still the only person who's ever beaten thirty seconds without allegedly cheating. I still told people to shut up when they tried to congratulate me, though. Who knows what Gunther or Hannes might pull out of the bag? I decided, just as a matter of principle, to do a 'safe' one-minute-ish time on the first trial, get 500 or so championship points in the bag and make it impossible to beat me. I'm impressed with my maturity (or possibly stupidity, depending how you want to look at it) here, since this was my last chance for a world record.

We were split into two groups, to make sure there were enough arbiters to watch over everyone (and enough timers for everyone to use), with the lower half of the leaderboard going in first. I didn't get to hang around outside with the rest of the top 20, though, because the BBC had joined us for the day, and Michael Mosley, who I'd taught to memorise cards a week or so beforehand, was giving it a go, and I had to come and watch. He did a pretty good job, all in all - he can't do a pack in under five minutes (the maximum time allowance) yet, but he had a go at a half pack and nearly got it, managing 14 cards before a mistake, I think. I'm hoping he sticks with it after they've finished filming, because he's clearly enjoyed himself and might just end up being quite good at the whole memory thing.

Hmm, actually, I'm going to have to put a 'to be continued' sign up here, because I've got to get my stuff ready for work tomorrow, and this is taking longer to write than I thought it would. Sorry to leave you in suspense!

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