Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Friendly Memory Championship (a little late)

While I try to remember what song I was singing in a dream last night, let's have a belated recap of the Friendly (Cambridge) Memory Championship, back in June!

(See, the dream involved a concert by Tracy Chapman, though she didn't bear much resemblance to the singer from the eighties, and she was accompanied by a male guitarist also called Tracy Chapman, and since for the purposes of this dream my name was also Tracy Chapman I came up on stage and sang a song, along with a woman who once again happened to have the same name too on guitar and backing vocals. I performed a relatively recent hit song, I'll remember which one it was eventually. I was really quite awesome, anyway, though I couldn't remember half of the words)

This was the tenth Friendly Championship, which is quite a landmark. Back in 2006, as I pointed out quite excessively, it was one of the very few memory championships in the whole world - there was the World Championship once a year, the German Championships (and the North and South German little events), the different-format US Championship (only open to Americans), and that was basically your lot. Some exotic places like Australia and China had competitions too, even the top competitors would go to an absolute maximum of three memory competitions in a year. The world of memory has expanded quite a lot since then.

In 2015 we gathered together once more in the Attenborough Nature Reserve - not as lethally hot as last year, no particularly noisy interruptions from ducks and geese, good wifi connection so I could update the fans on Facebook with the latest scores, it was a pretty good venue as always. The lineup of competitors was just perfect - two of the absolute world's best in Simon Reinhard and Johannes Mallow, the two leading lights of British memory in Katie Kermode and Marlo Knight, two memory competition veterans in Javier Moreno and Dai Griffiths, and two complete newcomers in Eline Malleret and Rosalind Hoo. That is so exactly the mix of competitors I like at these competitions, it's almost like I'd hand-picked and invited them especially! We also had some kind of researcher, Zaïn Ceizar, keen to probe the brains of the competitors and find out how the whole memory thing works, just to make the whole event a bit more sciencey.

(Look here, Blogger - if I type "sciencey", I don't want you to autocorrect it to "science". "A bit more science" doesn't even work, grammatically speaking.)

We had a perfect line-up of arbiters too, in the form of me, Phil Chambers and Nick Papadopoulos - or if not exactly perfect, we did a pretty good job. The thing about the Friendly competition is that it's a friendly kind of arbiting - we're all sitting in the same room and marking the papers, and anybody's free to query their scores and check their papers to see where they (or the arbiters) went wrong. I'm pretty sure there was only one arbiting mistake (my mental addition going wrong), and that was caught straight away, so everyone was happy and nobody grumbling that their score was wrong. Also, we get things marked and the results announced as quickly as possible, so people can do those important calculations of how much they need to attempt in the next discipline to keep ahead of their rivals.

The competition, as best I can remember at this late date, was exciting, and absolutely packed with world records! Katie and Simon set the pace with scores over 100 in 5-minute words, which is pretty cool; Hannes followed that with 951 in 5-minute binary, which would have been a world record back in the days when I was the record holder, and then Katie totally blew everyone away with a score of 97 in 5-minute names and faces.

The thing about that is, you get 50 first and 50 last names, and the three she got wrong were just slightly mis-spelt. It's seriously freaky and beyond my understanding (although names aren't my strong point, as everyone knows - while writing this blog I've had to remind myself that Marlo's name isn't Marlowe Weisman, the American cartoon-writer, even though I've known him for years now). Simon deserves a mention too for getting a score of 88, which would have been a world record if not for Katie. Freaky, I tell you.

15-minute numbers then immediately provided us with another world record - 1014 for Johannes! To put that in context, memorising a thousand digits in an hour is still considered pretty exceptional; memorising a thousand in 30 minutes is something that very few people have done. It's getting quite scary.

Before lunch, we had 10-minute cards, and guess what? Another world record, sort of - with 7 packs and 8 cards, Simon set a new "non-digital" world record (he'd done a higher score on a computer screen in Los Angeles the previous month, but this is the best score with actual physical cards). "Wait, did I hold the old record for this one?" I asked, but everyone laughed that no, of course I didn't, my world record was broken ages ago.

Lunch was as awesome as always (they make great lunches at Attenborough), although I did my best to hurry it along - the conversation went something like "We want to have two trials of speed numbers instead of one" "Okay, but we'll have to have just a half-hour lunch break, otherwise we won't finish before they kick us out of the building at six o'clock" "No, we'll have an hour for lunch and still have two speed numbers trials, I think."

After a sort of compromise of 45 minutes for lunch, we did have our two speed numbers trials - no world records here, but Simon had built up a healthy lead in the competition by this point. Hannes fought back with yet another world record - 495 in abstract images! The scores in this one are just getting silly now; it's really about time someone did something about it, like making a 5-minute images discipline instead of 15 for these short competitions. In dates he scored 120, which isn't quite a world record but is still higher than anyone else apart from Hannes has ever scored, so it deserves a mention anyway.

The highlight of spoken numbers was me trying to get it to work, but we succeeded eventually, more or less. No world records, but an exciting finish in store with Simon a mere 150 championship points ahead of Hannes going into the speed cards. But Simon didn't manage to get a pack correct, and with a time of 30.33 seconds, Johannes Mallow became the 2015 Friendly Memory Champion! Is that an official title? It sounds a bit silly. It's something to be proud of, anyway! Hannes is now officially both Extreme and Friendly, in fact. And having been one of the competitors at the very first Cambridge Championship back in 2006, we can look back at the scores he got then and marvel at the improvement - back then he got 600 in 15-minute numbers, 720 in binary, 75 in dates, all of them considered really impressive scores. And 81 in abstract images, which was the first time anyone had ever tried the new discipline, but it just goes to show how much people can improve with nine years to think about how to remember things!

Simon was second, Katie third and Marlo fourth; Eline won the much-coveted Best Beginner title, and everyone had a good time!

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Okay, I'm still alive!

Sorry for the three months of silence - the fact is, I've been pretty seriously depressed for quite a long time now, so it's been hard to summon the enthusiasm for mindless rambling bloggery on a regular basis. Really, quite a lot has happened over the months that it seems like people really want to read me going on about, so I shall endeavour to catch you all up with what's been going on, since you all asked so nicely...