Memory skills win student 15 minutes of fame

Christopher Turner, senior economics and statistics major, proved a perfect memory can be useful for more than test-taking when he participated in the USA Memory Championships and won third place. The win landed him a spot on the Oct. 22 episode of “The Jane Pauley Show,” which featured a program on improving memory.

Dr. Gary Small, a world-renowned memory expert and author of “The Memory Prescription,” was the main guest on the show and explained his theories and steps for increasing memory. He created a 14-step program that begins with an assessment of memory and, after multiple exercises and work, finds significant changes in brain activity, indicating better memory.

Turner has a few strategies of his own that help him remember names. He uses such techniques as memorizing a distinctive characteristic of a person’s face and breaking a name into parts.

“A great example is Frank Felberbaum, who showed me this technique,” he said. “Felberbaum can break into Fel ‘fall,’ ber ‘beer’ and baum ‘bomb.’ I do the same with his first name. Frank is ‘a hot dog’ and then make this all into a story in my mind. If I picked Frank’s nose I would picture beer bombs falling onto his nose while he eats a hot dog.”

Turner put these techniques into use on the show when he learned the names of all the audience members on the left side of the studio. In the middle of the episode, he was asked to rattle off the names in order correctly, a feat he accomplished while providing both first and last names.

As he explained on the episode, to remember the name Hawkins, he simply imagined a hawk landing on the woman’s head. Turner then said that the woman was sitting next to someone named Elena. He therefore imagined the woman with the hawk was leaning towards the woman next to her.

Turner got involved with the Memory Championships when Frank Felberbaum, who was working on improving memory, began attending Turner’s high school and founded a memory club. In February of that year, Turner was a contestant in the Memory Championships and has been competing ever since.

The Championships take place in New York City and are comprised of five events. The first entails memorizing 99 names and faces in 15 minutes, the second involves memorizing 500 random words in 15 minutes, the third involves memorizing 400 numbers in five minutes, the fourth requires the recitation of a complete poem and the last entails taking five minutes to memorize a deck of cards.

“I had never worked really hard at mastering the techniques and had never finished higher than third place but, for this year, I put in a little extra work and ended up coming in third place which surprised me,” Turner said.

Greg Tufaro, associate producer for the episode of “The Jane Pauley Show,” said he and the other producers came upon Turner’s name while doing research for the episode. “Through our research on the Web and through multiple news sources, we came upon the USA Memory Championships and learned that Chris was one of its youngest participants,” he said.

Turner, who also held the U.S. record for two years for memorizing 104 words in five minutes in the Memory Olympics, was very excited when he was approached to appear on “The Jane Pauley Show.”

“It is hard enough to keep focus during the competition but to try and keep focused during live TV (is harder),” he said. “(But) it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”

Also on the show, a few audience members tried Small’s plan and all reported changes in their memory capabilities.

“The primary portion of our show was to follow two women through the program to see if, in fact, their memories could improve so quickly,” Tufaro said. “As a fun twist to the show, we wanted to see just how far memory techniques could go in improving one’s memory.”