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Mensa convention an irreverent meeting of minds

Published August 12, 2006

ORLANDO - In which sport would you encounter a bedpost, a six-pack and a deuce?

"Sounds like a biker party to me," said a trivia contest participant, whose bandanna, goatee, sunglasses and faded tank top reading "The Hog Farm" suggested he ought to know.

Turns out it was bowling, and another point for the "brainiacs" in a trivia contest Friday against the bikers.

The competition was among more than 300 speeches, how-to's, seminars and classes at Walt Disney World this week for the World Gathering of Mensa, a 100,000-member club whose single qualification for membership is an intellect among the world's top 2 percent. That means an IQ of at least 130.

The event, the first of its kind in America, celebrated the group's 60th birthday and drew more that 2,000 people from more than 38 countries and all U.S. states except Wyoming.

It also featured perhaps the most meticulously strategized, eagerly anticipated and sometimes awkwardly played event in the history of sort-of-organized sport: the Mensa dodgeball challenge.

More than a dozen teams - with names like Mickey's Nero to Zero, the Drunken Clams and Hell's Balls - vied to be first-ever Mensa dodgeball champions. Many seemed to have practiced - or at least developed a game plan - in advance.

"Aim low," joked Brad Christman, a radio broadcaster from Harrisburg, Pa. "You always go for the legs. And don't try to catch a ball unless you're absolutely sure you can."

Some stretched before the match and chanted team anthems. A man watching in the crowd was reading a book called MRSA-Spider Bites: The flesh eating bacterial epidemic that threatens America.

The event also was a fundraiser for Mensa scholarships, which total around $58,000 annually at the national level and give students a plum resume point.

"Most of the people are just a little different, a little out of step. And here that just doesn't happen," said John Sheehan, a New Hampshire hypnotherapist and member of American Mensa's board of directors.

Mensa members are a big lot of self-described introverts, but the ones who traveled to Orlando sought a place they could do whatever gave them kicks without worrying about fitting in.

There were martial arts and yoga lessons, a lecture about finding space rocks, talks on America's drug war, lessons on setting up a wireless router, novel-writing how-to's, and a session from Dr. Richard Lederer, a punster and grammar expert.

Participants ranged in age from 4 to 90.

"There was an astronaut, a guy who lived on the space station," said Robert Berend, a Berkeley, Calif., lawyer, stockbroker and human sexuality researcher. "And there are normal people. There are people that are starving actors and starving actresses, and there are other people that are exceptionally well off."

The common bond, besides a high IQ, is a tacit understanding among all Mensans what it's like to know all the right answers - and feel out of place because of it.

"I never revealed, in all the years that I worked for corporations, that I was a member, because I knew the effect it would have; it would make me uncomfortable. You're already seen as different anyway," said Sheehan, who used to work in the energy business.

"One of the most often heard phrases of people who are new to an event like this is, 'I felt like I've come home,' " Sheehan said.

[Last modified August 12, 2006, 01:46:25]

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