11 Child Prodigies and the Amazing Things They'd Done by Age 11

Classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart playing piano at the court of Francis I as a child.
Classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart playing piano at the court of Francis I as a child.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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

Judit Polgar in 1993 at age 17.
Judit Polgar in 1993 at age 17.
Ruediger Fessel/Bongarts/Getty Images

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 and religious philosopher Blaise Pascal.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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) at the age of 11.
Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at the age of 11.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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 painter Pablo Picasso in his studio, circa the 1920s.
Spanish painter Pablo Picasso in his studio, circa the 1920s.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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

A young Anna Paquin.
Newsmakers

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

Philosopher John Stuart Mill, circa 1858.
Philosopher John Stuart Mill, circa 1858.
London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

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.

5 Wild Facts About Mall Madness

Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The mall, home of fashion brands, bookstores, and anchor locations like Sears, was a must-visit location for Americans in the 1980s and 1990s—and especially for teenagers. Teens also played Mall Madness, a board game from Milton Bradley introduced in 1988 that tried to capture the excitement of soft pretzels and high-interest credit card shopping in one convenient tabletop game. Navigating a two-story shopping mall, the player who successfully spends all of their disposable income to acquire six items from the shopping list and return to the parking lot wins.

If you’re nostalgic for this simulated spending spree, you're in luck: Hasbro will be bringing Mall Madness back in fall 2020. Until then, check out some facts about the game’s origins.

1. Mall Madness was the subject of a little controversy.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Milton Bradley put a focus on the tween demographic. Their Dream Phone tasked young players with finding the boy of their dreams; Mall Madness, which began as an analog game but quickly added an electronic voice component, served to portray tweens as frenzied shoppers. As a result, the game drew some criticism upon release for its objective—to spend as much money as possible—and for ostensibly portraying the tweens playing as “bargain-crazy, credit-happy fashion plates,” according to Adweek. Milton Bradley public relations manager Mark Morris argued that the game taught players “how to judiciously spend their money.”

2. The original Mall Madness may not be the same one you remember.

The electronic version of Mall Madness remains the most well-known version of the game, but Milton Bradley introduced a miniature version in 1988 that was portable and took the form of an audio cassette. With the game board folded in the case, it looks like a music tape. Opened, the tri-fold board resembles the original without the three-dimensional plastic mall pieces. It was one of six games the company promoted in the cassette packaging that year.

3. Mall Madness was not the only shopping game on the market.

At the same time Mall Madness was gaining in popularity, consumers could choose from two other shopping-themed board games: Let’s Go Shopping from the Pressman Toy Corporation and Meet Me At the Mall from Tyco. Let’s Go Shopping tasks girls with completing a fashion outfit, while Meet Me At the Mall rewards the player who amasses the most items before the mall closes.

4. There was a Hannah Montana version of Mall Madness.

In the midst of Hannah Montana madness in 2008, Hasbro—which acquired Milton Bradley—released a Miley Cyrus-themed version of the game. Players control fictional Disney Channel singing sensation Hannah Montana as she shops for items. There was also A Littlest Pet Shop version of the game, with the tokens reimagined as animals.

5. Mall Madness is a collector’s item.

Because, for the moment, Hasbro no longer produces Mall Madness, a jolt of nostalgia will cost you a few dollars. The game, which originally sold for $30, can fetch $70 or more on eBay and other secondhand sites.

10 'Nuts' That Aren't Actually Nuts

None of these "nuts" are truly nuts.
None of these "nuts" are truly nuts.
margouillatphotos/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Who doesn’t love a pedantic houseguest? Next time you’re at a dinner party and someone breaks out the mixed nuts, seize the moment and let everyone know that a lot of the tasty treats we call nuts don’t actually merit the title. Botanists define a “nut” as a dry, one-seeded fruit encased in a hardened ovary wall (called a pericarp). Genuine nuts are fused to their shells and won’t naturally break open upon reaching maturity. Hazelnuts fit the criteria. So do chestnuts. But these ever-popular snack foods sure don’t.

1. Peanuts

The star ingredient of America's favorite nut butter isn't actually a nut. Instead, peanuts are considered legumes, along with soybeans, lentils, and chickpeas. Unlike nuts, most legumes come in self-opening pods—which may or may not grow underground, depending on the species. 

2. Almonds

A group of almonds in wood bowl atop a rustic table
These almonds formed inside a fleshy fruit.
onairjiw/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Almonds are seeds found within the fleshy, peach-like fruits of the Asian Prunus dulcis tree. They’ve earned a spot on our list because actual nuts don’t come wrapped up in softened fruit matter. So how do botanists classify almonds? As drupe seeds. Briefly stated, a drupe is a soft fruit with a hard inner shell. (Think peach pits.)

3. Cashews

Like almonds, cashews are drupe seeds pulled from soft fruit packages. The trail mix staples poke out of red, yellow, or green “cashew apples” that grow on South American trees. Cashew seeds are naturally protected by a toxin-coated outer shell that's roasted to neutralize the acid. In spite of this defense mechanism, the yummy snacks were soon embraced by Portuguese explorers and distributed across the globe.

4. Walnuts

A squirrel eating walnuts in a park
The walnuts this squirrel is noshing on are drupes, not nuts.
Serhii Ivashchuk/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Hey look, it’s another member of the drupe clan! Walnuts inhabit green fruit on temperate trees in the genus Juglans. Most of the seeds that end up on American dining room tables come from the English walnut tree, Juglans regia [PDF]. Even if you don’t eat the drupes, you can probably find a use for them: Walnut shells have been incorporated into everything from cosmetic products to kitty litter.

5. Pine nuts

About 20 pine tree species—including the Italian stone pine—produce big seeds that get harvested en masse. Those seeds are removed from cones in a meticulous process, which accounts for their high selling prices.

5. Brazil Nuts

You’ll encounter Brazil nuts all over the Amazon rainforest, in such countries as Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and (of course) Brazil. They come from a hardened 4-to-6-pound pod containing up to two dozen seeds that might become trees someday. The pods are so hefty, getting bonked on the head by a falling one is enough to stun or even kill you.  Surprisingly, Brazil Nuts can also be fairly radioactive thanks to the trees' roots, which grow deep within radium-rich soil.

7. Macadamia Nuts

Rows of trees at an Australian Macadamia orchard
An Australian macadamia orchard filled with the country's native drupe.
oxime/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Gympie, Queensland, has an odd claim to fame: Approximately 70 percent of all the macadamia nuts on Earth are descended from trees grown in the Australian town. Macadamias are an ecological staple in Queensland and New South Wales. But—stop us if this sounds familiar—their so-called “nuts” are drupes.

8. Pistachios

Not only are pistachios drupes, but they’ve got shells that automatically open with a literal popping noise once the contents reach a certain size. When all’s said and done, though, at least pistachios are Frank Drebin-approved.

9. Pecans

The Algonquian term for “nut that requires a stone to crack” gave us the English word pecan. Wild pecans can be gathered in Mexico and the United States—they’re true North American treasures. Name origin aside, they can’t accurately be called nuts. Botanists usually refer to them as drupes, but because of their tough shells, the label “drupaceous nuts” might be more appropriate. Either way, pecans aren’t true nuts. They make for great pies, though.

10. Coconuts

A monkey sticks out its tongue while eating a coconut
This cheeky monkey seems to be enjoying its delicious drupe.
Volga2012/iStock via Getty Images Plus

A drupe of unusual size, the coconut is a fibrous juggernaut that bears a single seed. The whitish fleshy interior can be immersed in hot water and then rung out through a cloth to produce coconut milk. Meanwhile, the outer shells are responsible for some of the most delightfully bizarre Guinness World Records categories, such as “most green coconuts smashed with the head in one minute.” (You can see other unusual Guinness World Record categories here.)

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