Memorizing 3,500 binary numbers — impossible? Not so. That’s just one task competitive memorizers are tackling at the World Memory Championships, in London.

 

Competitors from all over the world arrived at the Strand Hotel ready to showcase amazing feats of recall in the hope of taking home a slice of the $92,000 in prize money.

 

Among the memory tests they face are memorizing 300 random numbers, spoken by the judge in one-second intervals; memorizing a massive number of random words; memorizing as many decks of playing cards as possible within one hour (most players master 20 to 30 decks.)

 

Chris Day, general secretary of the World Memory Council, insists there is no magic involved. “These aren’t special people,” he says. “They’ve just learned memory techniques and practiced for several hours a day for a long time.”

 

This year the championships welcomed 85 participants from 20 countries, including Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United States and China, which sent four players under 17. “But it’s not true that you lose your memory as you get older,” says Day. “You just have to practice it. But don’t try to memorize lists. Translate things into quirky images instead.”

German Gunther Karsten set a new world record for memorizing abstract images.

Dominic O’Brien, who won the World Memory Championship eight times, agrees. “It’s not about learning numbers,” he says. “It’s about making learning more fun.”