Offbeat Memory Approaches

Published on Sunday, March 28, 2010 in

MemorizeWhile I usually stick with standard memorization approaches, I also appreciate a good offbeat method of memorizing. Here are some of the more unusual ones that I've found.

Our first approach isn't that unusual. It's very similar to the Fill In The Blanks mode of recalling pieces in Verbatim, where text is hidden and you try and recall it. The software is an iPhone App called iByMemory (iTunes Link). Once you select to hide the text, you can have the app adjust how much of the text is hidden. One especially nice thing about this software is the ability to store your works in folders, so you can keep, say, speeches in a different area than poems.

You've probably used the first letters of things to help memorize them, such as Every Good Boy Does Fine for the colors of the treble clef stave (E, G, B, D, F) or Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally for the mathematical order of operations (Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction). However, sometimes there's a list you want to memorize that doesn't have such a convenient ready-made mnemonic.

That's where JogLab comes in. It's a free site that helps you develop a mnemonic for just about anything. For example, what if you wanted to memorize all the countries that border Afghanistan? Here's how you would do it with JogLab:

If it's the definition of bigger words that's giving you trouble, you can instead turn to Mnemonic Dictionary. Just as with any other dictionary, it gives the standard definition of words. However, Mnemonic Dictionary goes a step beyond by letting users add mnemonics to help remember the definitions, too! For example, at this writing, the mnemonics provided for the word glutton are: “He is such a GLUTTON and eats so much that the BUTTONS on his shirt begin to pop out!”, “GLU+TON ... tons of glue is sticking to his stomach and so he looks like GLUTTON.”, “glut in lots of mutton!”, and “A person who eats too much of mutton”. This is especially handy when learning new vocabulary words.

Speaking of vocabulary, how about an offbeat method for learning words in other languages? Over at Lyrics Training, you can improve your ability to speak English, Spanish, French, Italian, German and Dutch by watching music videos in other languages, and then figuring out their lyrics! All the music videos are arranged by language and skill level (easy, medium, or hard). Once you've chosen a level and a language, you choose a particular video (if you've chosen Spanish and Easy, for example, you might choose the video for El Amor Después Del Amor). For any video itself, you can choose the Beginner level (with 1/4 of the words blanked out), the Intermediate level (with 1/2 the words blanked out), or the Expert level (where you must fill in all of the words). The videos even start and stop as needed, so that your typing and the video don't get out of sync!

The final offbeat approach for today involves flashcards. I've certainly covered flashcards before, so how do you make them offbeat? Popling found a way! Popling is a free internet site that works with either your Firefox browser or with a free desktop application for Windows or OS X that quizzes you while you're working in other programs! As you work in another program, Popling will occasionally notify you that it is time to be quizzed on one of your flashcards.

This is quite nice, as you don't have to have a focused flashcard session, as you do in other programs. To get a better idea of how this works, check out the demo video:

Do you have any offbeat memorization methods you'd like to share? I'd love to hear about them!


Review: The Chrysalis of a Polymath

Published on Thursday, March 25, 2010 in , , , , , , , , , ,

The Chrysalis of a Polymath bookLast June, Paul Brook released a book called The Chrysalis of a Polymath (COAP, for short). I recently sprung for a copy, and decided to review it, because it's right down the alley of Grey Matters readers.

First, to help clear up the title itself, here's some links to explanations of the words chrysalis and polymath.

COAP starts off with the classic Knight's Tour. It is intended as a stand-alone piece, usually taking up much of an hour to build the interest and the challenge. Instead of simply describing the method behind the presentation, Paul spends quite a bit of time on the mistakes he first made when putting this presentation together. This helps greatly, so you can understand what's effective and what is not. Why, oh why, aren't more magic books written like this?

Every step of this presentation goes into detail about why it is being done, even to the point of important aspects of the script. Besides giving a more complete understanding, it also is a wonderful example of raising what could be presented as a simple puzzle into an engaging piece that focuses on the challenge.

There is certain information in this presentation that is required to be memorized. In a rather unusual approach, there are no mnemonic approaches used here. It's rote, but again, with a reason. The apparent downside is that this information, once memorized, can really only be used for this one presentation, right? Wrong!

The very next section contains 3 mentalism routines, all of which used the memorized Knight's Tour information in ingenious ways. In Impossible Memory, which Paul often used as a closer, the performer memorizes a 120-digit number randomly chosen by an audience member.

The second routine, Rainbow Memory, involves the audience more through the classic problem of using phone numbers. However, the impact is better suited to a lasting impression moment, rather than a showstopper.

The final routine in this group, Tossed Out Thoughts, may lead some knowledgeable performers to think they know what's coming. You divine multiple numbers that were randomly chosen by the audience. This routine requires a bit more study than the others, but the impact is the greatest of these 3 routines.

Not only do these routines show you how to “break open” the Knight's Tour, but the tips at the end show you how to break open other memorized sequences, such as a memorized deck.

The next section, as Grey Matters readers will quickly understand, focuses on a personal favorite of mine, the Day of the Week For Any Date feat. If you've ever performed this for someone (or even just tried), you know there are 2 main stumbling blocks: generating the interest, and dealing with the time needed to work out the weekday.

The approach used here is largely based on John Conway's doomsday algorithm, which is familiar to regular readers of this blog. The way Paul teaches it, however, is a manner that takes you slowly by the hand, and builds confidence as you build your ability. If you've already learned this feat here on Grey Matters, you're already one step ahead of the game (and use this site's quiz to pratcice either way)!

There are several exercises included in the book, so you can develop your ability as you go. Once you have the method down, the presentation becomes the important question. Three presentations are given here, which are varied enough that you'll find a suitable approach, depending on your performing persona. One presentational tip at the end is particularly worth its weight it gold, as it lets you do more dates at once, which helps maximize the time and focus required, while apparently minimizing the time from the audience's point of view.

Much of the remainder of the book deals with presenting mathematical feats in a manner that can an engage an audience. I've learned mathematical shortcuts, but finding approaches of engaging presentation for them is rare. In the first example, you quickly multiply many numbers two-digit number by 11. The first question is, how to bring 11 into it in the first place? I absolutely love that the author describes many approaches he took before finally settling on the smart and direct approach used in COAP.

Another notable routine here, Data Spaced, is worth special mention because it employs several of the routines in the book, becoming a demonstration of multiple amazing mental abilities in a very short space of time.

The books closes with some math-related routines, but where the focus isn't so much on math in the presentation. These are more along the lines of not-quite impossible feats made more accessible by math. Intriguingly, this section closes with a few such routines that you can pass on to your audience members for them to use, as well.

Already, COAP is an incredible value for those who are interested in the type of things we talk about here on Grey Matters. However, there are several free additional bonuses available in the form of downloads, most notably Kevin Sheldrake's notes Growth Hormones and Teething Troubles which gives many additional important tips that help improve many of the feats. You can only access them by going into the keyword-protected COAP section of the Paul Brook forum.

All in all, if you enjoy Grey Matters, and especially if you've ever wondered how to present mental feats effectively, The Chrysalis of a Polymath should most definitely be on your bookshelf.


How To Solve The 15 Puzzle

Published on Sunday, March 21, 2010 in , , , , ,

RATE YOUR MIND PAL 15 Puzzle (1959)Besides the announcement of my recently-released Knight's Tour+ App, I've quietly made a free goodie available. I've just posted lessons on solving the 15 puzzle!

To make it easier to understand, I've broken the process down step-by-step, and used jQuery and the jqPuzzle plug-in to provide working 15 puzzles to help you learn at every step.

First, I teach you the technique for working the upper rows, using a 3 by 3 puzzle. Next, still staying with the 3 by 3 puzzle, I teach how to solve the last two rows.

After learning those two techniques, you'll learn how to put those 2 techniques together to tackle the traditional 15 puzzle, as well as larger ones!

Many 15 puzzle lessons would stop there, but I continue on to discuss interesting variations. The first variation is the pictorial 15 puzzles, which can be tricky since they often lack numbers.

Next, with a little help from James Grime, you learn about why some puzzles, such as Sam Loyd's classic 15-14 puzzle, are unsolvable in the traditional manner. However, you'll also learn about puzzles that seem unsolvable, but really can be solved. This includes the 1959 RATE YOUR MIND PAL version depicted above.

To conclude, I teach how to solve the 15 puzzle as a magic square. Since this requires memorizing a particular pattern, I've put the magic square 15 puzzle quiz on an entirely different page.

I first put the magic square 15 puzzle on Grey Matters about 5 years ago. It's nice to have working lessons all in one place to make this easier to understand and learn.

Did you learn from these lesson? Do you have any questions or criticisms about these lessons? I'd love to hear them.


Grey Matters' Knight's Tour+ Now In App Store!

Published on Thursday, March 18, 2010 in , , , , , ,

Knight's Tour+ App (Link)Big news! Grey Matters has just released its first iPhone/iPod Touch app on the iTunes App Store! The App is a puzzle/game called Knight's Tour+ (iTunes Link), and is available for only 99 cents.

Knight's Tour+ is both a challenge on its own, and a great way to practice the Knight's Tour solving techniques I teach in the Mental Gym.

For those unfamiliar with the Knight's Tour, it takes place on a chessboard, using only a single chess knight. The knight can only move in the standard L-shaped move (two squares vertically and one square horizontally, or two squares horizontally and one square vertically). For example, from the square where the knight is shown below, the only possible moves are to the squares marked with Xs:

The basic challenge of the Knight's Tour is to land on all 64 squares without ever moving to any square more than once.

However, this challenge is only the first level in the Knight's Tour+ app. A screenshot from Level 1 is shown below:

The squares marked in blue are ones the Knight has already visited, and cannot be revisited. The left pointing arrow are the bottom allows you to take back a move, in case you make a mistake. You can actually take back all your moves one at a time by this method, or use the rewind arrow (left arrow with a line in front of it), to immediately restart the same game.

The i button takes you to where you can find more information, including the rules, interface usage, credits, and a link to the Mental Gym's Knight's Tour lessons.

The New Game button at the bottom will start a new game by offering you a choice of levels. We've already seen Level 1, but what are the other 2 levels?

Level 2 is called End Where You Began. Once you make your first move, a house icon appears on your starting square, as in the following screenshot:

After you've finished landing on all 64 squares, the additional challenge in Level 2 is to be on a square that's only 1 knight's move away from this home icon.

The final level is Level 3, called Random Start & End. Your iPhone or iPod Touch chooses not only a random starting point, but a random ending point, marked by a bullseye icon. The challenge here is to finish on the bullseye square after landing on all of the other squares.

Whether you just want a new challenge, or learn how to do the Knight's Tour and be able to practice on the go, you can download Knight's Tour+ (iTunes Link) for only 99 cents and start today!


Grey Matters' 5th Blogiversary!

Published on Sunday, March 14, 2010 in , , , , , , ,

Pi5 years ago today, I created Grey Matters and put up its first post!

Let's take a look back first at each of the previous blogiversaries;
1st Blogiversary
2nd Blogiversary
3rd Blogiversary
4th Blogiversary

Please, take this opportunity to look through the site, and possibly discover something you didn't know before. After 5 years, this site has more to offer than it may appear at first glance. Start with perhaps the menu just under the logo, the featured content, or the navigation over in the rightmost column.

If you've gone through at least the blogiversary posts, then you've noticed we're big on Pi here at Grey Matters (just under 10% of the posts here have dealt with Pi in some way), which is why the blog was purposely started on Pi Day (and why I post as Pi Guy).

Update: On another blog, I've posted some goodies to celebrate both Pi Day and Albert Einstein's birthday.

Since there's so much celebrating going on, how about a special Pi Day magic trick? It's courtesy of James Grime and Brian Brushwood, and is happening on Twitter.

Now, believe it or not, even I have recently been created a twitter account, and you can follow me on Twitter here. If you want to be part of a real world record attempt, here's what you have to do to be part of it:

Rumor has it that the method to this will be revealed in a special edition of Scam School, scheduled to be posted later on tonight.

Speaking of Pi, and 5-year spans, many of us Pi fans are waiting for the “big one”, 5 years from now. On that day, Pi Day will fall on 3/14/15! A once-in-a-century chance to celebrate the ultimate Pi Day!

Are you doing anything to celebrate? Did you take part in the Pi Day Magic Trick? Perhaps you just have good blogiversary wishes for Grey Matters? Let's hear about it in the comments!


Memory Basics: iPhone/iPod Touch Style

Published on Thursday, March 11, 2010 in , ,

Memory Training on the iPhone/iPod TouchIt's time to get back to basics! I've included an extensive list of memory technique links on this site for quite some time. Recently, I've been looking into the ways to practice these techniques on the go with iPhone and iPod Touch apps.

The best place to start, of course, is with the memory techniques themselves. Besides the previous links, there are memory books available as apps, such as Mind Performance Hacks (iTunes Link, Review Link). Also, with help from a multi-format reader, my personal favorite being Good Reader (iTunes Link), you have access to an ever-growing library of memory books, like those at Lybrary.com.

Now, let's get to apps that help with particular memory techniques! (More details on each of these systems can be found at the links on the Memory Basics page.)

Link System/Story System

Your first stop here should be the free app Dave Farrow Memory Training (iTunes Link). It covers the basics of the link system, and generates random lists of 5, 6, or 7 items (your choice) which you're later quizzed on. As each item is given, suggested images and sentences are also available, as examples of the types of mental links you should be making.

Once you're comfortable with the link system basics, it's time to get an app that will help you generate more substantial lists to practice. My first choice here is Word Twiddle (iTunes Link). It lets you generate 1, 2, or 3 words at a time, keeps a list of words (handy for checking if you've memorized correctly) and you can limit it to just nouns for creating lists to memorize.

Keep in mind that you should focus on easily-pictured objects when starting out, so you should keep words like jar, gold, and library, and avoid abstract words like fear, degree, and work.

Another good choice is MakeRandom (iTunes Link), which lets you create save your own random word lists, or use a pre-existing one. Need a list of easily-pictured nouns? Check out nouns.txt for some possibilities. It won't keep of list of generated items for you, so you'll have to keep a list elsewhere (such as the built-in Notes app).

Number Rhyme & Shape Systems/
Alphabet System/Calendar System

The link and story systems are good for remembering things in order, but sometimes you need to associate things with a number, letter, or even a month of the year. That's where these systems come in handy.

At this level, you'll start finding iPhone and iPod Touch flashcard apps very helpful.

While there are a variety, I find the best ones are integrated with an online site, a desktop application, or better yet, both.

That's why my first choice here is Mental Case, which is a desktop application for Mac. It's integrated with the Mental Case iPhone app (iTunes Link), which is also available for free in a Lite version (iTunes Link) and a Classroom version (iTunes Link). There's built-in integration with FlashcardExchange.com, too.

Another popular choice here is the Smart.fm app (iTunes Link) which, not surprisingly, integrates with the Smart.fm website.

As you learn these techniques move on to others, a good flashcard program will remain valuable, especially due to their flexibility.

Journey System/Loci System

In the journey system, you link a mental image to a particular room along a journey. The loci system expands this by linking your mental images to individual parts of a given room along that same journey.

The more vivid your images of each point in your journey are, the better your recollections will be later. Sure, you could use a flashcard program with graphics capabilities, but there are existing apps that are specifically geared for these systems.

For setting up journeys and reviewing them, there's Memgellan (iTunes Link).

Going just one step further, and offering storage for both the journeys themselves and the things you wish to remember, is the program Steel Trap (iTunes Link). In addition to learning the basics of the journey system, it then goes on to help with memory of numbers, names and faces, and playing cards!

Major/Peg System

When it comes to memorizing numbers and things associated with numbers above and beyond 10, the Major System, also known as the Peg System, is the real memory system powerhouse.

The two apps I'll mention here are ones I also mentioned in my previous snippets post.

Your Memory Coach (iTunes Link) is a good first stop here, as you get full instruction on the Major/Peg system, but get tested on it, as well.

Once you've got a good solid foundation, you can use NumberThink (iTunes Link) both to practice on converting words to numbers and help finding words for a given number. This is a very handy utility to have when you're stuck for a particular number.

Have you found an app that helps you learn a particular memory technique? Let's hear about it!


More Quick Snippets

Published on Sunday, March 07, 2010 in , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

LinksDo you want some March snippets? If so, here they are!

• In the previous edition of Snippets, I reported on Memgellan (iTunes Link), an iPhone/iPod Touch app that helps you arrange journeys for the Journey System of memory.

Since then, I've found 2 apps that help with using the Major/Peg System. The first is Your Memory Coach (iTunes Link), which teaches you the basics of the major system, helps you set up your own keywords, and quizzes you on them. The other app is NumberThink (iTunes Link), which is more of a reference that can both help you learn how to form words from any number, and numbers from any word.

Ben Pridmore, who won the 2009 World Memory Championships, has no problem sharing the particular memory systems he uses to win. On this memory consulting page he describes his system briefly, while it's described in more detail on this archived page. You can see video of Ben Pridmore in action at last year's memory championships here, and describing how he memorized multiple decks of cards here. Follow Ben Pridmore's own blog here.

• For a while, I've had Robert H. Nutt's book How To Remember Names and Faces available on my online store for $19.95. If want to learn to remember names and faces, but you'd like it for a lower price and/or prefer a digital copy, your wish is my command! It's now available at Lybrary.com for $12 in downloadable PDF format!

• I just recently visited a Learning is Fun store for the first time. While there, I picked up some days and months signs that should help add a visual punch to the Day of the Week For Any Date feat.

I also found an interesting product called Mathematical Curiosities, which is basically 4 mathematical magc trick. There's 5 dice which work in the same manner as the prices in Mental Shopper, a version of the classic Age Cards, a numerical version of Dan Harlan's Missing Think, and 4 addition bars which are perfect for the Dicipher Bars routine from Docc Hilford's Book Of Numbers Volume Two (Qebhsennuf).

• Next Sunday, besides being Pi Day and Grey Matters' 5th blogiversary (can you believe it?), it's also the occasion for a special Pi Day magic trick on Twitter! James Grime, known to many of you as singingbanana, gives the details in the video below. You can find out more about this at http://pidaymagic.com, http://twitter.com/jamesgrime, and http://twitter.com/shwood.


Cheating At Poker

Published on Thursday, March 04, 2010 in , , , , ,

Playing cardsIt's time to cheat at poker!

OK, I'm not actually advocating cheating anyone at poker. However, examining the following scams does provide a rather unusual perspective on the game of poker.

First, let's make sure we're all on the same page. Each of these scams will focus on 5-card hands, and I want to make sure that everybody reading this knows what beats what. Here's a simple mnemonic.

If you break it down into 3 parts, it will be easier to remember:

• "Hi! (high) 1-2-3-straight!". Appropriately, we begin with a straightforward instroduction.

• In the second part, they all begin with f, and double in the number of words as they get better (I think of the word count as easier than the letter count at the link): flush (1 word), full house (2 words), four of a kind (4 words)

• The final two hands, straight flush followed by royal flush, are easy to group together.

Alternatively, you could also try remembering Lumpyhead's Poker Hand Mnemonic song. Amusingly, it's set to the tune of Jesus Loves Me.

Let's start with the most basic of 5-card poker games, 5-card stud (stud means that you don't draw any cards):

This is very intriguing, as the placement of a single card determines the winning hand. The deceptive nature of getting that single card into the other person's hand adds to the impressive nature of this feat.

What happens when we move on to 5-card draw poker? Believe it or not, you can scam this, as well:

This time, the first bet teaches an amusing lesson, while simultaneously setting up the proper psychology for the second bet.

Those first two scams are based on classic forms of poker, and exist largely because those games have been around long enough to study and develop fraudulent versions. The most popular version of the game today, however, is Texas hold 'em. Although it's been around since the early 20th century, its popularity didn't develop until the latter part of the 20th century.

For anyone not familiar with Texas hold 'em, here's a great introductory video, which includes some important poker basics at the end.

So, with the increased complexity, is scamming Texas hold 'em possible? Let's take a look.

This work on scamming Texas hold 'em is very recent, and was made available by Ben Joffe just 5 months ago! Since the above video was made, he's made and received discoveries that allow a specific player to win up with up to 21 hands in the game. At this writing, there have been stacks created that allow the dealer to win in any game from 2 to 6 hands.

If you try out these versions on your friends and family, with nothing at stake, that's really the best way to learn about how these seemingly impossible scams work. I'd like to hear about your experiences in the comments.