Unique student? One is trillions

Alexei Meshkov from Borisov beats calculators
Year 2003, autumn. Georgy Chkhaidze, 33, construction engineer from Tbilisi, multiplies 958,823,775 by 787,277,856 in his head to beat the world record of Indian mathematician Garry Prasad who mentally multiplied two eight-digit numbers back in 1999 to get into the Guinness Book of Records.

A competent commission of mathematicians, psychologists, physicians and journalists watch Chkhaidze get the result of 781,164,560,926,441,732 in just 1 hour and 25 minutes. “Correct”, beeps the computer.

Year 2005, autumn. Alexei Meshkov, 28, student from Borisov, mentally multiplies 54,380,239,515 by 32,916,777,196. He beat both Prasad and Chkhaidze long ago, but the Guinness Book of Records is just a dream. I am the only “commission” to watch him, but the bottom line will be objective: Alexei proved that he is a unique man to some of my colleagues, representatives of various books of records (except for the Guinness Book) and even specialists of the psychophysiology laboratory with the Belarusian center for human studies. In only 27 minutes (!) the young man gives me a piece of paper with this incredible result: 1,790,022,227,980,370,099,940.

Alexei says he did the calculation twice to check himself (our readers may check the answer, too, if they wish). I call my editor and ask her to check the answer.

— Oh yes, it’s correct, she says, adding, You are near your own computer right now, why do you call me?

— This is the reason I call: I am not near the computer!

— Come on, who are you kidding? How do you know the answer?

— Oh, there is a man here that calculated it in his head.
Back in primary school Alexei was always the first to get answers while his classmates were writing the data of problems. “He will certainly become a mathematician,” his teacher believed. However, he was not so keen on mathematics, while digits and figures always fascinated him.

— I liked to look through statistical data, various tables and indicators when I was a kid, Alexei says. I once saw a census report dated 1988, and when years later our university professor told us there were 25 million people in Kazakhstan, I remembered clearly that the table said “Kazakhstan — 16 million.” I waited until the break and talked to the professor, who had to admit that he was wrong.

Two years ago, on September 28, 2003, his birthday, Alexei heard a report about the “outstanding Georgian” on the radio. He remembered that he was multiplying three— and four-digit numbers just for fun without thinking about his abilities. The idea haunted him for two weeks and he decided to give it a try. It took Alexei a couple of minutes to multiply five-digit numbers in his head, and he decided to take up millions. The first day resulted in a bad headache, and he took a day off. Alexei tried to mentally multiply millions and made a mistake, the following day he multiplied tens of millions and never made it right. He took another pause, concentrated and mentally multiplied two ten-digit numbers. Got it! Since then he has succeeded almost every time he tried it, especially when there was enough time and the atmosphere was good enough.

By the way, it took Chkhaidze an hour and a half to beat the record, moreover, it took him a huge coffee-pot, a couple of bottles of mineral water and a pack of cigarettes. Alexei took 27 minutes and chewed a pen cap. (He confessed later on that during his exercises he ate lots of pens).

After checking Meshkov, specialists with the psychophysiology laboratory concluded that he uses both cerebral hemispheres, unlike other people, who use one. Besides, his nervous system is strong enough to let him work and think all day long and remain rather fresh.

— I learn new things very quickly, and I can work for a long time and very absorbedly, the unusual young man says.

Alexei demonstrates his unique abilities only to a few puzzled journalists like myself and viewers during the performances and presentations organized by the offices of books of records. There is hardly any practical value in his abilities now, except for the fact that they spare him the need to write down telephone numbers. Besides, he sees all types of texts, including those in foreign languages, in the form of tables and can easily learn them by heart. The only thing is that he does not know the translation.

There is one more thing: Alexei easily gets the hang of vendors and knows all their tricks.

— They always take the goods off the scales very fast, but I have enough time to calculate the price, and I can assure you they always add 10 to 20 grams, Alexei tells me.

He is going to become an economist. He also loves sports and his wish to be the first is explained by this hobby.

— I am getting ready to mentally multiply twelve-digit numbers, I am sure it is possible.

Alexei does not tell anyone what goes on in his head, in its both hemispheres, and he is quite right. What if everyone could multiply millions? Who would need computers and calculators?

— I have several methods to remember digits. But every time I think of new moves, he says.

I tried to check my own calculating abilities and even tested my friends. It takes a real journalist to try new things. We managed to multiply two-digit numbers (it took some 15 minutes), but for more complicated problems you got to have an extraordinary memory.

— Do you know you have a wonderful son? I ask Alexei’s mother Anna Stepanovna who went to see me out.

— Of course I do! Look at these workshops! Two stories, and he built them by himself in a year. He has magical hands, my son. Of course he is wonderful!

by Tamara Zenina

Expert’s comment

“Had this boy lived a hundred year ago, he would be so much more valuable, but we do not need them this much with our state-of-the-art technologies”, says professor of the psychology department of Belarusian State University, Ph.D. Igor Furmanov. I am not sure we need mental calculations with all those computers we have now. The only thing is to perform on stage and astonish viewers.

At the same time, many specialists need a good memory. Spies have to have a good visual memory to remember maps and documents. Journalists should catch every word of interviewees and remember them. Policemen should be able to remember identikits and car plates by heart, too.

There is just one more thing: we are all getting lazy because of this sci-tech progress. We do not have to remember anything, so we don’t. We forget birthdays and telephone numbers. Why store them in mind if we can simply add them to phonebooks in our mobiles? We forget voices, because we use SMS and e-mail. So Alexei is a unique guy and can be proud of himself.
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