2018 Australian Memory Championships

I have been very slack in writing this blog. Apologies. I have been finishing my new book, Memory Craft, to be published on June 3, 2019. I have just completed the editing process with my publisher, Allen & Unwin, something I find very stressful and demanding. But it has finally gone to the typesetters. The final manuscript will be sent to me in a week or so for indexing and then it is done. My baby will be sent out into the world.

I competed in the Australian Memory Championships for a second time in November 2018, despite my writing in The Memory Code that I could never do it. But yet again, I found the pressure difficult to handle. By the end of the second day of competition, my brain was mush and my nerves frayed.

The competition was run by the IAM (International Association of Memory) and organised by Tansel Ali. There were ten events, including memorising shuffled decks of cards and long lists of numbers, both integers and binary. We memorised pages of names to match faces, dates of imagined events, images in order and lists of words. And all under strict time limits. It is really high pressure and I don’t handle pressure well at all.

Motoro Ohno

We had international guests, competitors from Japan, China and Indonesia. The entire competition was won by Motoro Ohno from Japan (pictured right).

The Japanese team was led by Takeru Aoki (at right in the picture below). Also part of the team was Hiroshi Abe (on the left).

Hiroshi is a Senior (over 60) and came with the express purpose of competing with me. He is higher in the IAM (International Association of Memory) rankings, and rightly so. But these competitions have a harsh side with the scoring. A mistake in a row of numbers of the suit of a card and you can end up with a score of zero for the row or the card trial. You need to make a decision. Do you go for speed and risk accuracy or take the careful way out and go slower, hoping to be more accurate.

Hiroshi Abe (Japan, Senior), Lynne Kelly (Australia, Senior) and Takeru Oaki (Japan, Open)

Knowing I don’t handle pressure well, I went far slower than I do in training, but was mostly accurate. Hiroshi was faster but had some accuracy slips and ended up scoring a few zeros. But the end of the competition, I had beaten him comfortably. I would not have managed it had he been on form!

I was the top Australian Senior again.

The Australian Memory Champion for the last two years, Anastasia Woolmer, was unable to compete due to illness. I was really disappointed to miss spending time with her again. She would have had tough competition from Zeshaan Khokhar who took the 2018 Australian Memory Champion title.

Lynne Kelly ( Australian, Senior), Zeshaan Khokhar (2018 Australian Memory Champion).

I now do most of my training on Memory League, a really fun way for anyone who wants to start playing around with memory competitions.

You can compete against others at your level, but I just compete with myself. Click on the images to try it out. You need to register but the first levels are free.

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The training screen. There are five events: cards, images, names, numbers and words.

All help for getting started is available through the super-friendly associated forum at Art Of Memory https://forum.artofmemory.com.

A new book – Memory Craft

Great excitement! I have just signed a contract with my publisher, Allen & Unwin, to do a new book. The working title (may not end up being the real title) is Unlocking the Memory Code. Publication date is probably early 2019. There is a lot of work to do first! Edit: it became Memory Craft.

This book is all about using the most effective memory methods from across cultures and throughout time. It is all about how we can use these methods to enhance our lives every day.

One of my great pleasures is encoding layer upon layer in my new lukasa, designed to record the history or writing. Ironic, isn’t it? This beautiful object was made for me by Tom Chippindall.

The vast majority of the emails and messages I receive are about the indigenous memory methods and how we might apply them in contemporary life. The extraordinary memory skills of our ancestors have been gradually lost with the invent of writing and even more so with the prevalence of information technology. Many readers are concerned about this and want to redress the trend by using their memories much more effectively.

I am simply astounded every day by what I can memorise and the way I can then build on the knowledge which is so firmly grounded in the memory devices. I am able to see patterns and the big picture in ways which are just not possible without this basic knowledge at my fingertips. It is also wonderful fun!

Throughout the book I will look at the changes in memory techniques over the millennia and discuss the possible impact on education and on memory loss with ageing. Recent research in neuroscience explains exactly why the memory methods of indigenous culture are so effective. I will report on the science and celebrate indigenous intellect. I will also emphasis how much everything is to remember when it is brought to like through stories and vivid characters.

As indigenous and early literate cultures were masters of memory, so it is from them that we can learn the most. I am adding to the lessons from oral cultures discussed in The Memory Code to include medieval memory systems, ideas from the Renaissance and from ancient Chinese and Japanese handscrolls. I will also look at mnemonic tricks from contemporary times.

The topics to be covered in Unlocking will include the most successful examples from My 40 Memory Experiments which have now been adjusted to reflect the questions I am most often asked.

I am learning a foreign language (French) despite having failed dismally to do so at school.  I am using a range of methods to memorise vocabulary and grammar and going really well. And even taking on Chinese (Mandarin).

I have devised a system for memorising names and faces by adapting the concept of a medieval bestiary.

I memorise temporary lists when we are out birding, going shopping or given verbally using a visual alphabet, adapted from those used during the Renaissance.

I am continuing to memorise more details about all the countries in the world and constantly adding to my walks through pre-history and history. I use the field guide to the 412 Victorian birds from memory constantly as husband Damian and I go birding often.

I am attending art classes every week to create the most beautiful contemporary adaptions I can manage of the bestiary, visual alphabet and Chinese hand scrolls. I am becoming addicted to everything about art, especially watercolour. I am using a version of the Inca knotted string khipu (quipu) to record the history of art. As many researchers suggest, the khipu is really nearer to writing than a pure mnemonic device.

I am also creating a personal ‘winter count’ based on the stunning mnemonic skins of the Plains Indians of North America. The one pictured below if the famous Lone Dog’s winter count. I am astonished how little of my life I could remember chronologically until I started this project. How much will this object help me hold onto my identity into very old age?

And every day I train for the Australian Memory Championships. Being old (I’m 65) does not mean a fading memory. I can now memorise a shuffled deck of cards in 12 minutes – way down from the 35 minutes just a month ago. I can memorise long strings of random numbers in decimal and binary and many other useless but surprisingly enjoyable feats.

Life is very good and I have all the readers of The Memory Code to thank!












I memorised a shuffled deck of cards!

I really didn’t believe that I would be capable of memorising an entire shuffled deck of cards, but today I did it!

It took 35 minutes to memorise the shuffled deck and then 25 minutes to reconstruct the order with a different deck of cards.

Those times would make all the experienced competitors laugh – but they would laugh kindly knowing what an important step this is.

Each card is given a character, action and object. Having memorised that over the last few months, I also need a set of ten empty memory palaces, each with 50 locations. I have most of those now in memory as well. Each group of three cards creates a weird combination of character, action and object, the strange image to be placed in a location in the memory palace. I am very new at the entire process, so thrilled that I managed to fill 17 locations with images for each group of three cards and not forget a single one. Nor did I forget the Queen of Clubs who was left over.

My head hurt terribly after the hour of intense concentration.

American science journalist Joshua Foer trained intensively for a year to win the 2006 United States Memory Championship and write his wonderful book Moonwalking with Einstein, a title drawn from the strange images created. In The Memory Code I wrote:

He set a new US record by memorising a shuffled deck of 52 cards in one minute and 40 seconds. To achieve this feat, Foer trained in his basement with earmuffs and goggles to reduce distraction. Foer talks about how much he enjoyed getting better and better at dreaming up bizarre, weird, raunchy, funny and violent images to store in his memory spaces. My training is not as intense. I could not deal with the pressure of competition nor memorise at high speed. Joshua Foer trained by having fun in his silent basement. I went out and walked the dog.

My precious little dog has since died of old age. And I train in ear muffs in my silent studio. I, too, love making up the weird stories. What I don’t know is if I can ever manage the pressure of competition nor gain enough speed to qualify. Cards feature in only two of the ten events, but I’ll write more about that in future posts.

I am being helped in my training by British memory expert Dominic O’Brien. We both believe that memory loss is not inevitable in later years. At 65, my memory is the best it has ever been. With all my memory experiments, I am gaining hooks to link anything I want to remember. Click on the image below to read more about Dominic’s adventures:

Memory competition could never be described as a spectator sport – a lot of people in a silent room barely moving. This is what it looked like at the World Championships in China in 2015:
Knowing how much work it has taken just to get to the stage of attempting to memorise an entire deck of cards, I understand why there are so few competitors in Australia. This was most of the field of memory athletes receiving instructions in Melbourne in 2016:

In November this year, I will be joining them!

See also Memory Sports: I am hooked.














Memory Sports – I am hooked!

Anastasia Woolmer, Australian Memory Champion 2016

The Australian Memory Championship was won by woman for the first time in November 2016. Anastasia Woolmer self-trained intensely for only five months yet set two new Australian records out of ten events. She credits her background as a ballet dancer as invaluable preparation for the intensity of competition.

Anastasia secured her lead over Daniel Kilov when two of Daniel’s cards stuck together during the memorisation phase of the shuffled deck event. They’d already memorised lists of random numbers (on paper, spoken and in binary), random words, dates and events, faces and names (which had to be spelt correctly), and pages of abstract shapes.

Anastasia received her award from Senior Arbiter for the World Memory Championships and Convener for the Australian competition, Jennifer Goddard. Congratulating Anastasia is four times Australian Memory Champion, Tansel Ali.

I was trained as an Arbiter which was good fun and gave a great insight into the events and the demands of competition.

Zeshaan Khokhar shows his sub-2-minute time amid the enthusiastic admiration of all present.

Zeshaan Khokhar, another strong competitor for the title, became only the the third ever Australian to memorize a shuffled deck in under two minutes, the first of three requirements for the title of International Master of Memory. He didn’t smile even amid the tumultuous applause from all present. This is a serious sport.

Fadi Alzubaii, Iraqi Memory Champion and Australian resident.

Chris Griffin set five records for his native New Zealand at his first time competing while Iraqi National and Australian resident Fadi Alzubaldi set eight new Iraqi records. Fadi wrote:

What attracted me to memory sports is training my brain to retain vast amount of information and improve my creativity. Knowledge and what brings with it from respect, prestige, authority and confidence is my main driver. Greatest influencers on humanity are thinkers. If I want to add something to this world, if I want to contribute, if I want to make the life of others better, if I want to discover, if I want to invent then knowledge and creativity is the solution. If I want to be remembered, then knowledge is the right path.

Greg Wills, Australian Senior Champion

Greg Wills was the first ever senior competitor and so set ten new Australian records.

There was quite a lot of pressure for me to take him on next year. If nothing else, I will take out all the Australian Senior Female titles just by qualifying in each round – unless another senior woman comes on the scene. I assured everyone there that I had no intention of competing. I can’t handle pressure nor speed. No, I won’t compete. Not even considering it.

I’ve started training.

Daniel Kilov, Silver Medalist in the Australian Memory Championships 2016




More about the Australian Memory Championships can be found here.

Information about the World Memory Championships can be found on their official page here.