Making Memories: Memorizing Phone Numbers

Having created a Major PAO system, I naturally wanted to test it, and so I decided to memorize the phone numbers of the 17 people I work with. I printed out a copy of the contact sheet and set to work.

The first thing I needed was a memory palace. I settled on the Trader Joe’s where I shop for groceries. Having wheeled a cart around its aisles every week for about three years now, I’m intimately familiar with its layout, and already have an established journey through it. Perfect.
I began outside the store, where in real life a local newspaper vendor often hangs out. The first person was Jim Albright (not his real name). Right away I noticed a problem: phone numbers are ten digits long, while the POA system I’d devised was best suited for multiples of six. I would have to either lose one Person, Action, or Object, or use two single-digit images (which would make things a bit repetitive).
After some trial and error, I came up with the simpler solution of making the first Person in the sequence the actual person whose number I was trying to remember. So if Jim’s number was (216) 728-0158, the first image was not of a knight (21), but rather of Jim himself. The Action then was knitting (21), the Object a chick (67), followed by my nephew (28) sitting (01) on lava (58). In total, Jim knitting for a chick (I imagined a little chicken-shaped sweater), with my nephew sitting on lava, presumably very uncomfortably.
I ran into a second problem, which is that these really formed two loci rather than one. I tried in each case to connect them somehow – my nephew could be angry with Jim for making him wait while he finished his chick-sweater, say.
(Incidentally, I later took up memorizing pi to the hundredth decimal, with 10 decimals per line. Since I didn’t need to connect any actual people with the numbers, I altered the system to POA-PO. In this system the same number would be a knight [21] with a chick [67] knifing [28] Sid with lava [58]. I might for instance imagine a knight dressed in steel armor made to resemble a chicken, stabbing Sid Vicious with a knife made of lava. The advantage is that all the images combine to form a single connected locus.)
A third problem worth noting was that many of my coworkers had the same area code, Seattle’s 206, and frequently the same next digit as well, a 6. This meant that a lot of images began with “so-and-so nosing hashish,” which is fine once or twice, and not so great the fifth or sixth time. To resolve it I basically switched up the order of POA to PAO, or used alternate words. So “nosing hashish” became “in a noose with a judge.” Altering the order might matter in memorizing a deck of cards in two minutes, but it didn’t cause me any problems here.
Finally, one last hitch. Having memorized all seventeen numbers (170 digits, by the way – no great feat for a mnemonist, but remarkable to anyone else), I went to work and proudly proclaimed the fact. Naturally my co-workers asked my to recite their numbers for them, and so I did, until one person, Robert, stopped me halfway through his number, saying, “Nope. That’s not it.”

The funny thing was, I remembered the image clearly: Robert nailing up a map while Lisa juiced a ram. Puzzled, I went back to the list and realized that I had transposed the last four digits of his phone number with someone else’s. I’d remembered the image, but I’d made the incorrect image in the first place. Lesson is: it’s no good memorizing something if the information isn’t right in the first place.

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