All South Eugene High School junior Kyle Morrison needs is 30 seconds to memorize a 12-digit number.
"OK, I've got it," the 17-year-old said while rubbing his face before reciting the number forward and backward.
Kyle has been training off and on for the past two years to compete in a national memory championship. He is the only person from Oregon who will vie with 74 other "mental athletes" in the 17th annual memory competition, to be held Saturday in New York City.
"My mom thinks I'm peanuts for liking to memorize," Kyle said, laughing. "But she supports it. My dad thinks it's really cool.
"It's kind of weird when someone asks what my hobbies are, and I say I like to sit around memorizing things," he said.
Kyle learned about the competition two years ago after reading "Moonwalking With Einstein," a book that details journalist Joshua Foer's journey to becoming the 2006 national memory champion.
Kyle started researching memorization techniques on the Internet after reading the book. He has been practicing daily since July leading up to registering for the competition.
He'll compete against a range of participants, including an eighth-grader from New Jersey, a neurologist from Maine and last year's memory champion, Ram Kolli, a 20-something business consultant from Virginia.
The key to memorizing is to associate numbers, words or faces with images, Kyle said. He remembered the 12-digit number by imagining an image that represents every number from 00 to 99.
For example, Kyle associates the number 9 with lipstick. The number 39 represents his friend Mack, and the number 12 represents the action of sipping something.
So, the number 39129 would translate to "Mack sipping lipstick," which sticks in his mind more than just numbers, he said.
To memorize faces and names, Kyle said he picks a defining feature of a person's face and associates that with a memorable image. For example, he said that if someone had a large nose, he would remember them by associating their face with a truck running over a nose.
"That's what memorizing is," Kyle said. "It's just creating focus and visualization. There's no photographic memory. It's all training."
Memorizing also requires creativity and quick thinking, he said, similar to improvising on a musical instrument.
Before his training, Kyle said, he had an average memory. He said it would take him hours to memorize a list of vocabulary terms for his French class. Now, it takes him just minutes.
"I have a lot more free time," Kyle said of cutting the time it takes to do homework thanks to his beefed-up memory.
His goal is to place in the competition's top 15. That would require him to memorize a 500-number sequence in five minutes; 117 names and faces in 15 minutes; a 50-line unpublished poem (including punctuation) in 15 minutes; and two decks of shuffled playing cards in five minutes.
His father, Larry Morrison, said his son always has been curious about science and the brain.
"He loves to learn and goes through phases where he takes a deep interest in something," Morrison said. "The memory has been his latest interest."
Kyle says anyone can learn to memorize long numbers or names.
Every weekday at 6:45 a.m., Kyle wakes up and practices memory games for 30 minutes. On the weekends, he practices for an hour.
He can now memorize phone numbers immediately, Kyle said.
However, Kyle still adds numbers to a contact list in his cellphone, just in case.
"I haven't gotten to the point where I'm super cocky and strutting around," he said.
His memory, however, isn't perfect. His dad said he has a "terrible memory" for mundane things, such as where he last put his cellphone.
"How many times have you lost your phone?" his dad asked him.
"I just misplace it," Kyle said before admitting he's probably lost his phone hundreds of times. "I always find it."
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