Exciting Programs and Events


Programming is shaping up nicely and you’ll find a sample of the talks below, organized by topic.  You can also Download the Schedule Grid (PDF).

See you in a few weeks!

Featured Speakers

Saturday Luncheon – State Senator Jerry Hill

A Peek Under the Capitol Dome – A Legislator’s Perspective
Senator Hill will discuss some of the crucial issues facing our state and the nation, including the role that Mensa and its members can play to shape policy.


Saturday Keynote Dinner – Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute

When Will We Find E.T. and What Happens If We Do?
Are we alone in the universe? The scientific hunt for extraterrestrial intelligence is now well into its fifth decade, and we still haven’t discovered any cosmic company. Could all this mean that finding biology beyond Earth, even if it exists, is a project for the ages – one that might take centuries or longer? New approaches and new technology for detecting sentient beings elsewhere suggest that there is good reason to expect that we could uncover evidence of sophisticated civilizations – the type of aliens we see in the movies and on TV – within a few decades. But why now, and what sort of evidence can we expect? Also, if we do find E.T., what would be the societal impact of learning that something, or someone, is out there?


Sunday Keynote Brunch – Frank Heile, Ph.D. Physics from MIT and Stanford

Spirituality Explained Scientifically
This talk starts with a definition of spirituality which allows spirituality to be distinguished from religion. The model will describe a human as an agent that can be decomposed into three different interconnected sub-agents named Thinker, Doer, and Experiencer. This model of the human brain (and consciousness) can explain the origin, purpose and efficacy of spirituality and spiritual practice

San Francisco History

Masters of Escape

Escape artists are the rock stars of recidivists. They are the smartest, most creative and daring convicts.  On the run, alone, outnumbered, they arouse our sympathy and admiration, despite their violent crimes. I will explore four cases where desperate California criminals thrilled the populace with their exploits before being recaptured.


Levi Strauss: Beyond Blue Jeans

Levi Strauss was more than just the name of the pants he co-created. He helped to make San Francisco a modern city, his philanthropy changed lives, and his pants also changed the lives of the working men of the West. In this illustrated lecture Levi Strauss & Co. Historian Emeritus Lynn Downey will reveal the man behind the denim.


San Francisco’s 49 Mile Scenic Drive

San Francisco’s 49 Mile Scenic Drive was designed to show off the best of the City to visitors attending the 1939–40 Golden Gate International Expo.  During 2013, Kristine Poggioli and Carolyn Eidson walked the entire route, researched the history along each mile, and turned their adventure into a turn-by-turn guidebook: Walking San Francisco’s 49 Mile Scenic Drive. Their lively visual program is filled with the quirky, unknown history they uncovered on the way.


A (Virtual) Tour of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast

Take a virtual journey along the 3.7-mile Barbary Coast Trail through the historic core of civilian San Francisco. Learn how a village of a few hundred residents in 1846 became a city of thousands by 1850. See buildings that survived the 1906 earthquake and fire, and meet some of the characters who are part of the unique experience of the City by the Bay.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

Game Theory Experiments

In this presentation we will run some experiments (a.k.a. play some games) that illustrate the motivation for Game Theory. After each round we will look at what the “best strategy” (or lack thereof) is for them. We will also analyze the theoretical equilibrium and maximum potential gains. Come prepared to help your team make some strategic decisions and have fun! Previous knowledge/experience may or may not help your team win this time.


Robotics: Hands-on STEM for High School Students
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an international robotics competition. In this program, FIRST team 199 will be demonstrating their robotics. This year, they built 2 robots and competed at two of the most competitive regionals in the world. They placed as the second seed team at one of the competitions, and went on undefeated until the finals where they fell to the team who went on to win world championships. Because of their stellar performance, they were invited to compete alongside the best robots from around the globe at the FIRST World Championships in Houston, Texas.


Spirituality Explained Scientifically

This talk starts with a definition of spirituality which allows spirituality to be distinguished from religion. The model will describe a human as an agent that can be decomposed into three different interconnected sub-agents named Thinker, Doer, and Experiencer. This model of the human brain (and consciousness) can explain the origin, purpose and efficacy of spirituality and spiritual practices.


Nukes: Risks and Global Abolition

Learn about the environmental, public health, and political risks of nuclear weaponry. What is the empirical evidence for and against deterrence theory? See the amount of income tax you pay to maintain the USA nuke arsenal. Is M.A.D. still a valid paradigm and what is S.A.D.? We will examine climate research corroborating M.A.D. and S.A.D. Consider the implications of 122 member nations of the U.N. voting in favor a banning nukes (while only 1 opposed the treaty) in July 2017. Investigate the fallacies of safe storage of fissile material; decontamination of failures, test sites, and meltdowns; and “green” electricity.


An Intro to Computer Forensics & Legal E-Discovery

Digital evidence is pervasive in both civil and criminal litigation today. Come find out where the evidence hides, how it can be found, and what the law is doing to keep up with this evolving trend.


Testing Big Bang Theories in the Lab

Jumping from the expanse of galactic scales to land in the laboratory might seem a gargantuan task. Common to both, however, is the concept of symmetry breaking and defect formation. I will discuss how recent work in nanoscale materials has shed verified an early-universe theory in the lab.


A Brief History of Genetics

From Mendel to CRISPR, a brief recap of the evolution of genetics research. Major milestones, technological breakthroughs and ethical dilemmas. Discussion is encouraged..


When Will We Find E.T. and What Happens If We Do?

Are we alone in the universe? The scientific hunt for extraterrestrial intelligence is now well into its fifth decade, and we still haven’t discovered any cosmic company. Could all this mean that finding biology beyond Earth, even if it exists, is a project for the ages – one that might take centuries or longer?

Preventing Alzheimer’s and Similar Brain Diseases
There are things you can do that are likely to reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer’s (the 6th leading cause of death among seniors in the US) and some other brain diseases. Nothing is guaranteed, but people who follow these guidelines are not as likely to develop the behaviors associated with these diseases. Having a high IQ maybe one of them. Dr. Elna Tymes will discuss some of the latest findings.


Hot Topics in Bioethics

Focus will be on the ethical, legal, and social dimensions of current research and bioethical considerations currently in the news.

Incremental progress toward developing ethical guidelines on the conduct of stem cell research continue to find new dilemmas; in the acquisition of biological materials, in the use of animals for preclinical research, the ethics involved in clinical trials, the creation of chimeric animals, and in the move to safely translate research into human applications. Many people have had their genome tested, often to identify genetically predisposed conditions. We will briefly discuss the several of these topics to further discussion and debate.

Arts, Lifestyle, and Human Interest

Photography 101

Join this workshop and learn the basic rules for taking better photos. We will discuss camera settings ISO, speed and aperture as well as good photo composition.  Additional topics will include Depth of Focus, Simplicity, Rule of thirds, Lines & Shapes, Balance, Framing, and Avoiding Mergers.

Edible Container Gardening: Outdoors and In

Learn the basics for growing organic herbs, fruits and vegetables. Container gardening is flexible, fast and fun. With a few guidelines, and a little planning, you can have fresh herbs on hand, tomatoes still warm from the sun and juicy blueberries ready for breakfast. Container gardening is for homeowners and apartment dwellers alike.


The Art of Interviewing

Whether you’re the interviewer or interviewee, it helps to know the art. Marty Nemko has been interviewing luminaries from Jack Welch to genome decoder Craig Venter for 29 years on his KALW (NPR-San Francisco Radio program and as equally long-time career coach, helping job seekers interview well. Marty will share his secrets and lead attendees in doing a mock interview on a fun topic.


A Piano Concert and Sing-Along

Join Marty Nemko for an evening of music:  from Maple Leaf Rag to Tom Lehrer songs, show tune medleys from the Sound of Music to Book of Mormon. Also, he’ll read one of the short-short stories from his new book Modern Fables, which requires him to play a little of the Grieg Concerto. He’ll also play the song he wrote that was rejected by Barbra Streisand and everyone else. Plus, he’ll take your requests for a bit of sing-along.


Learning Meditation:  Wrap Your Mind Around This

What is meditation? What differentiates it from look-alikes? Does it stifle or catalyze intelligence? What else has science discovered about it? We will take a minds-on guided tranquility journey, complete with training wheels. Because you cannot take this home, we will then allocate most of the time to practicing 2 of the 3 kinds of meditation that you may practice solo. Bring your stress. Leave without it – if you are ready.


Ask an Architect

Got questions about your house?  Thinking of adding on?  Tired of an old kitchen?  Want to grow old at home?  Ask an architect!  Using photos, sketches, situations provided in advance by you and your fellow attendees, we will discuss options for improving your home environment.  Questions about zoning regulations, building codes, energy efficiency standards and universal design are welcome.


Exodus from Nazi Vienna

Some of the Ungers got out of Europe to make a new life in America.  Some did not.  Alfred Unger’s story is a mix of serendipity and badass chutzpah. This talk honors a commitment the speaker made to his father to keep his story alive.  Never forget.


The Shadow Side of Adult Giftedness

Research shows that gifted individuals experience the world differently from others. They think more deeply, experience more intense emotions, and have heightened sensitivity to stimuli.

As a result of these differences, they may feel out of step with the world, self-doubting, frustrated, disappointed, or misunderstood—often without knowing why. Learn about key characteristics of giftedness and the shadow side of being gifted, including social, relationship, and work challenges; common mental health challenges; and outcomes of less-than-ideal schooling or parenting. Acquire strategies for developing greater resiliency in dealing with the challenges of being gifted, and finding greater professional and personal fulfillment.


How To Profit Off Your More Interesting Friends

From watching her best friend star in a reality show to publishing a three book series with a mid-sized press! Bring your questions about traditional vs. self-publishing and how to get from an idea to a book.


Mensa RVC Meet & Greet
Join RVC Sandra Lackovic for a Meet & Greet and learn about what is happening with American Mensa at a national level!


Tenor Recital

Back due to popular demand, Mensan and tenor Alan Alpert will sing two sets of his favorite performance songs. The first set is a trio of opera classics: “Der Vögelfanger”, “La Donna è Mobile”, and “Nessun Dorma” (well-loved at this year’s AG). The second set is from his favorite musical team, Gilbert & Sullivan: “If you’re anxious for to shine”, “My boy you may take it from me”, and “On a tree by a river”.

RVC Meet & Greet

Come meet Regional Vice Chair Sandra Lackovic and learn about what is happening with Mensa on a national level!


Mensa goes to Burning Man
Presenting a brief explanation and attempt to share the amazing world that opens up once a year in the middle of the desert and give you a taste of Playa pepper, the seasoning that spices up all of our food and each of our lives!What is it that makes Burning Man so magical for Mensans? Why do we have our own camp at Burning Man? What makes Burning Man such a unique place and why would you want to go? This is your formal
invitation to come home.


Unapologetically You
My name is Kristen Hicks and I am on a mission of integrity. I am here to DARE YOU to be brave, stand up, and stop apologizing for being yourself. Join me in being Unapologetically You! Somewhere along the way, someone told you to “fit in” and “be quiet” and “sit still”. Those messages compounded over time cause you to apologize, either out loud or through your actions, for who you are. Not anymore. Together we’ll unpack how to be “not sorry” for your unique gifts, talents, & abilities…and have fun doing it! Unapologetically You is my permission-giving philosophy: you be you, I’ll be me, and that’s ok.


Personal Style: Creating Smart Outfits with Ease
Participants will learn about the power of color and style. They will learn how to easily create professional outfits. Style tips are geared towards both men and women.


Blue Danube: Barrier and Pathway
When Barbara had the chance to take a riverboat from Austria to the Black Sea on an all-German boat, she jumped on it and started researching the Danube. On the cruise she took plenty of photos, and she will share what she learned in the process.


Your Great-Grandmother’s Vibe: Tales from the Antique Vibrator Museum
Your great-grandmother might have owned a vibrator, and the fascinating story of our favorite household helper is truly stranger than fiction. Come learn about Good Vibrations’s collection of vibrators, spanning the 20th century, and their surprising history as health-care devices (oh, and very special movie props) with Antique Vibrator Museum curator Carol Queen, PhD.


Peep Show: Solo Spoken Word from the Lusty Lady Theatre
Go behind the scenes at the late lamented Lusty Lady with Carol Queen, who worked there as Minx Manx in pre-union1990. In her spoken word piece Peep Show she introduces you to her colleagues in tall boots and blonde wigs and to a few of her most notable customers as she found her calling (and her exhibitionistic self) in the Private Pleasures booth, where anyone could come to Talk To A Live Nude Girl!


Gonzo Trivia

Come to return of our popular Gonzo Trivia! competition, and test your store of obscure knowledge, arcana, abstruse information, recondite facts, and esoterica, even though those are all really just synonyms arranged here to seem like a list. You’ll face devilishly difficult questions in categories including pop culture, literature, language, history, science, music and fashion in your quest for the glory of trivia mastery. Teams of 3-5 will be formed at the start, so drag your friends along—or just come alone and we’ll group you in, don’t worry we promise it’ll be fine.


Improv:  Word Games

Play and have fun in this improv workshop focused on word games and story telling. No prior experience required, just a willingness to jump in.
(Limit of 20 attendees)


Improv:  Sound and Motion

Fun and laughter. Join in this improv workshop focused on improv games that use movement and sound to spark ideas. Light physical activity. No prior experience required, just a willingness to jump in. (Limit of 20 attendees)


Water Skiing Lessons for Beginners

Before jumping into the water behind a ski boat for the first time, complete the beginner ski lesson dry land.  This is the beginner course taught at Club Med on the dock before jumping into the water.  If you can do even half a chin-up, you can water ski.  Wear comfortable clothing and your imaginary life vest to participate, as you will be sitting on the “dock” until the “boat” pulls you up.   Children and teenagers are very welcome.  Everyone is invited to participate, or just observe.


Bay Bridge Trail Hike

A 5+ mile hike across the Eastern span of the new Bay Bridge. We will go as far as can toward Yerba Buena Island, but will get hikers back in time to attend RG events. Meet in the hotel lobby promptly at 8 on Sunday morning. Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers. See you then!


Chocolate Tasting

The Latin name for chocolate means “food of the gods”. Chocolate has a mystique, from being a state secret to its supposed aphrodisiac properties or soporific qualities. Come join Local Secretary Mike Eager as he provides an overview of the history of chocolate, and, best of all, offer tastes of a variety of chocolates.


Lightning Talks

This is your chance to say what’s on your mind, presenting your thoughts to a guaranteed-intelligent audience! A Lightning Talk is brief (light lightning), but not too brief to make a good point — or several good points, if that’s your intention. Each speaker will have up to 5 minutes to be serious, funny, silly, exciting, trivial, or “over the top”. For those wishing to give a Lightning Talk, a sign-up sheet will be available at Registration and Hospitality, as well as at the event itself.

Wine Tasting
Have you ever picked up a Chardonnay thinking it was going to be citrusy and turned out to be super oaky? Have you picked up a Rose hoping it was dry and turned out to be super sweet? Stop by our wine tasting to find out about the differences in these varietals, share your own experiences and more. Attendance limited to the first 20 attendees. Sign up on the sheet outside the room to secure your spot!


Offsite Excursion: Playing Pinball with the Pros!

Come and learn how to play pinball better — and thus score more points and have more fun when you play! — with two Bay Area Mensan pinball experts who are not only in the 98th percentile in IQ, but also in the 99th percentile in the world pinball rankings. Andrei and Josh will show you pinball tips and tricks on a variety of real pinball machines at a nearby coffeehouse. Learn a bit of the history, the science, the skills, and most of all, the fun of pinball.
All ages and experience levels are welcome. Space is limited to the first 10, so reserve a spot early at the registration desk. Group will depart from the Hilton Garden Inn at 12:45 on Sunday and event will take place at Scarlet City Coffee in Emeryville. No cost for the event, but you will need to pay for pinball games and any drinks you want to purchase.


Wild & Wacky Watercolor Techniques
Explore a variety of watercolor painting techniques, from the everyday to the unusual, in a nonjudgmental setting. We will explore techniques with salt, plastic wrap, wax crayons, oil pastels, waterproof ink, watercolor crayons, X-acto knives, and more! Space is limited, so sign up early. Recommended for ages middle school to adult.


Clue Movie followed by Live-Action Kill Doctor Lucky
Watch the hilarious movie version of the classic whodunnit boardgame, and stick around after to participate in a live-action version of the game Kill Doctor Lucky, often described as a “reverse Clue.”


Big Lebowski Quote-Along / Pantyhose Bowling
Oriental rugs, white russians, and what-have-you. Come enjoy the greatest movie ever made (“That’s just, like, your opinion man”), quote the lines (“Shut the f*** up, Donnie!”), enjoy a nice caucasian (“Watch out, man. There’s a beverage here!”), and debate the merits of nihilism (“Say what you want about national socialism, at least it’s an ethos.”). Dress like your favorite character if you like. Activity hosted by an ordained Dudeist priest. BYOB. Viewing followed by interactive “bowling” session. This movie is rated R.


Join your fellow innocent villagers (or are they really werewolves???) for this classic game often played at Mensa gatherings. Use your powers of observation and deduction to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s savagely killing villagers during the nighttime phase of the game.


Art Therapy: Tea & Tangle Doodling
Get in the zen zone via therapeutic doodling in the style of Zentangle! BYO morning beverage (available in Hospitality) and join Josie and Mike to make a suprisingly intricate and beautiful doodle with patterns from easy to slightly more difficult. Learn breath and posture techniques that will support focus and relaxation. Feel free to drop in or out during this extended work time. We will have materials for traditional black-and-white tangles, or add color for more pizzazz! All levels welcome.


Cola Taste Test
A variety of colas will be offered (labels covered) to rate and identify. Think you know your favorite? Are you sure???
Games & Tournaments



Quiddler is called “the short word game”. It’s a combination of rummy and Scrabble , you use cards with letters on them to spell words and earn points. In this tournament, we’ll start in small groups and play until there’s one winner!



You’re good at Sudoku, but are you the best? Pit your logic and pattern recognition skills against other Sudoku aficionados in an attempt to win the title of SFRM Sudoku Champion!
If you’d like to compete, just show up! Observers are also welcome, and you can try out some of the puzzles without competing if you wish.



Come test your cribbage skills in this six-game tournament. You’ll play six different opponents, one game each, random seating. Beginners, intermediate players, and experts are all welcome. Cards, boards, and pegs will be provided. Top three players will receive a token prize (probably a certificate or ribbon). In the event of a tie in the first three places, a best-of-three tiebreaker will be played. (A cribbage lesson will be given prior to the tournament.)


Poker PL08

Sure, any group can play Texas Hold ‘em!

For more intellectual stimulation, twice the dealing time and better* jokes between hands, join our very own beloved* and extremely* funny* Andrew Wise as he hosts a Pot Limit Omaha 8 Poker Tournament (“PLO8″ for veterans). Andrew will host a voluntary tutorial 30 mins before the tournament for those new to this variant. Come for the explanation and stay for the tourney! Prizes* beyond belief. Critically accliaimed* Andrew will recap the specifics 5 minutes after start time, when we are seated. Sign up in advance on the sheet in the tournaments room for your spot at the table! (A PL08 lesson will be given prior to the tournament.)


Guided Game Play:

VR Demo & Play

Virtual Reality (VR) is the hot new trend for computer games and job training, but as we’re still in the early stages it requires a lot of bulky equipment and tedious setup to get started. For one day only, we will have an Oculus Rift VR unit setup in the games room for people to experience this new medium – by playing games! Compete on the local leaderboard for “Space Pirate Trainer” or play the co-op game “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes” with a team of experts (actual gameplay term).

For people completely unfamiliar with the technology, we will have a demonstration in the morning of how it works, how to play the games, and just how silly you can look when pretending to slice imaginary fruit.


Dungeons & Dragons

Pen and paper (or tabletop) role-playing games, like the legendary Dungeons and Dragons, have been a key historical influence on gaming groups, predating computer games or even modern german board games like “Settlers of Catan”. Don’t just take my word for it, check wikipedia. But don’t be intimidated when you read “Games are of indefinite length”. The combination of a free-form unbounded structure and hundreds of pages of basic rules makes the genre very difficult to get into for most people. This unique session will provide an easy introduction for players with no previous role-playing game experience. Your host has read all 575 pages of the GURPS 4th ed. basic rule set, and will explain the ten or so pages that are actually relevant to this scenario on an as-needed basis.

A custom scenario, of definite length, has been specifically prepared for this event, and after the game there will be time for a brief discussion of how a game with experienced players might differ from the introductory scenario. Or D&D vs GURPS, any RPG Q&A is OK after you play.


Settlers of Catan

This game of dice-rolling and empire building (for 3-6 players) combines skill, strategy, luck, and diplomacy with a pioneering spirit that has made it a modern classic. If you ever wanted to trade wood for sheep, now’s your chance.

At least one experienced player will be on hand to explain the rules The session host already knows the rules and will set up the game in advance; perfect for players keen to learn a new game!


Battle for Hogwarts

A fusion of Dominion’s deck-building game-play with a recent Hollywood cash cow is a game that everyone can enjoy. Battle for Hogwarts brings something new to the table by making it a co-op experience for up to four players. Play as one of the protagonists and fight evil wizards across the scenes of all eight movies – though in this session just we’ll play the first scenario.

At least one experienced player will be on hand to explain the rules The session host already knows the rules and will set up the game in advance; perfect for players keen to learn a new game!


Space Alert

As a real-time cooperative strategy board game for up to five players, from the renowned Czech designer Vlaada Chvátil, this game is so unique that it’s hard to describe. But imagine Pandemic crossed with Robo-Rally crossed with the climax of a Star Trek audio drama and you should get pretty close. Fortunately for a real-time game, it makes a lot of sense and is easy to follow along with once you have the board all laid out in front of you.

At least one experienced player will be on hand to explain the rules The session host already knows the rules and will set up the game in advance; perfect for players keen to learn a new game!



Carnelli is a parlor game created by Jan Carnell, a member of the Metropolitan Washington chapter of Mensa. This game has been popular at Mensa gatherings for years. It can be called a “title association” game, like “word association” only using titles, such as those of a book, play, movie, or song. Mike Eager will serve as Carnelli Master.