• "They Might be Tools," a Johnson Games team sponsored by the Women's Independent Living Group, works together to move hula hoops down the line.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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  • At one point in the Johnson Games, President Vest was caught defecting to The Tech Wild Turkeys team for

    At one point in the Johnson Games, President Vest was caught defecting to The Tech Wild Turkeys team for "Wired," the tightrope walk. "Everyone knows being a university president is a balancing act," quipped MIT spokesperson Ken Campbell.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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  • Above, freshman Tilke Judd is off and running (sort of) in the

    Above, freshman Tilke Judd is off and running (sort of) in the "Who Nose?"clown-dressing race. Upper right: Aram Harrow, a senior in physics, adds plastic cups to the top of a pyramid. Lower right: A strictly enforced game of fast-paced Simon Sez (called "Howard Sez" for President Emeritus Howard Johnson) apparently was intended to prove that MIT people think for themselves; most players were easily eliminated from that event. Above, Corporation Chairman Alex d'Arbeloff and Mrs. Howard Johnson do what Howard said.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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  • Photo / Donna Coveney

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  • Photo / Donna Coveney

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More than 1,000 test their mettle at Johnson Games

"They Might be Tools," a Johnson Games team sponsored by the Women's Independent Living Group, works together to move hula hoops down the line.

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There were winners and there were losers in Saturday's Johnson Games, but there was no shortage of enthusiasm at the dog-eat-dog afternoon of fast-paced endurance events.

Competition was fierce in the clown-dressing race ("Who Nose?"), which required nimble-fingered contestants to dress a teammate in a clown costume, then send the fleet-footed clown tearing down the field in flaming orange wig, oversized pants and inflatable shoes.

"Juiced," a triathlon of sorts, pitted relay teams against one another in a series of three tasks that required manual and pedal dexterity, as well as an ability to clean up after oneself. Participants had to run boot-camp style through five tires, juice an orange, imbibe and properly dispose of all waste before rushing back to tag a teammate, sticky hands and all.

The pace altered a bit with "T��te-������-T��te," which demanded synchronistic precision from paired teammates who held a rubber beach ball between their foreheads while walking the course. This particular event inspired a quiet awe in spectators, similar to the hush that falls over a golf tournament. If not for the pop music blaring in the background and shouts from the dozen other concurrent events, a pin could have been heard hitting the grass.

And so went the afternoon at Johnson Athletics Center and Steinbrenner Stadium, which held 1,200 competitors wearing official numbers pinned to their colored T-shirts. Those competitors, divided into 30 teams of students, staff and a few faculty members, were eager to strut their stuff. But games officials dressed in black and carrying clipboards and stopwatches managed to keep order among the throngs of enthusiastic players who had shown up to compete in MIT's own version of extreme games.


Following the ceremonial procession of the players onto the field, President Charles M. Vest, himself a participant on the Vest Pocket Protectors team, offered encouragement to opponents and team members alike in his comments at the opening ceremonies.

"The Johnson Games, since their founding in 1998, have embodied some of the very best aspects of the MIT tradition, including camaraderie and teamwork, friendly competition, ingenuity and creativity, extreme silliness and free food," said Dr. Vest. "They also represent a rare and treasured opportunity for the entire community -- students, faculty, staff and families -- to come together for some good-natured fun and serious bloodletting.

"As MIT's president, I wish each of you every success in today's competition. On the other hand, as player-coach and mascot of the Vest Pocket Protectors, I wish all the rest of you ignominious defeat and ruin.

"Therefore to all the students not on my team, I say, 'Why aren't you home studying for finals?' and to all the faculty and staff, I say, 'Just remember who signs your paycheck.'"

Oddly enough, the winning team, the Gashlycrumb Tinies, didn't actually win any of the events. But they did take second place in three and held their own in the others, giving them a final score of 8,187, or 633 points more than the second place team (They Might Be Tools), and nearly five and a half times the final score (1,495) of the last-place team, the OAS Busy Bees. (Results for each event are posted on the Games web site at .)

The Tinies were a well-organized team of 23 superb players, most from the third floor of East Campus, familiar with one another's strengths and weaknesses.

"The secret of our success was the fact that our team consisted of people with a diverse array of talents," said team captain Elizabeth Demicco, a senior in biology. "For each event we were able to designate different people to compete who were apt to be best at it. For example, the first event we competed in was the "Hoopapotomus," which consisted of passing a hula hoop around a ring [of people holding hands]. For this event, we chose the smallest, most flexible people. Similarly, we had tall, fast people to run the "Nazdeck" obstacle course, and creative people to design our Gorey-o-matic for the construction event."

The team, named after a cartoon book by the late Edward Gorey depicting 26 alphabetized scenes of small children dying by horrific means, took second place in Hoopapotamus, NazDeck and the "Construction Contest," the day's final event. Teams were given trash bags full of building supplies such as PVC pipe, chicken wire, gloves and markers and asked to construct float-like structures that represented their team's identity. Each team presented its construction in a three-minute presentation to the judges.

The Gashlycrumb Tinies presented a children's playground set "designed to kill its users," said Ms. Demicco. The Gorey-o-matic was ghastly, but ghastly in true Gorey fashion.

"This device was intended to help reduce family size and help in the fight against over population, as well as aid MIT in its quest to find housing for undergrads by eliminating at least one-quarter of the population. Moreover, the Gorey-o-matic serves as a force in natural selection, weeding out the foolish and unobservant children from those who can see the clever trap," Ms. Demicco said tongue-in-cheek, adding that the sales pitch "included such catch phrases as "building a better tomorrow through a slightly messy today."

Events and the winners were as follows. Howard Sez -- Stratton Superstars and Caliente. World Cup -- Bubba Shrimp Co. and eVipers. Who Nose? -- They Might Be Tools. Juiced -- Digitus Medius. T��te-������-T��te -- De Terminators. Hoopapotamus -- Vest Pocket Protectors. NazDeck -- Security. Wired -- They Might Be Tools. Is That Your Final Answer? -- The Tech Wild Turkeys; Construction -- Bubba Shrimp Co.

Special award winners were: Masters of the Universe Award -- Gashlycrumb Tinies; Have You Considered Harvard Award -- OAS Busy Bees; Forgetaboutit Award -- Brian Pasquin-elli, OAS Busy Bees; Best Best Man Award -- David Ngo, Bubba Shrimp Co.; and Best Best Woman Award -- Dawn Anderson, Got Tang?

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 3, 2000.

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