University News

Students compete for most extreme gingerbread house

Judges scored houses on aesthetics, ability to withstand simulated earthquake

By
senior staff writer
Sunday, December 4, 2016

Students pose with their gingerbread creation. The Society of Women Engineers changed the rules for the competition because participants were bringing in tools like hair dryers and drills to enhance their houses.

The Society of Women Engineers held its 10th annual Extreme Gingerbread House Competition in Barus and Holley Friday. Competitors used graham crackers, icing, marshmallows, gumdrops, cereal, gummy sharks and more sweets to produce aesthetically pleasing and earthquake-durable houses to be judged by engineering faculty members.

Around the packed Barus and Holley lobby were determined participants full of holiday spirit. Tables covered in colorful candy supplies were skirted by teams’ individual working tables. Participants could be heard strategizing amidst the chaos.

“This is like Project Runway,” one spectator said.

“This is a really sticky situation — am I right?” a participant said as he attempted to wipe icing off his hands.

SWE puts on one event a week, with professional development workshops, tutoring programs, first-year study hours and other community-building activities in the lineup. But this competition was the largest event SWE has ever put on, with 30 teams of up to five participants, said Sarah Dugan ’17, co-president of SWE. The goal of the event was to bring people together and raise exposure for the club, Dugan said.

While the event was open to all students — engineering or non-engineering — it aimed to attract the club’s focus group of female engineering students, Dugan added.

Participants had 60 minutes to build a hollow gingerbread house exceeding six inches long by six inches wide by six inches high that could withstand earthquakes created by a shake table. Scoring was based on a combination of aesthetics and the house’s ability to withstand a simulated earthquake on the shake table.

The event’s rules have changed over the years “because people were getting too good,” Dugan said. SWE has had to ban outside tools, as people brought objects like hair dryers to dry frosting and drills to improve their designs, said Jenna Baker ’19, SWE’s outreach director. “People get really competitive,” she added.

Rachel Murai ’17, an engineering concentrator, and her team “The Master-elf Sleigh-ers” were among the teams “back for redemption.” She and her friends participated last year but did not secure the highly sought-after prize.

Sarah Lettes ’19, Marlis Flinn ’19 and their team “Baguette” also competed last year, but their gingerbread house crumbled before making it to the shake table. In their second attempt for success, they decided on an igloo design with marshmallows used as mortar, Lettes said.

While “Baguette” consists largely of humanities concentrators, the engineering competition has become something of a tradition for them. “We’re just a group of friends who play basketball together,” Flinn added.

“We’re a grain-based team. We think a lot about carbs, so when we heard about an event centered around graham crackers, we had to come!” Lettes said.

Team “E=Hammer^2” went for a Gothic style with its gingerbread house, creating thick walls and external supports like those seen on cathedrals, Diana Perkins ’19 said. “Hopefully we’ll make an earthquake-resistant house and get into the Christmas spirit!” Perkins said.

“Durability is worth more than aesthetics, so that’s our primary concern,” said another participant, Ross Kliegman ’20. His team’s strategy for success was to build a house of structurally sound triangles stuck together by icing with ground graham crackers to create earthquake resilient friction. “That’s just engineering stuff,” he added.

“Whatever candy we haven’t eaten yet will go on the structure,” said Kliegman, who was unconcerned with the aesthetic portion of the competition.

For “Baguette,” the appearance of the house was the main concern. “We study art history — we like aesthetics,” Flinn said.

President Christina Paxson P’19 also got her hands dirty by joining a team of SWE members to compete. “I just heard about it and thought it would be fun,” Paxson said as she attempted to wipe marshmallow goo off her hands with a napkin.

“Honestly, Christina Paxson is really into it,” said Rachel Sheinberg ’19, internal communications director of SWE and one of Paxson’s teammates.

As the competition neared its end, not everyone felt so confident. Shouts proclaiming, “We’re having a crisis!” could be heard from one side of the room, though Kliegman said he was able to “keep his composure.”

Despite the anticipation, hard work and careful strategizing that went into each gingerbread house, only three teams could be named winners: the “Solar Bears,” “Fizzing Whizbees” and “Team A.” The teams received one giftcard to Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s or Duck and Bunny.