11 Child Prodigies and the Amazing Things They'd Done by Age 11
Enjoy being humbled (humiliated?) by these 11 amazing child prodigies—some from history and some doing their prodigy thing in the here and now.
1. Judit Polgar // Chess Grandmaster
Hungarian chess grandmaster Judit Polgar (1976-) began playing in tournaments at the age of 6 and, by age 11, she had defeated her first grandmaster, Vlatko Kovacevic. She became the best female chess player in history and was named a grandmaster at age 15 in 1991 (at the time, the youngest ever).
2. Willie Mosconi // Billiards Champion
American professional billiards player Willie Mosconi (1913-1993), at the age of 6 and standing on a box, played an exhibition match against the reigning world billiards champion in front of a packed house. He lost that match, but it earned him some major attention. By the age of 11, Mosconi was the juvenile champion and regularly held popular trick shot exhibitions. He picked up the awesome nickname "Mr. Pocket Billiards" and won more World Straight Pool Championships (15) than anyone. He was also Paul Newman's pool mentor as he prepared for his role in the 1961 movie, The Hustler.
3. Priyanshi Somani // Human Calculator
Indian mental calculator Priyanshi Somani (1998-) took home the overall title at the Mental Calculation World Cup in 2010 when she was just 11 years old. Her specialty? Square roots from six-digit numbers up to eight significant digits (Somani placed first). A couple other events at the MCWC: addition of 10 numbers of 10 digits each (Somani placed second) and multiplication of two numbers of eight digits (Somani placed second). And yes, her competitors were adults.
4. Blaise Pascal // Mathematician
French mathematician, physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) wrote a treatise on vibrating bodies at the age of 9 and scrawled his first proof on a wall with a piece of coal when he was 11. He is probably best remembered for Pascal's theorem, which he threw out there at age 16. Oh, and he also invented the mechanical calculator.
5. Wolfgang Mozart // Composer
Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is the child prodigy poster child. He began playing the harpsichord at age 3 and learned to play his first piece of music three days before his fifth birthday. He was composing his own music at 5 and, at 6, embarked on a three-and-a-half year European tour with his father and older sister, who was not too shabby of a musician herself.
6. Kim Ung-Yong // Actual Genius
Korean mega-genius Kim Ung-Yong (1962-) could have conversations at six months, could read in Japanese, Korean, German, and English by the age of 4 and could perform complex calculus by the time he was 5. From the ages of 3 to 6, he sat in on University physics courses. At one time, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized Kim as having the world's highest IQ, which was estimated to be over 210. Yowza.
7. Pablo Picasso // Artist
Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) showed his talents for art at a very early age. His mother claims (as mothers often do) that his first words were "piz, piz"—short for "lapis" (Spanish for "pencil"). But there is non-mom-derived evidence of his prodigious talent: Picasso drew "Picador" when he was just 8 years old.
8. Anna Paquin // Actor
Actress Anna Paquin (1982-) won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her debut acting performance in The Piano when she was just 11 years old. Since then, she's won numerous other awards, including a Golden Globe for True Blood.
9. Wayne Gretzky // Hockey Player
Canadian hockey star Wayne Gretzky (1961-) was playing against 10-year-olds when he was only 6. The uniforms intended for the 10-year-olds were far too large for the undersized Gretzky, who tucked his sweater into the right side of his pants: a tradition he continued throughout his hockey career. When he was 10, he scored an incredible 378 goals and added 139 assists in just one season.
10. John Stuart Mill // Philosopher
British philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) learned Greek at age 3 and had read all of Herodotus's Histories and was quite familiar with Plato’s Dialogues by the age of 8. He was also more than competent in Latin and Greek and had read through most of the major Latin and Greek works, in their original languages, by the age of 10.
11. Gregory Smith // Nobel Prize Nominee
American smart kid Gregory Smith (1990-) could memorize and recite books by the time he was 14 months old and could add by 18 months. He went from second to eighth grade in one year and began high school at the age of 7, graduating with honors two years later. He entered Randolph-Macon college at 10 and majored in mathematics with minors in both history and biology before pursuing his masters at the University of Virginia. The also became an activist as a pre-teen for children's rights throughout the world and has made a serious impact. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times.
A version of this story first ran in 2011.