This is a glimpse into the brains of competitive rememberers as they prepare for the World Memory Championships.
The competitors include Johannes Mallow, whose rare muscle disease leaves him unable to walk but able to memorise the order of 400 playing cards in five minutes, Yanjaa, an uber-competetive Swedish-Mongolian who speculates that Mongolia’s tradition of oral storytelling is the explanation for the country’s success in the field, and Nelson Dellis, a four-time American champion and mountaineer who climbs to raise money for memory charities after seeing his grandmother’s deterioration with Alzheimer’s, and as a 6’5″ bodybuilder has an air of Superman about him.
The stories of the individuals are interesting, even if it lays it on a bit thick in the places. More compelling is the look at the techniques they adopt, specifically the mind palace, in which digits are associated with mental images, which are excellently visualised through animation. It also emphasises how it’s not just memory but emotional control that’s needed, as images with an emotional resonance are more easily remembered.
It culminates at the World Memory Championship where we realise that competitive remembering is not the world’s greatest spectator sport, but see truly astonishing feats of memory including over 6,000 binary digits remembered in 20 minutes, the order of a deck of playing cards in 15 seconds and 3,000 decimal digits in an hour. But they sure would have ruined Rashomon.
Memory Games is on Netflix.