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MIT student blogger Kate R. '14

Building a Ballpit by Kate R. '14

The trials and tribulations of an impromptu rush project

The scene: East Campus Talbot lounge like you’ve never seen it before (since last year.) All of the furniture has been moved to the edges of the room or outside to the fort that is beginning to be built. The floor has been covered with plywood and then heavy-duty plastic sheeting, covering every inch of carpet. Tools are everywhere: most of them neatly piled and sorted on the tools table, but here and there is a drill, a crescent wrench, a measuring tape that someone is going to come back to. Every color of paint imaginable is represented in the cluster of cans in the corner, and spare scraps of plywood lie around the floor, half-transformed into witty signs to decorate our courtyard constructions. “EC Dining Plan: The weak shall be eaten.” or “Wear Shoes or DIE”

The cast: The EC rush chairs, in charge of organizing all of the projects and events that have gone on this week, stand at the whiteboard. Surrounding them are the unmistakable denizens of East Campus: cargo pants, colored hair, and multitools are everywhere. Many of these are “early returns”—desperate to get on campus earlier than the move-in date, meet the freshmen and build ALL the things, they trade 8 hour-days of working on rush projects in exchange for free rent for the few weeks we are here. Yes, I am one of them—I got to campus last Saturday and for the past week I’ve been working nonstop on EC rush. “Rush” is what we call REX, or Residence Exploration, the time when all freshmen get to explore the dorms, meet the upperclassmen and decide where they best fit in. This freedom to choose where you live was actually one of my biggest reasons for choosing MIT.

But back to the scene at hand.

The Rush Chairs commence a speech. We are getting better at cleaning up after ourselves but we should still remember to put tools away as we finish using them. They commence a rundown of the remaining projects. The fort is almost done, it just needs a roof. IHOP, a hut for cookie distribution, is done, it just needs painting. The monkey bars are stalled because we’re waiting on parts. Today’s tasks are the Merry-Go-Death and the roller coaster. The speech begins to wind down when…

Hat Mike (there are so many Mikes in EC that Hat Mike gets called by his perpetual headwear as well as his name): And finally, there are a bunch of ballpit balls from Senior Haus in the basement, we need someone to hose them off for the ballpit. Who wants to be in charge of the ballpit.

The room is silent. Understandably. Who knows where those balls have been?

Hat Mike: Come on, anyone?

Aw, what the heck. I stayed in Simmons this summer, and Simmons has a ballpit, so I guess I’m sort of the expert here, aren’t I? I think.

Me: I will.

And I had my job for the day. My first order of business was to go down to the basement and check out these balls. We had a good 20 trashbags full of them, enough for a 4-foot by 8-foot ballpit, a reasonable size. Back out in the courtyard, I informed the rush chairs that I had located the balls, but where was the ballpit?

Turns out I was in charge of building that, too. So now, instead of a fun job spraying a bunch of freshmen *ahem* ballpit balls with a hose, I had stumbled upon the job of designing and constructing a 4 by 8 foot pit, too! Someone pointed out the existence of some green plastic netting in the basement that we could use for the walls, but I decided we needed a floor, too—it would be no good to hose off the balls only to have them lying in the dirt all week. (The East Campus courtyard doesn’t really have grass… something about being trampled by people carrying wood and power tools all week…)

The idea was to build a platform 3.5 inches off the ground (because a 2 by 4? The actual dimensions are 1.5 by 3.5 inches! These are important things to know when designing a ballpit.) With the help of some friendly freshmen, we built a 4 by 8 foot frame, and all we needed was some plywood to top it off.

This is when I learned of the next big challenge of my project: supplies availability. See, rush projects are planned weeks in advance, and they submit BoMs, or Bills of Materials, so that the rush chairs know what to buy. And the rush chairs had only bought just enough plywood for the existing projects. Meaning my spur-of-the-moment, design-as-you-build ballpit was out of luck.

Finally, after about half an hour of running around the courtyard tracking down different project designers, rush chairs, and people building other projects, I secured permission for my very own full sheet of half-inch thick plywood (after fending of suggestions that I piece together scrap wood, or use quarter-inch plywood instead—that stuff bends! You can’t use that for a floor!)

After we’d screwed the floor into place, we had to build the wall. Despairing of ever wresting another sheet of plywood from the other projects, we decided to go with the green plastic netting in the basement. After getting instructions to where it was, Trang, ’15 and I went down to retrieve it, only to find the room locked. But there’s always another way: around the corner there was about a 2-foot square hole in the wall. By getting a leg up from me, Trang wriggled halfway through the opening and was just able to snag the netting we needed and pull it out with her through the hole.

But how to attach the netting to the floor? The short answer is staple hammers, which are way too much fun. You whack a thing with another thing and then the first thing has a big metal staple in it! But first we had to build the supports so we had something to staple into. We planned it all out, and determined that we needed 12 two by fours, each roughly 3 feet long. We finished our calculations, stood up, brushed off our knees and looked around the courtyard… only to find a complete lack of wood to be used for our project. Every single board was claimed by the roller coaster, or the Viking ship, or the rotating see-saw.

But we were not to be defeated, and we were so close. We sorted through the scrap bin, convinced people to make their cuts to leave the longest possible scrap wood, and even dipped into the stores of old wood on the racks in the basement: old, water-warped, forgotten boards that have long since forgotten their glory days as a part of the roller coasters of EC rushes past. We rescued the downtrodden boards from their basement banishment and brought them back up to the bright, bustling courtyard—and cut them to 3-foot pieces. While we’d planned for 12 supports, we ended up with 6… close enough?

When we stretched our plastic netting around the newly constructed support beams, we realized it only covered three sides of the ballpit. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, though, as the remaining 4-foot side served as a door. We screwed thin strips of plywood close together on the bottom half of it, making a lower wall that was easy to step over but restricted the balls from escaping.

Then we let loose with the staple hammer. The pure glee I derived from this was on par with bubble wrap.

And finally, it was finished! We brought up the bags upon bags of ballpit balls from the basement, and after hosing them off for a while we deposited them in the glorious impromptu ballpit to dry. If you want to see it, rfong included a great picture of it at the end of her post here.

Unfortunately, the ballpit was emptied and deconstructed later last week in fear of Hurricane Irene (a fear which turned out to be largely unjustified, in my opinion, but then I’m a little possessive of my ballpit.) In its short life, though, our little ballpit certainly amused and entertained its fair share of small children. And I include myself among the small children.

5 responses to “Building a Ballpit”

  1. Suyash says:

    Wow, that sounds mighty fun! :D. Bleh, Irene showing up and causing uprooting of rush ballpits= :/.
    Well done with the Ballpit construction, regardless~!
    East Campus must be an AMAZING place to be, ‘specially with REX. So much building and fun concentrated in EC this time of year. MIT is such an awesome place.

  2. Huzzah Kate is back!
    Also we are riding in a car together. It will be a miracle if the others don’t kill us before we get to SkyZone.

  3. Phoebe '15 says:

    Hi Kate! Thanks for painting a lightning bolt on my face before the water war. What’s the protocol for when you recognize bloggers but don’t want to be a creeper? smile

  4. Andre Sotolongo says:

    I think I just my break my fingers crossing them to get in to MIT. The sheer amount of win I’m detecting is astounding. I swear I’m going to get in just to come to this and join in the joyous frivolity of your ball pit.

  5. Keith says:

    Reminds me of when I used to have my birthday parties at Chuck-E-Cheese when I was a kid. I used to do cannonballs in the ball pit there.