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

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Enjoy being humbled (humiliated?) by these 11 amazing child prodigies – some from history and some doing their prodigy thing in the here and now.

Image credit: JuditPolgar.com

1. Hungarian chess grandmaster Judit Polgar (1976-) began playing in tournaments at the age of six and, by the age of eleven, she had defeated her first grandmaster, Vladimir Kovacivic. She became the best female chess player in history. No other female has ever won a game against a men’s chess world champion; she has beaten nine of them.

2. American professional billiards player Willie Mosconi (1913-1993), at the age of six 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 eleven, 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. French mathematician, physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) wrote a treatise on vibrating bodies at the age of nine and scrawled his first proof on a wall with a piece of coal when he was eleven. He is probably best remembered for Pascal’s theorem (something about hexagons or whatever), which he threw out there at age 16. Oh, and he also invented the mechanical calculator.

4. German composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is the child prodigy poster child. He began playing the harpsichord at age three and learned to play his first piece of music three days before his fifth birthday. He was composing his own music at five and, at six, 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.

5. 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 four and could perform complex calculus by the time he was five. From the ages of three to six, he sat in on University physics courses. The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes Kim as having the world’s highest IQ which is estimated to be over 210. Yowza.

6. 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 word “piz, piz” – short for “lapis” (Spanish for “pencil”). There is non-mom-derived evidence of his prodigious talent: Picasso drew “Picador” when he was just eight years old.

7. Actress Anna Paquin (1982-) won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her debut acting performance in The Piano when she was just eleven years old. Why do I choose to showcase Ms. Paquin here instead of the youngest Oscar winner in Tatum O’Neal who won at age ten? Well, Anna now plays Sookie Stackhouse on HBO’s True Blood, which only serves to enhance her general awesomeness.

8. Canadian hockey star Wayne Gretzky (1961-) was playing against ten-year-olds when he was only six. The uniforms intended for the ten-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 ten, he scored an incredible 378 goals and added 139 assists in just one season. Athlete prodigies need love too, you know.

9. British philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) learned Greek at age three and had read all of Herodotus’s Histories and was quite familiar with Plato’s Dialogues by the age of eight. 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 ten.

10. 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 seven, graduating with honors two years later. He entered Randolph-Macon college at ten and, there, majored in mathematics with minors in both history and biology before pursuing his masters at the University of Virginia. OK, so he’s an academic stud – fine. But wait, there's more! The activist work he began as a pre-teen for children’s rights throughout the world has made a serious impact. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times.

11. Indian mental calculator Somani Priyanshi (1998-) took home the overall title at the most recent Mental Calculation World Cup in 2010 when she was just eleven 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 ten numbers of ten digits each (Somani placed second) and multiplication of two numbers of eight digits (Somani placed second). Yes, her competitors were grown folks.

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Noriyuki Saitoh
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Art
Japanese Artist Crafts Intricate Insects Using Bamboo
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Noriyuki Saitoh

Not everyone finds insects beautiful. Some people think of them as scary, disturbing, or downright disgusting. But when Japanese artist Noriyuki Saitoh looks at a discarded cicada shell or a feeding praying mantis, he sees inspiration for his next creation.

Saitoh’s sculptures, spotted over at Colossal, are crafted by hand from bamboo. He uses the natural material to make some incredibly lifelike pieces. In one example, three wasps perch on a piece of honeycomb. In another, two mating dragonflies create a heart shape with their abdomens.

The figures he creates aren’t meant to be exact replicas of real insects. Rather, Saitoh starts his process with a list of dimensions and allows room for creativity when fine-tuning the appearances. The sense of movement and level of detail he puts into each sculpture is what makes them look so convincing.

You can browse the artist’s work on his website or follow him on social media for more stunning samples from his portfolio.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

[h/t Colossal]

All images courtesy of Noriyuki Saitoh.

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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History
P.G. Wodehouse's Exile from England
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You don’t get more British than Jeeves and Wooster. The P.G. Wodehouse characters are practically synonymous with elevenses and Pimm’s. But in 1947, their creator left England for the U.S. and never looked back.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G., was living in northern France and working on his latest Jeeves and Wooster novel, Joy in the Morning, when the Nazis came knocking. They occupied his estate for a period of time before shipping him off to an internment camp in Germany, which he later said he found pretty pleasant:

“Everybody seems to think a German internment camp must be a sort of torture chamber. It was really perfectly normal and ordinary. The camp had an extraordinarily nice commander, and we did all sorts of things, you know. We played cricket, that sort of thing. Of course, I was writing all the time.”

Wodehouse was there for 11 months before being suddenly released to a hotel in Berlin where a man from the German foreign office named Werner Plack was waiting to meet him. Wodehouse was somewhat acquainted with Plack from a stint in Hollywood, so finding him waiting didn't seem out of the ordinary. Plack advised Wodehouse to use his time in the internment camp to his advantage, and suggested writing a radio series about his experiences to be broadcast in America.

As Plack probably suspected, Wodehouse’s natural writing style meant that his broadcasts were light-hearted affairs about playing cricket and writing novels, This didn’t sit too well with the British, who believed Wodehouse was trying to downplay the horrors of the war. The writer was shocked when MI5 subjected him to questioning about the “propaganda” he wrote for the Germans. "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions," he told them in 1944. "I would like to conclude by saying that I never had any intention of assisting the enemy and that I have suffered a great deal of mental pain as the result of my action."

Wodehouse's contemporary George Orwell came to his aid, penning a 1945 an essay called “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse." Sadly, it didn’t do much to sway public opinion. Though MI5 ultimately decided not to prosecute, it seemed that British citizens had already made up their minds, with some bookstores and libraries even removing all Wodehouse material from their shelves. Seeing the writing on the wall, the author and his wife packed up all of their belongings and moved to New York in 1947. They never went back to England.

But that’s not to say Wodehouse didn’t want to. In 1973, at the age of 91, he expressed interest in returning. “I’d certainly like to, but at my age it’s awfully difficult to get a move on. But I’d like to go back for a visit in the spring. They all seem to want me to go back. The trouble is that I’ve never flown. I suppose that would solve everything."

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could make the trip. But the author bore no ill will toward his native country. When The Paris Review interviewed Wodehouse in 1973, they asked if he resented the way he was treated by the English. “Oh, no, no, no. Nothing of that sort. The whole thing seems to have blown over now,” he said.  He was right—the Queen bestowed Wodehouse with a knighthood two months before his death, showing that all was forgiven.

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