Woman Beats Machine (In Which I Remember John Henry and Ken Jennings)

For the first time in years — if not ever — I succeeded where technology failed.

Over the weekend, my friend Travis hummed a few bars on the way out of my apartment. He popped his head back in: ‘What song is that?’ And he repeated the phrase … 11 or so notes.

‘I dunno,’ I dismissed. ‘Sounds 80s.’ Travis agreed. We tried humming the few bars into SoundHound, the usually miraculous iPhone app that names a tune in 10 seconds or fewer, whether it is the studio recording, a live performance, or your own dumb self humming it.

This time, however? No dice.

Tuesday morning, the riff was still running through my head. I sing it into SoundHound at least 15 times. I type the musical phrase, semi-phonetically, into Google. I stumble across pages like this and this. I review a list of 80s one-hit wonders to see if that jogs my memory (side note to self: download ‘Nineteen’ by Paul Hardcastle). I email Travis and tell him he has to visit me in the mental institution where I will inevitably wind up.


Suddenly, in a rare moment that I’m actually not humming the cursed 11 notes to myself, it hits me. It’s a Cure song. I’m almost sure of it. I write ‘Cure’ in my notebook and circle it, as if this will manifest a correct result.

I Google the track listing to Staring at the Sea (okay, so the Internet helped a little bit, but this was quicker than booting up iTunes). Lo and behold, I see track 16: ‘Close to Me.’ I take a listen via LastFM.

Hot damn. 0:32 through 0:40 has been on replay through my brain for the past three days.


I text Travis to see if I’ve solved the mystery. Wouldn’t you know it, I had. What a relief! A rewarding, fulfilling relief.

Yes, it drove me crazy for a few days and yes, I shook my fist at SoundHound more than once, but the answer was ultimately so much sweeter because I stumbled across it on my own. I exercised my brain and my long-term memory for once.

I should remember this feeling next time I run to my phone or laptop to pull up IMBD or Wikipedia or my favorite lyrics site or any other source of an answer that’s haunting me.

But you know what? I probably won’t. It’s just too easy and efficient to cheat.

I hope we aren’t all doomed to have jelly-brains because technology makes it too easy on us. At least Google can’t write this blog for me – for the little that it’s worth, this has been my mental exercise for the day.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s