I'm on my way home from San Diego, after a day exploring the city - lots of good comic shops around here! After two days of extreme memorising in the hot sun, it's a bit of a drag to be going back to rainy old England. Maybe I'll just stay here and assume someone'll give me a pile of money.
Anyway, we all gathered in the same venue as last year, Dart Neuroscience, only this time we had four tables on the go at once instead of two, to cope with the expanded number of competitors and disciplines. Being in Group F, I got to watch the first four groups in action before having to face my first match - groups A and B kicked off with cards and then images and most people were playing it safe as they warmed up. The ones who didn't (Simon with a 27-second pack of cards, Yanjaa and Enkhjin with super-fast images) all made mistakes. Group A included fellow Team Britain member Katie (still politely cursing being drawn in a group with Simon), while Group B had our other battling Brit, Marlo, as well as Memory Medley Member Lance.
To explain, there's a group of us called The Memory Medley who have got together on Facebook to swap daily training scores, tips, friendly banter and general motivation. It's a select group of ten people who happened to be around at the time we decided to create it, but it's been a huge help in keeping me fired up and regularly training. Five of us were in the XMT - Katie, Marlo, Lance, me and Alex. The other five Meddlers are Phill, Clay, Kevin, Sri and AB, and they were sending electronic good wishes and support to San Diego throughout.
Groups C and D then had names and numbers, the highlight being a nearly-perfectly-recalled 20-second numbers time from Johannes M, before the final two groups got to sit down in the hot seats and test our skills with words and then cards.
There were spectators on all sides, and quite close too - the screens they were watching had a ten-second delay to reduce the possibility of cheating, which worked very nicely without any problems; as with last year, only more so, the coverage in the venue and online was wonderful, keeping everyone fully up to date with what was happening at any given moment.
My first opponent was Alex, who I'd previously listed among my Group Of Life on the grounds that he's 'not quite up to my level in all the disciplines'. I was mistaken about that, it turns out - I'd now describe him as someone who's actually a little bit better than me at practically everything. He won the words match, 42 to 36 (I'm significantly better at words now than I was last year, after some good improvement in training, but 42 was the highest score I'd managed in my practice sessions, and scores in the thirties were more normal), but then I came back and won the cards with a time of 29.18 seconds. I've got to a point in the training where I can do cards at that speed and get all 52 correct nine times out of ten, which I'm very happy with. That time put me on top of the best-scores leaderboard - the highest score in each discipline on day 1 took home a big cash prize, but I was pretty sure 29 seconds wouldn't be enough to take it; the days when that was an amazingly exceptionally fast time are long gone, I'm afraid. The others in Group F, Johannes Z and Tsogbadrakh, had also won one apiece.
And so it went on - I was confidently expecting not to have an easy time of it in the morning; two of my three names matches came in the first five. When I went up against Tsogo in names I thought I might have a slight chance, since he's not so great at it either, but he did in fact win 14 to 12. On the other hand, I had thought he might well beat me at numbers, but he took it slowly and still made mistakes, letting me get the win there. In Group A, the group of names experts, Simon had recorded a 23 to beat Anne and Katie a 22 to beat Yanjaa. Over in Group B, Jonas did the first sub-30-seconds numbers time.
I lost my next names contest to Johannes Z, which was expected, and then lost to him at images too, when he stopped the clock at 22.22 before I'd got to the end of mine (and I was going fast, too!) and recalled perfectly. Boris had already set a time of 19.29 seconds to top the leaderboard there. My last match before lunch was another images round, against Alex this time, and here I managed to stop the clock at 23.55 and get them all right. On the other table, JZ did 21.24.
That left me stuck at the bottom of the league table at the half-way point:
But that was okay, as I kept telling everyone - it was very close, I'd had the difficult matches, there would be a nice run of images-cards-cards-numbers after the break and I would soon catch up. With the hectic pace, it was hard to keep up with what was happening in the other groups, but Simon to nobody's surprise was romping away with group A, winning all his matches, while Katie was keeping pace nicely with Yanjaa in the fight for second place. In Group B, Marlo was struggling while Jonas and Enkhjin were proving very difficult to beat. Group C was finely poised, but Boris was keeping the challenge of Mark Anthony and Akjol at bay. Johannes M was topping group D without too much difficulty, although fellow XMT veterans Ola and Marwin were pushing hard. The surprise package of the morning was Annalena, who had won all seven matches in Group E - with a lot of luck, she insisted, but it put her in a totally comfortable position heading into the afternoon.
The afternoon went as well as I could have hoped for me - I beat Tsogo at images when he tried a fast time but got the recall slightly wrong, then beat him and JZ at cards with super-solid 31-second times before rounding up that nice run of four "good matches" with a win in the numbers too when JZ mixed up his recall. It all sounds simple now I look back at it, but in each of my matches against Tsogo I made a last-second change in the recall when I remembered just in the nick of time the right sequence of things. It certainly gave the spectators a bit of excitement!
That left me much more relaxed going into the final four games (words-names-numbers-words), but even that doesn't explain the performance I managed to produce in the first words match against Tsogo. I somehow remembered nearly all of the 50 words much more smoothly than I ever have before, getting 47 of them right and not being too far off with the others (along the lines of remembering at least what letter they started with...). 47 is a staggeringly huge score of the kind that only the real words experts manage to produce - it didn't quite top the leaderboard, since Simon had done a 48, but it was sitting proudly up there in second place. I heard later that the Mongolian translations weren't very good, with misspellings and such, but my conscience is clear there - my freakish result would have won against pretty much anyone, even if they had the best translation the world has ever seen.
Still in a buoyant mood about that, I went into a double-header against Alex in high spirits, only for him to comfortably beat me in names and then in numbers with an excellent table-topping 25.70 seconds. Looking at our league table, I consciously registered for the first time that even though I'd achieved pretty much everything I'd been aiming for, Alex had been good enough to beat me into first place - all he had to do in the final match was beat Tsogo at words to confirm it, leaving me and JZ fighting mainly for pride (my tie-break was good enough that even if he beat me, I would end up second if I didn't get an amazingly disastrous score). Alex did win, and so did JZ (36 to 35), leaving the final group standings like this:
Johannes M knocked Alex's score off the top for numbers with 21.01 in his final match. Simon, to nobody's great surprise, took three of the best-score prizes, just like last year - cards, names and words. In images, though, it was Enkhjin who blew everyone else away - having tried super-fast times twice and not quite got the recall right, he successfully did 14.40 seconds on his final attempt; nearly a full five seconds better than anyone else had managed! This was a little bit concerning, because my second place in Group F meant I would be facing him in the round of 16. My group-of-life pick, Alex, would go up against my other group-of-life pick who had exceeded expectations, Annalena.
All the results can be seen on the excellent website, which I hope you were following all the way through the day (or night, if you're in Europe). Katie had triumphantly gone through to the round of 16 in second place in her group; Marlo and Lance had sadly narrowly missed out in theirs, on tie-break score in Marlo's case. My Excel analysis of everyone's best scores showed my opponent Enkhjin as the fourth-best performer, although I couldn't feel too bad about finishing second, because the top three were the usual suspects Jonas, Johannes and Simon, who Alex could expect to meet in the quarters, semis and final if he could win through!
It's time for me to get back to England, though - all the thrills and spills of day two will be reduced to boring bloggery for your reading displeasure when I get back home!