There are 36 grand masters of memory in the world. Only one lives in the United States.

To attain the rank of grand master of memory, you must be able to perform three seemingly superhuman feats. You have to memorize 1,000 digits in under an hour, the precise order of 10 shuffled decks of playing cards in the same amount of time, and one shuffled deck in less than two minutes.



His name is Scott Hagwood, and he’s won every U.S. Memory Championship since he began competing in 2001. This past Saturday he was at home in Fayettville, N.C., putting the finishing touches on his first book about memory enhancement. That meant he was not in the auditorium on the 19th floor of the Con-Edison headquarters in Manhattan, and that meant that for the first time in five years, the gold medal of the eighth annual U.S. Memory Championship was anyone’s for the taking.



There are five events in the U.S. Memory Championships. First, contestants are given 15 minutes to memorize 99 names and faces, and 20 minutes to recall them. Next, the contestants have to memorize an unpublished 50-line poem (this year titled, “The Tapestry of Me”) in 15 minutes, followed by a series of random digits, a list of random words, and finally a shuffled deck of playing cards. The best memorizers in the world—who almost all hail from Europe—can memorize a pack of cards in less than a minute. A few have begun to approach the 30-second mark, considered the “four-minute mile of memory.”



One of those individuals is Lukas Amsuess, a 22-year-old grand master and the male champion of Austria. Even though his scores couldn’t be counted in the American championship, Amsuess had flown all the way from Vienna to compete as an unofficial contestant. He was accompanied by Edward Cooke, a 23-year-old grand master from England. They thought the competition would be a good spring training for this summer’s world championships in London, which both hope to win.



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