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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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« Chicago Critics Film Festival Returns May 9-15 Vito Desalvo Exhibit Opens Wednesday at the Bluebird »

Feature Wed May 07 2014

Hacking the Grid

For some of us the Grid is as useful as a blank piece of graphing paper. Sure, finding your way someplace should be a matter of connecting the dots. But since addresses on the North Side don't come in coordinate form, they don't give you the whole picture.

You could use Google Maps to find where someplace is, but do you really want to walk the streets like a lost tourist in your own city? And what if your phone dies?

Luckily, I found a way (thanks to this book) for us hopeless wanderers to finally conquer the Grid: an ancient memorization technique called "the Method of Loci."

This method works on the theory that as hunter-gatherers, humans evolved with great spatial memories but lousy memories for numbers and other things useful to modern life.

By building a "memory palace" we can tap into our brain's strengths and memorize anything, from phone numbers to roads. You make a memory palace by visualizing a physical location you are familiar with and placing images of things you want to remember within that memory.

There's a bit more to it, but take a stroll through my memory palace and see if you can figure out what streets these images help me remember.


1. This is where it starts, at the East end of Navy Pier, where the State of Illinois flag waves.


2. Heading West, the next stop is the beer garden, where Hall & Ted are playing their fusion of catchy hooks and time-traveling metal. Ted's 8-string bass solos are epic.


3. Continuing on, smoke stings my eyes, and squinting through it I see the Tall Ship Windy is on fire. I watch the ashes land on six teens texting. lol.


4. Is that the McRib I smell? It's hard not to stop at the 24-hour western-themed McDonald's.


5. Outside the Ferris Wheel, this kid's Z's show he's a huge fan of Zorro. And he's so thirsty he has two 32 Oz. Slurpees.


6. Stepping inside and passing the Navy Pier IMAX, Paul is asking if anyone has seen This is 40. Nobody has.


7. And lastly at the entrance to Navy Pier sits the statue of Roman philosopher and politician, Cicero, protected by eight 40s.

So, did you crack the code?

These images help me remember the major North/South streets & their addresses:

1. State, 0 West.
2. Halsted, 800 West.
3. Ashland, 1600 West
4. Western, 2400 West
5. Kedzie, 3200 West.
6. Pulaski, 4000 West.
7. Cicero is 4800 West.

Do you have your own technique for memorizing the Grid? Leave a comment below.

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Nancy / May 7, 2014 2:48 PM

Riding the CTA every day is a great memory trainer. I rode the Grand Ave bus from 6800 west to Navy Pier for a year+. Later in life, I rode the red line from Edgewater to the Loop and that fixed the north-south streets in my mind.

Ross / May 11, 2014 12:05 PM

Coming from Boston I find it laughable and embarrassing that some people who have lived here their whole lives can't figure out where they are or how to get anywhere. It's a NUMBERED GRID! By an address alone you can know exactly where you are along one axis! Do you know how easy that is? Thinking back about learning how to navigate twisting roads, hills, bridges, bizarre interchanges, highways labeled north and south at the same time, etc. back East and getting lost constantly, I think lifelong Chicagoans have no idea how good they have it. Just memorize the big ones and the smaller ones will follow. It's too frickin' easy! You don't need another system to figure it out. The grid system IS the system for figuring it out.

Mike E / May 14, 2014 5:02 PM

Great point. Riding the bus is a great way to learn the smaller side streets too.

The Grid definitely simplifies things. But the streets on the North Side have names, not numbers- hence the necessity of remembering that Western is 2400 West, for example.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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