Memory Champion inspired by grandmother

Nelson Dellis in the U.S. World Memory Champion. He can memorize a deck of playing cards in under a minute. Lindsay Brown//Photo Editor
Nelson Dellis in the U.S. World Memory Champion. He can memorize a deck of playing cards in under a minute. Lindsay Brown//Photo Editor

Nelson Dellis had his audience close their eyes and picture a dog lighting a match to a nose. While doing the moon walk, George W. Bush stood next to this nose and coincidentally angered a turtle. The turtle walked atop a mountain and then made a slam dunk.

Perhaps the audience found this story ridiculous, but they were quickly informed that the U.S. World Memory Champion used this story to have them memorize an 18-digit number.

Dellis, a University of Miami alumnus, used witty tools like this to share memorization tactics to a full audience on Monday night at the Whitten Learning Center.

“I actually don’t have good memory,” Dellis said to his audience. “I frequently forget where I park my car or I forget how many times I shampoo myself.”

Despite his self-professed bad memory, Dellis holds the record for memorizing a deck of cards in 60 seconds. He earned the title of U.S. World Memory Champion after memorizing 178 digits in five minutes at the 13th Annual U.S. Memory Championship in New York City.

To memorize these digits, Dellis uses elaborative encoding; a visual tool that guides the brain through a journey of familiar objects and places. He pairs numbers, or anything he is trying to memorize, to easily recognizable names and locations.

“In my journey I have a set of anchor points and then go around in an order that makes sense,” Dellis said. “I think it’s effective because humans are very visual and gobble up spatial information.”

The event was coordinated by UM’s Honor Council. According Michael Schick, president of the Honor Council, their purpose is not only to maintain integrity, but to make sure students do well academically.

“We thought this event was applicable because it helps you train your brain and it helps you prepare for finals,” Schick said. “I knew this was something I wanted to do.”

Although the planning process was long, nine other student organizations helped in making the event a success.

“I definitely think the journey method [Dellis] was talking about was very useful,” junior Grant Blumberg said. “This can help with anything that is not particularly easy to memorize like organic chemistry or business law.”

Dellis was inspired to enter memory competitions after his grandmother passed away. She suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. In the spring of 2011, he is planning to climb Mount Everest to raise awareness and money for research on the disease.

“There has been a link between the same symptoms you experience on a climb on high altitude and Alzheimer’s disease,” Dellis said. “It’s a fight to get to the top of the mountain while fighting something similar to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dellis will take a flag with the “U” logo and place it at the mountain top. Student organizations and individuals will have the opportunity to place their image or logo on the flag for only $1 per square inch. A minimum donation of $20 per organization and $5 for individuals is required.

Jonathan Borge may be contacted at