Friday, November 18, 2016

Wet Welsh Weekend of Memory

Tomorrow it's the super-exciting Peak UK Memory League Championship! So I should really write up the super-exciting competitions from last weekend, or things will get terribly confusing...

They happened at the wonderful Broneirion, a real proper country house on top of a mountain (or at least a really big hill) in Wales. As well as the competition room, which was called Brownsea Island, everyone was staying overnight in a bedroom with a name - mine was Caradoc, and I think the coolest was Gordon's, Uther Pendragon. King Arthur's dad, you know. Also, there was a dining room, drawing room, billiard room and library. The library had books in it, but the billiard room didn't have a billiard table. The bathrooms had extremely Victorian fittings, including an absolutely enormous bath, big enough to lie in at full stretch!

I hired a car for the weekend to get me down there. I still hate driving, but it was a nice little mini thing, and I didn't crash it into anything at all. Came close a couple of times, but that doesn't count. I got there in good time in the morning - I was supposed to be picking Silvio up at Shrewsbury station along the way, but he'd got on the wrong train and was at Wolverhampton when I arrived at Shrewsbury. I advised him to get on a train to Newtown, the second-closest station to the competition venue (the closest is Caersws, and I didn't want to try to pronounce or spell that to someone with a limited understanding of English, let alone Welsh). He did, but the train then broke down, and he was stuck in the middle of nowhere for hours.

My fellow arbiter Nick, meanwhile, was also lost in the British train network somewhere and running late. There were some people who did get there in time, though - Søren, Dan, Gordon and Dai. So we got started with the first ever Numbers and Cards Championship! Dai, though, had to leave early on because he wasn't feeling well, but Silvio eventually arrived and joined in in the afternoon. Gordon also skipped the first round of speed numbers, because Scotland were winning the rugby 21-15 and he needed to give them his moral support in the closing minutes. Australia got a last-minute try and conversion and won 22-21.

But since most of the disciplines were either brand new or subtly different from the usual way they're done, everything was Officially (to the extent that that means anything these days) a New World Record - and a senior record (Søren), a Danish record (Søren again), an Italian record (Silvio),  a Scottish record (Gordon) and a Welsh record (Dan). The only completely new discipline was speed numbers - memorise a 100-digit number as fast as possible - and Silvio took the honours for that with 2:26.46. Which was good, because nobody got them all right in the first trial, and I wouldn't have liked to announce that the Official World Record is 98 digits in five minutes.

The interesting innovation in cards was that all the recall was done by rearranging unshuffled packs. The consensus seemed to be that this is more difficult than writing it down, but I personally think it's easier. We need to do this at more competitions in the future, and see what other people think.

All the exciting things in these pictures happened during the course of the day - the first one is a giant wasp that Nick heroically killed and stamped on when I told him to gently usher it out the door or window.

Other things that happened included a psychological discussion or two - it's generally mathematically agreed that you should guess exactly two digits on the final line in binary, to have a good chance of getting a potentially all-important extra point. We speculated on the idea of guessing an extra word at the end of words memory, but I said all that would come of that was giving the arbiters a chance to psychoanalyse competitors based on the first word that came into their heads.

But Freud would have had a field day with our entrants this weekend - in one discipline, Gordon made a mistake by confusing two mental images, his mother and himself. In the same one, Søren confused his wife with his sister. And I should probably spare the blushes of the one who mis-memorised one of the names and faces, and instead of "Rodd" wrote "Schaft"...

But a good time was had by all in the Numbers and Cards! Søren was the worthy winner! And after that we all went to the dining room for an excellent meal, before following the Victorian tradition and withdrawing to the drawing room afterwards. Had there been any ladies present, naturally we would have made them leave the dining room first while the gentlemen stayed behind for port and cigars. Still, the drawing room had comfy armchairs, a genuine log fire (that pumped out a heck of a lot of heat!) and a piano which Gordon made me envious by playing beautifully. He tells me it's just a matter of practice, but somehow I've just never been able to do that with musical instruments.

I retired to bed, and got up bright and early the next morning to have a giant bath before the Friendly Championship kicked off. To make it a special occasion, I brought the Brazilian Mystery Cloak. Well, nobody's seen it for a while, and I think I need to make it my Official Memory Championship Organizer apparel.

There were also a bunch of national records, personal bests and so on to be fought for here - notably, this was the first ever competition to have 15-minute binary digits (the IAM's hopefully very temporary replacement for abstract images), so there was a world record up for grabs! Søren officially grabbed it with 876 on his way to a very impressive overall victory!

We also had a great lunch on the Sunday (the food all weekend was delicious!), and the competition even finished ahead of schedule, like no memory competition in history! Really, the whole thing was a lot of fun, and I hope we can do it again next year. Some time in May, maybe. Stay tuned!

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