My Simple Strategy for Memorizing Numbers

Last week I took my MacBook in to get my fan-sounds-like-a-Sea-King-helicopter problem fixed. They assigned me a six digit work order number. I looked at it, applied my one-and-only memory trick, and immediately memorized it. In fact, I still have it memorized. It’s 196805.

I do not mean to praise my memory. It is notoriously bad, and badly addled by modern technology. I can, however, commit numbers to my short-term memory quite easily.

What’s my trick? I convert the number to hockey players. As you know, each player gets assigned a more-or-less permanent number. Because I’m a hockey fan, I know the numbers of many of the players in the league. I also remember the numbers of a lot of older, retired players. I haven’t tried to memorize these numbers–it’s just happened osmotically over 15 or 20 years of watching sports.

So, the aforementioned work order number is Naslund-Jagr-Murzyn.

Oddly, I still remember a European phone number from last year: 24-21-88-42. That was Cooke-Lumme-Lindros-Lott. Ronnie Lott was a football player, but I couldn’t remember a hockey player with the number 42.

I’m sure this is a common strategy. And it could obviously apply to any memorized set of number-word pairs. Chemists probably remember 196805 as potassium-erbium-boron. Do you use this trick?


  1. Wow. No offence, but that’s the most convoluted memory trick I’ve ever heard of! However, I don’t watch sports and nor have I memorized the periodic table. For me, the only sure way to remember a longish number is to write it down but I find good old-fashioned repetition works well, too.

  2. Derek: I wouldn’t really call myself a sports-stats nerd. For example, I couldn’t tell you how many goals any particular Canuck player scored last season. I’m not even sure who led the team in scoring, or what the team’s record was at the end of the season.

    However, I do know all their numbers–that’s fairly essential if you want to know who’s on the ice at a given time.

  3. Henrik or Daniel probably, and I don’t know either of their numbers. (Maybe one of them is 22?)

    It’s still a nerdy trick but one that obviously works really well and that’s what counts!

    Rhythm and finger motions work for me.

  4. I just memorize the numbers raw. I would never remember a bunch a words or names in place of numbers. It would actually be much more convenient for me if people were all identified by unique numbers.

  5. @Erika. Yup, one twin is 22, the other is 33. (I believe it’s Daniel = 22, Henrik = 33, but I could have that backwards). The other ones I know off the top of my head are: Trevor Linden (16), Roberto Luongo (1), Brad Isbister (27 – only know that one because that’s my number too), Brendon Morrison (7), Taylor Pyatt (9)… Hmm… I think Jeff Cowan may be 20 and Markus Naslund, um, 19? Of course, more often than not, I listen to games on the radio, making knowing all the numbers less important.

  6. Interesting coincidence that I read this this morning Darren. Just watched an episode of NCIS last night from early in the season – one of the bad guys had used a list of periodic elements (in a song, no less) as the code to record and send the offshore bank account number used for his nefarious deeds.

    So there’s a plot write out there who thinks as you do.

    (I’m with Cheryl – adding names to the effort would just make it that much more taxing for me.)


  7. This is great. There’s no way it would work for me, as I can barely name three athletes (across all sports) and have no clue what their team numbers are.

    When I was a kid, I used to make up memorization chains… For example, if I wanted to remember that something was happening on Tuesday, I’d do something like this: “Tuesday is like Tulips, which are in Holland, where they have windmills, which are powered by the wind, which blows the leaves off the tree branches.” So I would remember ‘branches’ [which have helpful visual cues in the world all around me] and then automatically know that the event is happening on Tuesday. Branches = Tuesday. Surprisingly, this really did work for me. And basically, it works on the same principle: turning something abstract into something visual and familiar.

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