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Issue Date: November 2008

Hugging it Out

Chuck Bowen
Alan Baltis spent his Fourth of July weekend with several hundred of his closest (literally) friends. The Lakewood resident and Web consultant spent the holiday trying to break the world record for the most hugs in one hour. Luckily, he didn’t have to look very far for the opportunity. As the top officer for Cleveland Area Mensa, he took his shot at the record at the worldwide high-I.Q. society’s annual gathering in Denver (more on why that isn’t weird below).
The origins of his record-breaking attempt: Mensa has a history of hugging; its members traditionally hug one another at meetings instead of shaking hands. Baltis and Shawn Kenney, another Cleveland Mensa member and the person who came up with the idea of trying to break the record, wanted to use the attempt to showcase their group’s human side. “It’s not brain boys sitting around trying to outdo each other,” Baltis says.
How it worked: Baltis is a big guy — 6-feet-3-inches and 300-plus pounds. He came in to the theme fromRocky, wearing a boxing robe. He had a dozen “hug wranglers” help push people through lines toward him with some advice: “Let Al go high, you go low.” There was no time limit or minimum for the hug to count, but it had to be a full hug. No patting. The group calculated that one hug every four seconds would top 900, easily breaking the record of 765. And it wasn’t just Mensa members taking part. A just-married couple came through and hugged Baltis. Another woman insisted on bringing her dog through the line with her. Baltis ultimately got 833 hugs.

Hug etiquette: Baltis says hugs are “an interesting, semi-intimate act, where a lot of information is exchanged. Everybody has a different-size body bubble,” Baltis said. His advice: Don’t linger, and above all, don’t be creepy.

More information on hugs from a Mensa guy: “Hug” comes from the Old Norsehugga, which means “to comfort.” “There’s a lot of good to hugs — they help lower your blood pressure. Babies need human contact and we don’t lose that as we grow up.”

How it felt to break the record: “Sky high.”

How it felt to learn someone else tried to break the record and racked up more hugs: “It was heartbreaking,” says Baltis. “They crushed our record.” As part of a Relay for Life event in Boardman, Ohio, Jeff Ondash set up his own record-breaking attempt. He got 1,205 hugs in an hour.

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