Interview with a Memory Expert: 2x World Memory Champion Wang Feng

At only 20-years-old, China's Wang Feng burst onto the memory scene, winning the 2010 World Memory Championship. The first non-European to win, he defended his title in 2011, signaling a cultural shift in the competitive memory world. China had become a new powerhouse in a sport dominated by England and Germany. Although he retired from official competition following his '11 victory, Wang Feng, now 27, has remained active, teaching and repeatedly appearing on China's #1 TV Show, The Brain. I had the recent fortune of competing with him on the show. Here's an interview I conducted with him shortly thereafter. I hope you enjoy!

2010年,年仅二十岁的王峰以黑马的姿态赢得世界脑力锦标赛总冠军。是第一个来自欧洲之外获此殊荣的的人。隔年他再度出赛, 成功卫冕2011年世界总冠军,开启了记忆竞赛的新时代,在一向由英国和德国主宰的记忆运动舞台上,中国成为新兴的强大势力。获得两次世界冠军之后,王峰从官方比赛退休,忙于教学,并屡次出现在中国收视率第一的脑力竞技电节目—最强大脑。我最近很荣幸有机会和王峰在这个节目中竞技。以下是赛后不久我对他的访问,希望你们喜欢。

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Question of the Week: Do You Ever Erase Palaces?

Here's a question we've gotten a lot recently: Do you ever erase palaces or actively clean them of old images?

You might consider making an active effort to erase "ghost images"--images on loci you want to reuse. The short answer is that I never actively clean palaces, whether for memory sports or learning projects. For clarity, I'll split the discussion into those two parts...

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Episode #2 on 最强大脑 ("The Brain" TV Show)

I was lucky enough to go back to China for another appearance on 最强大脑 ("The Brain" TV Show). Pretty nuts, it's like the #1 show there! Thank you to the producers for having me back! This time I was up against... get this... an artificial intelligence robot nicknamed "Xiao Du." The "Du" comes from its makers, the folks at Bai Du search engine (the Chinese equivalent of Google).

My challenge had to be robot-friendly, and since Xiao Du would no doubt flatten me in any conceivable memory task, it had to be something outside my usual memory skill set. Here's what they settled on: Using a photo of one middle-aged couple, I had to pick their 20-year-old daughter out of a lineup of 40 random girls. All Chinese families, mind you. If it sounds impossible, that's because it was! Other than studying eyes and ears and face shape (and then choosing mostly on gut anyway), I had next to no idea what I was doing. But I did my best, and luckily it could've ended worse!

One of the great things about going back was that Cathy and my sister-in-law Dora both came with me, and we had much more time to explore Nanjing, which is an awesome city (photos at the bottom). Check out the full video here (my segment starts around 28:30; again, all in Chinese, except when I speak): Watch Here

(Unfortunately I've had to move the link away from Youtube as the channel removed the video). 

My Challenge on The Brain China TV Show

If the video below is removed, you can try this Youku link. Unfortunately the show's Youtube channel has been removing earlier videos.

This past month I've twice had the privilege of traveling to Nanjing, China, to participate on The Brain TV show (known locally as 最强大脑, literally "the strongest brain"; also often referred to as Superbrain, the name of its German forebear). Prior to taping, a producer let me in on the little factoid that the show has 400M seasonal viewers, which didn't do great things for the nerves. Memory competitors have for years though been competing on The Brain, now in its fourth season, so I was excited to take part.

I first competed in a challenge alongside the legendary 2x world champ Wang Feng, who has been a fixture on the show since season one. When I first began with memory techniques, he was one of those larger-than-life figures of memory sports lore. I kept having to pinch myself. Anyway, my first episode--which involved memorizing info about airline flights (take-off and landing times, origin and destination cities, and flight numbers of 50 flights)--was broadcast in China Friday night. It may be difficult to understand for non-Chinese speaking viewers, but hopefully the snappy sound effects and crazy visuals are enough to keep you entertained! It was a good time!

You can watch the episode (which included two other challenges: Marwin Wallonius vs 余彬晶 and Yanjaa Altansuh vs 奕沛) above.

You can watch my second episode on the show here.

Learning Equations with Memory Techniques (Update)

I've updated our "learning equations" discussion over on the Tips page, so I wanted to share it here. Generally I avoid mnemonics when it comes to equations, but I've added an example of how I'd memorize 4/3 pi r^3 with memory techniques at the bottom. 

How can I use memory techniques to learn equations?

Generally, I try to avoid "memorizing" equations. Again, the goal here is to learn efficiently by giving tangible meaning to what you're learning. In the case of equations, true understanding should be achievable, so memory techniques should generally take a backseat.

That said, I do use memory techniques for specific pieces of equations I find difficult to remember. So I'd recommend trying to identify the one or two tiny things that are tripping you up, and to encode those things specifically. For example, take this equation:

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An Updated Beginner's Guide to Mullen Memory

I recently redid our "how to use this site" link on the Tips page and wanted to share it here for anyone interested. It's pretty self-explanatory:

If I'm a beginner interested in applying memory techniques to my learning, how should I use this site?

Feel free to explore whatever piques your interest, but here's our vision for how new users might progress through our content:

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Question of the Week: What are the key strengths of using palaces as a learning tool? Why palaces and not just images?

It’s worth noting up front that we find our current methods of implementing memory palaces to be relatively simple (see “Doesn’t it take too much time to make all these palaces?” on our Tips page). We don’t think that using palaces in a mnemonic strategy adds up to much extra time or effort. Otherwise, the following might be moot. The presence of this question is also not to say that standalone images are never useful. We often create them for out-of-context facts or when it may be useful to create quick images on the fly. When it comes to carefully learning structured material, however (e.g. I'm sitting at my computer to learn the lung pathology chapter), I’ve found there to be three main arguments in favor of palaces:

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