John Reese, center, first place winner in the 2002-2003 Cincinnati Area Mensa Local Scholarship contest, receives his award from Northern Kentucky Mensans Tom Vonderahe, left, and Bob Charlton.

Photo courtesy Cincinnati Mensa

Brainiacs Defy Stereotype

Every Tuesday at 5 p.m. a group meets at Willie's Sports Bar in Covington. By 6 p.m., everyone has something to drink and has ordered some wings or a burger, and the jokes and riddles begin. Don, who sits near the end of the long table, passes around some cartoons he's downloaded from the Internet. Don is funny and sometimes downright silly. He is also a genius.

They all are.

This jovial gathering around a bar may not be the first image that comes to mind when you think of Mensa. The group, as described in its own literature, is "an international society that has one and only one qualification for membership: a score in the top 2 percent of the population on a standardized intelligence test."

The folks at Willie's are members of the Cincinnati-area Mensa, which includes about 350 members total, with between 70 and 100 Northern Kentuckians in the group. Members from Kentucky are known as the south group, and these Tuesday night "spirited discussions" showcase the members' sharp wits and diverse opinions.

All Fun and Games

Debbie Brown, a Mensa member from Campbell County, says the buoyant mood is the norm.

"We don't just sit around talking about how smart we are," she says. "We have a lot of fun."

Several times a year, members hold regional gatherings. These weekend getaways generally offer lectures on a variety of topics, including history and politics, but have also included other activities, such as dancing, costume parties, marathon euchre tournaments, and, once, a lingerie fashion show.

This month, the Midwest group, including members from this area, will take a five-day vacation to Las Vegas Not exactly the boring geeks hot spot. Members will have a chance to gamble, see shows and go sightseeing. Presentations will run the gamut, from "Casino Poker for the Beginner" to "Science and the Writing of Mark Twain."

Mensa also sponsors blood drives, educational seminars, and scholarship programs for gifted kids. Some members also branch out to lobby in Washington. Championed causes range from gay rights to the right to bear firearms. The members are nothing if not diverse.

It is the fun, however, that generally surprises people.

Brown, a member of the Cincinnati area group's executive committee, helps organize events. She says some of the regional gatherings are more serious in nature, but others just focus on entertainment. Brown has even brought her grandchildren along from time to time.

"(Mensa) kind of becomes like an extended family," she says.

For Brown, the analogy is more literal than for most. After her first marriage ended, she was a single thirtysomething mom with little time for a social life. She joined Mensa to meet people.

"For a single woman, it's a very comfortable place to socialize," she says. The ratio of men to women in Mensa is about 66 percent to 33 percent, so Brown ended up meeting a lot of men. One of them, Craig Brown, became her second husband.

Craig passed away several years ago, and Brown once again found herself leaning on her friends from Mensa. They were the people she knew best and, in many ways, the people who could understand her.

Secret Society?

Mensa is not what people think. Alex Tainsh, of Sparta, Kentucky, joined Mensa just a few months ago. He says people teased him when he said he was going to apply for membership.

"They jibed me with comments such as, ‘Do you even know how to play dungeons and dragons?'" he says. "Those people spend their time in attics in front of multi-screen systems never seeing the sun.' The misconceptions people have about Mensa are way off base, at least in my humble ‘newbie' opinion."

Tainsh joined Mensa because of a bet with a friend.

"I had bet on the failing side of the wager," he says, "convinced that passing the Mensa test would entail much more preparation than I had time to spare."

Instead, Tainsh found that joining Mensa requires only a basic I.Q. test. To become a member of Mensa, one must score in the top two percent of the general population. The surprising part, however, is that as many as 20 percent of those who take the test score high enough to join Mensa.

So Mensans — as they call themselves — are just regular people, right?

Not quite, says Tainsh.

"Not only have (Mensans) seen the sun," he says, "but they can tell you how it works and how far it is from the earth."

The next Mensa testing will be June 12 at the Fort Thomas Branch of the Campbell County Library. Learn more at the local chapter's website.

Posted 6/02/04

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