On June 6th (which was a Sunday) I had my breakfast before 8:00 a.m.. Fortunately the amount of mathematical conversation at the breakfast table was limited so I had a soft start to the day. At 9:15 a.m. the shuttle bus departed. In the bus I met Ben Pridmore from Great Britain (currently number one in memory world rankings and reigning champion in memory sports). Ben had been in Stuttgart at the South German Championships the day before, an event he had joined non-competitive. With his hat on his head (sometimes the hat is in the train without Ben and sometimes Ben sits in the train without his hat) Ben could clearly remember that Simon Reinhard from Germany had broken his world record in speed cards the day before. Ben’s record for memorizing 52 playing cards was 24.97 seconds. Simon did it in 21.90 seconds. Ben seemed to be very tired so I did not want to bother him with further questions. At 10:00 a.m. we made a group photo in front of a university building. Of course one of the participants had missed the departure of the shuttle bus at 9:15 a.m., although Ralf had made it clear that everybody should be in the lobby in good time. However, the participant made it right on time to the venue.
From 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. several tasks in mental arithmetic were tested in the senate hall of Magdeburg University. Professor Dr. Klaus Erich Pollmann flattered the participants saying something analogously to: “This room is used for meetings of some of the brightest scientists in Magdeburg. However I do not think that there were so many intelligent people in it before.”
Of course, as in memory sports, the scoring of the results took a while since this was a paper and pen competition. To make the reading of this report a bit easier I write the results directly after the description of the disciplines. I will describe the sophisticated scoring at the Mental Calculation World Cup in a simplified way. For a more detailed version you should take a look in the online book of rules. In the four standard (Memoriad) disciplines participants have to solve several blocks (often ten) of the same tasks. Each block has to be free of faults to gain points. If somebody does not need the full time to solve all tasks correctly extra points are awarded. In the six surprise disciplines there are no extra points for solving the disciplines very fast. Sometimes surprise disciplines consist of one single task which has to be calculated as precisely as possible. In the overall ranking the six surprise tasks currently count for the final results by 1/3. It is not allowed to use any tools like pocket calculators and similar things in any discipline. It is neither allowed to write down any intermediate results so besides calculation memory plays an important part in this mental sport. However, those who are very fast have the possibility to avoid using long term memory by the heavy use of short term memory.
The first event was the day of the week computation. In this discipline participants get calendar dates between 1600 and 2100. The task is to calculate as quickly as possible which day of the week refers to any given date. Competitors are allowed to make one single mistake (including a blank field). After the second mistake no further points can be gathered. The discipline has different names in the German and English versions of the book of rules (one referring to calculation, the other referring to memory). Participants can decide for themselves to which degree they use memory or calculation power. Most techniques involve both elements. However the better participants become the bigger the memory part seems to be.
On the very first day when I encountered this discipline I could calculate about one or two calendar dates within one minute. Now about one year later I can calculate up to thirty dates in one minute. I knew that this performance in training was good enough to get me to the top ten. From memory championships I am used to get about 80 percent of my training results (except for abstract images where I always score higher than in training). At the Mental Calculation World Cup I got disappointed. Although I made no mistakes I could not write down more than 11 dates in one minute. Robin Wersig had already questioned my method of preparation the day before (I had solely trained on my notebook for this discipline and never written down anything). So once again Ben is right stating that for world championships you have to train exactly the way in which your skills will be tested. Just 36.67 percent of my training performance is a really bad value. In average I got about 50 percent of my training results in the four standard disciplines (day of the week, addition, multiplication, square roots). As I learned during the competition I was not the only one to score lower than expected. Freddies Reyes Hernández (from Cuba) who did break the world record the night before with 74 dates finished this discipline with just 37 dates (exactly 50 percent) finishing on fifth place in this discipline. I did succeed in one way. On the day before I had trained Hua Wei from Malaysia in this discipline. He had never trained this stuff before. His aim was to not finish last in this discipline and we both were happy that he managed to achieve this goal.
These are the top three competitors in the calendar from memory discipline:
1st place Yusnier Viera (Cuba) 48 dates
2nd place Robin Wersig (Germany) 47 dates
3rd place Jan von Koningveld (Germany) 45 dates
Right now I think it is fair to say that Cuba is leading in mental calendar computation.
The next discipline was Additions
In this discipline participants have to add 10 blocks of 10 numbers which have 10 digits each. Time is limited to a maximum of 10 minutes, which is easy to remember. Every correctly added block of 100 digits counts as 1 point. As usual in this contest I got half of the score of my training results and ended up with 500 correctly added digits.
These are the top three competitors in the additions discipline:
1st place Alberto Coto (Spain) 1000 digits in 222 seconds
2nd place Priyanshi Somani (India) 1000 digits in 283 seconds
3rd place Marc Jornet Sanz (Spain) 1000 digits in 288 seconds
Alberto broke the world record in this discipline!
During a break after eating fruits from the buffet I spoke with some members of the support team. Petra Specht, Julia Hempel and Bernd Reichel all supported this event with great effort. Often you just read about the stars in mental sports but the members of the support team backstage are as important as the participants to make things work. The three of them were members of the faculty of informatics at Magdeburg University. Julia and Petra liked to meet calculators from all over the world at this event. Petra and Bernd are active in an organisation called “eLeMeNTe” a society for the facilitation of pupils and students interested in mathematics, natural science and technology. You can read more about this organisation here: http://www.elemente.org/. Petra and Bernd have been active mental calculation athletes earlier in their life. Now they support young people (in this case the oldest participant was 61 years old) in mental calculation. Besides the three many pupils and students from Magdeburg supported the Mental Calculation World Cup.
Since I mentioned one society I should also talk about another institution which supports kids from 5 to 14 years in the field of mathematics. Scott Flansburg a participant from the US runs a website which is called http://www.mathletics.com. Since I had no time to check out this website before writing this article you have to explore it by yourself if you or your kids are interested. Robert Fountain told me that Scott has written some easy-to-read books in the field of mental calculation. Scott is a mental calculator who can speak incredibly fast while producing mental calculation results. He wants to make the number zero more famous. If you ask me: I do not believe that the number zero will ever become a rock star in the world of numbers.
In the break Robin Wersig showed me his self-constructed blinkers made out of a cardboard box. The interesting thing with this construction was that it allowed including his glasses into the functional construction.
After the break we continued with Multiplications
In this discipline competitors have to multiply two eight-digit numbers in their head. Most (if not all) participants use the cross multiplication for this task. For ten multiplications participants have 15 minutes time. For every right multiplication participants get one point.
These are the top three competitors in the multiplication discipline:
1st place Marc Jornet Sanz (Spain) ten correct multiplications in 296 seconds
2nd place Priyanshi Somani (India) ten correct multiplications in 588 seconds
3rd place Alberto Coto (Spain) nine correct multiplications
Marc Jornet Sanz broke the world record in this discipline!
Now it was time for square roots, the last standard discipline
In this discipline competitors have to extract the square roots of ten six-digit numbers. Solutions have to be rounded to five decimal places.
These are top three competitors in the square roots discipline:
1st place Priyanshi Somani (India) ten correct square roots in 411 seconds
2nd place Alberto Coto (Spain) ten correct square roots in 666 seconds
3rd place Gerald Newport (USA) eight correct square roots and two square roots rounded correctly to the 4th decimal place
After these four standard tasks it was time for the first three surprise disciplines.
In the first surprise discipline participants had to add a number to the result of a multiplication. Participants could solve up to 30 tasks. This discipline was relatively easy once one had figured out that this could be done by a step-by-step approach rather than by first completing the whole multiplication task and then adding from memory. However, some participants got confused by the temptation first to add and then to multiply. I could resist this temptation but it was not easy.
These are the top four competitors in the first surprise discipline:
1st place Parashkumar Shah (India) 100.00 points
2nd place Gerald Newport (USA) 78.95 points
2nd place Hakan Gürbaslar (Turkey) 78.95 points
2nd place Kenneth Wilshire (Great Britain) 78.95 points
The second surprise discipline was about extracting the 3rd, 4th and 5th root of three six-digit numbers. Scoring was similar to the extraction of square roots.
These are the top three competitors in the second surprise discipline:
1st place Gerald Newport (USA) 100.00 points
2nd place Ali Bayat Movahhed (Iran) 47.50 points
3rd place Andy Robershaw (Great Britain) 37.50 points
The last surprise discipline and final discipline for the day was about fractions. It was given in the form a/b + c/d = e/x. Participants had to find out the value of x. Of course fractions were not like 4/8 but rather like 342/123 so it took a while to calculate all tasks.
These are the top four competitors in the third surprise discipline:
1st place Ali Bayat Movahhed (Iran) 100.00 points
2nd place Arturo Mendoza Huertas (Peru) 78.38 points
3rd place Stefan Lehmann (Germany) 62.16 points
3rd place Ben Pridmore (Great Britain) 62.16 points
From 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.a. two guided city tours (in English and Spanish) were offered.
The female tour guide, who explained all the nice sculptures and buildings very well, had a hard time with the English group. The number of followers was constantly changing and people talked to each other rather than listening. At one point some of the participants showed their skills to two girls sitting nearby an important building which resulted in loud cheering and a guide with less than five people listening to her. I have not counted how many Rubik Cubes and mathematical problems were solved but I am sure that it was quite a lot. I have learnt about Magdeburg that the city is constantly shrinking in the last decades and that many people in Magdeburg do not belong to any church. Therefore some of the churches are used as exhibition halls which can be rented.
While going to the restaurant Melik Duyar (engineer of the excellent Memoriad Software) shared his vision about future mental contests with me. Melik is aware of in which direction memory and mental calculation sports can develop. What I like is that he is willing to cooperate with other stakeholders in mental sports and that he is open to different opinions and suggestions without feeling displeased.
At 6:30 p.m. we had dinner. Robin Wersig told some jokes which almost caused Stefan Lehmann to collapse (without the influence of alcohol). After dinner participants got the results of the first day. I sat at a table together with Scott Flansburg, Melik Duyar and Gunther Karsten. Scott showed us his invention of a “poker eye” (a combination of simple principles which together result in a clever product) which proved that he has a very good sense for big business. Scott and Melik discussed how Memoriad competitions can become more glamorous in the future.
Back at the hotel I trained some more square roots with Stefan Lehman while Robin Wersig explained to Khantanbaatar Khandsuren, the participant from Mongolia, how to solve the Rubik Cube. After this Stefan showed me his method of dividing big numbers (a step-by-step approach which worked very well for him). Unfortunately I was a bit tired so I might need this explanation again. Later Stefan wanted to multiply two 30-digit numbers with me but because it was late we did not finish this task.