It’s getting to be that time of year. The groups touring Yale’s campus once again include people who don’t descend from a Chinese-lettered bus en masse.
The tour has changed quite a bit since I took it. Silliman’s dining hall now looks like the Titanic BEFORE it sank. Distribution requirements are based on groups with letters, not numbers. Koffee Too named itself after a urinal. And now, as backwards-walking students in Bulldog-covered gear can snobbishly report, Yale College accepts only 8.3 percent of applicants.
Frankly, I’m glad I won’t be around anymore next fall, because those 8.3 percent who did make the cut must be fucking brilliant. Every September, I already lament how much nicer and hotter the froshies are than I. Now that they’re much smarter, too, it would overwhelm me. I’d have to transfer somewhere with a lamer, uglier, dumber student body.
There is a light at the end of this 8.3 Percent Tunnel of Despair, however. Years of actual experience with Yalies (who, although not 2012-caliber, are nonetheless pretty brilliant) have taught me something: Smart people are astoundingly stupid.
When I talk about these stupid smart people (SSPs), I’m not talking about the kind of person who is good with words but bad with math. I’m talking about the kind of person who speaks five languages AND proves the mathematical certainty of black holes but can’t make microwave popcorn.
The Infinite Monkey Theorem says that if a chimpanzee were allowed to randomly hit typewriter keys for an infinite amount of time, he would almost surely produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Using this logic, I think it’s clear that a monkey could get a 1600 (2400 for the youngsters) on the SAT. … Or, if not a monkey, certainly a small percentage of 11th graders allowed to fill in Scantron bubbles for what seems like an infinite amount of time when you’re 16 and it’s a Saturday morning. But even this explanation falls short of explaining all the SSPs at Yale, since we all know it’s NOT JUST ABOUT THE TEST SCORES.
Besides, when English researchers actually gave six Celebes Crested Macaques a computer keyboard in their zoo cage for a month in 2003, the primates produced nothing but five pages of writing, consisting mostly of the letter S. And that was after the alpha male smashed the keyboard with a stone and the whole group pooped on it.
So what’s up with these SSPs?
Take my very intelligent, world-saving, multi-fellowship-winning friend: One day, noting the long line outside of the ladies’ room in Commons, she decided to duck into the empty men’s bathroom. When five guys walked in, she figured she could discretely exit and nobody would be harmed. So, she shrieked, “Ummm there’s a girl in here!!!” while waving her hands frantically over the stall door, waited for the boys to calm down and zip up, then ran out of the bathroom and up the stairs with her arms covering her face. Suave. Another friend realized he was locked out of the frat house where he was staying that summer and — instead of making the relevant phone calls or climbing in a window — scaled the three-story building and spent the night on the roof. I ran out of gas driving down Crown Street last week and was paralyzed amid a deluge of angry honks outside of ’Swings until a homeless guy told me to put it in neutral and pushed me safely across High Street. I gave him $10, simultaneously realizing that even with infinite years of my grossly overpriced education I couldn’t have handled the situation without his help.
Food-related tasks likewise prove among the most challenging for SSPs. I nearly got stitches and tetanus the other night reaching in our fridge, since my friend — a trilingual, journal-published high school valedictorian — had shredded the twist-off metal cap on a bottle of wine whilst trying to open it with a corkscrew. My roommate one summer, a guy who actually understands Nietzsche, couldn’t understand what the expiration date on a gallon of milk meant. Determined not to make that mistake twice, he decided to freeze the extra gallon he insisted on buying in a 2-for-1 deal at Shaw’s. Guess what? SSP Chem 101: Milk, like water, expands when frozen. I came home one afternoon to find a complex defrosting system involving several Nalgenes, a milk-covered floor, and my roommate scraping milk crystals and shards of plastic milk jug off the inside of our freezer with a butter knife. And heat proves equally confusing. Neither my younger brother nor our Phi Beta Kappa Yalie houseguest was able to brew a cup of coffee. Panicking when the coffee maker started to emit the spitting and gurgling sounds that non-SSPs know are just a routine part of the process, my mother came home to find both guys hiding around the corner from the coffee pot, convinced it was going to explode.
We do SSP stuff nearly every day. Look at the number of people wearing flip-flops even though it’s near freezing outside. Consider the fact that not only does Yale offer early morning classes, but people sign up for them — evidence of SSPs on both administrative and student levels.
But there’s hope — for the genius SSPs of 2012 and the merely intelligent SSPs of my generation. After all, we’re smarter than Yalies of earlier decades, and they’ve done okay. Stupid smart people on campus 40 years ago, for example, may just have been stupid people. Back before this “8.3 percent-is-great” era of admissions, a person, it seems, could lack practical, mathematical AND verbal intelligence and still make the cut.
Incidentally, Dubya: class of 1968.
Sarah Minkus, a “merely intelligent” SSP.