Mensa: Normal but not average

Mensa group
The Mensa Gab and Grub group meets monthly for lunch in Kerrville to learn from each other. It’s one of many Mensa groups in South Texas and around the world that is open to individuals who achieve a score at or above the 98th percentile on a standard test of intelligence. Photo by Phil Houseal

Update: Mensa will administer the Mensa qualification test on Friday, Oct 6, at Schreiner University from 1:45 to 4 pm in the “Fishbowl.” For details, call Gary at 830-739-1730.

Sample Mensa test and answers at end of column.

July 6, 2017–When I entered the room at my very first Mensa meeting I didn’t expect the topic to be colonoscopies. After all, these people represent the top 2% of intelligence in the world.

“That just happened to be what we were talking about,” explained Larry Arnold, one of five members at the monthly Mensa Gab and Grub luncheon in Kerrville.

Actually, I’m not sure what I expected. I first heard about Mensa in my college days, but never pursued membership. At the time, it seemed akin to belonging to the Red Headed League. That is, creating a group based on one physical trait you had no role in obtaining, such as being bald, people named Bob, or being a twin (those are all real clubs).

These five were a diverse lot, with no common trait other than getting a sufficient score on one of the tests sanctioned by the international organization. Gary Ramsey is retired Air Force; Larry Arnold is a journalist and gun instructor; Polly Holmes is a real estate associate broker who used to raise goats; John Holmes is a retired engineer; and Dennis Fedak is a businessman.

So exactly what is Mensa? They all prompted Arnold to give his answer: “Mensa is an organization for people who do very well on tests they are not smart enough to get out of.”

Okay, so they do have one other trait in common–a self-deprecating sense of humor.

As someone who has studied and taught in the gifted and talented field, the matter of intelligence has always seemed a conundrum.

In our society, we admire athletic prowess, physical beauty, artistic talent, and creativity. But superior intelligence is often ignored or even mocked. Smart kids get labeled brainiac, or nerd, or poindexter. In some cultures, good students go to great lengths to hide their intellectual ability to avoid being teased.

These Mensans have heard all the myths.

“If you are so smart, why aren’t you rich?” Ramsey said as an example of one he hears all the time. “None of us is rich.”

Fedak had a quick answer. “Because that is not the goal.”

What is the goal?

“To learn something,” Arnold said. “My philosophy is to learn something every day.”

Or that smart people are all liberals. Yet Mensa members range from progressive to conservative, just like the general population.

“One of things about Mensa is you can have different opinions,” Arnold said. “That is the part of Mensa I really like.”

Or that intellectuals are elitist.

“A lot of us don’t fit in with that group and are not what people expect,” Arnold said. “But it doesn’t bother us because we don’t care what people expect.”

So why have meetings?

“We don’t have meetings,” Ramsey said. “We have gatherings. It’s a fun group and I learn things. We all have different backgrounds.”

At that point it dawned on me that that was the point. During lunch, in spite of my annoying attempts to interview everyone, the subjects ranged from guns to goats to politics to Burning Man to Area 51. Instead of espousing points of view, they were all curious to learn from the others.

“There is no subject that has been poorly received or offended anybody,” John Holmes said. “You can talk about anything. When the group talks you learn things.”

The Hill Country group is part of the South Texas Mensa (STM), based in San Antonio. That chapter hosts 40 Special Interest Groups (SIGs) a month, comprising members’ interests in chess, math, art, survivalism, shooting, and writing.

Bob Bevard, past president of STM, estimates that nationally, Mensa offers hundreds of SIGS, including such non-nerdy activities as skiing and scuba diving.

“There are always things to do,” Bevard said. “If someone is interested in something, and you don’t see it offered, the trick is to host it yourself. We’ll put it in the newsletter to see if anyone else shares that interest.”

Bevard addressed another Mensa myth.

“Mensa is not about impressing people,” Bevard said. “We’re not all stuffed shirts, and it’s not all quantum physics or rocket science… although we do have that too. Any conversation is game, and in any sizeable core group of Mensas, there is going to be knowledge across many areas.”

That connectivity might be the best metaphor for Mensa.

“You can walk into a conversation and not know anything, ask a couple of smart questions and run with it,” Bevard said. “We’re just normal people who get things quickly and like to share experiences, ideas, and food and drinks. We can party as well as anyone!”

As the meal ended, the only item that remained was for me to take a group photo to “show readers that you are normal,” I joked.

“We are normal,” said Arnold. “We’re not average, but we’re normal.”

Details:

There are approximately 200 tests accepted to verify that an individual qualifies for Mensa membership. Proctored tests are administered locally.

For information on the local Mensa Gab and Grub group, contact Gary Ramsey at 830-739-1730.

For information on the South Texas Mensa group, contact Bob Bevard at bob@bevard.net.

For information on national Mensa, visit us.mensa.org.

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Do you qualify for Mensa?
Try these 10 sample questions. If you get at least half correct, you might have a shot.

  1. What is the 4-digit number in which the first digit is one-fifth the last, and the second and third digits are the last digit multiplied by 3? (Hint: The sum of all digits is 12.)
  2. Jane went to visit Jill. Jill is Jane’s only husband’s mother-in-law’s only husband’s only daughter’s only daughter. What relation is Jill to Jane?
  3. Which of the words below is least like the others? The difference has nothing to do with vowels, consonants or syllables.
    MORE, PAIRS, ETCHERS, ZIPPER
  4. Tabitha likes cookies but not cake. She likes mutton but not lamb, and she likes okra but not squash. Following the same rule, will she like cherries or pears?
  5. What is the number that is one more than one-tenth of one-fifth of one-half of 4,000?
  6. In a foot race, Jerry was neither first nor last. Janet beat Jerry, Jerry beat Pat. Charlie was neither first nor last. Charlie beat Rachel. Pat beat Charlie. Who came in last?
  7. Find the number that best completes the following sequence.
    1 2 4 7 11 ? 22
  8. Marian bought 4 oranges and 3 lemons for 90 cents. The next day she bought 3 oranges and 4 lemons for 85 cents. How much did each lemon and orange cost?
  9. Start with the number of total mittens the numbered kittens lost, and multiply by the voting age in the U.S. What’s the answer?
  10. There is at least one nine-letter word that contains only one vowel. Do you know what it is?

© Dr. Abbie F. Salny

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ANSWERS

1. 1155

2. Jane’s daughter (Jane’s mother’s husband is Jane’s father, his daughter is Jane, and Jill is her daughter.)

3. Zipper (The others can be anagrammed into the names of cities: Rome, Paris, Chester.)

4. Cherries (Tabitha only likes food with two syllables.)

5. 41. (4000/2=2000, /5=400, /10=40, +1=41)

6. Rachel

7. 16 (Each number adds 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, respectively, to the preceding number.)

8. Oranges cost 15 cents each; lemons cost 10 cents each.

9. 216. (3 kittens @4 mittens each=12×18. Kittens have 4 paws.)

10. Strengths

Scoring: Count the number of correct answers.

9-10 Mensa material! Try to join.

7-8 Good chance you qualify for Mensa.

5-6 Not bad, you might make Mensa.

Below 5 You must have had a bad day. Why not try the games available at www.us.mensa.org/games?