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.

10 Fireworks Effects You Should Know the Names Of

iStock/SuriyaDesatit
iStock/SuriyaDesatit

Fireworks actually have much more technical names than "The Ones That Do That Shooty Thing," "The Ones That Scream," or "The Ones That Kind of Sparkle Out." Before you take in this year's fireworks shows, here's a mini lesson on the ones you might spot at whatever pyrotechnic display you attend this Fourth of July.

1. Peony

The Peony is "a spherical break of colored stars," and is among the most popular fireworks ffects.

2. Chrysanthemum

This is a variation of the Peony—the difference is that the stars leave a visible trail of sparks.

3. Willow

The Willow is a lot like the Peony and its variations (the Chrysanthemum and the Dahlia), but it leaves trails of silver or gold stars that produce a weeping willow-ish outline.

4. Horsetail

It's a compact little burst that falls down, well, like a horsetail. You might also hear this one referred to as a Waterfall Shell.

5. Fish

When the shell bursts, little squiggles of light squirm away from the main burst. The effect looks like fish swimming away.

6. Spider

This one is fast-burning and bursts very hard, which makes the stars shoot out straight and flat—like a ton of little spider legs.

7. Palm

This one produces long, thick streams of light that look like a palm tree when it bursts.

8. Crossette

Take lots of tic-tac-toe boards and cross them over each other haphazardly. That's kind of what crossette fireworks look like. It's usually accompanied by a loud crackling noise.

9. Kamuro

Named after a Japanese hairstyle for boys, this firework has a dense burst that leaves a large, glittery trail.

10. Rings

Rings can come in a variety of shapes, and often have rings within rings.

This post originally appeared in 2009, and was updated in 2019.

6 Questions About Tetanus Shots, Answered

iStock/FotoDuets
iStock/FotoDuets

Summer brings opportunities for gardening, which is supposed to be a way to relax. But encountering a thorn, splinter, or the legendary rusty nail can often stir questions about tetanus, a disease caused by a bacterial toxin that can result in paralysis and even death. We’re vaccinated against tetanus early in life, but if you happen to suffer a puncture wound near soil, you could be wondering how long those injections are good for and how often you need a booster shot. Take a look at some common questions about tetanus and learn the best way to proceed the next time you feel a sharp poke in your hands or feet.

1. What is tetanus?

Tetanus is the name of a disease caused by the toxin of the Clostridium tetani bacterium. The disease attacks the central nervous system, causing stiffened muscles, increased heart rate, and fever. The muscle spasms can be severe, leading to broken bones, vocal cord issues, and breathing problems. A tightening of the facial muscles gives tetanus the informal name of “lockjaw.” Symptoms usually appear between three and 21 days following exposure. Due to breathing problems caused by the stiffened muscles, one to two people out of every 10 will die as a result of the infection. But because of the effectiveness of the vaccine, the United States sees only about 50 cases of tetanus each year.

2. How do people get tetanus?

People contract tetanus when the bacteria enters the body in an open wound. Because the bacteria is typically found in soil or manure, puncture wounds as a result of landscaping can be of particular concern, though these “dirty wounds” can also be a result of any injury involving soil, feces, or saliva, like a human or animal bite.

3. Aren’t people vaccinated against tetanus as infants?

Yes. Infants receive a total of four DTaP shots at 2, 4, and 6 months of age, and again between 15 and 18 months. A fifth shot is given when the child is between 4 and 6 years old. DTaP is a combination vaccine that protects against tetanus as well as diphtheria—an infection that attacks the mucus membranes of the nose and throat—and pertussis (whooping cough). An additional booster shot for all three (called Tdap) is given at 11 to 12 years of age.

4. Why would anyone need a tetanus booster shot?

Tetanus vaccines do not last for a lifetime. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults receive a tetanus booster (Td) every 10 years. (Pregnant women should get Tdap in their third trimester to help boost a baby’s resistance to whooping cough.) If they did not get Tdap as a preteen, they should have that instead. The booster can be given at any time and is typically administered even if an adult doesn’t remember or their health records don’t indicate the last time they received a shot. Virtually everyone who receives the shot will be protected against tetanus for the subsequent decade. Roughly 95 out of 100 people will be protected against diphtheria. Roughly 98 out of 100 children will be resistant to whooping cough within a year of receiving their last dose, or seven in 10 if the dose was given within the last five years. Overall, Tdap protects against whooping cough in seven out of 10 people in the first year, and three to four out of 10 people within four years.

In 2016, a study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases [PDF] suggested that immunity might actually last as long as 30 years for tetanus and diphtheria. The CDC, however, has not yet altered its guidelines for vaccinations.

5. Should I get a tetanus booster shot if I get a puncture wound even if I just had a shot a few years ago?

If you have had a documented booster shot within the past five years and suffer a puncture wound, your physician won’t likely recommend another. If it’s been more than five years, you will probably receive a booster as a precaution. If your vaccination status is unclear, your doctor will administer a primary series of three doses. You might also be given TIG, a shot which provides temporary immunity and an antitoxin.

6. What should I do if I suffer a puncture wound?

If you are injured with an object from an area that could potentially harbor Clostridium tetani, wash the affected body part thoroughly and contact your physician to see if your tetanus vaccinations are up to date. If it’s been more than five years or your status is unclear, you’ll be given a booster.

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