Saturday, November 14, 2009

And we'll keep on fighting to the end

Sheeeeeeeesh, that was close.

In brief, because I'm just snatching five minutes in an internet cafe before the prizegiving ceremony, I only ended up with 167 words, and then in spoken numbers it turned out I'd got the ninth digit wrong, so I just ended up with my score of 67 from the first trial. When they read the scores out, I shouted "Damn it!", quite loudly. I get stressed at these events. So going into the speed cards, I was 368 championship points behind Hannes, with Simon and Gunther no more than a few hundred points behind me.

That meant I had to go for a fast time - there was no point doing a safe 1-minute pack and guaranteeing 4th or 5th place. So I went for, and got, 31.55 seconds in the first trial. Simon managed a 54.81, Gunther 66 seconds or so and Hannes attempted a time of about a minute, but didn't recall it correctly.

So then it was calculation time, scribbling with pen and paper. Who says you never need long division after you leave school? I calculated that if I didn't improve my time, Hannes would win with a pack in 51.5 seconds. And if I managed a 25-second pack in the second trial, Hannes would need about 36 seconds.

What about Simon, somebody asked me. "He's too far behind," I confidently said. There was a chorus of no-he-isn'ts, and I sat down with my pen and paper again and confirmed that if I didn't improve my score, he could still win with a time of 26.2 seconds. He's done 28-point-something before. So great, more pressure.

Anyway, I whizzed through my second pack in 25.97, and the recall went very smoothly, except that I'd memorised the ace of diamonds twice and the ace of hearts not at all. Drat, I thought to myself, but I bet where I went wrong was right at the end. The last two cards were ace-of-diamonds, jack-of-diamonds, and I only gave them a very quick glance as I was putting the pack down, I must have mistaken a heart for a diamond. Turns out it was the other one, near the start, that I got wrong.

Luckily for me, though, Hannes didn't manage to get his 40-something second pack right - he would have won it if he had. And likewise, Simon, having intended to do around 25 seconds, actually stopped the clock at 20, but didn't quite recall it correctly. So I win the world championship, slightly by default rather than brilliance, but even so, wowee. This has been the most thrilling competition I've participated in - I think it's replaced Kuala Lumpur 2003 as my all-time favourite.

I feel a little dissatisfied, still, because I wasn't quite at my best and I could easily have blown it. But I didn't, and woo, I'm still the World Memory Champion! Woo!

Now I need to go to the prize ceremony and then to bed for the next week. See you all when I wake up.

If I do this and he does this and he does that...

Boo, Bahrain lost their all-important game against New Zealand. That's probably a bad omen, but it would have to be a bad omen for memory competitions in general rather than for me in particular, and since it's unquestionably worse for the mind sport of memory to have the same old boring world champion win it again, I'm taking this as a good omen for me.

Plus my brother emailed to say he's arrived safely in Harbin, China and is settling in nicely, and that's something that's been concerning me just slightly in amongst all this memorising, so that's a good omen too. And just for me, not for any of the others, because few if any of them have even met my brother.

Anyway, I ended up with 22 packs of cards when we got the results this morning, and Hannes got something like 15½, or maybe it was 17½, I don't know. Go and check or What this meant was that I'm 89 championship points behind Hannes, and about 350 ahead of Gunther in third place.

This morning we had random words, in which I fervently hope I got all 187 words I attempted right. Hannes reckons he might have got 210. And then spoken numbers, in which I think I got 135, and Hannes something a bit less than that. So there are various permutations, but what it's going to all boil down to is of course the final discipline, Speed Cards. It's great when a memory championship ends like that. Except that this means there's a sporting chance that I'll make a mess of everything and maybe not even finish in the top five or six. Still, fingers crossed, eh?

This morning, while we were waiting for the start, I looked around me and wrote what I could see:

Gunther makes sure his little German flag (with eagle) is standing up on his desk, while his juggling balls sit next to it. Simon has a big green pepper on his (during the morning, he munched his way through a green one and an orange one - presumably the red one is for the afternoon). Ruiqiao is late (lateness in the morning is his 'thing', obviously). Boris has his printed plan for the competition (what score to attempt in each discipline, what result would be good, acceptable or great and what total scores that would give him...) Cornelia's desk is cluttered with jacket, bottles of water, carrier bag and little cuddly lobster. Hannes has a sandwich, bag of some kind of snack food and lots of apple juice. I've just got my hat, watch and a bottle of water on mine.

Friday, November 13, 2009


I'm tired. The kind of transcending-all-other-experience-of-tiredness tired that I only get at the World Memory Championship. It's great.

What isn't great, though, is my performance. It's okay, but it's not great. We've just finished the Hour Cards, and I only attempted 23 packs, because I kept getting distracted and wasn't quite with it, and when I got to pack 23 and realised I'd missed out a big chunk of my journey (confusing room 5 at QEGS with room 2, for any former schoolmates who might be interested), I decided to give it up as a bad job and just try to make sure I got those 23 right. And I think I did, barring the inevitable stupid mistake here and there. I'd be happy-ish with a final result of 20.

I finished second to Hannes in Speed Numbers and Historic Dates, which is about par for the course, and nowhere to speak of in Names and Faces (which Simon won). Haven't got the results of the Hour Cards yet (those poor arbiters have to stay up all night marking them - I must remember to thank them all tomorrow), but after six events, it goes:

1 Hannes 5171
2 Me 4782
3 Gunther 4559
4 Simon 4232
5 Chuanwei 4007
6 Feng 3981
7 Boris 3965
8 Cornelia 3709
9 Ruiqiao 3634
10 Dorothea 3454

Worrying, because I'm ALWAYS in the lead after Historic Dates. Even in the years when I'm doing badly. Still, I probably beat Hannes in Hour Cards, so it's going to be tight tomorrow.

There's a good article in the Times today, incidentally, although the title "Britain tries to regain lost glory in memory sports" is a bit misleading. I would have said we're still hanging on to a little bit of glory, seeing as how I'm still the world champion and everything...

Very quick update

I got a disappointing 1756 or something like that in Hour Numbers, but it was still the third-best score, narrowly beating Gunther. But Wang Feng, who I've never heard of before this competition, got a record-beating 1980-something and Su Ruiqiao got 2080. That leaves me in second place overall after three disciplines, behind Gunther (who, as I've said before, is always in the lead at this point) but only fractionally ahead of a whole gang of other people.

Names and faces went as badly as usual for me, speed numbers I got 360, which was the second-best (after Hannes) in the first trial - Ruiqiao, attempting 680, got 52 or something bad like that, so hopefully no sensational new record there in the second trial. Historic dates I got 90-something. Hour Cards this afternoon, I need to do something cool if I'm going to win this competition. Now I've got to go and talk to CBS. I'm not even sure who CBS are - Americans? The man who wants to talk to me is English...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Latest news

Well, I did worse than I expected in Abstract Images, ending up with only 159 and joint 13th place (I think last year that score would have put me in the top five - the scores are going to be scary this year, I suspect). Gunther broke the world record with something like 318. But then I made up for it in the Binary, getting a better-than-expected 4105 (just short of the world record but since when I'd finished I reckoned I'd got somewhere in the high 3000s, I'm not disappointed), while Gunther had a disappointing-by-his-standards score of around 2500. That leaves Gunther in the lead after two disciplines, as he always is, but it's very close behind him - I'm in second, but only just.

When we get the Hour Numbers results tomorrow morning, then we'll be able to see who's really on form and start speculating about the end result. All I can say is that if I didn't make too many stupid mistakes, it's possible (not probable, but possible) that I got a score of over 2000. Gunther, Hannes, Chuanwei, Ruiqiao and probably some others too are also saying they might have beaten the magic 2000 that's eluded us all for so long. I might quite possibly not have made the top ten in this discipline either, we'll just have to wait and see. Boris summed it up nicely just now - "I'm in ninth place, and I think this is the highest score I've ever had after two disciplines!"

Now I'm off to eat something unhealthy and get an early night. Tomorrow, it's Names and Faces (yay), 5-Minute Numbers, Historic Dates and Hour Cards. Stay tuned to!

London blogging

Written last night in old-fashioned pen-and-paper style:

Evening of day 0. Got to London okay, even enough time to drop my bag off at my cheap-and-nasty hotel before making my way to the expensive-and-nice hotel on the Strand for the registration and competitor briefing. I also stopped in a couple of shops along the way, looking for a towel - unsure whether the cheap-and-nasty hotel was nice enough to provide towels and shampoo, I decided to bring the latter and not the former. A strange decision, but it seemed sensible at the time, as my big towel wouldn't have fitted in my little rucksack. Interestingly, gift shops don't seem to sell Union Jack towels, the M&S on Edgware Road doesn't sell towels, and the useful-household-things shop on the Strand sells pretty much everything except towels. So I bought a cheap 3-pack of teatowels and made do.

Nothing too exciting happened at the briefing. The Japanese crew insisted that I sit right at the front of the room, next to the aisle, but I would probably have sat there anyway (the top ten competitors get big desks at the front, the rest crowd into smaller partitioned cubicles at the back - it's a good turnout, probably record-breaking, and although the room is too small, it's not excessively so). No Tony Buzan, who's not been well lately, but who will be there tomorrow. There was a Ray Keene, which is unusual - his work for the WMSC is normally so far behind the scenes that a lot of competitors don't know he exists. Otherwise, it was Phil, Chris, Jennifer and Dominic with a very impressive computerised presentation explaining the rules. The projector broke down halfway through, but otherwise it went without a hitch, and there weren't even very many questions. No arguments, either!

The most interesting part was the revelation that Su Ruiqiao has requested 4000 digits in Hour Numbers and 680 digits in 5-Minute Numbers. The world records are 1949and 405 respectively, so this seems a little excessive, to say the least. And 680 is a very specific big number to request, don't you think? I suspect mindgames. Or an Andi-Bell-esque approach of trying to memorise enormous amounts and getting 60% of it wrong. We shall see.

Day 1 brings Abstract Images, Binary and Hour Numbers. Gunther is very good at all three and usually expects to take an early lead. But we shall see about that, too.

Scribbled this morning while waiting for Images to start:

Day 1 - Bakerloo line closed, but I managed to get here on time. Left my hat in the hotel room and didn't realise until I was half way there. The usual opening ceremony, Tony's standard speech. Ruiqiao, having picked the seat behind me, was late, but still in time for the Images. Chuanwei keeps moving desks, he's settled somewhere in the middle of the room now. We're just waiting for the start...

Live blogging right now:

It's lunchtime, I've escaped the camera crews for a little while and headed straight for the internet. I'm a geek. After Tony's exciting announcement that in 1994, scientists predicted that nobody would ever be able to remember 30 spoken numbers etc etc, we got into Abstract Images, followed by Binary. Both went pretty well for me, I think I got fairly decent scores, but the fun comes when you see how everybody else has done. Nobody has been going around boasting that they've shattered world records, but nobody seems terribly depressed about their performance either. Time to head back to the Strand Palace to hear the first scores and then see what I can do in Hour Numbers. I would really like to beat 2000 in that, but I never quite seem to achieve my best in this one. We shall, as the saying goes, see. Keep reading for the latest!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This is why I'm not a writer

Yes, I still haven't finished that appraisal of the top contenders for the World Memory Championship. And it's pretty unlikely that I'm going to finish it now, seeing as I'm working tomorrow and then quickly scurrying down to London for the competitor briefing in the evening, without so much as an hour or two to spare for sitting around blogging. In brief, if I don't win, place your metaphorical bets on Simon Reinhard, who's generally good at everything and doesn't tend to make mistakes, but just maybe lacks experience of the hour-long disciplines. Failing that, Johannes Mallow is a whiz with numbers, unbeatable at historic dates, has reportedly been training very hard and scared everyone last year by being better than expected. Gunther Karsten is always a force to be reckoned with, so don't rule him out, expect world records in names and words from the inevitable Boris Konrad, beware of Guo Chuanwei and Liu Ping and the underrated Su Ruiqiao coming from the mysterious East (where, incidentally, my brother is finally emigrating to tomorrow), hope for surprises from someone completely unexpected, because that's always fun, and wish everyone the best of British luck!

In other news, I had the Japanese film crew briefly filming me at work today. You know, these guys are by far the most likeable TV people I've ever dealt with (and I did actually really like some of the others I've worked with in the past), and they really know how to keep things brief and not waste time - they promised to only be there for an hour, and in the event they were even quicker than that! This is going to be a great documentary, I can't wait to see it.

Monday, November 09, 2009


It occurred to me, mainly as a result of reading Chris's annual Mindzine blog post, that I've never actually played monopoly, ever, in my life. I feel like I'm missing out on something here. Actually, I only had a vague idea of what the rules were, so I found them on the internet and read them tonight. Sounds like fun, I must have a game with someone, some time when I've got a few hours to spare.

Actually, I must confess, it's only a few years ago that I discovered that monopoly is actually an American game. Despite it not featuring in my childhood at all, I'd still managed to acquire the impression that it's an original English invention, and the London-based version was the first one. First impressions being hard to shake off, I still find it quite difficult to believe that it's a foreign game.

Oh, and the title of this blog is an old American word for 'umbrella', which many Americans inexplicably believe to be a British expression. You see, my ego can't cope with admitting that I spent the first thirty years of my life mistakenly attributing something American to Britain without compensating for it by jeering at the way those foolish transatlantic types (like the writers of one episode of Frasier, for example) are always mistakenly attributing American things to Britain. What a bunch of oafs they are over there. They all think we measure distance in kilometers, too.

Also, just to reassert how clever and knowledgeable I am (that ego of mine is terribly fragile, you know, especially in moments of stress about upcoming World Memory Championships), can I point out that although this website speculates that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is to blame for the bumbershoot confusion (understandable, seeing as so many Americans do think Dick Van Dyke is an authentic Englishman), there was in fact a character in the popular 1960s war comic "Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos", four years before Dick Van Dyke sang that song, called Percival 'Pinky' Pinkerton, who was the token English character, and who always carried his trusty bumbershoot around with him on his commando missions. Seriously, he did.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

It's the final countdown

Okay, I've done a last bit of cards practice today - it's a bit closer to the competition than I usually keep training, you have to rest your brain and your journeys for a few days at least, but I still don't feel completely like I've done enough training, and I wanted to experiment with slowing down a little on the second viewing (I've taken to doing that with numbers, and I think it helps, a bit). But now I'm all done, except for a bit of abstract-image and random-words practice I'm planning to do over the next few evenings, because I'm operating on the dubious theory that it's good to keep practicing those right up to the start of the competition.

I've also devoted a tedious amount of time to shuffling cards and writing labels for them, and realising that I forgot to buy rubber bands (to hold the cards together and stop them falling out all over my bag or the floor). I'll have to see if I can pilfer some from the office, but getting stationery there can be a bit like borrowing gold from Fort Knox. I've got to work on Wednesday, hopefully knocking off early enough to get to the competitor briefing in London at 6pm, and I'm probably not going to have time to pop to the shops and find rubber bands...

It's the trivial little things that cause people to lose the World Memory Championship, you know.