Here is the talk, on it’s own, although I recommend reading the accompanying article above:
Late last year I had the privilege of delivering a plenary talk to the 1000 or so attendees of the AMSA National Convention.
From the techniques of modern memory athletes, to the painted mnemonic walls of Campanella’s fictional ‘Città del Sole’, to the encyclopedic memories and mnemonic systems of indigenous cultures around the world, we managed to cover a lot of ground in 20 minutes. I even had time to teach them some mnemonics to remember some bits of the brain! There was also a Q&A at the end.
There is lots of content that I haven’t covered here on the blog before so I thought I’d share. The full talk can be viewed below.
Feliks Zemdegs is a big deal in the world of competitive speed-solving. He can unscramble any one of the Rubik’s Cube’s 43 quintillion permutations in less than half the time it takes Usain Bolt to run 100 metres (his fastest current official time is 4.73 seconds). With almost a hundred world records under his belt, he is an unofficial ambassador for his sport. What is most striking about this 21 year old, however, is his humility and easy-going nature. I asked Feliks to share a little about his experiences as one of the world’s greatest mental athletes.
How did you first get interested in speed solving? What is it about the Rubik’s Cube that so captured your interest?
I first got interested in speed-cubing when I came across a bunch of speed-cubing videos and tutorials whilst browsing YouTube one day. I’d previously played with a Rubik’s Cube (but didn’t really get anywhere with it), and I was amazed that people could not only solve the cube, but also solve it at incredible speeds. Being generally interested in puzzles and games, I decided to buy a Cube and learn how to solve it with an online tutorial.
What do you find most interesting about the Rubik’s Cube today?
I find it very interesting that the Rubik’s Cube continues to grow and grow in popularity—and that despite being a pop culture icon for so many years, still has a huge place in the world today. The growth of speed-cubing has certainly played a role in its rejuvenation, and I don’t think it’s going away any time soon. It’s hard to say whether speed-cubing will ever become mainstream, probably not, but I think it will continue to grow for a while to come.
Can you describe the methods you use in competition?
For the standard 3x3x3 Rubik’s Cube, I use the CFOP method. CFOP stands for Cross, F2L, OLL, and PLL, which are the four main stages of this solving method. Essentially, this method solves the cube in layers—the cross and F2L stages solve the first two layers of the cube, and I do this intuitively. The last layer of the cube is solved using algorithms, and generally in two stages—orienting and then permuting the last layer pieces. I don’t always follow this exact process, and I know a bunch of supplementary algorithm sets and intuitive solving techniques that I use in addition to the basic CFOP method.
Can you describe what’s going on inside your head during a solve? What are you focusing on or thinking about (if anything at all)?
When I’m solving the cube, it’s pretty much completely subconscious—I’m just executing a process that I’ve practised time and time again. Of course, no two solves are the same, each solve is completely different, but I use the same fundamental process each time, which is why I don’t need to think about it. With enough practice, speed-cubers can rely on their recognition skills and muscle memory to do a solve, whilst doing very little active thinking or problem solving.
In the same vein, is there a difference as to what’s going on inside your head during a competition performance versus a practice session?
Definitely—I generally get pretty nervous at competitions, even after all these years. I try to make my solving as automatic and subconscious as possible, because as soon as you actually start thinking or analysing too much during a solve, mistakes will happen. I have a couple of things I try and do to counter nerves and shaky hands, such as taking a deep breath before the solve, and making sure my grip on the cube is solid and doesn’t slip.
In an interview, you gave about your performance at the 2015 World Rubik’s Cube Championships, you said that you recognized after the fact that you’d made a mistake. Did you mean that you realized only after you finished the solve or after you’d moved the piece?
Ah yes, on the third solve in the finals (actually my fastest solve), I could have saved about 10 moves on the solve if I recognised a certain last layer case and executed it in one algorithm. Instead I performed two algorithms (although they were two very easy and fast cases).
New records seem to get set every competition—you’ve broken over 70 world records yourself, right? What drives this progress? Is it the development of more efficient methods or algorithms? New and better finger tricks? Sheer volume of practice or something else?
Right now, I’ve actually broken 94 world records in official competitions—I’m almost at the century! Certainly, there will come a time when progression in world records slows down and the fastest solves are very difficult to beat. In the early part of this decade, records were certainly driven by individual practice and method development; however, you don’t need to know hundreds of algorithms to solve the cube at world-class speed. Equally as important was the development of better cubing hardware. There are a bunch of companies in China that continue to produce and enhance speed-cubing technology and create awesome speed-cubes that deliver better and better performance.
What recommendations would you make to someone new to speed-solving who wanted to improve? What do you think is the most important thing that most people fail to focus on in their practice? Do you think there is anything many cubers spend too much time on?
Like with many other things, it’s important to have good fundamentals and good technique before you go all out with practice to try and improve. The improvement process in speed-cubing involves learning techniques, algorithms, and developing good habits, and then grinding practice to implement those in your solves and get faster. I think the most important thing people fail to do is actually take a step back and self-evaluate. This can take the form of videoing yourself and then recognising what the weaknesses in your solves are, and then doing deliberate practice to improve those components. This is something that can be applied to many things, not just speed-cubing. I think most speed-cubers are actually pretty decent at practice, but sometimes cubers spend too much time doing heaps and heaps of speed-solves without thinking about whether what they’re doing will actually help their solves.
What’s the funniest, strangest, or most memorable story you have from a speed solving competition?
Haha, I really should have a list of these written down somewhere, because whenever I get asked this question I don’t have a good answer—even though there are probably many things! One guy actually said that he would legitimately get a tattoo of my signature on his ass if I was willing to sign it—we discussed it for a few minutes and then decided not to proceed with that plan, lol.
Are there any ways in which you feel like your cubing skills have informed or influenced other aspects of your life? Relatedly, what do you think the average person could gain from learning how to solve a cube?
The biggest lesson I have learned is that practice is the key to just about anything. Things don’t often come quickly and easily without a lot of hard work and dedication. I apply this to other things including my studies and occasionally work and other pursuits. I know that if I put in the work and do it in an intelligent manner then I can trust that I’ll get, for example, good results in my exams and other things like that. Being a world champion also opens doors to some cool opportunities both inside and outside the speed-cubing world—I’ve been lucky enough to travel and compete in Rubik’s Cube competitions on all six continents!
The main skills that people can develop by learning how to solve the Rubik’s Cube are things like pattern recognition, memory, patience, finger dexterity, spatial awareness and general problem-solving ability.
What do you wish more people knew about Rubik’s Cubing?
That anyone can do it! You don’t have to be good at maths or physics or puzzles—all you need to solve a Rubik’s Cube is a bit of time and patience! To learn a beginner’s method for solving the cube, you just need to be able to follow some instructions and a process. After that, you develop and improve your techniques—once you understand what you’re doing it becomes a lot more fun!
I thought I had this post scheduled to publish last week but I must have done something wrong. Here it is, a little late!
This week, I’m sharing an interview I did for an Australian TV show called ‘House of Wellness’. In this clip, I teach the host the method of loci (or memory palace), a fundamental technique in the Art of Memory. We used actual rooms and physical objects to make it obvious what’s going on.
Although only one room is shown in this clip, Ed actually memorised three rooms, each with 12 items for his final test and scored 100 percent.
Here is a brief summary of the show from their website: “Welcome to The House of Wellness show – your weekly slice of TV goodness that helps you live, look, and feel well. Hosted by Ed Phillips and Zoe Marshall, with regular appearances from Resident Pharmacist Gerald Quigley, we explore the world of health and wellbeing, addressing your health concerns in an entertaining, interactive and informative format. From raising your kids, to staying fit, ageing gracefully, and keeping beautiful inside and out, as well as the A to Z of every vitamin under the sun, The House of Wellness is designed with one thing in mind – to help you ‘Live Well’.”
The full episode can be found here: https://www.houseofwellness.com.au/sh…
Happy new year everyone!
I didn’t post much in 2018. But I’m committing now to posting at least once a week in 2019! Each week I’ll share a video, article or interview centred around memory and other mental skills.
To get the ball rolling, here is an episode of Child Genius I appeared in late last year. In addition to appearing as a guest judge, I also designed the memory rounds for this season.
These kids are extremely impressive. It’s all worth watching but the memory rounds begin at around the 30 minute mark.
SBS offers the following summary of the show:
Presided over by quizmaster Dr Susan Carland, Child Genius follows Australia’s cleverest 7 to 12 year-olds and their extraordinary families as they compete for the title of Australia’s brightest child.
I can’t embed the video but the full episode can be found by clicking below:
CHENNAI: Imagine a loaf of bread soaked in milk, grains of rice bouncing
off an umbrella or a hot boiling cup of coffee being poured over your
mobile phone. Instead of remembering these objects mentioned
individually in the form a list, placing them in a visual and spatial context
makes it automatically easier for your brain to remember them, according
to international memory athlete Daniel Kilov who interacted with students
at Anna University on Wednesday.
Kilov, who has won several memory championships, spoke during the
international techno-management fest of Anna University, Kurukshetra, on
“The language of memory is association. There are two ways to remember – one is through memory for things and other being
memory for words. Don’t treat your memory as a filing cabinet but as a laboratory where alchemy takes place,” said Kilov. He
stated that practising recalling and testing ourselves over and over again was a better technique for embedding long-term
memory rather than even writing. He also encouraged using mnemonic techniques like the ‘method of loci’ which is based on
linking something to a place you are familiar with to embed it in your memory.
The fest was inaugurated by governor Banwarilal Purohit who said the fest will help bring about more industry-academia
exchanges. Higher education minister K P Anbazhagan, who was also present, said the university was taking up all
preparations to conduct the Tamil Nadu Engineering Admissions online for the first time this academic year.
This 12th edition of the fest which will continue till February 3 will feature more than 35 competitive event.
This article was originally published in issue 17 of Acuity magazine and can be found in its original form here. In this brief interview, I discuss the value of memory techniques in a buisness setting.
01 December 2015 – Aaron Watson
I became interested in memory techniques in 2011 as a way of improving my grades at university. To help me, I sought out Tansel Ali, the Australian Memory Champion. After six weeks of training, I entered the Australian Memory Championships and set a national record, securing second place overall. I was also the silver medallist in 2012 and broke my own record for the memorisation of abstract images.
The mnemonic techniques memory athletes use are more than 2,000 years old and are known collectively as the “Art of Memory”. These techniques originated in Ancient Greece and were used to memorise poems and speeches. Today, these same techniques are used by memory athletes in the World Memory Championships and associated national competitions to perform some astonishing feats of high speed learning. For instance, the world record for memorising a shuffled deck of cards is 21.9 seconds.
I believe we are all mental athletes. In a competitive world, we all need to be able to remember more, to be more creative, innovative and focused.
I’m particularly interested in the practical applications of these techniques – after all, I was looking for a way to improve my study techniques. I went from average to 1st class honours student and now I’m undertaking a PhD. In this sense, the techniques used by memory athletes should be available to everyone.
That said, some “party tricks” are also very useful in a career setting. It’s easy to be stand out (ie be memorable) when you can memorise the names of everyone in a meeting room in a minute or two and repeat their names back to them.
Anybody can learn these techniques. I’ve had students from all educational levels, age groups etc. I’ve never met anybody who can’t significantly improve their memory after a very short time.
One of the great things about these skills is that they can be learned fairly quickly. As I mentioned, it was only six weeks after I first began learning these techniques that I entered the Australian Memory Championships. My private coaching course consists of only ten lessons of about an hour each. Many of my students have gone on from this course to compete successfully in the Australian Memory Championships.
Being a mental athlete is just like being a regular athlete. Top performance requires that, in addition to the specialised training of memory skills, we manage our sleep, eat the right foods and do enough cardiovascular exercise. People often neglect these things when thinking about brain health but these things really are very important.
Interested in improving your memory? danielkilov.com