Saturday, November 24, 2012

Well, that went as well as could be expected

In fact, probably a bit better!

In the way of such things, the opening ceremony was half an hour late starting, and an hour late finishing - photos by the pool take up more time than anyone would expect - and the whole thing fell further behind schedule as the day went on. This is the way memory competitions always work, so it's good to see we're keeping with tradition. Apart from that, the whole thing was impeccably organised and wonderfully technological! All done on computers, which all worked fine (bar one little hiccup) and made everything very smooth and easy.

All in all, the Memoriad is an absolutely wonderful event that really needs to happen more often than once every four years. Can we have a mini-memoriad next year, please?

We started with speed cards, and I did a "safe" time of 33.61 seconds (safe in the sense that I only make mistakes about half the time when I go at that speed) and got it all right without too much difficulty. Nobody else had done a fast time without mistakes, but I expected them to in the second trial. I set out to do something faster, but got stuck half way through the memorisation, and didn't go much faster at all. A drawback with the Memoriad software is that you can't see your time after you stop the clock, which would be nice, but it turned out after I'd tried to recall it but got it wrong that my time was 33.56 - 0.05 seconds improvement is hardly worth all the effort.

But as it turned out, everyone trying for fast times had made mistakes again, so I won! Yay for me - lucky, I know, but I'll take what I can get. Someone who I don't even know and whose name I can't remember came second, and Lukas Amsüss was third, both with times of 50-something seconds.

After that nice start, we had mental multiplications. Fifteen minutes to multiply ten pairs of eight-digit numbers together - the best people do it in a lot less than fifteen minutes, but I'm happy if I get through five in that time. In the two trials this time, I got two right and three wrong in each one. I'm never going to be the mental calculation world champion.

Most of the top contenders in mental calculations nowadays, by the way, are around eight years old and mostly from India. It's a bit scary, really, but memory sports isn't currently showing any signs of such a youthful invasion.

Names and faces came next, and it took me a while to get into the mood to concentrate on it. I actually stopped after a couple of minutes, thinking I'd use the time to prepare my journeys for the afternoon, but then decided that was being silly, and made some kind of effort. I got 54, I think it was - Simon probably won with 150 or so, although there was a technical problem with the computer recognising the Turkish keyboard layout, so we'll get the final results tomorrow.

I decided to skip the mental square roots, since I didn't get round to looking up how to do it, and I was feeling a bit eyestrained after all that looking at computer screens. Instead, I went back to my room and had a relaxing jacuzzi. I could get used to this kind of thing, I really could.

Incidentally, I haven't mentioned yet just how awesome the Belconti Resort Hotel, Belek, Antalya, is. It's an amazing place, and if you need a relaxing holiday, it has my huge recommendation. There's the beach, swimming pools, fitness centre, lots of other great stuff, and the food is wonderful - I was worried that the meals at a place like this would be either posh or healthy, but no, it's just really really great food!

Anyway, we finished the day's entertainment with Hour Numbers - which I haven't practiced at all for at least a year and a bit. And it went really well! Somehow, being in a real memory competition gets me into the right mindset, and I don't have a problem with my mind wandering at all. I went for nine journeys, 2106 digits, with my method of reading through a journey, closing my eyes and making sure I know it, then moving on to the next one, followed by two or three more revisions of the whole lot at the end, and it worked splendidly! I ended up with a score of 1876, which is either a personal best or very close to it, and was able to think "if I'd only got the nun and the cigarette the right way round, I would have been over 1900!"

I know I could also have said "if I'd got them all correct, I would have got 2106," but I kept swapping that blasted nun and her fag around, unable to decide which order they came in. Oh well.

Anyway, I wasn't under any illusions that that might be the best score - my German enemies might have messed up the speed cards, but they're consistently better than me at hour numbers - but I wasn't expecting just how good they'd be! Simon ended up with 2440, Christian with 2343 and Johannes with 2280. Wow. So I was fourth, and just out of the prize-money places, but it's no shame to be beaten by that kind of performance. And 1876 is very much the kind of score I'd want to get in the world championship if I was going to win it, knowing that I always gain on my rivals in events like hour cards and 30-minute binary. I feel motivated again now!

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Hello from Antalya, where I'm in a hotel room that, to put it mildy, is palatial. There's enough wardrobe space to easily contain all the clothes I've ever owned. The bath is a jacuzzi. There's one of those couch things that I think is called a chaise longue. And I'm lying in a FOUR POSTER BED! For the first time in my life. I'm wearing a T-shirt proclaiming "A working class hero is something to be", and it seems a tiny bit out of place.

Now for the hand-written blog I wrote on the plane to pass the time:

The man sitting next to me recognised me, which is always nice and is probably a good omen for a memory competition, but wanted to talk about my opinions on string theory, the nature of the universe, the brain, perception and so forth. I'm always a sad disappointment to the inquiring mind - all I can really offer on the subject is a vague intention to one day learn what "string theory" is. I keep hearing people talk about it. I need to somehow change people's perception of me as a genius who likes that kind of thing - I, and all the memory people I know, are basically normal people with a weird hobby. There are bricklayers with the same creativity and passion for what they do, and I bet nobody asks them about string theory.

Then there's the embarrassment that Mohammed was able to chat about such things, fluently, in his second language, while here I am merrily on my way to Turkey and not speaking a single word of Turkish. I can't help thinking that this makes me a terrible person. As the pile of "Teach Yourself" books-and-CDs on my bookshelves will testify, I normally have the decency to try and fail to learn the basics before I go somewhere new, but I just haven't had the time this time around.

Well, to be fair, I've had plenty of time, I just haven't done it. I say it again - I'm not much of a genius.

I arrived at the airport at around 9:15pm, local time (two hours ahead of GMT), intending to get a taxi to the hotel by means of miming and waving a piece of paper with the address on it. Most people had arranged for the hotel to pick them up in a minibus, but I wasn't aware of anyone having arranged it for my arrival time, though I was secretly hoping to bump into someone and hitch a ride.

And I tell you, it's a good thing I wear a hat, or at least that I consort with people who can remember names and faces, because I'm going to admit here on my blog something that I didn't admit to the people concerned at the time...

In the arrivals place, I was greeted with "Hi, Ben!" by someone who didn't look at all familiar, but who had travelled from far away and was waiting for the rest of his group. No idea who it is. Maybe from the Phillipines, possibly from Hong Kong, I don't know. But they weren't leaving the airport immediately, so I said see-you-later and went outside to where the taxis were.

"Hi, Ben!" said someone else. I enthusiastically said hi back, and luckily the conversation very soon told me that I was talking to Jonas von Essen - who, you will remember, I saw a month ago when he came to my memory competition - and that he was waiting for Matteo Salvo to get their hotel minibus. I hitched a ride. Matteo arrived shortly afterwards - again, someone I really should recognise by now but whose face rang no bells with me - and we were brought here by our extremely friendly and helpful Memoriad host, who did tell me his name but not how to spell it, and I've seen millions of variations of it in the past so I'm not even going to try. But he was great, really.

I did recognise Boris when he said hello in the hotel lobby, even though he's changed his hairstyle, and I recognised Johannes by the wheelchair and Christian by the wild hair, so I feel better about myself now. Really, it normally only takes me two or three meetings to remember what people look like, I should be fine with Jonas and Matteo next time.

I'll be super-honest here - I didn't remember what Johannes looked like the second time I met him, and he looks quite distinctive on account of his medical condition, but I apparently didn't notice that the first time we met. Possibly I just don't look at people.

So, anyway, here I am at the Memoriad 2012, so let's see what the schedule holds for us. Tomorrow I intend to spend as much time as possible asleep in my four poster bed - I haven't spent enough time asleep lately, what with work and things, and a day of feeling like some kind of princess would be just the ticket.

Then on Saturday, we start at 10:00 with Speed Cards! That's the last event of a standard memory competition, but here we start with a bang! Two trials, all on computer software like everything else here (which is different but great), and how will I do? I've been able to do around 26-27 seconds in practice and get it right about half the time. Simon will certainly go faster than that, and there might be another couple who'll try it, but if I go for a safe-ish 30-second first attempt, and then go for something faster the second time, I should be in with a chance of a top-three place. Top three places in each event get the prize money, you see.

10:45 is mental multiplications. Yes, I'm doing the mental calculation events too, although the last time I practiced any of them was two and a half years ago - I won't do well.

12:00 we get names and faces, and well, see above. You get to choose the names of your own language, rather than having international ones, but that won't help me get a half-decent score.

After lunch, at 2:00, it's mental square roots. I've never been able to do that - I used to know in principle how it works, but I can't even remember that now. I'll try to revise tomorrow, but don't expect me to get a big score.

And at 3:15 it's hour numbers. I haven't practiced the hour-long memory disciplines for a very long time - when I'm at my best, I wouldn't expect to be in the top three among the field we've got here, so it would take an unexpectedly good performance and some disasters for the favourites for me to get anything out of this one.

Sunday starts at 9:00 with flash numbers - like spoken numbers, only they flash up on a screen instead. I'm not expecting big things here; I don't usually do spectacularly well at spoken numbers, but with an only-score-up-to-your-first-mistake rule, anything's possible. Two trials again, best score counts.

10:15 is mental additions. A bit of fun that I won't do very well at, again.

11:20 is mental calendar dates, which again I will just try my best at and see if I can still remember how to do it. I'm nowhere near the level of the world-beaters in any of the mental calculation events.

At 1:00, after lunch, we get Flash Anzan, an all-new thing where numbers flash up on screen very quickly and you have to add them together. Fun, but my score will be somewhere in the region of zero.

And finally at 2:50, we get 30-minute binary. Now, by all rights I should be the best in the world at this and win it comfortably. But I haven't done any proper regular training for a long time, so it's not impossible that I'll have a bit of a disaster. Even so, if I don't get in the top three here I'll be very disappointed, and if I don't win I'll be more than slightly annoyed with myself. I probably won't win, if I think about it logically, but I'll still be annoyed.

Right, now I'm going to have a bath, or a jacuzzi. I was going to do that as soon as I got up to my room, but then I saw I was staying in Buckingham-Palace-only-without-the-smell-of-corgis-and-royalty, I just had to blog about it. Hope you enjoyed!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I'll fly away

So, on Thursday, while the Americans are preparing to eat their turkey, I'll be jetting off to the country of Turkey, and sunning myself in Antalya, where the temperature is going to be around twenty degrees! As I might have mentioned before, I hate cold weather. If I had the money, I'd spend my life travelling around the world and living permanently somewhere warm.

The whole money thing would be helped if I'd practiced memorising over these past few months, and won the actual prize money at the Memoriad, but I suppose it's too late to do anything about it now. Great Davis Cup final today, though - well worth the time I spent not practicing hour numbers. Anyway, I've got yet another TV appearance coming up in December, and that comes with a fee (a "we don't know how much it'll be" fee, but a fee nonetheless, and since my TV stardom is invariably done on a just-for-the-fun-of-it basis, anything is fine with me), so I'll be able to cope with joblessness for the remainder of the year - I'm finishing my current contract immediately before the world memory championship starts on December 14th.