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Records Smashed at (Human) Memory Championship 67

Posted by Roblimo
from the I-forget-why-this-seemed-so-important dept.
Pika the Mad writes "Wired News has a neat story about the recent U.S.A. National Memory Championship.'The finalists competed in three brand-new recall events that forced them to remember and recite aloud random words, personality characteristics of guests at a fictional tea party and the order of cards in two decks of playing cards, parroting answers in front of a crowd of onlookers, photographers and video cameras.' The winner claims that in the world finals he'll be competing against people who can memorize an entire deck of cards in 30 seconds."
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Records Smashed at (Human) Memory Championship

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  • Mnemonic Devices (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Monday March 13, 2006 @11:02AM (#14907413) Journal
    So, when I was younger, we were encouraged to use mnemonic devices [wikipedia.org] (such as "My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets"). But I've also heard from critics of the process that they just provide more clutter in the scheme of memorizing things.

    I guess I've always thought of them as indexes for remembering things. You're storing more information but the keys are easier for you to remember and they hold within them something meaningful about the data.

    Oddly, though, often the most bizarre mnemonic devices work the best as the Wikipedia article states:
    A curious characteristic of many memory systems is that mnemonic devices work despite being (or possibly because of being) illogical, arbitrary, and artistically flawed. "Roy" is a legitimate first name, but there is no actual surname "Biv" and of course the middle initial "G" is arbitrary. Why is "Roy G. Biv" easy to remember? Medical students never forget the arbitrary nationalities of the Finn and German. Any two of the three months ending in -ember would fit just as euphoniously as September and November in "Thirty days hath...", yet most people can remember the rhyme correctly for a lifetime after having heard it once, and are never troubled by doubts as to which two of the -ember months have thirty days. A bizarre arbitrary association may stick in the mind better than a logical one.
    For an article with a little more information, check out the NYTimes coverage [nytimes.com].

    Unfortunately, the Wired article only gives us one line sentences from the contestants like:
    "It really helps us a lot in school," she [Erin Luley] said.
    "(Media presence) makes it more nerve-wracking," said finalist Chester Santos from San Francisco.
    "I really did not expect to win," Foer said. "I thought maybe I'd crack the top five."
    Wired, that is pure journalistic gold. Perhaps you'd like to rail them with another question like, "What do you like to do for fun with your friends?"

    I'm sure it helps you in school, what I want to know is how in the hell do you do that? Does anyone on Slashdot know if people who win these competitions actually use mnemonic devices or are they just gifted savants?
    • Re:Mnemonic Devices (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NeoThermic (732100) on Monday March 13, 2006 @11:12AM (#14907505) Homepage Journal
      One of the memory techniques I've seen used before for learning a set of random objects was to place them in a common thing, such as going to work in the morning. This also has the advantage of being able to recall in sequence. For example, say the first four random items were an alarm clock, a banana, a mouse (squeeky type, not computer type), and a spoon, you might remember something like:

      'I woke up to my Alarm Clock, which also had a banana on top, which was weird. Sitting up in my bed, I saw a mouse hanging from the end of my bed. I grabbed a spoon to try remove it...'

      Obviously depending on how much you have to remember and what you have to remember the amout of extra story can be shortend to nearly the key items, but as long as you can remember the story in whole, there's little to stop you from realling out a list of items.

      When I had my dyslexia test done, one of the tests there was to listen to a set of numbers, and wait 10 seconds, then repeate them. I then also had to do it again in reverse with a diffrent set of numbers; the number of digits getting longer with each try. The way I managed to do well in it was to see the numbers in front of me, as if they were neon signs, and then make them dissapear when I had said them. This also allowed me to read them off in any order. Normally the sweetspot for recall is 7, plus or minus two items. I managed to make it to 11 digits in order, 9 in reverse, which is fairly good.

      I would wager that people who learn sequences of things would have techniques similar to this.

      NeoThermic
      • I very often use the technique of making things "light up" in my head depending on whether or not I have counter them yet, which allows me to do things like flawlessly deal cards out of order.

        I have a near photographic memory for certain types of things... for instance, when I was in high school, in my US history class, I read the entire history book the day before school started, and for the entire rest of the year, when I wanted to recall something, I recalled the page it was on, then reread it off th
    • But I've also heard from critics of the process that they just provide more clutter in the scheme of memorizing things.


      To this day I still remember My Dear Aunt Sally (order of operators Multiplication Division Addition Subtraction). I think little mnemonic devices like that are very helpful. Sticks better in my withering mind. Ive even taught to my kids...

    • by hey! (33014)
      Well, that's what happens when you design a computer has a three bit working memory address bus on one hand, but on the other has literally billions of switches dedicated to pattern matching and special purpose retrieval functions.
    • Re:Mnemonic Devices (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vondo (303621) *
      "Thirty days hath..."

      I never learned the rhyme. What I learned was

      1. Make a fist and look at the back of your hand.
      2. Start with the knuckly on the left. That's elevated, so January has 31 days.
      3. The gap between the first and second knuckles is recessed, so Feb. does not.
      4. Continue like this until your last knuckle. Then start over again on the left. (July and August both have 31.)

      • It's thirty days hath september, april, june, and november. All the rest have thirty-one, except for february, because Caesar was a jerk.
      • And you've got knuckles left over, so in the event that Thirteenember and Fourteenuary are ever added to the calendar, you're still good to go.

      • You can do it with your two hands next to each other as well, to get a view of the whole year. Starting from one end again, ridge=31 days, valley=30, except for February.
    • Re:Mnemonic Devices (Score:2, Informative)

      by mdf356 (774923)
      There is an article in this month's Discover about it. It doesn't appear to be online.

      For the cards, for example, each card is associated with three things: a subject, a verb, and a direct object, I believe. You memorize a deck of cards by getting 3 cards at a time, and combining the subject for the first, verb of the second, and direct object of the third into a triplet. The actions and objects don't need to make senes; they just need to be memorable to you.

      The order of the triplets is then memorize

    • Re:Mnemonic Devices (Score:5, Informative)

      by Quirk (36086) on Monday March 13, 2006 @12:08PM (#14908034) Homepage Journal
      I post a link to the book below everytime the subject comes up on /. Luria's treatment of the subject matter is a good overview and shows the potential downside to such gifts. I met one woman who gift was equal to those described in the article. She had no training and simply had the gift. I have an above average memory that serves me well but I find the majority of people become bored when I start to itemize particulars. My parents and sibling smile indulgently at me then carry on a conversation roundly ignoring my detailing.

      I've studied various mnemonic methods. The ancient greeks used an empty stadium as a mnemonic device then would 'seat' items to be remembered in the stadium seats.

      Luria, A. R. (Aleksandr Romanovich) The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book about a Vast Memory [nyu.edu]

      • My brother is like that. Mega memory for the finest details. I had to bash him constantly when we were teens for going on and on. Every time he go on, I'd just say "TMI" or Too Much Information.

        While it still surfaces from time to time (occasionally if we're out drinking), he's learned to keep recollections to the minimum when talking to people. It certainly doesn't hinder him socially (or anymore anyways)

        One time, we saw this girl he went to grade school with. They started talking about it and before you k
    • by Urban Garlic (447282) on Monday March 13, 2006 @12:40PM (#14908342)
      Today's "Slate" has a link to an older article about that.
      It was, in fact, written by the guy who won it, so he may know
      what he's talking about.

      http://www.slate.com/id/2114925/ [slate.com]
      • There's a little bit about the history of memorizing in the article, and if you're looking for more on the topic, Frances Yates' [wikipedia.org] The Art of Memory [amazon.com] covers memorization from its mythical beginnings with Simonides, through its use by Roman orators, and ultimately its transformation into a mystical technique and occult science in the Middle Ages. Most of the techniques described in the article were practiced by the Romans.

        My favorite memory Grandmaster is George Koltanowski [wikipedia.org]. He held the record for the most

    • Re:Mnemonic Devices (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pUr3d0xYk (936029)
      Everyone who makes money off of it says that the skill can be learned. There are people who have it naturally (including one guy I've read about who lacks the ability to forget anything--which really makes his life hell); but I have known people who got very impressive results simply from mnemonic tricks.

      One that I learned from a memory-enhancement tape was cool...you can memorize any sequence of numbers and attach that memory to any object (for instance, you could memorize everyone you know's address, b

      • Everyone who makes money off of it says that the skill can be learned. There are people who have it naturally (including one guy I've read about who lacks the ability to forget anything--which really makes his life hell); but I have known people who got very impressive results simply from mnemonic tricks.
        I remember a sci-fi story along those lines. Basically, the guy couldn't forget anything and it made his social life Hell because he was forever either creeping people out by remembering every detail abou
    • I'm sure it helps you in school, what I want to know is how in the hell do you do that?

      I believe the generic term for this sort of thing is Chunking [wikipedia.org]. Your short term memory is of a limited size, you can only keep track of so many things at once (most commonly you hear 7 +- 2 things).

      Now those mnemonic devices are usually related with long term memory, not short term - I don't know if the method is even relevant for long term memory.

      But the same goes for the article - they're doing short term memory tes

    • Interesting stuff.

      Maybe the reason arbitrary devices work better is that there's no second-guessing? I'm absolutely certain that "30 days has September". So much of what we learn is uncertain, or has exceptions. When you can succinctly file away a piece of information you can be sure will always be valid, maybe the brain is better able to "paste" it, without having to add mechanisms for "unpasting" it if future information invalidates it.
    • Medical students never forget the arbitrary nationalities of the Finn and German.

      This is from a mnemonic for the 12 cranial nerves (Olfactory, Optic, Oculomotor, Trochlear, Trigeminal, Abducens, Facial, Auditory, Glossopharyngeal, Vagus, Spinal Accessory, Hypoglossal). The standard mnemonic is:

      On Old Olympus' Towering Top, A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops.

      But I find this one even more memorable [pun intended]:

      Oh Oh Oh, To Touch And Feel A Girl's Vagina, Such Heaven!

      • There's also a mnemonic for remembering whether each nerve is sensory (S), motor (M), or both (B):
        Some Say Marry Money, But My Brother Says Big Boobs Matter More!
    • I find that the more info I have (metainfo) about some info, the more of the mere info I can remember. I also generally find I can remember more of the metainfo as well. The more "complete picture" I have, the more I can remember it. Especially if multiply-interelated info offers more "paths" from one memory to another, I can recollect along the paths. Maybe it's just a matter of collecting more info overall to apply my "loss percentage" to, so I can remember more items from the larger population, while for
  • by brian0918 (638904) <brian0918@@@gmail...com> on Monday March 13, 2006 @11:13AM (#14907515)
    Sure, they can memorize a deck of cards, but can they learn the lyrics to It's the End of the World as We Know it?
  • that's nice (Score:2, Funny)

    by Loconut1389 (455297)
    but when are the mammary championships?
  • That's pretty impressive, I don't even think I could flip through all 52 cards in 30 seconds.
    • On long stuff like that, I tend to use the "Simon" method (I just made that up, no idea what it would really be called).

      Look at the first card, say the name in your head. Look at the second, say the first and second. For every card, repeat the whole series. You develop a rythm and it almost becomes a song in your head. I tired and just got to 18 cards in 30 seconds that way.

      I don't know if I could memorize an entire deck of cards in one sitting, though. If I could look through it for two or three minutes, w
  • Isn't this just... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother@NOsPAm.optonline.net> on Monday March 13, 2006 @11:37AM (#14907718) Journal

    ...a competition for people with eidetid memory [wikipedia.org]? It seems if you have a so-called photographic memory, then most of these feats would be child's play, I would think. There are some autisitc individuals who would find some of this trivial. It seems like fun and all that, but how about harnessing all that brain power to solving the world's problems instead of memorizing playing cards.

    • by ROBOKATZ (211768)
      Maybe because the world's problems can't be solved by memorizing playing cards. Just because they're good at rote memorization does not necessarily make them better at anything else. They'd probably have a slightly easier time in medical school but other than that I don't see what you would have them do.
      • by Kjella (173770)
        Maybe because the world's problems can't be solved by memorizing playing cards. Just because they're good at rote memorization does not necessarily make them better at anything else. They'd probably have a slightly easier time in medical school but other than that I don't see what you would have them do.

        My memory is definately not photographic as in faces and landscapes, but is excellent at text, numbers and things that can be broken down as such, for example an UI or a roadmap. School was trivial with a me
    • by bw_bur (634734)
      Remembering things incredibly well doesn't imply high intelligence, or an ability to solve all the world's problems. After following your link, I carried on and read the article about S.V. Shereshevskii [wikipedia.org], who apparently had truly astounding recall -- he could remember speeches, complicated formulae, poems in a foreign language, and many other things, all very quickly and for years afterwards -- but an entirely ordinary level of intelligence.

      His story is very interesting, and more than a little sad. After p

  • I know it's the cynic in me, but I'm only half kidding.

    Another possibility is that competitors have worked out the best methodology for succeeding on these tests.

    Jon Acheson
  • Damn (Score:5, Funny)

    by r00k123 (588214) <borensteNO@SPAMstudent.umass.edu> on Monday March 13, 2006 @12:37PM (#14908309)
    The championship was THIS weekend?

    Damn. I meant to tape that.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I have a friend with eidetic memory. Ask him to imagine being in a particular location where he's been before and he is there: he can tell you what's to his left, right and up, the color of any landmark, the text on signs (even detailed text: when asked he "reads" the text from the picture he has in memory!).

    He finds analytical problems difficult because his vivid memories get in the way. He also appears to be scattered but this is an illusion: he's merely more aware of the moment than a normal person is.

  • by fireman sam (662213) on Monday March 13, 2006 @04:40PM (#14910518) Homepage Journal
    Pfft, I can do that.

    Oh, you mean the order of the cards... On second thought.
  • I think I've finally figured out what "Elephant Man"'s mutant power was!

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