The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Wild, Wild West in the East.

Recently, the boys, Ainan, Fintan and Tiarnan, attended a sports event at Fintan’s school. Of greater interest to them, than the “Jogathon”, were the fairground like attractions that accompanied it.

The boys set themselves a challenge: they were going to win various prizes, by their skill at the fairground. I had my doubts about the wisdom of this, having background memories of the fairgrounds of my childhood, in which most of the games were rigged in favour of the fairground…more of an UNfairground, as it were.

My life experience proved telling, at first. A handful of tickets were bought at 3 Ringgits a piece and the boys set about with their plan. The first challenge was to knock down nine “bowling pins”, with three coconuts. At first, the boys thought this looked easy, since they had had some experience of bowling and knew just how to handle the situation. So, they duly bowled the coconuts towards the pins. This, however, didn’t work. The coconuts veered off course, their odd shapes making them unruly. So, one ticket wasted.

Fintan tried, this time. Having observed that bowling wouldn’t work, in this particular “bowling” challenge, he elected to throw the coconuts at the pins. This was much better – he hit the top of one pin and it fell over. The pins beside it, however, were remarkably resistant to being knocked down. There was something fishy here. Fintan’s next throw hit the pins full on, midway up the pins. They didn’t move at all. Now, it became clear just how this game was rigged: the pins were heavily weighted, in the lower half. Hitting them full on, would have no effect on them at all. These were bowling pins that couldn’t be bowled. What a cheat. That wasn’t the only thing that was dishonest. You see, when people assess the challenge, they have an understanding of how much a coconut weighs. But these coconuts were incredibly light: they had been drained and emptied of all fluid, then dessicated. It was like bowling with balsa wood.

So, the fairgrounds of Asia, were just like the fairgrounds of my childhood: unfairgrounds!

The purpose of the fairground was, of course, to make money, for the school. However, it did seem unfair to take away from all those who played this game, any real chance of winning. In other situations, this bowling game would be called a con.

We left the large queue of people waiting to bowl and assessed the other games present.

Ainan’s eyes grew wide when he saw a shooting game. The task was simple. Players had to use a nerf gun (not intrinsically very accurate), to shoot small ducks on a board. The ducks were about three inches wide and about one and a half inches high: not very big targets for such an inaccurate gun.

We watched the previous player shoot his three shots. He missed three times. It just wasn’t particularly easy. Seeing this, I did wonder if the “house” was going to win again.

Ainan held the loaded gun with the utmost casualness. Anyone who didn’t know him, might have viewed his confidence as misplaced. In rapid succession, he squeezed off three shots, re-aiming on a different duck between each shot. Three ducks duly fell. He had won.

Perhaps, the boys’ ambition to win a few prizes was not so misplaced after all!

The attendant manning the stall revealed no reaction, beyond a little evaluative stare at Ainan. He ticked our “prize card”, with a special pencil to signal that we were owed one prize.

The next challenge was a traditional one for fairgrounds: knocking down a triangle made out of tin cans, with three tennis balls.

Again, we watched others attempt the task. It wasn’t so easy either. It was easy to knock down some of the cans, with the first ball (if it hit the cans at all), but that usually left a lot of free standing cans, too separated to be knocked down, other than individually. As a result, all the people we watched ran out of balls, before they ran out of cans to knock down.

Then it was Ainan’s turn.

He held his tennis ball lightly in his right hand, which I thought interesting considering that he is left handed (from the point of view of which hand he writes with). He tossed it casually towards the cans.

Bang! All of them fell down.

Ainan had beaten the game with a single shot.

“I aimed at the mathematically weakest point.”, he explained. Ah. So science had been his secret weapon.

The attendant looked a little surprised and smiled a little, at what he had seen. Tellingly, he didn’t even have the special pencil required to mark a winner. He had to go off and borrow someone else’s – so he hadn’t exactly had many winners.

So, it looked like I was wrong. The boys were going to win some prizes and beat this fairground. Their secret was to stick to games in which there was actual skill involved and which weren’t rigged. In such a situation, Ainan won every time.

The boys went to collect their first round of prizes: a set of Ben 10 stationery and a set of Transformers stationery for Fintan and Tiarnan. They eyed some “Angry Bird” merchandise and elected to aim for that, too. They needed to win four games to get it. Ainan’s comment? “No problem”.

He was right. He duly went off and shot nine ducks in a row and knocked down a pyramid of cans, to bag his prize. It was clearly no challenge for him at all.

To be frank, I hadn’t expected that, since Ainan has shown little interest in sports – yet, the skills required for these tasks were sporting ones (whether he knew it or not). Perhaps, the fact that they were not so obviously sports, or presented as such, allowed him to be interested enough to meet the challenge.

I was pleased to find out that my son was such a “Wild West kid”. Well done Ainan.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:56 PM 


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