Students packed the Stratton Student Center last Thursday to see Jack White, international pocket billiards champion, trick pool shot artist and world-class bon vivant, take on challengers to his crown.
White arrived from the West Annex parking lot, where he left his white Lincoln Town Car with the California plates and slipped into his tuxedo jacket and patent leather shoes.
Carrying only a shopping bag full of candy and a case for his custom steel-blue cue, he drew more students to his game in the Stratton lobby than live video of the Mars Pathfinder liftoff or the 2000 national election. His audience filled two rows of chairs on risers in the lobby, stood three deep behind the chairs and occupied most of the steps going up to the dining rooms.
The game was organized by the Campus Activities Complex (CAC).
And what a game it was. White is a large presence. He moves with a large person's economy. He shoots pool with a bemused, steady gaze, and he maintained a barroom banter that kept his audience and his challengers rapt and often laughing.
White teased, nagged, cajoled and sometimes just played dumb as he circled the table, loaned for the occasion by Ashdown House, in exchange for re-felting and a set of new balls from CAC.
While playing, White commented on the best restaurants or pool halls in the cities or countries his opponents came from. He persistently teased the players, saying, "You're going to lose. You know you're going to lose."
White also performed some sleight of hand involving his diamond pinky ring. It disappeared and reappeared as he inquired, "Have you by any chance a school champion?" or provided greatest hits from his rï¿½sumï¿½.
"I am the only professional pool player who has ever appeared in the White House or before the Queen of England. I made $14.5 million last year," he said (wink, wink).
Volunteers who accepted White's invitation to meet at the pool table included Anish S. Parikh, a senior in aeronautics and astronautics; Domingo Gonzalez, a sophomore in management; Rhett Creighton, a junior in physics, and Jim Wagner, a freshman with a fast, aggressive style.
Erin K. Shea, a junior in physics, took on the final test: Would the handkerchief trick work after three attempts? It involved a white handkerchief and six balls, each of which had to get into a different pocket. It was Richard Nixon's personal favorite, White said. In the end, it took five tries.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 24, 2001.