Jeff Ward: “I just want to be a normal, everyday, typical type of person.”
When Jeff Ward was seven years old, he could draw a map of the world from memory, correctly filling in the names of all the countries. Now that he’s in his forties, he entertains himself by solving analogy problems such as 3:2::ai:? (The answer is unai, a two-toed sloth. Ai is a three-toed sloth.) Ward has an IQ of 178 — one in a million, compared to the rest of the population. He is the only San Diego member of Mega, an exclusive high-IQ society that has twenty-six members worldwide. Ward has never spoken to any of Mega’s other members; they communicate only through their newsletter, called the Megarian. Contributors publish their well-written opinions on everything from recreational math to managing low back pain. They also send in their opinions on others’ opinions, and opinions on the opinions of others’ opinions. There is always some disagreement over which IQ test produces the most legitimate results.
Ward’s high score on the Mega admission test got mentioned in the 1986 Guinness Book of World Records, where he shares a page with three tribal women who have the longest necks ever measured. But his score has since been topped by those of the governor of New Hampshire ("he beat me by a point’’) and Marilyn Mach vos Savant, the smartest person alive, according to intelligence quotient standards.
Ward lives in Clairemont with his wife and two kids. He writes a column on backgammon for the San Diego Union and once supported himself by syndicating the column to a dozen other newspapers when the board game was more popular. "But backgammon went down the tubes, and I went with it,’’ he says, regretting the loss of the only job he has truly enjoyed. Ward has worked as a statistician, systems analyst, and college professor, teaching geography at San Diego State University. He now writes computer manuals for the NCR Corporation in Rancho Bernardo. A common predicament for people with high IQs is their short attention span, says Ward, who gets bored very easily. Half of the people he meets quickly run out of interesting things to say. "It’s not that I don’t like people,’’ he says. "I just get frustrated and antsy.” Highly intelligent people are “severely handicapped,” Ward believes, because they try to accomplish too many things at once. "You just can’t concentrate on what you want to do,” he explains.
But sagacity loves company, and people like Ward often belong to more than one IQ society. Ward is president of Prometheus, which accepts those with an IQ of 164 or above (a one-in-30.000 occurrence). Less exclusive than Mega, Prometheus has 125 international members, five of them living in San Diego County. Ward hasn’t met them either. "We’re starting to talk about getting together,” he says. People join these societies as a challenge and don’t usually broadcast their eligibility, Ward postulates. Those who come across as highly intelligent — using multisyllabic words, acting eccentric and absent-minded — generally aren’t, he says. The truly brainy will most often be found in their dens, quietly solving chess problems or reading Kierkegaard,
Unlike other geniuses (a word that geniuses shun), Ward did not have many problems growing up (in suburban Kansas City), other than being bored, of course.
He remembers the irritation of repeatedly adding three plus four in the first grade when he was capable of doing multicolumn addition. But Ward’s teachers wouldn’t advance him a grade because he was already the shortest kid in the class.
Ward says he has the most fun “when left to my own devices.” But even the mentally dexterous get bored with brain twisters, and sometimes, in the middle of a word puzzle, Ward decides to “blow it off,” an expression he just learned from a co-worker and uses with vernacular delight. “I just want to be a normal, everyday, typical type of person.” he says. “It’s a lofty goal, but I’m getting close to achieving it.”