If you are at a costume party and chuckle knowingly at the couple dressed like sheep, with one covered in ants and the other sporting a toad clutching a ream of paper, you might be a Mensan.
Most folks, including some members of the Mensa club for people with high IQs, need to have that costume explained to them. Even when told that costume is "two sheep, perched ants, toad, ream," it takes some mental muscle to mold that into a word play on Shakespeare's "To sleep, perchance to dream."
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Anticipation of that kind of pun during the costume parade has suburban Mensans, such as the Hudec family from Bartlett, looking forward to the Chicago Area Mensa club's 38th annual HalloweeM (the M is for Mensa) party from Oct. 24-27th at the Westin Chicago North Shore hotel in Wheeling. This year's theme of "WeeM Gone Wild" features a focus on wild animals.
"You know you're smart, but you still don't get it," Laceé Hudec says of some pun-ishingly creative costumes. "Then you realize: 'OK, I'm not that smart. I'm still normal.'"
A board member for the local chapter, Hudec used to attend Mensa events as only a guest of her husband, Michael Hudec.
"I had joined the group originally to pad my resume," says Michael Hudec, who met his wife while getting his degree in mechanical engineering from Northern Illinois University.
"Oh, now you think you're all hot stuff. How smart do you have to be anyway?" Laceé Hudec teased then. She studied sign language and worked as an interpreter for the deaf before choosing to stay home with their children.
The Hudecs, both 37 years old, had so much fun during four years of his Mensa gatherings, Laceé Hudec passed a qualifying test to became a member herself in 2010 and began taking on leadership positions as volunteer coordinator and HalloweeM award chairwoman. Her husband coordinates the Mensa program for gifted children, where his work begins at home.
"I'm good at figuring out things but not good at listening," offers the Hudecs' daughter Laura, a student at The Einstein Academy in Elgin, as she shows off some intricate patterns in the bracelets she's weaving. She turns 7 next month (but reads at high school level), and has been a Mensa member since she was 5.
With three Mensans in the family, 22-month-old Elias, nicknamed Eli, doesn't yet know if he's got what it takes to get in the club. But he does have an obsessions with owls, the wise bird that is the Mensa mascot.
"It was his first word," his mother says as Eli arranges his collection of the tiny stuffed owls.
While Mensans often hear comments about them being a snooty, pompous, elitist club, that's just not true, says Beth Anne Demeter, president of the Chicago Area Mensa group. Mensa members include rocket scientists and brain surgeons, postal workers and at least one garbageman, says Demeter, 36, who still heads the local club and co-chairs the HalloweeM event despite completing her move from Palatine to Denver this week for a new job as a director for the Professional Ski Instructors of America. She joined Mensa because she had moved from Ohio after college, didn't know a soul in Chicago and found a social life through Mensa.
"It is a social club," Michael Hudec says. "There's nothing really that unites us as a group except we test well."
A wide variety of test scores are accepted, as long as testers rank in the highest 2 percent. For membership details, information about the HalloweeM party open to members and their guests, or general information about the local Mensa group, visit chicago.us.mensa.org.
"There's this strange perception of what Mensa is and what it isn't," Laceé Hudec says. "We are a little bit of everything."
The 600 of so people expected at HalloweeM play a lot of games, attend a variety of lectures, break into discussion groups, and participate in activities including a singalong, an "Amazing Race" event and midnight showings of a movie called "Zombie Casserole," which includes two Mensa members in the cast.
Scoring higher than 49 out of 50 people on a test doesn't make members better, just a little different, Michael Hudec says, adding that those differences are recognized. The club boasts dozens of Special Interest Groups on topics from poetry to physics to cigars to scotch to an underachievers group to the Hell's Mensans motorcycle group, which requires members to do volunteer work and which recently initiated Laura Hudec as its youngest member.
There's not a Great Films of Adam Sandler club or a discussion group dissecting the soliloquies of Honey Boo Boo's mom, but there are clubs that span the political spectrum from liberal to conservative.
"There's a lot of different kinds of gifted," Michael Hudec says.
"You find some very strange and very talented people," Laceé Hudec adds.
While growing up in Bloomingdale and Crystal Lake, she migrated toward older people and had trouble fitting in with peers, she says. She says she was reading by age 2½, played the clarinet, flute, bassoon, French horn and piano, and still regrets picking up the keys part of the bagpipe her mother was struggling to learn and immediately being able to play it.
"I might have a high IQ, but I make mistakes," Laceé Hudec says.
Thinking while driving can be a challenge for her husband.
"The deeper the discussion, the slower I drive," Michael Hudec says.
All Mensa members have equal standing, regardless of whether they got the lowest acceptable entrance score on one test as a kid or belong to the Triple Nine Society for people who scored in the 99.9th percentile on intelligence tests. Michael Hudec says some members can be "severely gifted," and need Mensa almost as "a support group for smart people."
"We all respect each other," Demeter says, explaining how that respect also is extended to guests of Mensans or the non-Mensa parents and siblings of Mensa kids.
"All of us enjoy learning," Michael Hudec says. "We're all very curious."
Speaking of curiosity, what will the Hudec family members wear in this year's costume parade?
"I don't know," Michael Hudec says. "I should probably get on that."