National Geographic : 2012 Mar
NOW A Memory Champion's Method In 2011 Nelson Dellis used a mnemonic technique called the "memory palace" to memorize the random order of a deck of cards in one minute, three seconds---a U.S. record. This year he hopes to match his practice best of 34 seconds. Here's how he does it. 1 ENCODE Dellis associates each card with a familiar person, action, and object. After months of practice he sees the ace of spades, for instance, as Arnold Schwarzenegger lifting weights. Person Action Object EXAMPLE: Arnold Schwarzenegger Lifting Barbell Arnold Schwarzenegger Dancing Car Paris Hilton Dancing Dance floor Dellis's friend Driving Car + + = A horse running with Harry Potter's wand Steve Jobs shopping for large bras Dellis's ex-girlfriend swallowing a sword Dellis's sister crying atop a mountain Bear Grylls dribbling a cross Michael Jackson cooking lipstick The Art of Memory In the age before books and digital tablets, orators stored texts in less reliable devices: their minds. To boost his memory capacity, Roman philosopher Cicero used tricks called mnemonics to bind his words to vivid mental images, "as if inscribing letters into wax." Such ancient techniques may no longer be needed, but this month they'll take center stage when some 50 "mental athletes" go head-to-head at the 15th USA Memory Championship in New York City. Their minds aren't photographic; even memory experts need a coding system to remember strings of words, numbers, names, or playing cards. The key is training---hundreds of hours of it. And speed. Linking items to celebrities is common practice because they're easy to visualize. However, "an emotional tie makes the image louder," says last year's champ, Nelson Dellis. When creating his mnemonic code for cards, he passed on a popular heartthrob for the king of hearts. "Brad Pitt I had to think about. But my dad---I can picture him in an instant." ---Oliver Uberti 2 GROUP As Dellis flips through the deck in competition, he "chunks" the cards into groups of three (see example) to reduce the number of images he must recall from 52 to 17.