Saturday, January 01, 2005

Super Memory Remembered

There are some wonderful ideas to be found in the magic magazines of old and each time I delve into those old volumes is like a treasure hunt. It is a rare day that you don’t return laden with gems. The Magic Wand, a British journal published in the first half of the last century, is a site worth returning to again and again. It is now available on a searchable CD Rom courtesy of Martin Breese. Thank you Martin.

Some enterprising magicians have found that they can market memory courses to the general public. It makes sense. It's an alternate form of revenue and magicians are used to using mnemonics in their work. A good demonstration of the Giant Memory feat is all that's needed to convince prospective students that their magical tutor knows what he is talking about. The following routine could also prove to be an excellent classroom exercise.

The original title was Super Memory in Close Up and you can find it in issue 254 of The Magic Wand. It is the creation of Arthur W. Roots and all I’ve done is tweaked it a little and dusted it off in the hope that someone will find it of value. All you need are thirty blank visiting cards, a pencil and the ability to memorise a list of thirty objects using the standard mnemonic system.

I’ll assume that you are lecturing your class on the art of memory. Ask one of the class to call out any five objects eg Cat, Egg, Book, Clock, Desk. As he does so you write the name of each object on a card, turn the card over and write a number, from one to thirty, on the back of it. So the first card is numbered 1, the second 2, the third 3 and so on until you have five cards each bearing the name of a different object on one side and a number on the other.

Choose someone else and get them to name five different objects. Continue the writing and numbering. Go through all the cards until six people have helped you build a list of thirty objects and all thirty cards are numbered on the back with a number from 1 to 30.

This isn't the most stimulating part of the exercise which is why I suggest it would work in a memory class better than it would in your act. However, the action starts here. Ask someone to mix the thirty cards, number side up. Take the pack and spread it number side up across the table.

Three people now draw cards from the spread. You look at the numbers and, because of your mnemonic system, are able instantly to reveal the name objects on the other side. This is an extremely impressive demonstration of memory. You may even want to test your pupils' own recollection before revealing the answers.

You can repeat this or have the pack gathered up, shuffled and spread object side up across the table. Three cards are drawn out. You see the objects on them and so are able to reveal the numbers on the opposite sides. Cue more amazement and people saying they can't wait to sign up for the rest of the memory course.

To finish, ask someone to take the cards and fan them out with the object side facing them. Get them to stand behind you so that you can't see the cards. Now you are going to call out the entire list of thirty objects. Begin by calling out the first object in your memorised list. When the assistant acknowledges it ask him/her to hand the card to you. Place it object side up at the left side of the table. Call out each object, in order, from your list. Your assistant finds the card that matches, you take it and place it next to the previous card on the table, building a line of cards from left to right. Each time you name an object correctly make sure you get the assistant to acknowledge the fact that you are right. Speed up towards the end and add the usual dash of showmanship.

When all thirty cards are on the table the demonstration is finished. Well, almost. Now for the finale as you point out that not only did you remember the thirty objects but you remembered them in their correct order. Turn over the cards on the table to reveal that they are indeed arranged in numerical order. Cue applause.

That's it. It seems to me much more interesting than writing objects on a blackboard. And the fact that the names of the objects are not on view throughout the demonstration makes it seem all the more impressive. Using larger cards might make the demonstration play to a larger audience.