Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Friendly Memory Championship 2014, part 8

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

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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!

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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...

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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

Cards!

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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

Numbers!

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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!

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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!

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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!