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?) Of course, some are more equal than others, because those who become involved and participate in the multitude of events and activities Mensa offers get the most from the society. 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 (e.g., 130 on the Wechsler scale; 132 on the Stanford-Binet; 1300 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test prior to 10/1974, 1250 from then through 1/1994).

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 -- see the RG News page for the latest on ours). 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. These interests run from the Age of Chivalry SIG to the Feudal Japan SIG, the Scripophily (paper money) SIG, the Skydiving SIG, through M.A.R.I.A.N., a SIG devoted to nurturing and visiting, in person or by letter, the sick and dying, and to the Vacation Network SIG and the Singles Network SIG.

Many Mensans participate in the society exclusively by mail. 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 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 Arlington, TX.) 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 over forty 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 fifteen hundred Mensans. The joint American-Canadian Annual Gathering at Montreal in 1988 was attended by fifteen hundred Mensans from both countries. For many, it was like being in a room filled with bubbly champagne, full of friendship and good cheer. What did the Mensans do at this gathering? They talked; they took French lessons; they attended lectures on mathematics, on art, on history, on romance, on Montreal; they talked; they ate at the hotel banquets and nibbled in the Mensa hospitality suites, which were always jammed wall to wall with talkers; they went on sightseeing tours; they went to a French-Canadian sugar shack for a party; they talked; and when they finished with all these activities, they talked some more.

There are many such gatherings a year. Past themes have included "The Future," "The Arts," and "Man and Science."

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.

Originally adapted from The Mensa Genius Quiz-A-Day Book by Judy Hogan Local Secretary, Minnesota Mensa