It Does Not Take A Math Person to Memorize Numbers

Using random.org, I generated the following 100 random digits.

0	7	2	4	9	7	2	2	5	2
5	1	3	0	7	5	7	7	9	4
1	9	0	6	4	8	2	4	7	1
1	1	4	7	0	8	9	5	7	1
4	9	6	5	6	8	2	4	4	4
4	8	3	1	3	7	0	1	8	4
0	3	0	3	1	1	0	7	6	1
0	3	2	6	2	4	6	7	7	5
3	7	7	4	1	6	2	5	2	1
5	3	2	9	4	6	6	3	9	0

This is part 2 in a 3 part series on memory and memorization. If you missed Memory: Use It Or Lose It, you’ll want to start with that post since we’ll be using the tools discussed there.

The Mneumonic

First, we must develop a way to associate each of the 10 digits from 0 to 9 with a sound. The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas does this very well. For a quick reference , consult the Mnemonic Major System on Wikipedia. I will spell this association and mnemonic out in my own words below.

0. Zero begins with the letter z. When you make the z sound, notice that your mouth is also in the same position it would be to make an ‘s’ sound (or a soft c, or an x as it is used in xylophone).

1. There is one vertical stroke used in the letters t and d (even the uppercase T and D).  Notice when making these sounds, your mouth is in the same general position. This is where we also place the th sound even though the mouth position is a little different.

2. There are two vertical strokes used in the letter n (and uppercase N). If you are familiar with the sign language alphabet, you use two fingers draped over your thumb to represent the letter n.

3. There are three vertical strokes used in the letter m (and uppercase M).  Again, the sign language alphabet has you use three fingers draped over your thumb to represent m.

4. The number four spelled out ends with the letter r.

5. Holding all five fingers of your left hand up in front of you (palm outward), your forefinger and thumb are in the shape of an L.  Learning from Wikipedia just today, you can also use the fact that L represents 50 in Roman numerals.

6. When writing the letter J, if you continue the curve, you can finish creating a backward 6.  Again, learning from Wikipedia, the letter G looks a lot like a 6.  Making the J sound with your mouth, it is also in the position to make a soft G sound, as well as a CH (in chef or cheese) or SH sound.

7. You can put two sevens, point to point and create what looks like a K, or k. Notice that the hard c and the hard g requires your mouth to be in the same position as it would be to make the k sound.

8. When you write an f in cursive, you create a figure 8.  When making the f sound, notice your mouth position does not have to change much to make the ph, gh (as in tough), or v sounds.

9. Flip the 9 around a vertical axis to create a P.  Rotate it 180 degrees to create a lowercase b. Both the p and b sounds require the same mouth positions.

You ignore vowel sounds, along with h, w, y. Once you get used to the system, you’ll also learn to ignore silent letters like the d in judge or the t in patch.  Judge would simply code as 66 and patch as 96.  Let your mouth do the work for you. Since you don’t pronounce both the m’s in hammer, it codes as 34, not 334.

Getting these digits associated with all those sounds takes a little practice.  Try playing on the Major System Database by typing in several words of different lengths to get the hang of it. Also, try typing in numbers with 3, 4, and 5 digits to see what words they can come up with that match those digit lengths.

Personally, I use a slightly different version than the system on the link in the previous paragraph. For example, for the word “fix”, I would pronounce this as “fiks” and code it 870 (8 for the f sound, 7 for the k sound, and 0 for the s sound).  This website has decided to ignore this x sound!

Memorizing 100 Random Digits

In order to memorize any number of digits you now have a system that can change it into words. You cannot expect to be able to come up with nice, sensible sentences with just any sequence of numbers. However, if you come up with several weird and interesting words, you can use the tools used in the previous post to memorize those.

Let’s look at the following 10 bizarre “sentences.”

  1. Scan her bikini online.
  2. Healthy mosaic Hulk goober.
  3. Dubious usher of Norway God.
  4. Tow truck safe bulkhead.
  5. Rope shall chaff anywhere rear.
  6. Horrify Madame Cousteau of Eire.
  7. Awesome, somewhat hideous, hog shit.
  8. Semen. January choke glue.
  9. Make quart Chanel nude.
  10. Lawman approach jumbo ass.

Once you are used to the major system mnemonic, you can then use words to help memorize long strings of numbers.  Each of these “sentences” become strings of 10 digits, all together forming the 100 digits at the opening of the post.

I’m sure you would agree that memorizing those 10 “sentences” (using visualization) would be much easier than memorizing a string of 100 digits.  Of course, when first learning, it takes a little while to understand and incorporate the mnemonic.

How the Pros Do It

Those that are required to memorize long sequences of digits as part of their job or simply for competition (such as the USA Memory Championships) do so by having a set of 2-digit pegs memorized.

That is, they already have a noun, verb, and an adjective on hand for the 100 two-digit pegs from 00-99. Look at the middle of the Mnemonic Major System Wikipedia page for all 300 of these 2-digit pegs. For example, the noun, verb, and adjective for the digits 42 are urine, ruin, and runny.  (The r sound followed by an n sound).

Let me illustrate how the professional would memorize the first 10 digits of the 100 that were given above. That is, the digits 0724972252.

They would see this as 07 24 97 22 52 and be able to retrieve pegs in the order adjective, noun, verb, adjective, noun. In this case, using the linked web page above, they would almost instantaneously retrieve the pegs “sick winery poke neon lion” and concentrate on whatever a sick winery poking a neon lion would look like in their heads.

Since speed has never been necessary for any kind of memorization of numbers that I encounter, I’m not at the level of using pegs. Instead, I just take a little bit more time and come up with even crazier words and sentences like those that you found in the previous section. It makes the visualization a little easier.

I’m soon off to Decorah, IA for a biking and kayaking trip with many friends. I’ve memorized all of their phone numbers as a party trick, but having at least one of them in my memory is a good safe guard.

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