REX = MIT 101

Toilet paper dodgeball. PowerPoint Karaoke. Ice cream made using liquid nitrogen. Freshmen can try all of the above, test out the dorms, and meet other students during a week of Residence Exploration better known as REX.

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.

During 2015’s Residence Exploration week (REX), a mini battle in the Simmons ball pit is good preparation for Tuesday’s all-campus water war.
Freshmen enter Killian Court for the 2015 all-campus water war.
Simmons students prepare to venture forth into battle at the water war.
A water warrior in cape and shield. 
At the water war, the Simmons Trojan duck offers protection to west-side students.
Freshmen armed with water balloons enter the fray at the water war.
The annual water war provides a chance for freshmen to study the properties of liquids in motion.
Freshmen apply the laws of aerodynamics as they toss paper airplanes from Burton 5.
Giant Jenga at Simmons offers a review of Newton’s law of universal gravitation.
Students try out Jell-O wrestling at Burton-Conner.
At Simmons, students think big with giant origami.
Students pitch in to help with construction of the East Campus roller coaster.
A team attaches wheels to the roller coaster’s car.
Student builders assess the dip in the East Campus roller coaster.
The East Campus roller coaster gets its fourth human trial. The ride begins with an eight-foot vertical drop at a 90° incline, making it the world’s steepest wooden roller coaster. A fort, which extends to the left, is decorated with strings of lights at night.
Next House welcomes freshmen to campus during REX with rides on the Big Flipper. Its 200-to-300-pound mechanism is dropped, not pushed, so conservation of energy keeps riders from going full circle. (“Better survival rate than life,” jokes the upperclassman manning the ride.)
After braving a ride, students Sharpie their names onto the Big Flipper survivor board.
Freshmen sample Toscanini’s ice cream and homemade hot fudge at McCormick Hall’s ice cream extravaganza.
Students taking part in the paint war at New House pause to test paint balloons, which are filled with cornstarch, water, and food coloring.
At Simmons, freshmen try out Scottish country dancing.

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.