Define �Significa�: What some big brains do for fun

Do good tests turn you on? Does racing someone to finish the Times crossword enliven your lunch hours? Do you know so much that no one who knows you will watch JEOPARDY! with you, let alone play Trivial Pursuit�? If you answered yes, know that you are not alone.

The worldwide High-IQ Society�, Mensa, is stuffed with former kids who once spoiled the curve and raised the bar for everybody. And the 50,000-odd paying members of American Mensa � who score generally from 32 to 50 points above the �normal� IQ of 100 on standardized tests � devour puzzles, games and tests with such relish that one of the founders once lamented that that�s all most members really like to do.

An inborn ��satiable curiosity� nets most real highly intelligent people, not just the geeks in criminal forensics shows, that wealth of arcane knowledge that the TV geeks seem spring-loaded to spout. But what good, really, is knowing the little known, unless you earn a living editing, creating the Times crossword, or boring people to death? It can win your team CultureQuest�, the annual competition in which American and Canadian Mensa members flex their mental muscles. So much fun do they find this mental Olympics that, though the top 20 scoring teams also win cash for their chapters� Scholarship Funds, Mensans pay to compete just for bragging rights.

The best CQ tests resemble a �bypass� exam for a Bachelor of General Studies degree. The one noticeable difference? No multiple choice. In 90 minutes, starting at the same moment, team members collaborate to answer anywhere from 150 to 400 questions, mostly fill-in-the-blank but usually with some matching and image identification. Competitors one year had to name a musical phrase�s composer and list all the popes� real names. But tests of mastery, not just deductive or guessing ability, are meat and drink to many players. They bear their mental arms proudly into this non-geeky arena.

They will need them for stumpers like these: Given its name or chemical formula, identify skunk juice. Recognize the description of Liberty Ships. Fill in a map of Antarctica. Supply the word originally meaning �need� that now means its opposite. List nine one-word Hitchcock film titles.

There�s some micro-knowledge required � heraldry, Sanskrit, astronomy, mythology, physics, Greek, chemistry, Latin � because TV and bar quizzes can have nothing on Mensans�. No �stupid answers� or �Celebrity Before & After� stuff is offered. And there are no obvious clues. These questions would be perfect for CQ:

1) For what wedding anniversary is chrome the traditional gift?

2) What homonym can mean either �canine lip� or �displayed�?

3 What do Eliskases, Capablanca, Euwe, and Keres have in common? *

The one- to five-person teams, which pay $40 to take this test and whose wildly assorted members often renew early to be eligible, take names that reveal a distinctive sense of humor and rampant if convoluted paronomasia. In 2008, the winning Highbrows (who won again in 2009) bested the Standard Deviants, the Rocket Surgeons and Brains-A-Roni � The Oakland/Berkeley Team.

The volunteers who write each year�s test can�t play, but they get to grade. Team captains can challenge the �correct� answers, but the original rules state clearly that �the decision of the judges is arbitrary, capricious, and final.� Judges may award credit for witty and/or profoundly creative answers, especially if you make them laugh out loud, quote you in a blog, or discuss your concept in a monograph.

Crafting the test involves whittling some 600-1,000 proposed questions down to a few hundred that aren�t too arcane, too trivial or too common knowledge. And creating a test that challenges and delights people who may be �severely and profoundly gifted� isn�t easy, but so what? To its authors and judges � and to as many as nine teams per Mensa chapter � CultureQuest� is fun because it�s fiendishly difficult.

So. If this seems like fun to you and you�re willing to pay $59 annually plus the CQ entry fee, then trust me: You�ll love Mensa. Go visit org and sign up for National Testing Day, or send proof of passing the Bar exams.

But if it seems ridiculous to you to spend that much just to flex your mind and meet smart people, then e-mail me and let�s get something like this going in the community. I bet Azle�s brains could whup Aledo�s any day, don�t you?

*Answers: 1. None. 2. �Flew�. 3. They�re all famed chess Grandmasters.

Azleite Angie Richardson is a freelance writer and copyeditor Azle. Once a Mensa member, she led her team into the top 20 two out of the six years they played CultureQuest�. E-mail her at [email protected].
Azle News Online
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Angie Richardson