Saturday, August 19, 2006

Day One

...went just about according to plan. Although I know I could have done better than I did. If you remember, the plan was to do really badly in abstract images, which I haven't bothered to practice at all, and then to make up for it in the other two disciplines today, binary and hour numbers.

I did indeed do very badly in abstract images - a score of 57, which equates to about 220 championship points. Gunther, as in Cambridge, did really well - 228 raw score, about 920 points and a world record. He's been working on the new discipline, and obviously has come up with a much better system than everyone else. Slightly concerningly, my other main rivals all had good scores too - Clemens got 151, German Wunderkind Cornelia Beddies (who would have got a mention yesterday if I'd had time) 140, Joachim 130, Boris 129 and Andi (who to nobody's surprise made a surprise last-minute appearance) 120.

But that's okay. Because I knew binary is one of my best disciplines, and I could catch up there with a good score. Of course, it's also one of Gunther's best too - he and I are always miles ahead of the rest of the field there. I attempted somewhere in the region of 5300 digits (having asked for extra ones specially - you're normally only given 5000 to memorise in half an hour), and ended up thinking I'd got a score of about 3500 (I'll explain the scoring system another time, or you can look it up yourselves if you don't know it already). It turned out I'd underestimated myself, and when the papers were marked I found that I'd fractionally beaten my existing world record - 3710, whereas the previous record was 3705!

Gunther got 3452, Joachim 2832, Cornelia 2521 and Clemens 2385. Andi only attempted 2250 and ended up with a score of 1980, but his best could be yet to come. He seems to have been doing at least some training this year, and is taking the event more seriously. After two of ten disciplines, the leaderboard looks like this:

1) Gunther Karsten 1778
2) Joachim Thaler 1228
3) Clemens Mayer 1200
4) Cornelia Beddies 1190
5) Ben Pridmore 1156
6) Andi Bell 975
7) Boris Konrad 880
8) Corrina Draschl 628
9) James Paterson 621
10) James Ponder 576

We haven't yet had the results of the hour numbers - I went for 2340, and got maybe 1600. Possibly a bit better, possibly a bit worse. It's going to be a close-run thing. Gunther may seem to be flying away, but today's three disciplines are probably his three best. He tends to struggle with the cards, so unless he's improved a lot in the last year the pack will catch him up in event seven, hour cards, tomorrow afternoon. And in names and faces (event four, first thing tomorrow) he's normally, as Boris tactfully put it, even worse than me. Also tomorrow are historic dates, which I should win, touch wood, I usually do, and speed numbers, which I've also got a good feeling about (last year I won it when I didn't think I would, so by that logic I'll do terribly this time round).

I love the WMC! Not just the competing, but the hanging out with the other memorisers. They're a great bunch, one and all!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Runners and riders

Limited time tonight - I've gone into an internet cafe and realised I've only got enough money on me for half an hour. Rather than look like a pauper and go out for more money (I can just see everyone in the building looking at me in these circumstances and thinking "he's going out to the pawnshop or to beg money on street corners), I'm pretending that was what I was going to use in the first place, rather than an hour like I was intending.

Anyway, having wasted all my time writing the above, let's talk about the weekend ahead. Just been to the competitors' briefing, delivered by Phil (who for all his good points isn't a natural speaker and was almost as incoherent as me at Cambridge when explaining the rules and regulations) because Tony's busy doing interviews. And a drink afterwards with some of the other guys, of course, to discuss what we think is going to happen. So I thought it would be good for the benefit of my non-memory readers to know who to look out for while they're following the scores on the internet over the next three days.

Assuming they're updated on the internet. They usually aren't, but the official website always promises to.

So let's look at the top ten in the world ranking list, with brief notes. Omitting the world number one for obvious reasons, we start with:

2) Astrid Plessl (Austria, age 22) (or thereabouts. Most of these ages are rough guesses, and I probably shouldn't be including them at all)

WMC history: 12th, 2001; 6th, 2002; 2nd, 2003; 2nd, 2004

Astrid wasn't there tonight, and the probability is that she won't be competing this year. Which would be a crying shame. She came very, very close to winning the world championship two years in a row, and if she retires from competitions now without winning it it would be a great injustice. She started out famous for her natural memory (high scores in the poem and words, the disciplines that you don't use artificial systems for so much), but between 2002 and 2003 got really good at the systems too. If she's kept in training, she'd be my top rival this year. Hoping she defies expectations and shows up.

3) Clemens Mayer (Germany, age 21-ish)

WMC history: 4th, 2004; 1st, 2005

The reigning champion is obviously the man to beat. He hasn't failed to win a competition he's entered since November 2004, and he's committed to keeping that up. He's burst onto the scene in only a couple of years, and although it's been said that he's never beaten the likes of me or Andi or Astrid when we were at the top of our games, he can hardly be blamed for that. He did all that was necessary to win, and it's possible he's capable of much more when he's pushed.

4) Dr Gunther Karsten (Germany, mid-40s)

WMC history: 3rd, 1998; 5th, 1999; 3rd, 2000; 2nd, 2001; 3rd, 2002; 4th, 2003; 8th, 2004; 2nd, 2005

Ever-present in the top ranks at the world championships for many, many years, but never quite as winner. Last year's performance for second place was his best ever, so he's still improving. His seven-year run as German champion was ended by his protegé Clemens in 2005, but he's a good outside bet for the world title this year. Never write him off.

5) Andi Bell (England, 37?)

WMC history: 3rd, 1995; 2nd, 1996; 2nd, 1997; 1st, 1998; 3rd, 1999; 2nd, 2000; 3rd, 2001; 1st, 2002; 1st, 2003; 7th, 2004; 26th, 2005

Andi also wasn't there tonight, but he never came to the briefings even when he was a serious competitor. He's said he won't compete this year, but I'd actually be more surprised if he doesn't show up tomorrow morning to take part, however half-heartedly. Arguably the best competitor ever, he put in his apprenticeship for many years coming second to Dominic O'Brien (his 1998 win was the year Dom didn't take part) before finally blowing him away and setting new standards for the "sport" in 2002, his participation has been half-hearted for the last couple of years. But if he's been training on the sly, anything's possible. His nine consecutive years of top-three finishes might never be beaten.

6) Dominic O'Brien (England, getting on for 50? Or am I being unkind?)

WMC history: 1st, 1991; 1st, 1993; 2nd, 1994; 1st, 1995; 1st, 1996; 1st, 1997; 1st, 1999; 1st, 2000; 1st, 2001; 2nd, 2002; 6th, 2003

The legendary eight-times champion definitely won't be competing this year, unless there's something we haven't been told. He keeps saying he isn't completely retired, but it's looking more and more like he is. Conventional wisdom is that he couldn't keep up with the much higher level of performance from the top competitors over the past few years, but that might not be the case at all. He never had to stretch himself to his limits in his glory days, perhaps he's capable of another win yet.

7) Joachim Thaler(Austria, 18)

WMC history: 15th, 2002; 3rd, 2004; 3rd, 2005

Still very young, and still improving, Joachim is the only person to finish in the top three in each of the last two years. He beat me last time round, and Clemens the year before, and although he's pessimistic about his chances for a podium place this time round, it's certainly not impossible.

8) Jan Formann (Denmark, late-50s)

WMC history: 16th, 1999; 4th, 2001; 4th, 2002; 5th, 2003

Not much has been heard from the super-eccentric Dane for the last couple of years. His last competition was the World Cup (not to be confused with the World Championship) in 2004, when he finished a close second behind me. He used to be the undisputed world's best at the number-disciplines, although Gunther seems to have taken over that mantle now. I hope Jan also makes a surprise return, because he adds a lot of colour and fun to the championships.

9) Boris Nikolai Konrad (Germany, 22)

WMC history: 6th, 2004; 5th, 2005

Boris has been leader of the chasing pack at a lot of competitions over the last couple of years. I would certainly back him to make that final leap into one of the absolute top-level if he keeps up with it - he's very enthusiastic and deeply involved in the politics of German memory. This year he's got a good chance of making the top five.

10) Lukas Amsüss (Austria, early 20s)

WMC history: 17th, 2001; 14th, 2002; 7th, 2003; 9th, 2004

Sadly, Lukas definitely can't make it this year, due to work. But his previous WMC positions do him a disservice, he's another major chasing-pack guy, with a particular talent for speed cards. Also a lot of fun.

I don't have time to mention anyone else, but watch out for the likes of Ed Cooke, Josh Foer and Yip Swe Chooi too!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Your fifteen minutes start now

There's a song from years ago with the refrain "Your fifteen minutes start now..." that always comes to my mind when I'm starting my stopwatch going for a period of time for memorising or recall. Even the ones that aren't fifteen minutes long. I don't remember which song it was, or what the rest of the words were, but that bit's very memorable.

I'm free from work for the next four days, yay, and going down to London tomorrow morning - meeting the Alzheimer's people, with accompanying interview by Women's Weekly magazine. I've had more publictity-heavy buildups to the world championships. Then it's just a case of finding the hotel, finding the competition site, going to the 6pm competitors' briefing that's never really worth going to, and getting a good night's sleep. This might be my last blog entry until the competition's over - I'm not taking my laptop, and I probably won't have the time to find an internet cafe. But you never know - if I get bored tomorrow night I might give my last-minute opinions about the weekend ahead. I'll get off to a bad start with the images, but then hopefully do something special in the binary and hour numbers to show the others who's boss.

Sniffles and Bimbo are constantly pestering me to write about them like I promised, so I'll do that next week. Maybe with screenshots!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


And more than 24 hours before it's strictly necessary, too! But don't worry, all I've been doing tonight is finding boxes to put my cards in, putting my cards in them, and putting the boxes into a larger box. Which makes me giggle, because in writing it like that I've reminded myself of an excellent webcomic called Living In Greytown, that I used to read years ago (it's finished now, as has its sequel, Lizard).

But I was talking about cards. I don't normally keep them in the boxes, they sit on my desk in teetering towers with a rubber band around each pack. So I had to dig up the flattened, crumpled boxes from the depths of my desk's drawers where all kinds of strange things lurk. The reason for this is that for the first time I'm taking my own cards to the WMC this time round. Competitors are allowed to bring their own or to use the ones provided, and I normally choose the latter option, but last year they didn't bother to shuffle them before giving them out, so I got a couple that were in sequence. I thought of pretending to memorise them and hoping nobody noticed, but got replacements instead. I'll also bring my own recall sheets for the cards, which I may or may not use, depending on what the provided sheets look like (if they're plain paper, I'll use my own, but if they're the normal kind with a column for each suit where you just fill in the number, I'll go with those). Some competitors have their own extremely fancy recall sheets for numbers as well as cards, with the spaces to fill in numbers divided into sections, but I don't go in for that kind of thing. I prefer a recall page as blank as possible, and if I can't remember a sequence I'll count out the appropriate number of empty spaces and mark it with little dots. I'm a minimalist.

Good grief, that was close. Just before posting that, I selected the whole text to copy it in case the computer or Blogger crashes while I'm posting (I always do this, I'm paranoid), and pressed ctrl-V instead of ctrl-C, replacing the text with some rubbish that was on the clipboard. Luckily, it turns out you can do ctrl-Z to undo here. You really do learn something new every day!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Almost forgot

I nearly went to bed without writing anything tonight. But it's okay, I've deliberately put my memory on ice this week in the buildup to the WMC. I did have a try at abstract images using a clever new system I thought up, which turns out not to work at all. I still have no idea how I'm going to approach that one in the competition, which could be a problem, but it's not one I'm hugely worried about. It's a silly thing anyway, that they'll hopefully get rid of or change before next year (if I keep pestering them).

Monday, August 14, 2006

The follies of men's youth

I've been reading my old blog posts tonight, and I can be quite fascinating at times, can't I? Makes me think that I need to start doing interesting things so I can write about them in more detail. And yes, I did hand my notice in at work today. I was going to think about it a bit more, but I got butterflies in my tummy every time I thought about it, and I didn't want that getting in the way of the world memory championship, so I decided to just get on with it and resign. It felt pretty good, all in all. So now I'm resolved not to think about it or anything else for the next week, and just relax, clear my brain and do a bit of last-minute practice with abstract images because I'm not nearly prepared enough for them. Everything else, though, I'm pretty sure I can make a decent stab at. I'm not as match-fit as I'd like to be, but I'm better than last year, and I didn't lose by much last year. Fingers crossed, eh?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Things that need to be clarified

1) That Frosties advert that everyone thinks is so terrible? It's brilliant! I mean, what's all the hostility about? It's singalongable and catchy and funny, and it raises public awareness of Frosties, which can only be a good thing.

2) Also, Airplane II: The Sequel, which I saw for the first time tonight, is really funny too. I've never bothered to watch it before because everyone says it's not much good, but it turns out that everyone in the world has been lying to me all these years.

3) These clarifications are not just my opinions, they're the objective truth. I'm automatically right about everything. It's quite a burden sometimes.

4) I'm still not sure about the whole handing-in-my-notice thing. I'm tempted to leave the decision until after the WMC, although that might not be the best idea because I'm always at my most I-hate-my-job-ish immediately after a big competition. I'll see what I feel like when I wake up tomorrow.

5) Butter.