You know what would be cool? Superhuman intelligence. To walk into a room like Dr. House or Sherlock Holmes and show everyone your brain works twice as fast as theirs. Unfortunately, we can't turn you into a genius -- genetics and the public school system have already tried and failed. But what we can do is teach you all the tricks you need to seem like one.
Because with very little practice, you can ...
#5. Become a Speed Reader
When pop culture is tasked with presenting us characters who speak 17 languages, know way too much about far too many subjects, and/or are insufferably intelligent in general, speed reading tends to be the go-to skill to display their talent. In the classic "he's secretly a genius" movie Good Will Hunting, they make sure to show Will alone in his barren apartment with a huge stack of books, rapidly flipping pages of dense text like he's casually browsing through a SkyMall catalog. Anybody who can absorb information that fast is either a genius or a robot, right?
Or the text is just really large.
Well, here's good news for the vast majority of people who aren't Mensa-brained but want to appear to be: An ability to read quickly doesn't require a genius IQ, even if it will fool people at parties into thinking you have one. Anyone and their aunt can learn to speed read in a matter of minutes.
Provided you already know how to read (in which case, hi!), then you already have the ability to speed read. The training simply involves getting rid of the flaws that slow you down. For instance, your eyes naturally move in jerky twitches that make you skip backward and reread text due to periodically losing your place (you don't notice it, but 30 percent of your time spent reading is wasted because of this). Fixing that is as simple as practicing reading with a "tracker" -- just using a pen or something to follow the text as you read it, forcing your eyes to keep moving forward. Next, you time yourself. Find out how long it takes you to get through a few lines at your normal speed, and then set a timer. This time, give yourself twice as much text to read in the same span.
"OK, now read the entire Harry Potter series in eight minutes ... go!"
Keep doing it -- you'll be amazed at how fast you pick it up. Your brain can easily handle it; you've just been reading wrong all this time. The problem is subvocalization. Whether you realize it or not, we all "say" the words aloud in our head, as if we were reading a bedtime story to our own brain. This is what makes what we view as "normal" reading speed so gosh darn slow: Your eyes can totally buzz across those lines 300 percent quicker while still delivering the same information, but your thoughts insist on dragging their feet as they bumble along, painstakingly thinking each and every word "out loud" inside your head. Using the timer to force yourself to go faster will also force you to stop subvocalizing. Yep -- as always, the only thing keeping you back are the voices in your head.
Once you get over the panic of reading without them, you'll suddenly be able to read fast enough to make strangers think you're a prodigy, even though in reality you spent the entire previous afternoon trying to light your own farts.
And the entire previous evening Googling the phrase "cauterized asshole."
#4. Solve a Rubik's Cube in Minutes
When the Rubik's Cube became a sensation in the 1980s, it was marketed as the ultimate test of brilliance. And sure enough, you could mess with the thing for hours and get no closer to a solution, since rotating one square into place shifted three others out of alignment. To this day, solving the cube quickly is used as an easy visual cue for raw, intellectual power -- you may remember Will Smith getting hired in Pursuit of Happyness because he solves the cube, or Steve Buscemi's character tearing through one in Armageddon, thus establishing credibility for the technobabble he then proceeds to rattle off.
"... and thus, the six hydrocoptic Marseil vanes fitted to the ambaphascient lunar wain shaft ..."
Don't get us wrong -- there are in fact 519 quintillion possible combinations for solving a Rubik's Cube. The reason it only says "billions of combinations" on the box is because the real number is just too insane. You have to think in, like, five dimensions just to get started.
That is, unless you read the manual.
Solving a Rubik's Cube doesn't take superhuman spatial-reasoning skills. All you need is some memorizing. The official Rubik's Cube website readily recognizes that their little toy's difficulty is hardcore on an insanity-inducing level. Not wanting to risk filling the streets with rage-bonered wannabe geniuses running amok, the company has compiled a handy six-step manual for solving the cube from any conceivable formation.
It turns out that the puzzle is only daunting because it seems like every piece moves all around, but actually there are only three types of pieces: edge, corner, and center. The whole element that seems to make it impossible -- that every move you make fucks up all of your previous progress -- can be overcome by building the right foundation. You need to figure out how to form the "white cross..."
From there, as their guide shows you, you can use the same few techniques to progress from one completed side to the next.
"You would not believe what I can do with this."
#3. Win a Chess Game in Just a Few Moves
Chess is the game of geniuses. Hell, if Brain Olympics were a thing, chess would be the only event they have. It's all about strategy, anticipation, and thinking ahead, while mentally tracking the locations and abilities of 32 pieces. While the ultimate object is certainly to kill the opponent's king, the real effort goes toward systematically destroying his loyal subjects or carefully positioning yourself to stealth-murder him in the middle of their protective embrace. There's a lot of planning involved -- often, the game is over several rounds before the eventual checkmate.
"Well goddammit, Jerry, you wouldn't let me build any hotels!"
But, none of that means that there aren't a few easy tricks you can use to really impress novice players (that is, 99 percent of the people you'll ever play against anyway). Most of these tactics involve winning with just a couple of moves, which is great not only because it means you have to play as little as possible (it can get pretty dull), but because they'll think you're such a master that they'll be scared to ever play you again.
See, being a complex game, chess features quite a few ways to mess up your game right at the beginning. This means that, conversely, there are quite a few easy trap openings that you can lay, and most inexperienced players' first impulses will trip them straight into your spiky pit of despair. Take scholar's mate, for instance:
"No, really, it's an easy game to learn, the bishop moves diagonal, the rook moves straight, aaaaaaaaaaand you're dead."
Four moves from white and BOOM! You've dealt your opponent such a crushing defeat that were this a chess tournament, the rules would require you to teabag them. Black doesn't even need to make those exact moves to lose -- it works unless they specifically see what you're doing and stop it. Otherwise the queen winds up face to face with their king, and the king can't do shit about it because your bishop is protecting her. Two pieces render every other piece on the board useless.
And scholar's mate is far from alone: There are plenty of four- and five-move checkmates, some of which require a little more understanding of the game ... but are still a hell of a lot simpler than actually learning to be good at chess.