This seems to work better than the loci method for numbers between 8 and 50-100 digits. It has a little less staying power, but it’s also less expensive, cognitively speaking. It also gets easier with practice.
For an example, I’ll use the first eight digits of pi: 3.1415926
You’ll need access to a number pad that’s arranged like this.
(For some reason, blogspot insists that these images are much larger than they really are. Whatever. I’m finished fighting with it.)
Draw lines between the first three digits, pausing briefly on each one. This should be familiar to users of Swype, because it’s exactly the same.
Once you trace this path with your finger a couple of times the image will be very easy to remember, because humans are good at remembering spatial directions.
The next five digits are even easier than the first three, because they make an interesting shape. Two parallel, diagonal lines.
And that’s the method!
(If two digits in a row are the same number, just make a little circle on the number, like in Swype. For three similar digits in a row, make two little circles, and so on.)
It’s predicated on your ability to notice interesting shapes as you’re tracing the full number out, and split it into bite-sized chunks like this.
At the very least, you can always remember any number as a series of triangles.
Try it on your own with a phone number. It’s surprisingly easy the second time, because it’s easy to see patterns like these in random (base-ten) numbers. But don’t drive yourself too nuts trying to find perfect little coincidences (see also: pareidolia.); often, smaller chunks are easier to remember.
Theoretically, I suspect it will appeal to the intersection of people who are natural pattern-seekers (extraverted and introverted intuitives in MBTI), who comprise roughly 1/3 of the population, and people who are recreational intellectuals (alt: unfocused smart people).
I conducted a couple of informal experiments to determine the effectiveness of the method.
I posed a random phone number to my dad (10 digits), who is not a fan of learning new things. I showed him the patterns, and left for five minutes. He had already completely forgotten about it (it’s a male thing; I call it andropia), but he was able to recall the number exactly. He explained that he was able to remember the first 6 digits the normal way, but he had to fall back on the shape of the last four.
The ability to remember 6 digits without aid is pretty average, especially for a guy getting on in years.
The benchmark I use for complete memorization of a number is when I can trace it at an average pace of at least 3 digits per second. There’s a scientific, psychological number to replace that (related to long-term mechanical recall), but I’m not exactly getting paid for this shit. So a rule of thumb will have to do.
I was able to memorize 50 digits of pi after about 8 minutes of work, but my ability to remember the order of the shapes and patterns began to deteriorate after that. I suspect there’s an upper limit to the effectiveness.
After 36 hours I tried to remember it again, and I managed 98% accuracy. That’s really good for the amount of work I put into it, though it’s biased by my excitement (engagement makes for better memory).
My overly practical mom was completely uninterested in learning the method, but she suggested that I make a YouTube video for pi day. This idea terrifies me. I can barely stand having my picture taken.
Anyway, I’d do it on tau day.
Number pad picture lifted from http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-calculator-number-pad-image4660657
Trollface from http://www.polyvore.com/cgi/img-thing?.out=jpg&size=l&tid=26382038
Pictures edited in LibreOffice Draw