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Battling Brains at the Memory Championships

Bill Radke

Marc Sanchez

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Playing the Memory Game
(Kurt Forstner/Wikipedia)
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The National Memory Championships are happening in Manhattan today. Judged events include memorizing names and faces, decks of cards and unpublished poetry -- unpublished so there's no way the contestant has read it before.

I met two of this year's hopefuls, Brice Morey and Jenny Frielle, both Pennsylvania high school students. And before the interview, we gave Brice five minutes to memorize a deck of cards, while Jenny looked at a poem called "Where Do Balloons Go," by Jeanine Marie Weaver.

I was following along, and she was almost perfect -- two or three tiny mistakes. I asked Jenny how she felt about her performance:

Jenny Frielle: It was pretty good, I probably could have gotten the last line -- but sometimes the last one's the hardest.

Bill Radke: How did you do that?

Frielle: Umm... I kind of "brute force" it -- that's what I'm told.

Radke: What does "brute force" mean?

Frielle: I just, I look at it and I write it down and I repeat it to myself -- kind of thought by thought -- and I can see it kind of written in my mind.

Radke: How much of the poem do you think you understand?

Frielle: I would have to say almost all of it. It's really hard when the poems are really abstract and they don't really have good visual imagery to go along with them. I kind of have to understand at least, on a surface level, what the poem's saying.

Radke: Brice, how do you think she did?

Brice Morey: Amazing. Honestly, I really stink at poems and I couldn't do that to save my life, probably.

Radke: Now, Brice, we had you examine a deck of cards. You memorized 37 cards in a row in the exact order that this shuffled deck was in. How did you do it?

Morey: Well, I have a technique where I put the cards in columns of 10 and then I just memorize by columns and just put it in my head, visualize it. I think and keep repeating the patterns. I make it into a pattern that I go by, with the suits.

Radke: What's the atmosphere like at these memory championships?

Morey: It's kind of like, not tense, really -- it's kind of just relaxing. At nationals, though, they have a lot of media, so it's kind of surprising there.

Frielle: Yeah, state championship was kind of laid back.

Morey: Just a little.

Frielle: Yeah.

Radke: I'm flashing back to studying for finals and I didn't want anyone near me, I was so tense. My memories were -- I was afraid I was going to spill them out of my brain. None of that?

Morey: Well, I think the biggest part of that is that you honestly have to relax. I know it's really hard. But when you're able to relax, you're ablest to recall your information.

Frielle: If I start to stress out about it, I do terribly.

Radke: I wish I would have known that secret back in college. Why do you do these memory competitions?

Frielle: It's kind of fun. I don't know, it's kind of like a personal challenge. Like, I got 33 cards the other day, and I was so excited because that was one of my personal bests.

Radke: Well, you could be competing in sports or band or so many different things...

Morey: I say you kind of have to get a different mindset, because I play soccer and tennis and it's kind of like nothing like what memory team is... Because it's a whole different kind of sport with working your brain -- because your brain is a muscle and you have to go practice it to get better.

Radke: So are you two competing against each other this weekend?

Frielle and Morey (together): Yes.

Morey: Yes, in a way, yes.

Radke: Are you sabotaging one another? Or...

Morey: No!

Radke: How does that affect your relationship?

Morey: We go to different schools so it doesn't -- I'd say it doesn't really affect... But I'm not going to go hate her for the rest of my life now, or something like that.

Radke: OK guys, one last thing before I let you go: At the end of our show, we read off a list of about 20 names, people who produce the show. Would you guys take a look at that list and see if you can memorize it, and read our credits for us in a few minutes?

Frielle: I think if we do 10 each.

Morey: Yeah, 10, that's not bad.

Frielle: That's not bad.

Radke: Okay, I'll send you the list, and may the best memorizer win this weekend.

Frielle: Thanks.

Morey: Thank you.

Comments

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  • By Brianna Helmick

    From Hershey, PA, 03/11/2008

    I wasn't surprised when i found out how well Jenny did. At Hershey High we are extremely proud of Jenny. I respect her in so many ways. She was our Drum Major for marching band and she plays the clarinet.She is good at everything she does. As for the other player. Good luck to him. I hope he has a lot of luck in the competition. Good luck to Hershey High School's memory team and any other school in the competition.

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