Saturday, September 10, 2011

It's just not very exciting

I actually thought long and hard (well, short and soft, but I did think) about whether I should post last night's blog or go for something a bit more interesting. See, I'm on telly tonight, and that would be the first thing people see if they watch Epic Win, think I'm cool/weird/revolting and come to my blog to find out more about me, and a post about the subtleties of memory techniques and vague remininscences about the 2004 World Memory Championship that only people who were there will understand, well, doesn't really sell me in the coolest way possible. If anything, it makes me look a little like a nerd.

So I thought I might post something this afternoon that makes me look even more like a nerd and is even more incomprehensible to the average BBC1 viewer. See, I got a score of 1180 in 30-minute numbers today, which is a whole lot better than I've been doing in practice lately, and I know for 85% certain that I can get a still better score than that with just a little further refinement of the way I go about memorising them.

I've always been a firm believer in going through numbers quickly and lots of times, but I decided to experiment with reading each 234-digit journey quickly once, then reviewing them very slowly and carefully (eyes closed until I come to a gap in my memory), then moving onto the next journey and repeating the process. This got me through six journeys (1404 digits) in about 25 minutes, with time left to quickly read through the start of the numbers again and refresh my memory there. And the recall was somewhere close to flawless - five lines with mistakes and one with just one wrong digit. And the gaps were almost all very near the start, as I've noticed the previous couple of times I've tried something similar to this. So I'm thinking that if instead of the quick whiz-through in the last five minutes, I go back to the start with another eyes-closed run-through, I can get a really great score.

It makes me think, though - have I been doing it wrong all these years? Did I win the world championship three times with a system that was fundamentally flawed? Or is it just that I'm getting old and my brain's slowing down, so I need a different system to accommodate for that? I did, after all, get 1193 in competition once, doing it the old-fashioned way, it's just that these last couple of years I've been nowhere near that level.

Well, I'm feeling optimistic about the German championship now. This new technique doesn't work with cards - I've just tried it, and I can't do the eyes-closed thing while still passing cards between my fingers so the right ones are showing when I want to look at them - but I don't really need improving with cards so much anyway. I'm going to go and do another binary practice in a minute (because doing three half-marathons in a day is vital preparation for the draining first day of the German championship) and hopefully the results of that will keep me in a good mood.

So, I hope you enjoyed Epic Win, if that's what brought you to these pages. Go and buy my books (hey, that reminds me, someone actually bought "Moonwalking With Horses" the other day! That brings its total sales to three copies! Well, one copy, to my mother, and two downloads). I'm not planning to watch the show myself, because I want to get all the memory training out of the way before Doctor Who (it just gets nerdier and nerdier, doesn't it?) and I don't really like watching myself on television anyway, but I hope it comes across as fun and silly.

The first person to shout "Epic Fail!" at me in the street gets a prize. The second gets told to go away and stop being so unoriginal.

Friday, September 09, 2011


I got a score of 3705 the other night, experimenting with the slightly different approach to memorising binary digits, and that made me nostalgic for the good old days of 2004. At the world championship that year, I set a new world record of 3705, and everyone thought it was really great. Actually, that's still higher than anyone else has managed in a competition, which surprises me a bit, but in these modern times I desperately need to get back over 4000 if I want to win competitions. Only by comfortably beating my rivals (who all get 3500-ish) in binary and cards can I make up for my comparative feebleness with decimal digits, names, words and so on.

Ah, 2004. When you could cause debate and consternation by getting a score of 80 in historic dates, a pack of cards in 32.90 seconds was astonishing, when my closest rivals were Austrian instead of German, when the world championship was in Manchester rather than Beijing, when I used to actually break world records on a regular basis. I miss those days.

Tomorrow is my last big practice before the German Championship - which, even in these days when there are Chinese people to worry about, is still the best guide to who's going to be trouble at the Worlds. I still have no idea whether I'm going to win or come seventh.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Give it the elbow

Wow, the BBC Sport website really doesn't like the US Open tennis. For the last couple of days they've been trumpeting "the latest humiliation" for the tournament (it was raining) and condemning it for being the only one of the four major tournaments not to have definitely said it was probably going to have a roof by 2016. And today they've really gone to town jeering at the continued water problems on one of the courts.

I'm trying to guess, by analysing the tirade of abuse, whether it's motivated just by professional jealousy because the BBC can't afford to show the tournament on telly, or whether there's a personal grudge. I think it's the latter - tournament referee Brian Earley has clearly done something in the past to upset BBC reporter Jonathan Overend, who's now getting his revenge by saying things like "He looks a total buffoon."

I wonder what it was that caused this seething hatred? Maybe they played tennis together as boys, and Earley accused Overend of cheating? Maybe Earley went on record as saying that the SJA Broadcaster of the Year Award 2011 wasn't a real prize? Maybe Earley borrowed a fiver from Overend last week and refused to pay it back? I'm going to keep imagining increasingly unlikely scenarios, and hope that the next BBC article gives further clues.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

It actually is funny

Hey, check it out! You might remember me mentioning my favourite German funny-books, Nichtlustig - well, there's now an English translation on the internet, under the name Notfunny!

There are only a few of the earliest cartoons translated, but it's something at least. Although you might want to wait until the books come out in Britain, because the extended comic strips that don't appear on the internet are the best bits of all.

Translating Nichtlustig is something I've always wanted to try my hand at - it's not just a matter of looking it up in a dictionary, because every now and then you'll come across one that relies on "a brain" sounding like "unicorn" in the original German, and have to come up with a new joke to fit the picture. Whoever translated these has done a pretty good job, although the phrasing is occasionally a bit awkward and word-for-word from the German. And I personally would have left Herr Riebmann's name unchanged, because I think it suits him even in English. Why "Mr Hunswacker"?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Epic Something!

Have I mentioned that I'm on Epic Win on Saturday? I don't remember. Anyway, it's on BBC1, at something like half past five. Before Total Wipeout and Doctor Who.

Monday, September 05, 2011

I wish people would stop liking me

I keep getting emails from Facebook every now and then, saying that so-and-so likes Ben Pridmore. There are, in fact, two 'fan pages' for me on Facebook, one of which calls me a "public figure" and the other an "author", neither of which I would really agree with. I worry that the people who 'like' me are expecting to get something in return, like an autograph or a share of my royalties or something. I'm not sure exactly how it works.

There is also a group on Facebook, called "This is really Ben Pridmore, look on YouTube", which was set up in 2009 for the sole purpose of mocking someone else of the same name who isn't bald. In fact, since the other Ben Pridmore lives in Sheffield, he's probably a relative of mine and so probably will look like that in 2020, just like Aaron Brookes tauntingly predicts. In any case, I wholeheartedly approve of this group, and would 'like' it if I had any understanding of how Facebook works.

Hey, it's an anniversary!

It's three years since I moved into this flat! Doesn't time fly! And now I'm wondering whether I should move out, because although it's a very nice place, I'm intending to have a change of scene come November. I'm still not sure where, though...

Sunday, September 04, 2011


I'm not as good at binary digits as I used to be. And I can't put my finger on why - whether I'm going through them too quickly now for them to stick in my brain like I should, or if I'm just getting old. But I'm thinking of trying out new approaches to see if anything helps.

Currently I go through 760 digits (one journey), then review them, then move on to the next journey, review that, and so on until I run out of time. In my very very limited experimentation in the past, I found that a third viewing didn't improve my recall very much, but maybe it actually would help now. I don't think I could look at enough digits in 30 minutes to make it worthwhile, though. Or I was thinking of slowing down and taking more time with the recall - if I can go through six journeys with a slow-and-accurate second look, and get them mostly right, that would be more than acceptable, but I think that would be a stretch. It needs working on, anyway. It's high time I started experimenting more, memory-wise.