Sunday, December 30, 2012

He's the memory man

Woo, I've just done an hour cards practice session! First time for, oooh, longer than I can remember! Tomorrow, hour numbers, which I've always found the most difficult of the three long disciplines to sit down and train for. Then, when 2013 comes around, I'll be regularly training and checking to see what kind of scores I got! There's no point at the moment, it would only discourage me. Baby steps, people.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Do you remember the first time?

I'm in a talking-about-memory mood lately. I'm even in a practicing-some-memory mood! I did a 30-minute binary practice today, which went quite painfully slowly and mind-wanderingly, but I know I can only improve. If I manage to do the hour events in the next couple of days, it'll set me on the course to my new year's resolution for 2013 - to do lots of training and then win the world championship! I like to aim high.

I've also been catching up on Nelson's blog, and since I don't remember plugging it here before, go and check it out now! Lots of memory talk to be found there!

Meanwhile, I thought it would be fun to blog about the olden days of memory competitions some more, just so that all these newcomers can get a feeling of what it was like in the days before I even had a blog! (I always assume that my blog is the sole source of information about everything, everywhere)

Cast your mind back, then, to August 2003. I was considerably younger, and the "Ben System" was younger still - I'd come up with it about six months before, and had been enthusiastically practicing with it ever since, although I was still a long way from world-beating levels. The MSO Memory Championship was the first time I'd had a chance to use it in a real competition, and I was thinking about switching back to my old system for things like speed cards, because I still hadn't got to the kind of speed with my two-card-image technique that I'd been capable of with the one-card-image thing. But I decided to just plough ahead with the new system, reasoning that every bit of training would get me closer to winning the world championship. To be honest, I was sort of obsessed with that idea at the time.

I was newly bearded, still had my original hat, and had lost a lot of weight since the previous August - something which I hadn't actually realised until John Louis pointed it out to me. I was possibly the thinnest I've ever been, a combination of giving up coca-cola for financial reasons, a lot of walking and probably a lot of mental exertion with the Ben System. I also had a really bad, streaming cold that week, and had to spend the competition pausing to wipe my nose constantly while trying to memorise numbers and pick up packs of cards. Blowing your nose while other competitors are trying to concentrate is sort of frowned upon.

The MSO championship had been a separate thing from the WMC since 2001 - if you want a fun read, look for the public correspondence between David Levy and Ray Keene as to why that was - and had fluctuating attendance figures. The 2001 event was a couple of days before the WMC, and also in London, and got quite a lot of people taking part as a bit of a warm-up. In 2002, the MSO went to Loughborough, a week before the WMC, and got a whopping three competitors. In 2003, at the university in Manchester (a really great MSO location, by the way!) but with the world championship set for Kuala Lumpur in November, the MSO memory competition amassed nine entrants.

It was very multinational, too - along with me, there were John Louis from India and Pierre Berbinau from France, who'd both started competing within the last couple of years; old-timers and hot favourites Gunther Karsten of Germany and Yip Swe Chooi of Malaysia; debutants Ed Cooke from England and Charlie Garavan from Ireland (possibly the two most fun guys and best conversationalists ever to attend a memory championship!); and Dr Yip's two latest students from Indonesia, Titiani Loren and Fanny Boediman.

You couldn't make it up, could you? The avuncular fifty-something Dr Yip accompanied everywhere by two attractive young women who cheerfully introduced themselves to everyone as "Titty and Fanny". James Bond meets Moonwalking With Einstein.

The competition was six disciplines over two days, including both hour-long marathons and speed cards - the organisers were keen that people should have the opportunity to achieve the new Grand Master norms. The 2002 event had taken the same approach, but squeezed the whole thing into one day, which was seriously exhausting!

2003 was rather less stressful, and produced lots of results that were awesome for the time - four new Grand Masters (me, John, Titty and Fanny) and two new world records, both from Gunther. I was absolutely delighted with my own performance all the way through (even pretty happy with names and faces) and really, hugely, super-enthusiastic about memory!

We started with binary digits, which I'd always disliked in the olden days, because I hadn't been able to come up with a good system. Now that I had, I loved it! I got a score of 2850, which I'd be disappointed with today, but back then for anyone to get 3000 was practically unheard-of, so my score was considered really amazingly huge! Gunther broke his own world record with 3180. He was always far and away the world's best at binary back then. Heehee, I soon took over that position!

Next was random words, which I hadn't trained for at all, but I still got a really great score for the time - 168. Perfect memory, too - not a single mistake. I was just in such a positive frame of mind after the binary, despite my rotten cold, that anything seemed possible!

Finally for the first day, hour cards, and the improvement over my original system was huge - I'd long since realised that doing more than ten packs with one image per card was impossible - each of my 52 images would appear once per pack, and it was just too confusing. With the all-new Ben System, the only limit was struggling to remember my 2704 images quickly enough, and even though I was still new to it, I got 13 packs. The lowest score out of the nine competitors was six packs, which is quite impressive, isn't it? Small turnout, but good quality.

So I was actually in the lead after the first day, which was better than even I'd expected!

Day two started off with hour numbers, which the all-conquering Ben System is admittedly not so hot at. But I still managed a hugely impressive 1630 nonetheless. Dr Yip was famously good at numbers, and got 1855, but Gunther surpassed even that, with another new world record score of 1914.

In names and faces I managed 70, which isn't so bad. Gunther somehow got 83, when he's normally even worse than me at names! Newcomers Ed and Charlie got the highest scores, with 99 and 88 respectively - okay, pretty low winning scores, but the rest of the competition was full of great results!

So we went into the speed cards, and I just needed a reasonably good time to win the competition. Treading carefully with the new system, I did 2 minutes 40 seconds in the first trial (going through the pack twice) and then 1 minute 38 in the second. I sped up a lot once I'd had a bit more practice! Dr Yip had the best time with 1:13, which with Gunther not getting a pack correct (he tried 55 seconds both times, but had errors) was enough for second place overall.

So I won my first memory championship! There was prize money, too - a whopping £300 for first place! It was a great couple of days all round!

As one final note, did you know that Indonesia and Monaco have nearly identical flags? I didn't, until I just noticed today that Fanny Boediman's got the wrong one on the memory sports statistics site!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Grand Master of Memory

You can tell I'm not working today, can't you? There has been talk about the title of "Grand Master" on the Facebook page for the World Memory Championship, and it put me in mind to do a bit of historical research about this illustrious title - because nobody really knows the history of it, even though it's less than twenty years old, and it's impossible to find details on the internet unless you really, really know where to look...

According to Use Your Head (aka Synapsia) magazine, the idea was first announced at the World Championships in 1995. The magazine says that the qualification was based on "the Buzan/Bond Mind Sports Rating System for Memory", and nowhere explains exactly what this was, although it was apparently just based on the hour cards and hour numbers scores. The idea was that it gave a score similar to the ELO system for chess, and it obviously wasn't based on any kind of simple multiplication, because Dominic O'Brien was much, much better than anyone else in those days, but only had a slightly higher Buzan/Bond score. Still, the first Grand Masters - who were given their awards in a big fancy ceremony by Prince Philipp of Liechtenstein - were:

Dominic O'Brien (2814)
Jonathan Hancock (2710)
Mark Channon (2577)
Andi Bell (2569)
Kevin Horsley (2545)
Patrick Colgan (2452)
Philip Bond (2504)
Creighton Carvello (2464)

I'm willing to bet that the scoring system was devised with two goals in mind - to make Dominic's memory rating match Garry Kasparov's chess rating (the article mentions that his highest rating at that time was 2815), and to make Philip Bond's score over 2500, so that he could be a GM too.

Use Your Head also mentions that James Lee has a rating of 2463, higher than Patrick Colgan, but isn't a GM - it doesn't say why, but I assume Patrick was given the title because he held the world record in the old Poem discipline at that time. It also mentions that Sue Whiting was "very close to qualifying as the first female Grandmaster of Memory".

She, along with Michael Tipper, Ian Docherty and Stephen Clarke, were added to the GM list over the next few years; I have no idea why or how, I can't find any official reference to the standards that were used. By the time I came along in 2000, the whole Grand Master thing had sort of gone into hibernation - the only mention of it was that Tony Buzan constantly addressed Michael Tipper (who back then was performing the role that Phil Chambers has made his own nowadays of running the WMC) as "Grand Master Tipper".

Then, in 2001, the WMSC (which might have still been called the IFMS then) decided to get scientific and serious about scoring systems, and we got the "Milennium Standard" concept that is still in use today - for each of the ten disciplines (historic dates was added that year to bring it back up to ten - it had been just nine ever since the 'images' discipline was dropped a few years earlier) there was a standard score that would give 1000 points, and each competitor's result in each discipline gave them a milennium score proportionate to the standard.

The standards have gone up sharply in the last decade (and some went down, because they were much too high, and then up again...) - for the sake of nostalgia, here are the original standards from 2001:

Hour Numbers 2500
Speed Numbers 400
Binary Numbers 3000
Spoken Numbers 200
Hour Cards 1538 (29½ packs)
Speed Cards 30sec
Names & Faces 200
Poem 300
Random Words 250
Historic Dates 50

This new system came with a whole raft of new rules about how to become a Grand Master! There were three different ways to qualify:

a) Achieve the three Grand Master norms - 713 digits in Hour Numbers, 365 cards (7 packs plus one more card) in Hour Cards, and under 3 minutes in Speed Cards.

b) Score over 5000 championship points across the ten disciplines (Decathlon Grand Master).

c) Score over 2500 championship points across the five disciplines Words, Poem, Speed Numbers, Names & Faces and Spoken Numbers (Pentathlon Grand Master).

A score of 3000 over the ten disciplines made you an International Master - in 2002, I had a lot of fun calling myself "Ben Pridmore, International Master of Memory". It sounds really much cooler than it was, and conjures up images of a James Bond kind of person who travels around the world, remembering things. Probably in a very cool car.

In 2003, the norms were rejigged to the levels they still are today - 1000 digits, 10 packs of cards, 2 minutes - and the Decathlon qualifying score was increased to 6000 for Grand Master, 4000 for International Master. As far as I know, the Pentathlon title was never mentioned by anyone ever again after that first announcement - the Poem was dropped after 2005, so it's no longer possible to do it anyway. The Decathlon rule was also forgotten about over the next few years, and so we were left with the Normal Grand Master rules, which have been unchanged ever since! Consistency is victory!

I'm currently agitating for an official "Double Grand Master" title to be conferred on Wang Feng, Liu Su, Simon Reinhard and Johannes Mallow, who have all managed to do 2000 digits in Hour Numbers, 20 packs in Hour Cards and under 1 minute in Speed Cards. When I finally get round to developing a new system for numbers, I hope to join that elite group...

Thursday, December 27, 2012

It's grim oop north

E4 is full of trailers for a new series called "My Mad Fat Diary", which is apparently set in Lincolnshire. Although it's great to see my much-neglected home county getting some TV coverage, I can't help but notice that the actress playing the central character is speaking "Northern", that strange dialect adopted by southern actors when they're asked to pretend they're from somewhere north of Watford. Nobody in Lincolnshire sounds even remotely like that!

The internet says that Sharon Rooney is from Glasgow, but I'd bet you anything that she went to drama school in London and has never set foot in the bit of England in between. The premise of the series looks fun, and it'll probably be good, but just bear in mind that anyone who watches it is personally insulting me and the whole Lincolnshire/East Midlands region, please.

Anyway, I hope you all had a good Christmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The World Memory Championship 2012

Okay, here's everything I can remember about the competition!

Firstly, it took place in the Lilian Baylis Technology School, in Vauxhall, London. The internet tells me that Lilian Baylis was a theatrical producer and manager who got lots of things named after her, personal experience tells me that as soon as schools are allowed to name themselves whatever they want, they put "technology" in the name, for some reason. The secondary modern my mother used to teach at is a Technology College nowadays.

Despite this, it's a very well-equipped and well-run school, that reportedly does lots of good for underprivileged children. The corridors and rooms we congregated in are all shiny and modern and clean, and I'd want to go to school there if I was a teenage Londoner. We were in the sports hall, which I'm pretty sure is bigger than the one at my old school, and the arbiters were across the hall in some sort of theatre room. The prize ceremony was in some sort of auditorium, which we also didn't have at my old school.

Tony Buzan, incidentally, was hugely enthusiastic about the setting, and said so all weekend. I feel that I should report this, out of fairness, since I like to characterise him in this blog as someone who insists on opulent luxury wherever he goes, and he didn't give me a single chance to do that. Maybe next time...

Which brings me on to applauding all the people who ran the event! Phil Chambers didn't get a namecheck in last Thursday's blog because he was stuck in traffic, but he ran everything with his usual efficiency and making-sure-nothing-goes-wrongism. Jennifer Goddard, likewise, was running around non-stop with pieces of paper that probably had important things on them, and although she was showing serious signs of stress by Sunday, she never (as far as I know) physically assaulted anyone. Chris Day ran the electronics and acted as DJ at the prizegiving with his usual mix of triumphant music - we got a brief burst of "Star Trekkin'" by The Firm at one point, before he quickly cut it off, so I'd like to know what else he's got on that playlist.

Dominic O'Brien was in charge of anti-cheating, as always, although I don't think there was any cheating to be anti. He implied that there were hidden cameras watching our every move, which seemed even more implausible than usual in the giant sports hall with big empty walls and high ceilings...

Idriz Zogaj, Kranthi Raj, Andy Fong and Angel Lai were also supervising and coordinating all the happenings, and there was a whole roomful of arbiters marking papers in the back - they were all locked away and only allowed out, blinking in the natural light, for the speed cards, but they included a couple of people interested in competing in the future and bolstering the ranks of British competitors. I'll announce details of the Friendly / Cambridge Memory Championship 2013 before too long.

And so to the results! As usual, you have to consolidate different websites to find out what happened, but the situation's improved now that the World Memory Statistics site has a page for the complete results instead of splitting it into adult, junior and kids pages. Memocamp has the more user-friendly all-on-one-page summary, but you have to bear in mind that various people have the wrong country's flag next to their name, and Yi Zhiqin's names & faces score is attributed to "Takesi-sawai" by mistake.

I think that mistake might have been on the score printouts at the championship, but I'm not sure. In any case, I think "Takesi" was supposed to have been there, but wasn't, so his name will have been on the spreadsheets. Incidentally, the approved transliteration of that name is "Takeshi", and you shouldn't use a hyphen.

Here's the final standings, with notes on whatever that name reminds me of:

1 Johannes Mallow Germany 8413
2 Simon Reinhard Germany 8344

Hannes just slightly had the edge all weekend - on the second day, when he won all four disciplines, he pulled out into a big lead, but then Simon had some of his favourite events on day three, getting big scores on the words and spoken numbers, meaning it was still all to play for at the speed cards, where Simon is by some distance the world's best. In the end, neither of them got a pack correct on the first trial (actually, practically no-one did), and Simon's 27.21 seconds wasn't quite enough to overhaul Johannes with his 42.19. I think that's the closest finish in World Memory Championship history!

3 Jonas von Essen Sweden 6692

The Swedish team came equipped with a film crew and a band of miscellaneous supporters who made sure their memorisers were cheered louder than anyone else. Jonas was fighting for third all the way through, but stayed ahead of Christian and Boris with the kind of scores that would have won the championship a few years ago. He's probably just going to improve in years to come, too...

4 Boris Konrad Germany 6446
5 Christian Schäfer Germany 6199

Completing a German domination of the top five. Boris overhauled Christian on the final day, and also moved back up into the top ten of the world rankings - finally displacing Astrid Plessl, my rival from the olden days who hasn't competed since 2004. This has the interesting effect of making the world's top 10 an all-male affair. Come on, memory women of the world, get to the competitions and strike a blow for equality!

Meanwhile, Tony was greatly improved in his pronunciation of foreign names this year, and had even learned the word "Deutschland", but he still got Christian's surname wrong.

6 Ben Pridmore England 5472

It went about as well as I could have expected with no training. At the prizegiving, my knees hurt - they get stiff if I stay sitting down with bent legs for too long, and I've never had that problem before at prize ceremonies, because I'm usually up and down to the stage, getting top-three-in-the-discipline prizes. This year all I got was a joint-third in the binary digits.

7 Nelson Dellis USA 5273

Team USA were accompanied by a film crew of two young women following Nelson around with a camera. There was also a guy from the company that's aiming to film the both of us next year for the delayed feature film. Hopefully I'll be more impressive for the cameras in 2013, although I can see I'll have to go some just to stay ahead of the likes of Nelson.

8 Ola Kåre Risa Norway 5099

And Ola, too. He might well have been ahead of me and Nelson both, if he'd managed to get a time in speed cards. And he uses the "Ben System" with pride, so there you go!

9 Erwin G. Balines Philippines 4779
10 Mark Anthony P. Castaneda Philippines 4703

Team Philippines were the big new success story of the competition - Erwin was consistently good across all ten disciplines, and Mark Anthony (which is a great name, by the way) had the highest score in spoken numbers - high scores in all three trials, in fact!

11 Marwin Wallonius Sweden 4609

Team Sweden came second, with Marwin and Mattias backing up Jonas. Maybe they can stop the Germans winning by miles and miles, next time?

12 Yudi Lesmana Indonesia 4069

You know, the internet says that Yudi and I met at the 2003 world championship in Malaysia, but I didn't remember that, and apparently nor did he, because we talked to each other as if we'd never met in real life before...

13 James Paterson Wales 3844

Wales is a separate country in the memory world. This is a recent innovation, but apparently it's being strictly enforced.

14 Li Kam Fung Hong Kong 3819

So is Hong Kong. I don't know if the Chinese government would approve.

15 Mattias Ribbing Sweden 3813
16 Annalena Fischer Germany 3715
17 Konstantin Skudler Germany 3667
18 Saswat Satapathy India 3495

Konstantin was the top junior, not far ahead of Saswat. Amusingly, Tony forgot to announce the junior winners at the prize ceremony - Dominic and Phil corrected his other lapses of memory during the lengthy event, but nobody noticed that little slip.

19 Tobiasz Boral Poland 3399

The Polish team were another nation that did much better here than they ever have before. It really is getting more multinational!

20 Jürgen Petersen Germany 3255
21 Carsten Diete Germany 3197

So many Germans... we have to muster a big British team some day.

22 Sri Vyshnavi Yarlagadda India 3040

Third-best junior, and outright winner of the names and faces, which caused some amusement when the prize ceremony gave the medals to the three best adults and the three best juniors, then had to swap them half an hour later when someone remembered it's not supposed to be 'best adults', it's 'best everybody' and extra prizes for juniors.

23 Li Hua Xi Rui China 2994

Her name was written on the score printouts at the championship as LI HUA Xi Rui, and sort of semi-corrected on the website to LI Hua Xi Rui. Someone likes capitals. I'm not an expert on Chinese names, but aren't they usually two or three words, not four? I should have asked her that.

24 Dong Xun China 2828

Top "kid". There were only four competitors who fit into that age category, but the prize ceremony still got three of them up on the stage for the certificates from each of the ten disciplines. But, like the juniors, not for the overall prizes.

25 Ma Yunfeng China 2821
26 Matteo Salvo Italy 2809

I can recognise Matteo on sight now - Jonas, too! See, I'm improving!

27 Rajendra Jain India 2725

Darned if I can remember anything about Raj's physical appearance off the top of my head, though. I'd know him if I saw him, maybe...

28 Mark Aarøe Nissen Denmark 2550
29 Christopher E Carandang Philippines 2530

Christopher spent a lot of time rounding up the entire population of the Philippines to have their photo taken with me. I think it's a cunning scheme to blind me with flashbulbs.

30 Rick de Jong Netherlands 2494
31 Bartlomiej Boral Poland 2476
32 Brad Zupp USA 2433
33 Ni Ziqiang China 2416
34 Xu Jingcheng China 2406
35 Joachim Andersson Sweden 2392
36 Roberto M. Racasa Philippines 2391
37 Chan Chi Wa Hong Kong 2289
38 Jamyla D. Lambunao Philippines 2277
39 Anne Reulke Germany 2249
40 Joona Aapeli Marjakangas Finland 2115
41 Anne Bernadette D. Bonita Philippines 2093
42 Lakshman Dongari India 2063
43 Tansel Ali Australia 2051

Tansel was mainly here to accompany Todd Sampson and the film crew that were following him. They were particularly impressed by my eccentricity - I'm a natural star, you know. It's the odd socks. Everyone loved them this year, though I've always worn them, except when I was wearing the Swedish ones that were a present from Idriz.

44 Hu Xisheng China 1991
45 Malte Godbersen Germany 1927
46 Lu Ming China 1863
47 Christopher Beeg Germany 1861
48 Jakob Krautloher Germany 1852
49 Timo Sprekeler Germany 1787
50 Søren Damtoft Denmark 1769
51 Axel J. Tabernilla Philippines 1721
52 Princess Grace N. Mendoza Philippines 1579
53 Ramyasree Yarlagadda India 1554
54 Mücahit Aköz Turkey 1457
55 Cristine Barao Philippines 1398
56 Divya Radhakrishnan India 1330
57 Pierre Berbinau France 1310

There still might be a French championship at some point in the near future. Jérôme couldn't make it to London at the last minute, but we still had the slightly out-of-practice Pierre, making what is becoming his traditional once-every-three-years appearance at a memory championship. Still, the possibility does exist of bridging that strange memory-free gap between England and Germany, and getting regular events there too!

58 Luis Angel Echeverria USA 1210
59 Hui Xin Khoo Malaysia 1193
60 Ian Roi Spencer A. Betiong Philippines 1064
61 Jørgen Fogh Denmark 1022
62 Martin Mwaka England 1018
63 Blessie Mae Ayalde Philippines 885
64 Sean Kelly Ireland 820

Another comeback kid, having last competed in 1998. You know, I always go on about all the young people at memory competitions nowadays, but there were quite a lot of competitors over the age of forty, too!

65 Yi Zhiqin China 740
66 Afzal Khan England 641
67 Lam Tin Lok Hong Kong 534
68 Wang Dexin China 512
69 Ryan S. Smith England 454
70 Thomas Niranjan Kumar India 247
71 Yuuta Tanaka Japan 83
72 Todd Sampson Australia 33

Todd came here to memorise a pack of cards for the TV cameras, he didn't take part in any other disciplines.

72 competitors is down on the last couple of years, but that's because we didn't have the army of Chinese - in terms of countries represented, we're improving. Next year, who knows where it'll be. I quite like the idea of the Philippines, or Mongolia. Tony said seven countries had expressed interest, and then reeled off a list of eight different places, although I don't know if anyone anywhere has really seriously considered placing an "official bid". I'd be quite happy with Lilian Baylis again!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I take it back

The prize ceremony was long, but a lot less so than usual! Instead of calling everyone onto the stage to give them a certificate confirming that they were there, Tony handed them out randomly to people and had them mingle and present the certificates to each other. Brilliant idea, and sums up this year's world championship - it was a lot less formal and pretentious, and a lot more fun!

Okay, full report coming up in the next couple of days, but just one thing to remember before you all assume I'm over the hill - in 2004, Gunther came 9th, then he won the world championship three years later. AND he was older than me!

Just a quickie

Before I go back to the prizegiving ceremony - those things tend to go on all night, and then I'll want to go straight to bed and not get up until Tuesday - congratulations to Johannes Mallow on winning his first World Memory Championship! Congratulations to Simon Reinhard too, who was close behind him all the way!

Haven't seen the full results yet, but congratulations in no particular order to Jonas von Essen, Boris Konrad and Christian Schäfer, who took the next three places, and I'm pretty sure I ended up sixth.

Enormous thanks to everyone who helped run the competition, it was great, and everything went really smoothly and well! I'll name-check everyone who needs congratulating the next time I blog, but well done everyone!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A bit more ludicrous stupidity

The results from yesterday's events came out like I expected - 56 in names, 3090 in binary and 1529 in hour numbers. I'm not exactly setting the world on fire here. Today I struggled my way through 225 abstract images, and probably made a fair few mistakes. In speed numbers I reverted to the mindset I had back in 2004 or so - I did a safe 240 in the first trial, then tried 360 in the second. My when-I've-been-training norm these days is a safe 360 then a risky 480. I got the 240, but then didn't improve in the second attempt.

Historic dates came in between the two trials - they've finally made that change, which saves a lot of time, since the rule is that we have to get the results of the first trial before starting the second (in accordance with WMC tradition, we started about an hour late and got later as the day went on, but at least we saved a bit of time with the speed numbers!) - and that went quite terribly for me; I read through them at my usual speed, and realised after a minute or so that I wasn't remembering anything. I think I got a score of sixty-something.

Finally, in hour cards, I'd brought 36 packs, and was thinking about attempting them all (an approach that Ed Cooke memorably described as "ludicrously stupid" in The Mentalists, back in 2007, when I'd actually done some practice) but when I'd got through about 24 I knew I was reaching my limit. I went on and tried 30, because really, what kind of memory champion only attempts 24, but the recall was full of holes - I think I wrote down 18 complete packs, and there were probably a few mistakes in those.

But enough about me, let's talk about some of the other competitors! It's still anybody's guess which of Simon Reinhard and Johannes Mallow will take the gold medal - they were neck and neck after three disciplines. The Germans, as always, have brought a huge and scarily talented team, also including Christian Schäfer (fighting for third place with Jonas von Essen) and Boris Konrad. Team England isn't quite so well-represented - it's me, nearly-newcomer Martin Mwaka, totally-newcomer Mohammed Afzal Khan and returning-newcomer (he competed once before, in 2008 or 2009) Ryan Smith. James Paterson is also there, but apparently Wales is officially a separate entity in memory circles nowadays.

Watch out also for Jonas and Marwin from Sweden - the Swedes have their own cheerleaders (Idriz, who's arbiting instead of competing this year, and other supporters) to shout woo-hoo whenever a Swede's name is read out, and also a strong team that also includes Mattias Ribbing (wearing a smart suit instead of the scruffy clothes favoured by most competitors) and Joachim Andersson. They look favourites for second place in the team competition.

Also of note, Ola Kåre Risa is producing some great scores again on behalf of Norway, and Erwin Balines of the Philippines was in the top ten in all three of the first day's disciplines! Someone suggested a world championship over there in the future, which would be awesome. There's certainly enough enthusiastic people there! Team USA, spearheaded by Nelson Dellis, are going well too.

Finally, it's worth congratulating Sri Vyshnavi Yarlagadda, a junior from India, who got the highest score in names and faces - another natural talent who might go far?

There's also a little article in the Times today, if you've still got time to go out and get one. It doesn't really say all that much about the competition, but there's a photo of me and a full report on the fact that I wear non-matching socks, so what more could you want?

Friday, December 14, 2012

I really should have trained just a little bit

It's not quite so much fun being at the WMC when you know you're not going to win. Next year, proper training! Definitely!

Anyway, we haven't had any scores yet, but names and faces went as well for me as it always does, nuff said. Binary digits I really felt the effects of not having practiced it on paper for a very long time - I had a lot more gaps than usual, and a score probably in the low 3000s. Hour numbers, I was already feeling brain-frazzled, so I played it safe and only tried 8 journeys's worth - 8x234 digits, whatever that is - and although I filled them all in in the recall, there are bound to be plenty of mistakes. I'd be delighted with a score of 1500.

Tomorrow - abstract images, speed numbers, historic dates and hour cards. I'm not hopeful of doing anything special.

But of course, in all seriousness, the fun of the world championship isn't in the winning, it's the people there! And there are a whole lot of old and new friends to talk to - I haven't seen Tansel Ali since 2003, so I can be forgiven for not remembering what he looks like. I can perhaps not be forgiving for forgetting more recent acquaintances, but at least it's something to tell the journalists - there are quite a few of them buzzing around, Autralians, English and Swedes, and they all liked my eccentric views and non-matching socks.

The Swedes wanted me to talk about sex and wiolence. Apparently everyone's been telling them that's an important part of visual imagery for memorising numbers and things - it isn't really that big a part of mine, so I think my mental stories must be much more peaceful and nice than everyone else's. Yay!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The World Memory Championships are go!

We've had the competitor briefing, at least. It's in a school sports hall, complete with basketball nets, cricket nets, vaulting horses and the like, so at least we won't get bored if we want a break from memorising. Huge praise should go to Dominic, Chris, Jennifer, Gaby, Nathalie and whoever I've forgotten for running everything smoothly. Being me, I was most entertained by Chris constantly adjusting the volume and mix on the microphone while Jennifer was trying to talk.

So tomorrow it's names & faces, binary and hour numbers - funnily enough, the three long events from the Memoriad, so I can't complain that I've had no practice at all. Except for names and faces, I did better than I expected in Turkey three weeks ago, so maybe I'll do the same tomorrow? Who knows? But since I'm going into the competition with no expectations, I suppose remembering a single digit will be a pleasant surprise!

For a rather better preview, please go and check out Johann Randall Abrina's blog!

Friday, November 30, 2012

I love

There are a whole lot of scans of old newspapers on there now - on 4 July 1891, my great-grandfather was mentioned in the Sheffield Independent, in a list of people fined various sums for infringements of the Education Act. The scoundrel. Although he had five school-age children at the time and two younger ones, and I'm sure they had more important things to do than go to school...

Hmm, and again on 19 March 1892. Really, don't these people have better things to do than prosecute truanting Pridmores?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In the abstract

If I'm going to be serious about the world championship this year, I realised today, I'm going to need to practice abstract images. And not just practice them, sit down and remember what my images for the patterns are supposed to be. Which is a bit of a chore.

I still don't like abstract images. And by that I don't mean I don't like memorising them in competitions, I mean I don't like the whole concept. We need to get rid of it and replace it with something else. Like actual abstract images, rather than the learn-the-patterns game that we've got now. I don't think I've whined about it quite enough these last seven years; I'll whine more loudly from now on. But first, I'll go and re-learn my images in preparation for the competition.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A few more memoriadditions

Andi said that the highlight of his weekend was finding that he and I both use our stopwatches to tell the time - it was a classic memory-geek moment, but I can't help thinking his entertainment threshold is a little bit on the low side. Andi, although he stuck firmly to his usual pattern of coming to the event with the expectation of winning piles of prize money and then giving up quite quickly when he didn't do as well as, was quite enthusiastic about the new spoken number-memorising system he's been working on, which is a bit different.

It involves creating locations using some of the numbers, as well as his person-action-objects, and Andi feels that this saves time and gives him an extra couple of seconds to think - I don't quite see how it does that, unless it involves some clever distortion of the laws of space and time, but Andi genuinely believes that the time spent on the locations doesn't count, and believing something like that is a major, important part of success at memory competitions. It could well be that the three-time-world-champion-who-isn't-me might be making a surprise comeback at some point in the future! (At a competition that has prize money, naturally).

Speaking of prize money, I haven't mentioned yet that the prizegiving ceremony was held in a small room with a huge pillar in the middle that prevented about 50% of the audience from seeing what was happening. I think it was a last-minute change because the competition in the main room ran so late. It was hosted by someone who had the traditional difficulty with pronouncing everyone's name - Akshita Shailesh Shah seemed to give him the most problems; whenever her name came up (which was often; she was one of the foremost small Indian mental-calculator-geniuses, often finishing in the top three of the adult competitions as well, and one of the few kids who entered the memory events too, and so finished in the top three junior rankings of those too) he eventually gave up on trying to get it right and called her "Akshita Sh-um-mumblemumblemumble Shah" over and over again.

I might return to blogging about something else now...

Monday, November 26, 2012


Dai said he can't get past the word verification, so I've turned it off again and will just put up with the occasional spam - it doesn't show up on the blog, but I do get an email to tell me there's a new comment, even when the spam filter has zapped it automatically. There's probably a setting I can change to fix that, but I can't be bothered to find out what it is. So please, Robot Dai, and any other robots out there who haven't been able to post, go ahead and comment!


I thought I should mention it, since the organisers of most memory competitions are used to me by now and just ignore me, but the Memoriad is new territory for me... I really like my competitions to be endearingly shambolic. I like to make light of their foibles, but please don't think that means I don't love all memory competitions everywhere!

For example, if the only thing I mention about my hotel room is that there was a pair of pants (not mine) under the sofa that had been missed by the cleaners, you shouldn't assume I was in any way unhappy with the hotel. Indeed, you should assume it was completely and totally awesome, if that's the only negative thing you see me say about it! And besides, they looked clean, and I can always use extra underwear. I see it as another free gift.

So, the Memoriad - I'd like to know the logic behind the seating arrangements, if there is any. Was it random? Everyone was assigned a different seat at a different computer for each discipline, but I was somewhere near the front for all the memory ones and somewhere more towards the back for the mental calculations, so maybe there was some kind of seeding involved, I don't know. Perhaps the super-computer decided everything, as part of its plan to take over the world.

We also had a name-sign to put on our desks, and an appropriate national flag along with the Memoriad flag - one of the British flags was upside-down until I fixed it, while one of the German flags was upside-down throughout the Memoriad; in fact, Jan van Koningsveld seemed to make a point of having that one on his desk every time, so perhaps he did it on purpose as some kind of cunning joke. He has got a Dutch name, after all, maybe he's subverting Germany from the inside?

We all also had T-shirts; one white and one blue, and an instruction to wear the former on Saturday and the latter on Sunday, with a note that anyone who didn't wouldn't be allowed to compete. The white ones had the sponsor logo, the blue ones just had the Memoriad logo. Boris's was upside-down. I think that one was intended for the Australian competitor.

And did anyone notice that there were two different designs of the Memoriad logo? It's five multi-coloured brains in the Olympic rings pattern - the T-shirts and the computers had them red-black-blue-yellow-green, and the nameplates and big posters had yellow-black-green-red-blue. Or something along those lines. I couldn't tell you off the top of my head what colour the Olympic rings are, so perhaps they change colours too, when we're not looking.

Okay, that's all out of my system now. Oh, and one more disclaimer - the money I won goes towards paying off the massive debt I accumulated during my latest not-working-for-a-living adventure; I'm really not financially stable, so you shouldn't come asking me for money, please.

Tomorrow - a few more of the really great things about the Memoriad!

The Memoriad Memory Money List

I came away with a generous wad of money from the Memoriad - quite literally, the prize money was paid to us in US dollars at the prizegiving ceremony, in front of any potential muggers and villains, but luckily everyone there was honest and decent and I'm almost sure that everyone got home safely with their cash. In contrast to the first Memoriad four years ago, when the only 'real' memory athletes competing were Boris, Andi and Gunther and they basically split all the prize money between them, there was a lot more competition this time for those top-three places. I'm sure in 2016 there'll be even more!

Results are now available here for the world to see.

By my calculation, it went:

Simon Reinhard $3,000 - two first places
Johannes Mallow $2,500 - one first and two thirds
Ben Pridmore $2,250 - one first and one second
Tsogbadrakh Saikhanbayar $1,500 - one first
Jonas von Essen $1,500 - two seconds
Christian Schäfer $1,250 - one second and one third
Akjol Syeryekkhaan $750 - one second
Boris Konrad $500 - one third
Lukas Amsüss $500 - one third

Which is a nice sharing-out of the hugely generous prize money, don't you think? Tsogbadrakh also got another $250 for the world record in flash numbers - probably. I don't honestly remember, because I'd fallen asleep by that part of the prizegiving. It was very long, as these things always are. And I got a new trophy that was too big for my rucksack (although I got it home somehow anyway) and medals and certificates and everything!

The Mongolian invasion was the most interesting part of it - well, also the Swedish invasion, but Jonas already did that at the Friendly - because it means the upcoming world championship might be more multinational than I was expecting. I'm excited about it now! Akjol was also fourth in binary, with more than 3000, and fifth in hour numbers, so he's obviously an all-rounder. Both Mongolians are young, too, like so many people seem to be nowadays. If they don't make the next Memoriad earlier than four years from now, I'll be 40 years old! That just doesn't bear thinking about...

Sunday, November 25, 2012


I knew the organisers were tempting fate when Melik said we absolutely had to stick to the schedule today, because we had to be out of the main room by 4:30, on the dot. This was the cue for a major software problem to set us back hugely before we could start the flash numbers, and eventually the day finished at six.

Which is good, because with the gala dinner at 7:30, I have time to come up to my hotel room, watch most but not all of the Chelsea-Man City game that's conveniently available on TV, and update my blog too!

Just two memory events left today - I did pretty badly with the flash numbers, but Turkish-man-whose-name-I-need-to-learn did very well, getting a perfect 300! Jonas was second, if memory serves, and Johannes third, all with excellent scores that would have been unthinkably good just a couple of years ago.

I had a go at the mental additions - managing to get six of them right in ten minutes (the task is to add up ten ten-digit numbers, and the top scorers do it in an instant). Japanese-man-whose-name-I-need-to-learn (blast these newcomers with long names! I think his is Naofumi, actually, but I'll make a point of learning it at the dinner) blew everyone away in this and the flash anzan later on.

I skipped the mental calendar, though, seeing as I'm so out of practice, and just joined in the second flash anzan trial before deciding early on that it was more fun to just watch the other competitors (the eight-year-olds I mentioned earlier, for the most part) adding up lots of numbers very very quickly, waving their fingers in abacus-like ways while they do it.

And so we finished with binary. Johannes, playing devious German mind games, assured me before we started that a score of 3500 or so would be enough for me to win. I, in an entirely innocent underestimation of my abilities, assured him that I wasn't going to get such a good score, since I'm out of practice. It went pretty well, and I ended up with a score of 3870, which is as good as I could have expected from the genuinely minimal training I've been doing. Johannes won with 4095, neeeeearly but not quite beating my ancient world record 4140, and Christian came third, just behind me.

So I end up with one gold and one silver, which is probably more than I deserve. Roll on the world championship! Roll on even more the next Memoriad!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Well, that went as well as could be expected

In fact, probably a bit better!

In the way of such things, the opening ceremony was half an hour late starting, and an hour late finishing - photos by the pool take up more time than anyone would expect - and the whole thing fell further behind schedule as the day went on. This is the way memory competitions always work, so it's good to see we're keeping with tradition. Apart from that, the whole thing was impeccably organised and wonderfully technological! All done on computers, which all worked fine (bar one little hiccup) and made everything very smooth and easy.

All in all, the Memoriad is an absolutely wonderful event that really needs to happen more often than once every four years. Can we have a mini-memoriad next year, please?

We started with speed cards, and I did a "safe" time of 33.61 seconds (safe in the sense that I only make mistakes about half the time when I go at that speed) and got it all right without too much difficulty. Nobody else had done a fast time without mistakes, but I expected them to in the second trial. I set out to do something faster, but got stuck half way through the memorisation, and didn't go much faster at all. A drawback with the Memoriad software is that you can't see your time after you stop the clock, which would be nice, but it turned out after I'd tried to recall it but got it wrong that my time was 33.56 - 0.05 seconds improvement is hardly worth all the effort.

But as it turned out, everyone trying for fast times had made mistakes again, so I won! Yay for me - lucky, I know, but I'll take what I can get. Someone who I don't even know and whose name I can't remember came second, and Lukas Amsüss was third, both with times of 50-something seconds.

After that nice start, we had mental multiplications. Fifteen minutes to multiply ten pairs of eight-digit numbers together - the best people do it in a lot less than fifteen minutes, but I'm happy if I get through five in that time. In the two trials this time, I got two right and three wrong in each one. I'm never going to be the mental calculation world champion.

Most of the top contenders in mental calculations nowadays, by the way, are around eight years old and mostly from India. It's a bit scary, really, but memory sports isn't currently showing any signs of such a youthful invasion.

Names and faces came next, and it took me a while to get into the mood to concentrate on it. I actually stopped after a couple of minutes, thinking I'd use the time to prepare my journeys for the afternoon, but then decided that was being silly, and made some kind of effort. I got 54, I think it was - Simon probably won with 150 or so, although there was a technical problem with the computer recognising the Turkish keyboard layout, so we'll get the final results tomorrow.

I decided to skip the mental square roots, since I didn't get round to looking up how to do it, and I was feeling a bit eyestrained after all that looking at computer screens. Instead, I went back to my room and had a relaxing jacuzzi. I could get used to this kind of thing, I really could.

Incidentally, I haven't mentioned yet just how awesome the Belconti Resort Hotel, Belek, Antalya, is. It's an amazing place, and if you need a relaxing holiday, it has my huge recommendation. There's the beach, swimming pools, fitness centre, lots of other great stuff, and the food is wonderful - I was worried that the meals at a place like this would be either posh or healthy, but no, it's just really really great food!

Anyway, we finished the day's entertainment with Hour Numbers - which I haven't practiced at all for at least a year and a bit. And it went really well! Somehow, being in a real memory competition gets me into the right mindset, and I don't have a problem with my mind wandering at all. I went for nine journeys, 2106 digits, with my method of reading through a journey, closing my eyes and making sure I know it, then moving on to the next one, followed by two or three more revisions of the whole lot at the end, and it worked splendidly! I ended up with a score of 1876, which is either a personal best or very close to it, and was able to think "if I'd only got the nun and the cigarette the right way round, I would have been over 1900!"

I know I could also have said "if I'd got them all correct, I would have got 2106," but I kept swapping that blasted nun and her fag around, unable to decide which order they came in. Oh well.

Anyway, I wasn't under any illusions that that might be the best score - my German enemies might have messed up the speed cards, but they're consistently better than me at hour numbers - but I wasn't expecting just how good they'd be! Simon ended up with 2440, Christian with 2343 and Johannes with 2280. Wow. So I was fourth, and just out of the prize-money places, but it's no shame to be beaten by that kind of performance. And 1876 is very much the kind of score I'd want to get in the world championship if I was going to win it, knowing that I always gain on my rivals in events like hour cards and 30-minute binary. I feel motivated again now!

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Hello from Antalya, where I'm in a hotel room that, to put it mildy, is palatial. There's enough wardrobe space to easily contain all the clothes I've ever owned. The bath is a jacuzzi. There's one of those couch things that I think is called a chaise longue. And I'm lying in a FOUR POSTER BED! For the first time in my life. I'm wearing a T-shirt proclaiming "A working class hero is something to be", and it seems a tiny bit out of place.

Now for the hand-written blog I wrote on the plane to pass the time:

The man sitting next to me recognised me, which is always nice and is probably a good omen for a memory competition, but wanted to talk about my opinions on string theory, the nature of the universe, the brain, perception and so forth. I'm always a sad disappointment to the inquiring mind - all I can really offer on the subject is a vague intention to one day learn what "string theory" is. I keep hearing people talk about it. I need to somehow change people's perception of me as a genius who likes that kind of thing - I, and all the memory people I know, are basically normal people with a weird hobby. There are bricklayers with the same creativity and passion for what they do, and I bet nobody asks them about string theory.

Then there's the embarrassment that Mohammed was able to chat about such things, fluently, in his second language, while here I am merrily on my way to Turkey and not speaking a single word of Turkish. I can't help thinking that this makes me a terrible person. As the pile of "Teach Yourself" books-and-CDs on my bookshelves will testify, I normally have the decency to try and fail to learn the basics before I go somewhere new, but I just haven't had the time this time around.

Well, to be fair, I've had plenty of time, I just haven't done it. I say it again - I'm not much of a genius.

I arrived at the airport at around 9:15pm, local time (two hours ahead of GMT), intending to get a taxi to the hotel by means of miming and waving a piece of paper with the address on it. Most people had arranged for the hotel to pick them up in a minibus, but I wasn't aware of anyone having arranged it for my arrival time, though I was secretly hoping to bump into someone and hitch a ride.

And I tell you, it's a good thing I wear a hat, or at least that I consort with people who can remember names and faces, because I'm going to admit here on my blog something that I didn't admit to the people concerned at the time...

In the arrivals place, I was greeted with "Hi, Ben!" by someone who didn't look at all familiar, but who had travelled from far away and was waiting for the rest of his group. No idea who it is. Maybe from the Phillipines, possibly from Hong Kong, I don't know. But they weren't leaving the airport immediately, so I said see-you-later and went outside to where the taxis were.

"Hi, Ben!" said someone else. I enthusiastically said hi back, and luckily the conversation very soon told me that I was talking to Jonas von Essen - who, you will remember, I saw a month ago when he came to my memory competition - and that he was waiting for Matteo Salvo to get their hotel minibus. I hitched a ride. Matteo arrived shortly afterwards - again, someone I really should recognise by now but whose face rang no bells with me - and we were brought here by our extremely friendly and helpful Memoriad host, who did tell me his name but not how to spell it, and I've seen millions of variations of it in the past so I'm not even going to try. But he was great, really.

I did recognise Boris when he said hello in the hotel lobby, even though he's changed his hairstyle, and I recognised Johannes by the wheelchair and Christian by the wild hair, so I feel better about myself now. Really, it normally only takes me two or three meetings to remember what people look like, I should be fine with Jonas and Matteo next time.

I'll be super-honest here - I didn't remember what Johannes looked like the second time I met him, and he looks quite distinctive on account of his medical condition, but I apparently didn't notice that the first time we met. Possibly I just don't look at people.

So, anyway, here I am at the Memoriad 2012, so let's see what the schedule holds for us. Tomorrow I intend to spend as much time as possible asleep in my four poster bed - I haven't spent enough time asleep lately, what with work and things, and a day of feeling like some kind of princess would be just the ticket.

Then on Saturday, we start at 10:00 with Speed Cards! That's the last event of a standard memory competition, but here we start with a bang! Two trials, all on computer software like everything else here (which is different but great), and how will I do? I've been able to do around 26-27 seconds in practice and get it right about half the time. Simon will certainly go faster than that, and there might be another couple who'll try it, but if I go for a safe-ish 30-second first attempt, and then go for something faster the second time, I should be in with a chance of a top-three place. Top three places in each event get the prize money, you see.

10:45 is mental multiplications. Yes, I'm doing the mental calculation events too, although the last time I practiced any of them was two and a half years ago - I won't do well.

12:00 we get names and faces, and well, see above. You get to choose the names of your own language, rather than having international ones, but that won't help me get a half-decent score.

After lunch, at 2:00, it's mental square roots. I've never been able to do that - I used to know in principle how it works, but I can't even remember that now. I'll try to revise tomorrow, but don't expect me to get a big score.

And at 3:15 it's hour numbers. I haven't practiced the hour-long memory disciplines for a very long time - when I'm at my best, I wouldn't expect to be in the top three among the field we've got here, so it would take an unexpectedly good performance and some disasters for the favourites for me to get anything out of this one.

Sunday starts at 9:00 with flash numbers - like spoken numbers, only they flash up on a screen instead. I'm not expecting big things here; I don't usually do spectacularly well at spoken numbers, but with an only-score-up-to-your-first-mistake rule, anything's possible. Two trials again, best score counts.

10:15 is mental additions. A bit of fun that I won't do very well at, again.

11:20 is mental calendar dates, which again I will just try my best at and see if I can still remember how to do it. I'm nowhere near the level of the world-beaters in any of the mental calculation events.

At 1:00, after lunch, we get Flash Anzan, an all-new thing where numbers flash up on screen very quickly and you have to add them together. Fun, but my score will be somewhere in the region of zero.

And finally at 2:50, we get 30-minute binary. Now, by all rights I should be the best in the world at this and win it comfortably. But I haven't done any proper regular training for a long time, so it's not impossible that I'll have a bit of a disaster. Even so, if I don't get in the top three here I'll be very disappointed, and if I don't win I'll be more than slightly annoyed with myself. I probably won't win, if I think about it logically, but I'll still be annoyed.

Right, now I'm going to have a bath, or a jacuzzi. I was going to do that as soon as I got up to my room, but then I saw I was staying in Buckingham-Palace-only-without-the-smell-of-corgis-and-royalty, I just had to blog about it. Hope you enjoyed!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I'll fly away

So, on Thursday, while the Americans are preparing to eat their turkey, I'll be jetting off to the country of Turkey, and sunning myself in Antalya, where the temperature is going to be around twenty degrees! As I might have mentioned before, I hate cold weather. If I had the money, I'd spend my life travelling around the world and living permanently somewhere warm.

The whole money thing would be helped if I'd practiced memorising over these past few months, and won the actual prize money at the Memoriad, but I suppose it's too late to do anything about it now. Great Davis Cup final today, though - well worth the time I spent not practicing hour numbers. Anyway, I've got yet another TV appearance coming up in December, and that comes with a fee (a "we don't know how much it'll be" fee, but a fee nonetheless, and since my TV stardom is invariably done on a just-for-the-fun-of-it basis, anything is fine with me), so I'll be able to cope with joblessness for the remainder of the year - I'm finishing my current contract immediately before the world memory championship starts on December 14th.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Oh, this is funny

Ray Keene's email address has been hacked. I just got the classic "Dear unnamed friend, I'm on holiday somewhere exotic and had my money stole" email from him. Nobody send Ray money, please!

Monday, November 05, 2012

Happy beardday!

You know what it's the anniversary of? My beard! Ten years ago, give or take a week or so, I decided that shaving every morning was too much of a hassle, and I'd probably look better with a beard, and I've never looked back ever since. Down with razors! I'm like some kind of person who insists on everyone having beards - there must have been someone like that in history, but the only one I can think of is Peter the Great, who insisted that no-one have a beard. Who was his pro-beard equivalent?

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Britain's Brightest

The TV filming was fun - something like five hours of filming for a 2½-minute segment on the show, but that's how these things always work out. No hints about what it involved, you'll just have to wait until next January/February, I'm afraid. But it'll definitely be worth it, I assure you.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Try try try

Being old, I don't like the kind of music that's in the pop charts nowadays, but the other day I heard "Try" by Pink in a shop, and found it really catchy in a gets-stuck-in-your-head kind of way. I actually quite like it. In fact, Pink quite often does songs that I think are okay, and I should probably stop categorising her as "one of those awful manufactured modern singers whom I despise so much" and start thinking of her as a 'real' musician. Maybe I'll even listen to her albums. It seems only fair.

And while I'm being a grumpy old man, let me observe that a week on Thursday there are elections for the Police and Crime Commissioner for the county. Electing people to this kind of position is an extraordinarily stupid idea that I'm sure the Americans are somehow to blame for (so shame on you, all my American readers. Shame on you.) and the Nottinghamshire Police's website impressively tells visitors that "Exactly how the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) will work in practice is yet to be finalised," so it's good to know that the £75,000 salary will be well-spent. I should have stood for election, shouldn't I? I'm always on the lookout for people who will pay me for doing nothing. And since 99% of the people in Nottinghamshire don't know the election's even happening, I'm sure I could have drummed up enough support to win in a landslide.

I wholeheartedly endorse the only candidate who's so far bothered to put a leaflet through my door, and thus the only one I know exists - Dr Raj Chandran. He's a former Police Surgeon, Mayor of Gedling, Territorial Army Major and recently retired GP, which doesn't sound like a particularly great CV for someone wanting to be in charge of the police, but it's probably better than the other candidates. And more importantly, I've scanned the whole leaflet, and the spelling and punctuation are all correct, though he does seem fond of using Capital Letters more than most sane people do. His ideas seem more or less sensible, although I'm not sure about the insistence that the police need more horses, in order to "bring back the honour of Nottinghamshire".

If and when any other candidate sees fit to let me know they're running, I might change my recommendation, but until then, I urge everyone in Nottinghamshire to go out and vote for this guy - remember, if you don't vote, then some other uninformed idiot will, and it'll be your fault!

Right, I'm going to London to be a TV star. It won't be on telly until some time early next year, but I'll let you know in plenty of time to set your video recorders. Being old, I assume everyone still uses video recorders.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's all kicking off

It's been a while since I was asked to do a memory-celebrity kind of thing, but the offers are coming thick and fast all of a sudden! There's an Italian TV show that I'm probably not going to be able to do, a BBC show that I'm going to be filming on Saturday, and a real movie that'll be shown in cinemas and everything (I'm told by the people making it, anyway) about this year's world championships. The latter two will both involve some kind of animated cartoon representations of memory journeys, too, which is awesome! There should be a lot more cartoons about memory.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fun fun fun

The new series of Red Dwarf has been uniformly and embarrassingly awful... until this week's episode, which was really really good! Clever in a silly way and funny just like it used to be, however many decades ago it was when it was at its best! I'm looking forward to more now!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Weight off my mind

I hadn’t realised just how much time I’d spent making sure everything was ready for the memory championship these last few weeks, but I got an amazing sense of job-done when it was finished, and devoted a lot of time to planning what to do now that I’m not so busy.

The plan is to prepare for the Memoriad, which is only a month away. Practice 30-minute binary in the evenings if I can, and the hour numbers at weekends. If I’m to have any chance of not embarrassing myself horribly, I really need to get into the habit of doing marathon memory disciplines again.

Someone, possibly Jonas, reminded me on Saturday that when I was first starting out practicing memory, I only ever practiced the marathon disciplines. This is true, but it’s something that I’d completely forgotten - it comes to something when other people you’ve never met before remember more about your daily doings than you do yourself. Even so, it’s a sensible thing to do, and I think I’d like to revert to that habit. If you can do an hour numbers, you can do a five-minute numbers too, and quite fast at that. Getting accustomed to long periods of concentration is the key.

I’m talking as if I’m really back to regular, enthusiastic memory practice, but don’t get too excited yet. We’ll see how it goes.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


And what a great Friendly Memory Championship it was, too! I had the usual mix of nationalities staying at my place on Friday night - Dai and John up from the Welsh valleys, and newcomer Jérôme all the way from Rennes, plus other newcomer Nick all the way originally from Greece, although he lives in England nowadays.

Dai, in typical Dai fashion, had invited Nick to sleep in my flat on the strength of a couple of messages exchanged on Facebook - "I'm not sure if it's a man or a woman," he cheerfully confessed. But in typical Me fashion, I said that was fine, and in typical memory-competitor fashion Nick turned out to be a perfectly nice person and not some kind of brutally-murder-you-all-while-you-sleep type, so everything was okay. He's a man, by the way.

Team Sweden, meanwhile (Idriz and two relative newcomers Jonas and Marwin who'd been really impressive at the Swedish championship last month, plus two embedded journalists) had got to their hotel at four in the morning, five hours before the competition was due to start. It seems to have affected Idriz, who was driving, more than the other two, so I assume they had more chance for forty winks here and there. And finally, Matteo was staying in the Rockaway hotel just over the road from my place, which he says is quite extraordinarily nice and friendly, so I'll be recommending that as a place to stay for any future competitions!

Dai and John had brought collapsible sunbeds to sleep on, although one of them turned out to be more permanently collapsible under the weight of three people sitting on it on Friday night. But still, it was perfectly serviceable, and with my little settee and my nice spare bed, nobody even had to sleep on the floor!

Phil drove down on Saturday morning to complete the set, and we all gathered at the always-wonderful Attenborough Nature Centre for the competition! Nobody at the centre knew there was a competition happening, but soon enough the always-awesome guy in charge (whose name I'm fairly sure is Tim, but I think I've met him too many times now to ask him to confirm his name, so I'll just have to hope somebody else says "Hi, Tim," within my earshot, so I know for sure) arrived and sorted everything out. As always, great hospitality, great lunch, great everything!

The whole competition went perfectly smoothly, and even finished well before six o'clock - I'd been confidently expecting to run late, because the recall times have been extended here and there since last year, as has the number of digits in spoken numbers. But it was all quick and flawless, we finished the fifth discipline exactly five minutes before the time we'd ordered lunch, and we finished the speed cards with plenty of time for congratulations and Swedish TV interviews afterwards!

The star of the show was the seriously awesome Jonas von Essen, who won by a country mile. He particularly excelled in abstract images, attempting the whole 475 of them and ending up with a nearly-record-breaking score of 354, and also a 204 in the spoken numbers. He ended up with 5930 points, which could have been even better had he managed to record a time in speed cards at the end - like I often do in this kind of situation, he made tiny but annoying mistakes in both attempts. Still, that moves him up to 13th in the world rankings, with a definite threat of breaking into the top ten at the WMC in December.

Between him and Marwin, who broke a Swedish record or two, even Idriz was nearly getting tired of enthusing that it was the first time a Swede had achieved such-and-such. Nearly, but not quite. Everyone should also congratulate Jérôme, who memorised a pack of cards in just over two minutes in his first ever competition!

After the championship, we followed the time-honoured tradition of going to the pub and talking about memory, before going to bed. Team Sweden, for whom sleep is clearly an optional kind of thing, had to leave at about one o'clock in the morning to catch their plane home from Stansted, while the journalists were last seen heading to a hotel in Oxford somewhere - I'm sure they all got back fine in the end.

Next year's competition will probably move back to its May spot in the schedule, if that doesn't clash with anything else. Book your plane tickets now!

(Not really)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ben Pridmore's birthday is today

That's what Facebook tells me, anyway. But after a moment of confusion, I realised it was talking about that other Ben Pridmore I'm friends with, the one who's ten times cooler than me and is a fireman who used to have dreadlocks (we've never met, I only know him from occasional snippets of information in his Facebook status). I always forget his birthday is practically the same day as mine until I get this annual reminder.

My birthday is tomorrow. You can give me a present if you want.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ra ra ra

It's not something that's really featured in my life recently, but I felt the need to vent my annoyance with books that tell you how to pronounce Japanese. Specifically, the Japanese r-sound, which I'm reliably told is sort of half-way between a 'r' and a 'l'.

That's just silly, isn't it? There isn't some kind of sliding scale with 'r' at one end and 'l' at the other. It's either one or the other. After some experimentation, involving saying "ra la la ra" to myself repeatedly, I can say with some confidence that you touch the roof of your mouth with your tongue to say 'la', and don't to say 'ra'.

In my experience, Japanese people either say 'r' or 'l', depending what they feel like at any given moment, and then insist that they make the same sound every time. Or that's how it seems to my English-speaking ears, anyway. I just say 'l', seeing as I always have a problem with that other sound. And saying 'w' instead of 'r' in Japanese is at least 50% more likely to lead to saying an actual different word, probably. I haven't checked, but it's best to avoid it anyway.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Birthday work

It's my birthday on Sunday, yay. As I think I mentioned last year, I've always thought 36 is sort of a cool age to be, for some reason. It sounds rugged. Much better than 35! So I'm looking forward to this next year of my life!

Of course, my foolish 35-year-old planning has left me not really able to do anything for my birthday, because the Friendly Memory Championship (formerly known as the Cambridge Memory Championship) is happening on Saturday 20th, meaning that this coming weekend has to be the highlight of any memory-competition-organiser's year: Printing Things Out Weekend. All those memorisation papers. If I'd thought about it, I would've done it last weekend, but I never think about things. It's bad for you.

Monday, September 24, 2012


My horoscope says that now is the time to start following my instincts and stop worrying about pleasing others. This is probably a bad thing, because my instincts right now are quite strongly telling me to get on a flight to Las Vegas or anywhere that isn't in this miserable, rainy country, and not come back until it's summer. And really, my bank account won't stand for that.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Right, this looks like the button that fixes everything

It is good to have Doctor Who back on our screens - it really needs to be on at least 26 weeks a year, preferably more, and when I'm the director general of the BBC that'll be the first (and probably only) thing I do. And it's been pretty good, all in all. But I do wish they'd put a bit more effort into the plots of episodes like tonight's. Okay, you want to do one that focuses on the characters rather than the story, which is fine (especially with Amy and Rory, who continue to be the best companions ever - isn't this kind of episode with them so very much better than the sub-soap-opera stuff Rose and Mickey occasionally indulged in?), but really, another episode with a weird alien invasion that attacks people all over the world but which the Doctor solves by pressing the 'put everything back the way it was' button? They're not even trying. The ending was so perfunctory, it almost-but-not-quite got in the way of the episode being really a lot of fun!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

My minds are ganging up on me

I've had dreams about memory competitions (or at least about memorising things in a competition-like format) for the last two nights. And what with having said yesterday that I should be practicing more, it's clear that my conscious and subconscious minds want me to do some serious memory training. So that's the plan for this weekend. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I've been reading Frankenstein on the train journey to work in the morning - awesome book, and puts me in the mood to write a big long essay about it at the weekend, but I can't help feeling that I should be doing memory stuff. The whole me-being-good-at-memory-competitions thing came about because I spent long train journeys to and from work learning my original Ben-system list of images, way back in 2003. I should be doing the same thing again. But, much like Victor Frankenstein found, creating the first monster when you're all enthusiastic about something that's never been done before is much easier than creating the second one, when you're all horrified by your own creation and fearful for the fate of the entire human race.

Well, I wouldn't go that far, but I'm not as motivated any more. Maybe I should get a new hobby instead.

Monday, September 17, 2012

One more othello post

I didn't mention that I came either fifth or sixth, depending on whether Pierluigi had a better BQ than me, which he probably had. Well above the half-way mark that I normally aim for, although not high enough to get me to the world championship unless practically everyone else doesn't want to go - and since it's in Holland this year, everyone does.

For the benefit of people who don't know much about othello, yes, it's the one that sort of looks like Go, only with discs that are black on one side and white on the other. More people call it reversi nowadays, which is the older, non-trademarked name. There's a world championship every year which three people from each country qualify for - in this country it's the top two in the nationals, plus the winner of the British Grand Prix, a series of smaller tournaments that I hardly went to any of this year, for one reason or another.

As for "BQ", that stands for Brightwell Quotient, the tie-breaking calculation for people who finish a tournament with the same number of wins. It's complicated, and made a teensy bit more so by the long-standing tradition that all that kind of thing at the nationals is done by Adelaide with pencil and paper, rather than one of those new-fangled computer things. This year it was necessary to work out the BQ for the three women who finished equal on points, so as to decide which two of them played-off for the spot on the women's team at the world championship - I double-checked Adelaide's calculations, with the aid of numerous people looking over my shoulder and pointing out my basic arithmetical errors (I multiplied 41 by 7 and got 288 at one point). A hard day-and-a-half's othelloing is very tiring and brain-draining.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Othello amongst the ducks

It was a great Nationals, all in all! Which is good, because I was organising it, and I'd hate everyone to blame me when things go wrong. Of course, 'organising' in this case just means finding a venue and picking somewhere for us to eat on Saturday night, but that bit all went okay, more or less - we went to the Victoria, which turns out to disapprove of under-18s being there after 8pm (I'd never noticed that before), and also has trains going past noisily at frequent intervals, which scared the bejabers out of Imre the first couple of times it happened. But a good time was had by all, and that's what matters.

As for my performance, it was surprisingly good! I won five games out of nine, including a rather good one against Iain Barrass, and wasn't completely thrashed in any of the four I lost, except the one against Borja Moreno - and he went on to win the championship without losing a game, so I don't mind that much.

And, with the Nationals being on my doorstep this year, I'm at home already and it's five o'clock! Yay!

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Tim, the awesome guy from the Attenborough Nature Reserve, created a brilliant black-and-white-patterned door sign for the conference room, announcing to the world that the British Othello Championships are happening there.

We've got seventeen competitors, which is a pretty good haul. I won two out of four on the first day, not bad going for someone as out of practice and generally mediocre anyway as I am. It's been much too long since I was in any kind of competition like this!

Friday, September 14, 2012

When did I last play othello?

We're talking months, that's for sure. And quite a lot of them. I'm sure I'm going to put in a great performance at the nationals tomorrow!

On a slight tangent, a lot of people like to write the name of the board game Othello with a capital O, but I've always preferred to keep it lower-case, just to avoid confusion. So if you see me wondering when I last played Othello, remind me that I never have - although if anyone's putting on a production and needs a Roderigo, I think I'd be pretty awesome in that part.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

It's a hard life

First off, can I just tell Yahoo news that you can't call a man with huge biceps "the real-life Popeye"? Popeye has huge forearms.

Secondly, I'm struggling to find the time to fulfil my duties as British Othello Federation treasurer - which is quite something, since it amounts to about an hour's work once a year. Got to put our annual report together before the AGM on Saturday, but I'm too tired tonight. I'll do it tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Alas, poor 0111010100

I see on the news that they've found the head of former EastEnders actress Gemma McCluskie. I know it's a fairly gruesome subject to be casually blogging about, but I feel I should mention that the character she played, Kerry Skinner, is one of my 2704 mental images, so I've probably thought about her quite a lot more than most people over the years since her few months as an EastEnders character in 2001.

Or, to be honest, I probably haven't been picturing her all these years, because I think I got her mentally confused with Kelly, the very similar character who replaced her as Zoe Slater's best friend, and so I think I see someone rather looking rather more like Kelly than Kerry whenever the number 724 comes along. Indeed, when I was on Japanese TV, I mentioned Kerry as one of the images I used in a particular journey, and I'm fairly sure they illustrated it with a picture of Kelly.

The moral to all this rambling? Nobody should have their head chopped off and then not found for six months, but it really makes me think I should maybe tell some of the minor celebrities among my characters that I mentally picture them when I'm memorising a pack of cards. It might cheer them up. Or horrify them, depending on temperament.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ooh, the possibilities...

Yesterday's big long blog post was sort of an experiment to see if anyone was still reading this thing. And since nobody complained about the rude things I said about their websites/memory championships, I assume nobody is (except for the usual motley crew of friends). So yay, I can say whatever offensive and inaccurate things I want, without fear of repercussions! That's the way to motivate me to write more!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Hi, I'm Brad

Blogger tells me that someone came to this blog today by googling "brad pridemore world memory champ 2004".

"Brad Pridemore" sounds a million times cooler than my real name! Tomorrow, I'm heading straight down to the deed poll office!

A proper update!

So, what have I been doing these past several months? Well, not a lot, really. Working, which is never a good thing, but is really quite necessary if you haven't done it for a long time. Also, developing a worrying addiction to pork scratchings - I got an unaccountable craving for them recently, and now can't go a day without crunching on some.

Still, looking on the bright side, I did a 30-minute binary practice this morning! This is significant, because I might not have done that for anything up to a whole year - I really am that far out of a memory training routine. Furthermore, I did the practice on the Memoriad software, as will be used in the competition itself if it actually happens - it seems about 75% likely at the moment, in that the person running it does seem enthusiastic about the whole thing, but its existence on the internet is minimal, to say the least. But if it does happen, I fully intend to be there, and hope to have done some proper training in the two and a half months between now and then.

Incidentally, late November seems to be a good time to hold an event in the Mediterranean - hopefully it'll be a nice holiday. Better timing than the US Open tennis, which I'm watching at the moment, and which is sensibly scheduled in the middle of hurricane season. At least with Wimbledon we can claim that it's supposed to be sunny in July!

Anyway, my score of 2070 in binary, while pretty horrific (although it's exactly half of my 4140 world record, which is quite groovy), still gives me reason to be hopeful. I did manage to keep my concentration more or less focused all the way through the 30 minutes' memorisation and 60 minutes' recall - well, my mind wandered a lot, but I managed to resist the temptation to give up and go and do something else, just barely. And I know it'll get better with every practice. Next time, hour numbers.

And 2070 is a half-decent score by most people's standards - only 38 or 39 people have done better than that in competitions, depending on which statistics website you read. Memocamp's 39 seems to be right here - the World Memory Statistics seems to omit Yip Siow Hong from the 2010 world championship; I don't remember him being there in 2010 (indeed, apart from the name, I can't remember anything about him; we've never really talked), but it seems unlikely that Memocamp would just have invented his scores.

As a general rule, Memocamp is about 95% correct, and Statistics about 90%; Memocamp also has the advantage of not existing primarily so that the WMSC can remove people from the 'official' ranking list if they ever deem it necessary. You can usually work out the right results by comparing the two and ruling out the less likely figure. It'd be nice to have a website with all the right numbers on it, but hey, who cares about statistics anyway? Only the kind of geek who keeps on making up arbitrary percentages in his long, meandering blog entries.

Let's talk about something more important - the Mighty Heroes Annual 1985!

I found it at the Beeston Sunday book stall a few weeks ago, and it's quite fascinating, because it consists of comics that I've never seen or heard of before. These aren't the Mighty Heroes of Mighty-Mouse-supporting-feature fame (who did have their own very short-lived American comic in the mid-sixties), it's just a series of stories about mighty heroes. They're clearly British in origin (the annual's published in Spain, and probably drawn there too - Spanish artists were a heck of a lot cheaper than British ones in the olden days), and almost certainly significantly earlier than 1985, but I don't know where the publisher dug them up from. I could look it up, but I like a bit of mystery in my life.

The cover is a jolly exciting collage of rockets, aliens, jet planes, scary fiery demon skull things and, apparently, monks. None of these things appear inside, but it's still very eye-catching. The inside front cover has a collage of two pictures of the hero from the Titans, two of the hero from the first Fifth Dimension, and one of the villain from that story.

And so we go on to the stories themselves. They don't generally have titles as part of the artwork - they're typed into the white border at the top of the first page. We begin with...

FIFTH DIMENSION - Earth Attack! (8 pages)
As becomes a common trend in this annual, we're given no introduction to the central character here - indeed, we're not even told his name. We just get three panels with the narration "If you lived alone in a huge, sinister and isolated house... with a door that led to another world - a new dimension where anything can happen... you would find it difficult not to be tempted to walk through it..."

Our hero finds himself looking through a sheet of glass at a man in a control room, with a big TV screen displaying planet Earth with a target on it. Not being able to get through the glass, he goes into a rocky cave behind him, and emerges onto the surface of an asteroid, where people are building a rocket. However, he's attacked by aliens in green jumpsuits, and knocked out.

When he wakes up, the aliens interrogate him and ask how long it'll be until the asteroid crashes into the third planet. A small scuffle later, they work out that they're all on the same side here, and the aliens explain the situation - "The One Without Eyes" has been taking prisoners from various different planets ("Earth, Oglos and Rotin and others") and bringing them to this asteroid to work. The One Without Eyes is inside the asteroid and controlling it. The aliens go on to add that "Many work underground - we don't know what they do. The rest of us were left here - our task is to get rid of the debris from below." We never do learn what the ones underground did, exactly, but it seems The One Without Eyes has recently killed them all and is now going to attack Earth. The aliens on the surface have been working on building a rocket to escape, since they couldn't find their way underground.

Our hero shows them how to get to the baddie, they break through the glass and insist that he change direction. He refuses to do so, and can't really be threatened since he's planning to die in the explosion anyway. Our hero asks him why he's doing this, and he explains that he comes from a planet ("an artificial planet known as Porto") which floats uncontrollably through space, and will crash into Earth unless he gets rid of the obstruction first. Our hero announces that he doesn't believe a word of it. "It's because you talk in Earth words - instead of 'the third planet' you talk of 'Earth!'"

"Why would you take prisoners? There'd be volunteers from Porto!" he continues. The One Without Eyes (who wears sunglasses, so we can't really establish his exact ocular status, but he looks like a normal human and doesn't appear to be blind) responds "So they could die? Don't talk rubbish - you're fooling yourself!"

It's all pretty inconclusive, really. But then one of the aliens notices a big lever and guesses that it'll change the asteroid's direction. It does, and although the One Without Eyes tries to stop him, our hero apparently knocks him out with a karate chop to the back of the head (although the panel isn't very well drawn, so I'm just guessing that's what's happening). The aliens celebrate, the asteroid misses Earth, and our hero leaves abruptly.

And as an epilogue, we get two atmospheric panels, back at the huge, sinister and isolated house. "Don't look for me," says the caption, "I'm in my dark house, away from it all... I'm watching the stars - knowing that any moment one will explode and it will all be over!" The hero, looking up at the sky, has one final thought bubble: "I should not have got involved..."

... Yeah, I don't really get that ending. Didn't he save the day? The way I see it, either the asteroid will go on its merry way and everything will be okay, or the planet Porto will imminently crash into Earth. I don't see how a star is shortly going to explode. Did I miss something?

THE TITANS - Commando Zeus (8 pages)
We open in a meeting room, where an extremely evil-looking bald man is talking to his new team of experts, "Commando Zeus". The story clearly expects readers to already be familiar with what's going on, but his quick summary at least establishes that there are aliens invading Earth, and his mention of "the fearsome and horrific machines that keep attacking us" does suggest he's not entirely misguided in this, although as it turns out he's after The Titans, who as it transpires are misunderstood good guys.

This group of people don't subsequently appear in the story, just their underlings, but everyone except Baldy is given a name and description, so I suppose they were intended to recur as antagonists for the Titans. They don't look particularly evil - one of them, indeed, looks like a matinee idol, but the one who came up with this particular plan is blowing smoke rings with a cigarette, which isn't usually a good sign.

The dialogue throughout this story seems to have been written by someone whose first language isn't English; it's very stilted and awkward. Especially in the next scene, where we go to "the Nolans", the two aliens pretending to be humans. Zen wears extremely cool flares, and Zara a very impractical-looking long dress. When they see a TV report about people being mysteriously frozen by enemies from outer space, Zen wants to go and investigate, but Zara's convinced it's a trap set by their enemies on Earth. There's some talk about their "machine" that detects aliens, but it's hard to work out what they're going on about. Zen sets off anyway, stepping into a sort of tube to transform into a superhero and flying away. Meanwhile, Zara gets a robot duplicate of Zen from a cupboard ("Now for a bit of fun!") and snogs it for the benefit of the humans who are watching their every move.

I don't get why the humans, who know where the Titans are and what their secret identities are, don't just drop a bomb on the house rather than going through with this elaborate plan. Perhaps they're not completely sure it's them?

Anyway, Zen flies off to the Mojave Desert, where the news said the freeze attacks were, and does indeed find a frozen body and tyre tracks leading to a ravine. But then he concludes that it is a trap after all, by a difficult-to-understand chain of logic, and flies away again.

Undaunted, the soldiers waiting in the ravine go to plan B, and send Phantom jets after Zen to shoot him down with missiles. "Incendiary missiles! It's napalm! Got to get out of here!" he thinks, panicked - invulnerability isn't among his super-powers, it seems. 'Mental powers' are, though, and he uses them to change a missile's course and direct it into another Phantom. He then rescues the pilot before the plane crashes, and sets him back on the ground. "Listen my friend - I'm saving you!" he explains. "I want it known - the Titans are here to save Earth! Remember to tell of it!"

And with that, he flies back home to Zara, leaving frustrated soldiers behind. "How did I do Zara? This time I think we are winning, eh!?" he quips. Zara responds with an entirely blank speech bubble. Then the news announces that "With his incredible power, one of the Titans has brainwashed a Phantom pilot. The pilot who saw the alien Titan's face refuses to describe the robot..."

Robot? Anyway, Zen quips that at least one person on Earth is on their side, and that's the end.

A CASE FOR INSPECTOR DAN - The Ribbon Murders (30 pages)
And now our main feature! And this is a good one, too - so much so that I'm not going to go through it page by page, picking holes. Well, that and the fact that it's so very long, of course. But it's a fascinating case for Inspector Dan (everybody just calls him by that name) and his assistant Stella - they're a very Steed and Peel kind of pairing. And it's written in an interesting way - Dan and Stella spend most of the story believing that a series of murders is being carried out by mental institute escapee Kelby, but the reader is shown that poor Kelby is being held prisoner and being used as a scapegoat by someone else, who's committing the murders in Kelby's style for reasons of his own.

There's a fair bit of padding to fill the thirty pages - rather a lot of action scenes with identical murders, not to mention a lengthy red herring in which Dan is called away by some old enemies who claim to know about the Kelby case but are actually nothing to do with it and just want to kill him. But the ultimate revelation as to who's behind everything (someone using the old "kill lots of people so nobody realises I wanted to kill one specific person" routine) is good, and the characterisation of everyone, Kelby especially, is very nice throughout.

CENTAUR - Into Another World (6 pages)
This one, on the other hand... no, I don't get it at all, I'm afraid. I'm assuming it's a heavily-abridged version of a longer story, because as it stands here, it really doesn't make any kind of sense.

Cent, our hero of sorts, arrives in Guatemala with Red (dark hair and big moustache) and his "gang" (which apparently consists of a man called Drake, who wears an eyepatch). And Pearl, whose connection to everything isn't mentioned. Red and Cent have a discussion that's apparently meant to tell us who they are and what they're doing: "The mineral you seek could be worth a lot. You know what I mean - eh, Cent?" "No, Red. I don't know. I'm not looking for it any more - I'm here for another reason." (looking at Pearl when he says this). Red is angry and orders Cent to find it for him, telling Drake to stay in the room and watch Cent and Pearl, saying "I hope by tomorrow Mr Stubborn will have organised the expedition!"

Since Red hasn't really threatened Cent with anything, I'm not sure why he thinks a night in a comfortable hotel room, albeit guarded by Drake, will change his mind, but hey. Suddenly, Cent and Pearl find themselves on another world, where a mysterious voice says "Zentor, we want to communicate with you!"

Back on Earth, Drake runs to fetch Red in a panic, because Cent and Pearl have both dropped dead. Red's reaction is a little strange - he insists that they're not dead ("I'm convinced of it!") and observes that the Mayan stone is gone too! What Mayan stone? You'd think something so important to the plot would have been mentioned before now.

People in Mayan headdresses are talking to Cent. "Welcome, man of the stars, with the message that came from your world..." they say, and Cent realises they are talking in Ixil and that it's his own language. A narrative caption apparently tries to tell us the plot: "The message is that Mayan stone found in Germany. There are important discoveries on it in Centaur's language." Then the Mayan promises to help Cent, whereupon he and Pearl wake up back on Earth and run away from Red and Drake, stealing a car and driving away.

Red and Drake pursue them, but then their car crashes into an invisible wall, and plunges off a cliff, presumably killing them both. Pearl then decides that she can't stay with Cent, because he needs to go to the other world, which isn't hers, and that's the end. Strange story, all in all.

FIFTH DIMENSION - The Chelsea Butcher (8 pages)
Yes, we're back to the man with a magic door in his house. And this, sensibly placed at the end of the book, is apparently the first Fifth Dimension story! We even get some kind of explanation of who our hero is! He's Michael Hooker - a scientist. Being rather the gloomy type, he's been living in his big, isolated house, working on a dematerialiser which can be used for high speed travel in space. He suspects it might not work, but he's testing it out with himself as a guinea pig anyway, stepping through the door...

And he finds himself in a room in 1889, where he's immediately arrested for being the Chelsea Butcher. So that the judge won't think he's mad, he pretends to have lost his memory, which doesn't really help him very much. Luckily, Sherlock Holmes has decided to investigate the case, and comes to see Michael in prison. This surprises Michael a little, seeing as Holmes is a fictional character. He concludes that his machine has sent him to another dimension.

Michael escapes from prison, where he bumps into the real Chelsea Butcher, who is about to kill him when Sherlock Holmes comes to his rescue. So everything's okay in the end, and Michael finds himself back in his home again. "I look at the dematerializer and smile," he says in a narrative caption. "I've just discovered a new world - the incredible Fifth Dimension!"

And that's your lot. It's a very strange annual. I want to find some more now!