Is that tick-tick-tick the stopwatch on CBS' 60 Minutes, counting down the seconds in an hour? Or is it the sound of Rick Baron's brain, flipping through the calendars in his head, the days of each year since 1968?
Baron, one of our Most Interesting People for 2009 (click here, 2nd person down), called yesterday to say he'll be on 60 Minutes this March. He's one of four people in the world known to have hyperthymesia, a super-memory of their own life, day by day, as well as world events.
"It’s like your own private time machine," Baron says.
CBS flew him out to California last month to meet with two other super-memory guys, take quizzes, get MRIs taken of their brains, and be interviewed by 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl. The segment will likely air in March.
Scientists at the University of California-Irvine say Baron's encyclopedic memory comes from his caudate nuclei, a part of his brain that's seven or eight times the size of most people's.
"Anything -- especially numbers and dates -- anything you read, hear, or see just sticks on your head," he says.
Baron, a human almanac, never tires of being tested. Ad-libbing, I ask him the date that the late Alabama governor George Wallace was shot. Arthur Bremer shot him on Monday, May 15, 1972, he says. (Correct.) Who won Super Bowl XVI? The 49ers, he says after a second's pondering: They beat the Bengals, on January 24, 1982, in Detroit, in the first cold-weather Super Bowl.
Ever seen a perpetual calendar, which keeps track of the seven ways a regular year and a leap year can start? Baron has that in his head: 1982 has the same calendar as 2010, he adds after his Super Bowl riff. (Yes, this Jan. 24 is also a Sunday.) It's the template for his memory. (That file-by-date process might also cause an occasional imperfection in his recall. I think I hear him say the Super Bowl XVI score that Jan. 24 was 24-21 -- actually, it was 26-21, Google tells me.)
So far, Baron's talent has earned him an appearance on NBC's Today Show as well as lots of trivia contest victories and free vacations.
"I get paid for some things," he says: "Speaking at medical events, corporate events." He hopes to parlay it into a nightclub act or comedic game show, with prizes based on how many times a contestant can stump him.
"They’ve put me on the Bob Rivers radio show in Seattle," he says: the station offers "a trip anywhere in world if they stump me twice." No one has beaten him.