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First 100 Digits

Using some of the techniques in The Memory Bible and Mind Hacks, we started on our goal to memorize the first 50 digits of Pi. We tried a few different techniques, but the one which worked the best for us was the “Memory Palace (MP).” In fact, the technique worked so well that we ended up memorizing the first 100 digits of Pi in no time.

The invention of this memory technique has been attributed to the Greeks and Romans and is pretty easy to learn. It is based on linking chunks of images together into a kind of nonsensical story. Like the name of the technique suggests, you walk from room to room in an imaginary palace, look at the scene, and reading off the things in each room to reconstruct the sequence. Each thing represents a number and one number leads to the next. We actually found it easier to imagine walking around the RainyDay office.

To start, we first convert each number into an image, symbol, or some kind of visualization. The image/number pairing can be ANYTHING, but it is best if they are the first thing which came to mind. The following is OUR list of pairings. They may or may not work for others, but the point is they worked for us.

  • 1 = candle, plank (shape)
  • 2 = direction sign with an arrow (reminds us of “pointing to / two”)
  • 3 = tree (sounds like the word “three”)
  • 4 = chair (the number looks like an upside-down chair)
  • 5 = hand (five fingers)
  • 6 = dice, hexagon (six sides), six steps (don’t know why)
  • 7 = hook (shape of the number on its side)
  • 8 = eye glasses (shape of the number on its side)
  • 9 = dog (nine in Chinese sounds like the word for dog)
  • 0 = ring, collar, bagel (shape)

Note that there could be more than one image for a number, especially when the shape is the key reason for the association. Also, not everything has to be decided before starting. You can add new pairings as you go. The important thing is to pick representations which have meaning to you.

We then grouped the images into a picture to form a five-digit chunk. We picked five digits because that felt the most natural for us. To remember the first fifteen digits, this is how we visualized the three chunks:

  • 3.1415: we already knew this sequence by heart from childhood
  • 92653: A dog (9), following an arrow (2), to steps (which are always 6 for me) in front of the office, stopped by a hand (5), blocked by a tree (3)
  • 58979: entering the front room, sitting there were five people (5), all wearing glasses (8), next to them was a dog (9), hooked (7) to another dog (9)

In the beginning, we found it easier to visualize the sequence with our eyes closed. As we recited the numbers, we jotted them down on Post-it notes so we could check ourselves. We next switched to recording them with the digital notepad on the iPhone. Neither methods were really right. What we finally found to work best was scribbling on the Boogie Board LCD writing tablet. Being able to write the sequence down on the board was much easier than trying to type it into the phone, and the erasable tablet saved us from wasting a lot of paper as we repeatedly tested ourselves on recalling the numbers.

How long did it take us to memorize the string of 100 digits? The first 50 took about thirty minutes. The other fifty took another two hours. We think we know why. The second 50 took longer because we repeated some of the image patterns used for the first 50 digits. That sometimes got us confused during recall. When we created new visualization sequences, the problem of “looping back” went away. However, we think the three or four number patterns could actually be useful. They can be a short hand for quickly remembering longer sequences. It may be something which will come more naturally with practice. Another tip we can offer is that silly or dramatic sequences were easier to remember and that they DEFINITELY don’t have to be sensical. In fact, the crazier they were, the quicker they were to learn.

The MP technique should work well for lists of things besides just numbers (Bones in the body, States in alphabetical order, etc). We are going to put together a collection and see if we can indeed apply the technique to them. Give it a try. It is a pretty cool mind hack.

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