It is Friday, August 28.
A group of MIT students are wielding power tools in the East Campus courtyard, building the world’s steepest wooden roller coaster. It’s a project designed to impress the freshmen—and get them building something awesome before they even set foot in a classroom.
The roller coaster—which starts with an eight-foot vertical drop at a 90° incline—is a highlight of Residence Exploration week, now known as REX. In the past, freshmen got temporary housing assignments and then scoped out and ranked the dorms during rush/orientation week. Then everyone moved. Today, students research and rank dorms for a housing lottery before arriving, so switching is minimal. But REX, which coincides with orientation, gives freshmen a chance to make sure they’ve found their ideal MIT home—and lets upperclassmen welcome them in true MIT fashion.
By Saturday afternoon, REX is in full swing. At Burton-Conner, students test the aerodynamics of folded paper, actualizing models from The World Record Paper Airplane Book. Across Briggs Field, chains of Spongifarians (Simmons dwellers) spin in circles as they attempt Scottish dancing, while parents yell their farewells from cars. Inside the dorm that night, the theme is giant stuff: giant Connect Four, giant foam swords, and a giant card game of BS (it’s hard to lie when your lies are 8.25 by 11.75 inches).
Fast-forward to Tuesday. With rollerblades or a bike, it’s possible to catch the following: the New House paint war; Jell-O wrestling at Burton-Conner; ice cream made using liquid nitrogen at Random Hall, and Toscanini’s varieties at McCormick; a girl with red-purple-blue hair dyeing another student’s hair at East Campus; and a ride on the Big Flipper at Next House.
At 5:45 students from east and west face off in Killian Court. Battle cries—including “West is best!” and “We’re Senior House!”—become a roar. East and west converge, tossing water balloons and deploying PVC-pipe water guns. The east side chants “MIT!” and west joins in. As the music switches to “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” the sides merge again, high-fiving.
At 6:54 at East Campus, the wall of high school accomplishments—plywood inscribed with freshmen’s greatest triumphs to date—is demolished with a satisfying thwack of a sledgehammer. But before MIT’s newest students tackle their first p-sets, they can take part in such things as a marshmallow fight at MacGregor, Maseeh Hall’s Renaissance fair, toilet paper dodgeball at Burton-Conner, truffle making at McCormick, Nerf chess at Random Hall, and PowerPoint karaoke at Simmons, as well as sampling free food offered by the likes of the Grilled Cheese Laboratory at Next House and the Random House of Pancakes. And while only 166 students will request a dorm change at the end of REX and just 60 will end up moving, the Class of 2019 will start the semester knowing more about their new campus—and each other.