Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Two days of extreme!

When we left our extreme memory heroes, the first day had just come to an end. Here's the ranking calculation (my own made-up calculation, nothing officially-endorsed about it) that I meant to post in the previous blog but forgot: 

Well, the memory part of the first day was over, anyway - a bunch of us followed it up with dinner at Olive Garden (I sampled a few cool American food franchises while I was out there - In-N-Out Burger, however much it sounds like it's promising us an immediate case of food poisoning, is actually really great!) before retiring to our hotel for the night. The hotel was the Doubletree Golf Resort we stayed at last year, although the name turned out to be a lot less appropriate than it used to be, as the golf course is closed. Keen golfer Simon was particularly annoyed by this, met the manager and demanded half the price of his room back, plus green fees at another local course and a free lunch. He got everything he demanded, too, and suggested I do the same - since I didn't have any intention of playing golf and indeed hadn't noticed the course was fenced off until Simon pointed it out, I thought that might be a bit too unethical of me, so I passed.

I'm starting to consider being a bit less ethical about things like that in future, though; I can't help thinking it'd be nice to have more money and fewer made-up-the-rules-as-I-went-along scruples that nobody else cares about...

Anyway, day two dawned bright and sunny, if a little damp - San Diego was apparently suffering a three-year-long terrible drought when we arrived, but it sorted itself out with some overnight rain that didn't bother anyone and cleared up during the daytime to leave things lovely and sunny for everyone. I approve of this kind of weather. We all made our way back to Dart Neuroscience for the excitement of the Round of 16. Germans have a word for that, incidentally - Achtelfinale - which sounds so much cooler. With four matches going on at once, this meant that the eight of us who weren't in the first four hemidemisemifinals were sealed away in the auditorium to watch everything (except the surprise task, which had to stay a surprise) on on the big screen. Which was awesome! It really was exciting to watch along and follow the developing excitement, and I've been told by numerous non-memory people that they enjoyed it too!

We watched Alex polish off Annalena 4-0 with some safe and steady scores; Katie brush aside Akjol in the same way including a 47 in words (on the second day, practically everyone copied my impressive score from day 1 - Boris, Christian and Hannes all did it!); Jonas also beat Ola 4-0 with some close contests including a names match that went to a replay; and the Battle Of The Johanneses end with a tighter 4-2, settled with an amazingly close names match - Mallow managed to stop his clock two hundredths of a second before the full minute was up, and thus beat Zhou's identical score of 17 names, taking him through to the quarter-finals!

The eight remaining extremers were set free from our isolation and took our seats to find out the surprise task. It turned out to be cards, just like normal, except with loud distracting music/conversation/noise blaring at us, and no earplugs/blinkers/distraction-minimisers allowed! Up against Enkhjin, I made the slightly dubious decision to go through the cards twice rather than once, only for him to do the same and stop his clock before me. I probably would have been fine with just looking at them once, with hindsight (Simon did just that, over at table 3), but there you go. As it was, we both recalled perfectly to give him a 1-0 lead.

That gave me the choice of discipline for the second round, and I opted for normal, quiet cards, doing a pack without any problems in 26.73 to make it 1-1. I had wondered whether Enkhjin would choose names next, which is usually a guaranteed easy win against me, and so nodded approvingly when he opted for images, his specialist subject which is very easy to make a mistake in at top speed. No mistakes here, though, and he blew me away with a time of 15.66. I went for numbers after that, and stopped the clock at my usual kind of solid speed of 31.24, only to realise that I hadn't paid enough attention to the last-but-one image (I read the last six quickly and say the names repeatedly to myself rather than taking the extra seconds to visualise them, but this time I didn't have a word at all for that penultimate one. Careless.) I took a guess, got it wrong and thus had three wrong digits, whereas Enkhjin had stopped the clock unnecessarily at 38.23 and misremembered one digit, but got away with both of these sillinesses to go 3-1 up. After that, he did go for names, and did remember more of them than me, winning 19-15.

I really have to learn how to do names better - I mean, looking at it now, there's a guy called Jay with a dark blue jumper and white collar which now when I look at it immediately makes me think of Mordecai the blue jay from Regular Show. Why didn't that occur to me at the time?

In any case, that gave Enkhjin the fully-deserved win, 4-1. As it happened, the other three matches all finished at that point too, a trio of 4-1 wins for Boris, Christian and Simon over Yanjaa, Marwin and Mark Anthony.

That took us into the quarter-finals, leaving me to cheer on Meddlers Katie and Alex, who both hadn't remotely expected to get that far - or at least were humble enough to claim as much, which is just as good. The surprise task here involved memorising a protein sequence, or in other words a lot of letters, on a grid. This one wasn't very visual, since they did the memory and recall on paper and nobody could see what was going on, but Alex and Katie both won theirs against those big big names of memory Johannes and Jonas (the competition had two Johanneses, one Jonas and one Johann, with no consideration at all for people who can't remember names. Luckily, we all had name-badges.) Boris beat Christian, Simon beat Enkhjin and we went back to the visual excitement of the regular five disciplines.

This time, Enkhjin did make a mistake in his super-speedy images memorisation, and although he was unlucky to stop his numbers clock fractions of a second after Simon, he did get them all right this time around while Simon made a rare mistake. That was the only point Enkhjin won, though, and hot-favourite Simon went through to the semis 4-1. Alex pulled off a big shock by beating Jonas by the same score, after Jonas tried fast times in both images and numbers without success, and couldn't keep up with Alex's 35-second cards. Katie fought valiantly against Hannes, intending to record good images times twice only to find he did it faster, and going out 4-2. The match between Christian and Boris was the most exciting of the quarters - particularly for Boris, who was in a state of wild, manic hysteria for most of the day (nobody could accuse him of not being passionate about competition!) A 21-21 in names which Christian won by virtue of stopping the clock just before the 60 seconds were up was followed by a 43-43 words in which this time Boris did the same thing! That made it 3-2 to Boris, and when he won at numbers to take him through to the quarters he screamed "JAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!", leaping to his feet, sending his chair flying, and giving everyone either a laugh or a heart attack, depending on their constitution.

After a break for lunch (in which I sampled a Cali-style burrito, which was delicious, and chatted with the St Louis academics who probed my brain however many years ago it was) we moved into the auditorium to watch the remaining games on the stage. This allowed them to project the surprise tasks onto the big screen - the one for the semis involved memorising a map with fictional towns, temperatures and weather-symbols. I couldn't help thinking that the temperatures would have been easy enough to remember perfectly in the time allowed, giving a better score than anyone managed, but it was probably different up on the stage and under pressure. As it was, Alex got a better score than Hannes, and Boris beat Simon (yelling "YES!" and running wildly around the room to celebrate it). When in the next match Simon chose names only to lose 19-17, the celebration this time was a squeal of "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" and a mad-march-hare bouncing fit that nearly took Boris through the roof. That seemed to make him a bit more self-conscious, possibly because every camera and phone in the building was pointed at him from that point onwards to see what he'd do next - everyone was a bit disappointed with the more restrained happiness when he went 3-0 up and even when he sealed a hugely surprising 4-1 victory over the tournament favourite!

Alex, meanwhile, put up a fight against second-favourite Hannes, taking advantage of his opponent's mistakes to win at cards and numbers only to finally go down 4-3 on another cards - I doubt anyone in the world could do a fast time without mistakes under that kind of pressure.

Alex and Simon then contested the third-place play-off, which boasted the coolest and most original surprise task yet - blindfolded memorising of different textures, which then had to be rearranged into the right sequence! Extremely difficult, but a fantastic idea that I'd love to have a go at under tournament conditions myself some day! Simon won that, and took charge of things from that point on, winning 4-1 to ensure a German 1-2-3 in the XMT. Fantastic performances from both him and Alex!

And then it was time for the grand final - best of nine, this one, with two surprise tasks! The first of these was the textures again, and Boris's fingers proved the more sensitive. Hannes chose cards next, and won it despite neither of them managing to put the deck back together in full. It's very, very difficult to produce good results on such a big occasion, the tension was almost unbearable! Boris then won at names, and Hannes at numbers. The second surprise task was to memorise car licence plates - the name of the state and the six-or-seven-digit/letter registration number. The recall was done in US Championship style, with them reciting one state/letter/number in turns, and Hannes had a lot of difficulty with it, losing out on all three to Boris. We went into images next, but Boris's fast time was too fast for him to be able to recall. Hannes then won at cards to go 4-3 up and when Boris chose names for the potentially final matchup, Johannes chose that moment to produce a personal best, 22, to top Boris's 19 and become the new Extreme Memory Champion!

Just to prove that my arbitrary 100-points-for-the-best-score-in-each-discipline really does show who is the truly worthy champion, those 22 names nudged Hannes into first place on the spreadsheet, too! 

What an amazing and extreme competition it was! Huge thanks are owed to Nelson, Simon Orton and all the huge number of people who worked to make it such a big success! Here's to next year... hoping that I qualify for it, at least...

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