President-elect George Bush's new chief of staff, John H. Sununu, is a smart guy by all accounts. His doctarate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one clue. His I.Q. is another. On a scale where "genius" is anything over 140, Sununu has been clocked at 176. That makes him one in a million.
Whether he is smart enough to massage the egos at the top of the administration and smart enough to befriend Jewish leaders and smart enough to outsmart his boss remains to be seen. But there is no question that he is book smart.
In 1985, Sununu picked up Omni magazine's "mega-I.Q." test while on a plane flight. At the time he was governor of New Hampshire and was busy with the state legislature, but when the session adjourned for the summer, Sununu got serious about the test. You might say it's his idea of how to spend a summer vacation.
When he and more than 3,000 other Omni readers turned their tests in, Sununu had tied with two others for second place. He correctly answered 44 of 48 questions, where a score of 15 ranked the contestant as a genius with an I.Q. of 141. His score of 44 put Sununu's I.Q. at 176.
"This test was one of the most enjoyable exercises I have gone through in some time," Sununu wrote to the magazine, "a superbly stimulating diversion."
Here is a sample from the Omni test of what the new chief of staff considers a good time: "What is the maximum number of completely bounded volumes that can be formed by three interpenetrating cubes, considering only the surfaces of the cubes as bounds and counting only volumes that are not further subdivided?"
If that brand of witty repartee doesn't go over well at staff meetings, Sununu can fall back on analogies: "Heel is to Achilles as box is to what?" "Pain is to rue as bread is to what?" "Civil is to papal as ambassador is to what?"
When conversation lags at White House dinners, Sununu can challenge the other guests: "A cube of butter is sliced five times by a butter knife. Into how many pieces at most can the cube of butter thereby be divided if each knife stroke is perfectly straight and the pieces of butter are never rearranged?"
If the flexible freeze strategy demands that Sununu crunch a few numbers, he will be equal. He can look at a string of numbers -- 15, 52, 99, 144, 175, 180, 147 -- and tell what comes next.
The Omni test was written by Ronald Hoeflin, founder of the Mega Society, a high-I.Q. club that makes Mensa look like preschool. Mensa membership is open to I.Q.s above 133 -- the smartest 2 percent of the American population. The Mega entrance requirement is an I.Q. of 176 or above, the 99.999th percentile, or one in a million people.
Hoeflin's Omni test was not even worth the effort for the average person. It had a "floor" of 122, that being the jumping off I.Q. for anyone with half a chance to answer one question.
The average score by the people who tried was 15. That makes Sununu a genius among geniuses. But he wasn't the smartest. That honor went to Herbert Taylor, a University of Southern California associate professor who coauthored a book on how to unscramble a Rubik's Cube.