Since reading Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking With EinsteinI’ve become a little obsessed with memory systems. In particular, I’ve spent the last several weeks working on a 110-digit person-action-object system based on the Major phonetic memory system. You can find a description of the Major system here and the PAO system here.
It seems many mnemonists use a non-Major PAO system for memory work, associating the digits 00-99 with unconnected person-action-object combinations. Foer’s book title, for instance, is based on the image of Michael Jackson moonwalking with a white glove. Remember any part of the image, and you’ll remember the rest.
The great disadvantage of this system, however, is that you have to first associate each of these hundred images with the corresponding number. This presents a significant time investment and a barrier to easy use. The great advantage of a Major-based system, by contrast, is that all you need to know is its 10-digit phonetic basis, which anyone can learn in about five minutes. With that easy-to-acquire knowledge in hand, you can then use a printed table to create your images and retranslate those images into numbers, without even having to memorize all one hundred images.
Memory-Sports.com has a link to a Major PAO system here, which was basically my starting point. This system is really quite well constructed, but I had some problems with it. First, quite a few of the names and words used weren’t entirely phonetic. This is not a big deal, but in some instances I thought there were easily available phonetic alternatives. Second, some of the actions and objects just didn’t work for me in memorizing. They were too small, too indistinct, too forgettable.Third, some of the Persons just didn’t mean anything to me. This isn’t surprising, given the constraints of the system, but I realized it would be very helpful to provide alternatives so that you could more easily construct your own system. In finding those alternatives, the keyword search tool at http://www.phoneticmnemonic.com/ was very helpful.
You’ll also note that my system has 110 images. Why? Because you can’t always count on an even number of digits in the number you’re trying to memorize. So there’s one set of images for 0-9 and another for 00-09.
In any case, here’s the actual Major PAO system
I ended with in a printable format. But to help you make your own system, I’m going also to go through it here, digit by digit, with alternative words and notes. The point, after all, isn’t to have a single uniform system for everyone, but a personalized system that works for you. It’s your memory, so you’ll have to find those images that stick in your mind.
0. Zoe sawing a house (Alternatives: Sue, see, sea, zoo)
Zoe’s include Zoey Deschanel, Zoe on the West Wing, or of course someone you know with that name. I envision a dollhouse for the house.
1. Di dying with a tie (Eddie, doe, dough, auto, die, hood, tea, tee, toe, weed, wood)
Princess Di, or if you prefer, Eddie Murphy, Eddie Vedder, Mr. Ed. Dying could be advanced age, having a heart attack, or a chemical dye.
(108 more after the jump…)
2. Neo kneeing wine (Anne, Han, annoy, gnaw, gnu, inn, Wayne, wean, wane)
Neo from The Matrix in trench coat and shades, smashing a bottle with his knee. If you want to pursue a Star Wars theme, use Han, but you might want to save him for Solo (05).
3. Moe mowing ammo (Amy, Emma, aim, ma, me, homo, hum, womb)
Moe from the Simpsons. Big bullets.
4. Uhura rowing with an arrow (air, Roe, Roo, ewer, hair, hare, hero, ore, war, whore, wire)
5. Leia oiling an owl (Lee, lie, lye, law, lei, howl, ale, wail, whale)
Princess Leia from Star wars. Bruce Lee lying in a leiwould also work well. Personally I remember an owl more readily than flowers, and I used lie low for 55.
6. Chewy chewing a shoe (Joe, Joey, Jew, ash, edge, jaw, jay)
Following the Star Wars theme. Also considered Joe Biden.
7. Ewok playing hockey with a cow (Kay, Guy, hawk, hike, hook, hug, oak, wake, walk, wig, wok, yoga, yoke)
Lots of action-object alternatives here. I get the easiest images from hockey.
8. Ivy weaving a wave (Ava, Heff, vow, heave, hive, hoof, wife)
I use Poison Ivy from Batman. Not many great choices for F or V names.
9. Pooh bowing to a bee (Abe, Abby, Bay, boy, buy, hippo, boa, bow, hoop, oboe, pea, pee, pie, pa, web, weep, whip).
Lots of choices. Settled on Winnie the Pooh as simple, memorable, and phonetic. You could extend the theme with Roo (4), Owl (5) and Tigger (17). I know it’s tempting to do Pooh pooing or Pooh peeing, but then what will you use for 61 (shit), 90 (piss), or 99 (poop)?
00. ZZ sizing a seesaw (Zeus, sis, seize, sass)
I picture one of the guys from ZZ Top, long beard and cowboy hat. Sis (as in sister) also works, if you have a sister and don’t mind imagining your family members doing some weird stuff. I picture “sizing” as measuring with a measuring tape.
01. Sid sitting on sod (Zed, Saudi, seed, soda, soot, suit, stew, sty, swat, sweat, swede)
Sid Vicious sitting on a roll of sod (grass).
02. Santa singing in the snow (son, Sonny, sun, swan, swine, swoon, sign)
I really don’t like this much because of the inexact phonetics, but the memorability of the image probably makes up for it. Actually, in my personal system I use “Xan signing in the snow,” but that only works if you know someone named Xan.
03. Sam swimming with a semi (sumo)
Uncle Sam, Sam Worthington, or someone you know. A sumo wrestler also works well. A semi is of course a large freight truck.
04. Zoro soaring in a Zero (sear, sari, Sawyer, sewer, sire, swear)
A Zero being a WWII-era Japanese plane. Soaring being flying in any form.
05. Seal swallowing a seal (Solo, Sulu, Sully, sail, slay, sleigh, soil, swell)
I know, I’m failing nerd-wise by not using Han Solo or Sulu. But Seal swallowing a seal is easier to remember.
06. Sacha sashaying in sewage (sash, siege, sage)
Not a ton of choices here, and very limited names for Persons. This is Sacha Baron Cohen, but if you know someone named Sasha, that might work better.
07. Zack sucking on a ski (Isaac, Zeke, sock, soak, sake, sag, sack, sick, swig)
Hopefully you know a Zack or an Isaac. Otherwise, maybe imagine a zombie named Zeke?
08. Sophia saving a safe (salve, salve, sofa)
I imagine Sophia Lauren, diving to catch a safe before it hits the ground.
09. Zap zapping a zep (seep, soap, sob, soup, spew, spy, sub, sweep, swipe, swoop)
Zap Brannigan from Futurama zapping a zeppelin with a raygun.
10. Taz tazing a daisy (Dizzy, dice, tease)
Not a ton of choices here, but the Looney Tunes character works fine.
11. Data tattooing a tit (Todd, dad, dude, edit, toad)
Data from Star Trek: TNG. A toad might actually be better than a “tit,” but give it a try and see which you prefer.
12. Dana tanning on tin (Dan, Diane, Diana, Dino, Dean, Dane, den, tuna, tune, twine)
Dana Scully from the X-Files, of course, tanning langorously on a tin roof.
13. Timmy timing a dummy (Tim, Tom, Tammy, Dom, dam, tame, tomb, tome)
Timmy from South Park in his wheelchair holding a stopwatch, with a crash-test dummy.
14. Tori drawing a tire (Dora, Hodor, Tara, dare, deer, diarrhea, diary, door, dry, hydra, otter, tar, tear)
Lots of choices here. Take your pick.
15. Dali dueling with a towel (Dolly, Doyle, Dale, deal, dial, idol, tail, tool, yodel)
It’s a surreal image. Get it? Get it?
16. Tasha dodging a dish (DJ, TJ, attach, teach, touch, twitch)
outlawyr’s system uses Tasha Yar, but to tell the truth I haven’t watched Star Trek: TNG in years, and I barely remember her. Also, I don’t really like loading up on Star Trek characters, because they all wear the same uniforms, which makes them visually similar. Definitely a point for Star Wars. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of choices for Persons here. Let me know if you think of something better.
17. The Duke decking a taco (dick, dock, dog, duck, tack, talk, tic, tuck, tug, twig)
John Wayne punching a taco that’s presumably been rude to a lady. Originally I had “dig” instead of “deck,” but then I realized that I also had “bury” for 94. Too similar.
18. Daffy diving with a dove (Dave, defy, tofu)
If you don’t like ducks, I guess you could use Dave Letterman, Dave Matthews… a lot of Daves.
19. Debby taping a tuba (Dobby, Dopey, tub, type)
If you know a Debby, great. If not, maybe Dobby from Harry Potter will work.
20. Nazi nosing a noose (niece)
Yeah, not many choices. I use Hitler for the Nazi, and picture “nosing” as poking something with his nose.
21. knight knitting a net (Andy, Anita, Hannity, Wendy, ant, gnat, knead, knot, nut, untie, wand, want, window, wound)
22. nun nannying an onion (neon)
Nun and onion work great, but nannying is admittedly a little hard to picture. Wagging a finger and wearing an apron should work.
23. Nemo giving an enema to a gnome (numb)
One sick fish. One sick gnome.
24. Nero honoring a wiener (Henry, Nora)
A Roman emperor saluting a wiener. Can obviously also refer to penis. If you know a Henry or a Nora, that would probably stick better than Nero.
25. Neil kneeling with a nail (anal, inhale, knoll)
Neil Patrick Harris, or Neil Armstrong in a space suit. “Anal” or “inhale” are both good alternative Actions here.
26. Nacho notching a nacho (Nash, gnash, nudge)
Jack Black as Nacho Libre cutting notches in the nachos.
27. Nick knocking on a nuke (hang, neck, nick)
Nick Cave, Nick Cage.
28. nephew knifing the navy (envy, nova)
I imagine my nephew stabbing a submarine. If you don’t have a nephew, outlawyr suggests “Nefertiti.”
29. Napoleon napping on a knob (honeybee, nip)
I actually have a friend named “Nebi,” which works great here, but since that’s not a common name I’ve included the “Napoleon” option. A cartoon honeybee, like from the breakfast cereal, might also work well.
30. Holmes macing a moose (messiah, mouse, maze)
Sherlock doing what he gotta do to that murdering moose. Note that it’s pronounced “Homes.” “Messiah” would work as well or better, but I use “Jesus” for 60.
31. Mitt muddying a mitt (Matt, maid, meat, meet, mite, moat, mutt)
Mitt Romney getting a perfectly good baseball mitt all dirty. How that would bother him. Lots of Matts around too, of course.
32. Minnie mooning the moon (Moon, Mooney, Mann, mine, ammonia, mane, money)
I originally had the Reverend Moon here, but he did nothing for me. Minnie I can remember, at least.
33. mom miming a mummy (maim)
The things mothers do to help you remember.
34. Mary marrying a mare (Marie, hammer, marrow, mayor, mire, mower)
The Virgin Mary, or any of the world’s hundred million other Mary’s.
35. Maul mailing a mole (Emily, mill)
More Star Wars with Darth Maul. You might imagine the mole with its head sticking out of an envelope.
36. MJ mashing a match (macho, mage, mesh, mojo, mush)
Mary Jane from Spider-man.
37. Mickey mugging a mug (Mike, Meg, McCoy, hammock, mock, mic)
Mickey Mouse, or any Mike you know.
38. Mephistopheles moving a humvee (Muffy, movie)
I struggled with this one. Originally I had “Muffy,” who is either a character from the cartoon Arthur, or a rapper. Neither one means anything to me, so I’ve switched to Mephistopheles, i.e. Satan. Switching to Satan is always the right answer.
39. Moby mopping a map (amp, hemp, imp, mob)
I’ve cleared his table a couple times. True story.
40. Rose racing a rose (Reese, Rice, Ross, arouse, raze, rice)
My friend Rose, Pete Rose, Reese Witherspoon, Condi Rice.
41. Rod riding a rat (art, award, heart, hoard, horde, radio, raid, reed, riot, write)
Rod Stewart riding a rat. Just seems right, right? If you don’t like Rod, though, you might try Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, with the stretchy arms and all that.
42. Ron running with a rhino (Aaron, iron, rain)
Ron Burgundy, maybe?
43. Rambo ramming a ram (army, harem, ram, ream, roam, worm)
No, Rambo is not phonetic, but trying finding another name that is. Rahm Emanuel? Ram Dass? I imagine “ramming” as head-butting.
44. warrior roaring at a rear (Rory, aurora, horror)
Again, very few options. I picture a Scottish warrior with a claymore, yelling at someone’s butt.
45. O’Reilly rolling a roll (oral, rail, reel, royal, rule, whirl)
Bill O’Reilly with a big dinner roll. Great for memory because every time I use him I feel a little angry. Tempting of course to use “oral,” but remember that “suck” is 07.
46. Reggie retching a roach (Archie, Irish, orgy, rage, reach, rouge)
Funny that both Archie and Reggie work here.
47. Rocky raking a rock (Eric, Rick, rack, rag, rig, rogue, rook, rug, wreck)
48. Rove raving on a roof (Raffi, Harvey, arrive, reef)
Karl Rove breaking it down with some glowsticks. Even evil needs to get loose sometimes.
49. Rabbi raping a rib (Rob, Arab, harp, rope, rub, wrap)
One messed-up rabbi. One messed-up rib.
50. Lisa lassoing lace (Lewis, Louise, Lucy, lice, lose)
I use Lisa Simpson.
51. Lloyd welding a light (Lady, Eliot, lad, lead, lute)
Christopher Lloyd, best known as Doc Brown from Back to the Future. outlawyr suggests Lady Gaga, but I have a hard time imagining her as “Lady” rather than “Gaga.”
52. Elaine leaning on a lion (Helen, Lynn, alien, loon)
Elaine from Seinfeld.
53. Liam looming with a lime (Alma, William, elm, lamb, limb, loom)
Liam Neeson leaning creepily over you.
54. Lara lowering a lyre (Laura, Larry, lawyer, lure)
I picture Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft. A lyre is a small harp.
55. LL (Cool J) lying low with a lolly (Lyle, Lola, Lily, loll, lull)
Maybe Evangeline Lily? I dunno, I gots big love for LL. I know “lie low” may seem weak, but lying on the ground is a simple, clear image. Maybe you could imagine “lulling” as cradling something and singing it a lullaby. A lolly is of course a lollipop.
56. Luigi leashing a leech (eyelash, lash, ledge, lodge)
57. Luke licking a log (elk, hulk, leak, leek, leg, lock, lug)
More Star Wars with Luke Skywalker.
58. elf laughing at lava (leaf, love, loaf, olive, wolf)
Maybe Will Ferrell in the movie, maybe Legolas, maybe some other elf.
59. Leprechaun leaping on a lip (Lobo, Lapp, elbow, help, lab, lap, lobby, lop)
I went through several options before settling on “leprechaun.” The first syllable at least is phonetic, and the image is very memorable. “Leper” could also work; outlawyr suggests “Liberace.”
60. Jesus chasing cheese (chess, choose, juice)
No, not precisely phonetic, but Jesus is too easy to remember. You could do (Chevy) Chase chasing cheese, which is also easy.
61. Judy doing judo on a jet (cheetah, chide, jade, shed, sheet, shit, shut)
Judy Garland in her Wizard of Oz getup. I also considered (Chester the) Cheetah or (Joan) Jett. Didn’t use “shit” because I like “poop” too much for 99.
62. John chaining a genie (Jane, Jean, Joan, June, Sean, gin, ocean, shine)
Tons of Persons to choose from, so take your pick. I think John Lennon immediately, personally. You could do John chaining a john, if you like.
63. Jimi jamming with jam (gem, gym, shame)
Jimi Hendrix or some other Jim.
64. Cher showering with a cherry (Jerry, char, cheer, shear, shore)
Or Jerry Seinfeld showering, but who wants to imagine that?
65. Joel jailing jello (Jill, Julie, cello, chili, gel, jelly, shell)
My name’s Joel, so you know, easy ’nuff.
66. Cheech judging hashish (Joshua)
Maybe the easiest mnemonic of all these.
67. Chuck choking a chick (Jack, Jake, chalk, cheek, chuck, chug, hedgehog, jock, jog, jug, shag, shake)
I have friend named Chuck, and I like the alliteration, but there’s about a thousand Jacks you could use. Jack Skellington would probably be my choice.
68. Chef shaving a chief (Jeff, Jehovah, shove)
Okay, Jehovah’s tempting, but I didn’t want to get confused with Jesus. I use Chef from South Park and imagine a wooden tobacco-store chief.
69. Jabba chopping a sheep (Job, chip, Jeep, ship, shop)
Jabba the Hutt getting ready to eat. If you used “lamb” for 53, you’ll want to use “Jeep” or “ship” instead of “sheep.”
70. Kiss kissing a goose (Casey, Cass, accuse, axe, ex, gaze, keys, ox)
One of the guys from the band Kiss in concert makeup.
71. Cat(woman) cutting a cat (God, Kate, Kit, act, coat, cod, goat, gut, kite)
Now, Catwoman’s not entirely phonetic, whereas God and Kate are. But if I imagine Michelle Pfeiffer in that vinyl outfit doing pretty much anything, well… rawr.
72. Ken canoeing with a gun (Cohen, Ken, Khan, acne, can, cane, coin, cone, queen)
Quite a few choices here for all three. Queen Elizabeth is easy and visual, but I also love Leonard Cohen, and Star Trek’s Khan is pretty vivid. Be sure to distinguish “canoe” from “row” (4).
73. Kim coming on a comb (coma, gum)
I imagine Kim Jong Il, but maybe there’s another Kim you prefer. outlawyr uses “combing gum,” but don’t tell me you’ll actually remember that better.
74. Cory crying on a car (Carrie, the Crow, Gary, Oscar, choir, crew, cure, curry, gore, guru, hacker, hooker, ogre)
Take your pick of Persons here.
75. Coolio cooling a koala (Kelly, Quayle, call, claw, clay, coal, coil, cola, collie, eagle, glow, glue, gull, igloo, quail, quill)
I originally had “killing” here, but in trying using the system I realized that it was too indefinite, considering all the other violent actions used for other numbers. I imagine Coolio dumping bags of ice on a feverish koala.
76. Cash catching cash (cage, coach, gash, gouge, gush, quiche)
Johnny Cash for an easy mnemonic. Nicolas Cage would also work. Man, that guy is everywhere.
77. Kirk kicking a cake (Cook, Gaga, cock, cocoa, coke, cook, cookie, gag, kayak, keg, quack)
Kirk isn’t entirely phonetic, but it’s close. Kayak is distinct, but too close to row (4) or canoe (72).
78. Goofy coughing with coffee (calf, give)
Probably from all the Pall-Malls he’s been smoking.
79. Cap cupping a cape (Kip, cop, cub, gape, hiccup)
Captain America, ironic since he doesn’t wear a cape. Kip is a character on Futurama.
80. Fozzie lighting a fuse on a vise (face, fuss, fuzz, phase, visa, voice)
Okay, I have to confess, I never watched the Muppets that much, so Fozzie’s actually kind of hard for me to remember. Any other suggestions?
81. Vader doing voodoo with a video (avoid, feed, fight, foot, photo, vet)
Darth Vader isn’t quite phonetic, but he’s easily the best choice for this number. Voodoo means he’s sticking pins into something. I imagine a VHS cassette for video, or something playing on a screen.
82. Vin fanning a phone (Finn, Vaughn, Vin, faun, fawn, fin, oven, vein, vine)
Vin Diesel. Vince Vaughn or Finn from Adventure Time are both fine alternatives. Maybe Finn fanning a fawn?
83. Fam(ily Guy) fumigating an ovum
After some struggle I’ve come to terms with this one. “Family Guy” is Peter Griffin, “fumigate” is walking around with a metal canister spraying stuff, and “ovum” is a big ostrich egg.
84. Pharaoh firing fire (Farrah, Fury, fairy, fear, ferry, fir, fry, fur, hover, ivory, pharaoh, veer)
A couple choices for Persons, but I think an Egyptian pharaoh is easiest to remember. “Firing” is using something as a gun, as distinct from fire as an object.
85. Fool falling on a flea (fail, feel, flee, foil, foul, fowl, fuel, veil, viola, waffle)
A costumed Fool doing a pratfall. If you imagine a flea, you’ll probably have to imagine a lot of them to make it stick. If you prefer, you could have Flea (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) fleeing a flea.
86. Vishnu fishing for fudge (fetch, fuji, vouch, voyage)
I originally had the band Phish, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember it (not a fan). Vishnu is a multi-armed blue Indian deity.
87. Viggo fucking a fig (Vicky, fag, fake, fog, folk, vogue)
88. Fifi high-fiving a fife (Viv)
I use Fifi La Fume from Tiny Toons. Vivien Leigh from Gone With the Wind is also viable.
89. Fabio with a phobia of a viper (Phoebe, fob, fop)
Fabio looking scared of a snake. Originally had “fob,” like a keychain, but it’s no good for memory.
90. Bozo pissing on a bus (the Boss, Buzz, abuse, booze, pass, pussy)
Bozo the Clown.
91. Buddha biting a bat (Pat, Pete, Buddy, abbot, beat, bed, beet, behead, bet, boat, body, butt, pout)
92. Ben playing piano with a bunny (Ben, Bono, Obi-Wan, Penny, bean, bone, bun, ebony, pen, pin, pine, pony)
Originally had “Obi-Wan,” which is a memorable image but not necessarily easy to connect with 92.
93. Obama bombing a bum (balm, beam, boom, opium, palm, puma)
Why, Barack? Why?
94. Barry burying a bra (Barry, Perry, bar, bare, bear, beer, berry, boar, burrow, eyebrow, opera, pare, parry, pear, pour, prey, pry, purr)
Barry White stands out to me. Of course, you can use Barack (Barry) Obama, but “Obama bombing a bum” just seems too natural not to use. There’s also Perry Mason, Katy Perry, and Luke Perry, and a number of Bears that would do the job,
95. Bill bowling with a bell (Abel, Apollo, Paul, Paula, apple, ball, bell, belly, blow, bowel, bull, opal, pail, peel, pile, pill, pillow, plow, pole, pool)
Lots of choices here for all three words. Bill Murray’s the first Bill that comes to mind.
96. Bush butchering a peach (Apache, badge, bash, beach, bitch, bush, pitch, push)
97. (Miss) Piggy poking a bike (Polk, back, bag, bake, beak, beg, book, buck, bug, pack, peck, peek, pike, puck, puke)
98. Buffy buffing beef (beehive, buffet, pave)
I imagine a big side of beef.
99. Popeye pooping a pipe (Bob, Pope, baby, boob, papa, pop, poppy, pub, puppy)
Guess he just lost control and swallowed it one day.