Of all the numerous documents bestowed upon prefrosh checking in for Campus Preview Weekend, none is more important than the CPW booklet, a 96-page tome emblazoned “MIT CPW” in bright tangerine and maroon block type. Far from decorational, the gaudy colors make this softcover the ideal test for prefrosh identification – more useful than phenolphtalein or even the flame test.
No CPW-goer would set out for a day’s adventures without the booklet as it contains, in addition to useful maps of campus and the Cambridge area, the dates, times, locations, and descriptions for all 620 officially-recognized CPW events. That’s enough for one to begin every 7 minutes or – more closely resembling reality – for 8 to begin on every hour of the weekend, causing even the most fervent Course 8 disciples to curse the physical laws restricting them to a single location at a given time. Of course, the most hardcore physics geeks attempt to channel the powers of quantum mechanics to transform themselves into distributed probability waves, but are ultimately unsuccessful and, along with their fellow mortals, only get to attend a fraction of the events they would like.
These events are the most visible external feature of CPW: they are many, well attended, and thoroughly documented. However, I’m writing here to point out another aspect of CPW, one far less frequently discussed, possibly because of the challenge describing it poses. It is the difference of CPW and the events; it is why years of blog posts detailing the minutae of CPW never adequately described the vitality and excitement of the weekend; it is the intangible element that makes CPW so much more than a jumble of activities.
Most of all, it is extremely difficult to define. So, I’ll instead attempt to demonstrate the part of MIT that can’t be found in any booklet: the other CPW.
Thursday, 8:15-9:15pm Frialator @ Theta Xi
After wandering Boston lost for the better part of an hour, our group was getting quite hungry, so we decided to head to one of the fraternity cookouts on Beacon Street. Under the direction of our dubiously-appointed navigator, Maria ’13, we located a frat house and knocked at its door. As it turned out, it was a Boston University fraternity and was understandably not holding a CPW barbecue.
Further roaming brought us to Theta Xi, an MIT fraternity whose Thursday-evening cookout was long over, but which nonetheless invited us to pick through the leftovers. To our surprise and delight, among the lukewarm hamburger patties and scattered ketchup bottles was a large cardboard box filled with industrial quantities of frozen french fries. The brothers of Theta Xi saw our excitement and offered to prepare some for us. We followed downstairs to the kitchen, where we saw the most glorious thing a disheveled pack of hungry prefrosh could imagine: a piping-hot frialator.
The master chefs of Theta Xi fried and salted an entire bag of potato sticks, far more than we could possibly eat. Then, we all headed back upstairs to the TV room, where the Daily Show with Jon Stewart was on, shortly followed by the Colbert Report. Jon talked about the tea party protests, teabagging (of course), and the Red Sox / Yankees rivalry, all of which collectively made for some amusing but thoroughly intellectual commercial conversations.
The brothers also gave us a tour of the roof deck, a delightfully hazardous structure grandfathered into local ordinances. In addition to making a fine grilling platform, it has an excellent view of the imfamous Citgo sign.
Thursday, 9:30pm Course 5 UROP Seminar @ Boston West Saferide
Walking the Harvard Bridge and counting off smoots along the way is an excellent CPW activity, but the novelty wears off quickly after the first crossing, so we literally chased down the Boston West Saferide for the trip back to MIT.
On the mostly-empty bus, we were easily recognized as prefrosh by a friendly Course 5 senior. During the ride around Boston, we talked about his experiences at MIT, focusing on research at MIT and in Israel through MISTI. The discussion quickly involved everyone riding on the bus, and Divya ’13 led nearly half a dozen other prefrosh in an “OMG, you’re from New York too?!” powwow.
Once back on campus, we wandered the floors of Burton-Conner (all of them) and settled into Conner 2’s TV lounge for the night, just down the hall from where I was supposed to be sleeping in suite 223. From about midnight to 4am, there was a steady stream of floor residents walking down the hallway, most of whom spotted the prefrosh in the lounge and stayed to chat. A constantly-revolving set of natives sat with us on the couches, and we talked about everything from 8.01 flavors to dining (which is still an extremely touchy issue) to Mason’s knack for awkwardly and hilariously ending conversations, something he had done 117 times since the floor began keeping tally on a whiteboard in the lounge.
Around 4 am, we and the more permanent inhabitants of Conner 2 went to sleep. The plan was to sleep until lunchtime, then carry on well-rested, but a bright East Coast sunrise at 6am got us up in time for earliest of waffle breakfasts. Apparently, even our celestial friend knows: if you’re sleeping at CPW, you’re doing it wrong.
Friday, 7:30pm Divya ’13’s Birthday Party @ BTB Lounge
Friday morning, I attended a 2.007 (robot-building) lab at the recommendation of a dedicated mechanical engineering student I met Thursday evening walking down the Infinite Corridor. She was walking down the center of the hallway working on a Solidworks model on her laptop, but apparently had time to chat with prefrosh about Course 2. Shortly thereafter, I attended an 8.022 (“electromagnetism for masochists”) lecture, wearing my Maxwell’s equations t-shirt, which received a passing compliment from the lecturer as I took a seat.
The next few hours blurred, but I’m fairly certain I toured East Campus in that period. Next thing I remember, I was at Meet the Bloggers, which as an “event” would be outside the scope of this post, but there Yan presented me with another Maxwell’s equations shirt, but this one from Course 8, so the equations were written in proper symmetrical differential form. At one point that evening, I was simultaneously wearing two t-shirts bearing Maxwell’s equations, one in integral form and the other in differential. That’s a level of nerdiness frowned upon even at CPW.
After Meet the Bloggers, which ran late, a text message proclamation arrived from Divya ’13: “I HAVE CAKE!!!” The promise of food assembled the previous night’s wandering group within minutes. As it were, Divya’s parents drove 7 hours round-trip to deliver this wonderful cake (only slightly damaged) for her birthday.
Requiring a table and utensils, we headed back to Burton-Conner and this time settled on Burton Third, home of the Burton Third Bombers. Sitting in the lounge, we ate as much as we could (perhaps one third of the cake) and talked with some of the floor inhabitants. We offered them some of our surplus cake, but they politely declined, typical of BTB’s bashful reputation. When we had finished, however, we left the cake for the floor residents, and when we checked back in a few hours, it was devoured.
Friday, 10pm-2:30am Absolutely Nothing at All @ Anywhere
Nothing of any interest whatsoever to anyone happened Friday at 10pm. This stretch of nothingness ran well into the wee hours of the morning.
Afterwards, we groggily stumbled back to some lounge on a Burton floor with abundant couches, still contemplating the inky black void encompassing the last 5 hours of our CPW experience. Sleep arrived at about 4am.
Saturday, 4-4:30pm Impromptu Rock Band @ Conner 2
Another day’s worth of drifting around campus and event-going somehow led us to Conner 2, where I was theoretically staying. I hadn’t seen much of my host due to my wandering, but he gave us a tour of the floor and then demonstrated his drumming prowess on Rock Band. Here, Snively ’11 on drum set, Laura ’13 on bass, Albert ’13 (barely visible behind Laura ’13) on vocals, and Chris ’13 (off-screen) on guitar play an unknown song in the TV lounge of English House (you can even see the Union Jack on the side wall).
Saturday, 9-10pm Getting Lost @ Boston
That evening, when hunger pains returned, we flipped through our CPW booklets, scrounging for food-containing events. Promising looked Sigma Nu’s “Pizza/Smoothies/Video Games!!” as it apparently involved pizza, smoothies, and video games, along with a second exclamation mark promising copious amounts of excitement.
So, we once again crossed the river, then sat under a street light for several minutes trying to locate Sigma Nu’s dot on the CPW booklet map. No, I jest. We kept walking without direction, eventually boarding a Saferide. The friendly driver let us off at the next stop, saying the bus didn’t get any closer, and pointed us up a hill. Being clever prefrosh, we recognized the hill as a freeway exit ramp and instead veered to the side. Through a long and exciting series of misadventures, we found ourselves at Fenway Park (game night, Red Sox v. Orioles).
Trust me when I say this was among the most enjoyable lost experiences I’ve ever had, but we were all still hungry, so we oriented ourselves and headed to Sigma Nu, 28 The Fenway, which is interestingly enough nowhere near Fenway Park.
Saturday, 10pm Pool and Photography Seminar @ Sigma Nu
Finally, we arrived at Sigma Nu, which is a fascinating fraternity. It is geographically isolated from most of the frats, which are largely on Beacon and Bay State Road. The house is actually more accurately described as a mansion, with grand dining halls and a massive 4-story spiral grand staircase, capped off with a stained glass roof.
When we arrived, the smoothies and video games were well underway, but the pizza had been reduced to meager scraps of Hawaiian. We grabbed the remainder and toured around the building, ending up in the basement, where we played pool and talked to the brothers of SN for several hours. We also attended a brief photography masterclass, which presumably inspired Divya ’13 to create this masterpiece.
Sunday, 3-5am Chair Racing @ The Tunnels
If there’s one thing that no CPW experience would be complete without – and there is one – it is pulling an all-nighter. For me, that was the last night of the weekend. After departing from SN and walking across the Harvard Bridge in the rain (the Weather Machine broke the last day), we headed back to the Infinite Corridor.
More specifically, we headed under the Infinite Corridor, into the tunnels. These passageways are useful for traveling in the cold Boston winters, but in a few locations, then also slope steadily downward. A resourceful student could locate rolling chairs and head to one of these inclines. A lucky prefrosh, such as a blurry Maria ’13 here, could walk down a tunnel, turn a corner, and find herself in mortal peril.
Of course, even more dangerous than walking through tunnels filled with speeding chairs is to ride said chairs down the treacherous slopes, so that’s precisely what we did for the following hours. Several bruises, scrapes, and one narrowly-avoided cranial fracture later, we left the underground to watch the Sun rise over the Boston skyline, all without a minute of sleep.
If there exists an appropriate conclusion to a CPW entry, it’s not something I’m capable of writing, so in its stead, I welcome the Class of 2013 and wish all future applicants good luck. Having just turned in my enrollment forms, hopefully I’ll see you all at another incredible CPW.