Ask a memory champion

(Ben Pridmore) #41

Just a brief interruption before I answer the latest questions - I’m replying to my brother’s latest email, in which he said “By the way, you very nearly received an email from me some weeks ago asking if you could think off the top of your head what a pterodactyl went like, because I was having great difficulty getting it right. Luckily though after about an hour of walking around the campus squawking and stickling my elbows out at strange angles I was able to capture adequately what a pterodactyl goes like.”

This is the kind of thing we talk about. Anyway, it set me off on a train of thought that I thought I’d share:

"I’m glad you were able to establish what a pterodactyl goes like without my assistance, because I’m not a great expert on the subject. You might think I know all about pterodactyls because of the trolley-pushing one that appears in that splendid DJ Shadow video representing the ace and seven of diamonds, but in fact that was a copyright-avoiding substitute for Dac, the pterodactyl in the fairly good cartoon Dinobabies who constantly mocks and taunts the other young dinosaurs for their inability to fly. The ace of hearts and queen of clubs, incidentally, is represented by Flapper, the pterodactyl in the excellent cartoon Dink The Little Dinosaur who constantly mocks and taunts the other young dinosaurs for their inability to fly. So I suppose that we could come to the conclusion that what pterodactyls go like is mainly along a bullying theme, but perhaps real ones were different from anthropomorphic cartoon characters.

It’s not possible to get the two confused in my head, incidentally, because they in fact have very different psychological profiles despite the superficial similarities in their roles in their respective cartoons; Dac is genuinely convinced of his own superiority and feels entirely justified in making fun of the ‘groundlings’, whereas Flapper is deeply insecure about his small size and physical weakness, and feels that the only way to make the others pay attention to him is to constantly harp on about the one way in which he’s superior to them. This makes the two behave in very different ways when I put them into mental stories representing packs of cards, and the whole thing is so fascinating that I think I’m going to have to go and talk about it at length on a memory-themed forum."

See, when I’m posting here I try not to use so many big words - sorry if anyone was confused by that. Anyway, the personalities of the characters in my head really do have a big effect on the kind of sequence I create, and I don’t think I’ve mentioned that enough in posts about the subject before now…

(Ben Pridmore) #42
  1. Another tricky one that I’ve never tried doing myself before. It seems to me that words like ‘medial’, ‘cutaneous’ and ‘nerve’ would feature many times over in these kinds of list, so it might get confusing to have the same image showing up repeatedly. I would have thought some kind of more creative positioning of images would be helpful here - rather than just having a journey in a straight line, group them according to the location-themed part of the name (medial in the middle, lateral to the side, and so on), have cutaneous things on the outside of the medial group, pectoral behind them, or whatever makes sense, and use the images just to represent the more unique parts of each nerve’s name.

Again, I repeat - I’ve never done anything like this before, so I have no idea if it would work! Might be fun to try, though!

  1. I personally like to put multiple images on one location point, so that they can interact better and make it less likely that you’ll forget one. I picture them interacting from left to right or top to bottom, so I don’t get the order mixed up - it sounds like you’re not needing to know the images in a fixed order, so so much the better. But obviously it varies from one person to another…

(Ben Pridmore) #43
  1. PIG is a good example - in my head, the word is ‘ply-grain’, which represents a piece of wood. It’s a stupid way to make an image, but it works for me. DuP is ‘duplo’, the big lego bricks which aren’t supposed to be pronounced that way, but in my head they are. PiB is ‘ppy-birthday’, which is a birthday cake. These are some of my least good and least recommended images. They’re clear in my head, but they make no sense to anyone who isn’t me - and not very much sense to me, either.

On the other hand, as I might have mentioned elsewhere, my system (based on mis-reading a description of the Major system back in 2000) uses either G, J or Ch for the number 6, meaning GuK and GAK are the Chuckle Brothers and Jake respectively. Easy. MEP is Meep-Meep, the sound made by the Road Runner, which is hardly a stretch at all, and MuB is a character called Mubbs from the TV hospital drama Holby City. I actually couldn’t remember when I was making the list whether Mubbs was a man or a woman, so my image is just a sort of genderless doctor.

  1. The image I was thinking of is one that turns the first two digits into a consonant sound, with categories to enable me to use the same consonant for two or maybe three different numbers. It might work for a one-time use like memorising pi, but I don’t think it’s something I could apply to competitions. I think an increased proportion of made-up words would be fine for memorising pi - it might even make it more memorable!


Hello … you mentioned above that there are a lot of advantages to using memory techniques !! Can you give us some examples … what advantages have you got from using these - internal (psychological) and external ( besides being a memory champion with lots of women that worship you … because we know that already :slight_smile: ). Thanks !!


Hi Ben I have seen you on youtube remembering playing cards in very short time. You are our asset (this world) So nice. Even your presence on this blog. I appreciate, as a student I will benefit from the questions asked by others as well.

Could you please send me the soft copy or tel me the website I can find your book on.

my email address: [email protected]

Thanks for your help.


I’ve noticed this as well. For example, I’m a big fan of Doctor Who, and so, I have all 11 doctors in my 00-99 PAO system. Even though they do look different, they all also have their own completely unique personality, and so I never get them mixed up. As a more similar comparison, I have

Oswin Oswald, Clara Oswin Oswald, and Clara Oswald in my memory system, and they are all played by Jenna Coleman
(and are, in fact, the same person)

but still I never get them mixed up because each has her own “psychological profiles” as you call it.

  1. Do you have any sort of training schedule to help you practice all events equally? I know earlier you said that you just practice if you want to, but when you practice do you apply the same methods and ignore certain events if you don’t feel like doing them at that moment, or do you have a plan of sorts, like go through a cycle of 1) 5 min #, 2) speed cards, 3) abstract images, 4) names and faces, 5)…, #) repeat?
  2. How nervous do you get when performing at competitions? I know that I get really nervous when I go to a Rubik’s Cube competition, but I have gradually become less nervous at each one I go to. Do/did you have a similar thing happen to you with memory competitions? And do you do any sort of special training at home to simulate a competition or make yourself calm down so you wouldn’t be nervous?


(Ben Pridmore) #47

Well, externally speaking, people have given me money in the past just for memorising numbers and things - this is so ridiculous that I still find it difficult to believe.

Internally, I think the main advantage, as I’ve said before, is that practicing memory has made me more mentally disciplined and able to dedicate myself to tasks without getting bored and giving up so easily.

I can’t promise that if you become a memory champion, women will worship you, by the way. Unless you wear a cool hat, because nobody can resist a cool hat. :slight_smile:

(Ben Pridmore) #48

Aaaaah, spoilers! Just joking, I admire your taste in images! Although Amy and Rory are still my favourite companions of the new series…

  1. I did have a plan like that at one point, though I’ve rather abandoned it in recent years. It is a good idea, though, and something I would recommend.

  2. I’ve never had a problem with nerves at competitions. Maybe it’s because when I started out, I wasn’t expecting to do at all well, and by the time I was a top competitor, I’d got used to the whole thing. I tend to do better in competitions than in training at home, because of the extra adrenaline and pressure. If I could duplicate that kind of feeling in training, it’d be good, but I don’t think it’s possible.


Amy (:love:)and Rory are definitely my favorite companions of the revival. I’ve got both of them in my digits system as well. I’ll set up a schedule tonight and work with that for a few days and see if it works well for me. I think I need some sort of structure because otherwise I will just continue to delay practicing. :confused: I haven’t done a memory competition yet so I don’t know if I’ll have any nerve problems. Thanks for answering!

(Ben Pridmore) #50

My favourite piece of advice to everyone - go to a memory competition as early as possible! If you know what they’re like, you’ll be able to practice for them much better. Also, it’s a lot of fun, and should help keep you motivated!


In memorising number competition, do top memory athletes review all their images before writing answers down? Or Do they memorize them in one perception without any review?


Hi Ben,
Can you remember how long it took you to make significant speed increases in cards and numbers when you first started using journeys and a number/card system?

Also, how much practice a day did you do to achieve those increases at first?


Hi Ben, you mentioned that people actually gave you money just for memorising numbers. Thats great :slight_smile:

P.s. I bought ur book off Lulu a few months back and quite enjoyed it.

(Ben Pridmore) #54

It’s normal to review at least once. Different people like different things, but I personally like to review several times, even in 5-minute numbers.

On the other hand, Gunther Karsten used to do 30-minute binary without reviewing at all, only looking at everything once. I can’t imagine that working for me, so try different things and see what feels right for you!

(Ben Pridmore) #55

It was a long time ago, so I can’t be sure… It did immediately make me a lot faster, of course, but from then on it was a gradual process. I have no idea how long it took me to get under a minute in speed cards, but it was probably more than a year, practicing a little bit every day.

I’m sorry I can’t be more exact, I really don’t remember all that much about the early days of memory training - I only really got excited about it in 2003, when I came up with my own system, but I’d already been training for two or three years before that…


You’re training 1 hr for each or just 1hr total?



Thanks for spending some time with us. You wrote:

The one non-competition-style thing I do is try to memorise 468 numbers as quickly as possible, or 1500 binary digits. I think it’s useful to see how my time improves, and whether I can keep the number of errors from increasing as I go faster.

Do you mind giving us an idea of your practice times for these and how many times you might review them before you write them down. Thanks again.


(Ben Pridmore) #58

1 hour total. I’ve got a job, I can’t spare more than an hour or so in the evenings…

(Ben Pridmore) #59

I aim to get 468 in five minutes, and 1500 binary in ideally seven minutes. That’s reading through them once and then reviewing, and there are inevitably a few errors in there when I recall - I aim for a score of about 400, and 1250, by the usual competition scoring.

(Simon Luisi) #60

Hi Ben,

  1. Memorizing two cards with one image is now something that a few memorizers do today. To your knowledge were you the very first person to do it that way?
  2. One of your answers greatly intrigues me, where you claim to be sub vocalizing all your 26 images at Speed Cards. After all, many fast memorizers claim not to be subvocalizing. Also, when speed reading, the experts generally agree against doing subvocalization.
    a) So, say your two cards give you the syllable PiT and let’s pretend your image for PiT is a pit bull (a fighting dog). You will thus say in your head “PiT” and immediately this subvocalization will help you to conjure up the image of the pit-bull? Is that correct?
    b) Or, given that the visual memory is faster than the subvocalization, what happens may rather be that you see your pit-bull (or whatever image you have for your PiT sylable) in your mind’s eye before you had any time to subvocalized it?
    I suspect that you do not rely on the subvocalization to recall the image right? The subvocalization is, in fact, part of the image that you create, as if you were in your own journey and said, “(Here’s my) Pit” as it appears in your mind’s eye and after it has appeared there?
    c) My next question is, whenever the root name for your image- syllable is longer than one simple syllable, do you also subvocalize the extra as well, such as the “bull,” in my example above or has PiT become to you a short one syllable invented nick name for a pit-bull (if that were your image for that syllable) that you know as well as you know that a CaT is cat?

Thank you.