March 03, 2004

Memory Games

Posted by Ed

The 2004 USA Memory Championship was held in New York last Saturday. Here's how Wired described the event:

The three-day international event pits mnemonic experts from around the globe in competitions that include memorizing a previously unpublished and non-rhyming lengthy poem in 15 minutes, and writing it down complete with proper spelling and punctuation; memorizing a list of 400 random words and reciting them back in order; and the dreaded "binary competition," in which competitors have a half hour to memorize a random string of thousands of 1s and 0s.

In last year's international competition, Hagwood managed to recall 552 numbers in the binary string. Competitor Gunther Karsten remembered 3,009. Hagwood came in 12th out of 46 contestants in 2003; this year he hopes to place in the top five.

Hagwood said he wasn't born with an outstanding ability to memorize, and claims anyone can learn the skill. There are specific techniques that mnemonic masters use -- such as associating images with each number and suit when memorizing card positions -- but in general it all comes down to keeping your brain synapses in good working order.

Readers of this blog may remember that I find the workings of memory oddly intriguing--even if I find the Memory Championship kind of silly. And, for the surprisingly large number of you interested in my previous rant on a related subject, here's something to consider: the organizers of the U.S.A. Memory Championships consider their endeavor a sport, declaring that it was "[s]et up as a sporting event for Mental Athletes." Of course, their odd use of capital letters in the unusual phrase "mental athletes" doesn't really make me confident of their judgment on such matters.

Posted by Ed at March 3, 2004 10:48 AM

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