Forget the lectures, scientific breakthroughs and high-level discussions.

All they really want is a hug.

That’s what members of the high-IQ society Mensa did at their recent annual conference in Denver in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the most hugs in an hour by an individual.

Mensa member Alan Baltis, a teddy-bear of a man, put his burly arms around 833 people. That’s 13.8 hugs a minute.

The current record is 765 hugs.

“It was real sweet,” said Baltis, 48, an independent computer consultant in Lakewood. “There was no weirdness to it. It was just a real nice, semi-intimate thing to do.”

At 300 pounds and over 6 feet tall, Baltis had to squat many times for hugs. According to Guinness rules, the arms of two people have to extend around the other for a hug to officially count.

Hugging comes naturally for Baltis, president of the Cleveland Area Mensa association. His wife, Colleen, also a member, is a hugger, too. They met at a local Mensa meeting.

It will take several weeks before the organization finds out if Baltis officially broke the record.

To document the hugs, a tally was done by pencil, computer and stamping the back of hands of people who were hugged. In addition, there were three witnesses not associated with Mensa and television crews recording every huggable moment.

Shawn Kenney, a Mensa member in Cleveland, said members of the group have a long-standing practice of greeting each other with a hug instead of a handshake.

During the conference, members wore a red, yellow or green dot on their badges to indicate their receptiveness to a hug.

Kenney said the event got to show a different side of Mensa members.

“We are just people, too,” said Kenney, 30, a Web developer and designer at Tornado Technologies in Cleveland. “We don’t just sit around and do math problems for fun. We enjoy activities like everyone else.”

The Plain Dealer Saturday, August 02, 2008
Reporter: Jennifer Gonz�lez [email protected], 216-999-4327