Memory sport, sometimes referred to as competitive memory or the mind sport of memory, refers to competitions in which participants attempt to memorize then recall different forms of information, under certain guidelines. The sport has been formally developed since 1991 and features national and international championships.
One common type of competition involves memorizing the order of randomized cards in as little time as possible, after which the competitor is required to arrange new decks of cards in the same order.
Mnemonic techniques are generally considered to be a necessary part of competition, and are improved through extensive practice. These can include the method of loci, the use of mnemonic linking and chunking, or other techniques for storage and retrieval of information.
Techniques for training memory are discussed as far back as ancient Greece, and formal memory training was long considered an important part of basic education known as the art of memory. However, the development of trained memorization into a sport is only a development of the late 20th century, and even then has remained relatively limited in scope. The first worldwide competition was held as the World Memory Championships in 1991, and has been held again in every year since, with the exception of 1992.
Following the establishment of the World Memory Championships in 1991, national competitions have been set up in numerous countries. These include the U.S. Championships, which started in 1997, the Indian National Memory Championships, the German Memory Championships, the UK Open Memory Championships, and others. Other countries with national championships include South Africa, Australia, Singapore, China, Japan and Mexico. An up-to-date list of competitions can be found at the International Association of Memory statistics website.
The highest designation set up by the World Memory Sports Council, which organizes the World Memory Championships, is the Grand Master of Memory. Subclassifications include international grandmaster (IGM), grandmaster (GMM), and international master (IMM). As of Nov. 2016, there are approximately 200 grandmasters in the world.
Competitors describe numerous methods and techniques for improving their memorization skills, with some having published and named their specific methods. These include, for instance, the Mnemonic dominic system, named after former World Champion Dominic O'Brien, the Mnemonic major system, as well as the Person-Action-Object System which involves encoding cards and numbers into sequences of persons, actions, and objects. These methods are sometimes referred to as "mnemotechnics".
Joshua Foer has written, "Though every competitor has his own unique method of memorization for each event, all mnemonic techniques are essentially based on the concept of elaborative encoding, which holds that the more meaningful something is, the easier it is to remember."
While the potential subject matter for memory competitions could be limitless, the World Memory Championships features ten specific tests as follows:
- One Hours Numbers
- 5 Minute Numbers
- Spoken Numbers, read out one per second
- 30 Minutes Binary Digits
- One Hour Playing Cards
- Random Lists of Words
- Names and Faces (15 minutes)
- 5 Minute Historic/Future Dates (fictional events and historic years)
- Abstract Images (black and white randomly generated spots)
- Speed Cards: Memorize the order of one shuffled deck of 52 playing cards as fast as possible. This is always the last discipline.
In addition to the traditional competitions organized by the World Memory Sports Council or International Association of Memory, memory athletes often compete at alternative-format competitions. These include the Memory League Championships (formerly the Extreme Memory Tournament), Memoriad, and the Memo Games.
Other types of memory competitions may not feature timed events. For instance, records for the memorization of π (known as piphilology) have been recorded since the 1970s, with the current record holder having produced from memory more than 70,000 digits.
Memory sport continues to have its records broken rapidly. A recent world speed record for memorizing a deck of cards was 16.96 seconds, held by Alex Mullen of the United States. A recent world record for the most digits memorized in five minutes was 520, shared by Marwin Wallonius of Sweden and Alex Mullen. An up-to-date list of world and national records can be found on the International Association of Memory statistics website.
Up-to-date world rankings can be found at the International Association of Memory statistics website.