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U.S. Memory Champion to Visit SU

Oct. 29, 2008

SELINSGROVE, (Pa.) – Joshua Foer, a freelance science journalist and memory champion, will present a lecture Nov. 11 at Susquehanna University. The talk, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 8 p.m. in Stretansky Concert Hall of the Cunningham Center for Music and Art.

Foer is the author of Moonwalking with Einstein, a book on the art and science of memory that will be released in 2009. He was honored in 2006 as the United States Memory Champion, and his writings have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Esquire, Discover and other publications.

Foer began planning Moonwalking after publishing an article in Slate, an online magazine, about the U.S. Memory Championship held in 2005, and working on his memory about 10 minutes a day. He used memorization techniques developed about 477 B.C. by the Greek poet Simonides, who was the sole survivor of a roof collapse that killed all the guests at a large banquet he was attending. He was able to reconstruct the guest list by visualizing who was sitting at each seat around the table.

According to Foer, memorization techniques “rely on the principle that our brains are no good at remembering things that aren’t interesting, like a long string of numbers.” People retain things that are spatial and visual, such as the layout of one’s home. When trying to memorize things, he said, it helps to translate the object, such as the king of diamonds, to a person and place, such as former president Bill Clinton standing at the front door of one’s home.

There are five events in the memory championship. First, contestants are given 15 minutes to memorize 99 names and faces, and 20 minutes to recall them. Next, the contestants have to memorize an unpublished 50-line poem in 15 minutes, followed by a series of random digits, a list of random words, and finally a shuffled deck of playing cards. The best memorizers in the world—who almost all hail from Europe—can memorize a pack of cards in less than a minute.

Paramount Pictures is slated to release a movie of Moonwalking with Einstein that will detail Foer’s year-long preparation for the memory championships.

Contact: Gerald Cohen


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