The Insider | The Trustmans

By Damian Jennings - Friday, January 18, 2019

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Sarah and David Trustman changed how the world memorizes things. Especially magicians. Especially stacks. In this week’s episode of the show, I chat with them both about how and why they turned nmemonics upside down with their amazing graphical system.

You can find their book The Memory Arts at Vanishing Inc. and keep up with their antics on their website.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Insider, wherever you listen to podcasts. Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

And do us a solid, if you like the show, please tell a magician friend about it. It would really help!

Transcript of the podcast

Sarah Trustman: People do ... It sounds like torture.

The Insider: Hello and welcome to this week's episode of The Insider, brought to you, as ever, by Vanishing Inc. Today I'm lucky enough to have on the line not one, but two people. Sarah and David Trustman. How are you guys?

Sarah Trustman: We're well.

David Trustman: Doing well.

The Insider: Good, good, good. It's only a 30-minute show, so we're going to crack straight on. What's your origin story? You've got 47 seconds.

David Trustman: Well, I was making comics. Sarah and I met and she joined me in making comics, and then we got into, of all things, magic together, so that's how we discovered memory, oddly enough.

Sarah Trustman: We quickly fell in love with it, and we were memorizing cards all the time, memorizing our grocery lists. Our kids kept watching us memorize all this stuff, and they wanted to memorize with us, and that's how we discovered that a lot of the stuff out there is actually kind of complicated, so we set out to try to really simplify the systems that were out there so that our kids could join in.

The Insider: Perfect. Now, what is your approach to mnemonics, and what was wrong with, in inverted commas, "the older way of doing things"?

Sarah Trustman: Well, there's a few things. One is that most books on mnemonics are text based, and yet so much of mnemonics is visualizing things, actually picturing images in your mind. So the first thing we thought was, "Well, we make comic books. Let's make it visual."

The Insider: Sure.

Sarah Trustman: So we took out the step of having to translate text in your mind into making the images and just made the images. Along with that, we took out some of the extra memorization steps and tried to just really simplify what you're having to memorize in order to memorize.

The Insider: What do you mean the extra memorization steps?

Sarah Trustman: Traditionally, to memorize a deck of cards or a stack, you would want to memorize an image for each card, all 52 cards. So 52 different images, and then you're imagining a path, and that path often would not necessarily be numbered. You'd have to remember, "Number 37 is a table." And you wouldn't have a way to know that that table is number 37.

The Insider: Right.

Sarah Trustman: So we cut out the 52 images and got it down to 13. They rhyme or are very simple, easy things to remember as far as which card they associate with, for example, the king is a crown, and took out those steps. We also made the path look like the numbers, so you aren't having to sit there and remember, "Well, which spot is 42?" Or, "Which spot is 12?" Because you just picture the number and that will take you to that location.

The Insider: Okay. Explain to me what a memory palace is.

David Trustman: A memory palace is a very personal place. It's imagined. Some people define it as a building, or a series of buildings, or a land. Like, it's your own nation inside your head, and you have everything in order. You have designated paths that you can go down, so if you're trying to remember the steps to something, you know you start here, you follow along this specific-

The Insider: So it's linear.

David Trustman: Yeah. And it's all part of ... You have several paths all making up this larger memory palace.

Sarah Trustman: And it can be linear. It also can be that you're looking at a wall in your house or an imagined wall, so you're able to look at all these different thoughts at one time. The idea being that our mind naturally retains information based on location and images. That's how our brains work, so the idea is that if you have either an imagined location or locations that you're familiar with from your daily life that you just know.

The Insider: Like the grocery store.

Sarah Trustman: Exactly. Or even your house. Or if there's a walk you take every day to work. Then, you can actually imagine or picture things at these different locations and your brain will hold onto that information so much better than if you're just trying to remember a list of items in your head or a list of cards.

David Trustman: And one thing that we tried to really address with our book and with our memory path is that a lot of people hold onto one or two different writers who said that a memory palace has to be intimate and unique to each person and that you can't use anything that has been conceived us for a mass market because it's not going to work, it's not personal enough. But the truth is, for thousands of years, people have the same basis of their memory palace that they started out with the same fundamentals and the same location designs, and that they were able to build from there. So we're trying to bring that back to show that, "Look, you can have almost a prefab memory palace that you can build from."

The Insider: So that cuts out a step for people. It kind of almost makes it easier to get going.

Sarah Trustman: Yes.

David Trustman: Yes.

The Insider: Perfect. So as I understand it, your system is based on a mixture of things, some going back to the 1500s. How did you create it and why did you create it?

Sarah Trustman: When we first fell in love with mnemonics, we got directed to Feinaigle.

The Insider: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sarah Trustman: And we really enjoyed Feinaigle's works, and one thing we loved about him is he said, "You have to go back to the beginning and really study everything that's been written on this art." And he just loves to go back and give credit to all the people that came before him and that inspired him. So we kind of stopped everything and went back to the very beginning with Plato and Aristotle and all of these ancient writings, and we just read everything we could get our hands on from the past thousands of years up until modern day, and took pieces from what we were reading until we combined something that really seemed to work easily, and quickly, and stuck.

David Trustman: Yeah, we really liked Dominic O'Brien. Still love him. His ideas, they're just awesome, but we thought when we were working on how we could teach this classically, and of course we're experimenting on our kids-

The Insider: In a nice way.

Sarah Trustman: Usually.

David Trustman: But we're working that out, and we're realizing that we can simplify even more and make it even more accessible, especially since we're teaching in pictures.

The Insider: Sure. So was it for you and your kids that you came up with it, or did you think, "Hang on, this is something that I can give to the world."?

Sarah Trustman: Both. We originally were trying to help our kids, and then once we started realizing, "Wow, we're really onto something. This is so much easier. This is really fast." Then we said, "This should be out there. This could really change lives. This could make a difference." So then we started thinking about putting it into a book for the mass market, and then started thinking, "Wait, this could be really helpful for magicians." Especially considering that the world of magic is what inspired us and introduced us to mnemonics in the first place, we'd love to be able to turn around and give back.

The Insider: Cool. So when you say about helping your kids, how does ... apart from obvious things about times tables, and multiplication things, and all that kind of stuff, how does it help your kids to be able to learn four decks of cards?

David Trustman: It's actually kind of funny because our daughter was reading a book with her, and I realized that as we were going along that she had just memorized the pages. It was one of her favorite books.

Sarah Trustman: This was in kindergarten.

David Trustman: In kindergarten.

Sarah Trustman: Several years ago.

The Insider: No, my daughter is four, and she's about the same stage, where she can't quite read yet, but she has learnt some books.

David Trustman: So our daughter took our path. We worked all these paths with her, and she just started making little adjustments to the tower for this book, her tower looked this way, and the first page, and she would have what was happening at the first page. It was funny just seeing that she was memorizing her books.

Sarah Trustman: You could ask her, "What's on page 27?" And she could say, "The fox jumped over the hen." And would know that that's what was happening, and was doing it on her own. But the biggest thing I feel like for our kids that we found that it's helped is confidence.

The Insider: Really?

Sarah Trustman: The fact that our daughter in kindergarten, she really struggled academically until we started teaching her pi, and she memorized the first 60 digits of pi.

The Insider: In kindergarten?

Sarah Trustman: In kindergarten.

The Insider: Oh my gosh.

Sarah Trustman: And this was a child who really struggled to get some basic math fundamentals, so next thing we know, she has memorized 60 digits of pi. We created this board for her that you could remove the digits, and she could look at the board and tell you which digits were removed from pi. So she ended up doing a talent show at her school with her 60 digits of pi, and the confidence that she gained from doing that changed everything. The way she now approaches school and math, even if there are things that are traditionally challenging for her, she knows that she has some untraditional tricks up her sleeve, and she knows that she has that power within her brain that she can do what she needs to do.

David Trustman: My favorite with it is that with the confidence, before she was very timid, and you could not really get her to go up and talk to people, and it was almost overnight after the talent show, where she just ... now, she just walks up to people, and she's like, "I like your hair." And you're like, "How do you have the confidence?" And she'll tell you, "Well, I know 60 places of pi." Like, "Okay."

The Insider: That's so cool. Do other friends of hers want to learn the system? Is it a thing that people are jealous of?

David Trustman: I would say that parents are more jealous than the kids, and the kids kind of enjoy it and think it's like a-

The Insider: Like a neat trick.

David Trustman: Yeah, and they think it's kind of weird because they don't understand. I'll ask one of the kids, "All right. Tell me what's happening at this location." And they start talking about a bee flying after a tree that also kind of looks like a bee, and it's just this weird, nonsensical story.

Sarah Trustman: They like the silliness of it.

David Trustman: Yeah.

The Insider: Right. Yeah, kids and silliness go together well. Talking of silliness and wearing elephant costumes, how did the TED Talk thing come about?

Sarah Trustman: Actually, one of the coordinators for TEDxMidAtlantic is a Vanishing Inc customer, and got book A and used it and was blown away, so shared it with some other people on their TEDx team that puts together, or curates, their speakers.

The Insider: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sarah Trustman: And they reached out and asked us if we would like to come in and speak about it, and of course we said we would love to.

The Insider: How exciting. When you were coming up with the system ... So magic got you into the system, and then you were there. When did you realize that it would help magicians learn stacks? How early in the process was that?

David Trustman: It's funny because it was actually right away, but we just thought, "Well, magicians probably all have their own different ways." We weren't actually familiar with memory systems in magic other than what had been described in Corinda.

The Insider: Okay.

David Trustman: And we just kept hearing, we belong to an IBM ring, and there were all these kids at the time that had all just gotten back from magic camp and they were talking about Mnemonica and everyone was trying to figure out how to memorize Mnemonica, and we had been playing with our system, and it was almost a joke to us how easy it was to us. I would make the image, and it was just there, and it stuck. And yeah, then it just took a while, it was after these kids were all trying to figure out how to do it that we realized, "Oh. Well, we can help."

Sarah Trustman: There are a lot of people struggling to do this.

The Insider: Absolutely. No, my next question was, I've had Mnemonica since it first came out, and I'm still yet to learn it, so what's stopping me, and how will your system help?

David Trustman: It depends probably, what way did you try to memorize?

The Insider: The method in the book.

David Trustman: I'll be honest with you, the method in the book, I don't have the patience for it.

Sarah Trustman: I don't know how anyone could memorize it with the method in the book. We were like, "Oh man, this is rough. I don't know." I am impressed, anyone who has memorized it with the method in the book, my hat off to them because, wow, that is a process.

David Trustman: Because before our method, we were using Dominic O'Brien's method, and we were doing tricks for people where we'd sit down and memorize three decks of cards, and then something would happen, one of us would have to name what cards are missing or something like that, and it was just like, "All right. Well, we'll sit down for about nine minutes. That'll be what it takes to do three decks." So when we read what was going on in Mnemonica, we're like, "All right, I can see how this works for some people, but from a memory perspective, this is like torture." Then of course when we realized how we could simplify Dominic's character method, then it was just like, "Holy cow. Now you can sit down and memorize the Mnemonica stack in, really, I don't think too long."

Sarah Trustman: Now it really is just a matter of sitting down and looking through the images and reading the story.

David Trustman: And realizing that it is going to work. As long as you're one of those people that doesn't have a problem seeing an image in your head, you're going to be able to memorize it.

Sarah Trustman: But we've talked to a few people across the world who have had various brain injuries, so they literally can not picture images in their minds, they can't imagine things. That is one hurdle we have not figured out how to get over yet, but if you're 99.9% of people who picture things in your mind, then the biggest thing is to just let go and don't try, just read the story. Don't worry about trying to memorize it as you're reading it because it happens naturally. Your brain is going to hold onto it.

The Insider: So I get the book, I look through it, I read it, and I'm done.

David Trustman: Pretty much. Really, what you want to do is as soon as you're through the images, you want to grab a deck of cards and actually physically go through and see where the weak spots are because really touching something, that's going to solidify the memory because when you're going through your path in your head and you're touching the cards, you're literally physically going to each location, and it's becoming more and more real.

Sarah Trustman: So you'll read the book, you'll read the story, and then you'll want to review. You'll go back through, and you'll go through the story again in your mind, and you'll go through the path through each location, and each location is holding a card, and you might find, "Oh, there's a few that I need to go back and look at the picture and solidify." But each time you go through and look at those pictures, it's going to become firmer, and I think to each his own, the number of review and review times you're doing. The other thing is once you memorize it, it's not like you can close the book and never review it again, and three years from now, you'll go, "Oh, well I still remember it." You are going to want to, every so often, go back and go through your path again and think through that story and think through those images to keep them fresh in your mind.

The Insider: So you've obviously spoken to people who have used it. Have you gotten a feel on how long it would take?

Sarah Trustman: We've had some people, in fact, just the other day when we were at our IBM ring meeting, we had someone who had just gotten the book, and they said, "You know what? I've had the book for a while, and I knew I was going to see you guys tonight, so I told myself, 'I need to finally read this.' So right before I came to the meeting, I sat down, I read through it, and I don't know if I really know them." And then he started going through, and he was like, "Wait. I do. I do." And, "This is this card, and then it's this, and then it's this." So shocked, he was like, "It did. I remembered them all, and I think there was maybe one that had to say, 'Oh, that's the elephant.' And then, 'Oh, okay. Yeah.'"

David Trustman: One of my favorites, though, is how many emails we get from people that tell us, "It's so weird. I looked through the images right before going to bed, and then when I woke up, I tested myself, and I missed maybe one or two, but I had it." And multiple people, it's the most fun email to get.

Sarah Trustman: Oh, it's the best feeling in the world. It makes all the work totally worth it.

The Insider: So say you get the Mnemonica version or the [inaudible 00:18:58] or whichever, that book helps you then, specifically Mnemonica, but if I wanted to apply the principles in it to learning something else, like people's names and faces or other things that people have, grocery lists, or whatever, how would you adapt?

Sarah Trustman: We do go into that in the book, and once you're done reading it, you really do have an idea of how you can tweak it to make it work for really anything you would want to memorize. The key is converting the information into something you can visualize, and once you know how to do that, and then once you have a path and a place to actually store those images so that you're not just having all this information floating around in random places in your head, but giving yourself a path or a memory palace is giving you a filing system. So once you have that filing system, it's up to you to figure out how you want to turn information into pictures, and then you just picture them at the different locations.

David Trustman: And truly, once your brain has figured out how to memorize a deck of cards and you're able to recall it either by the number or by the card, you really will have a fundamental understanding of how you can memorize everything. It will just unlock ideas of, "Oh, I can apply this this way." And, "I can do this that way."

Sarah Trustman: It's training yourself to think in a different way, and once you're thinking in that way, it's kind of hard to turn off.

The Insider: Traditionally, you'd think training your brain to think in a different way sounds like something that's fiendishly difficult to do.

David Trustman: Yeah.

The Insider: But when you use the images, that gets rid of the difficulty.

Sarah Trustman: Yeah.

David Trustman: Yeah. This may be off topic entirely, but there's a TV show on Netflix called Travelers, and they have this one character that has had all these mental upgrades and this and that to remember all these things, but so far, all of the facts that the character has had to memorize, Sarah and I look and go, "You could just simply do this with a few mnemonic devices. I don't know why you've got to have all the probes, and the computers, and all that." He just memorizes some dates, it's not that big a deal.

The Insider: It sounds like actual magic.

Sarah Trustman: It feels like it. It really does. I mean, the first time that we memorized a deck of cards, you feel superhuman. There's a physical high to it when you realize what your brain has been capable of this whole time that you had no idea. And then you feel cheated because you're like, "How is it that I have lived this long? I wish I had understood how to do these things." We tell our son, he'll be in high school next year, we're like, "You don't know how lucky you are and how good you have it that when it's time for you to study, you sit down and doodle some pictures." Other kids don't have that. And that's what we want. We want every child, every adult, everyone to know that this is how their brain works.

The Insider: I think especially at school that the memorization isn't the important bit, it's the understanding the concepts or whatever it is they're trying to learn. The actual physical bits that you need to memorize is dull, so the quicker you can get that out of the way.

Sarah Trustman: And then once you have that information in your brain, and the way that the mnemonics work is that you really can manipulate and play with it. So once you do have that quick foundation, it makes the learning and the understanding so much better and so much easier.

The Insider: Fantastic. I understand you have a new E-book about to come out. Can you tell us about that?

David Trustman: Yeah, this one is called Poker Hands, and what we're showing is an easy way to just add to the path that you already have with your stack and to now memorize where all the poker hands are, so if you want to do Any Hand Called For from Aronson, you're going to know in a matter of minutes, "All I have to do is cut here and I have a full house. If I do this, I've got a flush."

Sarah Trustman: So most of the stacks have these poker hands built into them, and what we've done is created an easy way to modify your path, or really to add to your path so that you know where all of those poker hands are within the deck.

The Insider: And this is with Aronson and Tamariz.

David Trustman: Yeah, anyone who's got a built in poker hand.

The Insider: You can apply it. Fantastic. So everybody that's listening that is curious, I would urge you to go to Vanishing Inc because there is a free sample that you can get that would give you an idea of how the images work. So stop listening now, go onto, click on the free downloads, find the memory art sampler, download that, enjoy it, and then go and buy the book.

Sarah Trustman: Do it.

The Insider: What's next, guys?

David Trustman: Well, we actually have a bunch more magic stuff coming out this year, which is super exciting because we're doing some new takes on some old memory demonstrations that update and kind of make them a whole lot more fun.

Sarah Trustman: And some more expansion packs that we'll be adding to the paths that you already have with more memorized deck magic.

The Insider: You guys are like Cards Against Humanity with all your expansion packs.

Sarah Trustman: Yes.

The Insider: But less sweary.

David Trustman: The fun thing is, if you've memorized a stack or you know the path at the very least, there are all these different ways that you can manipulate what you already to know to do these awesome memory demonstrations, so it's fun to show, "Yeah, okay, so you think you know just this little thing, but actually, you know a lot."

Sarah Trustman: And outside of magic, we've also been working on a kids book, which we're super excited about. That's been a long time project we've been working on.

The Insider: To help teach them the techniques?

Sarah Trustman: Yes. Yes.

David Trustman: And you did mention swearing, there is my comic that I do with a guy named Dean Hatfield, who is awesome, called Godslap, and that is picking back up pretty soon, and that is pretty much all swearing.

Sarah Trustman: We have an outlet there too.

The Insider: Perfect. So if guys want to find out what you're up to, where should they go?

Sarah Trustman: or We're also on Facebook, Trustman Creations, and Instagram, Trustman_Trustman.

The Insider: I shall put links to all of those in the show notes. David, Sarah, thank you so much for giving up your time. I really appreciate it, and I'll speak to you soon.

Sarah Trustman: Thank you.

David Trustman: Thanks for having us.

Sarah Trustman: It was great.

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