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He still forgets where he puts his keys everyday

November 3, 2011

By: Gabrielle Davelaar

But, Joshua Foer is not your average U.S.A. Memory Championship winner.

The preparations are not yet ready when he shifts through the bookshelf, takes a book out of it and then realizes that 40 eyes are starring at him from the other corner of the room. Quite amused by the many people, he starts giggling at a high pitched tone and makes a joke about the location “ I don’t actually know where I am right now, I only now that I was at a high school in the centre ten minutes ago”.

Foer is a former winner of U.S.A. Memory Championship and a current top selling author who makes memory understandable for the big audience.

He is a 28 years old freelance journalist, studied evolutionary biology  at Yale University. He describes himself as “ an average at best mnemonist.”

What started as a curiosity about an unusual contest ended up being the topic of his captivating book “ Moonwalking With Einstein,”

“ I took a trip to the  2005 U.S. Memory Championship, for a feature article I was writing for  Slate magazine” he says. “ I met Ed Cooke and other competitors and quickly discovered that it was not just an useless geek party.”

Foer couldn’t get the contest out of his mind. He did not only “wanted to train his memory” but he also wanted “to understand the mechanism behind it.”

All of the sudden, he started to giggle again on this high tone, before continuing the story. The audience was clearly amused by the guy in a dark brown sweater with a veil blue collar of shirt underneath it and geeky black glasses. Wondering what goes through his mind.

A year passed by in which he investigated the odd and ancient phenomena. As a participatory journalist Foer was training together with British Grand Master of Memory Edward Cooke.

“ He showed me that the competitors were not savants nor people with ridiculous high IQ’s” he says. “ Just a bunch of average intelligent geeks using ancient tricks as Cooke told me”.

Cooke says”Memory techniques do just one thing: they make information more meaningful to the mind, making the things we try to learn unforgettably bright and amusing.”

What nobody expected was that Foer would win the U.S. Memory Championship finals.

As Foer says while his voice tone went up: “I decided to come back the next year, I’ve got to walk a little bit in their shoes”.

“However, the problem was I won, which changed the story completely. I Suddenly was not the average nerd, I suddenly became the king of the nerds.” he chuckles.

He decided to write down all his findings in a book. Not such an unsual choice while seeing the collective resume of the Foer family. His Older brother, Jonathan Safran Foer, is a celebrated novelist. The eldest brother, Franklin, is also an author and editor of the New Republic. 

Nevertheless, his brothers had little direct influence on him when he chose to write.

“The reason I became a journalist has much more to do with Fred Strebeigh, a writing professor I had in college, who was also a science journalist and encouraged me in that direction.” he says.

And with success, before he published his book his work appeared in Slate, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Nation.  Above all, he received a $1.2 million in advance at the age of 24 for his debut book “ Moonwalking with Einstein”. The Film rights were directly sold to Columbia Pictures after publication.

His public Facebook page bursts with praise from all over the world.

“Moonwalking with Einstein. It’s truly a one of a kind. Out of the few memory books I’ve read, this one was the only book that attempted to EXPLAIN why mnemonic systems are efficient and effective. Thanks for writing such an awesome book!”

“I finished the book some days ago and i must say that i certainly won´t need a memory palace for remembering how enjoyable and insightful this book was, thanks and congrats Joshua!”

Foer’s success all had to do with ancient memory tricks. Easy to apply for everyone.

“ We tend to remember things better when they are applied to something we love.” he says. “In my case this is baseball statistics”.

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