YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Intellectual Curiosities : Some Intelligence Tests Pose Very Odd Questions; Others Are Just Plain Dumb

June 25, 1989|JACK SMITH


There's probably no reliable way to tell. We used to trust the IQ test, but that has been widely discredited. Psychologists say it tests one's exposure to middle-class culture, not natural mental ability.

Intelligence is not even called intelligence now. It is called g and is said to represent seven different kinds of intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal and intra-personal.

It is easy to see that a person we used to consider dumb might well be a genius in at least one of those areas: for example a baseball player who bats .400 but doesn't know what 9 times 6 equals.

No one likes to be considered dumb. It's like being thought of as lacking a sense of humor. A person will admit to being a serial killer before he or she will admit to being dumb or lacking a sense of humor.

I think I might score fairly high in linguistic skills but poorly in logical-mathematical. I can tell Mozart from rock, but I have no musical talent. As for spatial skills, if the modern abstract artists have spatial skills, I don't.

Interpersonal intelligence is defined as being able to read the moods and intentions of others; intra-personal intelligence is understanding one's own feelings and using that insight to guide behavior.

All I can say is that after 50 years of marriage, I still don't always understand my wife's moods, and my behavior certainly has not always reflected any intelligent insight into myself.

Consequently, the only clue I have to my own intelligence is from those brain teasers you find in the corners of magazines and newspapers. For example, I found this one in U.S. News & World Report:

"A man who lived in a small town married 20 different women in that same town. All of them are still living, and he never divorced any of them. Yet he broke no laws. How could he do this?"

Well, I'm not that dumb. He was the local parson, of course.

"According to the U.S. Constitution, if the Vice President of the United States should die, who would be the President?"

I thought it would be the Speaker of the House. But, of course, if the Vice President died, the President would still be alive--and still be President.

Pretty tricky. If I hadn't known that the Speaker succeeds the Vice President, I wouldn't have been taken in.

OK. "Fifteen percent of the people in a certain town have unlisted telephone numbers. You select 200 names at random from the local telephone book. How many of those people can be expected to have unlisted telephone numbers?"

My mathematical skills aren't that bad. Fifteen percent of 200 is 30. Right? But the answer is that none of the unlisted numbers would be in the telephone book.

What I want to know is, if I'm that dumb, how did I get into the Marine Corps?

I did a little better with the questions in "Brain Busters: Just How Smart Are You, Anyway?" by Louis Phillips (Puffin Books).

In a blizzard, you take shelter in a log cabin. You find a wood-burning stove, a kerosene lamp, an oil burner and one candle. You have only one match. What do you light first?

Easy. You light the match.

Next question. Nikki went to bed at 9 p.m. and set her alarm clock to wake up at 10. How many hours of sleep would Nikki get before the alarm awakened her?

I said 13 hours. But the answer was one hour, as the alarm would go off at 10 o'clock, one hour after it was set.

But doesn't everyone have a digital alarm clock these days? Nikki would have set the alarm for 10 a.m.

Question: Why didn't the United States Government, in 1800, bury Benedict Arnold with full military honors?

One, Benedict Arnold was a traitor; two, he died in England.

But no, those aren't the right answers. The answer is that Arnold died in 1801.

How is knowing that Arnold died in 1801 a test of intelligence? That's the sort of fact that would be known only by tedious pedants.

Two flies are on a table. You swat one. How many are left?

Oh, come on.


Los Angeles Times Articles