This week let me begin with a slightly awkward confession. Last weekend I spent around two and a half hours giving a written entrance examination at the Birkbeck College here in London.
(If you’re wondering where you’ve heard that name before, you are probably a frequent listener of Melvyn Bragg’s excellent In Our Time radio show and podcast. In Bragg’s weekly show, he assembles a cast of scholars and experts to discuss topics of historical and contemporary relevance. Recent topics have included the Taipin Rebellion in China, and the Neutrino. Gripping stuff. Often his experts are faculty at Birkbeck.)
A little after 1pm on a cold, grey summer morning I shuffled into a room with another 23 applicants, out of some 35 who’d paid £17.50 (around Rs1,300) for the privilege of having their “IQ” measured by the British Mensa organization. “Usually a lot of people don’t turn up for these tests,” said an entirely amiable-looking woman, the test administrator, with a mildly apologetic tone. The exam comprised two sections: the first, only sequences of symbols, and the second, questions mostly on English language usage.
The ‘e’ quotient: There are several great online mind games available.
After the exam anyone who ranked in the top 2% of the population would be invited to join Mensa, a worldwide organization of approximately 100,000 high IQ individuals.
Also read | Sidin Vadukut’s earlier articles
As you might expect, the organization comes in for a lot of derision online and in the media. People think it is elitist, snobbish and flawed. Many dismiss the idea of IQ tests as fundamentally meaningless.
I ended up going for the test because of two reasons. First of all, I admit sheepishly that I like these kinds of things. The tests are essentially puzzles involving math and pattern recognition (you have no right to laugh at me if you do Sudoku puzzles). What a great way to spend a weekend afternoon that I would have otherwise spent tweeting. And second, I had somehow stumbled across the addictive Mensa iPhone app.
The puzzle/brainteaser genre of gaming has taken off stupendously over the last few years. I reckon that the tipping point was a series of Nintendo DS games called Brain Age that were first launched in Japan in May 2005. The game was developed in association with a Japanese neuroscientist called Ryuta Kawashima, and claimed, though not overtly with any scientific proof, that playing the game keeps the brain active and “young”.
That and the Sudoku boom made the genre very popular. Games, across all kinds of hardware, were easy to develop, affordably priced and extremely accessible for all age groups. Solving a puzzle or writing a number didn’t require any of the insane button-bashing or sequence-memorizing that other complicated games required.
Personally I find these games entertaining because they help me achieve my usual gaming goal—relaxation and calm distraction. I like blowing up little Nazis with bazookas, or driving over pedestrians, as much as the other guy. But sometimes all you want is a simple portable diversion that is anything but breathless and relentless. Something to slow down to.
There are several great games available for most popular mobile platforms. The iPad has the excellent Esquire’s Hardest Puzzle Ever game produced by the editors of Esquire magazine. For the iPhone there is the popular and exasperating The Impossible Test series of puzzle games (all three games are free right now at the App Store).
Recently I’ve been engrossed with a game called The Heist for the iPhone, which is a mildly repetitive but relaxing puzzle game reminiscent of those Crystal Maze games on TV.
If factual games are your thing then look no further than You Don’t Know Jack, a funky, funny quiz game for the iPhone that is equal part comedy, fart sounds and trivia. The game is now going through a renaissance with new releases for all major platforms. The downside to this is that all the free online flash versions of the game, popular for years, have now been removed.
The Android market has an extensive collection of brain and puzzle games as well, including The Moron Test and The Impossible Level.
For all the hype around faster processors in mobile phones and extreme graphics capabilities, sometimes all you want is to rearrange things or find a word that rhymes with orange.
After staying up several nights in a row playing the Mensa puzzle app, I had to give the test.
Since you ask: The test went well though there was a girl next to me who was quite blatantly cheating. In a week or two, when the results come, I’ll tell you if I am a genius or if the entire Mensa model is flawed.
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