New Mental Gym Layout?

Published on Thursday, February 26, 2009 in ,

BrainI'd like to ask for your opinions on a potential new feature I'm considering adding to the Mental Gym.

Most of the instructions on the Mental Gym are set up with separate pages. What I'm considering doing is changing them so that the different parts can all be viewed on the same page.

For example, here is how the magic square instructional section currently looks. When modified as I'm thinking of doing, the magic square section would look and act something like this (Update: link to test version has been removed). You simply use the right and left arrows to move back and forth through the various sections.

What do you think? Do you prefer the old way or the new way? Do you have any other suggestions to improve the Mental Gym pages? I'd love to hear your ideas and opinions in the comments!



Published on Sunday, February 22, 2009 in , , , , , ,

Chess KnightFirst, I taught the Knight's Tour. Next, I linked to Troyis. Now, there's a new Knight's move-based game out there!

This game is called i-Yo-Re-Mo, an iPhone puzzle game that will also work in most browsers. The challenge is to switch the locations of red and green balls on any board. The only legal moves for the balls are the standard L-shaped Knight moves. There are 8 different puzzles, ranging from easy ones done in 4 moves, all the way up to the difficult ones that require 48 moves! These various boards are available by clicking the Menu button, and then clicking on Load board.

Try out the various challenges, including the 8-move easy game (available in the Load board section by clicking on the dot that's 2nd from the left). Once you've had a try on your own, come back here, and I'll tell you a little secret.

While this iPhone version of the game is new, the basic game is not. Martin Gardner wrote both about this general challenge and the 8-move easy version specifically, in his Mathematical Games column, and in his later books. These challenges may seem difficult, but there is a way to break the games down and make them much easier.

Let's start with that 8-move easy version. Were you able to solve it? Were you able to do it in 8 moves? Let's break down the problem to clarify it. First, let's name the upper left square as square 1. Where can we move from square 1? One of the places is the rightmost square in the middle row, so we'll call that square 2 (It could also travel to the centermost square in the bottom row, but we need to choose one or the other). Working through one possible path starting in the upper right, we get a board that looks like this:

6 2

If a knight is place on square 1, he could move around the squares as marked, in order from 1 to 8 (or from 2 to 1, 3 to 2, and so on, as well as 8 to 1, 7 to 8, 6 to 7, etc.). In the 8-move easy puzzle from i-Yo-Re-Mo, there are knights place on squares 1, 7, 3 and 5 - all odd numbered squares, interestingly. There's one more step to make this puzzle easier. Note that none of the knights can possible move to the centermost square in the middle row.

If you take these squares as they are numbered, and put them in order in a circle, and then place the knights on the odd-numbered squares, the solution becomes ridiculously easy! You realize that all you have to do is move each of the four knights in the same clockwise direction, in clockwise order (or in a counterclockwise direction in counterclockwise order) for the first 4 moves, and then move the knights again in that same direction and order for the remaining 4 moves!

Since this circular problem is isomorphic with i-Yo-Re-Mo's 8-move easy puzzle, you can use exactly the same moves to solve both puzzles.

In this excerpt from the free limited preview of Martin Gardner's book Aha! Insight/Gotcha, this approach is taken with boards other than 3 by 3, and that can greatly help when working out solutions for the other i-Yo-Re-Mo boards.

Once you've picked up the basic idea for puzzles knight's moves, try working out the same approach to the classic 7-penny puzzle!


Quick Snippets

Published on Thursday, February 19, 2009 in , , , , , , ,

LinksIt's time to update some of my older columns, and share some new treasures with you in the process!

• In my 2007 post on unusual lists to memorize, I discussed a way of memorizing a famous birthday for each day of the year. Historical events could also be memorized with this technique. Where to find them? The Associated Press has posted a series of Today In History videos on their YouTube channel. The first section runs from Jan. 1st through the 26th. The second section runs from Jan. 14th through Apr. 30th. The third and final section runs from May 1st to Dec. 31st. Unfortunately, not every date in available in the list or as videos. However, for research into any particular day, Wikipedia's days of the year category is also a great resource.

• Also back in 2007, I discussed the memorization of poetry. Above and beyond the resources there, try looking for videos of your favorite poems. The more classic and better known they are, the more likely it is that there's a video out there of it. I've already begun a YouTube playlist of my favorite poems, most of which I've memorized. If you can't find a video of a particular poem you wish to memorize, figure out how to make one! Some, like this video of Rudyard Kipling's If, are done with little more than words. The process of making the video can help you memorize it, as well.

• Grey Matters reader Michael Frink has been practicing the playing card pair-memorization feat I teach over in the Mental Gym, and has been getting good reactions with his presentation of it. In his presentation, he presents the memorization of the cards as a blackjack skill. He also memorizes only 15 pairs of cards. Ordinarily, you would think more is better, but memorizing 30 cards with both value and suit is impressive, and can be done quickly enough to keep the audience's interest. The best part of his presentation, though, is his closer for the feat! He runs through the remaining cards in the deck, relating this to card counting, and names the ones he didn't see! How? He simply runs through the cards which weren't associated with silly images! Thank you for these great presentational tips, Michael, and also for your permission to post them on my blog!

• Richard Robinson has posted an interesting trick called And Then There Were Nine over at his All Magic Guide. It's a fairly simple mathematical card effect, but presented right, it can be quite puzzling.

• Over at Doug Dyment's Deceptionary, there are a few new goodies. If you go to the information page and click on the “... a variety of Zener (ESP) symbol graphics” link, and you'll get not just a simple JPEG of ESP symbol graphics, but TrueType fonts, as well as various printer font files. There's also a TrueType font based on the lettering in Bicycle decks, as well! If you're practicing doing readings, there's the TaroTutor, the CartoTutor, the RuneTutor, and the SymTutor. They give you not just random selection from which to do the readings, but also generate a random type of person for whom you must do the reading.

• Finally, we go all the way back to 2006, when I brought up the rather odd combination of knitting and mathematics. Apparently, it's not so odd that the University of Chicago's math department can't spare a page for some newer mathematical knitting projects. Even if you don't understand the math or have an interest in knitting, the resulting forms are fun to look at and ponder.


Sporcle's 1,000th Quiz!

Published on Sunday, February 15, 2009 in , ,

Congratulations to Sporcle for their 1,000th timed quiz!It was only 2 months ago that my list of timed quizzes, How Many Xs Can You Name In Y Minutes?, which covers various sites from all around the web, reached a total of 1,000 quizzes.

As of earlier today, you can now find 1,000 quizzes on Sporcle alone! Their 1,000th quiz is naturally on the topic of all thing related to thousands. In 7 minutes, you must correctly identify 35 different phrases containing the words grand, thousand or kilo.

Ordinarily, I only update my list and feed of timed quizzes at midnight, Pacific Time. Being a special occasion, however, I've already added them to the list and the feed.

Congratulations to Sporcle on reaching their 1,000th quiz!


Review: Keep Your Word

Published on Thursday, February 12, 2009 in , , , , ,

Keep Your Word logoBambooApps has released a new vocabulary cataloging and flashcard program called Keep Your Word, available for Mac OS X. This flash card program is specifically oriented towards learning vocabulary, so instead of being a general purpose flashcard program, such as Mental Case or Ebbinghaus, it's closer to a program like ProVoc (a free vocabulary program that is no longer being actively developed).

The first thing you'll notice when you load up or open a new Keep Your Word (KYW) Dictionary (collection of words to remember) is the striking similarity in appearance to iTunes (Click here, and scroll down to "Take a closer look!" for KYW screenshots). Even if you only use iTunes occasionally, this is already very familiar, and therefore already comforting.

Adding new words can be done in 2 ways. If you're taking your own course, and need to add words as time goes on, you can simply click the Add word button at the top left of the window. The other way is to download ready-made dictionaries from wordsparade.com, where you can also upload dictionaries of your own after registering. The wordsparade dictionaries are downloaded with a click, and when they're saved, you can click on them to open them up in KYW.

For each flashcard, not only can you enter a word and its translation, but also tags and comments about the word, as well. The tags are especially useful when searching for particular words or when sorting cards into smart groups (playlists generated automatically based on information from the card, such as “words added in the last week” or “food words”). I've found the comments areas are handy to record the mnemonics I use for each word.

Beyond just using the flashcard quizzing to help you learn the new vocabulary, I also recommend using standard memory techniques, as well as the approaches I discuss in my language-learning post and my mnemonic images post. Using KYW in combination with resources such as language course podcasts, social networking language sites (like babbel, livemocha, mango and myngle) can help speed up your learning and retention. Education Watch's lists of the most frequently used words can be used to help set your studying priorities, as well.

Getting back to KYW itself, flashcard testing is only one of three approaches available. There's also a “Quick Quiz”, in which you're shown a word, and two possible answers for that word, and you have to choose the correct answer. In an unusual approach, you can also have the print a randomly generated test, which can be done in your native language, the learned language, or both.

Do you want to quiz yourself while you're away from your computer? The Keep Your Word Reader (KYWR) for your iPhone or iPod Touch (available for free in the iTunes App Store) will let you do just that. Rather than having all the feature of the full program, KYWR is meant to aid in syncing your cards to your iPhone/iPod Touch, where you can drill them in the flashcard mode, as well as search and navigate your cards.

If you're a Mac user trying to learn a new language, I truly believe KYW to be the best dedicated app out there for this purpose. The familiarity of the interface, the attention to detail, and the commitment to the support really make this a standout product. The added portability of the KYWR is a nice touch, and can help increase how fast you learn a new language by giving you increased opportunities to quiz yourself. The most recent version of KYW (at this writing) is version 1.4.2, and it is currently priced at $24.95, with KYWR available for free.


The Secret Notebooks of Mr. Hyde Volume 2: Magazine Memory

Published on Sunday, February 08, 2009 in , , , , , ,

The Secret Notebooks of Mr. Hyde Volume 2One of the most classic memory feats is the magazine memory act, which is just what it sounds like: The performer hands out pages of a magazine, asks for page numbers, and is able to legitimately describe the page from memory, often in great detail.

Because it's a legitimate memory feat, it's not seen that often. Even more challenging, those that do it often keep their particular presentational touches to themselves. Resources such as Tony Andruzzi's Magazine Memory Act and the first volume of Zufall's Memory Trix teach the basic techniques well, but focus more on technique than they do on presentation. In Act Two. Barrie Richardson gives some excellent presentational tips, but pieces like this are all too rare.

Thankfully, Timothy Hyde has recently released a thorough 50-page treatise on this routine, called The Secret Notebooks of Mr. Hyde Volume 2: Magazine Memory (Also available at Lybrary.com). This book covers everything starting from the technique, into the presentation, and on up to the proper psychology (the way the audience sees and experiences it) of the feat itself!

The technique section is set up as a workbook, in order to help you better learn the techniques involved. Naturally, he does teach a system for remembering numbers, and it is a very interesting one. He does teach fairly standard associations for the number from 1-20, and then shows you how to expand on these associations in order to build your list up into 300 links or more quite easily!

In the section on memorizing the magazine itself, you really start to see the evidence of Timothy Hyde's experience in performing this feat regularly. Beyond just showing how the technique is used, he teaches approaches to help lock the pages in, including a simplified version of the Leitner System, which is used by many of the flashcard programs I've mentioned on this site (which can be of great help in preparing for this feat).

The techniques and the memorization cover just over half the book. The next 21 pages are dedicated solely to the various presentational aspects. This is where this book really shines! There are ideas here on presenting as a memory feat versus presenting it as a magic effect, and even using multiple magazines. You learn how to start the routine, how to build it, how to close it, and how to keep it in people's minds even after the show itself has ended! Especially in this section are the tips on how to interact with the audience, and how to use the magazine memory feat itself to enhance the perception of other effects in your show.

The magazine memory act is a very unique presentation, in that you're doing just what you say you're doing (there's no secret for the audience to figure out), it involves many people in the audience, and it helps develop a confidence that will show through the other routines in your show. If you want to perform this feat, and perform it right, The Secret Notebooks of Mr. Hyde Volume 2: Magazine Memory is a must-read!


Chris Wasshuber's Knight's Tour

Published on Thursday, February 05, 2009 in , , , , ,

Chris Wasshuber's Knight's TourChris Wasshuber's ebook on the classic Knight's Tour is back up at Lybrary.com! Apparently, this was originally available for $10,000, but the booklet, titled Knight's Tour: With Free Choice of Start and End, has come down quite a ways in price, to only $25. (If you're curious as to the reason for the original price and the price change, Chris himself explains it here.)

Regular Grey Matters readers might be thinking, “Wait a minute, doesn't Grey Matters already have an area that teaches how to do the Knight's Tour with the spectator selecting the starting and ending squares for free?” Well, of course it does!

Does that mean that you should avoid this new booklet? Absolutely not! Both methods do have some basics in common, and those basics go back to Peter Mark Roget and others (yes, the same Roget with the famous Thesaurus). However, what's different is not only the approach to teaching these ideas, but the capabilities this ebook brings to the table.

With the method taught here on Grey Matters, it's assumed that you're looking at the board as you progress. When looking at the board, you can easily see where you should go next, and what tricky situations can arise. Chris' method takes the board apart in a different way, and actually enables you to perform the entire feat legitimately blindfolded!

Usually, when you hear blindfolds and Knight's Tour mentioned in the same idea, the classic method of memorizing a closed path that allows you to start at any point, comes to mind. The added difficulty of having both a starting and ending point freely selected while blindfolded really does build up the difficulty in the eyes of the audience!

If you really wish to pursue a blindfolded Knight's Tour with chosen starting and ending points, I do suggest starting here on Grey Matters. First, get comfortable with some of the memory basics, especially the Link System and the Major/Peg System. Next, learn the Knight's Tour as I teach it here, so that you can ease into the feat, and get comfortable with various levels.

Once you're comfortable with playing Level 3 of the Knight's Tour, then you should proceed to the method taught in Chris Wasshuber's book. By this time, you'll be more easily acquainted with the concepts he talks about, and the memorization required will seem less taxing, as well. As he proceeds, you also may find some questions cleared up that you may have had about my method.

Instead of competing with each other, these two approaches to the Knight's Tour complement each other quite well. If you've learned the Knight's Tour from my site, and want to take what you've learned to another level, I highly recommend Chris Wasshuber's Knight's Tour: With Free Choice of Start and End.


Super Bowl Quizzes

Published on Sunday, February 01, 2009 in , ,

Pittsburgh Steelers helmetCongratulations to the Pittsburgh Steelers on their Super Bowl XLIII win! Now that you've enjoyed other people challenging themselves in the Super Bowl, why not use the Super Bowl to challenge yourself?

Don't worry, you won't need any padding, because these challenges are not physical, but mental!

I'll start slow. How about starting with Super Bowls that never happened? Can you name all of the Tecmo Super Bowl Starting QBs in 6 minutes or less? OK, you were probably expecting questions about the real Super Bowl, not Tecmo Super Bowl. So, within 1 minute, how about trying to name the 5 football teams that have never been in the Super Bowl?

Of course, there are also NFL teams that have gone to the Super Bowl, but haven't been in a long time. In only 2 minutes, can you name the 15 teams with the longest Super Bowl “droughts”? Speaking of just being at Super Bowls, how many of the Super Bowl stadiums can you recall?

Naturally, it's an honor just to play at the Super Bowl, but the winners are more often remembered than the losers. Probably one of the most challenging Super Bowl questions would be to name as many of the losing team's coaches in Super Bowl history as you can.

OK, I've held them back long enough. Let's get to the winners! You can challenge yourself to name the Super Bowl winners at Can You Name? in 3 minutes, but if you prefer more time, try Sporcle's 10-minute version.

Even among the Super Bowl winners, there's are even more exclusive clubs. The first very exclusive club is the Super Bowl MVPs, a title which only awarded 43 times. How many Super Bowl MVPs can you name in 7 minutes? An even more exclusive club is the 10 Super Bowl Quarterbacks who have started in 2 or more Super Bowls, which you're challenged to name in 2 minutes.

Practice these, and you'll be able to amaze people with your knowledge of Super Bowl trivia throughout this week!