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Master Minds : 'Mensans' Party Their Brains Out in Anaheim


Are you Mensa material? Answer the following question correctly and you might qualify to join the genius ranks.

More than 1,500 American Mensa Ltd. members will congregate today at the Anaheim Marriott Hotel for a national convention. Which of the following are true?

a) For four days, Anaheim will not only be the happiest place on Earth but also the brainiest.

b) Mensa would welcome Albert Einstein into its exclusive club were he alive today--provided that he scored in the top 2% of the population on a standardized IQ test.

c) Some of the country's most exceptional gray matter will be entertained this weekend by seminars on nudist camps, brassieres, and the pitfalls of over-intellectualizing sex.

d) Mensa is not an acronym for Mentally Excelling Nerds and Scholars Assn. It is the Latin word for table-- that time-honored center of philosophical discussion.

e) A Mensa entrance exam will be given Sunday at the convention for outsiders who dream of cracking the group of eggheads.

f) All of the above.

If you answered "f," you are on your way to meeting Mensa's tough requirements. But don't get your hopes up. Next you must answer this question: How many typists will it take to type 18 pages in six minutes if two typists can type two pages in two minutes?

The, ahem, only condition for acceptance in the organization is extraordinary intelligence. Those who have passed muster number about 80,000 worldwide--about 1,200 of whom make up the Orange County chapter.

Local members have put all their intellectual and physical energies into making this year's convention--never before held in Orange County--the grandest yet. "I don't want to jinx anything by saying so, but if this event is as successful in reality as it has been on the drawing board, we have a good chance of hosting the best one ever," said Steve Pastis, who is in charge of organizing the speakers.

No, the slate does not feature talks that focus only on such pedantic subjects as quantum physics and the theory of relativity. Alongside its more earthly topics--forensic science, alternative political parties, alcohol abuse--the itinerary includes a heavy dose of such quintessentially Southern Californian interests as astrology and spirit channeling.

"We want to give the participants who come from other areas of the country a taste of the West Coast," Pastis said. "Last year the convention was in Atlanta, and a lot of the seminars revolved around the history of the South and that sort of thing. Californians tend to be experimental, so we'll play off that reputation."

Good chow, of course, is a top consideration for any well-conceived shindig. Over the past two months, dedicated "Mensans" have been devoting every spare minute--and every spare inch of freezer space--to the worthy cause of appetizers.

"We're saving Mensa lots of money by preparing the hors d'oeuvres ourselves rather than hiring a caterer," said hospitality chairwoman Cookie Bakke. The tireless head chef estimated that she and her clique of faithful aides had stirred, steeped, stuffed and steamed three tons of food--totaling $20,000 in grocery bills.

It appears as if they made the sacrifice more for the camaraderie than for the frugality. On a recent night, a baker's dozen gathered at Bakke's Orange home to mass produce spinach pastries and baklava. Half of the volunteer cooks packed into the bustling kitchen, while leftovers took turns breaking for casual conversation.

Mensa chitchat is not your average "how-do-you-like-this-hot-weather?"small talk. A man and woman seemed oblivious to the hubbub around them as they sat in a corner debating organized religion's role in modern-day life. Rap sessions about the Libertarian political platform wafted through the living room.

All of which is not to imply that the general tone of the evening was purely serious. Mensans laugh and joke around like the rest of us--just differently.

A recurring observation expressed among Mensans is that they found a group of people who could understand their off-the-wall sense of humor. "What I liked best about Mensa when I joined 10 years ago was that suddenly my jokes were no longer met with blank faces," said Bob Kegel, a business teacher at Cypress College. "Any attempt at being clever is appreciated, even if your joke is a total bomb."

Irvine resident Alice Volkert noted that Mensans often were the high school nerds. "Here everyone is accepted--and you can use polysyllabic words," she said.

"When people find this group, it's like, 'Gee, I'm finally home,' " said Bakke, 42, an insurance consultant.

As have other Mensans, Bakke met her spouse through the organization. Another of the hospitality chief's undertakings is "the world's biggest M-shaped cake," for a ceremony to be held Saturday at which more than 100 Mensa-crossed couples will reaffirm their wedding vows.

"Mensa is our life," said Russ Bakke, 45, a computer software engineer. "It's our drug addiction. We're both happiest around other Mensans."

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