Competitors from far and wide converged on the Licensed Victuallers' School in Ascot, where rather than being taught to be licensed victuallers, they took part in the second UK Memory League Championship competition!
The school's conference room was kindly provided courtesy of James Paterson, who was also one of the eight entrants (who between them covered the full range of ability and experience in these championships); and this time I was a competitor too, so our hosts and surprise-task-creators were Jake O'Gorman and Starr Knight. Defending champion Katie Kermode was there to amaze us all with her abilities again, and so were Marlo and Clay Knight (related to each other but not to Starr), Gordon Cowell, newcomer Henry Chen and James's LVS students Henry and Simeon, who played as a sort of tag team in the main competition as well as their own individual youth championship in the afternoon. Simon Orton, in Australia, was co-ordinating everything like some great unseen techno-wizard as always; really, it's impossible to thank Simon enough for all the work he's put in to create all the systems for this most 21st-century kind of memory competition!
We started with the seeding trials, a good way to warm up before the main event - one trial of each of the five disciplines, and also a surprise task, with in each case 100 points for the highest score and other scores proportionate to that.
I was really rubbish at this - my brain was running extremely slowly today, either from the unfamiliar location or just plain lack of practice. With cards, I couldn't remember one image, and guessed, wrongly, at the order of the two cards. With images I was horrifically slow, but at least got them all right this time, with names I had an awful 13, then in numbers I was slower than ever, and still made a mistake in recall (just typing the wrong number and not noticing). And then in words I could only manage 32. All of these are a mile away from my best.
Then to finish the seeding trials we had our first surprise task - battleship cards! We had one minute to study a 12x20 grid, with a lot of blank spaces, but also groups of playing cards forming 'ships'. The cards were written as 7C, JH etc, which turned out to take a bit of adapting to. The battleships were formed of one to five cards, and each correctly-recalled ship was worth one point, with minus points as a penalty for mistakes. I got a respectable 8, joint top score with Katie, but it was still only enough to leave me third in the seeding list, behind her and Marlo.
We were then drawn into two groups of four (first and second seeds into a random different group each, then third and fourth, and so on) and I ended up in group A - Marlo, me, Gordon and Henry. Then it was all-play-all in best-of-five matches to determine the semi-final pairings. Matches started with a randomly-chosen discipline from the five possibilities, with each competitor having up to two vetoes (so it ends up with a discipline that they can both agree on as the least worst). I still wasn't really on form - the match against Marlo was close, hinging on an images contest where we stopped the clock at almost exactly the same time, but my recall was a lot worse. I did manage a good numbers time, at least.
That put Marlo top of the group and into a semi-final against Clay, while I was pitted against Katie. Our surprise task for the semi-finals had a medical theme - a list of ten fictional tablets with funny names to remember, each of them coming with eight side-effects (each side-effect appearing in multiple lists, but in different combinations). Then we'd get the side-effect lists back (in a different order) and have to fill in the correctly-spelt tablet name. It was originally going to be ten minutes memory time, which I complained was too long, and then became eight (still a bit too long, I think). Katie and I both had perfect scores, so we went onto a tie-breaker in which Starr read out one list of side-effects and it was the first person to correctly name the tablet. Katie won, maintaining her perfect record of never dropping a point at the UK MLC.
She continued that by beating me at cards and names to sweep into the final, where she played Marlo. The surprise task for the final was really cool - the contestants (sitting on the floor and surrounded by spectators) were given three padlocks with four-digit combinations, and a maximum of 15 minutes to unlock them. The way to unlock them was to first memorise a 40 digit number arranged in a grid (with columns labelled A to D and rows labelled 1 to 10), then as soon as they'd memorised that, they could give the grid away to the arbiters and get a list of codes in the format "C6 A9 B10 C2" to open the padlocks. It's tricky, with the systems we use, to remember which was the sixth single digit in the third row. Katie, though, got her locks open the quickest.
She didn't quite maintain her perfect record in the final, losing one cards match, but won everything else, including a new world record in the names (beating the record she'd already set earlier in the day!) to end up a very impressive winner, once again!
I finished off the day by beating Clay in the third-place match, probably more because he was shooting for some world records himself and didn't make it than because I was particularly good. So it ends with Katie first, Marlo second, me third, Clay fourth and a round of applause as well for James, Gordon and Henry, as well as the next generation Student Team. Henry Bole, veteran of memory league championships and Chinese TV, won the kids' competition in style.
And there was a lot of fun all round! Everybody had a great day, despite the bad weather (lovely and sunny the whole week before, and it's sunny again today now the competition's ended...), and now we can all look forward to the next one. Maybe if I work a bit harder at it, I can try to challenge the all-conquering Katie...