Happy Nerdi Gras!

This past weekend was the Spring Carnival and Buggy Sweepstakes at Carnegie Mellon University. We decided to give the carnival a try this year, and we are kicking ourselves that we haven’t gone before this — it was so cool! Both the carnival and the buggy sweepstakes are old CMU traditions. Here is a video that explains the sweepstakes. Those drivers are brave, brave women:

I guess the problem is that we always thought the carnival was limited/geared to CMU students, but it isn’t — it’s for everyone! While there are rides that charge admission, the best part of the carnival is the booth competition, and that is completely free.

The booth competition is completely nuts — different student organizations and Greek societies compete in the creation of these elaborately decorated two-story little buildings. They are themed, and decorated inside and out, with as many gadgets, games, costumes and paper-mache objets d’arts as can be imagined by a undergraduate population that consists mainly of art students, computer programmers and engineers. Here are the specifications from the carnival website:

Competitive booths are 15′ x 18′ and are judged on the following:

• internal and external appearance
• originality of structure
• space planning and circulation
• craftsmanship
• theme creativity
• name integration
• appeal to adults and children
• entertainment value
• aesthetic appeal

I (stupidly) forgot my camera, but I’m including images of some of the booths from years gone by, so you get a sense of the level of skill involved.

This year, there was a booth shaped like the Titanic (complete with an open-air deck on the second floor, and a captain’s wheel in the pilot house.  The lower level featured a boiler room that, through a series of copper tubing, was “flooding,” and kids got to pump the water out.

Brian’s favorite booth was all about the railroads and the Golden Spike.  It featured a beautifully constructed life-sized wooden train.  Inside, the floor was of thick Plexiglass, through which you could see a tiny model train moving around in circles (and through model mountains in the shape of the fraternity’s logo).

Kappa Delta Theta created a booth that looked like the Great Pyramid at Giza, and when Jeffrey saw it, he went insane with excitement.  I think it had the prettiest art out of all the booths — carefully painted and inscribed cartouches, sphinxes, and the requisite sarcophagus.  Only, this sarcophagus was like a “concentration” game — kids had to match the mummy’s organs back to the correct places before the timer ran down and the sarcophagus popped up.  He was given a scarab necklace upon exiting (all of the booths had little giveaway trinkets) and he’s worn it pretty much non-stop since then.

Eleanor was a little frightened of the booths.  The WIzard of Oz booth was awesome (you went in through Dorothy’s Kansas house, and exited in the Emerald City, complete with a girl dressed as Glinda, handing out green necklaces) but a little spooky, and after that she refused to go in any more.  But she did enjoy playing this cheesy version of “Plinko” (a full-sized candy bar to all winners, wow), digging for dinosaurs in a sand pit, and playing this very cute video game that one of the CS majors had created.  She was given a stuffed penguin toy to hold, and when she pointed it at the screen, a little CGI penguin raced down a track.  You moved the toy to control the game (there was probably a Wii controller stuffed inside).

When Jeffrey played the penguin game, his CGI bird slid off the track and began roaming through trees.  The game designer was just behind us, and was being quizzed on the game’s technical aspects.

“Nice design,” said the designer’s friend as Jeffrey’s penguin raced farther and farther away from the course.  “Um, just how much range of motion did you give to the players?”

“Oh, they hit a wall eventually,” was the designer’s airy reply.  Just as he said this, Jeffrey’s penguin rammed into an invisible barrier.  SMACK!

My friend Libby, who attended CMU for graduate school, told me that CMU is the kind of place “where even the jocks and cheerleaders are nerds.”  Sounds like heaven to me!

2 thoughts on “Happy Nerdi Gras!

  1. That is the most amazing thing I’ve seen in a long, long time!! I can’t believe the creativity – not to mention the amount of time – that went into those “booths”! That word just doesn’t seem to do it justice. I would love to see that myself! What kind of a budget do these frats have? Who pays for all that? It’s amazing. Thanks for sharing. CMU sounds like heaven! 🙂

  2. I have NO idea how much time and money goes into these booths. Suffice to say that the competition is pretty fierce, CMU is full of workaholics, and the students must spend a good part of the year designing and constructing the booths and buggies.

    Also, remember what life was like before you had kids? The good ol’ days of energy and spare time . . .

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