Opinion

Commentary: Better hide that Mensa membership under a bushel

I’m no genius, as regular readers are well aware.

But at a time when the Snookis of the world have higher status than your average Poindexter — who is derided as a nerd, or, worse, an elitist — exceptionalism ain’t exactly the plus it was in Einstein’s day.

Ask any Mensa member.

“I get more ridicule than praise in our culture,” Kansas City Councilman Russ Johnson said when I asked how his membership in the high-IQ society was received.

Me, I get enough ridicule already, and deserve most of it. So last Sunday I set out to confirm my lack of high intelligence by sharpening a couple of No. 2 pencils and heading over to the library — to take the Mensa test.

Each autumn, brainiacs across the nation put their intelligence to the test on Mensa Testing Day, which was Oct. 16. But since I was competing in a chili cooking contest on the 16th (robbed once again, sadly), I took the test on makeup day.

It was just two of us — me and a guy named William. The proctor said “go,” and for nearly 90 minutes we answered as many questions as we could.

The 50-question Wonderlic Personnel Test (same one NFL players take) was followed by Mensa’s series of seven mini-tests.

There’s no way to cheat, which put me at an awful disadvantage. Nor can you study for it. Either you have a good vocabulary, or you don’t. You’re either good at seeing patterns in numbers and shapes, or you aren’t. (For sample questions, try the “Mensa Workout” at www.mensa.org.)

As Mensa member Milli Hogins of Lenexa told me a few days later, “To be a Mensan, you have to be good at taking tests; you don’t have to know anything.”

No question, though, you must possess an agile mind, like William’s. After I sweated through the exam, he told me that he’d scored in the 98th percentile on the practice test he took ahead of time.

Not bad. Mensa membership is open to those who score in the top 2 percent on Mensa’s test, or another accepted standardized test.

“Twenty years ago, my dad missed it by one percentage point, and it’s beat him up ever since,” said William, a banker with a law degree who looked to be in his early 30s.

He didn’t want his last name printed because, well, think of the ridicule he’d suffer if he didn’t make it. Or better yet, what if he did?

“A lot of my friends keep it a secret,” the test proctor, Rhonda Johnston, told me.

Johnston even took her Mensa membership off her resume after a while, figuring it might hurt her career. “Some people are intimidated.”

Which is why, when the results come in, it’s unlikely I’ll share them. That way I can claim to be a genius, or not. Either way, as Sarah Palin might say, there’d be no way to refudiate it.

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