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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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.

2016 World Memory Championship Recap

It’s that time of year again. Two weeks ago, Cathy and I stuffed our bags and hopped in an airplane for 25+ hours for the annual World Memory Championship. After last year’s event in Chengdu, China, the organizers bumped the venue to Singapore, which I found to be a truly awesome place. Buildings of all colors and architectural styles, greenery everywhere, clean streets, and crazy vistas around every corner. We had a blast just walking around. The one downside: the unrelenting 80o humidity. As usual, we arrived a few days early to acclimate...

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2016 European Open Recap

This past weekend I had the opportunity to go to London for the IAM’s first European Open Memory Championship. A lot of firsts for me on this trip: first time I’d been to England, first time I’d competed at a memory event not in the US or China. Originally I’d had a conflict, but things shifted at the last minute, so the preceding weekend Cathy and I found ourselves huddled around the kitchen table booking airline tickets. The event—like the recent UK Memory League Championship—was held at the London headquarters of Peak, a brain-training app which also sponsored the event...

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2016 Memoriad (World Mental Olympics) Recap

Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to spend a week in Las Vegas for the 2016 Zappos Memoriad, billed as a “World Mental Olympics” that happens every four years. Knowing the Memoriad was this year was one of the things that convinced me to take a gap year from medical school. And since my wife and I are spending a few months with my parents-in-law in California, it was only a 5-hour drive away! My parents and brother even uprooted from New York to be with us the following weekend. It all added up to a bunch of fun, although after a vacation in Norway and now this, I must admit I’m getting a bit travel-weary. I’m hopeless at maintaining my usual working routine while traveling...

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PRYMD Podcast

Here's a recent podcast I did for PRYMD, a podcast/blog/organization dedicated to optimizing mental performance. The cool thing is that both hosts are in the medical field as well (one's a physician and the other's a medical student like myself), so we dug extra deep into memory techniques as they relate to learning a subject like medicine. Regular followers will find some familiar material, but there's definitely some newer, nitty-gritty stuff--keeping track of palaces, reviewing with Anki, transitioning from palaces to long-term memory--in the mix too. Hope you enjoy!

2016 Extreme Memory Tournament & US Open Recap

Another great XMT-US Open trip in the books. All in all, I spent a week and a half in California, taking in the sun, hanging out with my mother- and father-in-law in between events, and enjoying some friendly competition.

Like last year, I flew in the morning before the first day, just in time for orientation. Everything about this year’s Extreme Memory Tournament mimicked last year’s, with one notable exception. Nelson and the organizers stretched the event to 3 days instead of 2. A big improvement, in my opinion. Last year, as thrilled as I was to make it to the semis, I was mentally and physically exhausted by the time I got there. It really does take a toll on you. You boot up another 50 words for the umpteenth time that day and things mush together...

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