Whatshisname offers tips on whatchamacallit

You know, remembering stuff. When it comes to total recall, nobody matches our Mr. Elephant.
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You know, remembering stuff. When it comes to total recall, nobody matches our Mr. Elephant.

What did you forget today? A conference call? A client's name? How to breathe?

Here are some tips to improve your memory. Using them, you will never again forget a name, a fact, a number, or a list.


Name Association

You will improve your recall of a name if you can make a visual association. Suppose you meet a man named Robert Wolfe. If he has lupine features, say to yourself, "Robert looks like a wolf." If he does not, say, "Robert does not look like a wolf."

Later, when you meet a person who looks like, or does not look like, a wolf, you will immediately remember his name.

This trick works particularly well with people who have common last names such as Bear, Elephant, and Rhinoceros.

However, with a little creativity you can apply it to any name. Suppose you meet Vito Russomano and want to remember his name because he is blackmailing you.

Create an imaginary animal named russomano. (It could be part snake, part whale, and part lizard; it doesn't matter.) Then you say, "Vito looks like a Russomano" or "Vito does not look like a Russomano." When it's time to write a check, you will remember that it is Vito, who does (or does not) look like a russomano, who is blackmailing you.

Name Visualization

How often have you heard, "I can't remember names, but I never forget a face." This is because our visual memory is stronger. Try the visualization technique for remembering names.

If you meet a person named Jack Pancake, you could picture him being knocked flat on his back, flat as a pancake, or being served for breakfast with maple syrup (not too much syrup or you might recall him as Jack Maple Syrup).

Visualization is particularly effective when combined with ethnic stereotypes. Thus, you might picture M. Delamarche retreating, Mr. Kim stalling his car, or Mr. Koslowski flunking a test.


How many days are in the month of April? Did you answer by reciting, "30 days has September, April, June, and November?"

To remember a fact, put it in a rhyme. Use my fa-la-la rhyming technique. For example, to remember that the Seljuk Turks defeated Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, construct the fa-la-la rhyme:

In 1071, the Seljuk Turks defeated Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert fa-la-la, fa-la-la, fa-la-la fa-la-la, fa-la-la, fa-la-la fa-la-la, fa-la-la, fans a skirt.Numbers

I teach two techniques to remember numbers: association and compaction.

Assume you want to remember the telephone number of your hotel in Sicily, 011390942613111.


Using this technique, break the number down in managable chunks.

011 = international code
39 = country code
0942 = city code
613111 = local number

Then make an association with each chunk:

011 = You can't send in another football player since you have eleven on the field.
39 = The number of Italian governments between April 1951 and August 1959.
0942 = A person with a temperature of 94.2 would be very sick indeed.
613111 = Wouldn't you like to find $613,111 on the street?

Put these assciations together in one sentence: "A sick Italian goverment, comprising a football team, found money on the street." Repeat this sentence whenever you want to recall the telephone number.


To remember a big number, make it smaller. Consider the number 158,647,355,554,252,974. With 18 digits this will be difficult to remember. Italy did not have that many governments. Make it shorter through compaction.

Break it into two nine-digit numbers, then multiply the digits:

1 x 5 x 8 x 6 x 4 x 7 x 3 x 5 x 5 = 504,0005 x 5 x 4 x 2 x 5 x 2 x 9 x 7 x 4 = 5,504,000

Now divide the second number by the first:

5,504,000 / 504,000 = 10

Instead of an 18-digit number, you now have to remember only the two digit number, 10, and have the ability to solve the the equation

A x B x C x D x E x F x G x H x I /
J x K x L x M x N x O x P x Q x R
= 10

where all the unknowns are digits between one and nine.


Can you remember the following list?

Walk Clown Fox Ukraine Umbrella Molydemum

You may ask, "Why would I ever want to remember this list?" This is a good question. I can't think of a reason you would. Perhaps this is a bad example.

Let's take another seven words:

Shirt Hotel Kayak Sausage Epic Spleen Umbrella

Why would you ever want to remember the above seven words? Well, smart ass, suppose tomorrow you want to do the following:

  • Take your shirts to the Cleaner.
  • Make hotel reservations for Chicago in May.
  • Kayak from Madrona beach to Lake Union Park and back.
  • Pick up sausages at the butcher.
  • Write an epic in Dactylic Hexameter.
  • Have a spleen transplant.
  • Take along your umbrella because rain is forecast.

There are two techniques for remembering lists: memory link and story telling. Try each to learn which works better for you.

Memory Link

We all have strong childhood memories that are easily recalled. Simply associate a list with a vivid childhood memory. For example, I recall at age 9, sitting in Ebbets Field and watching Jackie Robinson dance off third base.

Using this memory link, I now in my mind place between Jackie and third base shirts, a hotel, a kayak, sausages, the Aenied, a diseased spleen, and an umbrella. When I need to remember my plan for the day, I think of Jackie off third base.


It is easier to remember a story than a list. Therefore, create a story using:

Shirt Hotel Kayak Sausage Epic Spleen Umbrella

Initially, creating this story appears difficult. Think again. You already have a story – your day:

I got up and took my my shirts to the Cleaner. Then I made hotel reservations for Chicago in May. Then I kayaked from Madrona beach to Lake Union Park and back. Then I picked sausages at the butcher. Then I wrote an epic in Dactylic Hexameter. Then I had a spleen transplant. I took along your umbrella in case it rained.

This easy-to-remember story features the key words:

Shirt Hotel Kayak Sausage Epic Spleen Umbrella

In turn, each of the key words triggers the recall of one thing you want to do today.

Whenever you want to memorize a list that includes epic and spleen, use the story technique.


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