Tao became notorious for his nights haunting the graduate computer room to play the historical-simulation game Civilization. (He now avoids computer games, he told me, because of what he calls a ‘‘completist streak’’ that makes it hard to stop playing.) At a local comic-book store, Tao met a circle of friends who played ‘‘Magic: The Gathering,’’ the intricate fantasy card game. This was Tao’s first real experience hanging out with people his age, but there was also an element, he admitted, of escaping the pressures of Princeton. Gifted children often avoid challenges at which they might not excel. Before Tao went to Princeton, his grades had flagged at Flinders. In a course on quantum physics, the instructor told the class that the final would include an essay on the history of the field. Tao, then 12, blew off studying, and when he sat down for the exam, he was stunned to discover that the essay would count for half the grade. ‘‘I remember crying,’’ Tao said, ‘‘and the proctor had to escort me out.’’ He failed.