Thanks for the Memories


Learn how to train your brain and master memory techniques.

I read with great interest the recent article in the NY TimesSecrets of a Mind Gamer: How I Trained My Brain and Became a World-class Memory Athlete” by Joshua Foer.

Having dabbled in the mnemonic arts myself, I was curious as to how this individual related the topic. It is interesting and well written but is actually a teaser to a book written by Mr. Foer that will be released next month. The article, however, falls short on two accounts:

a) It does not pay proper homage to the recognized modern master of memory techniques, Harry Lorayne.

b) The memory technique description is not always accurate or sufficiently detailed and may be somewhat misleading (perhaps a deliberate attempt to create more interest in the book).

One of my most enduring “magic effects” has been a memory demonstration in which a four-by-four square gets filled in with random words chosen by audience members. For the finale, I not only remember the sixteen words and their exact locations, I demonstrate that I have constructed a “magic square” in which the sums of the columns, rows, corners, etc. add up to a number selected by an audience member beforethe start of the effect. I had read about this effect in a magic journal, The Linking Ring, in 1965. It was written by the magician Harry Lorayne, who has been described by Time magazine as the “Yoda of memory training.” In fact, Mr. Lorayne’s book (written with basketball great Jerry Lucas) “The Memory Book,” published in 1974, was on the NY Timesbest seller list for 46 weeks. Mr. Lorayne appeared on all of the popular TV talk shows of the era—Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, etc. He would remember each audience member’s name, frequently five hundred people or more, who he had just casually met before his appearance. He would then demonstrate how he had memorized entire magazines or books and could give detailed descriptions or quotes of each page.

I must admit to be somewhat biased in my esteem of Mr. Lorayne since he was my boyhood idol. He also wrote what is considered a classic in card magic “Close Up Card Magic.” The influence of this card magic treatise over the next generations of cardicians cannot be overstated. As a result, I was absolutely thrilled when later in life, as a humble neurologist, Mr. Lorayne paid me the compliment of talking to me regarding the benefits my Alzheimer’s patients had using the techniques described in “The Memory Book.” He told me his epic book “Ageless Memory: Simple Secrets for Keeping Your Brain Young” was about to be released. Imagine my surprise when I purchased the book and looked on the back cover and saw testimonials for such luminaries as Mel Brooks, Alan Alda, Dick Cavett, and yours truly!

It is certainly understandable that Mr. Foer chose his own guru of mnemonics, a psychologist named K. Anders Ericsson, who has apparently made very important contributions to studying memory and how to exceed the previously accepted limitations of memory. However, to not even mention the name of the recognized modern master mnemonist (and other alliterations) is like discussing the general theory of relativity without mentioning Albert Einstein. Perhaps he meant to include Mr. Lorayne in the article but just forgot.

Watch the video below to see Mr. Lorayne perform the mathematical part of his magic square.

If you are interested in learning more of the memory techniques the following websites are useful:


For those interested in learning how to perform the full magic square effect with memorizing the sixteen words and creating the numerical magic square, some work is required—but it pays off infinitely in the long run. You first have to learn the mnemonic system for remembering numbers. Each digit from 0 to nine gets represented by a consonant sound (please follow any of the above links or even the NY Timesarticle for a full description of this system). After you have learned this system, you need to memorize the words in each of the sixteen squares from A to P (see square below for the words used in the Linking Ringarticle). These words (and the corresponding numbers) need to remain permanently in your memory as your “pegs.” When your audience gives you their random word, you make an association with the peg word. The more unusual, outlandish, or raucous the association, the more memorable it will be (again, refer to above links on best association methodology). In order to perform the magic square:

1. Draw the 4 X 4 square and label each box in the upper left corner as A, B, C etc.

2. Ask someone to give any number from 34 to 100 and write this above the square

3. Ask anyone to call out any letter from A to P. Instruct them to write the number you give them in the top center of the box. If they say “34,” no change in numbers from those given is needed. Otherwise, you need to calculate how to modify the number you have “pegged” by a formula that will be described later (Step 10).

4. Once you give them the number to write in the square, they are to give you any word that comes to mind. It does not have to start with the same letter as the box it is in.

5. Go through all sixteen squares in this fashion.

6. At the end, they can call out any word or letter and you can give them the corresponding information. Actually, if you like, they can call out any letter, word or number, and you can give the other two pieces of information.

7. After a few of these demonstrations, I will go through the 16 letters from A to P and give the correct word associated with that letter. That is usually fairly impressive, but I then show them:

8. The numbers add up to the pre-selected numbers

a. Each column

b. Each row

c. Four Corners

d. Four in the Middle

e. Take any Four Squares

f. Adding Four “Mirror Image” squares (see video above for demo)

9. By this time, your audience is in shock and awe, so you can inform them that there are 64 different ways that you can total the number they selected.

10. To calculate how to adjust your peg numbers

a. Subtract 34 from whatever number they choose (must be between 34 and 100). It may be easier to do this in two steps: mentally subtract 30 from the number given,

then take four from that result.

b. Divide your result by four. If there is no remainder, just add the resulting number to each of the peg numbers. For example, if “46” is chosen, subtract 34 from 46 to get 12. Divided by 4 equals 3. So you add three to each of the memorized peg numbers. If the division by four is not even, you add the quotient and remainder to get another number. This second number gets added to only four squares—the O, I, F ,and D squares (13,14,15, and 16) while adding only the quotient to the other 12 squares. For example, if the number chosen is “48,” 48-34 = 14. 14/4 = 3 remainder of 2. So, all squares with letters A through H would have 3 added to the peg number, but the O, I, F, and D squares would have 5 added to the base number (3 plus remainder of 2).



























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