People are gathered around a table with board games
gaggle of Mensa members gather around a table in South Portland on Thursday, April 28, 2022, during the national Mind Games event. It's the first time the game-testing gathering has been held in Maine. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Muttered rumors were circulating in the hotel by noon on Thursday. Word was organizers might open the game room a couple hours early, at 2 p.m. instead of 4 p.m.

Soon, the lobby outside the Doubletree Hotel ballroom was filled with early birds of above-average intelligence, eager to get in on the action.

The truth turned out to be even better. The doors actually swung open three hours early, just past 1 p.m.

Then, more than 400 intellectually-gifted people streamed in, hungry to evaluate a slew of new board games, around the clock, for the next three days, in a bacchanalian orgy of strategy, skill and clever curiosity.

The 2022 American Mensa Mind Games had begun.

Two men are playing a board game.
Bryan Mack of Caribou and Craig Correll of Massachusetts figure out the rules while playing new board game at the 2022 American Mensa Mind Games in South Portland on Thursday, April 28, 2022. It’s the first time the national event has been held in Maine. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The Mensa Mind Games is an annual national event where presumed-geniuses play and judge new games, certifying a few of them with the Mensa seal of approval. Past winners include Scattergories, Trivial Pursuit, Magic the Gathering and Taboo.

“There are people here from all over the country — Texas, California, New York — and these people are obsessed with games,” said Pat Washburn, a Mensa member from Portland. “There will be people staying up 24-hours-a-day playing these games.”

Mensa is an organization open to anyone who scores in the top 2 percent on a standardized intelligence test. The group has more than 50,000 members in the United States and more than

140,000 members around the world.

The name, Mensa, comes from the Latin word for table. The idea being that the organization is an egalitarian, “round table” society where race, gender and the like don’t matter — as long as you’re smart.

Members don’t have to be certified geniuses, with IQs over 140, to join but most probably are, given their high test scores.

The Mind Games have been going on since 1990 but this is the first time they’ve been held in Maine.

A man with a tan blazer and mustache plays a board game.
Steve Weinreich of Mount Desert Island makes a move at the 2022 American Mensa Mind Games in South Portland on Thursday, April 28, 2022. Weinreich helped invent the annual event in the 1990s. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The gathering was partially conceived by Steve Weinreich of Mount Desert Island. At the time, Weinrich, and a handful of other Mensa members then living in New Jersey, were approached by a New York public relations firm looking for some extra publicity for a batch of new games.

“We’d get some good take out sandwiches, play the games and then give out the awards,” Weinreich said. “We did that for about eight years.”

But he thought the pool of Mensa players should be expanded if games were endorsed by the whole organization.

“That’s how this all came about,” Weinreich said, gesturing to the crowd of people waiting in the lobby before the games began.

Over the course of the weekend, this year’s Mind Games participants will each play at least 30 of the 65 games submitted for evaluation. Out of that pool, five will be chosen for the “Mensa Select” moniker. The award is often added to a game’s Amazon page within hours.

“I’ve been told, the Mensa endorsement is worth about $1 million in first-year game sales,” Winrich said.

Due to the pandemic, the Mind Games were not held in 2020 or 2021.

A woman picks a game from multiple piles of board games.
Josephine Giamo of New Jersey picks out a new board game to play at the 2022 American Mensa Mind Games in South Portland on Thursday, April 28, 2022. It’s the first time the national event has been held in Maine. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

“I’ve been looking forward to this for three years,” Kimberly Kohler of Illinois said. “My goal is to absolutely forget about the rest of the world for a few days and just play board games.”

Mark Grand of Georgia agreed.

“This is a perfect vacation. I’m very relaxed, ready, going with the flow,” Grand said.

It’s his first trip to Maine but Grand doesn’t plan to leave the hotel.

“I’m here for the games,” he said. “I’ll eat lobster and see the sights some other time.”

Mensans waiting in the lobby said winning games don’t necessarily have to be complicated to gain their seal approval. Many are all-ages, family games of strategy. Some don’t even require reading skills.

Though the Mind Games are dedicated to competition and evaluation, they also bring like-minded, brainy folks together for social fun.

“Even for those of us who do not play games at this level, it is a wonderful opportunity to see friends,” said Nicole Bissonnette, head of Mensa’s Maine chapter. “My first Mensa event was a dinner that brought together an accountant, a librarian, a copywriter, a merchant mariner, a professional poker player and a convenience store clerk who had won the lottery.”

Bissonnette said it was one of the best experiences of her life.

“It’s unlikely that I would have met that mix of people outside of Mensa. Similarly, Mind Games brings together a professionally, geographically, and economically diverse group of Mensans, and we are so happy to invite them here to Maine.”

A woman holds a pencil and card that reads "COMMENTS"
Gina Kohlmeier notes her opinions at the 2022 American Mensa Mind Games in South Portland on Thursday, April 28, 2022. The annual national event brings Mensa members together to test out new board games. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Competition will be ongoing, all day and night, for the rest of the weekend. It’s unclear how many game-playing hours most participants will put in each day but the number is likely north of 12 or 15.

The game room officially closes at 5 a.m. Sunday morning. Lynn Collier of Chicago reckoned most people won’t last that long.

“They’ll spin out around 3 a.m.,” Collier said.

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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.