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What is Mensa?

First of all, Mensa is not an acronym. It is the Latin word meaning "table," and it indicates that all members are equal. (Remember King Arthur’s Round Table?) The sole requirement for membership in Mensa is a score in the top 2 percent of the population on any standard intelligence test or the equivalent. Click here for a sample list of qualifying scores.

Because this is the only criterion for membership, the diversity of human beings in Mensa is immense. Members include authors, executives, carpenters, dancers, physicists, students, and many other kinds of people. You can well imagine the interest and fun generated when Mensans get together at a gathering (the official term). The talk can range over all and any subjects. One has the pleasure of hearing from an intelligent expert in a field other than one’s own. There is the delight in recognizing a new idea, a new concept, or a new outlook on an old theme. And there is just plain fun. Mensans love to play games of all kinds — computer games, word games, logic games, silly games.

Mensans band together in Special Interest Groups (SIGs ) of members with a common fascination or desire. On a national scale, there are SIGs in many categories from Amateur Radio or Astronomy to Writers or Web heads (nothing in the "Z" category right now). You can find a complete list of national SIGs on the American Mensa Web site. Locally, Minnesota Mensa has a large selection of SIGs and local area groups. You can find a list of local SIGs on the Minnesota Mensa Web site.

Many Mensans participate in the society exclusively by mail or electonically. They get their local newsletter telling them what is going on in their area; they receive the Mensa Bulletin and the International Journal, which tell them about national and international Mensa; and they may belong to a SIG that, though it may never meet, ties hundreds of Mensans together over the Internet or in a postal network.

Who are these Mensans, anyway? Mensans tend to be reasonably well educated, but we have plenty of high school dropouts as well as Ph.D.s. Mensans tend to have above-average incomes — but many do not, preferring to spend their time on avocations of consuming interest. Mensans tend to have a slightly smaller number of children than the national average — but we have a highly active Gifted Children’s Program, with a national network of coordinators. The society also publishes a newsletter full of ideas for gifted children. Mensans tend to be ages thirty or over, but there is a very active Young Mensa for people who are eighteen or younger. Mensans tend to be verbal and fluent, whether on paper or in person. We talk and talk — but we listen, too.

Mensans are just like everybody else, but more so. You meet a lot of intense people in Mensa who throw themselves wholeheartedly into what they do for the society. (All Mensa activity is volunteer and unpaid, except for a small staff at national headquarters in Dallas.) Many members help out with the intellectual and scientific activities of the Mensa Education and Research Foundation (MERF). This branch runs the numerous scholarships, the Mensa Research Journal, the surveys, the Awards for Excellence, and all the other activities that satisfy our intellectual side. MERF raises money for special projects and is limited only by what we can raise and the vision of those who propose projects. MERF also collaborates on the intellectual Colloquium. It is the idealistic, social-service side of Mensa, and contributions to MERF are tax deductible.

But above all, Mensa is friends. Whether in the local chapter or in any of the thirty countries around the world where Mensa exists, it means finding ready-made friends. There is even a group organized to provide hospitality wherever in the world (almost) you might travel. You need to have had the experience of arriving by plane in a strange land at midnight, tired and droopy, to be welcomed by Mensa strangers-who-will-soon-be-friends, to realize what this means.

And that’s meeting one or two Mensans at a time. There are large gatherings of anywhere from seventy-five to twenty-five hundred Mensans. Annual Gatherings (AGs) are held annually in a location that varies from year to year. These are chances to meet Mensans from around the country (and the world). For many, it's like being in a room filled with bubbly champagne, full of friendship and good cheer. What do Mensans do at an Annual Gathering? They talk; they take dance lessons; they attend lectures on mathematics, on art, on history, on romance, on local history; they eat at the AG banquets and nibble in the Hospitality Room while they talk; they go on sightseeing tours; they party and they talk; and when they finish with all the program activities, they talk some more. Along with the national AGs, there are many smaller gatherings, called Regional Gatherings (RGs) each year. They're smaller, local, versions of the AG

Mensa is fun, it is serious, it is intellectually stimulating, it is friendly. In short, Mensa is the sum of fifty-odd thousand bright people, effervescing.

Adapted from The Mensa Genius Quiz-A-Day Book.

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