NEW YORK -- For Ronnie Schnell, 14, playing make-believe with dungeons and dragons is sandwiched into limited spare time.
Other times, he works as a consultant for a Maryland Computer firm or developes computer languages alongside some of the most highly respected computer researchers at New York University's Courant Institute of mathematical sciences.
NYU officials say Ronnie 'already has a knowledge of computers that rivals that of some of Courant's senior scientists.' He knows between 15 to 20 computer languages.
'Also English, French and a little Hebrew,' he said with a boyish grin.
Even the 'Dungeon' game, he plays with a complex program worked up by Computer experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Ronnie eagerly will show how to play the game. In fact, he seems to treat computers and programs as one big game.
The player calls up the 'Dungeon' program on a computer and is given a set of clues such as, 'you're in the kitchen. There is a door to the east...' The player then gives the command 'Open Door', and the computer gives another set of clues to investigate. The object of the game is to get out of the Dungeon.
'It can last for days,' he said. He plays it on his own computer at home.
Ronnie first became intrigued with computers at age 9 when he saw a picture of one in a magazine.
The tossled, red-haired youngster, said it was not until age 11 that teachers recognized he possessed something special.
They could not help but notice. He walked into the only computer class at the Pomona, N.Y., Junior High School and started teaching.
He bugged his father and grandfather to chip in $500 each to his $500 savings so he could buy his own home computer.
But Ronnie said an MIT professor heard of his interest and suggested the institute's undergraduate program. He had full run of institute's facilities during the summer but is attending Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass., this fall for one year of high school before college. 'NYU wanted me this year, but I couldn't because I hadn't taken my SAT's yet.' Standard Achievement Tests are required by most Colleges for applying high school seniors.
When asked if he was as good as the older students, he noted he was scheduled to give a lecture to them.
But he does not consider himself a 'genius.'
'Genius means exceptionally intelligent in all fields,' he said. 'I think I'm exceptionally intelligent in computers.'
'Around friends,' he said, 'I try to be normal.'