Saturday, November 15, 2008

Must be some sort of distorting lens

There are pictures of the world championships up on the official website now, but I'm not going to link to them because they make me look horrifically fat. Seriously, it shocked me a little, and I think I'm going to have to face up to the fact that I am currently fatter than I have been for many years. I need to do something about it, as a matter of urgency. I'm too young for middle-aged spread. Okay, diet starts tomorrow!

Well, maybe not exactly tomorrow, since I've just been to the supermarket and bought my usual unhealthy foodstuffs for the next couple of weeks. Maybe I could just eat smaller portions...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Watching Junior Masterchef on Children In Need

Any ten-year-old who knows what dauphinoise potatoes are, let alone how to cook them, is too posh for her own good. Breaded sole indeed. If I was the grand supreme dictator of the universe (and I'm sure it will happen some day), such children will be forced to eat nothing but pizza and chips like normal people.

Anyway, got to go and answer phones. Remember to donate money!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

This is why I don't like phones

I nobly and selflessly volunteered to phone a guy called Alex at a radio station, and not even to talk about how great I am either, only to find that he's actually a woman called Alex. See, if we'd done this over email, I would have remained blissfully unaware, and the ensuing awkwardness would probably never have happened.

Anyway, I was going to write an essay on 'the future of memory sports' tonight, but a) I've written rather a lot about memory just lately, so I thought maybe I should give it a rest, and b) I can't really be bothered. Still, I should write something reasonably lengthy, seeing as I'll probably only have time for a quick scribble tomorrow night - I'm hanging out with Pudsey Bear all night, manning a phone line for Children In Need.

This is another cool thing about working for Boots - there's ample opportunity and encouragement to do good things for charity. And every year they turn their call centre into a Children In Need call centre and ask for volunteers to answer the phones and take credit card details while wearing Pudsey T-shirts. I'm all in favour of this kind of thing. So give us a call tomorrow night, if you're in this general geographical area, some time after nine o'clock, and see if you get through to me! Also, give money. And don't give me a fake credit card number, I've secretly memorised the numbers of everybody I know, so I'll be on to you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Cambridge Memory Championship!

My passing mention of the Cambridge Memory Championship last night provoked a surprising flurry of emails and comments from people wanting to know more about it. I suppose it is a while since I've mentioned it, and I have picked up a few more readers since all those TV shows I've been on, so I should probably go into a bit more detail...

The Cambridge Memory Championship (which has got a website, albeit one that only talks about last year's competition) is an annual event that happens somewhere in Cambridge, at some time in May, usually on a Sunday. I organise the competition, but I don't pick the date or the location - it happens as part of the Cambridge Mind Sports Olympiad (which has also got a website, which also just talks about last year's) and we just get a room wherever this wider event takes place.

I'll let you all know as soon as I know when and where it's happening. In the meantime, you can let me know if you're interested in coming, or ask any questions you may have, by using the 'contact' link on the Cambridge Memory Championship site (it just goes to my email).

Or you can post any questions as comments here, and I'll try to answer them. Anticipating some of them, I'd just like to stress that it is a friendly, relaxed introduction to the world of memory sports for beginners and a friendly, relaxed get-together for experienced memorisers. No previous memory experience is required - having seen me on telly is an advantage only in that it'll boost my ego. I will be organising and not competing, although I often end up persuaded to have a go at memorising a pack of cards really, really quickly at the end.

For real beginners, a quick guide: The competition is all about memorising as much information as possible in a set time. There are ten 'disciplines', which you can read about in detail on the website - for example, memorising as long a number as possible in fifteen minutes, or as many random words as possible in five minutes. The rules on the website are more in-depth and complicated than you need to know, but pay attention to the scoring.

And please do come along! If nothing else, it's a chance to meet some fun and weird people, and we always go to the pub afterwards to hang out and chat. Everyone's welcome!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More memories

Well, now that I'm officially free to write about something other than memory, let's talk about memory. Am I going to win next year? I'm on a bit of a roll at the moment, I won everything I entered last year (which would have been more impressive if I hadn't skipped the German championship) and although I haven't done any training bar an online memory challenge since the WMC ended, I'm still feeling motivated. I think I'll do some serious practice this coming weekend.

Also, I was in too much of a hurry yesterday to mention that at the prizegiving ceremony, while trying to escape the hordes of people who wanted their picture taken with me for a minute or two so the cheesy grin wouldn't get permanently stuck on my face, I bumped into a guy called Phillip Holt (or something like that - I'm still rubbish with names), who was one of the people giving lectures at the Festival of the Mind, but more interestingly once worked for Peter Pan Playthings while they were the distributors of othello. And it turns out he designed their database for keeping track of othello competitions, back in the days when more than six people turned up for the average regional. I love these little small-world moments.

What else could I mention? How about a little advance advertising for next year's Cambridge Championship? I want to make it a big and special thing in 2009, so clear a space in your calendars for next May! Come on, let's have a lot of great memorisers and a lot of enthusiastic beginners!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Let's get this thing written!

Let me finish my account of the world championship now, before the next one comes around. As you may recall, I had a very comfortable lead going into the final discipline, but decided to play it super-safe, just in case. In Speed Cards, as I'm sure you know, the aim is to memorise a single, shuffled pack of cards as quickly as possible. You get two attempts, and the best time counts. If you can't recall the whole pack in order, it doesn't matter how fast you were, you only score a handful of points.

I knew that if I set a safe time of around a minute in the first trial, my rivals Gunther and Hannes would have to do something like fifteen seconds, which is (to the best of our current knowledge, anyway) utterly impossible. One minute is a piece of cake, normally, and so it proved here. The only problem was with the timing device - we use clever timers that start counting when you take your hands off them, and stop again when you put your hands down again after memorising the cards. They also turn themselves off if they've been left alone for five minutes, and I think this is what must have happened with mine, without my noticing. Unless there was a fault with it - I was about 90% sure at the time that I'd seen the lights come on when I put my hands on it, but I couldn't absolutely swear to it. Sadly, no TV cameras were watching the timer this time round. Luckily, the ever-alert Phil Chambers was watching, and quickly checked with his watch when he saw what had happened. If it had been vital for the championship, there might have been a problem, but as it was, an estimated 59 seconds (it was two or three seconds faster than that, really) was acceptable to everyone.

That settled the championship beyond any doubt whatsoever, although I still insisted that nobody say so to me on pain of being glared at - I hate to jinx things. What was still interesting was the fight for second place, and the fight for tenth, to see who would get the prize moneys. In the end, Hannes had mistakes on both attempted packs, and Gunther's 49.3 seconds was comfortably enough to secure his silver medal. Liu Ping, having last year become one of the five people to do a time under 40 seconds (without allegedly cheating), now became one of the five people to do a time under 40 seconds more than once, winning the final discipline with 39.09 and bumping himself up to 7th place in the championship. Lukas Amsüss, who's another of those Famous Five, came third with 50.84, although it wasn't enough to break into the top ten in the overall championship.

Speed Cards at the World Championship tends to be a little disappointing - it's not often we see world records in that one, because everyone tends to be tired out after three days of hard-working memorisation. Still, I was annoyed with myself when my attempted 25.61 was a complete disaster. I got the first card wrong - somehow I was convinced that there had been another image on my journey before the one that turned out to be the first. Ah well.

I was also annoyed with myself for not getting a single new world record at the world championships! Yes, I'd won the championship, got personal best scores in four of the ten disciplines, had extremely good scores in all ten of them (possibly the first time I've ever done that at the worlds), set the highest ever championship points score and blown everybody away, but the no-world-records thing still bugged me. It's the first time since 2002 that I haven't set a new record at the worlds, I think.

Everyone told me not to be silly and start celebrating, so I did, keeping the disappointed mumblings to a minimum. Final scores:

1 Ben Pridmore 7908
2 Dr. Gunther Karsten 6859
3 Johannes Mallow 6145
4 Guo Chuanwei 5779
5 Andi Bell 5382
6 Boris Konrad 5213
7 Liu Ping 5145
8 Su Ruiqiao 4871
9 Dr. Yip Swe Chooi 4707
10 Edward Cooke 4610
11 Yuan Wenkui 4520
12 James Ponder 4423
13 Jürgen Petersen 4043
14 Corinna Draschl 3926
15 Dorothea Seitz 3868
16 Lukas Amsüss 3862
17 Zheng Caiqian 3440
18 Stephanie Bünter 3434
19 Zhu Shao Min 3405
20 Mia Körkemeyer 3200

That just left us to pass the time until the evening's prizegiving ceremony. The dress code for this was 'smart', which brings out an interesting range of clothing from the competitors. Dominic O'Brien always wears his dinner jacket on the final day of competition - if it was me, I'd spill something down the shirt at lunch and not have a spare one for the evening, but he never seems to have that problem. Tony Buzan dresses in one of his sensationally cool self-designed suits, as he always does. The rest of the arbiting team wear suits and ties. As for the competitors, the ones who could fit jackets into their bags wear them, the rest wear their smartest T-shirts and jeans. Just for a change, I had also brought my work clothes - I knew Andi would be there dressed as scruffily as possible, as a matter of principle, so me dressing untidily wouldn't be unique or cool. I wore my big red tie, and of course my hat, so I wouldn't look exactly like I do at work.

Actually, nobody at the championship believed that I wear a suit and tie for work. They can't picture me dressed like that. Conversely, the people at work can't picture me dressed in hat and T-shirt-with-funny-picture-on-it. Anyway, on this occasion, my attempt to look smart and yet unique was undermined by the way that the entire Team China were dressed in identical black suits and red ties. Still, never mind. Conformity is cool too.

As for the prizegiving, that was fun, as these things always are. The boss of those wonderful sponsors, Intelnacom, came along despite the fact that rescheduling the prizegiving had made it clash with his sixtieth birthday party. This, and the fact that they gave us $30,000 and I ended up pocketing $11,300 of that, prevents me from poking fun at his speech like I normally would.

There were other prizes too - a titchy little glass trophy (I normally complain that the trophies are too big, but this year I felt it was too small. I really am a terribly ungrateful person, and clearly impossible to please. I suggest that the organisers of all future championships refuse to give me any prizes, just to teach me a lesson), lots of medals (gold, silver and bronze for each discipline, and for the championship, and for the junior and kids divisions - Konstantin won the kids, I forget who won the juniors, but it was probably Dorothea. The medals were also smaller than last year's, by the way) and for the winner (me) a super-enormous giant print of a painting by Tony's friend Lorraine Gill.

This picture isn't my kind of thing at all, but several other competitors said they wanted it, so I decided to get rid of it in the least ungrateful way I could think of, and auction it off, giving the money to charity. I'll let you all know when that happens - I need to get a camera and take a picture of it, because it's ten times too big for my scanner. It'll go to the Alzheimer's Society, assuming my contact there is still there and is happy to accept the money.

I won't bore you with the details of the following day, which I spent very enjoyably lounging around doing nothing or exploring Manama, or the journey home, enlivened by discovering a really great Canadian comedy called Corner Gas - check it out some time, it's very funny. Oh, and I got another pair of plane socks and once again accidentally left my original holey socks on the plane. And it was extremely cold when I got back home. I want another trip to Bahrain! Now!

Looks like I'll have to wait till next November, though - or at least that's the current plans. Meanwhile, all that remains is for me to thank everybody who helped run the competition, everyone who took part, and everyone who's said congratulations to me! Let's hope next year is just as much fun!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

I'm no good with deadlines

It's terrible, knowing that I still need to get round to finishing my account of the world memory championships. Because I just can't find the time in my busy schedule of sitting around watching telly right now, and because I haven't got the time to do that, I feel guilty about writing more than a couple of lines in my blog on any other subject. And then when I don't write more than a couple of lines, I feel guilty about disappointing my eager blog readers, if any. There's an expression for this kind of situation, along the lines of 'pyrrhic victory', but I can't quite put my finger on what it is. And I also feel guilty about that, because people read my blog (if anybody does still read it) in the expectation of hearing exactly that kind of uncommon expression casually tossed out.

Tomorrow I'll write about the speed cards, the prizegiving, the journey home, and anything else that happened last month in Bahrain, and then resume my guilt-free daily drivellings.