Friday, August 19, 2005

Mark Twain's Memory-Builder

"In 1885 Mark Twain designed and patented a game intended to help people keep historical facts straight. Curiously, his Memory Builder focused specifically on European royalty. This game is based only loosely on his (with some features borrowed from the Carmen San Diego series). Its focus is on MT and his times." Twain apparently hoped to turn the game into a commercial venture and obtained a patent* for the game in 1885. Unfortunately it was too complicated for the general public, and sold poorly.

This modern version of Twain's game is part of the excellent Mark Twain and His Times website.

You can learn more about Twain's memory building techniques in his illustrated essay on "How to Make History Dates Stick", written in 1899, but published after his death. One of the strategies is to draw pictures that can be stuck on the wall to make a sort of timeline.
"You have the scheme now, and something in the ruler's name or career will suggest the pictorial symbol. The effort of inventing such things will not only help your memory, but will develop originality in art. See what it has done for me. If you do not find the parlor wall big enough for all of England's history, continue it into the dining- room and into other rooms. This will make the walls interesting and instructive and really worth something instead of being just flat things to hold the house together. "
I'm not sure how well his methods work, but they sound like more fun than cramming from a textbook.

*Note: I have trouble viewing patent images from the USPTO web site using Safari or Firefox. If you'd like to see Twain's (actually Clemens') memory game patent, an easier method is to go to and enter 00324535 in the search box. This will generate a downloadable pdf file of the patent pages.

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