In the fifth episode of How to become a Memory Champion you will be introduced to binary digits. Understand the logic behind ones and zeros and learn how to memorize them. With that knowledge you can enter another main discipline in a memory championship.

The binary code

Since Speed Binary is part of all national and international memory championships, memorizing binary digits is an essential skill for all memory athletes. For the German Open and the World Memory Championship additionally there is the discipline 30 minutes Binary.

But what actually is a binary number?

The binary numeral system, or base-2 number system represents numeric values using two symbols, usually 0 and 1. More specifically, the usual base-2 system is a positional notation with a radix of 2. Owing to its straightforward implementation in digital electronic circuitry using logic gates, the binary system is used internally by all modern computers.


In the end each binary number represents a decimal equivalent. We use this fact to translate the binaries into decimals. We already learned how to memorize decimal digits with the Major System. This is as easy as taking candy from a baby. Hence binary digits aren’t anything to be scared off in a memory competition. In fact it is astonishingly motivating because of the pure amount of data each athlete is memorizing within one single image.

This is how you translate the binary code into the Major code:

  • 000 = 0 = S
  • 001 = 1 = T, D
  • 010 = 2 = N
  • 011 = 3 = M
  • 100 = 4 = R
  • 101 = 5 = L
  • 110 = 6 = J, CH, SCH
  • 111 = 7 = K, G


It isn’t really hard to memorize even without a mental help. But if you still struggle with the translation you should be aware of the following rule:

The first binary digit will be multiplied by 4. The second will be multiplied by 2. The third will be multiplied by 1. If you add all three results you get your decimal number.


  • 011 = 4 x 0 + 2 x 1 + 1 x 1 = 3
  • 101 = 4 x 1 + 2 x 0 + 1 x 1 = 5

We don’t bring the binaries to four digits because this way they fit perfectly into a 2nd-Level Major System as you will see in the next passage.

1st-level Binary System


A 1st-Level binary system encodes six binary numbers.

With all the techniques we already learned in the previous episodes of How to become a Memory Champion, it is fair enough to call the 2nd-Level adaption of the Major System the 1st-level for binary systems. It is very easy and powerful and I never met any memory athlete using a smaller system.

Just take six binary digits and put them together to one Major peg:

  • 001 (T) + 011 (M) = Team
  • 010 (N) + 111 (K) = Nike
  • 111 (K) + 000 (S) = Kiss

Pretty easy, right? As you can see I skipped the part where I translate the binaries into decimals. That is not necessary if you learn the consonants from the beginning. With a little training you will be able to “read” the binaries like letters. The next steps are already familiar: Associate your pegs with your locations by following the Method of Loci.

To memorize a 300-binary-digit this way you will need 50 images.

1.5-level Binary System


A 1.5 binary system encodes 12, 18 or even more binary digits.

Remember the improved cluster-systems for numbers and cards like PAO (person-action-object). You can easily adopt them for binaries as well. Actually this system feels even more powerful with the binaries because you will encode eighteen (18) digits into one single image. I will use my personal system to give you an example:

  • 20 = nose (PAO: Pinocchio – sneezing – nose)
  • 27 = Nike (PAO: Michael Jordan – jumping – Nike shoe)
  • 30 = mouse (PAO: Mickey Mouse – hugging – Ferris Wheel)
  • 010 000 010 111 011 000 – Pinocchio (20) jumps (27) over a Ferris Wheel (30)

In an adult memory competition each row always contains 30 binary digits. Therefore it could make sense to you to try memorizing a whole row on one single location. I do that by using a variation of my system: PAOPO for example contains 30 digits. But that is something you should decide for yourself. Maybe it doesn’t fit your preferences for mental images. Or maybe it simply slows you down.

To memorize a 306-binary-digit this way you will need only 17 images.

2nd-level Binary System


A 2nd-Level binary system encodes nine binary digits.

The next step on the binary evolution is by using a 3rd-level Major System. Create a peg list of 1.000 images and you are ready to go for nine binaries in one single non-clustered image. This might not sound as promising as eighteen digits within a clustered image. But actually it is easier and quicker to memorize (if you know your 3rd-level number system as good as your PAO). It seems like a whole lot of effort to create and learn such a system (and it most certainly is). But if you take a look at the best memorizers in the binary disciplines you will find athletes with such (or even a better system) on top of the rankings.

One image could look like this:

  • 001 (T) + 111 (G)  + 100 (R) = Tiger

To see this beautiful and catchy tiger, it feels like a waste of time using a PAO-system. But on the other hand it is an awful lot of work. Decide for yourself whether or not you are willingly to go this way.

To memorize a 306-binary-digit this way you will need 34 images.

2.5-level Binary: The Ben System


The Ben System encodes ten binary digits in each image.

The World Memory Champion Ben Pridmore went one step further with his system. He is allocating three different letters (or sounds) to binaries. Ten digits combined produce one single image. Although it is just one digit more than a 2nd-level system it is probably far more powerful. Regarding the fact that each row includes 30 binary digits one can put three images together on one location to memorize a whole row.

His code is based on the Major System and looks like this:

First consonant (first four digits)

  • 0000 = s
  • 0001 = t
  • 0010 = n
  • 0011 = m
  • 0100 = r
  • 0101 = l
  • 0110 = g/j
  • 0111 = k
  • 1000 = f
  • 1001 = b
  • 1010 = p
  • 1011 = d
  • 1100 = h
  • 1101 = sk/sn/sm
  • 1110 = st/sp
  • 1111 = sh/sl/sw

Vowel (next three digits)

  • 000 = ‘oo’ as in ‘you’
  • 001 = ‘a’ as in ‘cat’
  • 010 = ‘e’ as in ‘pet’
  • 011 = ‘i’ as in ‘kitten’
  • 100 = ‘o’ as in ‘tom’
  • 101 = ‘u’ as in ‘puss’
  • 110 = ‘A’ as in ‘hay’
  • 111 = ‘E’ as in ‘bee’

Second consonant (final three digits)

  • 000 = s
  • 001 = t
  • 010 = n
  • 011 = m
  • 100 = r
  • 101 = l
  • 110 = g
  • 111 = k

To memorize a 300-binary-digit this way you will need 30 images.


Speed Binary is a great discipline in memory sports. It isn’t any more difficult than numbers or cards but for outsiders it seems to be impossible. Soon we can expect that athletes are taking the obstacle of 1.000 digits in only five minutes. If you want to jump into action right now you should check out the binary training on Memocamp.

Update: Johannes Mallow memorized 1.080 binary digits in 5 minutes at the Swedish Open 2013 and Ola Kåre Risa did 1.016 at the Friendly (Cambridge) Open 2013.