As we all placed our hands down on our Speed Stacks Timers, the tension in the air was palpable. "Neurons on the ready..." the arbiter yelled out, his words piercing through the deathly still air. Then a slight pause and...."GO!"
We were off.
Each of us chugging a pint of Kingfisher beer as fast as possible. No sooner had I grasped my own beer and opened up my gullet, I heard the slam of a timer to my left. Tsogbadrakh, the fiercely competitive memory guru from Mongolia, had chugged his down in a mere, astonishing 5.85 seconds. I glanced over at him with eyes agape, still trying to down the rest of my own drink, with beer streaming down the sides of my face like an amateur. "How the hell..." I thought ("I just open throat. Pour beer in", he later explained) just as I heard the more experienced ale-drinker John (a fellow American and first time memory competitor) slam down on his timer in quick succession. "NO!!!" I thought. I spilled the rest of my drink all over my face in attempt to hurry my chug, and then slammed on my timer. 10.97 seconds. Only a few milliseconds after Boris (the German to my left), who ALWAYS manages to beat me in almost every thing I do at memory competitions just by a hair...go figure.
Pitiful. But not as pitiful as the the three brits still drinking down their drinks across from me. Ben, Jake, and Phil poorly representing their country. Shame on them.
This was what the 2014 World Memory Championships culminated in. After three full days of memorizing for hours upon hours, from morning "till evening, we all deserved a bit of a drink and some silly antics. We had discussed possibly inducting a few new members into the KL7 club, but were unclear about some of its specifics (if anyone but Ed Cooke can induct, if the 49 digit number has to be memorized pre or post pint, if a kiss on the cheek is allowed or if it has to be a full-on snog, or if this club is even a real thing or a joke). Anyways, we opted for a straight up speed drinking competition. And then we ate Indian food...in China. Trust me, it was easier that way. I had had an authentic Haikou-ian Chinese seafood the night before and I quickly learned that I never wanted to try that ever again. So Indian it was.
Oh right, there was an actual competition too...let me talk about that. I came in tied for 8th (apparently that means 9th? I don"t get how the stats work), which was totally unexpected for a few reasons. For one, poor practice. Ever since I won the US Memory Championship back in March, I decided to take my first training break in 5 years. That one month turned into seven before I decided to get serious again. And I never got too serious about it unfortunately. I definitely was not ready going into this competition. Second, jet lag/lack of sleep. I missed my first connecting flight, which resulted in me getting bumped a whole day later into Haikou, China. Which gave me a grand total of 5 hours of sleep before the 3-day competition started (and that was after flying for over 30 hours from across the globe...so....fuck me).
I was half asleep when this day started and carrying a massive headache. My mind had no idea what was going on. But the first event was a chill one for me and one that I"m naturally pretty decent at: Names & Faces (15 minutes). International competitions usually use crazy ridiculous names, but these seemed to be a tiny bit easier than the norm. I wrote down 150 names, which after mistakes were graded, gave me a score of 125. Nice! A new US international record. Yanjaa (a relatively new female Swede competitor who rocked all of our socks off) nearly broke the world record with 185 names. She was a beast at that.
Next up, 30 minute binary memorization. I absolutely hate this event. And my mind was definitely not looking forward to reading pages and pages of 1s and 0s. Nope. I would have rather enjoyed flagellating myself with a wet bus ticket. But I forced it and managed to get through 1750 digits or so. Made a couple of mistakes and ended up with a score of 1615 digits. Not horrible, but slightly less than my PR from last year, 1655.
Lunch, and then one-hour number memorization. Last year I went for about 1800 and got a score of 1515. This year it felt pretty smooth, given my fuzzy head and extreme desire to be fast asleep at that point. But I made it through almost 2000 digits (1950 to be exact). After some mistakes, I ended up with 1555, another US international record. BOOM!
Dinner. Nyquil. Bed. Sleep.
I woke up having slept a solid 8 hours and feeling awesomely refreshed. First event was Abstract Images (random blobs in order). I hadn"t practiced this at all but I have a pretty good system for it. I went for what I went for last year, almost 250 images, but ended up with 205. Meh.
Next up speed numbers (5 minutes of memorization). This is usually my best event and I practice this a ton, but I was seriously rusty. Anything over 300 digits would have been glorious. The first run felt great and I went through 306 digits. I had them all, except I wrote a 9 somewhere in there when it should have been a 2. And I knew it had to be a 2 too. Ah well, that happens some times. That gave me a score of 286. Decent, but not my best.
Historic dates. I matched my score exactly from last year: 49 dates in 5 minutes. Cool, since I hadn"t even tried this event since last year"s competition. Insert deep belly chuckle laugh HERE.
Speed numbers, second trial. I psyched myself out on this one and got stuck on some images (which finally showed my lack of practice)...I didn"t even bother with the recall because it was only 280 digits, less than my previous score. Boo. Brad helped me feel better about myself by explaining how miserable it is to be online slots vegetarian (just kidding, he loves it!).
Lunch, and then the final event for the day: one-hour card memorization. I laid out the 20 decks in front of me and was hoping to get through all of them. I had a good pace through the first 10 decks but then I started second guessing myself so I spent a lot of time going back over them. That ultimately led me to have enough time to just go through 6.5 more decks by the time was up. During recall I had 2 decks which felt weird and I had to guess a little bit. My score ended up being 13.09 decks, which makes no sense because .09 of a deck of cards is 4.68 cards. How does one memorize 4.68 cards? Not sure. Anyways, Dammit!! That was a deck and a half less than last year. Oh well. Still decent, I guess.
Gross Chinese dinner. Bed. No sleep.
Couldn"t sleep at all. Frick.
We started with Random Words (15 minute memorization), which is one of my favorite/best events. I had actually practiced a good amount here. One day I"ll go for the world record. But not today. I went for a rocking 266 words. I soon checked in with my fellow competitors and found that Simon Reinhard had written down 257, and Boris only 252. Could I win this event?? I felt pretty good about it. But nope, I ended up with a small spelling mistake that gave me a score of 255. UGHHHHH. Apparently writing "cosmetic" instead of "cosmetics" costs 10 points. I could have had gold. Oh well, silver will have to do (and it was a new US international record anyways, so let"s have a party!).
Next up, Spoken Numbers (1 digit spoken per second). I"m usually pretty good at this, but again, limited practice. Brad Zupp, another US competitor (also the guy who took my record of 101 digits in this event last year with 112) was aiming to beat his record. FYI, I was aiming to beat his record too. We get 3 trials on this one. On the first I went for 120 and thought I had it, only I confused one image and that gave me a wonderful score of 14 digits. Brad messed up too, thinking the first few digits were a countdown when in fact they were the actual digits to memorize, LOL. 2nd trial felt good until I suddenly stopped paying attention at digit #60. Okay then. I ended up with 56 digits (apparently I truly stopped listening at digit #56). Brad felt confident and managed a sweet and sexy 150 digits. Well done. I was happy for him. Asshole. I was pissed. I needed that record back. So trial 3 I went for 152 digits (I had told Brad I was going safe with 100 or so, but at the last minute I said fuck it, I"m going for it - classic Nelson). I wrote all the digits down but one image was a 50-50 guess. I felt like it was one, but I wrote the other for some reason. Damn....that gave me a less than 56 digit score (since it"s graded up to your first mistake). So Brad walked away unscathed. CURSES!! But seriously, congrats....LOSER! I"m not bitter.
For the final event, I calculated, I"d need to memorize a deck of cards in at least 70 seconds to beat my total championship score from last year. That"s quite safe for me, so I felt pretty good about it. I actually managed 69, so that went perfectly. I was super cool under the pressure. A lot of other competitors flubbed their decks, so I was sitting pretty in the top 10. That also gave me the opportunity to go for a US record in the second trial. I was going to need sub-40 seconds for that, but I was nervous, and tired as hell, so only mustered a slowish 43 seconds. I made mistakes on the recall anyways, so it wasn"t counted. Meh. Oh well. Good thing I nailed the first attempt.
So I ended up tying for 8th place. Which for some reason, in the standings they have me down as 9th, behind the other guy, who has 8th, even though we have the same score. WAT? Anyways, overall, a great competition. A bit strange, being in a random unheardof town in China, but still cool. Maybe next year I will actually train.....and drink my beer in less than 5.85 seconds.