While most of us are proud if we can remember all the state capitals or the bones in the human body, some serious mental athletes out there go above and beyond when it comes to pushing their brainpower. Able to remember dozens of random words and calculate numbers out to thousands of digits, these mental athletes put the average good memory and mental prowess to shame. Yet while these skills are impressive, the top mental athletes claim that anyone can do what they do with the right training and dedication. Read on to learn more about the impressive feats of some of the world’s leading mental athletes and how you can emulate their methods for superior memory and mental abilities.
Chinese memory champ Wang Feng is only 22, but his young age hasn’t slowed his meteoric rise to the top of world memory rankings. Feng won the 2010 World Memory Championships with a record-breaking score of 9,486 points, moving him to the top of the world rankings, a spot he continues to hold. He is able to memorize 300 digits of spoken numbers, 500 digits of written numbers, and can read off the order of a deck of cards in just 24.22 seconds. Feng uses a combination of rhymes and pictorial associations to remember such large amounts of data. He associates numbers with a rhyming word (in Chinese) and the image that goes along with it. Feng has said that this system comes naturally to him, as it is often used in his native Chinese language as a memory device. While the system may be most conducive to Chinese, a similar method could be used in any language to help individuals remember numbers, names, or other information.
Simon Reinhard holds two of the fastest times ever recorded for memorizing a 52-card pack of playing cards, both just over 21 seconds. He also holds top-10 honors in a wide range of other memory tasks from remembering names and faces to reciting random words. This German national began competing in memory competitions in 2005 and has never looked back. In order to attain his impressive records, Reinhard uses a technique called the method of Loci, creating memory places and images to help him recall vast amounts of information. It’s a mnemonic device that dates back to Roman times, perhaps still popular because of its obvious effectiveness. Numerous books and studies have been done on the process, and it’s likely that with proper training, most people will be able to master the basics in about an hour.
According to world rankings, Johannes Mallow has the third best memory of anyone in the world. Mallow took top honors at the Cambridge Memory Championship in 2011 and the Swedish Open Memory Championship, as well as placing second in the World Memory Championship in 2009 and 2010. He holds the top records for 30-minute numbers, 5-minute historical figures and dates, as well as placing in the top five in a large number of other memory trials. Along with memory champ Simon Reinhard, Mallow also uses the method of Loci to help him remember. For example, every three-digit combination of numbers gets a unique image in his mind. Similarities in their methods may be because both Mallow and Reinhard are closely associated with the German group Memory XL, which helps anyone, even those with average memories, boost their skills.
Ben Pridmore is one of the best-known mental athletes in the world today. He has been competing since 2000 and his long career has netted him a number of top honors in competitions around the world, including three first place World Memory Championship wins and five back-to-back UK Open Memory Championships. He boasts the No. 1 score in six different memory trials and held the world record for card memorization until his record was broken in 2010 by Simon Reinhard. Pridmore isn’t just a champ for memorization, however, as this accountant has also taken top honors in mental calculation. Pridmore’s methods are fairly similar to that of other top memory competitors. He begins by creating a mental story, creating a sequence of images that he remembers, each representing groups of numbers or playing cards. Pridmore often uses his old grammar school as the setting for these memories, though others wishing to copy his methods could use any familiar place.
As of 2011, Gunther Karsten held the fifth best score at the World Memory Championships. Since 1998, Karsten has taken home first and second place honors at dozens of memory championships, including winning first place in the World Memory Championships in 2007. He excels at memorizing binary, recalling 3,570 digits with only 30 minutes to prepare. This German champ is a chemist and biotechnologist when he’s not competing and also teaches classes on mental learning and memory training for the general public. Karsten is another proponent of mnemonic methods of memorization, showcasing his skills on television and even in a movie about his life. Along with other German memory champs, he is a member of Memory XL, which we have previously mentioned, and uses many of the methods they teach to attain his own titles.
Astrid Plessl is the most highly decorated female memory champ in the world today. She ranks first in the world for memorizing poetry and sixth for memorizing cards, holding a number of other top positions as well for her memory abilities and capturing a number of memory championships, as well as two second place wins in the World Memory Championship. Plessl is currently retired from the memory competition circuit, but still comes out for certain festivals and events. While Plessl does use mnemonic devices for memorizing things like cards and numbers, the same methods don’t work as well when memorizing poems, what she holds the world record for. She has never revealed her exact method, but some believe that it’s a combination of natural memory and using mental imagery to help tell the story of the poem. No matter how she does it, the benefits of memorizing poetry can be numerous, and it should perhaps be one of the first avenues of building a better memory that individuals pursue.
Dominic O’Brien is an eight-time world memory champion, perhaps best known for his Guinness record-breaking performance in 2002 when he memorized the order of 2,808 playing cards with only eight errors. O’Brien became inspired to take on memory-related challenges in 1987 when he saw a BBC television program on record-breaking abilities and has since turned his interest into a thriving career. O’Brien is more than happy to share his methods with others, developing the Mnemonic Dominic System, which has been the basis for several books he has written on boosting memory power. Similar to many mental champs on this list, O’Brien uses a mnemonic method, the guidelines for which he shares through his company, Peak Performance Training.
Two-time winner of the U.S. Memory Championship winner Nelson Dellis didn’t get the title by luck. Dellis is able to memorize the full order of a deck of shuffled cards in 63 seconds and more than 300 numbers in under five minutes, breaking several records at the 2011 championships. Yet Dellis says these abilities aren’t the result of a photographic memory or any kind of inborn abilities. In fact, he believes that anyone can do what he does, provided they train and practice just as if they were competing in any other physical event. Inspired by the memory loss he saw his grandmother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, endure, Dellis began researching memory improvement methods. He uses a number of mnemonic methods to help him remember everything from cards, to numbers, to names, and believes that anyone with average memory abilities can do the same.
Nicknamed “The Tank” for his power lifting prowess, this young memory champ (he’s just graduated from high school) is both a formidable physical and mental force to be reckoned with. Despite an emergency appendectomy in 2011 just weeks before the USA Memory Championships, Glantz was on his game, capturing top honors in poetry memorization, finishing third overall, which is commendable against older, more experienced competitors. He would also help lead his high school to top honors in the team competition, the fourth consecutive win for the school. In this year’s competition he would come out on top in both poetry and names and faces and is proving to be a name to watch in memory championships. How does he do it? Glantz uses many of the same mnemonic methods as other memory champs, associating words, numbers, or cards with images in his mind.
When it comes to mental calculations, there is perhaps no better brain in the world today than that of Priyashi Somani. What is even more impressive is that Somani was just 11 years old when she captured the Mental Calculation World Cup. She was the youngest participant in the cup’s history, and the only one to ever have 100% accuracy in addition, multiplication, and square roots, and set a new world record for calculating square roots. As for being able to copy her methods, that might prove a bit difficult. Unlike other mental champs on this list, her skills seem to be natural, and she only practiced for a few months before heading to and capturing the win at the MCWC. While average people may never be able to match her impressive abilities, a few mental calculations here and there can’t hurt to boost your mental power.