SAN DIEGO — In a corner of the spacious meeting room stands a wooden bar, roughly shoulder length in height, next to a table with ping pong balls and paddles.
In the moments before the start of the competition, Nick Sanford noted that the concept behind this station was fairly simple — although not necessarily easy to accomplish.
“All they have to do,” he said, “is knock a ping pong ball over the bar for 10 minutes. It sounds very simple — until you’ve tried to do it.”
Indeed, one of the contestants, Sainyam Cautam of India, was soon practicing his moves in the minutes before the competition started. He then had 10 minutes to see how consistently he could knock the ball over the bar, then hit it back onto the other side, then back again … without missing. As the minutes went by, he got faster and faster, and his timing improved considerably. From the smile on his face, he even seemed to be enjoying it.
The event was HiQora, the High IQ World Championships 2016 sponsored by the organization American Mensa, which is made up of people across the globe in the top 1 percentile of high intelligence. The championship was held during Mensa’s Annual Gathering 2016, at the Town & Country Inn in San Diego.
“This is the finals,” Sanford said, adding that they literally had thousands of initial applicants.
“Two-thousand people took the test,” said Sanford, who joined 12 other veteran members of Mensa to administer the final competitions for the finalists.
“We narrowed it down to 12 people, and we brought them here,” he said. “They took a full IQ test, and 50 percent of their score will be based on that test.”
The remainder of their score, he added, comes from how well they performed that afternoon on activities like the ping pong station.
“There are 12 stations,” Sanford said. The activities varied, from building a tower made out of regular paper supplies, to listening through headphones to six musical instruments.
“Then we’ll play a soundtrack and they’ll have to identify which instrument is on the soundtrack,” Sanford said.
Mensa member Fraser Sherman helped administer another one of the exams, where he presented the finalists with pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and asked them to assemble it — while blindfolded.
“You’ll put them together while wearing these goggles, so you can’t see,” Sherman said. “You’ll have to use your best judgment as you put it together by touch. It is possible to fit one of the wrong pieces into the space. One of my previous contestants did that. That’s part of the risk.”
Each finalist had 10 minutes to do their best at each of the 12 stations.
“Around this space, including two spaces outside, we have our 12 stations,” said the Championship’s main coordinator, Johann Odou, at the start of the competition. “You’re going to move progressively around throughout the day.”
It was a test of skill — each station representing a very unique and separate challenge for the finalists.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..