Monday, December 29, 2014

Or let's talk about comics!

What I should have mentioned yesterday is that it was Stan Lee's 92nd birthday. He's still awesome. People who say "he created Spider-Man" or any other cool superhero you could name are missing the point, you know. It wasn't a case of "wow, a man with sort of spider-like powers, what a brilliant idea!", it was "hey, a superhero with real-life problems that I can relate to!" It was the whole different approach to comics that Stan Lee pulled out of his brain in a creative few years in the early 1960s, and that's why he's still so awesome fifty-something years later.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Let's talk football

There needs to be more about football on the internet, after all. So let's hear it for Southampton - half-way through the season and they're in the Champions League places! I'm pretty sure nobody expected that; or at least I know I didn't. At the start of the season I was saying 'oh, that's a shame, they had a great season last year, but now they've cashed in and sold all their star players, that's going to backfire on them in a big way, I bet they get relegated now.' Well, that shows what I know. Three cheers for the Saints.

That leaves me with a bit of a dilemma as a non-specific-team-supporting football fan, though. I really want Arsenal to finish fourth again, mainly because I'm such a big fan of homeostasis, but now I also want Southampton to finish in the top four because they've confounded my expectations so hugely. Which means I won't be satisfied unless Man Utd have a really disastrous 2015 and slide out of contention, and that's not a nice thing to wish on such an illustrious team. I suppose I'd also be satisfied with the same thing happening to Chelsea or Man City, but let's be realistic here, that's not going to happen.

If it's any comfort to the Man Utd fans out there, I don't care in the slightest about West Ham, so Man Utd can finish 6th (after Spurs - homeostasis again) and still qualify for the Europa League, probably. I don't mind that.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Let's get ready to rumble. Extremely.

Qualification for the XMT starts on Monday, at midnight UTC (which turns out to mean GMT, I had to look it up). There's a video demonstrating how to do your own video of qualification attempts - you get five attempts at the discipline of the week, which next week is cards, followed by images, names, numbers and words, and your attempt has to be caught on camera, to discourage cheating.

I can still think of ways to cheat - villains will probably have some sort of dual-screen set-up with their henchman, Igor, scribbling down the cards very quickly and quietly and holding up a crib sheet off-camera for Doctor Diabolical to sneakily read from - but I recommend that rather than relying on Igor's handwriting being good enough, you play by the rules and qualify honestly. It's much more fun that way! Also, the prize for just turning up and not being able to memorise anything isn't enough to cover the cost of your travel and Igor's salary, so crime just doesn't pay.

I myself will be doing qualification attempts and even filming them, even though I don't need to, because that's exactly the kind of thing I need to keep the training motivation flowing. I'll share the videos with you all here, assuming I can get my head around the necessary technology.

Friday, December 26, 2014

I'm dreaming of a white Boxing Day

Hey, look, it's snowing!

Doctor Who is still rubbish nowadays

To be fair, the season-ending two-parter was fun to watch - I don't mind it being a re-write of a story they've already done over and over again if it's still entertaining. But the Christmas special didn't have that excuse, and good grief, can they really not think of a better idea than the dreams-within-dreams thing? Here's hoping they've hired some new writers for 2015.

In other news, I'm still faithfully training in each XMT discipline twice a day at least, and have resolved to do some work on the national-standard disciplines as well on some kind of regular schedule going forwards. The Welsh championship in March isn't too far away, and it'd be nice to go to a competition feeling like I'm prepared and able to put in a good score. To be quite frank, the scores I got in 2014 were really disturbing - I've been out-of-practice before and still produced much better performances than that, but lately I seem to have sunk to a whole new level of unpreparedness. Which is strange, because while I haven't done any kind of regular training, I have managed little bits here and there - I guess the years of not really devoting myself to memory practice have caught up with me. We'll just have to see what I can do about that.

And then there's the Tenth Cambridge/Friendly Memory Championship to think about, too! I'm thinking of holding it in June next year, to avoid the really congested May of the 2015 memory championship calendar. Anyone with any preferences for date should shout out now. Location may or may not be Attenborough - after being baked alive there in 2014, it's possible that we might find a place not dominated by such a big window and lacking in air conditioning, but I'll keep you all informed about that...

Monday, December 22, 2014

Let's get training!

We now have a training website for the Extreme Memory Tournament! It's the kind of thing you have to pay $25 to use, which isn't something I generally approve of, but on the other hand we probably should stop expecting people to run these tournaments and give us money for free, because it's not a very sound business model. And it only equates to £16 in real money, which is hardly anything, so go on and pay it with my blessing.

In all seriousness, it's great to have something that provides a framework for a little bit of daily training - I did one of each discipline last night, and then again this morning, and I'm planning to stick to the two-a-day routine I established last year. I'm going to do the official qualifying thing too, even though I'm automatically qualified already, just because it's a challenge to aim for. It'll be embarrassing if my best scores aren't good enough to qualify, but hopefully I can avoid that. I did 26.79 seconds in the cards this morning.

The new images discipline is fun, it's sort of like the words, with a cards-style recall and the particular difficulty of maybe getting two images that are really quite similar and having to quickly think of a way to tell them apart. And the change to 80 digits in numbers makes that one quite a lot more difficult - last year I juggled the last five images, 15 digits, in my short-term memory (quickly reading and then repeating the words to myself rather than focusing on what the images looked like), and obviously that's a significantly smaller proportion of the numbers now it's gone up to 80, so I don't expect the times will be proportionate to the super-fast ones people recorded in 2014.

But we'll just have to see what happens - it's great to have a new memory challenge, and maybe it'll inspire me to do a bit of normal training, too? The sky's the limit.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Haikou Adventure

If you haven't seen it already, check out Nelson Dellis's blog of his World Memory Championship exploits!

Nelson is quite right to start with the post-competition meal, which as I've mentioned before is always the highlight of any memory championship - the Indian restaurant down the road from the hotel was really nice, and the drinking competition was a fitting end to three solid days of memorising. My own slow drinking time happened to be exactly the same as the world record time for speed cards, which gave everyone a laugh, and after the meal we all (that is, me, Phill and Jake from Team Britain, Nelson, Brad, John and Ademola from Team USA, Boris, Florian and Tsogbadrakh) went back to the closing ceremony and found that cheap cans of lager made the usual interminable event comparatively fly by!

But to start from the beginning, departing from Manchester at some point in the early morning, travelling via Amsterdam and Beijing to Haikou and getting to the hotel about half past one in the afternoon of the next day, local time, is the kind of thing that disturbs your sleep patterns. I really didn't sleep more than a couple of hours a night while I was there, which didn't help my performance in the competition. Granted, a lack of training contributed perhaps a little bit to that as well... But having arrived, I went straight to my room, had a nap, then went for dinner (KFC) with Simon, Boris, Florian, Søren and Søren's wife (whose name I must try to remember next time), and got prepared for the excitement of trying to remember things for three solid days.

Two things I learned on the long flight over: the Chinese subtitles for the Big Bang Theory seem to include explanations of the untranslatable plays on words as well as translations of what the characters are saying, and the film "Edge of Tomorrow" is completely, surprisingly, awesome! I'm sure everyone's describing it as a cross between Groundhog Day and Independence Day, but that's not entirely fair, because Independence Day was rubbish. It's actually a cross between Groundhog Day and a REALLY GOOD alien invasion movie!

Things I learned after arriving - I still get mobbed by fans who want a photo with me (or, moving with the times, "can I take a selfie with you?"), even though it's five years since I've done anything impressive in the memory competition world. And, more importantly, it's still great to go out, eat junk food and talk at length about memory systems with other enthusiasts. I must spend more time doing that in future, it's the only cure for lack-of-motivation!

"Your name here, make the game more meaminful", was the bold and slightly unusual slogan on the giant World Memory Championship poster in the hotel lobby for everyone to sign their names on. Phill, Jake and I (the entirety of Team Britain) had a chuckle about the spelling mistake before Phill unveiled the new and extremely stylish Team Britain T-shirts, with personalised designs on the front and back. Mine had "Zoomy" in big letters on the back, with "Ben Bridmore" underneath it. So, you know, most of the letters were right, and a little dab of tippex would have made it say my actual name, but we left it as it was. More meaminful that way.

Oh, and this whole thing was captured on camera, so I hope it'll be a highlight of the finished documentary! The Chinese team were all sporting uniform shirts saying they were at "The 23rd Word Memory Championships", so really, we were just following the trend.

Rather than writing about my own performance, which was uniformly awful, it'd be better to focus on the battle between the two people sitting either side of me in the front row of seats - Simon Reinhard to my left and Jonas von Essen to my right. It was a close contest all the way through, which took me by surprise a little; judging others by my own standards as usual, I had assumed Jonas would struggle to keep in training the year after winning the championship for the first time, but in fact he was hugely on the ball, all the way through. It all came down to a thrilling finish with the speed cards, just like all the best championships do!

Going into the final discipline, Jonas was ahead by 357 points, but everyone knows that Simon is capable of super-fast times at speed cards, while Jonas hasn't yet been able to get under 30 seconds. (In my day, nobody could get close to 30 seconds, and there were only a tiny handful of people who could do under 40, but it's a new world out there...) Not being involved in the fight for the top places, I could play about with possible permutations on my spreadsheet to my heart's content - if Jonas did his roughly-estimated 'safe' time of 41 seconds, Simon would win it with 23. If Jonas did 35, Simon needed just over 21...

Actually, Jonas did do a perfect pack in 35.55 seconds in the first trial. Simon attempted 21.95, but didn't get it right. That time wasn't quite quick enough, anyway - 21.35 would have done it. So in the second trial, he went all in, and stopped the clock in just under 19 seconds! But, sadly, it wasn't quite correct, and Jonas retains the World Memory Championship for another year!

Results can be found here - of note are the performances of Team Mongolia, spearheaded by Sengesamdan Ulziikhutag (difficult to pronounce but also very difficult to beat at memorising!) and numbers-master and master-boozer Tsogbadrakh Saikhanbayar. I really hope to see them at a lot of competitions in the future, difficult though it always is to get visas in and out of Mongolia. Marwin Wallonius was also hugely improved and awesome this year - flatteringly enough, he was still asking me for advice on how to improve his systems while producing the kind of scores I couldn't even dream of. And Boris Konrad was as consistent as ever; this is his tenth consecutive World Memory Championship that he finished somewhere between 4th and 8th! That really takes some doing, since the scores get higher every year and the people at the top keep changing...

Between Germany, Sweden and Mongolia, it's hard to imagine how Team Britain can ever force its way into the top three, but that's our resolution. I really want to get back in training and challenge for the title again, and I throw down the gauntlet to all other British memorisers - somebody beat me! We've decided that losing to my own countrymen would really give me the kick up the backside I need!

Big cheers and thanks and wild admiration as always go to the people who organised the whole event - Phil Chambers was struggling with a terrible cold, but ran things perfectly. Dominic O'Brien was a great ambassador for the sport as always, and caught at least one genuine cheat! Andy Fong, Angel Lai and Elaine Colliar got everything running extremely smoothly, Tony Buzan was his own inimitable self, and an army of arbiters did a sensational job! Roll on next year, when I might even get back into the top twenty...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

XMT is coming...

Are you ready?

I am, anyway, but I hope you're all keeping an eye on the website and getting prepared for the qualifying.

Meanwhile, I'm going to belatedly fill you all in about the adventures I've had in China, just as soon as I get a chance. Watch this space. Or take a break now and then to watch the telly, I won't mind.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

China awaits!

The World Memory Championship in Haikou is almost upon us! I'm much much less prepared for it than I ever have been for a world championship before, so I'm sure it's going to be a lot of fun. I hear that there are more competitors than can fit into the competition room, so it's bound to be an interesting event, and I'm flying out tomorrow morning! Via Amsterdam and Beijing!

I actually can't remember the last time I went somewhere exotic. Was it San Diego, in April? I probably shouldn't complain that I'm only having two trips to different continents this year, should I?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Doctor Who is rubbish nowadays

And to think I spent most of last year being awestruck by how wonderful it was, too. It's like they've genuinely run out of ideas - everything we've had in 2014 (and the Christmas special in 2013) is just re-hashing the same stuff they've done over the last few years, without any kind of original thinking behind it. It's not Peter Capaldi's fault, you could see he'd do a good job if they gave him a script that let him say or do anything, but they really need to re-think the whole thing and go with something new.

Get rid of the contemporary Earth setting for a bit, it's been done to death, and go out exploring the universe of time and space, will you? It's a time machine...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Another extremey update

I should address this now, before anyone gets some funny ideas. Obviously there is a lot of money at stake here, and having a qualifying round online is going to bring up all sorts of questions and concerns for most serious competitors. Specifically with regards to cheating.

But rest assured. First of all, all online submissions must be accompanied by a video. The requirements will be EXTREMELY strict (continuous filming, no cuts or edited segments, shot at a specific angle, with certain things that must be in view of the shot, etc.). Any case that is questionable or leaves us unsure, will be disqualified. Obviously there will be some level of subjectivity. The judging committee will be made up of a few of us who are organizing the event (we are all very involved in the memory world and know what's up), and we will always hold the right to reject, question, re-try, accept anyone we choose (if you don't like that, then you don't have to compete, simple enough). The goal is to be as fair as possible, obviously. But we are going to look at every case with the same amount of care as any other. For example, If we've never heard of you and you come in with an absolutely crazy amazing score, you bet your butt we are going to look into that very carefully. But also, if you're the World Memory Champion and you hit a world record, we will equally look into that as well. That's not to say we will assume it's cheating, but we will make sure it is legit as best as we can so that every one has an equally fair chance of making it into the 2015 XMT.

So there you have it. While this is supposed to be a fun and exciting competition amongst competitors who are passionate about memory sports, a day will come when someone wants to cheat their way to victory. Yes, this competition has rules and regulations, but it's still relatively "mom and pop" run. Simon Orton and I (Nelson Dellis) created this thing and will NOT stand for cheating.

So let that be a warning to you all (imagine me waggling my finger sternly at this point).

For the avoidance of doubt, I wasn't at all saying that any of my memory friends and loyal blog-readers would even consider cheating in my last blog entry! Anyway, I like this strictness, it gets my whole-hearted approval. I also want to try the qualifiers as well, even if I don't have to, so I'll try to dig out my old video camera and see if I can get it to work.

Other Extreme things that have occurred to me - in this year's competition, we had twelve matches each in the group stage; in the new format it'll be twenty. That's quite a bit of brain-strain for one day, even if the matches are just one minute of memory and four minutes of recall - will we see the best results at the start and competitors will burn out later on, or will we warm up to the task and be flying through the memorisation at record pace by the end of the day?

I didn't mention the new prize money distribution before, but that's very nice, and reduces the amount of money that one person can grab all for themselves by being better than everyone else (this is good news for everyone except Simon, obviously). $100 for each match won is an especially nice touch - will it reduce the incentive to try for a world record if you've already qualified for the knockout phase? Probably not, knowing memory people. We're not the type to go for a 'safe' hundred dollars and give up the chance of two thousand, especially since that comes with the accolade of having the best result.

And the inclusion of a knockout 'round of 16' is awesome, meaning that twice as many people get the fun of an Extreme Memory Task! With the top two in each group and also the four best third-place-finishers all qualifying, that should reduce the 'group of death' factor and make it less likely that someone really good will be narrowly edged out...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Let's get extreme! Again!

Woohoo, great news from the Extreme Memory Tournament!

Hello Extremers, finally some updates concerning next year's competition. Here are the new and sexy facts:

1. Dates: May 2nd and 3rd, 2015

2. Location: Same as last year at the fabulous Dart NeuroScience center in San Diego, CA.

3. New event: 1-minute Images (and no it's not silly Abstract Images). I'll let you guys try and imagine what that might be...more specific details to come soon.

4. XMT training website to go live in December. So you and everyone else can get their practice on.

5. Bumping up to 24 competitors, instead of 16. See #6.

6. Qualifiers: The top 8 competitors from last year will be automatically invited. The remaining 16 slots will be determined by a series of online qualifiers (on the XMT training website). Literally ANYONE can attempt to be qualify for the XMT.

7. Money: The prize fund has been bumped up to $76,000. Oh yes! No travel stipend this year, but everyone who qualifies will get SOME money, with many more incentives during the 2-day competition as well. See HERE for the specifics.

The Basics
•The Competition will be...◦two-day event held on May 2nd and 3rd, 2015

held at the Dart Neuroscience Convention Center in San Diego, CA

sponsored by Dart Neuroscience and Washington University in St. Louis (WUSL)

offering money prizes from a pool of $76,000

24 of the top mental athletes in the world will be competing to ensure that the competition is at the highest level. The top 8 from last year's XMT will automatically qualify for the 2015 XMT. The remaining spots will be determined by qualifying rounds, which will be held over 5 consecutive weeks starting mid-December 2014 (see below).

The competitors will be split up into 6 groups of 4, mixing the best and worst in each group to maintain fairness.

The competition will be run first in group stages (Day 1) and then single-elimination Round of 16, Quarterfinals, Semifinals, Runner-up Match, and Finals (Day 2).

All matches will be head-to-head competitive style, with competitors facing each other (1-on-1).

All events will be digital. All memorization/recall will occur on a laptop. For XMTs, a laptop may or may not be used (this will be announced prior to the task).

* * *

Qualifying Rounds

Starting mid-December (exact date TBD) and spanning over the course of 5 consecutive weeks, those who wish to compete in the 2015 XMT will have to submit their best scores on to the XMT training website for each of the 5 events. Competitors will have limited attempts and time to complete their BEST performance of the selected event of that week (the events will be the same ones from the competition: Names, Numbers, Cards, Words, and Images). The best 16 total scores over all events after the 5 weeks will be invited to compete in the 2015 XMT. More details to come...

* * *

More on the site, go and check it out!

First thoughts, apart from the general "yay!"... six groups of four, five disciplines, still one day for the first round, we must be doing it with four matches simultaneously. That'll give us 45 rounds, as compared to the 48 we had this year.

How does the seeding work? And will it take into account that I barely whined, moaned and complained at all about ending up as fifth seed for the 2014 event because Ola landed one measly point ahead of me in the recalculated world rankings, and then ending up totally in the Group of Death, and everything. Here's hoping it works out a bit more easy for me in 2015, but then on the other hand I do love a challenge...

Top eight from last year qualify for this one - sorry about that again, James.

And the qualifying tournament is what intrigues me the most, even if I don't have to qualify. I mean, it's really easy to cheat at online score-recording. And if there's a prize for just turning up, surely someone out there will be tempted to qualify dishonestly? There's some very strange people out there, after all - remember Evil Eugene Varshavsky?

Incidentally, how the heck did I remember Eugene Varshavsky's name after five years without even having to look it up? Maybe I'm turning into a name-memorising expert!

The new discipline "images" sounds an excellent choice! When Nelson started talking about adding a fifth discipline, I thought it would destroy the balance between system-memory and more-natural-ish-memory, but if the images is a completely-natural-ish-memory thing, it works! I'm looking forward to it!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Well I'll go to the foot of our stairs

There are people out there who think I sound very northern, but they should hear the people I work with now. It's true, Yorkshire is a very different world. I have to get into the habit of saying 'while' to mean 'until', and owt and nowt at every opportunity.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ultimate Master of Memory

There's a sort of wild discussion going on at the Facebook world memory championship group at the moment about the sheer volume of people who can call themselves "World Memory Champion" or the like, and what to do about it. Without wanting to jump in and derail the conversation , I thought I'd blog about what seems to me the main problem - people keeping old titles forever, even if they're not relevant any more.

I've always said that people shouldn't still be called 'Grand Master of Memory' if they qualified for the title in one of the old ways that doesn't even get you more than a little pat on the back nowadays, scores having improved so much. But then, I've always disliked the kind of person who comes to memory competitions just in order to get the easiest possible "official" title and then uses it for their career as a dubiously-qualified motivational speaker or life coach. Really, if I had my way I'd scrap the whole 'grand master' thing - there are lots of mind sports out there where the only title to strive towards is world/national champion, and having this subordinate level of grandness just encourages the wannabe-millionaire-businessman type to come to our nice competitions (as opposed to the nothing-better-to-do-with-their-time memory competition enthusiast, who should be encouraged hugely, of course).

I also don't call myself a World Memory Champion, by the way. If pushed, I'm a former World Memory Champion who isn't all that good any more. I say, current achievements in the last twelve months should be all that counts for any "official" accolades.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Old age

I'm pretty sure I never expected in my wildest dreams to be thirty-eight. I'm really not sure what to do about it now...

Monday, October 13, 2014

The fields of England

The announcer on the train has just said, about half a dozen times, that the next stop is Duffield. It's actually Dronfield, but it's an understandable mistake, since this line goes through all the Fields on its way up north - Duffield (though it never stops there), Chesterfield, Dronfield and Sheffield.

One day, I'll find the time to look up what the Duff, Chester, Dron and Sheff mean...

Memories of China

Well, I've booked my flights to China in December, so it's official, I'm going to the World Memory Championship. I would really like to be able to do some training before then, so we'll just have to see what happens, but everyone should set a reminder in their new-fangled electronic diaries or file-o-faxes for December 11-13 and keep tabs of what's happening to me, British team-mates Phill and Jake (now I'm singing the Adventure Time song) and the rest of the world's competitors. My metaphorical money's on Simon Reinhard.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Trains, and training

I've resolved to write something in my blog every morning on the train to work - it's all about getting into a regular schedule, which is also what I need to do with memory training (although that'll be in the evenings at home, not on a train). Anyway, people* have asked how my new job's going, and the answer is, it's great! As a general rule, I don't enjoy my 'real' job, because I see it as something that mainly exists to finance the things I do for fun, but this one is certainly a lot more enjoyable than my previous one - even the hassle of getting there and back isn't as bad as all that...

I also need to keep up with the plan of learning to drive and getting a car, so as to join the hordes of commuters who complain about the traffic every day, rather than about the trains. Driving is hard, you know.

*Well, one person has asked, and I assume that maybe one or two other people I know are vaguely curious

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Witney and Wisdom

Back home from the national othello championship in Witney, near Oxford. Which is a surprisingly big town for somewhere without a train station. And although my beating-everybody streak didn't quite last all day, I did only lose one game out of the nine in total over the weekend, to Guy, and so ended up playing him (he lost his first game, against newcomer/old-timer Richard) in the grand final!

That's the first time I've ever come anywhere near being in the final at the nationals! And although I was severely burnt-out, brainwise, by that point (how I won my last couple of games before that I'm really not sure) and lost miserably, it's still rather cool. I think I'm going to adopt the German style and call myself the Vice-British-Champion for the next year! So three cheers for Guy, not just for winning, but for organising the tournament and for enlisting seven of his relatives to come and play too! The next generation of othello champions - two young Plowmans (Plowmen?) and four young Brands - all had a great time and were a lot of fun. I also made a concerted effort to learn all their names at dinner (Pizza Express) last night (since they were all impressed by my amazing memory skills and I called Mark 'James' at the start of the meal, not helping my genius reputation), and I still remember them now!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Willy, Willy, Harry, Ste...

Apparently all the children in this country know, word for word, a Horrible Histories song listing all the kings and queens of England in order. It's getting harder and harder to be the only person who knows things.

But it must be getting easier to be in the lead in the British Othello Championship after the first day, because that's what I'm doing. With a mixture of veterans and Brand new players (in the form of the Brand family), we've got a strong field of 16 competitors (a really nice number for Adelaide to work out the pairings for each round, especially since nobody was unkind enough to throw a spanner in the works with a drawn game), and I've beaten four of them in a row today. It won't last.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

It's a living

I've got a new job, up Sheffield way, and it's not only going to pay me actual money for working there (always a plus when it comes to jobs), they're throwing in some extra cash for me to learn to drive and get a car. So I'm going to be a real commuter, and all I need to do is find a driving instructor who's elderly enough not to notice that I'm 37 rather than 17 and so won't jeer at me.

So now I'm currently working out my four weeks' notice at my current job, and then I'll be (eventually, probably) on the road!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

MSO Memory

In hopes of getting some people to come to the competition next year, let's talk about the MSO memory competition (or the Memory World Cup, if you want to use its official name). It might need a little refining of the rules before the people who take memory competitions more seriously start showing up - the score calculation was along the lines of "Well, I guess the one who remembers the most stuff is the winner, I haven't really thought about it" - but the idea of everything being scored up to your first mistake, and the very short recall times encourage a different approach to memorising, which is always a good thing!

You have to judge how much you can perfectly remember in the time limit, which is a fascinating balancing-act, much more so than a standard-style event. More World Cups, please! And World Cup competitors!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Back home

And the weather's been miserable all day, too. It's been really nice all week-and-a-bit, more or less, lots of sun and warmth with just the odd shower but not at a time when I was outdoors. I remember the first few years I went to the MSO it was always baking hot that week.

Anyway, on Sunday it was othello, and I won the gold medal against a lot of opponents who either hadn't played for at least a decade or were new to the game. Still, it was fun! That brought my total medal haul up to two gold, one silver and two bronze - funnily enough, at the memory championship I got a (smaller-sized) medal haul of two gold, two silver and two bronze, so I wanted to find a way to get another silver at the MSO. That would have meant being much better at anything that was taking place on the last two days, though, so I just had to stick with my total of five.

A great event, all in all! I'll go back next year! I'm an MSO person again, it's official!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Memory memory memory

It's the usual dilemma - do I write about the UK Championship before I've got the results to hand, and forget something or get something completely wrong, or do I wait until then and get everyone nagging me about when I'm going to give my rambling bloggy account of the event?

Well, there's no MSO today, so I'll write a bit and maybe fill in the gaps at a later date. The competition took place in the headquarters of TVapex, who did a live streaming of the last bit of the championship (sorry, if I'd known about it earlier I would have mentioned it here) and had a nice venue for us, with a stage at the front, good sound system for Chris's music and the right amount of desks. I did a quick interview with a local radio guy who thought my first name was David and my surname was Pridditch, and so was someone I can hugely sympathise with. Saying hello to the other competitors and trying to remember whether I'd met them before and was supposed to know who they are, I had conversations like "I'm Milan, I talked to you at the World Championship, I was asking you about what brand of cards you use, don't you remember?" Of course, I said. It's nothing personal, it just takes me two meetings at least before I can remember people.

Indeed, meeting up with Yanjaa at the train station to get there involved a bit of guesswork - I saw someone with the kind of hairstyle I was pretty sure she had, standing in the middle of Liverpool Street station and looking like she was waiting for someone, and just sort of walked in front of her, prominently wearing a hat, until she saw me and said hi.

More competitors need to follow the lead of Krzysztof Kuich and wear a T-shirt with their name and nationality prominently written on it. Compulsory name-badges worldwide would make my life so much easier. I may not have the results here, but I did write down everyone's names on a piece of paper, so that I could blog about them without forgetting them entirely or forgetting just how many unnecessary Zs their names contained.

Team England were me, Marlo Knight, Clay Knight, Phill Ash, Jake O'Gorman and Mohammed Afzal Khan. Jake was accompanied by his girlfriend Starr Knight (no relation - I very much approve of everyone at these competitions having the same surname, so hopefully Marlo and Clay will have success in their plans to get their nineteen siblings competing too. That's not an exaggeration, by the way.)

There was a three-man Team Wales - James Paterson (no relation to the writer with two Ts), Daniel Evans (no relation to the tennis player) and Dai Griffiths (returning to competing instead of arbiting for the first time in six years). And a huge international contingent, made up of Yanjaa Altantuya (Sweden), Wessel Sandtke (Netherlands), Javier Moreno (Spain), Søren Damtoft (Denmark), Krzysztof Kuich (Poland), Milan Ondrašovič (Slovakia), Melanie Höllein (Germany), Sebastien Martinez (France) and Ekaterina Matveeva (Russia). Isn't that a great sampling of European memorizers! And I've made a real effort to remember what they all look like, too.

The team of arbiters was small but widely experienced and capable - Nathalie Lecordier, Peter Broomhall and David Sedgwick, under the watchful eye of Phil Chambers and Chris Day. A great gathering, all in all!

As for the competition itself, I was probably more out of practice than I've ever been; I just haven't been able to do any training at all for months. We started with names and faces, which was a pitched battle between James and Yanjaa, then I got a really terrible result in binary which Phil described for the cameras the next day as being astonishingly wonderful, and we followed that up with abstract images, speed numbers and hour numbers, which all followed the same kind of pattern for me.

There was, however, a close contest going on, as we found out when we got the results on day two. James, Yanjaa, Marlo and Milan were all tussling for the top position, setting personal bests, national records and other milestones. And everyone else was happy with their results, too (Søren and Wessel at the head of the chasing pack) - hopefully in my role as the old man with a huge supply of anecdotes about memory competition history, I enhanced their experience as well.

I did rather better on day two - in words I got a low score with lots of little mistakes, but the important thing was that I was memorising a lot more fluently than the day before. 30-minute cards I got 11 packs, attempting 12, which was enough to comfortably beat everyone else even if it's below what I'd normally go for, dates and spoken numbers were okayish, and I just about managed a pack of speed cards, getting 38.11 in the second trial with a recall that took a lot of brain-racking. Milan, though, was the star of the day, getting a time of 29.96! That makes him the seventh person in the under-thirty-seconds club, which really isn't such an exclusive thing any more.

We should get a clubhouse and a secret handshake.

Anyway, that made Milan the winner! By virtue of Marlo and Yanjaa not managing to get a complete pack, I ended up second, pipping James to the post by the narrowest of margins and annoying him immensely, since I did basically the same thing in the crucial speed cards at the XMT. It was a great event! I'm looking forward to the next one already, and maybe I'll manage to do a bit of training and keep up with all these youngsters next time...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Oh, and

I've changed the format of the blog - I got annoyed by not having any "older/newer posts" buttons. It's still the most boring, basic format that has those, so I'm not getting too fancy or artistic...

Fun with numbers

Day one of the UK Memory Championship and I'm too tired to write it up at length - 18 competitors with a really wide range of nationalities (ten or eleven countries, depending on whether Wales and England count as one or two). I did badly, all in all, which is only to be expected with my not having done any training, but it's all to play for tomorrow. Probably.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


(from Monday night) - Saravanan, not Suravanan.

Anyway, I was the first one out of tonight's poker, but it was hardly my fault, someone else just got the outrageous luck that I always rely on. Still, it gives me time to mentally prepare myself for the UK Memory Championship over the next two days! I have to get up early tomorrow to get a train down to Ilford and find the venue - luckily, I'm meeting Jake and Yanjaa along the way, and I'm sure they've got some kind of sense of direction. So the only problem I'll have is the fact that I've done no training at all for months...

Today at the MSO was mental calculations (all the fun of a maths exam! I sometimes wonder why I enjoy this kind of thing so much...) and mastermind, at both of which I ended up somewhere in the middle of the rankings. Aww, I'm half way through my week of mind sports already!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Switching to poker instead of backgammon was a good plan - I came third! I'm still not a huge fan of lowball, but I suppose it grows on you. So that's one gold, one silver and two bronzes in three days so far, which is a pretty good haul! Still loving the MSO!

Things we learned today

Josef Kollar the ever-present MSO star is friends with Real Musgrave, the creator of pocket dragons. This is a pretty major thing to only find out after seventeen years, isn't it? I'm pretty sure my pocket dragon t-shirts have been to the MSO quite regularly over the years...

Also, I'm not good at oware or quoridor. Possibly I'll drop out of the backgammon tonight and play poker instead. I'm not good at poker either, but losing at poker is more fun than losing at backgammon.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mind matters

You know, I vaguely remember that the last couple of times I went to the MSO, I felt like I didn't enjoy it as much as I used to, and maybe it wasn't really my thing any more. I don't know why that was - I've had huge fun there this last couple of days! Games to play, people to meet who I haven't seen for years, ways to stretch my brain into unusual shapes working out strategies on the spur of the moment, it's just brilliant! It's official, I'm an MSO man again.

In continuo this morning, I started off against Matt Cordell, one of the few people who really knows strategy for the game and thinks ahead, instead of just putting the tiles down wherever it looks like they'd score a lot of points, and got completely thrashed, but then I narrowly won one and narrowly lost another (against the game's creator), so all in all that wasn't too bad a showing.

During the day there was an ongoing saga of whether the Memory World Cup was going to happen. Nobody else from the memory world had signed up (shame on you all!), and indeed nobody else from any other world either. But the organisers were very keen for it to happen anyway (rather keener than I was to be in a competition with just myself and maybe someone else making up the numbers), so it did, and I'm very glad it did! We had organiser Etan competing, and newcomer-whose-name-I-should-have-written-down-because-I'm-probably-spelling-it-wrong-now Suravanan, and yes, it was an excellent competition that needs to happen again next year! I'll write about it at length when I get a bit more time.

I also spoke with organiser Tony about maybe holding an XMT tournament in a hotel alongside a bunch of other mind sports next January or March. I'll keep you informed.

Continuo overran, so without more than a few minutes for lunch I went straight into Blokus, which turns out to be an excellent game (it involves placing tetris-ish-shaped tiles on a board so that they touch at the corners, and blocking off your (three) opponents. I won my first ever game, against two experts and one beginner - with a bit of luck, but this kind of thing was exactly what I always loved about the MSO - learning a new game, working out on the fly what would be a good way to play it and maybe occasionally confounding people who know the 'right' way to play and win and weren't expecting me to play the way I did. That only works with brand new games, obviously, and only if I'm lucky - I lost my next two games horribly, but then ended up with the same two experts on the final round and won it, jointly with one of them. So I ended up somewhere in the top half of the final rankings, which goes to show something, but I'm not sure what.

Then it was the memory in the evening, but I seem to have already talked about it, and chronology be damned. I did win, though. So that means in the first two days I've had a bronze, a silver and a gold!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Medaled for England

Granted, it wasn't all that difficult to win medals at the MSO today - we had four players in the Stratego Duel and five in the Classic, and in the latter the bottom three all finished on equal points so it turned into an everyone-gets-a-medal kind of event. But the point is, I was third in the Duel and second in the Classic, so I ended up with two medals and the satisfaction of knowing I didn't come last. And I didn't quite come last in the poker this evening either; I was the second one out.

Now, you might say "So, what you're saying is, you finished second-to-last in everything?", but that's a very glass-half-empty way to look at it. And did YOU win two medals at a prestigious annual mind sports event today? No, I didn't think so.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hot and friendly!

The ninth Friendly Memory Championship attracted a crowd of people in a very hot room on a very hot day at Attenborough Nature Reserve. I had been worried at one point about not having enough arbiters, what with the ever-present Dai living in Hong Kong, but he's back in Britain and was there to help out, Nick The Greek came to arbit too, and with the ever-awesome Phil, we practically had more arbiters than competitors.

The competitors were the Knight brothers Marlo and Clay (note, he's called Clay and not Cole, as I said in my blog about the Welsh championship. I nearly got it, and we were in a part of the world where they dig coal out of the ground a lot more than clay, I'm sure), other English friends Phill and Jake (a pairing of names that had me singing the Adventure Time tune to myself all day) and Scandinavian Søren and Yanjaa. The latter was new to me, but she's been touring the world of memory competitions lately, and is super-enthusiastic about the whole thing, which is always good to see! I like it when people come to these events with the clear intention of being the world champion. Mongolian-born, Swedish-residing and attributes her American-accented English to Cartoon Network, which I approve of hugely, of course.

We also had Jon from the telly, filming bits and pieces but generally just being there to find out what memory competitions are like and get to know the people - I think we made a good impression, since he came to the pub afterwards as well, and the post-friendly-championship drink is always the best way to get to know us. And we had newcomer Bryan, who couldn't be persuaded to give memorising a go, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time.

The event perhaps didn't go entirely smoothly - the heat in the room killed the overhead projector quite quickly, meaning we couldn't use my trademark Powerpoint slides, and it probably stopped everyone from achieving their best scores. I also had a problem with the spoken numbers - I'd prepared them on Powerpoint as usual, but found they wouldn't play on my new laptop (rather too late, during the competition, I realised that this was because the sound files were stored on the old laptop). No problem, though, I'd just bring my old broken laptop instead. But then it dropped dead the night before the event, so I had to resort to plan C - using one of the online spoken-number generators. But it didn't work quite right, possibly because of a dodgy internet connection, and the other one (plan D) wasn't working at all. So we did Plan E, involving Jake's iPhone (or whatever it was) and the WMC Ladder app.

That worked fine, so we didn't have to go with Plan F, which would have been me reading the numbers out myself. Still, it was the kind of flamingo-up I would have been hugely sarcastic about in my blog if it had been someone else's competition, so I'll just invite you all to make fun of me for being so generally rubbish, please.

Marlo led from start to finish and took home the grand prize (a bottle of good champagne that my boss gave me a while ago - I don't like champagne, so I thought it'd be better appreciated by a specially-selected memory competition winner). Yanjaa was a very strong second, and Søren an excellent third.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Friendly Memory Championship 2014, part 10

And finally! The climax of every memory competition (nearly)

 photo Slide11_zps57b17562.jpg

Speed cards is fun to watch and exciting to compete in and makes a great finish to competitions. But what would the scores be like if it was the first of the ten disciplines? Or somewhere in the middle? A lot of the time, the competitors have to get an okay-but-not-spectacular score, to make sure they finish in the position they're aiming for, so there's not always a lot of opportunity to go for that record-breaking fast time.

And speaking of records, when will we see a sub-20-second pack of cards? And on a related note, why was 30 seconds seen as the "four minute mile" of memory competitions for so long? Yes, it's a nice round number, but back in the day, people were really really serious about it as being our Everest.

Long long ago, back in 2006, there was a competition called the Speed Cards Challenge, which consisted of nothing but head-to-head speed cards. It was great, and should happen again. The XMT comes close, obviously, and it'll be interesting to see how the speed cards times go in the future with that - memorising on a computer screen is probably a bit faster than memorising physical cards; it's harder to drop them on the floor, anyway.

I might not hold the record any more, but do I hold the record for the most sub-30-seconds packs in competitions? I probably do, but I don't want to count in case I'm wrong...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Friendly Memory Championship 2014, part 9

Spoken numbers!

 photo Slide10_zps254d9326.jpg

The world record is getting close to a perfect 400, which was the level at which they changed it from one-every-two-seconds to one-every-second, back in 2001. Will it be changed again? One every half second? Every three-quarters-of-a-second?

There's always the question of language - the attempt to provide the numbers in the language of the competitors' choice way back in 2005 didn't work as well as it might, but it was the right idea and it's strange that nobody's wanted to try it again. So, will it always be in English at every memory competition except the German ones?

I've always suspected that the people who are good at spoken numbers are the people who don't review their written numbers many times, but go through them slowly and carefully to start with. I can't really back this suspicion up with any kind of evidence, though - maybe I'll gather some one day.

The interesting question is why not have other spoken discplines? Or flashing-up-on-screen disciplines? Or, well, any kind of alternative to things written on paper? I can't think what that other alternative would be, but I'm sure there is one out there somewhere.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Friendly Memory Championship 2014, part 8

Historic Dates! Also known as Historic and Future Dates. Or just Dates.

 photo Slide9_zpseacbfdc6.jpg

The most recently-invented discipline apart from Abstract Images, this one came along in 2001 - I wasn't really involved in memory competitions back then, but I think it came about because they'd decided it would fit the whole millennium standard idea better if there were ten disciplines rather than nine, and Gunther dreamed up this one. He made most of the rules in those days, actually.

The dates range from 1000 to 2099. I have no idea why that was chosen, but it suits my system very nicely, so I can't complain. For the 2000s I use the images starting with H from my cards list. It's a lot more inconvenient for people with a two-digit-image system, because you get a lot of 19s, 18s, 17s and so on.

As has also happened with abstract images, the 1000-point standard lagged behind the top scores for quite a while, leading to the top scorers in this one getting a disproportionate amount of points compared to the other disciplines. I've always thought it would be better to go back to the system of the top score in each discipline gets 100 points, and everyone else's score is proportionate to that.

Thinking up a brief description of a historical event is easy at first, but once you've done a few hundred of them, it gets harder and harder. Actually, it's interesting to go to different events and see how the individual writers of each list approach it. Some people are 'funnier' than others.

Back in ancient times (2002), a few of the events on the list were sort of jokey and related to the year listed, which really shouldn't be done. I'm pretty sure they're always randomised now.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Friendly Memory Championship 2014, part 7

It's the discipline whose name really doesn't describe it... Abstract Images!

 photo Slide8_zps8cc493d7.jpg

Here's some useful trivia for you - the first time abstract images was ever included in a memory competition was at the very first Friendly Memory Championship (or Cambridge Memory Championship, as it was called back then), in 2006. Gunther Karsten got the highest score, with 200.

Now, I've said it before and I'll say it again, but we need to do something about Abstract Images. Get rid of it altogether, or change it so that it becomes the kind of test it was supposed to be in the first place. See, you don't need to look at the shapes of the images at all, mostly, you just need to look at the pattern they're filled with. There are 158 of these patterns (I counted them again, I always tell people it's 140-something, but it's definitely 158), and it's pretty simple to learn to recognise them and assign an image to each one, for the purpose of memorising them.

All well and good, but there's no practice material available - the only person who can create abstract images is Phil, and he has to manually convert them into black and white, because the wonderful image-generating program that works so hard to create different shapes that nobody needs to look at creates them in colour, and it was decided early on that colour images would be too easy to memorise without looking at the shapes. This means that long-time competitors have a big advantage over beginners here (and I'm going to keep on saying that, despite Jonas setting world-record scores as soon as he started), and that the whole thing is far more removed from the understanding of 'normal' people than any other discipline in memory competitions.

And it was supposed to be a test of 'natural' memory that would be difficult to apply systems to. That was the original idea behind it, and it was completely subverted by the WMSC getting an external company to create the program and somehow not being able to afford to get them to change it when the program they provided was nothing like what it should have been. I don't know, I just despair about the whole thing, I really do.

On the other hand, it's fun! I like to go down the columns and memorise the images in that order, so that when it comes to the recall I have a choice of five options for each image. It uses up a lot of journeys, though - one day, if I don't manage to get the whole discipline scrapped, I'll think of a way to convert each image into a number from 0 to 9, and turn three of them into one of my objects...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Friendly Memory Championship 2014, part 6

More numbers...

 photo Slide7_zpsaef44b00.jpg

In the world championship, this makes more sense. There's a 60-minute numbers event, and a five-minute numbers where you get two attempts of which the best one counts. In National Standard competitions like this one, we get a 15-minute numbers and a 5-minute numbers - it's a bit too similar for my liking.

'Speed numbers' is what this discipline was traditionally called, but that kind of name is discouraged nowadays, because it causes confusion with speed cards (in which speed is what counts). But I really think we should follow the old German example and give the disciplines individual names - "5-minute numbers" sounds so sterile. Let's call it the Numbersprint.

I once held the world record for this discipline, with 333. We've had a 50% improvement in the years since then!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Friendly Memory Championship 2014, part 5


 photo Slide6_zpscfb412fa.jpg

Everybody loves memorising playing cards! When the World Memory Championship was first invented, it was done with the knowledge that the two memory-themed world records anyone had heard of were memorising pi to thousands of places, and memorising a shuffled pack of cards amazingly quickly. And in those days, 'amazingly quickly' meant three minutes!

Memory competitions traditionally finish with the speed cards and have a 'marathon' cards discipline somewhere in the middle, although in National Standard competitions, the marathon is only ten minutes long. Ten packs in ten minutes has never been done, but I'm sure it's possible. I used to practice with nine, and it was a challenge, but if I'd spent the last six years doing more training, I might well be up to ten by now. I wonder who'll break that barrier first?

If there's one thing I'm particularly proud of in my memory-contest accomplishments, such as they are, it's the 'Ben System' for cards. The idea of turning two cards into one simple image was unthinkable until I did it, and now it's quite commonplace. But who'll be the first to do three?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Friendly Memory Championship 2014, part 4


 photo Slide5_zps4731c4fa.jpg

Numbers are really the bread and butter of memory competitions. Apart from the two written and one spoken numbers disciplines in every competition, many people still think of binary and cards as being just numbers presented a slightly different way.

I've personally never found numbers as much fun as cards, I don't know why. Maybe it's the tactile pleasure of shuffling them in your hands? Or maybe decimal numbers are just intrinsically a bit more boring than binary digits?

Anyway, the scores in numbers seem to be escalating at a rate of knots lately - it's not so long ago that 2000 in an hour was still a distant target, but now the top memorisers have left that mark in the dust. And five-minute numbers is rocketing forward even more quickly, with scores of 500 now being recorded. Fifteen-minute numbers, because it's only done at National Standard competitions, is maybe lagging behind a bit, but the days when I held the record for years with just over eight hundred are long gone now...

Numbers have always been a part of the memory championship scene, of course, and the distinctive rule that they come in rows of 40 has been around for as long as anyone can remember - but why 40? It puts people who memorise the numbers in groups of three at a bit of a disadvantage, because that puts 13-and-a-third images on each row. Obviously, when memory competitions started, everyone had a two-digit system, but things have moved on since then. Maybe we should consider changing the rules and giving the numbers in rows of 36? That would accommodate everybody's systems!

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Friendly Memory Championship 2014, part 3

Everyone's favourite (everyone except me, anyway) - Names and Faces!

 photo Slide4_zpsf6e98745.jpg

This has to be the discipline whose rules have changed the most over the years. The scoring, after many, many different versions of rules to penalise guessing, has finally more or less given up on that idea and become simple enough for people to understand, but the rules about what the names should be are still a little bit prone to change, or at least to fluctuations in difficulty from one competition to the next. For the record, they should be 'international' names, representing a random selection from around the entire world, mixed and matched so the first names, surnames and photos don't need to represent the same national or ethnic origin.

I'm not sure if that completely fulfils the requirement of being fair to everyone, but it's certainly better than the names all being English...

Photos, incidentally, will have plain white backgrounds - the selection on this slideshow come from many years ago, when that particular rule wasn't being enforced.

I'm no good at names and faces. I'm famous for it, and it's become my 'thing' now, so I'm clearly never going to get over the mental block. It is of course a 'natural memory' discipline, perhaps the most natural of them all, since it does involve recognising faces, and it's very hard to convert that concept into mental images. If we ever modify the Abstract Images discipline so that it becomes the kind of thing it was originally meant to be, I suppose that might become more 'natural memory', but maybe not.

Most people convert the names into images that they sound like, associate them with the way the face looks, place them on a journey, and so forth, but there's always going to be a lot of vagueness and improvisation involved. That's probably what the N&F experts out there like about it the most! Me, I still can't stand it. Sorry.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Friendly Memory Championship 2014, part 2

Binary digits!

 photo Slide3_zpsa8f8470a.jpg

Memorising binary digits has, again, been part of memory competitions almost since the start, although only as a 30-minute discipline until 2006. It's also always been the rule that they are presented in rows of 30, unlike decimal digits which come in rows of 40, and there's a simple reason for that - everyone always used to memorise them by turning each group of three binary digits into a single decimal number from 0 to 7, and memorising that. It was just another decimal digits task, with an extra step included.

Dominic, apparently not being familiar with how binary numbers work, changed them into decimal numbers in a different way that made sense to him, but still just converted groups of three into a number from 0 to 7. Andi had an anecdote about how he once got half way through recalling before he realised he was writing down decimal numbers instead of ones and zeros. Neither of them were big fans of the whole idea of binary digits in memory competitions.

I think I can take the credit for being the first to do something different, and even then my system is still only subtly changed from that basic principle - even so, binary is something where there's always been a big gap between the best and the rest. And scores have leapt up since people first started doing it; the current world record for 5-minute binary would have comfortably won the first 30-minute binary event, back in 1993.

When I first started out, I wasn't a fan of binary either - I created a really rubbish category-based person-action-person system and persevered with it for much too long, before coming up with an idea that worked. But when I did, binary quickly transmogrified into a great favourite! And I think there's always something cool about being able to say you remember three or four thousand digits of ones and zeros - it's probably the score that sounds the most mind-boggling to the uninitiated!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Friendly Memory Championship 2014, part 1

There's two weeks to go until the ninth Friendly Memory Championship! I'm going to write a daily series of posts about the ten disciplines you can face at the competition.

We start with Random Words!
 photo Slide2_zpsbaecacc3.jpg

Random word memorisation has been part of memory competitions right from the start, but it was always 15 minutes' memorisation time until the shorter alternative National Standard competitions were introduced in 2006. The rule that the words come in columns of 20 has been there for a long time (although I found an old set of rules on the internet that says columns of 25), and nobody's ever suggested it should be any different (although I think some children's competitions have used 10).

The rule about spelling mistakes not losing you the points for the whole column came in a bit later, probably at the suggestion of Dominic O'Brien (who's dyslexic), but also having the advantage of not penalising people too much when there are spelling mistakes in translations (which hopefully doesn't matter so much now that the translators can check their spelling on the internet, but you never know...)

Rules specify that the words should be "generally known", and that most of them should be concrete nouns that you can create a mental picture of easily. Despite the increasingly specific rules over the years, some words events are still easier than others. We try to keep it consistent, though. I've always thought that Germans would be at a disadvantage, since in English a lot of words can be used either as a noun or a verb, allowing a bit more flexibility, while in German they're either one or the other. But German-speakers tend to get much higher scores in words than I do, so what do I know?

But maybe it's just because I do words in a different way from most people? I think a lot of competitors are more rigid than me about how they do it - turning each word into an image and putting a set amount of images on each location on a journey. I've always tended not to use journeys at all, and just make a story out of the words. Although lately I've been more journey-minded, especially in the Extreme Memory Tournament. It's probably better in the events with the shorter time limit.

The world record in five-minute words is 124. The new world record in 15-minute words in the first competition for which results exist (the 1993 world championship) was 125. Can we beat that in a third of the time this year?

Words is one of the 'natural memory' disciplines, as opposed to 'system memory' like cards and numbers. You don't have a finite number of possibilities that you can assign an image to in advance. So there have tended to be people who are naturally better at the words than others - it's an interesting phenomenon that someone should study some time.

Anyone got any words-related anecdotes to share?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Free your mind and the rest will follow

The Mind Sports Olympiad will be happening from August 17-25, and I've decided I'll be going along, for the first time in a good few years! The main reason is that they've decided to resurrect the idea of an MSO Memory Championship, for the first time in a good few years, and I feel I should support that kind of thing. There's even prize money! (I did think about keeping it a secret, so as to have a better chance of winning it, but that wouldn't be very mind-sportsmanlike, would it?)

So I've booked the time off work, let's see what I'll be doing for a week down in London (staying in a student hall of residence, as per the good old tradition).

Wait... that just made me think about how long ago it was that I first went to the MSO. Seventeen years? It surely can't be seventeen years! Good grief, it is.

Right, let's pretend I'm not that old, and get back to the schedule. Events cost £10 entry fee for a half-day competition, £15 for a full day, or you can pay £120 to play as many events as you like. Really, I think it'd be a struggle to amass much more than £120's worth of entries, so it's probably better just to pay for each one individually. I think it was £50 for an all-week-entry-ticket in the first MSO...

Seriously, seventeen years? I know mind sports competitors who weren't even BORN that long ago!

Okay, let's look at the schedule.

Sunday 17 August - looks like Stratego is the pick of the bunch. I've been playing online at the excellent site for the last week, ever since someone mentioned the game online, so I'm hugely in the mood. I'm no good at it, but winning was never really the point of the MSO, until I discovered memory... The poker games in the evenings are always worth taking part in - the first one is seven-card stud, which I won a gold medal in (by sheer luck) one year.

Monday 18 August - Continuo in the morning, always fun if you're in the right mood, and I'll try Blokus in the afternoon, because learning new games while playing in a tournament is the best way to do it! Then in the evening, we have the Memory World Cup. Good old MSO tradition of calling everything a 'world championship' or as close to that as they can get away with...

I've asked for some clarification of the rules - all we've got at the moment is:

Competitors memorize as much information as possible within a given period of time. The challenges will include the following: 2 rounds of memorizing a deck of cards over 15 minutes. Memorizing a base-10 sequence of numbers over 10 minutes. Memorizing a sequence of binary digits over 20 minutes. Memorizing historic dates over 10 minutes. Memorizing a random list of words over 15 minutes.

◾Gold medal - £200
◾Silver medal - £125
◾Bronze medal - £75

And if it didn't clash with the memory, I'd certainly be playing Exchange Chess in the evening! The hours I spent at school playing that with my chess club gang... ah, the memories.

Tuesday 19 August - Oware! Oh, that takes me back. It was the big hit of the first MSO, with everyone having fun learning the game and giving it a try! I'll be doing that in the morning, and Quoridor in the afternoon - someone showed me that game recently, I guess it must have been at an Othello tournament, but my memory of it is hazy. I think it was in a pub. In the night session, since I've never liked London Lowball all that much, maybe the mental calculation blitz? Or even the backgammon-with-no-doubling-die? I fancy that one, actually, I haven't played backgammon for years and years and years - at the second MSO, it might have been!

Wednesday 20 August - the Mental Calculations World Championship! (As opposed to the World Cup, which is a non-MSO event...) I really should get back in practice with mental calculations, I haven't done any for so many years, apart from a bit of half-hearted participation in the Memoriad. That leaves me with Mastermind in the afternoon, since I don't like the look of "7 Wonders", a self-described 'amazing card game'. And for the evening, Pineapple Hold'Em, possibly the silliest and most fun variant of poker!

On Thursday and Friday I'll be decamping to Romford, for the UK Memory Championship. Unless I decide to skip it and stay at the MSO instead, because there's Acquire, the Decamentathlon, Abalone, Chinese Chess...

Saturday 23 August is a rest day at the MSO, presumably for religious reasons - the venue is JW3, "a Jewish community centre with a kosher restaurant, café and bar – only food bought at JW3 can be eaten on the premises". So I'll have to go elsewhere for my bacon double cheeseburgers and hope my fedora doesn't make me look like I'm mocking the Hasidic tradition...

Sunday 24 August - good old Othello in the morning; introducing me to memory competitions was the best thing the MSO has ever done for me, but introducing me to othello comes a close second. Then in the afternoon we have the unique experience that is the Creative Thinking World Championship (name as many uses as possible that a fish could find for a bicycle...) and an evening of Texas Hold'Em. Classic MSO!

Monday 25 August - And finally, I'll finish off with Boku in the morning (I won the gold medal in that one year, too, but it's been a very long time) and then get back home in time for work the next day. It'll be just like old times. Very old times. Seventeen years? Oy.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Go! Mighty Orbots!

While I'm on the subject, let me present another curiosity from my cartoon video collection...

 photo MightyOrbots_zps965ec9b9.jpg

Never shown on British TV, and mustering only 13 episodes in America in 1984 before it was cancelled, I'd never heard of Mighty Orbots before I stumbled across this video tape a few years ago. And I'm a huge fan of this kind of thing, as I might have mentioned before, so that just shows you how obscure it was. It would be easy to dismiss it as a cheap attempt to cash in on the popularity of Transformers, but it's more than that - for one thing it was created before Transformers became the hit cartoon and the must-have Christmas toy of that year; it's more like the both of them (and Go-Bots, and all the others) were simultaneous attempts to cash in on the popularity of Japanese giant robot cartoons and toys. For another thing it wasn't at all successful at cashing in - judging by the vague rumour and hearsay scattered around the internet, the plan seems to have been to license the Bandai toy Six God Combination God Mars (gotta love those Japanese cartoons and their liberal use of the word 'god'), only to be stopped by a lawsuit from Tonka, who turned out to already own it. And most importantly, Mighty Orbots isn't at all cheap - the artwork and animation are simply gorgeous! Better than Transformers usually mustered, certainly!

Admittedly you don't get that impression from this video cover. A collage of images copied from the episode "The Wish World", which isn't on this tape, we get a big green monster (his name's Plasmus) and a planet being sucked into a whirlwind, both unique to that episode, plus recurring character Dia who only makes one brief cameo in the three episodes in this collection, plus regular characters Bort, Tor and a strangely effeminate-looking Rob (compare this picture with the actual screenshot on the back that it was copied from - this cover isn't the work of my hero Marc, but it's a similar piece of work). Luckily, several episodes are available on YouTube, so you can check it out for yourselves!

This tape is interesting, because from what little I can find on the net, only the first six episodes were available on video in the USA. This British tape has episodes 7-9. Possibly the entire series was released over here, and ignored by Transformers-obsessed 1980s kids? I'd like to find the rest, anyway...

The show chronicles the adventures of dashing space hero Rob and his team of six robots: Ohno, who resembles a small girl of quite excessive cuteness, and Tor, Bort, Bo, Boo and Crunch, who combine into one giant robot called Mighty Orbots. The giant robot's singular name is the same as the name of the team, which is a bit weird. They fight the Shadow Organisation in thirteen entertaining if unoriginal adventures.

The thing that sets Mighty Orbots aside from other cartoons of the time is the narrator - cheerfully commenting on what's happening throughout the story, he's funny and entertaining and it gives the whole show more of a friendly feel. The episodes are mainly written by the same guys who wrote Transformers and many other cartoons of the time, but the 'house style' of Orbots is something I really like, and want to see more of.

We need a DVD, people! Someone release one!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

We now return to Force Five (again)

I'm pleased to report that I now own a copy of Birds of Prey, volume 7 of The Formators!

 photo KF_BirdsOfPrey_zps49761986.jpg

If you're wondering why that's a big deal, you haven't read my old blog post about my Krypton Force collection!

Now all I need for a complete set of UK-released Krypton Force tapes of Force Five cartoons is Orion Quest volume 3, Red Moon. If it exists at all. I've never heard of anybody who owns one - it was registered with the BBFC, and you wouldn't think that even Krypton Force would release a volume 4 and not volume 3, but you never know...

Birds of Prey, meanwhile, is great fun to watch! I'd recommend it to anyone, although it might be difficult for you to find your own copy, so you should probably come round here and watch mine.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

How to soften the blow

"Remember the olympic games? Wasn't it cool? By the way, we're putting our prices up."

That's the slightly strange message being put across by my local chip shop...

 photo George_zpsb8e3a93e.jpg

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Get ready for some friendliness!

I don't think I've mentioned this on the blog yet - the Friendly Memory Championship takes place on July 26, at Attenborough Nature Reserve! Come along and meet the memory people! It's a great day for everyone!

It has a Facebook page and a page, which between them should tell you all about it - but anything else you might be wondering, just ask!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bloody lights have gone out now.

I might have to reconsider moving to Belper six months ago. I did know from working here that the power occasionally goes out if the weather is fierce, but I never considered that it might also affect the Haunted Hotel. Still, it's back on again now, so possibly I'm making too much fuss about the whole thing...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

We can try to understand the New York Times' effect on man

A great article including a very nice video about the Extreme Memory Tournament  can be found at the New York Times website. Check it out!

The interesting point it raises is the way I think of people's names if they're unfortunate enough to be among my 2704 mental images. I'll always say Guy Plowman's full name like that if someone puts me on the spot and asks me to describe the images I just used to memorise a pack of cards with no consideration of whether it'll show up in a major newspaper article (he's quite delighted with the publicity, so it's okay), because he's the eight of diamonds and queen of spades, which is a 'Guyp" sound.

Othello players illustrate all the possibilities between them - Geoff Hubbard (2d/8s) is just 'Geoff', and I'd struggle to remember his surname if you surprised me by asking it; Roy Arnold (Kh/2h) is 'Arnold', although I do remember to call him Roy face to face; and Garry Edmead (7d/Ks) is 'Greedy', his internet nickname. It's a confusing business, all in all. I'd remember people's names better if they were cards.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


I've done a 30-minute cards and then 30-minute binary practice today, you know. It must be the first time in a long long while that I've done two "half-marathons" in the same day. The XMT did get me more fired up about memory competitions in general; I'm just hoping I can keep up the enthusiasm until I get past the point of just being pleased that I didn't get so bored with it that I gave up and did something else, and get to the stage of seriously improving my results...

Saturday, May 03, 2014

To the Extreme

I've probably said enough about the Extreme Memory Tournament now, but if you're still eager to read more, check out Nelson's summary!

Anyway, it's another long weekend, and just maybe I'll spend the next couple of days memory training. I'm even inclined to create a big database of names and faces and do some practice of that. I just get the feeling that I should do that, for a change. And did you know that you can upload a photo to Google images and it'll give you hundreds of similar images? It's a great way to get lots and lots of background-free head-and-shoulders photos for your training!

Friday, May 02, 2014


I really want to organise a UK Extreme Memory Tournament. Nelson and Simon are all in favour of having local competitions happen as much as possible; all I need now is for someone to give me really quite a lot of money in order to make it happen. I'm thinking of a three-day extravaganza, with the Friendly Competition in the WMSC style included in there as well.

Could I get 16 British competitors? Actually, probably quite easily, there's a lot more of us now than there used to be. Could I get 32, and expand it to World Cup proportions? I'd want to make it UK-and-Ireland, actually, so I can invite Conor Muldoon and Charlie Garavan. And for that matter, maybe we should add Americans and Australians, too, so that Nelson and Simon can compete? Okay, now it's the English-Speaking Countries Extreme Memory Tournament! If we spread our net any further than that, then those Europeans will just win everything again...

Okay, who's competing? I'm not, since I'm hypothetically running the thing and learning how Simon's software works so that I can keep it going while he's competing, but I'm sure there'd be plenty of interest!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

RIP Bob Hoskins

Yes, it really is sad that the star of Who Framed Roger Rabbit has died, it was a completely wonderful movie that I really love, and he was awesome in it. It's just that I'm confused.

See, I'd always had the idea that Bob Hoskins was famous for something else, before he starred in one of the universe's greatest cartoon-human-interaction movies of all time. I was under the general impression that he was a renowned star of other famous movies or something like that, who appeared in that film as a bit of light relief from a serious career in proper films that people who aren't me really thought were great.

So it's a bit strange to see all the news stories describing Bob Hoskins as "the star of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and other movies". Was I just imagining the whole thing? It's true that I always got him mixed up with Phil Collins, so maybe that's what I was thinking of, but then Phil Collins wasn't famous in films before 1988, and I didn't see Buster until a couple of years later... maybe they've got a third twin brother out there too, and that's who I was thinking of?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


I'm finally home! Here's what I wrote on the train while trying to get here...

Back home, sort of. What with tube strikes and then signal problems at Kettering cancelling all the trains going from St Pancras, getting back from the airport turns out to be a lot more tricky than usual. I'm currently speeding towards Grantham, in the hopes of getting a train to Nottingham and then to Derby and Belper. Still, it gives me time to carry on writing about the Extreme Memory Tournament. The wifi on the train isn't working ("this is caused by a technical fault," the tannoy has just helpfully told us), but eventually I might get somewhere that allows me to post another blog entry, maybe.

Where was I? Oh yes, we'd just finished the quarter-finals. Things were running late (this was a revolutionary and different kind of memory competition in many ways, but not in that way) so the schedule was rejigged - Roddy Roediger's presentation about the study of memory athletes, then a lunch break, then someone else's presentation about identifying the precise bits of a fruit-fly's brain that relate to memory (which included colourful 3D movies of microscopic brains), and then finally back to the competition.

This gave everyone time to think a bit more about the first surprise task (we were only given ten minutes strategizing-time before starting it, so most of the detailed analysis came later), and to conclude that most of the competitors would have been beaten by an opponent who immediately threw his recall papers away and stopped the clock without trying to memorise anything - 81 three-second penalties for a final score of just over four minutes. Anyone who had just memorised the three ten-digit numbers (memory and recall of those could have been done within thirty seconds) would have ended up with a score of three minutes, which would have been the best score of the day. Probably contrary to the spirit of the rules, though...

In the gap between quarters and semis, I was chatting with some of the others, and mentioned that Jonas and I had both guessed the three of hearts in our surprise round. "I guessed the three of hearts, too!" gasped Boris. What are the odds of that? Well, as anyone who's considered a three-card-image system will tell you, the odds are 1 in 140,608. This inspired us to ask the other quarter-finalists what they'd written down. It turned out that most of them had left it blank; the only other person who'd taken a guess was Mark, and he'd written... the three of hearts. 1 in 7,311,616.

This inspired various theories about what nudged everyone's brains in that direction. Hearts was the first option on the recall sheet (you wrote down a number and circled the appropriate suit symbol) and there were a lot of threes floating around at the time - three piles of cards, three sets of numbers, three recall papers of which the missing card was written on the third, three seconds penalty for a mistake - so it perhaps isn't all that surprising. Still cool, though.

Speaking of surprises, the surprise task for the semi-finals related to the presentation we'd just seen - the DNA sequence of one of the strange things they'd done to generations of unfortunate fruit-flies in the name of science, or in other words a long string of the letters A, C, G and T. One point for a correct recall, minus one for incorrect. Again, it wasn't until afterwards that someone came up with the intriguing idea of treating them as binary digits - A being 1, all the others being 0, and only writing down the As. That might have got a much better score than any of the semi-finalists came up with.

As it was, Simon won in his semi-final against Mark Anthony, and Jonas won against Johannes. For the second round, Mark chose numbers, the only one of the four disciplines that Simon hadn't set the highest score in, having tried three fast times but made three mistakes. No mistakes this time, though, and Simon went 2-0 up. Johannes chose words, but lost (just barely) to Jonas - a 2-0 lead for the Swede too.

Simon then picked names, and comfortably moved into a 3-0 lead. Jonas picked names too, and won too, 3-0 to him.

That left Mark to choose, and there were a few mumblings of surprise when he picked cards, against the undisputed world's best card-memoriser. But if you think about it, his only other option was words, at which Simon is also by far the better of the two of them - and in cards, there's a much higher chance of making a mistake and getting a low score. No mistakes here, though, and Simon "the hitman" Reinhard (after reading my previous blog post, James told me that that's a better nickname for him) moved into the final with a second consecutive 4-0 win. Unstoppable.

As for Jonas "the feet of memory" von Essen (he competes barefoot, like some modern-day memory-competition Zola Budd), he was also given cards for the discipline that could take him into the final, but, well, you could practically hear the sound of his brain collapsing under the pressure. Johannes stopped the clock with a respectable time, Jonas took the whole 60 seconds to look at his cards, and then spent the 4-minute recall staring at the screen and being barely able to remember a single one.

That made it 3-1. Then it became 3-2 (words), and then 3-3 (numbers), as Jonas continued to fall a long way short of the kind of scores he'd been producing in the morning. Not that he could have done anything about Johannes's new world record 15.98 seconds in the numbers, though! Jonas had the choice for the final decisive round, and opted for that old favourite, names.

Watching this match was the absolute highlight of the weekend - not for the high standard of recall from two seriously-stressed-out competitors, but for the sheer excitement! Over the course of four minutes' recall, the two of them struggled to fill in names - first one was winning, then the other. Johannes got up to twelve correct names, shook his head, changed one of the correct names to an incorrect one and fell back to eleven points. Jonas got up to ten, remembered that one of the men was called Sidney, wrote that name into two of the blank spaces, moved his cursor to the real Sidney... and didn't write anything. The recall time ran out, the audience collectively exhaled (seriously, I don't think anyone had so much as breathed for at least the last two minutes), and Hannes celebrated a comeback victory, 4-3 to take him to the final!

So my predictions for the final didn't quite work out - Jonas looked pretty devastated, as you can imagine, but he seemed to perk up after some extensive hug-therapy from his girlfriend. A grand final between Simon and Johannes brought back memories of the German TV show where they had to compete against each other for the honour of facing me in the grand final - sadly, the XMT picks its grand finalists based on merit, so that didn't happen here. Florian Dellé, who'd been extensively live-streaming the whole tournament, cheerfully pointed out that seven of his eight predictions for the quarter-final lineup had been correct - I asked who the exception was, and it turned out it was me. Some people have no faith in my powers of fortuitously getting through on a tie-break, it's shocking. But Florian is now proudly sporting a hat and beard, so I can't stay mad at him.

Before we got to the final, there was the important matter of the third/fourth place play-off. Simon and Hannes were locked in the cupboard again, since the final would be using the same surprise task, and everyone else gathered around to watch as Jonas and Mark were presented with their Extreme Memory Task. A truncated chessboard, 5x8, would be placed in front of them, and on each square would be 0, 1, 2 or 3 coins. There were four different kinds of coin (those poor Americans only really have four kinds) and they could be either heads or tails. The competitors had one minute to look at the board, then four minutes to take a pile of coins and place the correct denomination with the correct orientation on the correct square. One point for a completely-right coin, minus one point for any wrong coins placed on the board.

It was a tricky one. I'm still not sure exactly what the best strategy would be - the various permutations are hard to turn into decimal numbers without a lot of unnecessary repetition. Jonas won with a score of 10, but I suspect bigger scores could be achieved with a bit of work and a lot more than ten minutes to prepare.

The surprise tasks were all completely awesome, by the way. I really want to arrange my own Extreme tournament now, just because I've already had ideas for two really great surprise tasks that I want to confront competitors with. The UK Extreme Memory Tournament is a definite possibility, if only I can get the resources to stage it.

Jonas went on to win at names, words and cards without any real difficulty, to take that coveted third place. A great performance all round!

And so to the grand final! This one was best of nine, just to make it even more special, with two extreme tasks. The first was the coins again, and Simon won. He then won cards, with Johannes trying a fast time and not getting it right, then chose names and won that too, for a 3-0 lead.

Then it was time for our final Extreme task, which turned out to be spoken numbers-and-letters. Nelson read out a list of random numbers and letters, at roughly one a second (no recordings here, it was live and extreme), and the competitors had to take turns recalling one at a time, with the first mistake losing, like they do in the US Championship. The first list was ten items, then fifteen, and so on. Only it didn't go so on, because Hannes made a mistake in recalling there. 4-0 to Simon - is he really that much better than the rest of us at extremeness?

Well, we can take comfort in the fact that he's not quite perfect. As the loser of the surprise task, Johannes chose numbers, and Simon stopped the clock at 18.54 seconds, confidently typed them out in the recall, before stopping in confusion when he realised he'd only got 14 images in his head rather than 15 (he's got a super-extreme 4-digit system). The great thing about this competition is that we could all watch on the screen and see exactly what was going through his head as he figured out where the missing image must have come in the sequence, and took a guess at what it might have been. But it wasn't right, and we were 4-1. Comeback on the cards?

Not quite. After suggesting that he should have been able to select names, since they last did it three rounds ago including the surprise round, Simon opted for words, and won it with a confident score of 43. The hitman became the first ever Extreme Memory Champion, and richly deserved it was too - he was a class apart from everyone else all weekend!

I can't wait for the next XMT! Huge thanks to Nelson, Simon O, and everyone else who made it possible!

If only I was 0.35 seconds quicker

It's been a sort of extreme memory-family reunion this weekend - not just with fifteen other memory masters and their families and friends, but a whole pile of American competitors standing by to take part if necessary (it wasn't) and helping out with the organisation, the Washington University in St Louis gang, casino-cheating expert and card wizard Sal, webmaster Josh and two entirely non-memory-related local friends, I've been constantly surrounded by a horde of people I know, some of whom I hadn't seen for ages. But now I'm in San Diego airport, on the way home (the plane's delayed by half an hour, exactly like the one on the way out - it's probably the same plane, and has been running thirty minutes late for months) and need to try to summarise everything that happened at the Extreme Memory Tournament for the benefit of my loyal bloglings.

I hope everyone was following the action on the internet, because that site and all the software really was amazing. Never in the history of "memory sports" have we had the ability to watch everything going on, even from far far away (like in Australia, where Simon Orton was at work non-stop, patching up minor bugs as soon as they arose). Live coverage of which cards the competitors were looking at at any given moment, and the ability to follow along with the excitement as they recalled! You can see the results of every match on there now, if you're interested.

Although Group D was very much the group of death, it did come last alphabetically, meaning I had the opportunity to watch the other three groups have their first match before my turn. Plus, my first match was names, against Simon "the iceman" Reinhard, which I was never going to win, so there was no need to worry about getting off to a worse-than-expected start. It wasn't until the second match, numbers against James "the one who decided that Simon's nickname is 'the iceman'" Paterson that I got off to a worse-than-expected continuation, setting a 'safe', slow-ish time of 25 seconds but not being able to remember one of the images.

When one competitor stops his or her timer, the border around the other competitor's screen turned blue, signifying that they could take the full one minute and concentrate on getting a perfect score - James did just that, and won. It was worrying, because I was significantly more sluggish there in the competition than I had been in training.

I pulled it together against Bat-Erdene in the words, and also got a win against him in numbers later (he went for an extremely fast time and didn't quite get the recall right). But those were the only two of my six matches before lunch that I won, and it really wasn't looking good for me at the half-way point. Simon was crushing everyone in his path except for one slip-up against Bat in numbers, but if I wanted to scrape into second place, I really would have to buck my ideas up in the afternoon.

The hectic pace had made it hard to keep up with what was happening in the other three groups, in between my own matches every half hour, but Jonas was the star of the day, winning everything in group C - the other three places were extremely close together and the tension was running high, as everyone could tell from Boris's loudly-yelled rude word in German when he made a mistake in the numbers against Andi. Group A was seeming pretty easy for Johannes (he got the group of life, or of undeath, or of whatever the best word for the easy group is), with Gunther and Mark Anthony closely matched behind him. Ola and Christian were fending off the challenge of Erwin over in Group B.

After lunch, I was thrown into action against Simon in words, another guaranteed loss - two wins out of seven now. I could afford to take it easy against James in cards, with 45 seconds, but I was disturbingly feeling like that was as fast as I could manage to go, with my mind not being fully up to speed. Three wins out of eight. Six out of twelve was realistically the minimum I needed.

That left names against Bat-Erdene to be a real must-win. Since I tend to regard names as being more of an inevitably-will-lose, that was worrying, but on the other hand, he's not so great at names either, so I did have a chance. And I won, just barely. I cheered "Yes!" quite loudly, before even remembering to shake hands, in all the excitement. Four out of nine. Simon had beaten James in the names, too - I really needed Simon to win his matches against my rivals if I was going to finish second, so that was a relief. That put me into second place, ahead of James on the XMT equivalent of goal difference (% recall).

Numbers against Simon, and he stopped the timer in a super-fast sub-15-seconds time - he had by that point set the best score in three of the four disciplines, just needed numbers to complete the set, and had no reason not to try as fast as he could and not really care if he made a mistake. Luckily for me, he did. Five out of ten.

Words against James. I messed it up, getting everything one place out of sequence and not being able to correct myself in time. Wouldn't have made a difference anyway - he'd scored enough to beat me if I had had the time to correct myself. Five out of eleven, back into third place in the group, all to play for in the final round.

Which was cards against Bat-Erdene, who'd not had a good day and was already out of the running. I stopped the clock on 43 seconds and did manage to recall it correctly, much to my relief. But wait - had Simon messed things up against James? Luckily, not quite. He had gone for a fast time and only got 42 cards right, but that was still just more than James. He was only eight cards away, as Boris and Johannes happily informed me immediately after the match. But no matter! I'd qualified for the second day's competition, just barely, on tie-break, with six wins and six losses!

My opponent in the quarter-final would be the winner of Group C. That was Jonas, who had completely killed his opposition, winning everything except for one late attempt at a super-fast numbers time long after he'd sealed first place in the group and had nothing to lose. Boris had also edged through in second place on tie-break over Andi, but as they say in Germany, a good horse only jumps as high as it has to.

Boris's cousin says that, anyway, on Facebook. I can't promise that everybody in Germany says it.

Ola and Christian qualified from Group B with no real difficulty. Johannes won Group A comfortably, and Mark Anthony prevented a completely European quarter-final lineup by finishing second there.

So the second day started with the first two quarter-finals - me against Jonas, Johannes against Christian. Four Germans and four Miscellaneous in the quarters, but we'd landed in two all-German ties and two all-Misc, so we didn't need to worry about a Teutonic whitewash. The other quarter-finalists were sealed away in a soundproof cupboard so they wouldn't find out what the surprise task was, and we got started.

It turned out to be an interesting challenge - a pack of cards would be split into three piles of seventeen (with the spare card put aside), and beside each pile was a piece of card with a ten-digit number on it. We had to, in this order, look at the first pile of cards, look at the number, recall them on a piece of paper, look at card pile two, look at the second number, recall that, repeat one more time for the third set, and finish. Fastest time wins, but every mistake in recall adds three seconds to your time. Correctly identify the missing card on the final box on the third recall sheet and knock ten seconds off your total time.

I went extremely quickly, more in hope that I could remember such a small amount of information with ease than out of a deliberate strategy. I had a lot of gaps in the cards recall, but I was gratified to see that Jonas was taking much longer, and finished a minute and a half after I did. I just took a guess at the missing card, writing down the three of hearts. First thing that popped into my head.

So then we added up the scores, and yes, I'd won - Jonas, a bit rattled by my speed, had made a fair few mistakes too. I noticed with some amusement that he'd also guessed at the three of hearts. But that made it 1-0 to me! First to four wins it.

From then on we were back to the four disciplines from day one. The loser of the surprise task got to pick which discipline to do next, and after that the choice alternated, with the restriction that you couldn't select either of the disciplines from the previous two matches. Jonas selected names, knowing that it would be an easy win. It was, although my score of 14 wasn't too far behind his 18. Score 1-1.

I chose cards for the next one. I'd woken up feeling a bit more positive about my abilities than when I'd gone to bed, but just to reassure myself further I'd done one practice run of cards, stopping the clock in 24.35 seconds and recalling perfectly. So I knew I could do it. I also knew that Jonas had never done a pack of cards in under 30 seconds. In the quarter-final, I stopped the clock at 28, got it all right, and moved 2-1 ahead.

Jonas chose words. I got a very creditable 37, but he managed 40. 2-2.

Left with a choice of numbers or names in round five, which isn't much of a choice, I went for numbers. I stopped the clock at an extremely fast 19.81 seconds, and had to spend a tense recall period wondering if I'd got the recall all right. It turned out that I had, but it also turned out that Jonas had stopped his own clock at 19.47, so immediately before mine that I hadn't noticed the screen turn blue. And he'd got his recall correct, too. 3-2 to him.

After that, it was a bit of a formality. Naturally he chose names for the next match, and equally naturally, he won. 4-2 and Jonas goes to the semis, but really, I was happy with my performance, I couldn't have done any better - no shame in losing in that way.

Johannes had beaten Christian by an identical score. He not unreasonably pointed out that a surprise task involving lots of picking things up, putting them down and writing is unfair to people with muscular dystrophy or any other kind of physical issues, so perhaps for the future we'll have more exclusively-mental surprises, but it didn't matter in the end.

The other four quarter-finalists were released from captivity and had their own battles. Ola slipped up twice in cards, which should have been his specialist subject, and lost 4-1 to Mark, surprising everyone. Rather less surprising was a flawless 4-0 victory for Simon over Boris. He was just unstoppable. In an interview with a New York Times reporter called Ben (I don't normally remember journalists' names, but this one was quite easy), I predicted that the final would be Simon against Jonas, with Simon to win. I'd been saying that all weekend, and saw no reason to change my predictions now.

(We'll be boarding in ten to fifteen minutes, apparently. I don't think I'm going to finish this marathon blog entry in time. We'll have to say "To Be Continued...", I'm afraid.)