The top 8 competitors advance to a single elimination playoff, which is conducted on stage in front of an audience.
This is probably the most exciting part of the competition to watch, because you get to see people cry when they lose. Just kidding! Everyone is a great sport. But it can get pretty dramatic. Please google what happened to me last year (example 1).
Anyways, the first event is Random Words. The competitors go backstage for 15 minutes to memorize a set of 200 words (or as many as they can). Now, most people can’t memorize 200 words that fast. And if they tried, they would risk being shaky on the first few. So this event is pretty strategic. You need to memorize the absolute minimum that you think the bottom seed competitors will max out at. Which can be tough to guess.
What happens is, the competitors are randomly ordered on stage and the microphone is passed along as each person says the next word that was on the list. The first 3 to get one wrong are out, no mercy. You can be easily eliminated if you say “shoe” when the word was “shoes” or, if you forget the word entirely, or if you weren’t able to memorize up to that many words in the first place.
So its all a balance of how many words you can squeeze into your brain in 15 minutes and how well you can have them stick. Whats nice is that I can memorize a lot of words. Other competitors will know that….so will they scramble to memorize more words and potentially lose the clarity of the words they could have memorized if they did less? I am just as likely to make a mistake and be eliminated by going for too many words. Who knows? It’s really tricky. And you could be just having an off day.
Not much to say about this one. Other than it is awesome.
Remember those guys who counted cards and took Vegas for hundreds of thousands? So, yeah, this isn’t that at all. It’s actually more impressive, except probably a lot harder to do successfully at a blackjack table. Instead of just doing simple math (yes, card counting is just simple math) with the numbers on the cards, it’s actually remembering every freaking number and suit of every card (in order) of a full deck.
Every competitor gets 5 minutes to look through and memorize a randomly shuffled deck of cards. But, if you can do it under 5 minutes, you can request to be timed. The world record for this event is 21.90s by Simon Reinhard (a German guy), and the USA record is 1m27s by Ronnie White 2 years ago. I guarantee you this record will fall this year, by someone. The USA is on the verge of breaking the 1min mark for speed cards – which is kinda like the 4 minute mile of memory. Only we aren’t exerting any physical force at all like one does when running a mile. Instead it’s all mental. Well that’s not true, we still have to thumb through the actual deck, which at high speeds, can be extremely physically exhausting and dangerous for the thumbs (sometimes they can catch on fire).
After the competitor has finished memorizing the deck, they put it down and pick up a different (brand-spanking new) deck which they must then put into the same exact order as the one they had just put down.
That’s basically it. It’s a tense and exciting event. It’s the kinda event where spectators watch and go “ooooo.” Pretty much when anybody does something cool with a deck of playing cards, it gets an “ooooo.”
This concludes all the morning events. These events all have some type of scoring system. The top 8 competitors after this event (with combined scores from all events), move on to the afternoon elimination playoff rounds. More on that next…
What more can I say? This event is probably the most dreaded. And probably because it’s the most useful in the real-world out of all the events (pshhh, what about memorizing a 500 digit number?? Now THAT’s useful).
Anyways, you’re given 15 minutes to study a previously unpublished poem. Usually one that speaks in the voice of Yoda (“Dream, I will, in thy evening tomorrow of” – yeah something atrocious like that). Not easy. And it’s usually about balloons or flowers. Which makes it absolutely impossible.
So you get 15 minutes to remember as many lines as you can. That includes all punctuation too. If you miss a capitalization or punctuation mark, or even a “the” or an “and”, you lose all the points for the whole line (and both of your hands). Keep in mind that the poems they have us memorize tend to capitalize random words just for the heck of it: “Ere the smelly Cheese, on thine nose; Wafted”
Like the Names & Faces events, somehow the high school kids tend to DESTROY this event. They always manage to memorize the entire poem, plus another one they randomly had stashed in their pocket just for good measure (as one does, you know…).
So that’s encouraging. Just a few weeks ago, the entire Hershey High School broke the previously-unbroken-record-since-5-years-ago poetry record. Well, it was really only 3 kids, but still. I suspect foul play. No not really. I’m guessing they’re given homework assignments that require them to memorize every reading assignment they are ever given. And they probably don’t use textbooks because they have them all memorized. Maybe they just eat a lot of Hershey chocolate. I’ve read that dark chocolate is great for memory. Poetry memory only though. Number memory, no.
So this is the event where I predict all the high school kids will shoot into first place. Last year this event was not mandatory for the top 3 (which included me), so some of us never had to prepare for this event at all. But they reinstated it as mandatory. It is also now mandatory to recite the poem verbally on stage dressed as Abe Lincoln. Or Barbara Walters. Whichever.
Nah…that’s a lie. You don’t have to. But you might as well. Cuz it will look cooler.
Speed Cards event next….where the big boys (and/or girls) regain the lead.
Memorizing numbers. Fast. You get 5 minutes to look at a sheet of paper that looks like this (exciting right?):
Then you get a blank sheet and 10 minutes to recall as many of those digits as best as you can. For every correct row, you get 20 points. Make one or more mistakes in one row and that row is worth nothing.
This is one event where I feel like the USA is far behind the rest of the world. I set the US record last year at 178 digits, but the world record was just broken recently and is 468 digits. WOW. Hopefully our record will be brought up quite significantly at this year’s competition
Since the memory competition is coming up in 3 weeks, lets talk a little bit about the different events…
First, the competition starts off with Names & Faces.
The competitors get 15 minutes to look at a packet of 126 different headshots of random people, each with a random first and last name. Following the 15 minute memorization period, there’s a 20 minute recall session with a different packet with the headshots shuffled around, obviously without any of the names. You get 1 point for every first or last name you fill in (and spell) correctly.
It’s a pretty cool event because its one that you can’t really prepare for…well that’s not true. The students of Hershey High School always seem to DESTROY this event. I’m never sure if it’s because they practice it a ton or if they are all just naturally gifted with names….who knows. Either way, they always seem to set a US record each year.
Tomorrow, speed numbers….