Saturday, August 08, 2009

Sporting traditions

Live league football on the BBC (admittedly not the games involving the good teams, but it's a start) and England failing dismally in the cricket - I like it when things go back to the way they're supposed to be. Also, if only the selectors had listened to me and not kept on recalling Ian Bell, we probably wouldn't be in this mess, so they've only got themselves to blame.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Other mind sports

While I was in Hamburg, people kept emailing me with news about other mental competition fun. For example, the schedule for the 13th Mind Sports Olympiad has rather belatedly been published. It's happening in the same place as last year, the Royal Horticultural Halls, from August 21st - 31st. I won't be going this year, but if you happen to be in the area, do go along and let me know what it's like.

I also probably won't be going to the World Othello Championship in Gent, Belgium, from November 4th - 7th, but only because you have to qualify for it, and the chances of me managing that are very slim. Indeed, it would require me to remember when and where the Nationals are this year (it's some time in September, I think, somewhere down south), as well as remember how to play the game. I haven't played at all for months...

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Top Ten Club

You know, it just occurred to me at lunchtime TODAY that Hamburg is where the Beatles played in their younger days. That thought never crossed my mind before, during or after my own trip to Hamburg last week. I could have gone on a tour. Not to mention all the Beatles-themed blog titles I could have used! Ah, wasted opportunities, and all because of my bad memory. Still, at least I get to use a very appropriate title for a blog about the world rankings...

The movers and shakers in the top ten of international memory after Hamburg are Simon, who moves up to third place, and Boris, who's now number eight. The world's coolest people are now as follows:

1 Me
2 Gunther
3 Simon
4 Clemens
5 Hannes
6 Astrid
7 Cornelia
8 Boris
9 Joachim
10 Andi

Check out that enormous gang of Germans (plus a couple of hopefully-temporarily retired Austrians) chasing me! Poor Andi's nearly followed Dominic out of the top ten - maybe that will motivate him to really try to win the world championship again this year, but we really do need more British people to help me out here.

But still, I can't believe I didn't think about the Beatles connection. I had the whole day to myself in Hamburg on Sunday, in order to get the cheapest flights, and since all the shops in Germany are closed on Sundays (what is this, the time of Charlemagne?) I had to spend it hanging around the Hauptbahnhof shopping centre, touring the various ancient and beautiful buildings (I'll admit that the Rathaus is absolutely awesome), listening to a lot of really good street musicians (especially one particularly talented xylophonist) and watching the ladybirds. Hamburg is absolutely full of ladybirds. In my quest to improve my German, one word at a time, I just looked up 'ladybird' and found that it's 'Marienkäfer'. Which I did actually know at one point. Also, the word is neuter and not feminine like I would have expected.

As well as having shops that were open on Sunday, the train station also had handy left-luggage lockers, which was a good thing because I didn't fancy carrying my bag around with me all day. As I always do at these things, I'd crammed my little rucksack to its maximum capacity with clothes, books, cards, timers and so on on the way out, not considering that I might come home with a big trophy, a Nintendo DS and other goodies. I had to fit everything I could into the bag and force everything left over (about a dozen packs of cards, the DS (removed from its box), instructions and games) into the pockets of my jacket in order to get onto the plane without paying for an extra bag.

I haven't mentioned my jacket yet, have I? I was wearing a rather groovy black and white jacket that I bought in a charity shop about ten years ago, never wore and recently rediscovered among my old clothes. So I've been wearing it for the last couple of weeks to see if it looks cool, before deciding whether or not to give it to another charity shop and let someone else leave it in their wardrobe for ten years. But actually, I think it does look cool, and Tony Buzan agreed. And Tony does have quite genuinely the greatest taste in clothes of anybody I know, so I think I'm going to keep wearing the jacket. Even though it's a little bit too small for me and it's too hot when the weather's nice.

Speaking of Tony, and speaking of speaking, his speech at the closing ceremony was shorter and used less needlessly complicated words and ideas than at the opening. I'm sure the members of the audience who don't speak perfect English were grateful. Regular memory-competition attendees will be interested to know that he informed us all that in 1994, scientists said that nobody would ever be able to remember a 30-digit spoken number. He also mentioned a few things of interest to memorisers (actually, he told me these things the day before and asked me not to tell anyone or blog about it, but since he then repeated everything so publicly, I assume I'm not under any obligation to keep it secret any more...)

Firstly, he said that the world championship moving from Bahrain was because the sponsor had had financial difficulties - and then added as an afterthought that there had been riots in Bahrain too, which came a bit closer to the official explanation published on the world championship website.

Secondly, he said at great length that the Chinese are very keen to become the top memory-country in the world, and also very keen to host the world championship in 2010. Indeed, they're shortly flying Tony and Ray Keene out to China for a week to "inspect the site". It's sounding like we might really be having a WMC in China somewhere in the near future (although we've been hearing that for five years at least, without it actually happening yet). I think it might be fun, it's only fair to circulate the competition around the world now that it's such an international thing. And provided it's organised by individuals who happen to be Chinese, and that Tony's suggestion that the Chinese government is eager to be heavily involved is just the usual exaggerations, I won't have to boycott the championship for political reasons. That would really be annoying.

Okay, I'm fairly sure that's everything I've got to say about the German Memory Championship 2009. More interesting subjects (or at any rate slightly different subjects, like the World Othello Championship and the Mind Sports Olympiad) will resume tomorrow.

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.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

There aren't enough hamburger-puns

Plenty of hamburger-buns, but not hamburger-puns. I'll just have to use non-Hamburg-themed blog titles in future. Anyway, when I left off my last blog, we were just about to start the competition. Everybody had changed into their official competition T-shirts (really cool ones, too, with German-flag collars and sleeve-ends) and found their way to the competition room (spacious and quiet, whenever there wasn't a train coming in to the station next door) and sat down to kick off the event with 30-minute numbers.

The German championship is uniquely arduous in having the three 30-minute disciplines all in a row, from 2pm until 8pm at night. It's seriously draining. But the first one, at least, went okay. I had experimented with attempting seven journeys' worth of numbers, 1638 digits, but without much success. So I just went for six journeys, 1404 (plus an extra nine for good luck when I had a few seconds left at the end), and seemed to remember most of it okay.

Gaby Kappus, who I don't think I've mentioned yet, was sharing the master-of-ceremonies role with Klaus and also acting as 'ombudsman', checking competitors' scores if they didn't believe them. Actually, all the scoring seemed to be done extremely well, by a team of arbiters who clearly knew what they were doing. I should really have found out their names and/or thanked them, but I never remember to do that until it's too late. I get so wrapped up in memorising things, you see.

However, it takes time to mark all those papers, so we set off onto discipline two, 30-minute cards, without knowing how the first one had gone. I was attempting 18 packs here, more than anyone else, and I can normally do that many and get the recall more or less okay. But this time round, I really struggled with the recall, having to cross things out and start again on three different packs. I ran out of recall time and so I knew I'd got 15 at most, even if I hadn't made any silly mistakes along the way.

There were some problems with the cards, apparently some of them weren't shuffled properly. This kind of thing does happen occasionally, however careful the organisers are - I always bring my own pre-shuffled cards with me, ever since the same thing happened to me at the world championships in 2005. That way even if nobody remembers to shuffle the cards, I won't notice. I suppose I could also try memorising my cards in advance and just hoping someone forgets to shuffle them, but I think that sounds like more hassle than just winning fair and square.

Anyway, Tony then read out the results of the 30-minute cards (or the Zahlenmarathon, as they call it over there - all the events have cool German names) in reverse order. I'd got 1193, which would have been a new world record if not for the fact that Hannes got 1264. Drat it, he did the same thing to me in the historic dates at the world championship last year, too. Still, that was a pretty good start to the competition. One more marathon before the end of the day - binary digits, at which I'm generally better than anyone else. But what with the long day of long-distance memorising, I was never going to break any records there. Still, it all went fairly well, and I went back to the hotel pretty satisfied with the first day's competition.

As we found out the next day, I'd got 14 packs right in the cards and 3610 in the binary - not world record standard, but enough to give me about 700 points lead ahead of a closely-packed chasing group of Simon, Hannes and Cornelia.

You know, that account has practically put me to sleep, I don't know why I'm sharing it with the world as if you'd be interested. I'll continue tomorrow, if I can think of a way to make it more interesting...

Monday, August 03, 2009

A few more hamburgery morsels

I forgot to mention that after the press conference I did a quick interview with people who I think were from the local TV news, in which I think I explained the systems we used and asserted that anybody can do it. Although since the conversation was conducted in German, quite frankly I could have been talking about octopuses juggling goldfish for all I know. The interviewer was very nice, but she did cut short the list of questions she'd said she was going to ask me, and I doubt that my incoherent stumbling responses ended up making it onto the telly.

I also forgot to give credit or even a namecheck to Frank Miltner, who's another of those people who does all the work of running the German championships and doesn't ever seem to get a mention in ungrateful competitors' blogs. He compered the opening ceremony and at one point asked me a question in English that I still failed to understand. Possibly it's all languages that I have a problem with, not just German.


I'm home again from Hamburg - actually, I got in at about one o'clock in the morning after a late-night flight, but I'd sensibly booked a day's holiday for today, so I get to catch up on my sleep and blogging rather than going to work. And wow, that was a fantastic German Memory Championship! I'll blog it in installments, just to keep the suspense going and also because I'm much too tired to write up the whole thing today.

I flew in around lunchtime on Thursday (with FlyBe, who I've never used before but are cheap and perfectly nice, so I'll probably use them again) and found that finding the venue and my hotel was extremely easy - 25 minutes on the S-Bahn takes you from the airport to a train station right next to the Hamburg University buildings where the competition was held, while right next to the station on the other side was the Radisson Blu hotel (formerly known as the Radisson Sas - what with SAS Furniture in Beeston closing down and now this hotel chain changing its name, it's been a bad time for SAS enthusiasts just lately) where most of the competitors were staying. It's possible that I might still have managed to get lost, but as I got off the train I ran into a whole mob of memorisers who pointed me in the right direction.

The Radisson hotel will be very nice when it's finished, probably. At the moment, it looks from the outside like they still need to finish adding walls, roofs and other such essentials, while on the inside there are some classy and shiny new bits and a lot of bare boards and unfinished sections. And also, from eight in the morning until eight at night, a lot of loud hammering and drilling noises all day long, for which half-price meals in the hotel restaurant are supposed to compensate.

My room was very nice, with lots of pillows, international TV channels, comfortable bed and all the bits and pieces that you expect in the good hotels. It also, weirdly, has a window between the bedroom and bathroom, so if you really want to you can sit on the bed and watch someone else in the shower or on the toilet. There's a venetian blind on the bedroom side of the window, but even so, I don't know why they thought a window was necessary in the first place. Anyway, I didn't stay long in the room, both because of the deafening construction work and because I wanted to see some of the city before spending two solid days remembering stuff.

My conversation with the receptionist had made it pretty clear that my ability to understand German had deteriorated in the couple of years since I was last there, but you don't need to speak the language to use the super-user-friendly and efficient train ticket machines or the trains themselves, so I went down to the Hauptbahnhof, assuming that was the best way to find the city centre. And indeed it is, unless you leave the station by the south exit, in which case it's an experience more comparable to getting a train to King's Cross and wandering out into the streets to see the sights of London. But by a strategy of walking around and turning the other way whenever the word 'Erotik!' loomed in front of me in blue neon, I eventually found my way back to the train station, out the other side and into the proper shopping area. Which is really nice, and I'd recommend it to anyone.

A little bit of sightseeing later, it was back to the hotel for a half-price dinner with a gathering of German Gedächtnissportlers which confirmed that, yes, I definitely can't understand even the most simple conversation in German any more. Resolution for next year - go on a refresher course and improve my language skills. It's so embarrassing when I go over there and everybody effortlessly switches to talking in fluent English whenever I'm nearby. And then bedtime, in preparation for the excitement to come.

The competition didn't start until 2pm on Friday, with a press conference/opening ceremony at 11:30, but since the building works prevented me from having a lie-in, I went back into the city to get some rubber bands to hold my packs of cards together (the cardboard boxes are getting rather old and falling to pieces, and I'd hate to lose a stray card somewhere along the way as they travel around the world) before heading out to the university. Rather than having breakfast at the hotel, I decided to get the event off to a traditional start and go to McDonald's. I really am eating more healthily nowadays, but you can't beat junk food for a memory competition.

And so began the thirteenth German Memory Championship, the first one held in the north of Germany (my knowledge of German culture is sadly lacking, so I have no idea what kind of social or political significance this has, but everybody else felt that it was a point worth making) and brilliantly organised, as always, by Klaus Kolb and his team. As usual, there was a great sponsor, Nintendo, a very professional look to the whole event and lots of media people scurrying around. The press conference was held in a very stylish lecture room, watched from the walls by photos of eminent professors including Agathe Lasch (1879-1942), the first female linguistics professor in Germany, who wore a monocle and looked very cool.

The field of competitors was even stronger than is usual for the German championships - the publicity booklet handily was able to list all the favourites by their current titles: German Champion 2008 Johannes Mallow, South German Champion 2009 Simon Reinhard, North German Champion 2009 Boris Konrad, Vice-World-Champion 2008 Gunther Karsten and Women's German Champion or German Championship Runner-Up 2006-2008 Cornelia Beddies [I don't like the idea of having women's titles in a sport where men and women compete on equal terms in the same events, and I was pleased to see that there was a minimum of mentions of it this year]. Oh, and also that foreigner who won the world championship. There were also a whole lot of other competitors, old and new, most prominent among them probably Dennis Müller in his first really big competition but having claimed some very impressive results in training and probably a star of the future. Plus the usual mob of juniors as well - if only we could get the same kind of thing going in Britain, maybe we'd have somewhere close to the same number of good adult memorisers as the Germans have...

Hannes and Cornelia got to sit up on the stage and do quick memory demonstrations at the press conference, joined by Klaus, Tony Buzan and the Nintendo representative, whose name started with S and had a J in it somewhere, I think. I'm bad with names, have I ever mentioned that? Tony gave a very lengthy speech, in English, informing us that the world's greatest thinkers (Tony and his friends) had a meeting in Kuala Lumpur last month at which they proclaimed that it is no longer the age of information, but the age of intelligence (in the same way that it was once the age of agriculture, or the age of industry). This made the 2009 German Championship particularly special because it was officially the first memory championship of the age of intelligence. How this differed from the announcement a few years ago that it's now the millennium of the mind, I'm not sure, but it got a round of applause. During the course of the speech, Tony asked his young, German-speaking, audience to split into groups of three and discuss among themselves questions like "What is it more important to manage than to manage knowledge?" and asserted that "The world is in the trouble it's in because we're thinking informationally".

But I shouldn't be nasty about Tony's speech, since a) everybody else seemed to genuinely appreciate it (although the Nintendo woman looked downright baffled) so clearly I'm just being a miserable old cynic, and b) Tony later told me I'm looking really great and asked if I've been exercising. I think I really do look quite a bit less obese than I did at the world championships last year, so I was very flattered. And anyway, who am I to criticise someone who's unquestionably one of the world's great speakers - he went on for at least fifteen minutes, without pause or reference to any notes, and I'm sure he could have carried on all day without repeating himself if he'd wanted to.

The shorter speeches from Klaus and Madam Nintendo, as far as I could understand them, were more along the lines that memory and learning are not only good for you but can also be a lot of fun. There were Wiis and DSs set up in the hall outside, demonstrating all the cool brainy games now available. Gunther made a quick announcement that he wasn't going to be competing this year after all, apparently because he just wasn't prepared well enough for it, although he did say later that he'd be back for the world championship. He's growing his hair long and was unshaven - I think he's going a bit rock-n-roll in his old age.

Then it was time for a free lunch in the university cafeteria down the road, and on with the real business of memory. Even without Gunther, this was going to be the strongest competition we've had for a long time; for one thing it would answer the question everyone's been wondering (or maybe it was just me) - who's the best nowadays out of Simon and Hannes? Simon had a year away from memory competitions, during which Hannes improved himself up to similar world-beating levels, and the two of them were hot favourites for the German championship. I knew that I'd need to be at my best to win the event, and I wasn't sure whether I'd been quite as assiduous with the training as I should have been.

As always, the adult competition was confusingly split into two different events - the German Memo Open, listing everybody's scores, and the Deutsche Gedächtnis Meisterschaft, for German competitors only. This makes the statistics website seem to say that Gunther's won twice as many championships as he actually has, but for the purposes of this blog, I'm just going to talk about the GMO. By contrast, the UK championship has trophies for the best three British competitors and one for the best foreigner, but only lists the results as one competition.

Tune in tomorrow to hear what actually happened at the championship!