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Theory of Relativity wins this year's Ultimate Genius Showdown

MSNBC & the 92nd St Y unveil the winner of the Ultimate Genius Showdown.

Gravity's Groove

Jan. 29, 201600:36

As the NCAA tournament gets underway, another bracket in our own March madness has answered an age-long question: Who is the ultimate genius?

For the second consecutive year, MSNBC has partnered with 92Y to celebrate the 7 Days of Genius, a week-long series of inspiring conversations on what genius is and how it betters the world. This year, we’re proud to announce that after tens of thousands of votes, the winner of our Ultimate Genius Showdown is the Theory of Relativity. Beating out 31 other world shaking entries, the Theory of Relativity’s win reminds us that genius isn’t solely about individual people, but about big ideas that transform our understanding of the world.

Over the last few weeks, geniuses from different eras, countries and fields battled it out across four categories: politics, innovation, science and morality. Thousands of people from across the world participated in choosing which genius would prevail in each category. In the morality category, Malala Yousafzai and Rosa Parks made it to the third round. After a very close contest, Malala moved onto the semi-final round, showing that youth and genius can go hand in hand, and that genius is often about courage and conviction. In the innovation quadrant, the Model T beat Uber 82% to 18% in the first round, proving that new doesn’t always trump old, before losing out to George Washington Carver. Despite Hamilton-mania, Carver dispatched Lin-Manuel Miranda handily.

The science group was where we saw some of our most evenly-split voting. In the first round, Rosalind Franklin, a chemist from the early 20th century, narrowly beat out computer scientist Grace Hopper. Stephen Hawking had a relatively easy time progressing to the third round until he was beat by the Theory of Relativity, 61% to 39%. The Theory of Relativity was one of only four entries that was not an individual. In the political category, President Obama survived a tough second round challenge from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, but prevailed to make it to the semi-final round. In the end, voters chose the Theory of Relativity over President Obama.

Across all categories, we saw surprises and steals. Voters didn’t favor present-day figures over historical geniuses. People like Rosa Parks, Galileo, and Susan B. Anthony progressed to the third round, along with modern geniuses like Elon Musk and Lin-Manuel Miranda.  This year’s genius bracket showed that the definition of genius is still up for grabs: Is it a person? A noun? An adjective? An idea? As this year’s winner shows, genius ideas can have a life of their own, continuing to take  shape far after they are posited by any one individual. The voters have spoken: genius comes from everywhere and isn’t bound by age, gender, race, ethnicity or geography.

The Theory of Relativity can proudly proclaim itself the winner of the Ultimate Genius Showdown. Until next year. Let us know what you think! Tweet your reactions using the hashtag #thatsgenius, or post them in the comments below. For more information on 92Y’s 7 Days of Genius festival, please visit and MSNBC’s coverage at