To Have Your π and Beat It

abrahamson 2It is over 20 years since I last bumped into Michael Abrahamson. Pretty sure it was in a press box at a cricket ground somewhere in South Africa. Newlands or the Wanderers perhaps. Maybe Kingsmead in Durban. Or it could have been a rugby ground. I forget. It was a long time ago and bumping into Mikey was a regular occurrence.

He was a commentator for the SABC. Still is. A very good one. Apart from cricket and rugby Michael also disappeared down an Athens black hole at the 2004 Olympics (“I had 19-hour days for four weeks but it was hugely enjoyable”) and commentated the 2010 World Cup Final in his native South Africa.

Back in the mid-1990s when I was living in Durban, we were forever criss-crossing, two cogs in a media wheel that included people like Peter Robinson and Hugh Bladen – the man responsible for a hangover I remember only too well in Dunedin in 1994 – as well as my old MWP colleagues Andy Capostagno, Neil Manthorp and Mark Lamport-Stokes.

Mikey was a good guy. Affable and sparky, a bit geeky in his recollection of cricket stats but hey that is a part of the game. (We had a fellow called Andrew Samson who used to sit quietly in the Kingsmead press box with a bag of coloured pencils, noting every ball of the day’s play, informing those of us less attentive souls of milestones – significant and other – that we might want to use in our copy. I wonder what happened to him.)

Michael wasn’t a scorer, though, he was a commentator blessed with a silky voice, a nice line in banter and a sackful of info and stats at his fingertips. No, not at his fingertips, that would suggest a folder full of notes, rather they were tucked away in a little corner of his brain marked CRICKET or RUGBY.

What I didn’t know then, that I do know now, is that Michael Abrahamson was a bit special, a mentalist, with incredible powers of recall and the ability to read people like a book. Think Tim Roth in Lie to Me and you are a part of the way there although as far as I know Mikey isn’t running a sideline as a police consultant. But he did turn his skill into a popular live show.

“My show is similar to what Derren Brown does, only I use all my own material and effects, so it’s very interactive and fun,” he says.

Mike Abrahamson
Michael Abrahamson hard at work as a sports commentator (Pic: M Abrahamson)

Even in those tender years in the 1990s, while I struggled to remember which game I was covering, Mikey was already working on the memory skills.

“It’s a huge weapon for me in the commentary box, being able to recall facts and info at will,” he says.

“I realised I could do this at a young age but it does take a lot of work and constant revision. It’s a science, and there is a skill element that you have to learn.”

That hard work and constant revision came to a head this week when he broke an African record and, pending ratification, a world record.

On official Pi day, March 14, Michael Abrahamson successfully recalled the first 1,500 digits of π in an astonishing time of just four minutes, seven seconds, without a single error.

Think about it for a moment. Digest this information, especially those of you at the back who, like me, struggle to recall four digit PINs.

And let me say it again: Michael sat with a blindfold around his eyes and spouted the first 1,500 digits of Pi. In just four minutes and seven seconds. That is 247 seconds. Not a single hesitation. Not a single error.

Now, recalling 1,500 digits is in itself a monster achievement but it is not the world record. That belongs to an Indian, Suresh Kumar Sharma churning out 70,030 digits in October 2015. So Mikey, now with the African record and an all-time listing of 16th, has a bit of a way still to go in that direction.

But what is truly astonishing is the speed.

Sharma’s 70,030 came in 17 hours and 14 minutes at the pedestrian rate of just over one digit per second. Another astonishing achievement.

Michael’s recall, though, equates to a rate of 6.073 digits per second, and that is the fastest ever official time for over one thousand digits, based on a per second rate.

In the presence of four independent judges, who verified the proceedings, Michael shattered the existing South African record of Marno Hermann, who recalled 1,200 digits in 10 minutes 15 seconds exactly a year ago. Michael recited 300 digits more and did it over six minutes faster than the previous existing record.

“This was one of the hardest memory challenges I’ve ever attempted. It’s hard enough to recall the numbers without error but to do it at breakneck speed for this duration of time is truly a feat I’m very proud of.”

And so he should be. Even if that figure of 70,030 is still dangling there…

©Barney Spender 2019

You can find out more about Michael Abrahamson here 

 

THINK YOU CAN DO IT FASTER?

Okay people, you think Michael is a bit of a slouch and reckon you can recite the first 1,500 digits of π in less than four minutes, seven seconds, without a single error. Then settle yourself down, set the stopwatch and GO! Good luck.

3.
141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105
82097494459230781640628620899862803482534211706798
21480865132823066470938446095505822317253594081284
81117450284102701938521105559644622948954930381964
42881097566593344612847564823378678316527120190914
56485669234603486104543266482133936072602491412737
24587006606315588174881520920962829254091715364367
89259036001133053054882046652138414695194151160943
30572703657595919530921861173819326117931051185480
74462379962749567351885752724891227938183011949129
83367336244065664308602139494639522473719070217986
09437027705392171762931767523846748184676694051320
00568127145263560827785771342757789609173637178721
46844090122495343014654958537105079227968925892354
20199561121290219608640344181598136297747713099605
18707211349999998372978049951059731732816096318595
02445945534690830264252230825334468503526193118817
10100031378387528865875332083814206171776691473035
98253490428755468731159562863882353787593751957781
85778053217122680661300192787661119590921642019893
80952572010654858632788659361533818279682303019520
35301852968995773622599413891249721775283479131515
57485724245415069595082953311686172785588907509838
17546374649393192550604009277016711390098488240128
58361603563707660104710181942955596198946767837449
44825537977472684710404753464620804668425906949129
33136770289891521047521620569660240580381501935112
53382430035587640247496473263914199272604269922796
78235478163600934172164121992458631503028618297455
5706749838505494588586926995690927210797509302955

 

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