Friday, October 20, 2017

Holy Toledo!

It's the European Memory Championship in Toledo, Spain, this weekend, and I nearly let that happen without writing a blog entry entitled "Holy Toledo!"

This just goes to show how out of touch I am with memory competitions just lately, but I do have firm resolutions to go to more of them in 2018. Assuming I keep working at my current employers, I'll have more money to play with by the middle of next year, and will be free to trot around the globe to my heart's content. I might even do some training, but let's not get carried away...

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Rice pudding and income tax

I see our old friend AlphaGo is in the news again - or rather, a new improved version of it where they essentially just told it the rules of go and made it play a million games against itself until it had worked out the best strategies. This is very cool, and clearly leading up to the answer to the ultimate question any millennium now. It's a lot cooler than those robots they set to work bargaining with each other, who came to the conclusion that the one who shouts "I WANT" the most times gets the most stuff. That's the kind of thing that makes you wonder about the person who programmed them.

Anyway, it makes me think that memory competitions are on the low end of the 'humans beatable by machines' scale. We've basically been outclassed by machinery ever since it became possible to take photographs and develop them quick enough to fit in the competition time limits. Early Victorian machines could beat my score at hour numbers...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

On the road to recovery

Having posted whining blog entries for the last two days about being unwell, I can't not post anything today, or you'll all assume I'm dead. But I'm going to start posting full and exciting daily journals just as soon as I feel like it, you'll see.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

It's totally not my fault

I made a definite resolution to blog something interesting on a daily basis, but I'm still unwell. So I'll stick to the letter rather than the spirit of the resolution, and just say this.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sniff, snort, snuffle

Clearly I've turned into an old man, because I can't even remember the last time I had a proper cold like this. But I feel really horrible today, so excuse me not writing about the whole red sun thing that everyone was excited about today. I'll just go to bed.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Memory competition preparation

Nick "The Greek" Papadopoulos, who in recent years has become my indispensable arbiter-in-chief at memory competitions I run, asked me (three months ago) if I could give him a checklist of everything I make sure to bring along to events. I said yes, of course, I'll do it next week when I get a chance, and it's been on my to-do list ever since. So here we go! If you're interested in running a competition yourself, you can use this as a rough guide, though I can't promise it's anywhere near perfect.

I turn up at the Friendly Championship (or whatever) with a big pile of envelopes and a few other important accessories. The general accessories you absolutely need to have, in descending order of absoluteness:

A timing device. You have to tell the competitors when to start and stop, as well as giving them reminders at set intervals. I use my trusty stopwatch - probably not a good idea to use an app on your phone, because phones have a tendency to make unexpected noises if somebody calls you, and you do need to set a good example for the competitors. It's traditional to start each discipline with one minute's "mental preparation time" and then go straight on to the start of memorising time, so for a five-minute discipline I start the stopwatch, give them one minute, say "Neurons on the ready, go!" when the watch shows 1:00, "One minute remaining" at 5:00 and "Stop memorising" when it says 6:00.

Pens. Memory competitors will always forget to bring a pen. Have several spares with you.

Laptop. It's important to keep track of the scores, so do make sure you have your laptop with Excel spreadsheet, or the whole thing falls down a little bit.

A typical 'national standard' competition will run like this. Fitting it all into one day is quite difficult and involves a bit of a rush; lots of people prefer to spread it over two days now. It can be done, as long as you're organised! I always arrange my envelopes in the order I'll be needing them before I come to the venue - usually with memorisation papers in white envelopes and recall in brown, to avoid confusion. Specific things you need for each discipline:

5 Min Random Words; 15 Min Recall
Memorisation papers will be in multiple languages (have each language in a separate envelope, and check before you hand them out!).
Recall papers are the same for everybody.

5 Min Binary; 15 Min Recall
Provide a 'sample sheet' (a memorisation paper with all zeroes) that competitors can use to draw lines on their transparencies if they want. Make sure it is exactly the same format as the memorisation papers. Make it available before the competition, and put it somewhere safely away before handing out the real papers.
Memorisation papers
Recall papers

5 Min Names; 15 Min Recall
Memorisation papers - it's helpful to know how many pictures are on a page, and how big the pages are, before you open the envelope, because someone always asks.
Recall papers
Answer papers - do make sure these are in an envelope of their own and don't get mixed in with the others! These have the faces in the recall-paper order, but with the names underneath. For arbiters only! I print them out in 'draft' format so they look noticeably different, just in case I open a wrong envelope by mistake.

15 Min Numbers; 30 Min Recall
Sample sheets again
Memorisation papers
Recall papers - some competitors bring their own, though it's more common with the cards.

10 Min Cards; 30 Min Recall
Cards - the top competitors will always bring their own, which need to be handed in and shuffled by the arbiters before we get to this point in the competition. Newcomers will often not know it's "the done thing" to bring your own cards, so I always make sure to have a good supply (already shuffled) with me.
Recall papers - these can vary in format from one event to another, so it's more common for people to bring their own. It's important to explain before the memorisation time exactly how to fill them in, for the benefit of new people; don't keep people waiting between memorisation and recall with explanations.

This is a good time for a break. Classy competitions provide sandwiches or even hot meals as part of the entry fee! It's not essential, but it helps to know where's a good place to go and buy lunch, so you can tell the competitors.

5 Min Numbers 15 Min Recall
National standard competitions traditionally only have one go at this, but two trials can be done - make sure people know what you're doing in advance.
Sample sheets again - these might be the same ones as 15-minute numbers, as long as you've made sure the memorisation papers are exactly the same format.
Memorisation papers
Recall papers

5 Min Images 15 Min Recall
Important to remember the new 'concrete images' are only 5 minutes, not 15.
Memorisation papers
Recall papers
Answer papers - arbiters only; these will tend to be in the format of just a page of numbers, but make sure to keep them sealed away until they're needed.

5 Min Historic 15 Min Recall
Memorisation papers - multiple languages again
Recall papers - and this time, the recall papers are also language-specific.
Answer papers - these ones I normally print with a red heading, just so it's harder to accidentally hand them out to people.

Spoken 100 5 Min Recall
Spoken 550 25 Min Recall
Always worth checking immediately before the competition how many digits/trials is the 'standard' nowadays - it changes a lot.
I always make sure to have two sets of numbers prepared for each trial, just in case something goes wrong with the playback. This is the discipline where things are most likely to go wrong!
Recall papers - since the scoring is up to the first mistake, these don't have to be rows of 40; in fact, 30 is traditional for some reason.
Answer papers

5 Min Cards 5 Min Recall
5 Min Cards 5 Min Recall
Bring cards - as with the 10-minute cards above, a lot of people will bring their own, but some might not. There's no harm in re-using the cards from earlier as long as you make sure they've been extremely well shuffled. But if there are enough to go round, it's better to use different packs.
Also needed are 'speed stacks' timers, although again some competitors like to bring their own.
Some competitions like to have slips of paper to record the times on; it's not essential, but it's nice to have.

And finally
Don't forget to bring any prizes that might have been promised! Some people like to create certificates once the final results are known and hand them out in a prizegiving ceremony; Friendly Championships tend to be in venues where we need to vacate the room quickly after speed cards is finished, so the single most important bit of preparation for a competition is to know where there's a nearby pub everyone can go to celebrate when it's finished!

Did I forget anything important? Let me know, and I'll add it in before I finally cross this task off my list!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Because tomorrow, maybe you'll be gone

You know how Marvel comics keep trawling through their old characters to see who'd make a new money-generating movie, and then they re-launch the old comic to try to spin a bit more cash out of it, and it's always rubbish and really the whole thing's terribly disturbing if you were a big fan of the original incarnation? Well, you might not know that (a lot of my blog readers are still resisting my efforts to turn you into obsessive fans of superhero comics), but in any case, there's going to be a new TV series based on Runaways (which judging by what I read about it on the internet will be atrocious, despite a perfectly-cast James Marsters as Victor Stein) starting next month, and there's a new volume of the comic out there now, which started last month but I've only just summoned up the courage to look at today.

And it's completely totally awesome! It's absolutely perfectly right, exactly striking the tone of the Brian K Vaughan/Adrian Alphona original and moving it on in new ways rather than re-treading the old ground! I love it! You really should check it out, even if you're not an obsessive fan of superhero comics - I mean, I still do feel that the best thing Marvel are producing right now is Squirrel Girl, but you kind of do need to be a comic fan to get 90% of the jokes, whereas Runaways always was and now is again the perfect comic for a newcomer to pick up. Enormous admiration for Rainbow Rowell the writer (really) and Kris Anka the artist for hitting all the right notes! Where were they ten-and-a-bit years ago when we needed someone to keep the series going and Joss Whedon surprisingly turned out not to be up to the task? Here's hoping it's a long-lasting success...

Friday, October 13, 2017

It's that time again

I've developed a sort of resigned attitude to birthdays now. And saying "I'm forty" always sounds like a vague approximation, so possibly when I tell people I'm forty-one, it will actually sound younger. I'd still rather not be forty-anything, but what are you gonna do?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Roll one

We use a software at work called SmartAssessor, and when I see the link to the website on my screen, it shows up as https/www.smartass...

And when I'm on Facebook, and it wants to tell me that the International Association of Memory group has a new message, I see something like this:

It puts me in mind of the comic called Avengers & Power Pack Assembled, in which some artist cleverly positioned Captain America's shield on the cover of the first issue:

I could quote more examples, but I'll stop there. Nobody likes a smart alec.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ch-ch-ch-cherry coca-cola, cherry coke!

They've changed the design of cherry coke bottles so they're now almost completely identical to normal coke - there's a thin band of slightly-darker-reddish-purple around the top, and a little picture of a cherry somewhere, but that's as far as it goes for differences. The practical upshot of this is that now whenever I buy cherry coke, the shopkeepers ask me "You know that's a cherry coke, right?"

Clearly they've had lots of complaints from customers who thought they were buying normal coke and ended up with horrid cherry flavour instead. Personally, I always drink the horrid cherry stuff if it's available (indeed, as I've lamented many times before, I'm chemically addicted to it and it's rapidly sending me to an early grave. Nobody cares.), so I resent the suggestion that I'm so stupid as to accidentally buy the wrong kind of coca-cola. What kind of a fool do all the local newsagents take me for?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Come on you Poachers!

Well, having come up with the idea that it would be good to come to Boston this weekend, I couldn't resist.

Quite a lot of things have drastically changed since I was last here (the old HSBC bank is standing empty and derelict, and they've moved into what used to be the McDonald's - a whole new twist on "my bank has become a trendy wine bar"), but a lot of things are still the same. Oldrids department store is basically untouched by the passage of time, even though Woolworths across the road is a Poundstretcher now. The Regal cinema and shopping centre have been completely bulldozed out of existence, but that bit of graffiti, "R.N. BOASTS WE SANK 2 IRAQI TANKERS", red-hot political observation when someone spray-painted it on a wall in around 1990 and which nobody ever erased... there's still part of it remaining! Now that's long-lasting vandalism.

Anyway, the big game, Boston Town v Hyde United was a cracker! Not daunted by playing a team from a higher level, Boston started off comfortably the best and went 1-0 up early on with a slightly scrambled but still well-taken goal. It wasn't a particularly brutal kind of game, though you might think that if you're reading the match reports and see that Boston's Ben Davison ("Bendy" to his fans, apparently) was knocked unconscious in a clash of heads and had to be taken to the hospital. Then when Hyde had a man sent off for a second yellow (a bit soft, but he couldn't say he hadn't just been warned), it looked like being the Poachers' day, but somehow playing with ten men seemed to put Hyde up into a new gear and they rather dominated from then on. They equalised before half-time, and it was anyone's guess how it would go in the end.

In the second half Boston got a maybe slightly dubious penalty and went ahead again, only for Hyde to get an equally contentious one at the other end and go level again. It all carried on in some style until just before the end a Hyde striker broke away, rounded the goalie and his shot at the open goal could only be stopped by a rather nice diving save from a Boston defender to bat it away with his hands. All he got for his pains was sent off and a penalty, which Hyde converted to take the 3-2 win.

Great effort from Boston, though, it's a shame to see them go out of the cup. Fraser Bayliss was particularly impressive on the wing - a couple of times he ran rings round the Hyde defenders only to find he'd outpaced his teammates too and there was nobody to get on the end of his cross. Still, they're a good team! I'll have to go and watch them more often! Maybe they'll put another good cup run together next year and get drawn against Redditch Utd?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Reasons to visit Boston

I just found out last night that there's a Bubblecar Museum in Langrick! That's about five miles down the road from Tumby Woodside, where I grew up. And I've always sort of wanted a bubble car. I might have to go there some time.

Possibly even on Saturday, because it's the third qualifying round of the FA Cup, and Boston Town (that's not Boston United, the 'big' team in Boston who I still theoretically support even though I haven't been there for years, this is the smaller local team) have won four games to get to that stage of the competition for the first time since 1980. I should go along and cheer them on against Hyde. United, who are nowadays low enough in the league pyramid that they have to start in the second qualifying round, are also still in it, so I confidently expect the cup final in May to be an all-Boston affair. Buy your tickets in advance, Bostonians!

Also worth checking out while I'm there (might have to hire a non-bubble car and terrify the Lincolnshire locals with my driving), I was looking at Google Maps to see where the museum is, and followed the road up past Tumby Woodside towards Coningsby and Tattershall, only to be appalled to see that Gibbet Nook garage is now labelled as "Lincolnshire Co-Op Filling Station". Gibbet Nook is a name with character, and I want to see it reinstated on maps!

The same goes for Clinton Park school, which is now calling itself Tattershall Primary School. And as for the Gartree renaming itself as "Barnes Wallis Academy"... really, I'm lost for words. If there's one place on earth you could expect to remain unchanged with the passage of time, it's surely rural Lincolnshire. I'm getting old, obviously.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Everyone loves eBay, part 2!

All the way from Australia, check this out!

Yes! One of the Krypton Force videos I've gone on and on about over the years, especially here - but one of the ones that was never released in this country! This one I'd already got a picture of, but I do like to watch the cartoons too, so it's great to find it!

This is the first episode of Danguard Ace to pose the question "how does Captain Blackstar fit his big hair and enormous moustache under that tight-fitting mask which clearly shows his bare upper lip?!" Sadly, no answer was ever provided.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Everyone loves eBay!

Thanks to the wonders of the internet (and to Josef for pointing it out), I've got a new Lucky T-Shirt! This one, indeed, is extra lucky, since it's got a signature and picture of a dragon drawn on it by Real Musgrave himself! As I'm sure you know, I get a lot of wear out of my lucky shirts, so my current supply will keep me going for many years to come, indefinitely putting off the day when I have to accept that they haven't made them since 1998 or so and I might not be able to keep finding them on eBay. I might even save this new one and use the extra luck it brings for the next time I try to win the world memory championship! I mean, I'm not even going to this year's, so no amount of lucky shirts will convince them to award me the title. Probably. Unless by an extraordinary stroke of luck there's some kind of bureaucratic mix-up and my name gets engraved on the trophy. In any case, please watch this video featuring some of the wonderful people who ARE going to this year's WMC! It'll be fun!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

League tables

The Online Memory League Championship is going on at full clip. If you want to drop by the site any time, you'll probably come across memory people of all ability levels playing out the latest exciting match (each player chooses three of the five disciplines to play, with an optional tie-breaker match if it finishes 3-3). It's all running very smoothly, and providing a lot of excitement for everybody! If you want a chat about it, drop by the Art of Memory forum - if you're not a member yet, joining now would be a good idea, because as soon as I get a moment to spare to deal with this kind of thing, there'll be a new weekly (I hope) newsletter emailed out to you, pointing out all the latest developments in the world not just of memory competitions but other brain-related things too!

But let's take a look at what's happening so far...

Division 1 has the cream of memory competitors from around the world, and to be honest, I'm out of my depth there. But in my defence, my first five matches were against the top five in the table there, who are carrying all before them. Alex especially is continuing his trend of blowing previously-believed-amazing times to bits, and in contests among the top players, cards times of well under 20 seconds are nothing unusual any more. Simon vs Johannes have a week 5 match to come, which I think will be important in the race to finish the season in the top four and go to the season-ending knockout matches to determine our overall champion! In week 6, I'm playing Clay, and really need a win there if I'm going to avoid relegation (bottom two places are automatically relegated, the two above them have play-offs against the third and fourth place in the division below). If I was Crystal Palace I would have sacked my manager by now, but I'm still hopeful of staging a recovery. Alex plays Shijir, which could be a challenge for him, and Marcin goes up against Katie.

Division 2 - a great bunch of lads. All the other divisions I have to help people get in touch with their opponents and trivial administrative things like that, but these people just happily arrange their own games and play them all more or less on schedule in the right week! Kevin started off with a series of 6-0 wins, to head the table on "goal difference", but it's very close at the top there. It's going to be a real battle for those two automatic promotion places, giving them the dubious privilege of playing the scary-good top players in division 1 when the next season starts in November!

Division 3 has a few games to catch up with, one of them being the week 5 match between Silvio and Christian, both fighting to protect their 100% records. A few more nicknames here - I list people by the names they go by on the Memory League website, but I do know who they all are in their secret identities. I was Zoomy on there originally, but changed to my real name to set an example to everyone of how to avoid confusion. I might change it back again, because we all know who we are now, and everyone knows my name's Zoomy anyway... in any case, Ola is looking strong at the top of the table, but everybody there has the potential to spring a surprise or two!

A few more missing games here, but Yanjaa and James, veterans of the live Memory League competitions in San Diego in the past, face a tough test against the likes of newcomer Hiro and old-timer (comparatively speaking) Corinna. This division, in fact, is a really nice mix of memory-competition experience - some who've been around in memory world for ages, some brand new, some in between.

And it's the same in division 5, too, with Idriz (Minnet) and J├╝rgen (Brainrunning) having been around practically forever, but still finding their way in the newness that is Memory League against some hot newcomers! Like division 2, this one deserves a pat on the back for getting games played - a much more difficult task, since most of them didn't know each other at all before the season started, and they've all had to make new friends and talk to each other to schedule their games!

Which, of course, is the main reason for doing this whole thing in the first place - making new friends, competing against people at the same level, improving your best mental performance, and having fun! I love Memory League!

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The magnificent Marc

It's always nice to see from Blogger's stats page that somebody's been looking through my blog for a subject dear to my heart, so it's a delight to see that my various previous posts about "Marc", VHS cover artist beyond compare, have been getting some attention.

For the sake of completeness, I should mention some more of his works that I've known about for ages but never mentioned here - you can see reviews of some videos blessed with his (or her - all we have to go on is the signature "MARC", after all) eye-catching cover creations here, here and here. The last of them is particularly interesting - while in the first two he just copies a few random still-frames from the movie and combines them into a collage, when it comes to Mysterious Planet, he spreads his wings a bit further:

I had thought at first that the central figure was Rambo, but I think what Marc has actually done is take Arnold Schwarzenegger from Predator, and give him long hair. Unless there's another more direct source out there?

I don't recognise the spaceship and planet, but they're almost certainly cut-and-pasted from an illustrated sci-fi book of some kind; there were a lot of them with gorgeous painted artwork like that produced in the seventies.

One day, I'll have an art gallery populated entirely by Marc video covers!

Friday, September 01, 2017

Spending money

The company I work for is very generous with money - not only do they pay me much more than any sane company would, considering my staggering incompetence, but they also give £250 in Compliments Vouchers to anybody who didn't have a day off sick in the past year (we do academic years, so they end in July).

So here I am with a big pile of vouchers, and no idea what to do with them. The thing is, they don't accept them in any of the kind of places I normally buy things. I suppose I could go to Waterstones or Smiths and stock up on books, but I've already got too many to fit in my flat as it is. I could buy a supply of print cartridges for my nearly-obsolete printer, saving money when it comes to future memory competitions, but that seems a rather unexciting use for the vouchers. I could go to Toys R Us and buy some kind of really big and expensive Transformers toy, as a gift for my brother as and when he ever comes back to the country, but do they get as big and expensive as two hundred and fifty quid? Actually, they probably go way beyond that now. It's a wonder people still buy them.

I did think about buying a new bike from Halfords, but since my existing bike is in perfect working order, that would be a bit silly. And I obviously can't not spend them right now and save them for a rainy day, because come on, that's not me. I tell you, it's a difficult life when everything you buy comes from charity shops.

Monday, August 28, 2017

I suppose it could be worse

The Asia Open in Hong Kong had to be put on hold for a while because of the typhoon. That's probably more inconvenient than having to go back home to Redditch today. But don't worry, everyone's okay there.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


It's my last night in this very nice hall of residence (Ifor Evans Hall, Camden, hugely recommended if you're looking for a cheap place to stay in London in the summer), which can only mean I have to go back home after the MSO finishes tomorrow and go to work on Tuesday morning. Boo. It's been a great week-and-a-bit, though!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Dumb human beats cleverest computer

It's Lines of Action at the MSO today, a game I go into with a knowledge of the rules but nothing else, against a lot of people who have played it rather a lot more than me, so I've just searched for a way to play online and practice against a computer. The only one I found gives you a choice of intelligence levels for the computer opponent ranging from 'dumb' to 'cleverest', but the humans are officially rated as 'dumb' by default:

These computers might think we're all dumb, but I just played it on that setting and won at the first attempt, so I'm inclined to think that the cleverest computer isn't all that, compared to the dumbest human. I'm just going to have to go and annoy the real players by being rubbish at the game, and coming last. It's all part of the MSO fun!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Lucky at cards

I did get the silver medal in Sunday night's othello tournament at the MSO, and then yesterday I added a rather fortunate bronze at continuo - it was a four-round swiss with sixteen players, and I lost my first game but won the next three, leaving me as one of the four people on three points and somehow by way of the tie-break ending up in third place. And only at the MSO will you hear a conversation like "We've got the perfect sixteen players for four rounds!" "Yes, but we've only got seven complete sets..."

It was okay, there was another set with one missing piece, and they could borrow another piece from a ninth set and change the colour of a couple of squares. These things all work out in the end. So I got to stand on the bottom step of the podium tonight and get a nice round of applause and stylish bronze medal, following which blow me down if I didn't win another bronze in the five card draw poker tonight! I got the most monstrously lucky hands, over and over again, and since there were fewer players than usual (most of the devoted bluffers were playing liar's dice instead), it carried me through to the final three.

I also did the decamentathlon this morning (which didn't go particularly well) and mastermind in the afternoon (winning a rather unimpressive three out of seven), so I'm not sure where else I can add to my medal haul now. But we'll see - anything can happen at the Mind Sports Olympiad!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Impressive podium, minimal odium

Day two of the MSO dawned bright and sunny, at least in the hearts of the people taking part. Actually, the weather was grey and miserable, but it cheered up a bit in the course of the day. As I woke up, the thought occurred to me "Gah, I didn't bring the speed cards timers! Here I was congratulating myself on being great at preparing for memory competitions, and I left the timers at home!"

But it could be worse - I was thinking of improvising something with chess clocks, but everybody's got timing apps on their mobile phones nowadays, while the top competitors bring their own timers anyway, and so everything worked out in the end. There needs to be a certain amount of trusting people not to cheat, but there's always a bit of that at memory championships, especially in one with a shortage of arbiters (Nick couldn't come to this one), and everybody at the MSO is nice and honourable - I think that's one of the requirements for entry that the security guards on the gate check for.

There's always a bit of self-arbiting at my competitions, in that after the papers are marked, I put them on a table under my watchful eye, and allow the competitors to come and look at them to see where they went wrong, and correct any arbiting mistakes. It saves a lot of fuss and trouble that way, though it's the kind of thing that makes the IAM shudder (see below), and this year I took the added precaution, as requested, of taking photos of every recall paper before letting it back into the hands of the competitors, just in case there was any dastardly cheating. There wasn't.

So, the morning's competition was Natural Memory. The five marathon competitors from yesterday were joined by three more today (who, helpfully appreciating the difficulty I have remembering names, were all called Daniel), and we started with Random Words. In the course of conversations at the MSO, I did wonder how any word-memorising competition could be non-random, unless perhaps the challenge was to memorise the dictionary, but for some reason we traditionally put the adjective "random" in front of the title of this one.

Katie, as is well known, is head and shoulders above everybody else in the world at "natural" memory disciplines words and names (and at least a head above most of the world at the unnatural ones too), and she swept all before her as usual with a senses-shattering score of 270. So then we moved onto names and faces, and somebody asked (as someone always does before every memory discipline) "How many faces do we get? Is it 120? How are they arranged on the page? What size is the paper?" and so forth. These questions are especially prevalent with names.

"Um, hang on, I'll check," I said, opening the envelope and glancing at the sheaf of papers. "It's... hang on... what did... oh, gah!" and so forth, ending with "he's done me a five-minute set!"

See, there's been a bit of back-and-forth discussion between me and the International Association of Memory about competitions I run, and following their rules as opposed to doing my own thing however I feel like doing it (my argument is that the way I feel like doing it is to do competitions that are consistent and fair to everybody and so forth, and that imposing certain rules designed to do that but actually sometimes having the opposite effect gets on my nerves a little, but that's neither here nor there). I can appreciate that allowing me to do whatever I want sets a slightly undesirable precedent for other people's competitions around the world, so I am trying to make occasional grudging concessions to the IAM to keep them happy. One of them came about last Tuesday, when I agreed to use their names and images papers that follow the rules, rather than my own.

And so when I got the papers on Friday, I just printed them out in the evening, put them safely in envelopes, and cheerfully travelled down to London. Note that at no point in the conversation did anybody say "fifteen-minute names", and somehow the question of exactly how many faces were on the paper just hadn't crossed my mind in the slightest. There's certainly a part of my brain somewhere that knows that there are two different kinds of names discipline, but it didn't mention anything to my conscious thought processes at any time - somehow, checking the number of pictures the papers I was sent just didn't occur to me, although I DID count the number of images, knowing that I wasn't sure how many we were supposed to get (it's a new thing) and that other people might be similarly confused. It was just a bit of a mind-blank, I'm afraid.

But never mind. "Cheerfully shambolic" is a thing I always like to see in memory competitions, even the ones I'm supposedly in control of, and everybody was very nice about it. So we did five-minute names instead of the planned 15-minute version, and Katie clearly wasn't rattled by the confusion - she memorised more than anybody in history has ever done before, getting a score of 105!

And then we moved onto Images, the all-new "concrete" images that are a lot more fun (and, interestingly, more abstract) than the old "abstract" images. Katie won that too, but in this case not by miles and miles and miles, narrowly beating Marlo into second place. So Katie added a Natural Memory gold medal to her Marathon Memory one from yesterday, with Marlo taking the silver and Dan Evans the bronze:

And then, in the afternoon, it was Speed Memory. Without one of the Daniels (a mental calculation enthusiast who went to the Memoriad in Las Vegas and fancied trying his hand at the memory disciplines that don't need an excessive amount of technique) and without being joined by a James who'd signed up for this one either, we had seven Speedy competitors. Actually, speed was of the essence here - the requirements of the MSO's scheduled sessions meant that the first two memory competitions could be very relaxed and leave generous pauses between each discipline, while this one had to be a bit more frantic. Yes, we did finish late. Memory competitions always finish late, nobody minds.

Marlo's awesome 177 at spoken numbers was a highlight, but he surpassed that with a totally awesome 22.93 seconds at speed cards, to win the Speed Memory competition in sensational style! Even Katie was a quite distant second in this one:

But Katie's dominance of the first two thirds of the three-part overall competition was enough to make her our overall champion! She wins a lovely little trophy, a hundred pounds (Marlo won £50 for second place and Lars £30 for third), and a nice hoard of medals to add to her collection! And the podium impressed me by being nearly, but not quite, the ideal size to equalise the height variance between Katie, Marlo and Lars. Just need to make the steps a teensy bit bigger for next year...

Incidentally, I really need to stop making jokes about Lars's size. I know he always says he doesn't mind it, but I seem to have a blind spot about height-jokes that is wildly at odds with my basic-common-sense rule of not poking fun at what people look like. You know, it's like my blind spot with speed cards timers and names-and-faces papers. But it's all good fun, and many thanks to everybody who took part!

Of course, that wasn't the only memory presentation of the evening. My wrangling with the International Association of Memory about rules has been as nothing compared to the wrangling with the World Memory Sports Council on the subject of not only this "unauthorised" competition but also their desire to present me with a Lifetime Achievement Award. It's a whole saga that seems to have been going on for ages, but it ended with Chris Day coming to the MSO last night, making an absolutely wonderful and flattering speech and presenting me with the interesting statue I posted a picture of last night - a naked man holding a laurel wreath. It was all extremely kind and friendly, there wasn't even a hint of a punch-up between the rival associations and the cheerful banter about my lucky Pocket Dragons T-shirt even prompted Josef Kollar to offer to ask his friend Real Musgrave if he's got any of them lying around that I could have when my latest lucky shirt wears out!

And really, it couldn't have worked out any better. Leaving aside any issues of rival-memory-council-politicking and the obvious question of whether I can honestly be said to have ever "achieved" anything worth commemorating, this was exactly the right moment to present me with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Not only have I probably already achieved all the coolest things I'm going to achieve in the field of memory competitions, but it's the twentieth anniversary of the first Mind Sports Olympiad, a thing that entirely changed my life at the age of 20 and set me on the course of becoming the internationally-famous 'memory man' I am today. It's been a mental roller-coaster for the last exactly-half-of-my-life, and I will always remain eternally grateful to the people who created the MSO and memory competitions (a list that includes Ray Keene) for all they've done for me.

So... here's to the next twenty years, spreading the word of memory competitions and bringing a bit more mental fun to the lives of people around the world! Now I can enjoy the rest of the week at the MSO stress-free (apart from the I-hate-mobile-phones stress that will come with figuring out how to get all those photos of recall papers off my phone and sent to the IAM... but I'll leave that until I've got a quiet moment) and forget anything I feel like forgetting!

Monday, August 21, 2017


And I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

(Probably) All In The Mind

Yes, the Mind Sports Olympiad is up and running again! While various other board games and things were going on around us, a small but select group gathered in a quiet room away from rattling dice and things, to compete in the Marathon Memory Championship.

This is part of the larger MSO Memory Championship (discussion of what exactly to call it continued into the day, when it turned out that the database still calls it the Memory World Cup, but I do think "Mind Sports Olympiad" is a prestigious enough title in its own right!) which continues today with Natural Memory (words, names, images) and Speed Memory (dates, numbers both spoken and written, and everybody's favourite, speed cards). But the Marathon event was all about sustained concentration, 30-minute memorising of binary digits, then decimal digits, then cards.

With an MSO double-timeslot to fit the competition into, we actually had plenty of time - ten in the morning till six in the evening gives us eight hours to accommodate four and a half hours of actual memory stuff. We could maybe expand it to include hour cards and hour numbers if we did this format again, though it would be a bit of a tight squeeze. I remember the non-standard MSO competition at Loughborough in what was probably 2002, which included the hour marathons both in one day, and that was a lot of fun! Today we had rather lengthier breaks between disciplines than is ideal, and also had to wait around to present the medals at the end of the day - and as everyone knows, I hate delayed prizegivings at these things. But never mind, it gives people time to talk among themselves!

Katie dominated the competition despite her specialist subjects being in the Natural event, with 2850 binary, 1080 numbers (always satisfying to beat 1000 at the 30-minute numbers) and 7 packs of cards (tiredness setting in by the end of the day, I think). Lars was an excellent second place; he's really improving rapidly just lately! Scores went like this:

The medal presentation was worth waiting for - the MSO has this year invested in an actual podium, and red carpet! The podium came in three bits, and the carpet wasn't fastened to anything, and it seemed a bit of a health hazard, but it did look good on camera! Marlo couldn't stay to get his medal, and with Lars being so tall it looked a bit unconventional - even with Katie standing on a higher level, Lars was still about a foot taller than her, and a long way above the top of the backdrop. Even so, it looked brilliant!

After that it was the othello, and I wasn't sure anybody else would be competing - none of the regular othello crowd were there, and the allure of Texas hold'em was more attractive to MSO people. But in fact there was a huge attendance, 22 players! A big crowd of Korean youngsters, a smaller crowd of, um, somewhere-in-South-America youngsters and a respectable smattering of adults from various countries too! It was a five-round Swiss, and I lost to Paul Smith in round 4 - might have got a medal, depending how the tie-break worked, but to be honest I was feeling so worn out that I left while the harassed organiser was still trying to juggle the pairing cards. It was a great event, though!

Friday, August 18, 2017

It was twenty years ago today, the MSO taught the mental athletes to play!

Yes, tomorrow I'm on my way to London for the 21st Mind Sports Olympiad! It's surprising how much my life has changed in the twenty years since I came across this new and exciting-sounding thing in Mensa Magazine. I've got a beard now, for example. I had a stupid-looking moustache in 1997, and even though my instinctive mental impression of "looking good" is still based almost entirely on what my dad looked like (I'm sitting here in a short-sleeved shirt, wide open at the neck, as we speak), I think I look cooler now I've grown up.

I've also advanced from basically just competing in the Intelligence championships and a couple of other things, into an MSO all-rounder who's even organising some of the competitions this year. My printer is whirring away printing out the memorisation papers for one of the three interlinked memory championships right now, in fact. Yes, it's a bit late in the day to still be printing things out, but there are multiple reasons why I'm running late this time, and only one of these is the fact that I got very drunk last Friday and decided to spend the weekend recovering in bed, turning Printing Things Out Weekend into Printing Things Out Weekday Evenings After Work. But it'll all be fine by the time I trundle off down to London tomorrow lunchtime!

When I get there, I'll check into my student accommodation and then hang out in the big city on Saturday night, doing what the cool city kids do (staying in my room, playing on the internet). Then on Sunday (because the venue is Jewish and doesn't do mind games tournaments on Saturdays), the fun begins! Here's my schedule:

Sun am/pm - Marathon Memory
The one for hard-core memory athletes! Three 30-minute-memory, 60-minute-recall disciplines, one after the other. Binary, decimal and cards!

Sun eve - Othello
The MSO has settled into a tradition of 15-minutes-per-player games, as opposed to the 25 minutes in other tournaments. It'd be good to bring back the old blitz and 10x10 tournaments, too - maybe I'll volunteer to run them next year...

Mon am - Natural Memory
This one's the one where memory systems are of less use. Words, Names, and Images.

Mon pm - Speed Memory
And this is basically the catch-all for the other four disciplines in 'international standard' memory competitions, but they're all fast - dates, spoken numbers, speed numbers, speed cards. And no, I don't know why spoken numbers isn't the penultimate discipline, like it always is. When I wrote the description of the event down for some reason I put it before speed numbers, and there's no good reason for it not to be there, so I'm pretending it was a deliberate thing.

Mon eve - London Lowball
Poker in the evenings! Always the best way to round off a day at the MSO. I did unusually well at lowball a couple of years ago, so fingers crossed. My poker strategy is "be freakishly lucky and get dealt the right cards at the right time", and sometimes it works!

Tues am - Mental Calculations
I haven't done a mental calculations competition for aaaaaages! I can't remember how to even do it, but hopefully it'll all come flooding back when I sit down with the question paper in front of me...

Tues pm - Continuo
It's a good way to fill an afternoon. I have no idea about strategy.

Tues eve - Omaha
More poker!

Weds am - Decamentathlon
The MSO classic. I can't even remember the last time I did the deca. I won the gold medal in 2001, I think it was, but mainly because everybody who was good at it was doing something else.

Weds pm - Mastermind
I always like this one, I used to play it even before I'd heard of the MSO!

Weds eve - 5 card draw
The most boring kind of poker...

Thurs am/pm - Monopoly
I've never played monopoly at the MSO before, and I'm a little worried that it's not the best kind of game to play competitively. Monopoly should be played in a friendly, and slightly drunken, way - drunk enough to think it's hilarious to win second prize in a beauty contest, not drunk enough to think it'd be hilarious to try to rob the bank. Playing it with people determined to win medals and pentamind points might not be such fun, but we'll see.

Thurs eve - Pineapple
The silliest kind of poker!

Fri am/pm - Lines of Action
Fun game that's always been at the MSO, but I only remember playing once or twice at most. No poker on Friday evenings; the card-players have to be out of the building before sunset.

Sun am - Shogi
And this one I'm pretty sure I've never played at the MSO before - I know the rules, but I'm a definite novice.

Sun pm - Chinese Chess
Whereas this one I used to be something like 'advanced beginner' level, but it's years since I played...

Sun eve - 7 card stud
It's been said to me before that this is the kind of poker where memory is the most useful, but I'll just stick to the usual 'blind luck' approach. It's more fun that way.

Mon am/pm - Countdown
As in, the TV show with Richard and Carol! Or whoever does it now. And not on TV, and not with the new Richard and Carol. But it should be great!

Monday, August 07, 2017

Pin-up of the week

Here's the Men's Health article I was talking about a little while ago. So it's official - I've had my picture in two different continents' editions of Men's Health, holding me up as a shining example of masculine well-being. They asked me for a photo for that sidebar, and I admitted that I don't own any pictures of myself - I did try taking a selfie, but it looked so hideous I didn't want to inflict that on the healthy men of America, and they found a rather nice one somewhere, so it all worked out all right in the end.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

The new season!

Yes, it's an important sporting weekend! The football season has started, if you care about the Community Shield, the extra preliminary round of the FA Cup, or the Championship. But while you're waiting for the real football to start next weekend, the Autumn Season* of the Online Memory League Championship has also kicked off. Well, started. We don't kick things in memory competitions.

I've ended up in division 1, which makes me a favourite for relegation, and considering that it was my job to randomly choose the schedules, the random number generator on Excel really hasn't been kind to me. My first five matches are against Simon, Katie, Marcin, Hannes and Alex, all of whom are likely to thrash the pants off me (not literally - we all keep our pants on in memory competitions). All my games against the few opponents I have a half-chance of beating come towards the end of the season, so I think the best I can hope for is a miraculous last-gasp escape. It's great fun, though!

*Simon Orton pointed out that calling it the autumn season is inappropriate in Australia - I can see we're going to have all kinds of confusion about this. Maybe it's the August-October Season instead.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Jet Joe

I've been on holiday this week, not venturing any farther than Nottingham (still in 'not spending money unnecessarily' mode) except for one jaunt down to Reading yesterday. The purpose of the visit was to see the venue for our exciting new memory competition happening in November, and I'll tell you all about that shortly, but the real reason anybody goes to Reading is to see what's in Just Imagination Memorabilia, and it didn't let me down. Check it out - another one of those Video Brokers pre-cert video tapes of Force Five, significantly rarer than hens' teeth and that an absolute maximum of three people in the whole world think are cool! 

When I'm in 'frivolously spending money like it's gone out of fashion' mode again (within a year or so now, I'm sure), I'm going to buy that whole shop.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

RIP June Foray

Yikes, I feel like I put some kind of witch's curse on her just a fortnight ago. It's very sad, but nobody can deny she lived a full life.

I do have big announcements about memory competitions and rare cartoon video tapes to share with you all, so stay tuned tomorrow when I'm less worn out from travelling around the country.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Online Memory League Championship

An ongoing football-league-style competition for Memory League starts soon! It will work like this...
Competitors are divided into divisions of twelve players. For the first season, they are allocated to divisions based on their average position on the leaderboard (as at 18:00 GMT on 31 July 2017) and in the online Swiss tournament that ran from May to the start of July. Players who didn't compete in the Swiss are based solely on their leaderboard position.
In a season, each competitor will play each of the others in the division once, with one match per week, on a schedule drawn randomly at the start of the season. Players can be flexible about when they play their matches, depending on availability and circumstances, but should try to stick to the schedule as much as possible.
Matches will consist of six games - each player chooses three different disciplines, with the choice alternating. The first player on the scheduled match list chooses the first discipline; the schedule will be arranged so that each player gets a roughly equal distribution of 'home' and 'away' matches. Draws are possible, both in individual disciplines and in the match as a whole.
If the match is a 3:3 draw, the players can (if they both agree to it) play a one-game 'decider', which can be any discipline they choose. If they don't both agree to play the decider, then the match is a draw.
The league table gives two points for a match won, one for a match drawn. Players on the same number of points are ranked by number of disciplines won.
At the end of the season, the bottom two in each division are related to the division below, and the top two in each division are promoted to the division above. There are play-offs between the 10th-place in the upper division versus 3rd-place in the lower, and 9th-place in the upper versus 4th-place in the lower to determine promotion and relegation.
The top four in the first division go into play-offs for the grand title. 1st versus 4th and 2nd versus 3rd, followed by a grand final to determine the League Champion!
Play-offs and semi-finals are best of 9 games - players still can't choose the same discipline twice, so if it gets to 4-4, the final discipline will be the one discipline that Player A (the higher-ranked in the league, who gets the first choice of discipline) hasn't yet chosen.
The Grand Final will be best of 11 - the first game will be a Surprise Task! The loser of that game gets the first choice of discipline for the second, and once more the players can't choose the same discipline twice.
Seasons will last three months - the schedule for the first season (Autumn Season 2017) looks like this:
Match week 1 05/08/2017
Match week 2 12/08/2017
Match week 3 19/08/2017
Match week 4 26/08/2017
Match week 5 02/09/2017
Match week 6 09/09/2017
Match week 7 16/09/2017
Match week 8 23/09/2017
Match week 9 30/09/2017
Match week 10 07/10/2017
Match week 11 14/10/2017
Playoffs and semi-finals 21/10/2017
Grand Final 28/10/2017
Then the Winter Season starts on 04/11/2017!
If you want to join up, post a comment on the Art of Memory thread here or on the Facebook thread.

Here are a couple of examples of how matches will work:

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Speaking of hundred-year-olds

It occurred to me that June Foray, cartoon voice actor extraordinaire, will be turning 100 on September 18th this year, and still going strong. Here's Hazel the witch in 1952 - possibly the secret to a long life is to specialise in voicing old ladies (and witches) in your youth.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Happy birthday, Johnny Thunder!

Flash Comics #1, dated January 1940 but first published in late 1939, had among its backup strips the first adventure of "Johnny Thunderbolt". A normal guy who spent the next eight years having entertaining mishaps caused by his magical powers, activated whenever he accidentally says the magic words "say you". He's fondly remembered and often still referenced today. And his first story is very specific about his date of birth - 7am on the 7th of July, 1917. He's 100 years old today!

Well, probably - four pages later, the narrator tells us the story is set "in 1939, when Johnny is 23", because it wasn't the kind of comic that makes a big fuss over little details like that, but I think it's still worth celebrating!

Tuesday, July 04, 2017


Drat it, I've got a puncture on my bike, just as I was getting home tonight. Now, for want of owning a puncture repair kit and the knowledge of what to do with one if I did own it, I'll have to walk in to work tomorrow, pushing my bike, through what will probably be the blazing sun and/or pouring rain. Life is tough.

On the other hand, I don't particularly care about the inconvenience, so I must generally be in a good temper at the moment...

Monday, July 03, 2017


If you're one of those people who can't get enough of the sound of my voice, check out this interview! I haven't listened to it myself yet, but as I recall I rambled on incoherently for an hour or so about memory competitions and life in general. Please do check out all the other podcasts on the site too, you're sure to find something to entertain you!

And the point it makes is a good one - we really should have memory competitions in Ireland. The place must be full of potential memory enthusiasts who just need a nearby event to come to!

But if you're not such a fan of me and more of a fan of Clay Knight and Johnny Briones, check out Johnny's interview with Clay here! There's going to be a lot of these, with memory people from around the world. Me too, if I ever get round to filling in the questionnaire. Look forward to it!

Sunday, July 02, 2017

On the plus side

Downloading all my pictures from Photobucket gives me the opportunity to look through them all and remember why I put them on there in the first place. And an excuse to share with the world all the pictures I previously put on Photobucket for some reason other than to share them on this blog. For example, here are all the occasions in John Byrne's Alpha Flight comics in which somebody addresses Puck as "Friend Judd".



Nobody else, in any Alpha Flight comic (or, as far as I know, anywhere else in the world) ever gets called "Friend" and their surname, but multiple characters, independently of each other, pick up the habit of talking to Judd that way. What this says about the character, or John Byrne, or the world, I don't know. I just found it interesting.

There needs to be more public outcry about this

Photobucket have just stopped people being allowed to show pictures stored there on blogs like this, so I'm having to go through all my old posts and re-upload them directly to Blogger. I should really have done that in the first place, but never mind. So if you're looking through my archives and can't see the pretty pictures, don't worry, they'll be back shortly.

Monday, June 26, 2017

OK Computer

According to WZebra, the genius othello computer, my move to e8 wasn't that bad, it was still roughly a draw at that point. My winning line was an entirely unfathomable one spinning out of me playing b6, which I would never have thought of in a million years. But that's computers for you. They're not so great. I bet WZebra would explode if I ask it to define love, or tell it that everything I say is a lie and I'm lying now.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

There's no room 54 either

If you go past room 53, the corridor goes round another couple of corners and ends with 55, 56 and 57, all clustered together.

But anyway, the second day of the othello was exactly as successful as the first, if by that you understand that I ended today also on a total of four wins for the weekend. I lost to Helen, who usually does beat me though I always feel I should have won, and then was well and truly thrashed by Imre and Iain. Before that last game I realised there could still be a permutation of results that would end in me coming fifth and missing out on the semi-finals, but it didn't happen, and I ended up in fourth. Final round-robin results:

1: 7 pts [342] LEADER Imre (79) {GBR}
2: 5 pts [302] HAND David (2357) {GBR}
[278] BARRASS Iain (2047) {GBR}
4: 4 pts [206] PRIDMORE Ben (4019) {GBR}
5: 3 pts [190] ARNOLD Roy (2006) {GBR}
6: 2 pts [180] DEXTER Helen (100002) {GBR}
7: 1 pt [168] KYTE Bruce (2078) {GBR}
[126] STEPHENSON Ken (2001) {GBR}

So the semi-finals were David against Iain, and me against Imre. As the highest-placed in the round-robin, he had choice of colour and went for white, which was fine by me. I much prefer playing black, and I'm fairly sure I was black for most or all the times I've beaten him in the past.

You can play along with our game on LiveOthello - and the other games too, if you're the kind of person who comes to this blog to read about people other than me. But if you're looking at mine, pay particular attention to my move 27 to d1, which removes Imre's access to practically everything - it's such a lovely move that even though I thought it would probably turn out to be very bad, I just had to play it.

And then my move 31 to e8, Ian and Guy commenting on the game there were pretty sure was wrong, and so was Imre after the game... but I really didn't want to play h2 simply because I felt it was very important to keep the white disc on g3. I was probably entirely wrong about that, but I thought it could only lead to a situation where Imre's playing e1 without flipping f2, and everything goes badly for me from there.

But anyway, it was a fun game! And at least it wasn't an outright massacre like our first game today (that one ended 56-8). After the semis (David won the other, maintaining his record of only losing to me and Imre this weekend), we went to the pub across the road for lunch, which for some reason they took hours to serve us, and came back to find the final already in progress. And a fascinating game it was, too - David looked well ahead, but let Imre back in to claim a 32-32 draw in the end. Which (and never let me mock Roy's insistence on having a rule for every unlikely eventuality again) meant that Imre, having won the round-robin, becomes the British Othello Champion, for I think the 14th time. 34 years after the first time, and 24 years after the last time there was a draw in the final. Historic!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Area 51

I'm currently in room 53 of the Red Lion hotel, in Salisbury. It's one of those strange hotels where the corridors are like a winding maze, with a door to a room here and there, but no apparent pattern or sense to the building layout. MC Escher would like it. The strange thing about this particular stretch of twisty-turny corridor is that the rooms go 49, 50, 52, 53... and I'm confused by the seeming total lack of a room 51. Is it hidden in some alternate alien dimension?

Anyway, the reason I'm so far away from my normal stamping-ground is that the Red Lion is also the venue of this year's British Othello Championship, and despite my having only played six games of othello, all of which I lost, in 2017 so far, I decided to come along and see how I got on. Which turned out surprisingly well.

We've got eight competitors, and since the nationals are supposed to be a nine-round tournament followed by a one-game final between the top two, it took a bit of debate and an Official Committee Vote (Roy's here) to agree that the format this year would be a seven-round all-play-all, followed by semi-finals and then a final.

So random pairings, no need for complicated Swiss-system calculations, and my first game was against Roy, who beat me twice at Cambridge the last time I ventured to an othello tournament. This time, though, it all went very well for me and I ended up with a comfortable win. Then I was up against David Hand, and somehow or other, after a really fascinating and exciting game, I came out the 33-31 winner. I think that's the first time I've beaten him.

I then beat Ken Stephenson without much difficulty, and then Bruce Kyte with a fair bit of difficulty and quite possibly coming very close to messing it up in the end. But they all count, and so now I'm on four wins out of four after day one!

Full scores go like this:
  1:   4 pts [171]   LEADER Imre (79) {GBR}
             [169]   PRIDMORE Ben (4019) {GBR}
  3:   3 pts [152]   BARRASS Iain (2047) {GBR}
             [151]   ARNOLD Roy (2006) {GBR}
  5:   2 pts [165]   HAND David (2357) {GBR}
  6:   0 pt   [87]   KYTE Bruce (2078) {GBR}
              [68]   DEXTER Helen (100002) {GBR}
              [61]   STEPHENSON Ken (2001) {GBR}

So, tomorrow I've got to play Imre, Iain and Helen, but even if I lose all three I think I'm safely in the semi-finals and achieving my top-half-of-the-table aim that I always set myself at these things. It's unexpected.

Bruce, incidentally, is an old-timer in the othello world, but not somebody I've ever met before. I met Imre outside the hotel and we came in together, which led Bruce to assume I'm Imre's brother. There's a resemblance, apparently, though I don't really see it myself. I do hope he was thinking 'younger brother', because I forget what the age gap between the two of us is, exactly, but it's quite significant.

After the tournament we went to the Haunch of Venison, one of the coolest pub-names I've ever heard, and then to Nando's, with the usual wide-ranging and weird subjects of conversation. Othello is great, I'm definitely going to play more in future!

Saturday, June 03, 2017


It's really very hard to refrain from drinking cherry coke, you know. It's just so tempting. Maybe I should change tack and just try to persuade some reputable-sounding scientist to tell the newspapers that it's good for memory. I mean, I already know it is, but nobody believes me when I say so.

It's definitely better for you than omega 3, and to prove it, here's documentary evidence that Omega Three Planet was blown to smithereens ages ago, while Coca Cola Planet, to the best of my knowledge, is still fine and dandy.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Birmingham gets Friendly

The Friendly Memory Championship happened in the scenic surroundings of the William Penn room in the Priory Rooms, Birmingham city centre. All the conference/meeting rooms in the very nice building are named after prominent Quakers, in honour of the place's original purpose. It turns out (from the plaque on the wall outside) that William Penn shared my birthday, so the whole thing could have been seen as some sort of gathering in tribute of our fellow October-14th twin, the late Roger Moore. If we'd thought of it at the time, anyway.

The room was the perfect size for a memory competition, and equipped with a big screen and projector for my snappy powerpoint displays. The George Fox room next door was hosting a gathering of Mensa members (always trouble, those lot), who were occasionally noisy, but apart from that it was an ideal venue! It's sort of tucked away out of sight of the main road, so we hung around outside to grab lost-looking memory people as they walked by.

We were a little short of competitors - two last-minute drop-outs on the grounds of having a cold and getting on the wrong train, because clearly it doesn't take much to put a memory competitor out of action - and might have had a championship with four entrants and three arbiters, but the imbalance was enough to convince Ian Fennell, quiz enthusiast who'd come along to help out, see how memory competitions and techniques work and maybe try his hand at a numbers discipline, to take part instead. So with myself and the ever-awesome Nick Papadopoulos running the show, we had a lineup of five - Ian and Marlo Knight from England, Gordon Cowell representing Scotland, Lars Christiansen all the way from Denmark and Silvio di Fabio all the way from Italy. International!

It all ran more or less smoothly - in the first discipline I somehow forgot the way I've always timed things (using my trusty stopwatch, starting it running at the start of the one minute preparation time and stopping it after the five-minute memory time when the stopwatch shows 6:00) and announced "ten seconds remaining" a minute too early. Marlo waved at me, I remembered, and added "And one minute." Hey, there have been worse timing blunders in bigger memory championships in the past. Everything else was clean and efficient, and we were able to stick to the tight schedule and finish on time at 5pm.

A good time was had by all - Marlo won in great style, Silvio beat his best overall score, Gordon demolished his best speed cards time, and there was the usual constant flow of memory-chatter that's always such a delight to host. Afterwards we went for a celebration drink in the Square Peg pub down the road (which is a weird TARDIS-like pub that goes on forever) and toasted the continual success of the Friendly Championship. I can see I'll have to keep on hosting it forever now, it was silly of me to suggest ever stopping it...