Saturday, March 17, 2018

Saturdays like they used to be

What do you think I've been doing all day today? Well, I'll tell you, we won't make it a guessing game (because you'd probably guess no end of appalling things, I know what you're like). I've spent all day doing practice runs of each and every discipline from the upcoming Canadian Open! Yes, all ten of them! I shudder to think how long it's been since I did a full national-standard memory competition in one day. It's the kind of thing that doesn't happen much nowadays; people tend to split the real events over two days, unless they're very cool people like the organiser of my Friendly Championships.

But in days gone by, I used to happily spend an entire Saturday doing memory training. It would more usually be the hour disciplines, but let's take things one step at a time. My scores were pretty terrible, and by the time I'd got to the spoken numbers my brain was absolutely good for nothing, despite which I'm happy about today. I haven't actually done any paper-based memorising since the French competition last year, not even in training. In fact, looking at my handwriting in the words discipline, it occurred to me that I never write with a pen any more! Paperless offices, emails, phones, they take away your ability to write. I need to practice my penmanship a little before I get to Canada, just to make sure my words are halfway legible.

Once I get to Canada, incidentally, I need to find a way to get from Edmonton to Westlock. It's 45 miles, apparently, but Westlock doesn't seem to welcome visitors who use public transport - the internet suggests the best thing to do is get a bus to a middle-of-nowhere place nearby and then a taxi the rest of the way. I'll see if I can hitch a lift with a competitor or passing lorry-driver. I don't really want to go to the trouble of hiring a car and having to remember what side of the road they drive on in Canada.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Back to school again

I don't mention nearly enough that I went to school with Robert Webb. It's an important claim to fame, you know. Nobody's heard of any of the things I've done, but everyone knows the one from Peep Show who isn't David Mitchell. But the point is, I've just been binge-watching "Back", starring Mitchell and Webb, on 4OD, having discovered at the weekend that the series exists (I don't watch telly nowadays, you know), and I absolutely love it! It's absolutely hilarious, and I urge anyone who hasn't yet heard of it (ignorant fools though they obviously are) to go and check it out!

I went to school with that one there, you know.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


As well as splashing out on plane tickets this month, I treated myself to something I really should have bought long before now - the collected edition of "Meltdown Man", the under-appreciated series that appeared in 2000AD in 1980-81. It came up in conversation with my brother recently, and I just had to get it to remind myself how cool it was. It's a real classic - tough SAS sergeant Nick Stone (remember the SAS-worship of the early eighties? Comics were jam-packed with tough SAS sergeants!) is caught in a nuclear explosion and finds himself flung into another world, where humans rule with eugenically-enhanced animals as their slaves. He gets straight to work setting things to rights.

For fifty consecutive issues, writer Alan Hebden handled the difficult task of fitting a weekly adventure into just four pages of comic (you have to get a lot of action into each page to do that!), aided by the downright awesome artwork of the type that only Massimo Belardinelli could produce. Two hundred pages of this kind of thing, all under one cover!
Honestly, it's that good, you can stare for hours at the artwork, even after getting through the epic storyline (complete with extremely weird and unsatisfying ending) - just look at the effort that's gone into that bottom panel!

 Belardinelli, seen here eating his synthetti while drawing Tharg's latest commission, was probably the greatest art robot ever to grace the pages of 2000AD. It's only in recent years that people have started to really rave about how good he was; maybe it's just the unappreciated-in-his-own-lifetime effect - he died in 2007, had retired long before the internet came along, and at his peak he never got the praise that some of the other droids did. Maybe it's because he was part of the furniture of 2000AD from the start, but took a while to warm up - he's there in the very first prog (indeed, the only creator credited in the first issue, having had the sense to write "Art - Belardinelli" on his artwork!), drawing the Dan Dare strip that was intended to be the main feature. He got the job not by being particularly good, but by being Italian; it was a lot cheaper to hire European artists than British ones back then. His first work is quite bland, but on Meltdown Man he really came into his own, and showed what a flair he had for drawing weird creatures!

There's Nick Stone on the far left, with the eyepatch, along with just a few of the other characters Belardinelli drew over the years! But his real talent wasn't characters themselves, it was the insane amount of little details he'd cram into every single picture - some artists only look good in colour, but Belardinelli was the old-fashioned type who was at his best when just using a whole lot of black ink on newsprint.

Splundig Vur Thrigg!

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Whither Canada?

As I've mentioned once or twice before, Alpha Flight is an all-time favourite comic of mine. And the localities the superheroes visit in the course of their adventures have always been on my "I must go there some day..." list.

So when there's a memory competition announced in Westlock, Alberta (not too far away from Edmonton), I can't help jumping at the opportunity to go there and meet the rapidly-growing Canadian memory community! The championship is on April 7th, I'm going to fly out there a few days before and see the sights of Edmonton, it'll be great! It's been quite a while since I did this kind of thing with the competitions in New York, not to mention quite a while since I went anywhere exotic and expensive, but my paying-off-my-debts campaign really has reduced them to minimal levels by now, so I don't mind splurging this once and taking another month to get totally financially stable.

I can't believe I've never been to Canada before. I've been all over the place, you'd think I would have found a reason to visit before now.

Friday, March 02, 2018

The path the others wish to go has been obscured by drifting snow

Wow, twice in one winter we've had huge deep snow! It's the kind of thing that gives me a good excuse to say "when I were a lad", because when I were a lad you could count on getting days like this once a year, and in really exceptional years it would stick around for weeks. Nowadays, it's much more exceptional.

I don't mind snow so much when it's thick and soft underfoot like this - the problem is when it's packed solid and icy, so you can't walk anywhere without falling down. On my way home from work on Wednesday night, before it had really started coming down thickly, I was walking down the hill and pushing my bike rather than trying it the faster but more lethal way, and slipped on the ice and fell down in a heap. But my knees, which I can usually rely on to do horrible things any time I move them unexpectedly, were perfectly okay with it, so maybe I should be a bit less careful of falling down in future.

I've been working from home the last two days, anyway, which is a very boring way to spend your time, especially if you're trapped in the house with no snack foods. I've got plenty of real food, but if I haven't got a bag of sweets in the place, I feel well and truly starved. So I've been out to the corner shop tonight to stock up, and it's a real wade-through-the-snowdrifts kind of a walk.

Still, the BBC weather solemnly promise me that by Monday it'll be 5°C and not a snowflake in sight, so maybe I'll be able to go to work in the morning without too much ice and mayhem.

Sunday, February 18, 2018


Another reason I need to play more othello, which I forgot to mention in my blog yesterday (to be fair, I wrote it after coming back from the traditional Saturday night Indian meal, which I also forgot to mention, but was very nice and came with booze) is that talking with Emmanuel and Matthias over lunch, we established that they've been to more countries for othello reasons than I've been to for memory-related things.

I think my total is 14, including the UK - Ireland, Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Turkey, USA, Brazil, China, Japan, Malaysia, Bahrain. Are there any others I've forgotten? I bet there are. So I should definitely try to play the other EGP tournaments and add places like Poland and the Netherlands to my mind-sports passport-stamp collection.

In any case, today wasn't very spectacular for me, although it started out okay with a very fun and complicated game against Benkt which I was probably losing all the way through but felt like it could have gone either way and ended up 33-31 to him. I then beat Remi Tastet, son of Marc, and lost not too heavily to Tom, leaving me on five points and hopeful of getting to six and beating the 50% target I always aim for at these things. But then I made a complete pig's ear of my final game against Bruce, and was completely slaughtered, to finish on only five, and well below the half-way mark.

1:  10.  pts [903]   TASTET Marc (2) {FRA}
  2:   8.  pts [911]   BERG Matthias (5301) {DEU}
               [855]   WETTERGREN Niklas (150009) {SWE}
               [831]   LEADER Imre (79) {GBR}
  5:   7.5 pts [840]   KORTENDIJK Albert (5012) {NLD}
  6:   7.  pts [874]   EKLUND Oskar (150016) {SWE}
               [840]   SCHOTTE Tom (2795) {BEL}
               [825]   PLOWMAN Guy (320) {GBR}
               [814]   LAZARD Emmanuel (11) {FRA}
 10:   6.5 pts [862]   KASHIWABARA Takuji (839) {FRA}
               [727]   FREIBURGHAUS Kim (150060) {SWE}
 12:   6.  pts [838]   LEVY-ABEGNOLI Thierry (3598) {FRA}
               [805]   PRASEPTYO Linda (5159) {NLD}
               [792]   ROSSLER Daniel (70002) {DEU}
               [762]   KYTE Bruce (2078) {GBR}
               [759]   STEENTOFT Benkt (1301) {SWE}
               [751]   SNEEK Marcel (5083) {NLD}
               [680]   MURAWSKI Stefan (5324) {DEU}
 19:   5.5 pts [818]   DE GRAAF Jan C. (4012) {NLD}
 20:   5.  pts [734]   JOHANSSON Erik (1493) {SWE}
               [729]   PRIDMORE Ben (4019) {GBR}
               [669]   TASTET Remi (50053) {FRA}
               [661]   BRAND Richard (2341) {GBR}
               [646]   WIDMAN Linnea (150055) {SWE}
               [642]   PLOWMAN Luke (2069) {GBR}
               [610]   PLOWMAN Mark (100027) {GBR}
 27:   4.  pts [682]  -JORDAN Yvette (2093) {GBR}
               [599]   KLATTEN Linda (120116) {NLD}
               [586]   TASTET Sophie (50081) {FRA}
               [559]   BRAND Sophie (100026) {GBR}
               [547]   PLOWMAN Jessie (100029) {GBR}
 32:   3.  pts [539]   BRAND Henry (100023) {GBR}
 33:   2.  pts [500]  -JORDAN David (100040) {GBR}
               [483]  -PLOWMAN Anya (100037) {GBR}
 35:   1.  pt  [466]   BRAND Lucy (100025) {GBR}

That gave us a final between Marc and Matthias, a third-place playoff between Niklas and Imre, and a children's final (new innovation!) between Remi and Mark (Luke doesn't count as a child any more; I forget what the age limit is but he's all grown up nowadays). I'm sure these games have happened by now, but I had to leave to get the train (and rail-replacement-bus between Leicester and Nuneaton) back here.

But there'll be more othello to come this year! It's my latest resolution!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The old combination

"You don't remember me?" said Matthias Berg, who is a) someone I've met multiple times before now, and b) a really big deal in the world of international othello tournaments. "Of course I do," I lied unconvincingly, "I'm just making sure to ask everyone's name, because you know what my memory's like..."

Yes, it's the delights of the Cambridge International, the awesomest othello competition on these shores every year, attended by a whole host of Europe's finest players! And after the slight awkwardness of me having to get everybody's entry fees and pretend that I know who they are, it's a whole lot of fun! 35 players in all (you can see them all listed below if you want to keep up with the gossip), and other people hanging around but not playing included Adelaide, David Beck, Akke-Lien and assorted other Plowmen and Brend (that's the plural of Brand), making it a crowded gathering in the Old Combination Room at Trinity College.

We've got stylish new trophies, thanks to the generosity of the manufacturer, as well as the perpetual trophy, which needs a tiny bit of updating (the winner of each year is inscribed on a little shield - the winners from 2001-2008 are on temporary paper shields, after that they're not on it at all) but is still extremely groovy!

I was drawn against Erik Johansson, who I genuinely hadn't met before, in the first round, and managed a 40-24 win even though I hadn't played for so long. Then I was comprehensively beaten by Daniel Rößler and Matthias before lunch at the usual really nice university cafeteria. But in the afternoon, I won three out of four; beating Jan de Graaf, Linnea Widman and Marcel Sneek, with the only fly in the ointment being a tremendous thrashing by Takuji Kashiwabara in round 5.

At one point I had a proud 100% win record against Takuji, having beaten him in 2003 and then never getting drawn to play against him again. I don't remember if it was still going until today, but it's definitely gone now.

But that leaves me on four wins out of seven, with another four rounds of swiss to play tomorrow, and I'm just slightly above the half-way point on the leaderboard!

 1:   6.  pts [497]   EKLUND Oskar (150016) {SWE}
               [449]   TASTET Marc (2) {FRA}
  3:   5.  pts [501]   BERG Matthias (5301) {DEU}
               [459]   SCHOTTE Tom (2795) {BEL}
               [458]   WETTERGREN Niklas (150009) {SWE}
               [449]   LEVY-ABEGNOLI Thierry (3598) {FRA}
               [432]   LAZARD Emmanuel (11) {FRA}
               [424]   LEADER Imre (79) {GBR}
  9:   4.5 pts [475]   DE GRAAF Jan C. (4012) {NLD}
               [391]   FREIBURGHAUS Kim (150060) {SWE}
 11:   4.  pts [433]   PRASEPTYO Linda (5159) {NLD}
               [418]   PLOWMAN Guy (320) {GBR}
               [409]   ROSSLER Daniel (70002) {DEU}
               [398]   KYTE Bruce (2078) {GBR}
               [383]   STEENTOFT Benkt (1301) {SWE}
               [371]   PRIDMORE Ben (4019) {GBR}
               [351]   TASTET Remi (50053) {FRA}
 18:   3.5 pts [441]   KASHIWABARA Takuji (839) {FRA}
               [387]   KORTENDIJK Albert (5012) {NLD}
 20:   3.  pts [390]   JOHANSSON Erik (1493) {SWE}
                       SNEEK Marcel (5083) {NLD}
               [353]   KLATTEN Linda (120116) {NLD}
               [344]   WIDMAN Linnea (150055) {SWE}
               [325]   TASTET Sophie (50081) {FRA}
               [321]   BRAND Richard (2341) {GBR}
                       MURAWSKI Stefan (5324) {DEU}
               [317]   PLOWMAN Mark (100027) {GBR}
               [311]   PLOWMAN Luke (2069) {GBR}
               [291]   BRAND Sophie (100026) {GBR}
 30:   2.  pts [336]   JORDAN Yvette (2093) {GBR}
               [285]   BRAND Henry (100023) {GBR}
               [269]   PLOWMAN Jessie (100029) {GBR}
               [253]   PLOWMAN Anya (100037) {GBR}
 34:   1.  pt  [252]   JORDAN David (100040) {GBR}
               [248]   BRAND Lucy (100025) {GBR}

I really need to play more othello. I think I might make this my new project - applying memory techniques to the game, and seeing how much I can memorise! We'll see how it goes...

Friday, February 16, 2018

Last minute dot com

Having found out I don't have to do something else this weekend (it's a something else I might hopefully be able to tell you all about, some time), I'm on my way to Cambridge for the othello EGP tournament! Barring unforeseen delays and things that stop me getting there, anyway. But it's good to be back in the othello world - maybe I'll make a proper effort to play more, and go to all the regionals this year!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A very memorable person

Rest in peace, Grandma. It was a very nice funeral, exactly what she would have wanted - thanks to Pam for arranging everything.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The League

You've probably heard me mention it once or twice before, but the place to be right now (if you're at all interesting in competitive memorising) is the Memory League.

It's a place for fast-paced head-to-head memory contests where the aim is to remember cards, names, numbers, images or words faster and more accurately than your opponent. The super-cool thing about it is that you can watch what's happening in people's games live, as they flick from one thing to another in the memory time, and fill in the gaps in the recall. And chat live with other watchers and players too! Seriously, there's no cooler memory thing in the world at the moment.

There is also, naturally, a league championship. It's divided into divisions, with the usual promotion/relegation from one season to another, so whatever your level, you get regular matches against people of the same kind of ability. Each player chooses their three favourite disciplines, and have a six-discipline match (with the option of playing a seventh if it finishes 3-3 and both players can agree on a final decider discipline). It's great fun for everyone! Let's have a look at how division 2 is shaping up lately:

After some wrangling and debate before the start of the season, it was agreed that you can't go straight into division 1 if you didn't play in the season before, even if you're among the best players in the world. So we had four new people who are amazingly good joining division 2 from the four corners of the world (if you arrange the map in a really weird way so that the four corners are all in Asia or eastern Europe), and they're dominating things right now. The top two get automatically promoted, the next two play off against division 1 players, and it's anyone's guess which of Yanjaa, Alex, SC and YeBo will make it into the top two.

Below them, there's a right old ding-dong among the remaining twelve of us - there have been some epic matches! I'm playing Clay tomorrow, and really want to get a win, to pull me away from the relegation battle. Come along and watch, 4pm GMT!

Saturday, February 03, 2018

The need for speed

Among the many people I admire in this world are the ones who do cool things with old video games. Here's a wonderful YouTube video chronicling in minute detail the things people have done to shave a fraction of a second off their time in a Super Mario Bros speedrun. It's awesome.

Incidentally, although Sonic the Hedgehog is better than Mario in every way, Mario's more fun to do speedrun things with. But the point is, this is exactly the kind of thing people do with the speed cards memory record, except it's all happening in our heads instead of on a TV screen for everyone to see. We definitely need to invent some sort of mind-projecting device if we're ever going to make memory competitions as cool and popular among the nerds of the world as it deserves to be!

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Magic Sphere

According to Blogger's stats page, I've had absolutely oodles of pageviews in the last day or so, directed at the Hourman-themed post from last November. It makes me nervous when people read my blog like that. I don't really write these things in any kind of expectation that people will read them. What if it's a horde of American lawyers? Lots of people write that kind of thing about comics on the internet, and they often bandy about phrases like "brief excerpts for review purposes", which apparently makes everything okay, but I still worry. I'll just convince myself it's an invading horde of robots. Nobody's scared of robots.

Friday, January 12, 2018

It feels like a long time since the first one

I don't think I could calculate how long it's been, in fact. But the Mental Calculation World Cup is still going strong! Here's the invitation to compete, if you want to test your brains!

Mental calculators from all over the world are invited to the 8th Mental 
Calculation World Cup 2018!

The Mental Calculation World Cup 2018 will be held in Wolfsburg, Germany

Venue: Science Centre Phaeno (

Date: 28-30 September 2018

Contest Details:
Calculators will have to solve tasks in different categories (addition, 
multiplication, extracting roots, day-of-the-week calculations) and 
various surprise tasks.
Only strict mental calculation (no tools, no writing down of 
intermediate results) is allowed.

There will be several titles and trophies for the best participants.
In particular, the MEMORIAD Association will sponsor free flights to the 
MEMORIAD 2020 competition (planned to be held in Dubai, USA) 
( for the winners in the categories addition, 
multiplication, square roots and calendar calculation as well for the 
winner of the combination.
(does not apply for participants who are not allowed to enter MEMORIAD 
contests according to decisions of the MEMORIAD Association).

The registration form can be found on the MCWC web site 

Calculators who already took part at a previous MCWC event are welcome 
to send the application form by e-mail to
First-time participants please download the entry form on the MCWC web 
site. Please send it by airmail together with the documentation that is 
necessary for qualification to the address given in the form.
Please note that we have a tough qualification (with usually far more 
than 40 people registering). Calculators who took part in one of the 
previous years may want to send additional documentation about their 
recent results in the same way as the first-timers (by airmail with all 
the paperwork) in order to have better chances in the qualification.

Deadline for Registrations: 1 June 2018
You can help us with the organization if you register soon.

The number of participants is limited to 40. If more people register for 
the event, the organizer will select the participants who qualify. For 
this purpose, information about previous results at mental calculation 
events (achieved in the past ten years), other mental sports contests 
and verified achievements with the Memoriad software 
( are taken into consideration.
The results achieved should be documented (category, number of correct 
answers, time) and sent together with the application form. These 
results must be confirmed by a witness with some background in mental 
calculation (for example a maths teacher or a university researcher who 
works in a field close to mathematics).

Organizational stuff:
There is no entry fee, but participants have to pay their travel 
expenses. We will publish hotel recommendations soon enough on the MCWC 
web site.

Please contact us soon enough if you need a formal invitation letter for 
visa purposes. Keep in mind that in some countries visa formalities can 
take a long time!

More information can be found on the web site:

If you have any questions on the MCWC, please contact me at 

I am looking forward to meet the world's best calculators in Wolfsburg!

Ralf Laue

Sunday, January 07, 2018

I should get some kind of prize

I was just about to go to bed for an early night, when I remembered I hadn't written a blog entry, and if I did that, then I'd break all kinds of world records for keeping new year's resolutions. So now I've accomplished a whole week of daily uninspired short paragraphs, I can rest easy and not write anything more for whole months at a time if I feel like it.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

This looks like a job for...

There's a news story doing the rounds that someone involved with one of Stan Lee's charities has stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from The Man himself by means of forged cheques, and really, I don't think they've thought it through. Everyone knows that Stan Lee created all the cool superheroes, but of course Spider-Man and all his amazing friends are basically nice people, and just have bad guys locked up in jail - what people forget is how many cool superVILLAINS there are out there who owe Stan Lee a favour for bringing them into existence! You don't want to steal money from a guy who can just phone up Doctor Octopus and say "Hi, Otto, it's Stan. Remember how I created you and gave you those cool mechanical tentacles and all? I need someone to teach a thief a little lesson..."

There's some people you just don't want to mess with.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Lucky numbers

I'm happy to report I'm now through to the last 65,536 in the Fantasy Premier League Cup (I know you were all fascinated when I mentioned it last). This is a lucky number for elderly users of Excel spreadsheets, and I'm sure that just saying "65536" gives all the old-fashioned number-crunchers out there a happy nostalgic glow. The rest of you will be left in the dark, but don't worry, you're not missing much.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

The munchies

I haven't got any sweeties in the house. It's not even as if I'm hungry, I've already had my dinner and there's the materials to make some more if I wanted. But I have a particular craving for those rocky road bites they sell at Tesco, and I might have to venture out into the night just to buy a snack. Does that make me some kind of stereotypical American-TV drug addict?

Also, why isn't "the munchies" a thing for British-TV drug addicts? I feel like there could be some kind of universal truth revealed if I unravelled the answer to that mystery, but maybe that's just the drugs talking...

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Memory Leaguing

The new online memory league championship is well underway, and I think I'm going to see if I can make a real effort to go to the actual real live competition in Sweden in April. I keep saying I'll go to memory competitions in Sweden if I can, and then never actually getting there for one reason or another. I definitely owe Gothenburg another visit!

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Telling it like it is

If there's one thing that's always been missing from memory competitions, it's high-quality animated cartoons about what it's like to compete in them! But this has been well and truly remedied in the last few months by Joo Sang Jo on Facebook - there really should be some kind of website hosting them, but I think all I can do is urge you to join the World Memory Championships group and see them there.

If you've ever been to a memory competition, you'll know all about the feeling of sitting between two super-fast memorisers at speed cards, or the purgatory of waiting through 550 spoken digits before you can write down the paltry few you managed to memorise... it's genius, it really is.

Monday, January 01, 2018

A new year again

It's getting silly now; before we know it, it'll be 2020, and that's a year that's unquestionably the future. The Machine Man comics that were backup strips in Transformers in 1985 were set in 2020, and in another couple of years they'll be historical documents set in the past.

Anyway, I really should make a resolution to post more regular blog updates. Quantity is, in every case, better than quality, so I'm going to make an effort to post something every night, until I next forget or simply can't be bothered. Look forward to it!