Brain Fun 3

Published on Sunday, April 29, 2007 in , , , , ,

BrainHere's a quick trip around the internet for a great collection of various mental challenges:

* Cognitive Labs's Mind Games section features plenty of puzzles and just pure fun to strain and entertain your brain!

* The plus magazine puzzle page contains some amazing and unique challenges, such as this month's Clock Sudoku.

* Granted, Finger Frenzy 2 involves typing quickly, but the fact that you have to recall the alphabet backwards adds the mental part of the challenge. In case you're wondering what a good time for this challenge is, check out this video of the entire alphabet being typed backwards in 3.016 seconds!


Learning a New Language

Published on Thursday, April 26, 2007 in , , , ,

GlobeLiving in Las Vegas, it's not uncommon for me to run across people from all around the world. As this has been happening to me more and more, my thoughts are beginning to turn to learning a new language. In my case, learning a second language is becoming more and more economically important, which is just one of the reasons discussed in the article When do people learn languages?.

At first, the task seems daunting. However, my strong interest in memory techniques is a big help. Also, I've been looking at numerous approaches and software programs. Much of the free software I've been investigating has received better reviews than all but the most expensive language programs. Especially well suited to learning vocabulary are Ebbinghaus, which I've reviewed before, and ProVoc. I mention these programs especially, because both feature online libraries which offer both upload and download capabilities.

Once you have the software, and supporting vocabulary files ready, there is still the matter of learning the language quickly and effectively. Sure, the quizzing can do this, but what about remembering words in the first place? For memory techniques applied to language, first you should get familiar with the basics first. Next, learn how to specifically apply them to memory techniques, as in How to... Learn a Foreign Language (especially interesting is the Town Language Mnemonic). If you prefer a little more detail in how to learn a language quickly and effectively, read How I learned French in One Year. It's the story of a geek who had to learn enough French, in only 10 months, to pass a standardized Canadian test, and how he acheived it.

Now, my particular interest in learning another language was piqued by people who speak other languages visiting Las Vegas. However, if you're learning another language with the intent of visiting another country, then you'll want to learn both the language and the culture.

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to start working on my Spanish now.


The States

Published on Sunday, April 22, 2007 in , , , , ,

Continental United StatesLast night, The History Channel premiered a new series, titled The States. Instead of a 50-part series delving into the complete history of each American state, as you might expect, it's a 10-part series, with each episode focusing on 5 different states. You learn about the unique culture and interesting facts about each state.

I bring this up because memorizing the US states and capitals is a classic feat of memory. It's unusual enough that people find it hard to name all 50 states in a short time, and even harder to name the capitals. As a matter of fact, most of the people who can do both learned it from Wakko Warner.

Fortunately, there are plenty of tools online to help you learn (mostly Flash-based). You can practice placing the US states on the map, finding the states, and the state capitals, too!

Probably the best thing about the series The States is that once you learn your states and capitals, you can not just show off your knowledge, but make it interesting as well. Would you rather just hear the dry fact that Sacramento is the capital of California, or hear it balanced with neat facts like California's name means absolutely nothing, and was just a made-up name for a place in Spanish mythology?


6th Carnival of Mathematics

Published on Thursday, April 19, 2007 in , , ,

CarnivalThe 6th Carnival of Mathematics is up over at Modulo Errors, and a day early, too!

Grey Matters readers should enjoy this edition, as there are plenty of mathematical recreations and puzzles for those of all levels.

The next Carnival of Mathematics is scheduled for May 4th at Nonoscience.


Werner Miller's Age Cube

Published on Thursday, April 19, 2007 in , , ,

Age CubeSince all the posts since last Sunday have focused on history, it's only proper to wind up “history week” by showing you something new created from something old.

Regular readers will remember my previous mention of Werner Miller, a retired mathematics teacher from Germany who regularly contributes to Online Visions, and is the author of Ear-Marked, a great book of mathematical magic.

Yes, it's Werner Miller who has taken two old ideas and turned them into something new. He's combined the classic age cards and the classic magic square into his new creation, the Age Cube!

It's apparently just a promotional cube featuring your information on one side, and different magic squares on each of the five remaining sides. However, it also allows you to perform the classic age card trick. The fact that they're arranged in the form of magic squares helps hide the binary basis of the effect.

Since this trick isn't a particularly deep mystery, it can also be taught with the give-away, for added value. This will most likely be kept much longer than a simple business card.

This isn't to say that the age cards, originally published in 1801 in Recreations in Mathematics by Charles Hutton, can't be improved. In a post from last June, the principle is applied to phone numbers. Owners of Stewart James In Print should look up Mentalscope, in which the principle is applied to letters.


Connections and The Day The Universe Changed

Published on Tuesday, April 17, 2007 in , , ,

James BurkeMy last post of 2006 concerned the TV show Connections being uploaded to YouTube. Perhaps not surprisingly, YouTube has since removed this series.

Thanks to Clickcaster's Connections video podcast, you now have a second chance to see the complete series! Since this is a podcast, you can subscribe to it and store it on your computer or portable MP4 player to watch at your convenience. Also, each episode is a single file, instead of the chopped-up episodes posted on YouTube.

As an added bonus, Clickcaster also has every episode of The Day The Universe Changed, too! This was James Burke's second documentary series, released in 1985. While Connections focused on several central inventions, such as the atomic bomb, the telephone, the computer and so on, The Day The Universe Changed focused on the historical moments that whole concepts changed, such as medicine, physics, and finance.

Instead of the traditional linear manner of teaching history, where it's taught that first came the telegraph, then the telephone, then the TV, both of these series teach history in a ping-pong manner. Did you know that, when the Normans first used the stirrup in the Battle of Hastings, it started a chain reaction that lead to modern telecommunications? Does it even seem possible that El Cid and his band made an accidental discovery that led directly to the invention of the modern university degree? Just like today doesn't happen in straight lines, neither did the past. James Burke's unique manner of teaching history helps give it a more real-world feel, and makes it easier to grasp.

If you're not familiar with either of these series, I ask that you at least consider taking a look at the first episode of both. The podcasts are free, and the time invested in learning about history in such a highly involving manner will be time well spent!


500-year-old Math and Magic Book

Published on Sunday, April 15, 2007 in , , , , ,

Luca PacioliThe newest book of magic and math puzzles out there is also one of the oldest. On Tuesday, the Guardian Unlimited announced the first formal translation of Luca Pacioli's De viribus quantitatis, a 500-year-old book of math puzzle and magic tricks, into English. As the story notes, Luca Pacioli shared lodgings with Leonardo Da Vinci, and was believed to help Da Vinci with The Last Supper.

Reading the full story, you start feeling amazed at the discovery of this impressive work. As much as I love amazement, it isn't truly warranted in this case. De viribus quantitatis hasn't been missing up until recently, as Martin Kemp points out. Re-read the Guardian story again, and you'll note that the lead contains the true story, that of the first formal translation to English.

As a matter of fact, the University of Bologna itself has had excerpts from De viribus quantitatis available online for sometime now. If you don't happen to speak Italian, you can get Google to translate these excerpts for you.

Even if this isn't a major academic discovery of a long lost work, the English release of this work should still be a source of anticipation. Seeing the perspective that great 15th and 16th century thinkers bring to magic and math puzzles could definitely be worth the wait.


More Puzzles in the Mental Gym!

Published on Thursday, April 12, 2007 in , , , ,

BrainI've added even more challenges to the Mental Gym!

First, there's Instant Insanity (Java required). You've probably seen this puzzle before, and maybe even tried it. This puzzle was originally released around 1900, and was the Rubik's Cube of its day.

The other puzzles are Flash-based, and are also true classics. Try Lights Out, Towers of Hanoi and Planarity.

The last two I've previously discussed on this site. Back in September 2006, I posted several Towers of Hanoi videos. I first mentioned Planarity back in this July 2005 post.

You don't need to worry about being driven completely mad. As with the other off-site tests, I've included links to solution strategies on each of their respective pages.


New Grey Matters Features

Published on Sunday, April 08, 2007 in , , , , , , , , ,

BrainThere have been a few changes being made to the Grey Matters site, so I thought I would keep you posted.

First, the video index is no longer in the rightmost column. Don't worry, it still exists! Under the Video section, you will now see a new link that says Full Video Index. Having the link in one place has already proven to make Grey Matters Videos far more manageable. As before, the Full Video List will constantly be updated as I come across new videos.

Also, there are now more challenges in the Mental Gym! Besides the classic challenges that are taught on this site, these new challenges each include links to off-site solutions. For example, the new 15 Puzzle section (Java required) links to these instructions, as well as my magic square variation.

Besides the 15 puzzle, I've also added Simon (Flash 8 or better required) and Triangular Peg Solitaire (Flash 8 or better required). As time goes on, more challenges will be added.

Finally, over in the Presentation section, I've added the Made To Stick Blog. This blog is run by Chip and Dan Heath, the author of the book of the same name. The basic idea behind the book and the blog is to show what qualities an idea must possess to become easily memorized and passed on. The authors use Malcom Gladwell's concept of "stickiness" to describe the effectiveness of a given idea.

Enjoy, look around, and explore these new sections!


5th Carnival of Mathematics

Published on Friday, April 06, 2007 in

Carnival of MathematicsYes, Carnival of Mathematics fans, it's that time! The 5th Carnival of Mathematics is being hosted over at the Science and Reason blog.

To keep track of the dates and locations of future carnivals, check out the Carnival of Mathematics blog or Blog Carnival's page on the Carnival of Mathematics.

Note that the Carnival of Mathematics will be here on Grey Matters on June 29th!


Sega Brain Trainer

Published on Thursday, April 05, 2007 in , , , , , , ,

Brain Trainer, by Sega ToysI've just discovered a new product from Sega Toys, called Brain Trainer. It was originally released in Japan in October 2005, and is just now making its way to U.S. stores. It's so new to the U.S., Sega's Brain Trainer page is still available only in Japanese. However, viewing it with a web translation program can help clear things up (although the word maeno should be cortex).

The Brain Trainer itself looks like a small book. It does bear an unfortunate superficial resemblance to some joke electric shock books. When you open it up, you see basic instructions on the inside cover. On the other side, you see a screen with a 10-digit keypad, as well as buttons marked Menu/Stop, Select, Enter and the power symbol.

There are four activities which can train your brain. In the basic training mode, you're given 100 simple mathematical problems, all involving whole numbers, to solve as quickly as you can. The other three exercises are in the advanced training menu, and include counting verbally from 1 to 120 as fast as you can, focusing on 3 numbers and combining them in various ways, and the memorizing of a 30-digit number. As you exercise, the Brain Trainer keeps track of your progress, which you can view over a 30-day period, or a 1-year period, and both by time taken, and percentage of correct answers. This is a very handy feature for seeing your improvement.

It may sound like Sega is trying to cash in on the brain-training fad started by Nintendo's Brain Age, but the opposite is actually the case. The Brain Trainer was released in 2005, while Brain Age wasn't released until April 2006. However, both are based on the research of Dr. Ryuta Kawashima. While the games are well-known and used here in the U.S., apparently there is an absolute mania for brain-training games in Japan.

Whether or not the benefits are as claimed, I have found it to be fun and enjoyable. It's only $29.95, and is right down the alley of anyone who wants to train and strain their brain to entertain!


Binary Sensory Card Marking System

Published on Sunday, April 01, 2007 in , ,

01100001 01110000 01110010 01101001 01101100 00100000 01100110 01101111 01101111 01101100 01110011 Check out the Binary Sensory Card Marking System. A PDF reveals instructional legerdemain for one original labeling system! This system is so ingenious it will let you idenitfy cards at a great distance or even in total darkness! Even better, magician Anders Moden, best known as the inventor of Healed and Sealed Soda, has released this ingenious system completely for free!

If you've read my reviews for Combo, Combo II or Leo Boudreau's books, you'll know how much I appreciate ingenious applications of binary math like this.

If you like this and are looking for other similar things to read, try reading this. If that post is too long, just read the first letter of every word in the second sentence in this post.