Wednesday, August 05, 2009

I actually didn't eat a single hamburger while I was there

Well, people have suggested things I could mention about my trip to Hamburg, and my brain has thrown out a few more bits and pieces I'd forgotten about, so here goes with the further German Memory Championship adventures of Zoomy!

I mentioned the scores being read out yesterday, but what I didn't mention is that all the score announcements came with a really groovy and hi-tech animated powerpoint display! It was extremely cool, and a real step up from anything we've seen before at a memory championship. I'd congratulate the person who created and ran it, if only I knew who it was. There was a young man who worked the computer who I never got a chance to say hello to, and I assume he was responsible. I'll make sure to thank him at the next competition, before I get caught up in all the memorising...

Also super-hi-tech and more so than any competition we've had before was Florian Dellé's live blogging of the competition (while he was taking part in it! He got some great scores considering he finished his recall quickly enough to run around with a camera filming the people who were still busy remembering), assisted by Dai Griffiths. You can read all about it here, as well as his review complete with scores of all the disciplines. You can even click on the scores to sort them by overall ranking, individual discipline scores, names, anything you want! What an age we live in.

Dai mentioned that I was doing my weird rolling-pupils-into-head-leaving-scary-white-eyeballs thing again. I don't know if Dai had some kind of video link or if he was just guessing, back in Wales, but I really have no idea I'm doing that. As far as I'm aware, I've got my eyes closed while I'm recalling...

Let's talk about the competition room some more, too - it was spacious and pleasant, there was ample supply of water (albeit the fizzy kind that you always get in Germany - ask for still water and they'll look at you like you're some kind of lunatic) and the only real drawback was that it started to smell a bit funky by the end of the championship. Memorising things is sweaty work, and we had to keep the windows closed a lot of the time because of the noise of trains outside. Still, you got used to it quickly enough.

Boris raised an interesting point in an email today - is the room in Simpson's-on-the-Strand big enough for the world championships? At least twenty Germans have said they'd come, I would hope there'll be up to a dozen British competitors, hopefully a whole load of Chinese and other assorted foreigners. Last time the world championship was held there, back in 2002, there were only 24 competitors, and as I recall there wasn't all that much empty space. Last year at the UK championship, there were 22 and we were fairly close together. I'm not sure if we really could fit twice as many people into that room. We'll just have to see, I suppose. Maybe we can spread out into the hallway.

But back to Germany, the first event of the second day was Historic Dates, and for the first time in German Championship history they provided English translations! It's official, memory championships are now an international sport! What's more, Gaby was kind enough to give all her announcements in German and English, for the benefit of me and the one other non-German competitor Rick de Jong. I very much appreciated it, because I'll admit I had a lot of difficulty following the discussion about the 30-minute cards.

Because some packs weren't shuffled, some people got worse scores than they otherwise might have, whereas other people (like me and Simon) were unaffected. It was suggested that for the purposes of the German Championship, the 30-minute cards shouldn't be counted. It eventually was decided that it would count after all, because otherwise the scores would have changed. I might have missed something in Klaus's logic there, though. Anyway, I wasn't all that interested - I tend to ignore the inevitable quibbles about the rules and scoring when I get involved in a competition and just agree with whoever asks me to agree with them if they try to drag me into an argument.

Where was I? Historic dates! It didn't go quite as swimmingly for me as it usually does, I only got through about 100 of the 120 dates-and-event-descriptions by the end of the five minutes, when I normally get up to about 110 or even more. Hannes, apparently, got right to the end with a minute or so to spare - I don't know how he does it, I thought I was the quickest memoriser in town. But, for the first time in quite a long while, I ended up with a higher score than him - 81 compared to 78!

That left me nearly 900 points in the lead after four disciplines, ahead of Hannes and Simon neck-and-neck in second, with Cornelia just behind them. Cornelia actually had a bit of a quiet competition by her standards, coming up with lots of good results, but nothing absolutely spectacular. I'm sure she'll be back for more next time - with the WMC being in London rather than Bahrain, she'll probably be there this year, too.

But back to the scores, by lunchtime, when we'd heard the results from the first four disciplines, people were starting to talk as if I'd already won, much to my annoyance. I knew that I hadn't got very good scores in the disciplines that followed, you see.

Spoken numbers (in German, but that's not too big a problem for me), was frustrating. You only score up to your first mistake in this one (with the best score from three attempts counting) and I kept making little mistakes. I ended up with a score of 50, while Simon ended up with a very cool 135 and Boris started out a succession of great results in his best disciplines with a 100.

Abstract images, meanwhile, I was expecting something good. After years of moaning that it's a stupid discipline that should be got rid of, and hoping somebody will listen to me and scrap it, I've recently started seriously training for it. My argument that the only way to do well in it is by coding the background patterns, which turns it into another numbers-style discipline, took a bit of a blow when Boris mentioned that he doesn't do that, and he won the event comfortably (as he always does in the absence of Gunther). But my system and training paid off, and I ended up with a perfect 225. By the world championship, I'm aiming to get 300. And then I'll insist even more strongly that they scrap the stupid event once and for all!

Names and faces, on the other hand, I'm still resigned to never being any good at. Especially when the names are all German, although that's not much of an excuse. Suffice to say that I got a pretty bad score, while Boris broke the world record (held for many years by Clemens Mayer), while Simon and Hannes continued to gain ground steadily on me.

The real disaster for me, though, was speed numbers. Two trials to memorise as much as possible in five minutes, with the best score counting, and I started as always by attempting a 'safe' 360, only to have little gaps in my recall here and there and end up with a score of 234. There was a time when that would be one of the top scores, and anything over 300 was practically unhead-of, but those days are long-gone. I knew I'd have to do better in the second attempt, and tried for 400, only to end up with a miserable 240 (and I was lucky to get that - my recall was very patchy and I had a lot of gaps to fill in with best-guesses that I wasn't entirely certain about). It was tiredness, I think - I'm still not in top competition fitness, and two solid days of memorising drains my brain power. Hannes won comfortably with 362, and I was just glad he didn't get more than that. But Simon's 296 was enough to push him fractionally into the overall lead ahead of me, and this is the point where I really started to feel that everything was slipping away from me.

And it certainly didn't get any better with the penultimate discipline, random words. I was trying for a safe-ish score of 180 or so, but my memorising just wasn't quite clear enough, and this is a discipline that can really punish a few little gaps in the memory. I don't practice words enough, and I'm going to have to knuckle down on that in future. Long story short, I ended up with a miserable score of 100, Boris broke another world record with 280, Simon had 229 and Johannes 222.

The competition was running behind schedule (as memory competitions always, without exception, do) and Klaus suggested that we start the speed cards before the scores of the random words were announced. Everybody insisted that we stick with tradition and know exactly what the scores were before we got started - it really is important, because there are complicated calculations to be made about exactly what times to attempt in everybody's favourite final discipline. So there was a lot of time for me to pace around like a caged tiger, fretting that I was going to lose the competition that I'd been winning so comfortably half-way through. When we finally got the confirmed scores, they looked like this:

Simon 7128.3
Hannes 6635.8
Me 6608.6
Boris 6218.3
Cornelia 5987.2

With the rest of the chasing pack, headed by Dennis, too far behind to catch up. But with a lead of 520 points, Simon was going to be next to impossible for me to catch. I was racked with indecision - Florian asked me if I was going to go for a fast time or a safe slow one, so he'd know whether to set up a camera to film me or not, and I replied (about a minute before we had to start memorising) "I don't know!"

I had three choices - a safe 1-minute pack in the first trial to at least guarantee 3rd place, probably, followed by an attempt at a fast one; a sort of semi-fast one of 30 seconds or so, which is something I've experimented with but I'm still not confident that it's more reliable than just going as fast as I can; or just going as fast as I can and really throwing down the gauntlet to Simon and the others.

Actually, as we started to memorise, I was still planning on option 2, and I didn't make an effort to go particularly fast. But the images slotted into place very quickly and easily, I sped up, and I stopped the clock at 24.97 seconds in the end.

I think I might have stopped the clock a bit noisily, so I do apologise for that - Jürgen had asked that people not do that, just before the memorising started, but it's hard to remember etiquette when the adrenaline starts flowing.

Thinking through the journey while waiting for the five minutes' memorisation time to be over, I was extremely surprised to realise that I had remembered it all very well. I only had a few gaps to fill in, and when I came to put together the unshuffled pack in the recall time, I was able to fill in all the gaps with minimal difficulty. The only thing I was a little worried about was the exact order of a couple of sequences of images - I was about 90% confident that they were right, but I much prefer to be 100%. It's better for my blood pressure.

I insisted on someone checking my results straight away, despite people flapping around with cameras and saying wait, wait, just a moment. And I got extremely excited when it was eventually confirmed that I really had broken the world record, and bellowed "YES!" at top volume, scaring everybody else in the room (again, apologies. It's exciting.)

After a certain amount of skipping around the room, high-fiving everybody and bowing to the applause, I went to see what everybody else had done. Simon had done a super-extra-safe 1 minute 43 seconds or thereabouts, Hannes had had mistakes in his recall. You get 1200 championship points for a 25-second pack (not something that had ever happened before, of course), but that still didn't leave me in a safe position. Simon needed a time of what I estimated at 50 seconds or so in the second trial to win the championship (although now that I sit down and think about it more clearly, it was actually more like 44 seconds). And Simon is of course the other person who's done a pack in under 30 seconds in competition before now. My only consolation is that he's only done it once, and he just barely got the recall done in time, and we were now at the end of a much longer and more exciting competition with infinitely more pressure on him. But since it's terrible sportsmanship to wish failure on someone else, I put all thoughts of that out of my mind and tried to do an even faster time in trial 2.

That was a complete and total disaster - my mind was still buzzing too much and I didn't come anywhere near remembering it properly. I even had some trouble passing the cards between my fingers, and even though I was trying to go as fast as possible, I only stopped the clock at 23.33. But never mind, one world record is enough for me, especially if it's a speed cards one.

Simon, in the end, just did a time of 65 seconds, making sure of winning the German championship and coming second in the German Memo Open, while Hannes tried for a fast time but didn't get it right. Boris's 74.78 seconds rounded off a really good championship for him, but was just barely not quite enough to catch Hannes in the final rankings. Cornelia was fifth, then there was a big gap down to Dennis and Jürgen, then an excellent eighth place for another newcomer Fabian Saal, then Simone Nicklas and Florian rounding out the top ten (he's also got my speed cards performance on film - look out for it on the website!)

So then we all scurried over to the main building lecture room for the prizegiving ceremony and memory-show (there's always a big show at the German championship in the evening - it starred Ramon Campayo breaking a speed-memory record, and the really absolutely awesome Jens der Denker, who I've seen before but is still quite sensational). Every competitor in the adult, junior and kids competitions (actually, we don't seem to be saying 'kids' any more, it's Junior Group II) came up on stage one at a time to get a certificate, round of applause, and photo. For the record, Dorothea and Konstantin won the Junior I and Junior II competitions, as expected, but they were up against some tough opposition. If only we could get young people in Britain to take some kind of interest in memory sports too.

There were, as is also always the case at the German championships, lots of trophies too. Trophies for first, second and third in each championship (Junior I, Junior II, German Adults and German Memo Open) AND big trophies for the winner of each one (except the Memo Open, which I don't have a problem with at all, really). So Simon ended up with three trophies to take home - 2nd place in the GMO, 1st place in the DGM, and the gigantic German Championship trophy. I think they gave the kids' trophies to the adults and vice versa, but I'm sure it got sorted out in the end.

Fabian, who's about nine feet tall, caused some amusement trying to pose for his photo without obscuring the prizegivers (Klaus, Tony and Silja Nintendo), and there were plenty of laughs as usual when the winners of each championship were handed, one by one, far more prizes than they could possibly carry. Nintendo were very generous - I've got a DS! I'll have to buy an adaptor so I can plug the German plug into my English sockets, but still, a DS! Groovy! And two brain-training games, in German! I might have to buy some more games instead. And I pocketed €700, which equates to £557.97, thanks to the weak pound and strong euro. I like the point-nine-seven theme I've got going here too.

So that's the German Championship, and woohoo, I won! But I was lucky to win. I'm really not going to win the world championship unless I improve on that performance - the days are gone when I could accept bad scores in a few disciplines and rely on good results in the others to carry me through. I need to improve my all-round performance, or the likes of Simon, Hannes, Gunther, Cornelia, Boris, Dennis and even a few non-Germans will eat me alive in London in November.

Still, that makes six consecutive memory championships I've entered and won - one short of Clemens's record. It really would be nice to break that record by winning the UK and World championships (assuming I don't go to Sweden or France, if the latter is even still happening - I haven't heard anything about it for ages, and I'm still not sure whether I can manage a trip to Sweden or not). But then, Simon was the one to end Clemens's run, which might be a bad omen considering how close he came to beating me this time.

However, I promise that as and when I do end up losing a memory competition again, I won't 'do a Clemens' and disappear forever! I'm looking forward to the days when I'm not the favourite for every championship I enter - it's a lot more fun to be the underdog.


Simon Orton said...

Awesome stuff, Ben - congratulations!

Apparently the French Open has been postponed until January.

Florian Dellé said...

Perfect. Brilliant. Amusing.

I liked your report more than anything else I ever read about memory techniques, championships and whatsoever memory related. It was even better than competing. :D

You owned your great run so far. And the .97 thingy is most funny. And good to know that you'll never make a Clemens. This would be more than sad for the whole community. One time is enough for eternity!