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Know Your Presidents! 1-3, plus 12 and 14

I'm currently reading Bob Harris's Prisoner of Trebekistan. The author was a five-time winner on Jeopardy (and he appeared later in tournaments), and his Jeopardy experiences are the core around which the book is written. But it's much more than just an account of his life in Jeopardy.... Perhaps I should hold off on all this until I write the review. At any rate, among the things he discusses in the book are memory techniques. I have myself played around with these ideas, the creation of outlandish images in order to instill some piece of information, mnemonics, and so on. But Harris takes it all much farther than I ever went. For one thing it never occurred to me to try to memorize the presidents of the US by number. He did--and he memorized a lot more--and he gives some of his tricks for some of the presidents: e.g. (and I remember this from my reading last night: simple, simple), Zachary Taylor was the 12th president: there's a Z in DOZEN. Franklin Pierce was the 14th president: imagine a heart (Valentine's Day is on the 14th) pierced by arrows. (I also remember from last night his trick for naming all seven UN Secretaries-General. And I can still name them this morning--though I couldn't possibly spell them.)

The point is, we're going to try to memorize the presidents by number here at the deblog. That's right. You didn't know what you'd signed on for when you happened by, but them's the breaks. Sometimes life hands you responsibilities and your lot is simply to accept them. So stop whining.

Okay. Probably it's otiose to develop techniques for memorizing the first three presidents, George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. But just in case:

1. George Washington: he chopped down ONE cherry tree (don't like it? suggest your own)
2. John Adams: imagine him and cousin Samuel Adams drinking a can each (thus TWO cans) of Samuel Adams-brand beer
3. Thomas Jefferson: The TV Jeffersons were a family of THREE: George, Weezie, and Lionel

And remember Bob's suggestions:

12. Zachary Taylor: there's a Z in DOZEN
14. Franklin Pierce: imagine a heart (Valentine's Day is on the 14th) pierced by arrows

In subsequent installments of Know Your Presidents! I think we'll skip around, so that one is not tempted to learn them in order only.

Feel free to contribute your own suggestions! (By the way, I'm hereby introducing a new category for posts such as this, "deblog university," which you'll be able to find via the pull-down menus.)

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Well it will certainly beat counting them off on the fingers! I actually memorized the boys, in order, years ago...I lost interest around 'Richard Nixon' somewhere, so the last few aren't so indelibly imprinted. How about 'Aren't you SICK about what happened to Abe?' - i.e. 'sixteen'?

Please enrol me as a full-time student at DebU.


Excellent! Don't let me forget that one when we get to Abe.


Oh, I love mnemonics! I remember learning the state capitals as a kid; Frankfurt is the capital of Kentucky because I imagined a picnic with frankfurters and Kentucky Fried Chicken! And I also recall studying with a friend for a high school exam about famous French people; my father's name is Bernard and her father is a scientist, so we remembered that Claude Bernard was a scientist! (And I obviously never forget that crucial, life-enhancing piece of information....) I'll get to work on the presidents.


Yes, please fill my brain up with more useless information! What I need is a mnemonic to remember my children's names! :D


Will do, Tom!

No mnemonic in the world can get a parent to correctly identify their children more than 50% of the time (assuming two children).


I've learned all of the US presidents by name, number, and portrait just recently by taking free lessons on them at I find memorizing this information helps me remember other interesting facts about history and makes me interested in learning more.

It took me about two months working about 2 minutes a day to learn them all. The author of the lessons broke the presidents in groups of four and the site quizzes you until you know them all. If you use the assignments and RSS feature you can be reminded each day automatically to refresh your memory by the program.

If you want to learn the presidents try the lessons out at:

Best of all, it is all FREE!!! I like free.


Thanks, Ted! I'm going to check this out. Sounds very interesting.


And if these mnemonics are going to use a lot of TV references they aren't going to very helpful. Except that I will always remember that the Jeffersons have three members of the family because Jefferson was the third president!


At least you'll get your Jeffersons knowledge tucked away. Jefferson too might have been said to be "movin' on up to the big time" when he was elected president.

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Reading Herodotus: A Guided Tour through the Wild Boars, Dancing Suitors, and Crazy Tyrants of The History. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

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