Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Two Minute Deck Memorization: How To Memorize a Deck of Cards

Well, Memrise has been down for a few days, which means I don't have a way to practice memorizing cards in a way that lets me convniently post the results.

I have been able to practice with a deck of cards, and on, but I can't easily post times with these.

Before Memrise went down, I was able to get fairly close to completing this challenge.

2:16. So close...

To be honest, I'm not even sure whether I've completed the challenge already because I'm too lazy to work a stopwatch at the same time as I'm trying to memorize.

At any rate, while I wait for Memrise to come back up, I thought I'd teach you how to memorize a shuffled deck of cards.

The first thing you have to learn is just that you can do it. You may think you can't, or that you don't have good enough memory, etc, but relax. It's not some special gift that just some people have, you just don't know the tricks! You just don't know how to use your brain!

Wait. Let me rephrase that...

You're brain is like an incredibly powerful computer. The thing is, you have to excercise it like a muscle and, just like a computer, you have to present the information in a certain format that is easily processed and stored.

For example, one thing your brain hates in long strings of random numbers, letters and symbols. Unfortunately, a shuffled deck is very much like a long string of random numbers, letters and symbols. In fact, that's exactly what it is!

So you have to take that information and convert it into another form that is easy for your brain to process and retain.

One thing your brain loves is images. Really vivid picutres are great. It also loves things that are familiar. Strangely enough, it also loves things that are bizarre and unusual.

There are a few different systems to allow you to memorize a deck and most of them include converting strings of numbers and letters into familiar, yet unusual, images. I use one popularized by Ed Cooke, a Grand Master of Memory (and Tony Buzon and Dominic O'Brien before him). Here it is in a nutshell:

They're ALL face cards

First, you have to convert each card into an image. Again, there's different ways to do this. Some people use objects like teddy bears, saws, pineapples and more. I use celebrities, politicians, and other public figures (with a few oddballs thrown in). 

So let's say for example that the King of Hearts is Barack Obama, the King of Spades is David Beckham, the King of Diamonds is Prince William, and the King of Clubs is Jay-Z. You have to do this for every card in the deck and you have to become so familiar with your system that you can instantly make the association between the card that comes up and the face it is associated with.

I especially prefer using people, rather than objects, because it makes it easier to "upgrade" your system later. More on that in a bit.

Walking Through the Palace

Once you have a face for each card, and you are able to instantly recall the correct face, it's time to start trying to remember them in order.

There's a concept commonly refered to as the "Memory Palace". I think that sounds really pretentious, so I'll just call it a Memory Space.

What you need to do is have a place you can imagine in great detail and which you can imagine yourself walking through. It could be your house, your workplace, or a fictional place that only exists in your mind. Whatever works for you.

Now, as you walk through this space, you pick certain spots which you will use every single time, and you always go through them in the same order. These are the places where you will place your images as they come up.

For example, I imagine a classroom. This classroom has four tables. Each table has four seats. 16 seats total. I move from seat to seat clockwise and from table to table clockwise. 

So if I were to go through a deck and  got the King of Hearts, the King of Spades, the King of Diamonds and the King of Clubs, I would imagine Barack Obama, David Beckham, Prince William and Jay-Z sitting around the first table. This image is much more memorable than any combination of four cards.

You can do this with an entire deck of cards as long as you have a Memory Space with places for 52 images and a few days to practice. 

In addition, you can go through the deck backwards simply by walking through your Memory Space backwards. Finally, you can tell which card is in a randomly chosen position simply by remembering who was at that position in you Memory Space. The 19th card is the person sitting in the 19th seat, for example. You can also go the other way and determine the position of a random card by remembering where that person was sitting. The Seven of Clubs? That's Galileo. Galileo was sitting in the 4th seat, so the Seven of Clubs was the 4th card. Easy.

However, if you are going for speed, then you'll need a more powerful system.


PAO stands for Person-Action-Object. Again, this is one of many systems. Use whatever works for you. However, this system is the natural evolution of the concepts described above.

In this system, each card not only has a person associated with it, but also, as you may have guessed, an action and an object, but the action and the object should also somehow be associated with the person to avoid confusion and link back to the card easier.

For example, the Three of Spades is Ben Stiller.

It's a familiar image.
In the PAO system, the Three of Spades would be:

P: Ben Stiller...

A:...zipping up on...

O:...his $#&%.

So for every card in the deck, not only do you have to have a face associated with it, but also a verb and an object, such as, "Julian Assange exposing a conspiracy," or, "Princess Kate losing a glass slipper," or, "Barack Obama giving a speech about 14 trillion dollars."

Now, once you have a person, an action, and an object for each of the 52 cards, and can instantly recall them, you're ready to go through the deck again. Here's how you do it:

Imagine three cards. Let's say the King of Hearts, the Five of Hearts, and the Three of Spades.

Once again, you can choose whatever images you like, but for me, that would be:

Barack Obama, Julian Assange and Ben Stiller.

But instead of having these three sit around the table as we did for the four Kings above, we're going to have only one. The first card is the Person, the second card is the Action which that person is performing, and the third card is the object of the action. So in these three cards, we only have one image, not three.

For example, these three cards refer to:

King of Hearts
P: Barack Obama... a speech on...
O:...14 trillion dollars.

Five of Hearts
P: Julian Assange...
O:...a conspiracy.

Three of Spades
P: Ben Stiller...
A:...zipping up on...
O:...his $#&%.

We pick the Person of the first card, the Action of the second, and the Object of the third and we get our composite image...

Barack Obama exposing his....

Well, you get the picture (literally). So sitting around my table wth four seats, I can have up to 12 cards, not just four. My classroom has 48, not just 16. In addition, these images are much more vivid and definitely more unusual. They are, therefore, much more memorable. Finally, every time I memorize an image, it eats through three cards, not just one.

It may seem like adding an action and an object would take so much more memorizing, but it's not that bad since the action and object are related to the person anyway, and the benefits of the action and object far outway the cost.

You can demostrate for yourself just how effective this system is by keeping track of how long it takes you to forget the image of Barack Obama standing up in a classroom and exposing his whatnot for all to see.

It'll be a while...

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