Andi Bell, of the U.K., is the 2002 world memory champion. He can memorize the order of 10 shuffled packs of playing cards?520 cards in all?in only 20 minutes. Those of us who can’t remember where we left our car keys have a lot to learn from him.

First he takes a long walk and memorizes the landmarks he passes. Then he turns to the cards. He says, “When I memorize a deck of cards, I turn each card into a picture of a colorful animal or object that I associate with that particular card.” The jack of clubs might become a bear, the nine of diamonds a saw, and the two of spades a pineapple. He then puts his journey together with his card pictures, and creates a memorable story. For instance, he imagines the bear using the saw to cut open the pineapple in the Houses of Parliament. He says this method can work for anyone.

Andi says, “As a child I had a conventionally good memory. But once you learn a technique like the location technique it takes everything beyond what you can do naturally.”

His method is a variation on what’s known as the “Method of Loci,” which was first described by the Greek scholar Simonides in 500 BC. He wrote that you can increase your memory by putting the things you want to remember into a familiar location.

Science has now advanced to the point where we know why this method works. There are 100 billion neurons in our brain, connected together in a huge network. When we memorize something, we make a path through this network, but if the pathway gets broken, the memory can’t be recalled. The trouble with creating only a single pathway is that it?s more likely to become broken, but the Method of Loci, which relies on visual memory, creates multiple pathways, so if one gets broken, you still have access to the memory. Sound and smells can also be linked to memories, which will help to recall them.

Now if we can only figure out how to do that with the car keys.

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