Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Impressive podium, minimal odium

Day two of the MSO dawned bright and sunny, at least in the hearts of the people taking part. Actually, the weather was grey and miserable, but it cheered up a bit in the course of the day. As I woke up, the thought occurred to me "Gah, I didn't bring the speed cards timers! Here I was congratulating myself on being great at preparing for memory competitions, and I left the timers at home!"

But it could be worse - I was thinking of improvising something with chess clocks, but everybody's got timing apps on their mobile phones nowadays, while the top competitors bring their own timers anyway, and so everything worked out in the end. There needs to be a certain amount of trusting people not to cheat, but there's always a bit of that at memory championships, especially in one with a shortage of arbiters (Nick couldn't come to this one), and everybody at the MSO is nice and honourable - I think that's one of the requirements for entry that the security guards on the gate check for.

There's always a bit of self-arbiting at my competitions, in that after the papers are marked, I put them on a table under my watchful eye, and allow the competitors to come and look at them to see where they went wrong, and correct any arbiting mistakes. It saves a lot of fuss and trouble that way, though it's the kind of thing that makes the IAM shudder (see below), and this year I took the added precaution, as requested, of taking photos of every recall paper before letting it back into the hands of the competitors, just in case there was any dastardly cheating. There wasn't.

So, the morning's competition was Natural Memory. The five marathon competitors from yesterday were joined by three more today (who, helpfully appreciating the difficulty I have remembering names, were all called Daniel), and we started with Random Words. In the course of conversations at the MSO, I did wonder how any word-memorising competition could be non-random, unless perhaps the challenge was to memorise the dictionary, but for some reason we traditionally put the adjective "random" in front of the title of this one.

Katie, as is well known, is head and shoulders above everybody else in the world at "natural" memory disciplines words and names (and at least a head above most of the world at the unnatural ones too), and she swept all before her as usual with a senses-shattering score of 270. So then we moved onto names and faces, and somebody asked (as someone always does before every memory discipline) "How many faces do we get? Is it 120? How are they arranged on the page? What size is the paper?" and so forth. These questions are especially prevalent with names.

"Um, hang on, I'll check," I said, opening the envelope and glancing at the sheaf of papers. "It's... hang on... what did... oh, gah!" and so forth, ending with "he's done me a five-minute set!"

See, there's been a bit of back-and-forth discussion between me and the International Association of Memory about competitions I run, and following their rules as opposed to doing my own thing however I feel like doing it (my argument is that the way I feel like doing it is to do competitions that are consistent and fair to everybody and so forth, and that imposing certain rules designed to do that but actually sometimes having the opposite effect gets on my nerves a little, but that's neither here nor there). I can appreciate that allowing me to do whatever I want sets a slightly undesirable precedent for other people's competitions around the world, so I am trying to make occasional grudging concessions to the IAM to keep them happy. One of them came about last Tuesday, when Facebook conversations like this took place:

Simon: So, you've created your own names and images papers, and I'm sure they're great, but if you wanted to get some papers from Andy instead...

Me: Well, I haven't printed them out yet [see previous blog entry re drunkenness], so if you've got some you want me to use, I'll use those.

Simon: Great, I'll tell Andy.

Andy: Simon says you need names and images papers; I'll send them to you shortly.

Me: Great, thanks.

And so when I got the papers on Friday, I just printed them out in the evening, put them safely in envelopes, and cheerfully travelled down to London. Note that at no point in the conversation above did anybody say "fifteen-minute names", and somehow the question of exactly how many faces were on the paper just hadn't crossed my mind in the slightest. There's certainly a part of my brain somewhere that knows that there are two different kinds of names discipline, but it didn't mention anything to my conscious thought processes at any time - somehow, checking the number of pictures the papers I was sent just didn't occur to me, although I DID count the number of images, knowing that I wasn't sure how many we were supposed to get (it's a new thing) and that other people might be similarly confused. It was just a bit of a mind-blank, I'm afraid.

But never mind. "Cheerfully shambolic" is a thing I always like to see in memory competitions, even the ones I'm supposedly in control of, and everybody was very nice about it. So we did five-minute names instead of the planned 15-minute version, and Katie clearly wasn't rattled by the confusion - she memorised more than anybody in history has ever done before, getting a score of 106!

And then we moved onto Images, the all-new "concrete" images that are a lot more fun (and, interestingly, more abstract) than the old "abstract" images. Katie won that too, but in this case not by miles and miles and miles, narrowly beating Marlo into second place. So Katie added a Natural Memory gold medal to her Marathon Memory one from yesterday, with Marlo taking the silver and Dan Evans the bronze:

And then, in the afternoon, it was Speed Memory. Without one of the Daniels (a mental calculation enthusiast who went to the Memoriad in Las Vegas and fancied trying his hand at the memory disciplines that don't need an excessive amount of technique) and without being joined by a James who'd signed up for this one either, we had seven Speedy competitors. Actually, speed was of the essence here - the requirements of the MSO's scheduled sessions meant that the first two memory competitions could be very relaxed and leave generous pauses between each discipline, while this one had to be a bit more frantic. Yes, we did finish late. Memory competitions always finish late, nobody minds.

Marlo's awesome 177 at spoken numbers was a highlight, but he surpassed that with a totally awesome 22.93 seconds at speed cards, to win the Speed Memory competition in sensational style! Even Katie was a quite distant second in this one:

But Katie's dominance of the first two thirds of the three-part overall competition was enough to make her our overall champion! She wins a lovely little trophy, a hundred pounds (Marlo won £50 for second place and Lars £30 for third), and a nice hoard of medals to add to her collection! And the podium impressed me by being nearly, but not quite, the ideal size to equalise the height variance between Katie, Marlo and Lars. Just need to make the steps a teensy bit bigger for next year...

Incidentally, I really need to stop making jokes about Lars's size. I know he always says he doesn't mind it, but I seem to have a blind spot about height-jokes that is wildly at odds with my basic-common-sense rule of not poking fun at what people look like. You know, it's like my blind spot with speed cards timers and names-and-faces papers. But it's all good fun, and many thanks to everybody who took part!

Of course, that wasn't the only memory presentation of the evening. My wrangling with the International Association of Memory about rules has been as nothing compared to the wrangling with the World Memory Sports Council on the subject of not only this "unauthorised" competition but also their desire to present me with a Lifetime Achievement Award. It's a whole saga that seems to have been going on for ages, but it ended with Chris Day coming to the MSO last night, making an absolutely wonderful and flattering speech and presenting me with the interesting statue I posted a picture of last night - a naked man holding a laurel wreath. It was all extremely kind and friendly, there wasn't even a hint of a punch-up between the rival associations and the cheerful banter about my lucky Pocket Dragons T-shirt even prompted Josef Kollar to offer to ask his friend Real Musgrave if he's got any of them lying around that I could have when my latest lucky shirt wears out!

And really, it couldn't have worked out any better. Leaving aside any issues of rival-memory-council-politicking and the obvious question of whether I can honestly be said to have ever "achieved" anything worth commemorating, this was exactly the right moment to present me with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Not only have I probably already achieved all the coolest things I'm going to achieve in the field of memory competitions, but it's the twentieth anniversary of the first Mind Sports Olympiad, a thing that entirely changed my life at the age of 20 and set me on the course of becoming the internationally-famous 'memory man' I am today. It's been a mental roller-coaster for the last exactly-half-of-my-life, and I will always remain eternally grateful to the people who created the MSO and memory competitions (a list that includes Ray Keene) for all they've done for me.

So... here's to the next twenty years, spreading the word of memory competitions and bringing a bit more mental fun to the lives of people around the world! Now I can enjoy the rest of the week at the MSO stress-free (apart from the I-hate-mobile-phones stress that will come with figuring out how to get all those photos of recall papers off my phone and sent to the IAM... but I'll leave that until I've got a quiet moment) and forget anything I feel like forgetting!

Monday, August 21, 2017


And I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

(Probably) All In The Mind

Yes, the Mind Sports Olympiad is up and running again! While various other board games and things were going on around us, a small but select group gathered in a quiet room away from rattling dice and things, to compete in the Marathon Memory Championship.

This is part of the larger MSO Memory Championship (discussion of what exactly to call it continued into the day, when it turned out that the database still calls it the Memory World Cup, but I do think "Mind Sports Olympiad" is a prestigious enough title in its own right!) which continues today with Natural Memory (words, names, images) and Speed Memory (dates, numbers both spoken and written, and everybody's favourite, speed cards). But the Marathon event was all about sustained concentration, 30-minute memorising of binary digits, then decimal digits, then cards.

With an MSO double-timeslot to fit the competition into, we actually had plenty of time - ten in the morning till six in the evening gives us eight hours to accommodate four and a half hours of actual memory stuff. We could maybe expand it to include hour cards and hour numbers if we did this format again, though it would be a bit of a tight squeeze. I remember the non-standard MSO competition at Loughborough in what was probably 2002, which included the hour marathons both in one day, and that was a lot of fun! Today we had rather lengthier breaks between disciplines than is ideal, and also had to wait around to present the medals at the end of the day - and as everyone knows, I hate delayed prizegivings at these things. But never mind, it gives people time to talk among themselves!

Katie dominated the competition despite her specialist subjects being in the Natural event, with 2850 binary, 1080 numbers (always satisfying to beat 1000 at the 30-minute numbers) and 7 packs of cards (tiredness setting in by the end of the day, I think). Lars was an excellent second place; he's really improving rapidly just lately! Scores went like this:

The medal presentation was worth waiting for - the MSO has this year invested in an actual podium, and red carpet! The podium came in three bits, and the carpet wasn't fastened to anything, and it seemed a bit of a health hazard, but it did look good on camera! Marlo couldn't stay to get his medal, and with Lars being so tall it looked a bit unconventional - even with Katie standing on a higher level, Lars was still about a foot taller than her, and a long way above the top of the backdrop. Even so, it looked brilliant!

After that it was the othello, and I wasn't sure anybody else would be competing - none of the regular othello crowd were there, and the allure of Texas hold'em was more attractive to MSO people. But in fact there was a huge attendance, 22 players! A big crowd of Korean youngsters, a smaller crowd of, um, somewhere-in-South-America youngsters and a respectable smattering of adults from various countries too! It was a five-round Swiss, and I lost to Paul Smith in round 4 - might have got a medal, depending how the tie-break worked, but to be honest I was feeling so worn out that I left while the harassed organiser was still trying to juggle the pairing cards. It was a great event, though!

Friday, August 18, 2017

It was twenty years ago today, the MSO taught the mental athletes to play!

Yes, tomorrow I'm on my way to London for the 21st Mind Sports Olympiad! It's surprising how much my life has changed in the twenty years since I came across this new and exciting-sounding thing in Mensa Magazine. I've got a beard now, for example. I had a stupid-looking moustache in 1997, and even though my instinctive mental impression of "looking good" is still based almost entirely on what my dad looked like (I'm sitting here in a short-sleeved shirt, wide open at the neck, as we speak), I think I look cooler now I've grown up.

I've also advanced from basically just competing in the Intelligence championships and a couple of other things, into an MSO all-rounder who's even organising some of the competitions this year. My printer is whirring away printing out the memorisation papers for one of the three interlinked memory championships right now, in fact. Yes, it's a bit late in the day to still be printing things out, but there are multiple reasons why I'm running late this time, and only one of these is the fact that I got very drunk last Friday and decided to spend the weekend recovering in bed, turning Printing Things Out Weekend into Printing Things Out Weekday Evenings After Work. But it'll all be fine by the time I trundle off down to London tomorrow lunchtime!

When I get there, I'll check into my student accommodation and then hang out in the big city on Saturday night, doing what the cool city kids do (staying in my room, playing on the internet). Then on Sunday (because the venue is Jewish and doesn't do mind games tournaments on Saturdays), the fun begins! Here's my schedule:

Sun am/pm - Marathon Memory
The one for hard-core memory athletes! Three 30-minute-memory, 60-minute-recall disciplines, one after the other. Binary, decimal and cards!

Sun eve - Othello
The MSO has settled into a tradition of 15-minutes-per-player games, as opposed to the 25 minutes in other tournaments. It'd be good to bring back the old blitz and 10x10 tournaments, too - maybe I'll volunteer to run them next year...

Mon am - Natural Memory
This one's the one where memory systems are of less use. Words, Names, and Images.

Mon pm - Speed Memory
And this is basically the catch-all for the other four disciplines in 'international standard' memory competitions, but they're all fast - dates, spoken numbers, speed numbers, speed cards. And no, I don't know why spoken numbers isn't the penultimate discipline, like it always is. When I wrote the description of the event down for some reason I put it before speed numbers, and there's no good reason for it not to be there, so I'm pretending it was a deliberate thing.

Mon eve - London Lowball
Poker in the evenings! Always the best way to round off a day at the MSO. I did unusually well at lowball a couple of years ago, so fingers crossed. My poker strategy is "be freakishly lucky and get dealt the right cards at the right time", and sometimes it works!

Tues am - Mental Calculations
I haven't done a mental calculations competition for aaaaaages! I can't remember how to even do it, but hopefully it'll all come flooding back when I sit down with the question paper in front of me...

Tues pm - Continuo
It's a good way to fill an afternoon. I have no idea about strategy.

Tues eve - Omaha
More poker!

Weds am - Decamentathlon
The MSO classic. I can't even remember the last time I did the deca. I won the gold medal in 2001, I think it was, but mainly because everybody who was good at it was doing something else.

Weds pm - Mastermind
I always like this one, I used to play it even before I'd heard of the MSO!

Weds eve - 5 card draw
The most boring kind of poker...

Thurs am/pm - Monopoly
I've never played monopoly at the MSO before, and I'm a little worried that it's not the best kind of game to play competitively. Monopoly should be played in a friendly, and slightly drunken, way - drunk enough to think it's hilarious to win second prize in a beauty contest, not drunk enough to think it'd be hilarious to try to rob the bank. Playing it with people determined to win medals and pentamind points might not be such fun, but we'll see.

Thurs eve - Pineapple
The silliest kind of poker!

Fri am/pm - Lines of Action
Fun game that's always been at the MSO, but I only remember playing once or twice at most. No poker on Friday evenings; the card-players have to be out of the building before sunset.

Sun am - Shogi
And this one I'm pretty sure I've never played at the MSO before - I know the rules, but I'm a definite novice.

Sun pm - Chinese Chess
Whereas this one I used to be something like 'advanced beginner' level, but it's years since I played...

Sun eve - 7 card stud
It's been said to me before that this is the kind of poker where memory is the most useful, but I'll just stick to the usual 'blind luck' approach. It's more fun that way.

Mon am/pm - Countdown
As in, the TV show with Richard and Carol! Or whoever does it now. And not on TV, and not with the new Richard and Carol. But it should be great!

Monday, August 07, 2017

Pin-up of the week

Here's the Men's Health article I was talking about a little while ago. So it's official - I've had my picture in two different continents' editions of Men's Health, holding me up as a shining example of masculine well-being. They asked me for a photo for that sidebar, and I admitted that I don't own any pictures of myself - I did try taking a selfie, but it looked so hideous I didn't want to inflict that on the healthy men of America, and they found a rather nice one somewhere, so it all worked out all right in the end.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

The new season!

Yes, it's an important sporting weekend! The football season has started, if you care about the Community Shield, the extra preliminary round of the FA Cup, or the Championship. But while you're waiting for the real football to start next weekend, the Autumn Season* of the Online Memory League Championship has also kicked off. Well, started. We don't kick things in memory competitions.

I've ended up in division 1, which makes me a favourite for relegation, and considering that it was my job to randomly choose the schedules, the random number generator on Excel really hasn't been kind to me. My first five matches are against Simon, Katie, Marcin, Hannes and Alex, all of whom are likely to thrash the pants off me (not literally - we all keep our pants on in memory competitions). All my games against the few opponents I have a half-chance of beating come towards the end of the season, so I think the best I can hope for is a miraculous last-gasp escape. It's great fun, though!

*Simon Orton pointed out that calling it the autumn season is inappropriate in Australia - I can see we're going to have all kinds of confusion about this. Maybe it's the August-October Season instead.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Jet Joe

I've been on holiday this week, not venturing any farther than Nottingham (still in 'not spending money unnecessarily' mode) except for one jaunt down to Reading yesterday. The purpose of the visit was to see the venue for our exciting new memory competition happening in November, and I'll tell you all about that shortly, but the real reason anybody goes to Reading is to see what's in Just Imagination Memorabilia, and it didn't let me down. Check it out - another one of those Video Brokers pre-cert video tapes of Force Five, significantly rarer than hens' teeth and that an absolute maximum of three people in the whole world think are cool! 

When I'm in 'frivolously spending money like it's gone out of fashion' mode again (within a year or so now, I'm sure), I'm going to buy that whole shop.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

RIP June Foray

Yikes, I feel like I put some kind of witch's curse on her just a fortnight ago. It's very sad, but nobody can deny she lived a full life.

I do have big announcements about memory competitions and rare cartoon video tapes to share with you all, so stay tuned tomorrow when I'm less worn out from travelling around the country.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Online Memory League Championship

An ongoing football-league-style competition for Memory League starts soon! It will work like this...
Competitors are divided into divisions of twelve players. For the first season, they are allocated to divisions based on their average position on the leaderboard (as at 18:00 GMT on 31 July 2017) and in the online Swiss tournament that ran from May to the start of July. Players who didn't compete in the Swiss are based solely on their leaderboard position.
In a season, each competitor will play each of the others in the division once, with one match per week, on a schedule drawn randomly at the start of the season. Players can be flexible about when they play their matches, depending on availability and circumstances, but should try to stick to the schedule as much as possible.
Matches will consist of six games - each player chooses three different disciplines, with the choice alternating. The first player on the scheduled match list chooses the first discipline; the schedule will be arranged so that each player gets a roughly equal distribution of 'home' and 'away' matches. Draws are possible, both in individual disciplines and in the match as a whole.
If the match is a 3:3 draw, the players can (if they both agree to it) play a one-game 'decider', which can be any discipline they choose. If they don't both agree to play the decider, then the match is a draw.
The league table gives two points for a match won, one for a match drawn. Players on the same number of points are ranked by number of disciplines won.
At the end of the season, the bottom two in each division are related to the division below, and the top two in each division are promoted to the division above. There are play-offs between the 10th-place in the upper division versus 3rd-place in the lower, and 9th-place in the upper versus 4th-place in the lower to determine promotion and relegation.
The top four in the first division go into play-offs for the grand title. 1st versus 4th and 2nd versus 3rd, followed by a grand final to determine the League Champion!
Play-offs and semi-finals are best of 9 games - players still can't choose the same discipline twice, so if it gets to 4-4, the final discipline will be the one discipline that Player A (the higher-ranked in the league, who gets the first choice of discipline) hasn't yet chosen.
The Grand Final will be best of 11 - the first game will be a Surprise Task! The loser of that game gets the first choice of discipline for the second, and once more the players can't choose the same discipline twice.
Seasons will last three months - the schedule for the first season (Autumn Season 2017) looks like this:
Match week 1 05/08/2017
Match week 2 12/08/2017
Match week 3 19/08/2017
Match week 4 26/08/2017
Match week 5 02/09/2017
Match week 6 09/09/2017
Match week 7 16/09/2017
Match week 8 23/09/2017
Match week 9 30/09/2017
Match week 10 07/10/2017
Match week 11 14/10/2017
Playoffs and semi-finals 21/10/2017
Grand Final 28/10/2017
Then the Winter Season starts on 04/11/2017!
If you want to join up, post a comment on the Art of Memory thread here or on the Facebook thread.

Here are a couple of examples of how matches will work:

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Speaking of hundred-year-olds

It occurred to me that June Foray, cartoon voice actor extraordinaire, will be turning 100 on September 18th this year, and still going strong. Here's Hazel the witch in 1952 - possibly the secret to a long life is to specialise in voicing old ladies (and witches) in your youth.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Happy birthday, Johnny Thunder!

Flash Comics #1, dated January 1940 but first published in late 1939, had among its backup strips the first adventure of "Johnny Thunderbolt". A normal guy who spent the next eight years having entertaining mishaps caused by his magical powers, activated whenever he accidentally says the magic words "say you". He's fondly remembered and often still referenced today. And his first story is very specific about his date of birth - 7am on the 7th of July, 1917. He's 100 years old today!

Well, probably - four pages later, the narrator tells us the story is set "in 1939, when Johnny is 23", because it wasn't the kind of comic that makes a big fuss over little details like that, but I think it's still worth celebrating!

Tuesday, July 04, 2017


Drat it, I've got a puncture on my bike, just as I was getting home tonight. Now, for want of owning a puncture repair kit and the knowledge of what to do with one if I did own it, I'll have to walk in to work tomorrow, pushing my bike, through what will probably be the blazing sun and/or pouring rain. Life is tough.

On the other hand, I don't particularly care about the inconvenience, so I must generally be in a good temper at the moment...

Monday, July 03, 2017


If you're one of those people who can't get enough of the sound of my voice, check out this interview! I haven't listened to it myself yet, but as I recall I rambled on incoherently for an hour or so about memory competitions and life in general. Please do check out all the other podcasts on the site too, you're sure to find something to entertain you!

And the point it makes is a good one - we really should have memory competitions in Ireland. The place must be full of potential memory enthusiasts who just need a nearby event to come to!

But if you're not such a fan of me and more of a fan of Clay Knight and Johnny Briones, check out Johnny's interview with Clay here! There's going to be a lot of these, with memory people from around the world. Me too, if I ever get round to filling in the questionnaire. Look forward to it!

Sunday, July 02, 2017

On the plus side

Downloading all my pictures from Photobucket gives me the opportunity to look through them all and remember why I put them on there in the first place. And an excuse to share with the world all the pictures I previously put on Photobucket for some reason other than to share them on this blog. For example, here are all the occasions in John Byrne's Alpha Flight comics in which somebody addresses Puck as "Friend Judd".



Nobody else, in any Alpha Flight comic (or, as far as I know, anywhere else in the world) ever gets called "Friend" and their surname, but multiple characters, independently of each other, pick up the habit of talking to Judd that way. What this says about the character, or John Byrne, or the world, I don't know. I just found it interesting.

There needs to be more public outcry about this

Photobucket have just stopped people being allowed to show pictures stored there on blogs like this, so I'm having to go through all my old posts and re-upload them directly to Blogger. I should really have done that in the first place, but never mind. So if you're looking through my archives and can't see the pretty pictures, don't worry, they'll be back shortly.

Monday, June 26, 2017

OK Computer

According to WZebra, the genius othello computer, my move to e8 wasn't that bad, it was still roughly a draw at that point. My winning line was an entirely unfathomable one spinning out of me playing b6, which I would never have thought of in a million years. But that's computers for you. They're not so great. I bet WZebra would explode if I ask it to define love, or tell it that everything I say is a lie and I'm lying now.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

There's no room 54 either

If you go past room 53, the corridor goes round another couple of corners and ends with 55, 56 and 57, all clustered together.

But anyway, the second day of the othello was exactly as successful as the first, if by that you understand that I ended today also on a total of four wins for the weekend. I lost to Helen, who usually does beat me though I always feel I should have won, and then was well and truly thrashed by Imre and Iain. Before that last game I realised there could still be a permutation of results that would end in me coming fifth and missing out on the semi-finals, but it didn't happen, and I ended up in fourth. Final round-robin results:

1: 7 pts [342] LEADER Imre (79) {GBR}
2: 5 pts [302] HAND David (2357) {GBR}
[278] BARRASS Iain (2047) {GBR}
4: 4 pts [206] PRIDMORE Ben (4019) {GBR}
5: 3 pts [190] ARNOLD Roy (2006) {GBR}
6: 2 pts [180] DEXTER Helen (100002) {GBR}
7: 1 pt [168] KYTE Bruce (2078) {GBR}
[126] STEPHENSON Ken (2001) {GBR}

So the semi-finals were David against Iain, and me against Imre. As the highest-placed in the round-robin, he had choice of colour and went for white, which was fine by me. I much prefer playing black, and I'm fairly sure I was black for most or all the times I've beaten him in the past.

You can play along with our game on LiveOthello - and the other games too, if you're the kind of person who comes to this blog to read about people other than me. But if you're looking at mine, pay particular attention to my move 27 to d1, which removes Imre's access to practically everything - it's such a lovely move that even though I thought it would probably turn out to be very bad, I just had to play it.

And then my move 31 to e8, Ian and Guy commenting on the game there were pretty sure was wrong, and so was Imre after the game... but I really didn't want to play h2 simply because I felt it was very important to keep the white disc on g3. I was probably entirely wrong about that, but I thought it could only lead to a situation where Imre's playing e1 without flipping f2, and everything goes badly for me from there.

But anyway, it was a fun game! And at least it wasn't an outright massacre like our first game today (that one ended 56-8). After the semis (David won the other, maintaining his record of only losing to me and Imre this weekend), we went to the pub across the road for lunch, which for some reason they took hours to serve us, and came back to find the final already in progress. And a fascinating game it was, too - David looked well ahead, but let Imre back in to claim a 32-32 draw in the end. Which (and never let me mock Roy's insistence on having a rule for every unlikely eventuality again) meant that Imre, having won the round-robin, becomes the British Othello Champion, for I think the 14th time. 34 years after the first time, and 24 years after the last time there was a draw in the final. Historic!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Area 51

I'm currently in room 53 of the Red Lion hotel, in Salisbury. It's one of those strange hotels where the corridors are like a winding maze, with a door to a room here and there, but no apparent pattern or sense to the building layout. MC Escher would like it. The strange thing about this particular stretch of twisty-turny corridor is that the rooms go 49, 50, 52, 53... and I'm confused by the seeming total lack of a room 51. Is it hidden in some alternate alien dimension?

Anyway, the reason I'm so far away from my normal stamping-ground is that the Red Lion is also the venue of this year's British Othello Championship, and despite my having only played six games of othello, all of which I lost, in 2017 so far, I decided to come along and see how I got on. Which turned out surprisingly well.

We've got eight competitors, and since the nationals are supposed to be a nine-round tournament followed by a one-game final between the top two, it took a bit of debate and an Official Committee Vote (Roy's here) to agree that the format this year would be a seven-round all-play-all, followed by semi-finals and then a final.

So random pairings, no need for complicated Swiss-system calculations, and my first game was against Roy, who beat me twice at Cambridge the last time I ventured to an othello tournament. This time, though, it all went very well for me and I ended up with a comfortable win. Then I was up against David Hand, and somehow or other, after a really fascinating and exciting game, I came out the 33-31 winner. I think that's the first time I've beaten him.

I then beat Ken Stephenson without much difficulty, and then Bruce Kyte with a fair bit of difficulty and quite possibly coming very close to messing it up in the end. But they all count, and so now I'm on four wins out of four after day one!

Full scores go like this:
  1:   4 pts [171]   LEADER Imre (79) {GBR}
             [169]   PRIDMORE Ben (4019) {GBR}
  3:   3 pts [152]   BARRASS Iain (2047) {GBR}
             [151]   ARNOLD Roy (2006) {GBR}
  5:   2 pts [165]   HAND David (2357) {GBR}
  6:   0 pt   [87]   KYTE Bruce (2078) {GBR}
              [68]   DEXTER Helen (100002) {GBR}
              [61]   STEPHENSON Ken (2001) {GBR}

So, tomorrow I've got to play Imre, Iain and Helen, but even if I lose all three I think I'm safely in the semi-finals and achieving my top-half-of-the-table aim that I always set myself at these things. It's unexpected.

Bruce, incidentally, is an old-timer in the othello world, but not somebody I've ever met before. I met Imre outside the hotel and we came in together, which led Bruce to assume I'm Imre's brother. There's a resemblance, apparently, though I don't really see it myself. I do hope he was thinking 'younger brother', because I forget what the age gap between the two of us is, exactly, but it's quite significant.

After the tournament we went to the Haunch of Venison, one of the coolest pub-names I've ever heard, and then to Nando's, with the usual wide-ranging and weird subjects of conversation. Othello is great, I'm definitely going to play more in future!

Saturday, June 03, 2017


It's really very hard to refrain from drinking cherry coke, you know. It's just so tempting. Maybe I should change tack and just try to persuade some reputable-sounding scientist to tell the newspapers that it's good for memory. I mean, I already know it is, but nobody believes me when I say so.

It's definitely better for you than omega 3, and to prove it, here's documentary evidence that Omega Three Planet was blown to smithereens ages ago, while Coca Cola Planet, to the best of my knowledge, is still fine and dandy.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Birmingham gets Friendly

The Friendly Memory Championship happened in the scenic surroundings of the William Penn room in the Priory Rooms, Birmingham city centre. All the conference/meeting rooms in the very nice building are named after prominent Quakers, in honour of the place's original purpose. It turns out (from the plaque on the wall outside) that William Penn shared my birthday, so the whole thing could have been seen as some sort of gathering in tribute of our fellow October-14th twin, the late Roger Moore. If we'd thought of it at the time, anyway.

The room was the perfect size for a memory competition, and equipped with a big screen and projector for my snappy powerpoint displays. The George Fox room next door was hosting a gathering of Mensa members (always trouble, those lot), who were occasionally noisy, but apart from that it was an ideal venue! It's sort of tucked away out of sight of the main road, so we hung around outside to grab lost-looking memory people as they walked by.

We were a little short of competitors - two last-minute drop-outs on the grounds of having a cold and getting on the wrong train, because clearly it doesn't take much to put a memory competitor out of action - and might have had a championship with four entrants and three arbiters, but the imbalance was enough to convince Ian Fennell, quiz enthusiast who'd come along to help out, see how memory competitions and techniques work and maybe try his hand at a numbers discipline, to take part instead. So with myself and the ever-awesome Nick Papadopoulos running the show, we had a lineup of five - Ian and Marlo Knight from England, Gordon Cowell representing Scotland, Lars Christiansen all the way from Denmark and Silvio di Fabio all the way from Italy. International!

It all ran more or less smoothly - in the first discipline I somehow forgot the way I've always timed things (using my trusty stopwatch, starting it running at the start of the one minute preparation time and stopping it after the five-minute memory time when the stopwatch shows 6:00) and announced "ten seconds remaining" a minute too early. Marlo waved at me, I remembered, and added "And one minute." Hey, there have been worse timing blunders in bigger memory championships in the past. Everything else was clean and efficient, and we were able to stick to the tight schedule and finish on time at 5pm.

A good time was had by all - Marlo won in great style, Silvio beat his best overall score, Gordon demolished his best speed cards time, and there was the usual constant flow of memory-chatter that's always such a delight to host. Afterwards we went for a celebration drink in the Square Peg pub down the road (which is a weird TARDIS-like pub that goes on forever) and toasted the continual success of the Friendly Championship. I can see I'll have to keep on hosting it forever now, it was silly of me to suggest ever stopping it...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

I admit it

I didn't get round to describing what happened at the Cambridge regional othello tournament the other week, and I really should say something, because otherwise people will look it up on the internet and realise that I lost all my games and came last, and assume I'm deeply ashamed of the fact and trying to conceal it.

Actually, it was still fun - the competition was very nearly cancelled because nobody was going to attend, but I'd been umming and ahhing about whether or not to go, and finally had my mind tilted in the right direction when it turned out that Singaporean memory man Wellon Chou was in Cambridge that day as well, so we could have a drink and a chat in the evening if I went along to the othello. So I did, despite not having played a game for so long I could barely remember the basic rules of the game.

In the end, there were four of us there - Imre, Iain, Roy and me. And I didn't really play terribly badly, just not well enough to win any of the six games in the double round-robin. Adelaide joined us for the traditional pub lunch too, and a good time was had by all! I resolved to go along to the next regional as well, down south in Salisbury, but then forgot about it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


This coming Saturday sees the twelfth (!!!) annual Friendly Memory Championship. I've been saying for years that I might stop doing them, because there are so many other memory championships around nowadays, but there's always a small minority of people out there who want the Friendly, and I hate to disappoint them. Even if only four or five people turn up, it's always a fun day for everyone, and always inspires at least someone to take up competitive memorising, so it can't be a waste of time and effort. I'll probably still be hosting the things fifty years from now...

Monday, May 22, 2017

Find your level

Here's the other memory thing I've been meaning to blog about for a while - Belts!

Or, to give it its official name, the New IAM Levels System. It looks like this:

What you can do is go to the site here and type in your best score in each memory discipline. For each one you get a number of points based on the highest level you've achieved, and your overall level is the average of the best ten of these - with at least one discipline having to come from each of the five groups (numbers/cards/names/words/miscellaneous).

The whole thing is just a proposal rather than an actual thing yet, but it's a very cool idea. It naturally leads (in my mind, at least) to coloured belts as in martial arts, with level 10 being the black belt and any levels above that being 'dan' rankings for the ultimate memorisers. There currently aren't any ultimate memorisers according to these tough standards - two black belts (Alex and Simon), and two brown (Johannes and Marwin), and a few people (like me, as above) on purple. It's genuinely very motivating to know that I could bump myself up to the next elite level by slightly improving my top scores in three disciplines!

The proposal also sticks with the "grandmaster" title, which I think is a mistake. It would be fine if not for the fact that there are HUNDREDS of people out there who have already qualified to call themselves a grand master of memory, by different rules, and so there's no way an "IAM Grandmaster" title could ever be meaningful to anybody. I think we should have actual physical coloured belts - imagine the photo opportunities! Local newspapers around the world would lap it up.

Admittedly, some people have said the Belt idea is "slightly corny", and admittedly the people who say this include the two black belts themselves, one of them being the current world champion and the other being the main person who decides things like this in the IAM, so it's just possible I won't get my actual purple belt... but come on, just imagine the coolness! They could be thin (inexpensive) coloured fabric belts with little metal clasps on each end, bearing the IAM logo. So desirable! I might have to make my own.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Cats cats cats

The German Memory League Championship is happening right now - you can watch the fun on the Memory League website! They've just had the surprise task of the quarter-finals - images, except all 30 images are cats! It's brilliant, you can see the memorisers struggled with remembering which cat came in which sequence (there are also a couple of people dressed as cats, one that's just the word "Katze", one picture of Cat Stevens, one of Katie Kermode...)

The whole Memory League thing is awesome, as I've mentioned before. We're also currently running frequent online competitions - there's a Swiss tournament going on at the moment between memory people of all levels and nationalities, and a "purge" competition where the aim is to get a certain score, increasing at each level, to avoid being eliminated. Coming up soon is a full-blown league structure, four divisions with all-play-all in a 'season', promotion and relegation, and a knockout competition in between each one. It's great!

There will also, we can only hope, be a second UK Memory League Championship, live and in person, later this year. This does depend on finding a location for it - I've insisted repeatedly that finding and talking to sponsors isn't something that's within my capabilities, but nobody else has come up with anything, so I suppose I'll just have to book a room somewhere and then see if the competitors are prepared to pay for it. It's more complicated than a pen-and-paper memory championship, because the whole thing falls down if the room doesn't have a rock-solid internet connection...

But in the pen-and-paper line, we have the Friendly Memory Championship next Saturday! It's at the Priory Rooms in Birmingham city centre, a nice building full of little meeting rooms (and a really cool big lecture-theatre style room too, which would be great for a more swanky kind of event) where the company I work for in my day job has its board meetings. Not that I go to board meetings, I'm not the director type, but I've been there once and really liked the look of the place. I'm currently printing out lots of papers and things - one day, you never know, memory competitions might move into the 21st century and be entirely on computer, just like the Memory League. It'll save a lot of trouble and expense, albeit at the cost of replacing it with a different, more up-to-date kind of trouble and expense. Progress!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The state of British wrestling

You know, I really must write more on this blog. I'll try to keep up a daily ramble from now on - there's absolute tons of things happening in the memory world alone that I feel morally obliged to tell the world about.

But to start with, here's another subject in the "everybody who might plausibly be interested in what I say already knows all about it" category - TV wrestling, of the specifically British variety.

You may remember that at the new year, ITV put on a World of Sport wrestling special, of the family-friendly, Saturday-afternoon, mainstream type, immediately following which the WWE Network inaugurated a UK Championship title with a two-part special edition of the strictly-for-the-wrestling-fanatics type. Comparing the two was really quite fascinating. ITV, naturally, went for 'colourful and entertaining' to appeal to the mainstream audience of normal people, while the WWE emphasized 'technical skills' to excite the nerdy internet people who watch the WWE Network. [It's surprising how very, very nerdy wrestling fans on the internet are, incidentally - Star Trek forum contributors are ten times more macho and well-balanced]

Well, since then, both sides of the UK TV wrestling coin have been more or less in limbo. Tyler Bate has defended his newly-won title here and there - a couple of times on NXT, the WWE Network's 'development' show for wrestlers honing their craft before being introduced on the 'real' shows that appear on real TV; a couple more times at non-televised WWE events. Some more of the guys from the UK Championship special have shown up on NXT and the like once in a while, too. It's not been forgotten, but then it's not exactly been made a big deal of, either.

As for World of Sport, it's had problems. After announcing an alliance with Impact Wrestling, the distant-second-biggest US promotion, there was a special press conference on the internet, in which some of the wrestlers from the new year special stood on the stage and got rounds of applause, followed by a little bit of squabbling and chaos, which promised well for the future - a new 10-part series would be filmed in May, with a regular weekly show expected to follow.

There was a slight hint of not everything having been agreed - Dave Mastiff featured on the poster, but wasn't seen or mentioned in the YouTube video, with Sha Samuels being positioned as 'main baddie'. The awesome Grado, though, was still there as the main attraction, and he's really good. Give him a weekly series and he'll be Big Daddy levels of popularity, no problem. The others who showed up were Zack Gibson (placed with the goodies, though he was a bad guy on the new year special), Viper, Kenny Williams, El Ligero, Johnny Moss, Ashton Smith and Rampage Brown, plus new guy Magnus as the square-jawed-hero type I said at the time was strangely missing from the new year special. It looked like being a lot of fun!

And then it was abruptly cancelled, "as a result of contract negotiations". The internet seems to think that the problem is between ITV and Impact, rather than the wrestlers themselves, which makes you wonder why they need Impact in the first place - surely it's within ITV's budget to pay for a dozen or so wrestlers, a half-decent scriptwriter and a ring in a studio? Oh well.

But WWE, on the other hand, have just done another "UK Championship Special" on the network last night - smaller in scale than before, but as a build-up to a title match on tonight's big live "NXT Takeover" special. That's the most prominent the UK Championship title has been, maybe it'll lead to an ongoing series eventually...

It was pretty good, though some of the technical details didn't seem to be quite right - there was one cameraman just outside the ring who was really terrible, and for the first match the crowd was almost inaudible, so it didn't feel like a big event. Still, good fun all round - we started out with Wolfgang beating Joseph Conners in a doesn't-count-for-anything match; Wolfgang is still really, really good and deserves to be the main event, probably at some point when someone else is the reigning champion. Then, strangely, Dan Moloney joins up with three Americans from the WWE's cruiserweight division for a tag team match, Moloney and Rich Swann against TJP and The Brian Kendrick. He seemed out of place.

The main events were rather predictable, but well done - Pete Dunne beat Trent Seven in a match to determine who would be the challenger in the NXT Takeover title match, and the more I see Pete Dunne the more impressed I am with him. He's a great villain! Then there was a title match to finish it off, between Tyler Bate (rather unwisely having changed his cool and distinctive previous appearance to a beard and floppy fringe) and Mark Andrews (who already has a beard and floppy fringe). Not so much high-flying and agility from Mark Andrews this time round, it was a bit disappointing. There was never any doubt that Tyler would win, but that doesn't excuse putting on a match that looks like they know they're going through the motions...

Still, it's all entertaining, and now I'm cheering for Pete Dunne to win the title and go on to headline a new series. And fingers crossed, maybe we'll still get a World of Sport series too!

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Cambridge beckons

I haven't played othello for longer than I can remember (my memory isn't very good), but I'm going to Cambridge to play it this weekend. I really should get back in practice, at that and all kinds of other games, in preparation for the MSO...

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Mens sana in Men's Health

I'm just the perfect example of a healthy man, obviously - the American version of Men's Health magazine are writing an article about memory techniques, and I've just had a quick chat with the writer. Following fast on the heels of the bit about me in the British version of the franchise eight years ago, it's obvious that I'm the number one go-to guy for all men's health issues now.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Families are an expensive business

The excellent website findmypast.co.uk has made 1939 register details available, and even though you have to pay them a staggeringly huge amount of money to see them, it's very tempting to check up on the family. The Pridmores of Sheffield are somewhat reduced from the way they were in 1911 - within ten years of that census my great-grandmother and six of her ten children had died, and great-grandfather William had also passed away by 1939. But on the other hand, they'd all had hordes of children themselves, so there are plenty of relatives to check up on...

The family home of 34 Hunt Street was quite full in 1939, it seems:
Oswald, who'd never moved out of his parents' house, was now joined by his widowed sister Lilian, Lilian's daughter Florence, and James Palmer, the son of Oswald and Lilian's late sister Florence. And one other person who must have been born less than 100 years ago and hasn't yet been identified as deceased - living people aren't shown on the records. Since the 'officially closed' record comes in between the Mays and the oldest Palmer child, I'm guessing it must have been one of Lilian's two younger daughters.

Oswald and James are builders' labourers, Florence has that classic Sheffield occupation of spoon and fork glazer, Lilian has "unpaid domestic duties", which was the strangely fancy phrase for "housewife" used throughout the register. Just down the road at number 28 are a John and Florence Askham - Oswald married Annie Askham in 1944, I assume she was a relative.

See all the fascinating details you can find? I'm doing my best to resist the impulse to pay them £120 for full access to the records...

Monday, April 24, 2017

Cold turkey

Actually, I haven't got any cold turkey. I've got some cold pork if you want, it's really nice. I've got in the habit of cooking a Sunday roast and putting the leftovers in sandwiches for a packed lunch the next week - I'm very domesticated now, it must be because I'm getting old.

But the point is, I haven't drunk anything but water for the last two weeks - or maybe three weeks, I've lost count. Cherry-coke-withdrawal does strange things to my brain, but I think I've just about got over it now. I'm sure I'll get hooked again eventually, but it's nice to be able to look down on smoking or other vices without having to admit I'm drinking roughly three litres of the stuff every day.

And hey, have you seen that they're making a new full series of World Of Sport Wrestling? I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Memory World

Competitions continue to happen around the globe - since I last mentioned them, we've had the North German championship beziehungsweise* championships (a regional-format, seven-discipline thing with the other optional three disciplines the day before to make it into a national-standard open championship; there were also junior and kids' competitions, so really it was a whole lot of championships all merged into one). The winner of the one that counts was Simon, in another of those pitched battles between him and Hannes.

There was a fiercely-contested Mongolian championship, won by Lkhagvadulam Enkhtuya ahead of the two Narmandakhs - Germany and Mongolia have entirely dominated the year of memory competitions so far (Shijir-Erdene Bat-Enkh, now living in America, won a typically American non-standard competition as well), with the American, Swedish and British contingent presumably biding their time to burst onto the scene...

Next month, though after the excitement of the Tokyo Friendly Championship, we move away from the national-standard format and into the exciting realms of Memory League! There will (hopefully) be Scandinavian and German ML competitions, along the lines of the UK pilot episode last November, taking place in May, and I can't wait to see what happens!

Then at the end of May, I invite everyone to come and enjoy the twelfth (!) annual Friendly Memory Championship in its new home in Birmingham! It'll be great, I assure you!

We will also (very hopefully) have our own UK Memory League Championship again in November; with any luck, I'll be able to share details of it shortly, but this does rather depend on somebody (anybody) else arranging a venue and talking to people about it. We'll see what happens...

*It's a German word that means something along the lines of 'or as the case may be...'. There isn't really an English equivalent, but Germans say it all the time in sentences like that.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Mind Sports Olympiad 2017!

You can now register for the MSO - the timetable is here!

I really recommend going along to this, it's always a lot of fun. Take your pick from a week's worth of mind games, try something new or something you haven't played for years! Here's what I'm probably doing...

The first two days, Sunday and Monday, August 21-22, we have the European Memory Championship (open to everybody around the whole world, we already have confirmed competitors from Asia, North and South America and I bet we can complete the set by luring some Africans and Australians into the mix as well; the MSO traditionally likes everything to be a world championship, but it'd be a bit silly to keep the title "Memory World Cup" going when there's going to be two other world memory championships elsewhere in the world this year..).

This is an international-standard event, split into three "modules" that MSO all-rounders can pick and choose from as they please, but with the total scores added up in the usual way. So Sunday gives us our three half-hour marathons - numbers, cards and binary, 30 minutes to memorise, 60 minutes to recall. This starts at 10am and finishes safely before 6pm, so you can do one of the evening sessions in another sport if you like.

Day two, Monday, is split into two sections - the morning session (10:00am to 1:45pm) is "natural memory", with 15-minute names, 15-minute words, and 5-minute images. This is the kind of thing a newcomer could walk in off the street without knowing the first thing about memory techniques and still do well in.

The afternoon section is the miscellany of speed disciplines - 5-minute numbers, 5-minute dates, spoken numbers and speed cards. A little mini-championship in its own right of the fastest disciplines you can find in a big international competition like this!

Entry fee is £15 for the marathon memory, £10 for each of the others, making £35 in total for the "European Championship". Or you can pay £120 for a whole-week ticket and play in as many MSO events as you like. You should!

Okay, what shall I do for the rest of the week? In the evening session on Sunday there's the always-entertaining daily poker tournament, and this one is everybody's favourite, Texas hold'em. It's a great way to end the day! But we also have the othello championship that night - 15-minute games, an MSO tradition - so I think I'll do that.

Monday evening gives us London lowball, which I think I somehow won a medal in the last time I played, but there's also the mental calculation blitz, which might be a lot of fun. It's way too long since I did mental calculations!

Tuesday, with the memory out of the way, I can start playing games for the rest of the week. Let's see.. there's acquire, a very fun game, in the morning/afternoon double session, or else I could play the morning session at quoridor (I wasn't very good at that one the one time I've tried it before) or the big mental calculation championship, then in the afternoon session play continuo (always a good way to spend an afternoon). In the evening it's Omaha in the poker, or the really great new game blokus, or the really great old game backgammon (the no-doubling-die version,so outrageously lucky rolls of the dice can make all the difference), which is a tricky choice.

Wednesday there's that MSO favourite the decamentathlon in the morning, I think I'll have to do that. If you're new to the MSO experience, it consists of written puzzles in ten different mind sports events - brilliant stuff. The afternoon gives us mastermind, I've always liked that game. The evening gives us five-card draw poker, or else another MSO favourite, oware.

Thursday is all double-sessions in the daytime - I think I might do monopoly, I've always said I'd like to do that at the MSO but never actually played it there before! Pineapple hold'em in the evening is a must.

Friday I think the pick of the bunch is the double-session lines of action, a really cool game that stretches your brain in unusual ways. I'm no good at it, but I like to play anyway. Alternatively, there's cribbage singles in the morning and doubles in the afternoon if I can find a partner. No evening session on Fridays, or anything at all on Saturdays - the venue is a Jewish community centre and they're big on observing the shabbat.

So we resume on Sunday 28th, with maybe a day of rapidplay chess, or more likely (since I'm still hopeless at chess and need to maintain everyone's vague impression that it's something I'd obviously be good at) a morning session of kenken and sudoku puzzles! Followed by either Chinese chess (I do like that game, though I haven't played for a good few years now) or else the traditional brilliance of the creative thinking world championship. In the evening we have seven-card stud, or maybe twixt (it's a good game) or I could get all nostalgic about my schooldays and play exchange chess...

And the last day, bank holiday Monday, there's a new-to-the-MSO Countdown event that I think I'll have to enter. I always wanted to be on Countdown...

So that's the week-and-a-bit of the MSO! See you there!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Memory world news

I need to post a whole lot of important information on this blog. I'll do it over the Easter weekend. But I said I'd say this tonight - if you want to play a Memory League competition in a scenic location against the world's best, please consider joining the Scandinavian Memory League Open on May 13-14 in Gothenburg! In the same format as the wonderful event here in London last November, but they're struggling to fill the places with 12 Scandinavians, so have thrown it open to the world!

I'd really like to go, and I'm trying to resist the temptation, because I'm really trying not to spend all my money right now...

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Oh for crying out loud

I just spent absolutely ages, maybe as much as 20 minutes, searching around the internet trying to remember which student hall of residence I stayed in the last time I spent a week at the MSO in London - I didn't see fit to mention the name on my blog and searching the usual websites didn't come up with anything just down the road from JW3 as I knew this place was. I finally identified that I'd booked it in 2014, searched through my emails and found that it was Hampstead Residence, belonging to King's College - but it turns out they've sold it now and it's not available to rent a room in the summer any more. Now I'll have to book somewhere else.

Assuming I get round to it, I'll detail where I'm staying in another blog entry, along with the extensive preview of the MSO I'm going to write any day now. Promise.

Monday, March 13, 2017

French memories

That was a fun competition! The scores are online here and more-or-less accurate - it was an exciting battle all the way through between Simon and Johannes, with me a fairly distant third but still producing the kind of decent results I was entirely happy with, considering how very long it is since I even sat down with a real pack of cards or a piece of paper to memorise. And our gallant band of French memorisers all put in great performances, particularly Sylvain Estadieu - he's going to be a force to be reckoned with before long, I'm sure.

I'll see if I can get into some kind of regular training and start competing again - this one has achieved its aim of getting me in the memory mood, I think (old-fashioned memory, that is; I've been in the Memory League mood for months). The only problem is that the only memory championships in this country are run by me nowadays, and travelling to other places costs all that money I'm trying not to spend right now...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Other important things about the competition

The lift up to the competition room (on the first floor of the Espace Moncassin) doesn't go 'ding' like normal lifts, it plays a tone of exactly the same pitch and length of the first note of Sloop John B by the Beach Boys. So that's my mental soundtrack to the championship.

Also, I can confirm that there is such a thing as the Eiffel Tower - I saw it with my own eyes last night. It lights up after dark, too!

Saturday, March 11, 2017


The most important thing I learned today - on the French dubbed version of the Simpsons, the Duff beer logo is blurred out, because it's an actual real beer now, and so contravenes product placement laws, even in episodes made when it was just a fictional thing. That's weird.

Anyway, there has also been the first day of the French Open Memory Championship! The one in 2008 attracted only two French competitors, a French-only competition in 2015 drew in eight, but this year's event breaks all the records - nineteen entrants in total, 13 of them French! That's enough for a national Memory League event!

It's the first old-fashioned memory championship I've competed in since the UK Championship in August 2015, and my complete and total lack of training shows, but it's still been fun! All the new French competitors have identical dark hair, glasses and beards, so I'm not at all to blame for not remembering who's who, but it's a two-day competition so I'm sure by the end of the day tomorrow I'll be familiar with them all.

I'll write a full report just as soon as I can get round to it - meanwhile, I've got a French dub of the Simpsons to distract me - most characters' voices are imitations of the American originals, but for some reason Krusty is totally different; he's got a sort of deep, booming voice. Foreign countries are strange and different.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

And the whole world loves it when you're in the news

News websites the world over are running memory-related stories today! It's fair to say that 99% of them have latched onto a soundbite that "scientists have said something about memory" and used it as an excuse to fill a column with the usual blurb about the subject (here's the BBC's typical example), but there is some genuine Science behind this one - Boris and his gang's investigation into the brains of memory competitors, including me. Here's the actual science-stuff. I don't understand a word of it, but it scores points for not being illustrated by a picture of Basil Rathbone. Or some other thicko.

Friday, February 24, 2017

And speaking of memory

When I booked my flights and hotel tonight, I booked them all for next weekend instead of the weekend after, had to cancel everything and start again, and thought "I'll write something witty about that on my blog when I write about going to this competition..." And then I forgot to mention it. They shouldn't let people with terrible memories go to memory championships, it's a disgrace.

I love Paris in the springtime!

I haven't really mentioned it before, but 2017 for me is dedicated to living economically and paying off the vast debt I accumulated over the course of my last "career break", as I call those times when I spend a year and a half not bothering to work for a living. Because it took me longer than I expected to get back into a proper job that pays me decent money, I've ended up with a lot to work off before I can get back to financial liberty and not need to work any more. But now I'm working for an undeservedly high salary and living in a perfectly nice cheap bedsit down the road from the office, I'm in a position of earning much more than I spend, allowing me to devote huge sums of money every month to paying off my credit cards and loans and things.

And because I really have been good about not spending money to excess just lately, I've decided to reward myself by spending money to excess, and going to Paris in a fortnight's time for the French Memory Open 2017! Blog-readers with good memories (I'm sure there must be some of you who fall into that category) may recall that the first ever memory competition in France happened in 2008, and I was there. Now, nine years later, there's another open championship in that much-neglected-memorywise country, and I'll be there again, along with the cream of European (and American) memory talent!

I've done no training, of course, except for a whole lot of Memory League rapid-fire stuff, but this is deliberate, in a way. Going to a competition, as I've said before, is the best way to get me in the mood to practice for the next competition!

I really must try to see the Eiffel Tower this time. I've been to Paris something like four times before, and never actually seen the thing. For all I know, it doesn't really exist, but since everybody asks me if I've seen it every time I come back home, I ought to make the effort this time round.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Memory sports 2017 is go!

Yes, this year's memory competition season is in full Korea (career), with the weekend's competition in Seoul now completed, and Johannes Mallow the champion - it was a thrilling event, he fought off not just his usual arch-rival Simon Reinhard, but the latest threat to emerge from Ulaanbataar, the sisters Munkhshur and Enkhshur Narmandakh. Six people did a pack of cards under 30 seconds!

I wrote a full account of it, or as full as can be done by reading the scores and everyone's Facebook and Twitter posts, which might appear on memory-sports.com at some point in the future. Check it out, I promise it won't contain any terrible puns like the one I started this blog entry with.

Monday, February 13, 2017

I could be the Middle-Aged Memory Master!

An update from the upcoming Korean Memory Championship made me giggle...

"Announcement about Awards and prize.
2017 KOMC have announced that the competition would have 6 categories of age groups.
But we revised a couple of days ago.
To sum up, we concluded that the competition will have 5 categories with binding two junior parts (middle school + high school juniors)
So we have
1. Kids (- 12)
2. Juniors (13-17)
3. Adults (18-39)
4. Adults (40-59)
5. Seniors (60- )
In fact, this action occurred due to the mistaken knowledge of the international age.
As a korean, People think of themselves as adults at the age of 19.
Therefore, a high school student, who is 18 years old, does not think that anyone is an adult in Korea.
However, some countries, not Korea, recognize it as adults from the age of 18.
And as we will have an open memory championships for international competitors, we have to apply age system according to global common sense.
As you know, in last memory competitions, we applied age system like below:
1. Kids (- 12)
2. Juniors (13-17)
3. Adults (18-59)
4. Seniors (60- )
We, organizers thought that it was very unfair to compete between 18 and 59.
So we split the division as young adults and middle ages adults.
Also, we wanted to split Juniors into 2 parts, middle school's and high school's.
When it happened, we concluded that the match just between the ages of 16 and 17 was not reasonable.
And it could be confusing for foreign competitors who have joined to other competitions before.
We have 5 age categories in this competition with dividing the adults category.
(The Junior section is still likely to need discussion forward)
It will be applied to events awards also.
(Gold, Silver, Bronze medals in every events in every age categories)
Your age will be counted as this year minus year of the birth like other memory competitions.
Sorry for confusion and thanks for your participation!
Gyewon Jeong,
Organizer of Korea Open Memory Championship."

I'm still as firmly opposed as ever to the silliness of awarding prizes in memory competitions based on age, gender, nationality and so forth - to my mind, the single biggest selling point of these championships is that everybody competes on equal terms! I think it makes the whole thing just laughable when there's a million different gold medals to be handed out at the end of the day.

But... I'm 40 now. The really good memory people at these competitions are, by and large, still under 40. This would be the perfect time to compete somewhere that gives prizes for these age groups, and then make myself a set of business cards proclaiming myself to be the Middle Aged Memory Champion! I need to do that, and fast, before all my 30-something rivals catch up with me.