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MIT student blogger Yan Z. '12

Snacks on a Plane by Yan Z. '12

And other minor horrors of leaving MIT for the first time in a year.

Yesterday morning, I woke up half-dreaming of the scriptural nuisances of airport security, circa Holiday Season, post-2001 A.D. At 7 AM after a night of post-finals merrymaking (i.e, a plate of brussels sprouts roasted with splurges of oil, salt and pepper; bad movies; walk-up-the-stairs-without-knee-bending contests; watching math majors play Guitar Hero while I pretended to be Guitar Sidekick), you feel the slow, grinding rotation of the earth tugging at sunrise, the groggy skyline gulping down cold milky skies frothed with espresso clouds. Did you know that some people got into MIT recently? Interestingly*, I haven’t gotten out of MIT recently. (In nearly one year, to be astrophysically precise.)

*In fact, this fact is not factually interesting at all, except that it starts with a strategic and misleading adverb. One of my firmest personal beliefs is that one should never waste the grammatical potency of “interestingly” on sentences that are actually interesting, like this one, which began with “One.” One could say that “one” is one of the worst one-word sentence hooks ever. See?

Apparently, I forgot how to communicate ideas other than “you can integrate a stress tensor over a surface without actually integrating it” and “I like Feynman” after one year cloistered at MIT with contact into the outside world that was tenuous at best and Facebook at worst. Soon after departing into the Christmas jingle-suffused bowels of Logan Int’l Airport, I encountered Level 10 communication barriers, on a scale where Level 1 includes talking to Intro to Linguistics teaching assistants. (In case you had an exceptionally well-englished TA, you can consider the scale to be logarithmic.) The first sign of impending bafflement appeared as I handed my boarding pass and state-issued photo ID to the boarding-pass-and-federal-or-state-issued-photo-ID-checker*.

*Do they have actual job titles? Can I abbreviate this to “BPAFOSIPIDC” without offending anyone? I’m writing this on the Internet, so the answer is either obvious or I should ignore it.

Quoth the BPAFOSIPIDC, peering at my (unabashedly expired) Missouri Driver’s Permit, “Did you get an extension on this?”

Me: Nope! Too hosed.

BPAFOSIPIDC (frowning): I’m afraid I have to ask if you have any other identification.

Me: Nope! Should I go back to school now and spend Winter Break watching other people play Guitar Hero? I guess that’s okay.

BPAFOSIPIDC: No, your ID is fine, but you should renew your driver’s permit.

Me: I don’t know what a car is.

I walked away from the conversation shoeless and uncertain of my understanding of rudimentary human communication. As my shoes drifted down the conveyor belt and into a sophisticated machine designed to verify that they weren’t size five-and-a-half grenades, I puzzled over the indubitably intricate logic of the BPAFOSIPIDC: did he think I should become a licensed driver in Boston, a city where thousands of intelligent college students learn how to not operate a motor vehicle until they’re over 25 and in California? Or does he simply have an unnatural aversion to expired identification? I suppose that’s understandable. I have an aversion to expired dairy. In fact, I’d even venture to guess that I’m expired-lactose intolerant.

Security surmounted, I slid into a decidedly-solid piece of generic aiport furniture and, hazed by a callous carousel of Logan-traipsing on four hours of sleep, flipped to the preface of David J. Griffith’s Introduction to Quantum Mechanics and internalized the most weepingly beautiful prose ever to flower from the turgid, algebra-swollen loam of a QM textbook: “ . . . quantum theory was not created- or even definitively packaged- by one individual, and it retains to this day some of the scars of its exhilarating but traumatic youth.” Never has my heart flowed with such insuppressible pathos for the metaphoric childhood of a scientific field. Yet, as soon as I belted myself into my airplane-seat-that-doubles-as-a-floatation-device-in-case-of-emergency, the intrinsic challenges of Sitting Next to Another Person became crumblingly manifest:

Stewardess: Would you like a beverage, peanuts, cookies, or pretzels?

Me: E, none of the above.

Guy in Seat 17A (gets a cookie): Are you sure you don’t want a cookie? They’re pretty fantastic. They taste sort of like graham crackers. Do you like graham crackers? Are you sure you don’t want a cookie?

Me (in a mild state of panic, since by now I’m convinced that this guy is working for Delta Airlines and will blackmail me out of my SkyMiles if I don’t get a cookie and enjoy it with televised gusto): Boy howdy, graham crackers are awesome! I have six boxes in my room!*

*This is actually true because of miscalculations in preparing for this.

Guy in Seat 17A: What are you snacking on?

Me (eating pita chips out of a ziplock bag): Pita chips, but they taste like graham crackers, which I presume taste like that delicious, complimentary cookie provided courtesy of Delta Airlines. Yum.

Guy in Seat 17A (unwrapping a cookie with an enormous Delta logo chiseled into the front): Mmm, this tastes like a thick gingersnap cookie, but even better. I love to eat them in the morning*. Hey Stewardess, can I have another cookie?

*This was a dead giveaway. Either this man likes to have a nice airplane flight with his morning breakfast or Delta is paying him for company advertisement in thick, gingersnappy cookies.

Me: Enough is enough! I have had it with these m*****f***ing snacks on this m*****f***ing plane!

(I didn’t actually say this, because I suspected that Delta was filming my conversation with this guy for a commercial on public television.)

Half an hour removed from Cambridge, my regret for leaving MIT had already been amply nourished by the discovery that normal people have apparently sold their right of free speech to airline companies. I’d go back in a femtoheartbeat* if I didn’t have to fly Delta.

*Combining biological figures of speech with metric prefixes satiates my inner Faulkner.

Good thing I took pictures of my bed before I left. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to print these and pin them to my pillow. Else the misery of separation would be unbearable.

(The ladder isn’t attached to the loft, not even gravitationally and definitely not Coulombically. I took it out of my room and tried to pole vault with it once.)

47 responses to “Snacks on a Plane”

  1. Myself says:

    First! in posting a useless comment.. raspberry

  2. Ashwin says:

    I guess I must be the only person who doesn’t go to MIT and didn’t apply this year who still reads the blogs.

  3. Eric says:

    As a way to pass the time between now and the fateful moment of revelation for us Regular-Action applicants, I’ve begun to read these blog entries and I’ve got to say, they’re making me like MIT even more than I already do. Seriously, I started cracking up when I read “I don’t know what a car is!” and completely lost myself at “Boy howdy, graham crackers are awesome! I have six boxes in my room!” Several minutes later, I was able to regain my composure to a point that I could continue reading it.

    Very good stuff. smile

  4. kai '14 says:

    i love airports and airplanes! and those cookies ARE good. you really should try them wink

  5. Justin says:

    Yan, with you, every outing can be defined as pure awesomeness. I really hope I get to meet someone even remotely alike to you in my lifetime. =) Great post. MIT students are amazing.

  6. I loved your post,…. the size 5 1/2 grenades, and your proposed expired lactose intolerance..very funny. A tale I visualized all the way along! Enjoy your break.

  7. Ya! says:

    I think every blogger has their own style, but Yan has the talent to put a bunch of seemingly irrelevant words(and Physics terminations!)into beautiful paragraphs that look like nonsense-blabbering to beginners.
    Haha just kidding! Love your post as always!

  8. AA says:

    Hmm…Guy in seat 17A did seem very suspicious…

  9. '14 says:


  10. Anonymous says:

    Red appears to be the blogger shirt color of choice.

  11. Yan says:

    @ Eric:

    Thanks! Good luck with reg. decisions.

    @ Kai:

    Very funny.

    @ ’14:

    Does Griffiths have a fan page on FB? I should start one.

  12. Yan says:

    @ Yan/ ’14:

    Griffiths Facebook Fan Club, check. I just joined. Best quote encountered on wall: “He is an amazing professor. His lectures are the epitome of lucidity and clarity. Quantum can be treacherous, but he makes it so elegant you just can’t help but start to understand it. Plus, he makes a killer waffle.”

    Also, I just failed the CAPTCHA test.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Nice work as usual. I should mention however that it interestingly lost interest once one noticed the absence of pictures of food such as the said complimentary cookie.

  14. Shiv says:

    @ Ashwin: No way! I’m applying next year nd have been reading the blogs for over 10 months now!
    BTW, yes I’m obsessed with MIT!!! wink

  15. Lena says:

    This is the first blog I’ve read- and it was amazing. I’d be very careful the next time you’re on that plane and the guy from 17A is there… he’s definitley a spy working to get rid of your travel miles.

  16. Piper '12 says:

    My flight had this kid in the back who, every few minutes, would say, “Mom, I need more bacon!”

    It was hilarious.

    I also learned that I do not like Jet Blue’s sweet potato chips.

  17. Caio '14? says:

    I love airports and airplanes [2]. And you got lucky. The guy in seat 17A could have brought Mc Donald’s or other smelly food :

  18. shawn '11 says:

    @Piper: Jet Blue has blue potato chips. How could you _not_ like them? They’re blue! raspberry

  19. Anonymous says:

    Even though I got deferred and have 10 other applications to write in the next 10 days, I still can’t resist coming back to here to read amazingly amusing blog entries like these…maybe someone should check me into rehab or something, because I’m afraid I’m hooked XP

  20. Winnie says:

    Haha wow, you guys call them ‘stewardesses’. Here we refer to them as ‘flight attendants’. @piper and shawn, I loved jet blue’s blue potato chips while I was in USA. I was a little bit reluctant to try them at first though…

  21. Alex says:

    Hey yan ’12! I really enjoyed this post, it was really funny.
    I just have one question… Are all the rooms at MIT painted that color or did you change it? I really like it smile
    Thanks for blogging!

  22. Yan says:

    @ Alex:

    Heck no! You can paint your room any color you like at Random Hall. (As well as a few other dorms.) Pretty much all of the rooms at Random are unique. I didn’t repaint mine though.

    Other examples:

  23. '14 says:

    I heard a rumor
    That Random has no WiFi
    Is this really true?

  24. Yan says:

    @ ’14:


    (Protip: I’m more likely to answer questions if they’re disguised as haiku)

  25. anon says:

    guess again
    I haven’t missed a yan blog since she started blogging last year

  26. That was a hilarious blog entry.

    We call BPAFOSIPIDC “ID Inspectors”, but I guess that’s nowhere as much fun.
    (I’m a party pooper indeed)

    But, er, I love Feynman too! :D

  27. Anonymous says:

    You should make your blog entries into a book. I would love to buy one smile

  28. Kristina says:

    Be happy you didn’t eat that cookie! Delta ones are the worst. O.o

    I found myself talking like this when I came home from my internship this summer. I’d ask others to see the cross section of their sandwich instead of just asking what kind they had gotten. Thanks for the awesome post!

  29. Kristina says:

    By the way, your room’s blue?? That’s so cool smile

  30. BahHumbug says:

    Thanks for inducing a minute-long giggling fit that ended in imaginary hiccups. Life is good.

  31. tree says:

    Air travel….what I hated the most..

  32. Piper '12 says:

    @Winnie – “Flight attendant” is used here too smile

  33. Winnie says:

    @’16: I’m in year 11 too! hahahaha we’re not THAT little >@’16: I’m in year 11 too! hahahaha we’re not THAT little ><

  34. '16? says:

    Whilst I am here also, does anybody know how to remove the casing of an iPod without disemboweling it? I’ve got halfway with my mum’s tweezers I don’t think she’s going to be overly thrilled

  35. '16? says:

    You make my 10th grade life feel exceedingly more boring and academically anaemic with every blog of yours I read

  36. Yan says:

    @ Anon:

    Wow, thanks. I feel like even I haven’t read all of my entries.

    @ ’16:

    Youngest person I’ve ever seen on MITblogs, check. No worries; my blog in 10th grade consisted of wisdoms like, “Red jello is better than green. The cafeteria lady put microwaved bacon in the microwaved string beans again.” Something like that.

  37. '16 says:

    Well, I’m not sure if I got 10th grade right, I’m English so it’s year 11 here. But that probably makes no difference to my being the youngest. I do really want to go to MIT, though

  38. Vaibhav says:

    Neither have I! -:D

  39. Yan says:

    @ Ak:

    No need to retake them. You’re well-qualified as is.

  40. ak says:

    I want to apply as a transfer student from my 2nd year.I gave SAT MATH Level 1 and 2 and I got 770 and 780 in them,respectively.Do I have a good chance of getting it or need I give these 2 tests again in Jan’10.I took the Physics sub test and I got 800 in that.
    Please reply soon!

  41. Anon says:


  42. Brad says:

    Over descriptive post punctuated with seemingly irrelevant details. i less than 3 it! (well if you could have inequalities with imaginary numbers anyway aka iOver descriptive post punctuated with seemingly irrelevant details. i less than 3 it! (well if you could have inequalities with imaginary numbers anyway aka i<3) Great post though. It’s so…. well, a refreshing taste of odd. I Hope i get into MIT next yr. I would love to meet you ^_^

  43. Anonymous says:

    can you summarize
    your other activities
    outside of classes?

    (i figured a bit of e.e. cummings would grant me some internetz)

  44. Eric ('14?) says:

    @ ’16?

    You might find this helpful if you own one of the first-generation iPods.

  45. ak says:

    But My percentile in Math level 2 is 83% only and in physics its 90%(Math Level 2 is 98%).Is it still OK?
    Please reply soon as this is my last chance to write the Sat Sub test(in Jan’10).

  46. Yan says:

    @ ak:

    Look, all I can say is that I wouldn’t retake the tests if I were you. For years, I’ve tried to convince every applicant I’ve met that test scores are by far the most insignificant part of your application. How much can you learn about someone from a number calculated in 1-3 hours of testing in an environment that has basically no relevance to any real life situation? Practically nothing of value.

    My gut feeling is that retaking the test won’t make a difference in whether you get accepted. I could be wrong, but the moral of this comment is that you could be spending your time on more productive endeavors.

  47. Rachel '12 says:

    0) Wait what, ’14’s are actually the next non-admitted generation now? That was like a running gag joke when we got in.

    1) I flew alone for the first time when I was 18. at the time, I possessed no government-issued forms of identification. As I wandered unsuspectingly through security, an airport employee shunted me into a secondary line, emptied my backpack onto a table, ominously snapped on a pair of latex gloves, and ushered into a strange egglike chamber that poofed me with air to detect explosives. Then she painstakingly swabbed down three Rubik’s cubes, an assortment of cosmology/math/quantum books, a camera, a tube of chapstick, several writing utensils, and a folder full of blank paper. On the return flight, I just told them I was 17 and got waved right through. (got some state ID now…) Yan, you should totally try this next time. Of course, the TSA is probably tapping this as we speak, so they might be strip-searching every small asian girl who claims to be 17 by the time IAP starts.

    2) MIT hopefuls, are you still agonizing about retaking the SAT to bump your writing score from 760 to 790? Go out and do something cool instead of paying to spend another 6 hours in a locked classroom listening to someone recite nondisclosure agreements and painstakingly demonstrate how to fill in scantron bubbles. If you deserve to get in, you’re probably smarter than that.

    3) HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!