asking them to help you is a great idea.
>I don't want to look like attention-whoring around them.
That's why asking questions about them is a good strategy. You don't seem to force their attention on you (since they are speaking about themselves), but actually they are speaking TO YOU, which is what you want. Let's call it safe attention whoring ^_^ Besides, people usually like to talk about themselves, and happily oblige.
As for your mind going blank, just prepare your stuff beforehand. Have your questions ready, and then just go for it and embrace the conversation. Ask open questions (those that can't be answered just by yes or no), and never simply answer yes or no, add something that forces people to react to you : "yes, and how about you", etc.