The Trouble with Words

I’m less than a week away from hopping on a plane for the 2015 Extreme Memory Tournament in San Diego. My strategies for most events are locked down at this point, except for one: words.

Before we get going, let me just say: these words are hard! Typical WMSC competition words are often things like “apple” or “trash.” At the XMT, for every “apple,” you have to deal with “inclination,” “insistence,” and “thoroughfare.” Thank Nelson Dellis for that.

For me, though, the real puzzle with words is two-fold: 1. How many images should I place at each locus? 2. Should I memorize “discretely” or “continuously”?

First, let’s talk images per locus (or “IPL”). As you can see one post below, about 69% of this year’s XMT competitors use 2 IPL. As far as I know, I’m one of only two people who uses 3 (Ben Pridmore is the other). Historically, it’s been easier for me to create memorable links with 3 objects. I think this ties back into the importance of narrative (see two posts down). In the same way that using people adds depth to a story, using 3 tools versus 2 helps me solidify a memorable narrative. After some more recent experimenting, I decided to stick with 3. If I’m not careful, my 2 IPL links are sloppy. I end up forgetting lots of whole loci. Plenty of folks (the majority, apparently) use 2 IPL effectively, but I’ve never been able to crack it. Both this and the images event proved no different. Clearly, different approaches work for different people. Simon Reinhard along with all the Germans use 2 to great effect. Katie Kermode (who crushed the words qualifying with 48 memorized in a minute) places 4 IPL. Reigning world memory champion Jonas von Essen and Enkhmunkh Erdenebatkhaan even use 5 IPL!

Second, there’s the problem of discrete vs continuous memorization (since I’m all about acronyms these days, let’s call them “DM” and “CM”). Here’s what I mean: do you need a distinct image for each word (DM), or can you string multiple words together into one solitary image (CM)? Cards, numbers, and pretty much all the other events require DM. The words event (and perhaps WMSC names) is the one exception that affords the luxury of CM. Nothing like an example: say I’m using 3 IPL and see “travel, machine, unwilling.” With DM, I might imagine stepping on a plane (“travel”), where I find a giant whirring “machine.” Inside it there’s a man who is crying because he is “unwilling” to fly. Not bad, but I think I can do better. Instead of imagining a plane and a machine and an unwilling man, I simply visualize a time travel machine and imagine that I might be unwilling to get in it. This would be an example of CM. It might not be more memorable, but it’s a hell of a lot faster. It’s essentially only one image! Obviously not every group of words lends itself to CM, but I’m guessing the best word memorizers are excellent at it. Something for me to work on!

Words will be my first event Saturday morning, up against Ben Pridmore (ie. the battle of the 3 IPL users). I’m excited to see how things play out. More to come soon!

*Update: Following the 2015 XMT, I began using 2 IPL for essentially all events (minus cards), including words.