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MIT student blogger Yan Z. '12

Recollections of a Stranded Traveler by Yan Z. '12

IHTFP: I Have To Find a Plane. In the meantime, I reflect on happier interpretations of the acronym.

Amidst a Dali-esque landscape of finals-related drudgery and holiday travel rushes (think The Persistence of Memory, but imagine unfinished exams underneath the melting clocks), there resides a species of creative insanity native to jungles clotted around the siren shores of Winter Break. Take the mental hyperactivity characteristic of MIT kids, infuse it with end-of-semester jitteriness, and observe the stress-killing antics that bubble up during Finals Week. By “antics,” I mean something as innocuous as:

1.The Fruitcake Scare. An anecdote: the Friday before last, my roommate received a package in the mail labeled only as “Maxwell’s Equations in a Vacuum.” Nary a mark of the sender’s identity was uncovered, but a decoding of the serial numbers on the packaging produced a phone number with a California area code. Further sleuthing, by which I mean picking up the phone and dialing said number, revealed that the causal agent was my roommate’s uncle. Even further sleuthing, by which I mean opening the box, revealed that “Maxwell’s Equations in a Vaccuum” is an esoteric euphemism for “Fruitcake that will sustain you for two days in case of a nuclear attack.”

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Mystery resolved, the fruitcake was donated to Random Hall and East Campus, to be divided unequally amongst 400 or so residents.

2.The Choir Party in Random Hall’s Stairwell. At MIT circa Finals Week, people tend to pack studying into their nights like dried nuts and figs into a slab of Maxwell’s Equations in a Vacuum. Certain events, however, tend to stick out like careless marshmallows in an otherwise high-density period of info-cramming. Par example: one of MIT’s best A capella groups decided to have a midnight party in Random’s stairwell, complete with a bout of feisty and impressively in-tune serenading. Four floors of residents rushed into the well of stairs to soak up the rising founts of ambrosia for the ears, by which I mean Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

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(Winner of Yan’s Blog Award for Most Unforgettable Live-Action Rickroll of 2008)

3.Snow. Or, as Californians call it, Apocalypse Now.

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At 11:00 PM on Tuesday, I closed my biology notes in a sleepthirsty stupor and was preparing to dive into unexplored levels of springiness within the expanse of my mattress when I accidentally glanced out the window. I ditched the nap.

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Apparently, it was not difficult to overstate my enthusiasm. With the power of my Jedi mind tricks, I eventually cajoled a few friends upstairs into risking life and pajama-clad limb on the roofdeck, where we duked out our grievances in a gaspingly brief snowball fight. Bright slivers of our (for now) infinite youth blurred in the radioactive sheen of green lamplight, amplified by the iridescent snowfall.

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The sharp, sudden blast of viridescent ice against my face made for a virile sensory cocktail that stayed in my nerves throughout finals week. It was the first authentic, card-carrying snowfall of the year, and the chill was as unforgettable as your first Rickroll.

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(Myself, post-collision with a wad of snow.)

4.The baking, creaming, cheesecaking, and supercooling* of desserts for the entire dorm every night for 20 days. A few weeks ago, a more ambitious version of myself asked the blogosphere to write in with their favorite dessert concoctions. After careful self-evaluation of my laziness as well as my troubled diplomatic relations with The Oven (no worries, the toaster and I have a stable alliance), I decided to go with Coleen’s suggestion of Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies. However, as a materials scientist, I grappled with the concept of two distinct compositions (chocolate and peppermint/sugar) exhibiting pinwheel-shaped phase separation. Boggled, I decided to forego the pinwheel-engineering and just left the peppermint and chocolate to phase separate according to density and the initial degree of intermixing**. Voila: Cookies That Are Compositionally Identical to But Structurally Distinct From Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies Due to Lack of Dough Engineering. That’s a catchy name if I ever heard one.

*Liquid nitrogen ice cream is one of Random Hall’s culinary specialties.
**Meaning that I just chucked a bunch of chocolate and crushed candy canes into a bowl with your standard cookie ingredients.

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Although tasty, the outcome was blatantly unstructural and fell apart faster than a highway pass made of biscotti and airplane glue. I heard that the civil engineering majors refused to eat them on principle. Nonetheless, the (deconstructed) cookies were gone faster than a U-haul on a highway pass made of biscotti and airplane glue.

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Batch #2 exhibited improved structural properties. Quoth my email to the dorm:

From: Yan
To: Random Hall
Date: Friday, Dec. 19 at 11:30 PM
Subject: Cookies Version 2.0 on BMF Kitchen

Critical analysis of our previous methods (Zhu and Gao, 2008) revealed
that the cause of structural failure in last night’s DDNS cookies was
perturbation of the dough before complete solidification was achieved
following the heating cycle. We believe that this resulted in the
formation of extensive microstructural defects, creating a brittle
solid with weak mechanical properties. Slight modifications to the
procedure were undertaken in preparation of the second batch, which
yielded satisfactory results.

We present samples for your review in BMF kitchen.


Quoth the camera:

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5.A hack for sore eyes, lovingly placed in plain sight of the Infinite Corridor.

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Two days after the Finale of Finals, I woke up at 7:30 AM next to a packed suitcase and the unearthly stillness of Random-Hall-minus-Random-Residents. Unperturbed by the usual sounds of footsteps upstairs or the last strains of a videogaming session that had spilled past sunrise, I passed through the morning pre-flight rituals, downed the last of my soymilk, flipped open my laptop for a last-minute surf, and saw this:


The night before, this happened:

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Which resulted in this:

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After a coup staged by inclement weather, utter chaos reigned over the Boston travel scene. Flights were canceled en masse, passengers relegated from standby to standby faster than cows passing through a meat processing factory. Unable to make human contact by phone, much like E.T., I finally hauled self and luggage down to the subway station at 10 AM, hopped off at the airport ‘neath the blizzardin’ skies, and lounged in line for around an hour to rebook a flight. As of this posting, MIT is still honored with my presence.

Also, schlepping through the disheveled, unshoveled snow with luggage ranks amongst my worst experiences of the semester. Outside of snowball fights, I prefer to experience snow through a lens and a pane of window glass.

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Luckily, my beloved neighbor Jing ’10 is staying at MIT until after Christmas and has been providing shelter for Wellesley friends scattered to the cold, Bostonian winds by the American Airlines Diaspora. Thus far, we’ve been chillaxing, eating grapes, drinking buckets of tea, and watching profoundly atrocious movies in the basement theatre while swapping tales of our wasted youth in Logan airport. Jing baked cookies last night and the world glowed with soft, chocolatey warmth. American Airlines, you can take away the sweetness of my freedom to travel, but you can’t take away the sweetness of cookies, which contain glucose, which is sweet in a non-metaphorical way, which is dependent on neurobiological sensory wiring, which you can’t alter by canceling flights. I rest my case.

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Someday, my plane will descend from the heavens like a silver-winged messiah of the airline industry, bearing forth the overpriced gospel of SkyMall. Until then, I plan to start a business in manufacturing custom-made LOLcats with the help of my feline floormate, Pepper.

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First order of business: I can haz boarding pass?

32 responses to “Recollections of a Stranded Traveler”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Stupendous entry.

    “Don’t test me when I’m crazy on that airplane glue!”

  2. hmm says:


    The first three pictures of cookies look like radioactive substance. Or what I imagine radioactive substance to look like, had it been edible.

  3. JLAB '13 says:

    As to the snow thing, it’s global warming. The climate patterns are shifting, and soon the world will be consumed in an endless heat, as the universe spirals towards ultimate entropy.

    But, for something less depressing, at the end of MITES 2008, which was at the beginning of August, my friends and I made a movie with which we Rickrolled about 80 people. It was great.

    Man, if only we had the option when we died to reload to our early twenties at MIT.

  4. Niki says:

    I’m finding it rather difficult to bear in mind the dangers of global warming when the thermometer reads -19 C midmorning.
    Many congratulations on your coping mechanisms; cookies, hot tea, and snowball fights are undeniably among the best ways to deal with these cold wintry days (and cancelled flights).

  5. Heh, I was working desk when Abby picked up her Maxwell’s Equations in a Vacuum. I was curious as to what it would be.

  6. Bridger '13 says:

    I hope you get a flight home! The airlines are a mess. My mom works for JetBlue, and things are crazy.

    On the brighter side, after staying in the JFK airport for 24 hours, my sister finally made a flight home! It has been more than three months since I have seen her, but I am still not jumping up and down for the opportunity to pick her up from the airport at 3:00 am.

  7. Patrick '12 says:

    This is totally not cool. First of all, Texas gets snow before Boston does, which doesn’t even make sense, and then on the day after I leave for Texas, Boston gets hit with lots of snow. I want snow! I want snowball fights! (Still hasn’t seen real snow yet)

    What is up with the weather?

  8. Stupendous POST!

    I should take motivation from you for my school newspaper.

  9. lolz
    i love your posts Yan Z.!!
    Sorry to hear about your canceled flight, but it seems you’re having fun regardless.

  10. Steph says:

    “Snow. Or, as Californians call it, Apocalypse Now.”

    Classic and absolutely true! We just had snow and everyone was helpless. lol

  11. Anonymous says:

    That fruitcake looks a lot nicer than the one I tried to eat three days ago.

  12. Matt A. says:

    Snow in the South is also like Apocalypse Now, which is sort of funny because that makes it an annual Apocalypse Now, and you’d think that people would know what to do if it happens once a year.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Love your picturesque blogs.

  14. Katelyn '12 says:

    Ahh, kittehs everywhere!!

    Meaning: I went to the mall today and saw lots of cute kitties on calendars.

  15. Coleen says:

    Thanks Yan [YAY]!

    You picked my cookies! They are rather difficult to make, but it looks like your concoction turned out stupendously. My name (+ an extra l) will be a part of MIT blog history…Woohoo! Now if I could just get an acceptance letter, haha. I really enjoy your blogs and hope to see you next year.

    Happy Holidays!

  16. Mikey says:

    Hahaha, I didn’t even notice this until some fellow logs emailed me about it – turns out you actually caught me in one of your shots! The “random” party at Random was actually the afterparty after the Logs concert that night.

    Anyways, nice entry – your pictures, as always, are amazing. The food looks so delicious and you can see so much detail in the kittehz furz!

    Hope you’ve (eventually) made it home safely, and happy holidays!
    P.S. Thanks again for the hot chocolate the other day!

  17. Yan says:

    @ Lex:

    Fruitcake = key to immortality?

    Also, you should have used the save point. I wonder if anyone actually did.

  18. Yan says:

    @ Katelyn:

    That’s the most profound comment ever.

    @ Coleen:

    Oops, sorry for the misspelling! It’s been fixed.

    @ Mikey:

    Wow, I had no idea you were in the picture. MIT is smaller than I thought.

    Thanks for the kind wishes! I just got home.

  19. Lex says:

    Fruitcake = key to longevity. Eventually you’d get fruitcake poisoning and die a slow and painful death. Emphasis on the slow.

    And I was afraid of from where the pillows and blankets came. And I think most everyone who would have appreciated it enough to use it were too busy getting their rear ends to Logan or whatever other form of transit they hoped to use. ecafdas.

  20. Anne says:

    The pictures of the snow are amazing!

  21. Lex '12 says:

    First: Fruit Cake could keep 1 person alive far longer than 2 days. I mean, one bite and your appetite’s probably gone for those two days.

    Second: I totally almost took advantage of that Save Point. Thinking back on it, it might have been worth it. I mean, if I die of boredom during break, at least I could restart, eh?

    Well, Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and Happy to the rest of you.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I LOVE YOUR POSTS. I coincidentally clicked ur blog in google & seriously…I wish i met you in person.:] keep up with your stupendous posts.

  23. Anonymous says:

    your blogs make me want to go to MIT.

  24. Lolcatz FTW. I’ve never seen real snow in my life and your photographs are a real balm for sore eyes.

  25. polly says:

    your blogs make me want to go to MIT.

    Posted by: Anonymous on December 24, 2008 10:10 PM

    ^ i agree.

  26. Duke says:

    will u be back to china during spring festival?

  27. Yan says:

    @ Duke:

    Nope, I was going to go to China in January but decided to stick around MIT instead. Although the food alone would have made the trip worthwhile.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Yan, Still alive double agent uncle’s reload to late teens reveals motivation of mystery cake – grandmother sends starving student’s sister a heavily Larded fruit cake, allowing survival. Seasonally spirited delivery Priority Overnight, an honored tradition. If it weren’t for Maxwell, we may nary see the light of day. Well, I’ll be a MIT students Uncle.
    Best Regards and Holiday Wishes JWK SM NuE 88 005

  29. hmm says:

    Yan, what are you doing at MIT during IAP? Man… if you went to China, I’m sure your camera would have a heyday over all the food.

    Also, just wondering, you talk a lot about bio and chem. What other classes did you take last semester? What did you think of those?

  30. Yan says:


    Good questions! I should make a blog out of this.

    During IAP, I’ll be working on a research project (more to come, hope you guys can handle the suspense) and taking Mechanics II. I might end up dropping the latter if it proves to be too time-consuming.

    I also took Physics I and Linguistics; both were awesome, neither took a lot of work. Although in retrospect I wish I had taken the more rigorous version of classical mechanics, I learned a lot about problem solving and generally enjoyed the class. Linguistics was fun when I was awake for it, and the class was definitely one of the more interesting “humanities” courses from a mathematical/scientific standpoint.

    I tend to talk a lot about biology because it was my least appealing class. Bio, for people who have no desire to go into a bio-related major, can easily become a time-consuming, memorization-intensive wrinkle in your schedule unless you really enjoy the material and/or took a lot of bio classes in high school (I didn’t).

    Also, chemistry (3.091) was just flat-out the best class I have ever taken.