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Abstract Images – Past and Present
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Apr.02,2020

Welcome to this week’s Facebook Live, looking at the Abstract Images discipline of the World Memory Championships. 

Going back to the very early years, of the Championship, they used to have an images discipline which was very, very different. They used to have a slide projector, where they had photographic slides of chess positions, works of art, slightly unusual pictures, and they would show those for about two seconds per image. Then you would be given a subset of the original set of images with other images mixed in with them. The aim of the discipline is to say: Have you seen the image before? And if you had seen it before. Was it the same way up? Was it upside down? Was it a mirror image? How had it been altered between the first set and the second set? And this was done for the first number of years in the competition, but of course the problem with this it was rather non-standard. It is difficult to replicate this in different countries and across different competitions. It was deemed to be too difficult to stage and too much variation between different competitions to be fair, but it did test natural memory. There was not a lot you could do in terms of systems to be able to prepare for this particular discipline. It is based on your ability to improvise as you’re memorising. 

Another thing that was also in the early years, which also involved natural memory, and the ability to improvise was the ‘surprise event’. They had a surprise competition, usually devised by the organisers, the hosts of the competition. They had the ‘Simpsons Challenge’ when we were at ‘Simpsons in the Strand’. When OAG, the travel company, sponsored the event they had an ‘Around the World Trip’ where you had to memorise all the different stages on a trip around the World devised by them. So again, it was a test of natural memory to some extent. You could use some systems, but it was something you couldn’t really train or prepare for. But it was decided quite early on. This was not really fair. You think about the physical sports, like the decathlon in athletics. They don’t suddenly spring, a different race or different event on the competitors. They know exactly the 10 events they’re going to be competing in. And they can practice with those. It was thought it’s much better to have 10 events that are always standard, always the same anywhere in the World. And there are no surprises. 

We need to come up with a new discipline. Dominic O’Brien, thinking about this fact of being able to test natural memory came up with the abstract images event we have today. It consists of five random shapes with random textures per row, 10 rows to a page. 

The memorization sheet consists of just these images. The recall sheet has the same images in each row, but they’ve been mixed up. The order has been changed. The aim is to write down numbers from one to five, to indicate the order in which you saw them on the memorization sheet. 1-2-3-4-5 as you go across the page, so you then write the corresponding order on the recall sheet. Relatively straightforward, natural memory. Dominic thought that you would ask yourself, what does it look like? Like seeing shapes in the clouds – So does it like a rabbit? Does it look like a butterfly or a duck or something? You could make those associations in your mind using your imagination, as you memorised. It’s quite a good test of natural memory.

We banned the use rulers because the shapes are not always the same width. If you had a ruler you could measure the shapes and therefore translate them into numbers and memorise in that way, although it would take a lot of time to do that, it was thought that would be an unfair way of converting into numbers. 

But of course, memory competitors are very resourceful. They like systems. They thought about this, and just looked at the textures. If you assign a number to each texture, you can then convert the shapes into numbers very easily. You can memorise those numbers, then when you come to recall, convert them back to recognise the textures, and you’ve got your answer. That’s what happens nowadays. This is the method that everyone uses. They convert into numbers, and therefore they’re able to do pages and pages and pages. We had 28 pages at the World Memory Championships and people are getting close to that. It just shows how a number system makes a massive difference, but it completely scuppered the idea of ‘natural memory’. Having said that, all of the disciplines in the competition are reliant to some extent, or other, on systems. Slightly less for ‘Names and Faces’, but the majority of them are based mostly on number systems. You can memorise things in that way. 

From the very early years of ‘Images on a Screen’, to the current ‘Abstract Images’, it’s been a progression or evolution. It just shows the resourcefulness of competitors to memorise anything, if they have enough time to think about a system they can devise to do that. 

Hope this has been an interesting insight into the first of the disciplines in a competition. 

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be looking at the other disciplines. I will be giving you some history and some tips about those. 

Looking forward to talking to you again very soon. 

Thanks for listening. Bye for now. 

Transcribed by https://otter.ai


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