Big Fun at 'Small Things Made Large'

This year’s Carnival theme, “Small Things Made Large,” became uncannily appropriate in the case of the booth competition. Tiny problems like wind, rain, and snow became very large obstacles for booth-building crews. Nevertheless, after organizations from all around campus survived a week of almost every kind of weather Pittsburgh has to offer, the sun came out, and Carnival crowds enjoyed the nicest few days in weeks. Plus, the booths were done.

Travis Brier, a senior in electrical and computer engineering, was on virtual 24-hour alert for the week leading up to Carnival. As Midway chair, he needed to make sure everything went as smoothly as possible, and Mother Nature was not cooperating. Building week saw heavy winds, heavy rain, and even a seemingly perpetual dusting of snow. The winds were so intense that they caused the SDC Mudge blitz booth to collapse, injuring one of its builders, who was temporarily trapped inside.

Despite the inclement weather, construction continued unfettered for the most part. “I was up on the roof [of our booth] at 4 a.m., tarring it in the snow,” said Carl Misitano, a sophomore philosophy major and brother of Sigma Phi Epsilon.

Misitano’s dedication was echoed throughout the participating organizations, and what resulted was what Brier believed to be one of the most consistently high-quality sets of booths in years.

The competitive booths (booths built by fraternities, sororities, and several other campus organizations) were epically large, as usual. The brothers of Alpha Epsilon Pi built a two-story pinball machine, which took a relatively big item but recreated it on an even larger scale. Though it didn’t create the most educational booth, AEPi was mindful of the time visitors would likely spend waiting to get to the main game on the second floor. Smaller games like a maze, a ball-drop, and a light-up puzzle kept those on the first floor occupied; the crowning glory, however, was a massive pinball machine made to look like Carnegie Mellon’s campus that two people could operate (one paddle apiece). The game was very popular and the booth was consistently crowded. The judges liked it, too, and the booth won a surprise second-place victory in the fraternity category.

Another very impressive competitive booth entry was the Phi Kappa Theta cuckoo clock. The two-story clock was replete with beautiful woodworking and looked very professional, while the inside featured great details like giant gears featuring the fraternity’s letters. PhiKap used the different parts of the clock (like a pendulum and gears) in its games, which ended up being simplistic, fun, and educational. The pièce de résistance, however, was a computer game in which the player had to guide a cuckoo out of the clock, dodging gears and other obstacles. The game used a modified controller from a Nintendo Wii, and it was technically impressive as well as artistically unique. PhiKap won third place, and despite the fact that many of their games suffered a lot of wear and tear by the end of Carnival, the concepts behind them as well as the masterful construction surely helped earn the trophy.

The brothers of Kappa Delta Rho took a different path while building their booth. The theme was “Inside the Human Body,” and it was designed with a hospital motif. The games covered a range of different categories, ranging from a medical standpoint (things like “Stitch the wound!”) and other more anatomy-based activities. Still, the stand-out feature was the outer construction, which looked like an ambulance. Jared Gargano, a senior in mechanical engineering, was put in charge of figuring out how to incorporate an ambulance into their booth. He spent weeks searching for ambulance scrap yards, and then outlined a plan to buy a box truck and modify it to look like an ambulance. When this proved to be too costly, Gargano checked eBay on a whim. “If you’re looking for something weird, that’s the place to find it,” he said, and find it they did: The brothers won the ambulance auction for only $600. Just one problem — the ambulance was in Philadelphia. “Winning it was only the first of many battles,” said Gargano. “Anything that could have gone wrong went wrong” (at one point, the steering wheel even came off). Eventually, the ambulance arrived in Pittsburgh, and Gargano began the process of cutting it apart for use in their booth.

The reigning booth champions at SigEp themed their booth after video games — specifically, classic Nintendo games. The booth featured virtual-reality Duck Hunt as well as a Nintendo trivia game. Structurally complex, the booth was modeled after a stack of old Nintendo games, with a giant replica of a Nintendo Entertainment System on the top. This added flair fit in with the revised rules for booth construction put in place this year by Brier, including the possibility of designing a three-sided booth, as well as allowing decorative elements to stand higher than the 20-foot height limit, or to extend beyond the borders of the booth’s plot, as long as they were more than eight feet off the ground. Misitano said that the brothers decided to “use the new rules to [their] advantage,” and the added flexibility may have helped the fraternity win its second first-place victory in a row. The booth was a crowd favorite as well, and thanks to its complex games, the line to enter the booth was nearly an hour long at times.

The sororities stuck closer to the theme of “Small Things Made Large,” with two booths about insects and two others about small everyday objects. Kappa Kappa Gamma’s giant gumball machine was complete with a giant inflated bubble up top. The booth was on the smaller side and featured games that were just simple enough to be easy, but still engaging.

Kappa Alpha Theta and Delta Delta Delta both themed their booths around the insect world, but took two very different approaches. The Theta sisters seriously impressed visitors with an intricate, towering beehive booth chock full of fun facts, cool games, and a beautiful lighting system that used white Christmas lights filtering through “waxy” honeycombs. The booth was the only other booth besides SigEp’s that took advantage of a three-sided plot. The games included a “build-a-bee” game that was easy for youngsters to get into, and a remote-control bee-racing game for more advanced visitors. The Theta “Hive” won first place in the sorority category as well as the People’s Choice award — and according to Brier, fell just short of gaining more votes from the judges than SigEp’s winning booth.

The other insect-themed booth was TriDelt’s “Underground Adventure.” The booth, which gave visitors an inside look at a young insect’s birthday party, excelled in the details, such as the birthday presents, which were all appropriately insect-themed. This booth was one of the best to demonstrate the theme of “Small Things Made Large”; walking through it really placed visitors in an alien world that was far larger than it should be. The TriDelt booth took home third place in the sorority category, but the sisters also won the award for booth T-shirt design.

Delta Gamma’s booth, which explored the nooks and crannies of the rainforest floor, had great detail work, which kept it looking very much like a forest floor. The games were a mix of nontraditional activities, like giving visitors a chance to plant seeds in their own personal garden-in-a-dixie cups, and traditional ones, including using a slingshot to launch beanbag flying squirrels into holes in a tree. The booth was also educational, with a map showing deforested rainforests, as well as other factoids spread throughout. The sisters of DG and their booth placed second in the sorority category.

The independent category saw more playful booths; the Asian Student Association and the Taiwanese Student Association took first and second place, respectively. ASA’s booth theme was “board games,” and it proved to be a nostalgic trip into the past with recreations of childhood games. Monopoly, Life, Jumanji, and Candy Land were just some of the games featured, and the booth’s game was a recreation of the magnetic fishing game from ages past, which was just challenging enough to give its players a sense of accomplishment.

Second place went to TSA’s booth, “Toy Chest.” They took the same basic concept as ASA and went in a different direction; the sight of giant toys at every turn was heartwarming and the technical execution was admirable. The booth had a second-floor balcony that looked out over the rest of Midway, which just added to the artistic feel.

Fringe’s booth came in third, and was themed after the board game Mousetrap. It was simple but got the point across; it was immediately recognizable as the game. It was a colorful diversion that greeted visitors as they entered Midway.

Blitz booths are constructed in the week immediately prior to Carnival. They have smaller plots than the other booths and are typically less complex. However, Brier said that the “overall quality of the blitzes was better than previous years.” This was due in part to the fact that this year, blitz booths were able to select themes and plots at the same time as all the other organizations, using the same lottery system. The earlier an organization picks its theme, the later they can choose their plot. This year, mixing the two categories caused some themes to be used up early by blitz booths. “Everyone wanted ‘Legos’ as a theme,” said Brier. The theme went to SDC New House early in the selection process.

Another SDC booth took home the Chairman’s Choice prize, which is the only prize awarded to blitz booths. The SDC Hamerschlag pirate ship was well-crafted and interesting, even if it barely conformed to the theme of “Small Things Made Large.”
Other notable blitz booths included “Virus Hunters,” from the Biological Sciences Student Advisory Council (BioSAC), “The Big Bang” by the Astronomy Club, and ALLIES’s clever twisting of the “Small Things Made Large” theme by having a booth about the issue of nontraditional families (a small issue made large). BioSAC’s booth bathed its visitors in blacklights and featured simple games that capitalized on the altered lighting for the purposes of visibility, including yellow ping pong balls, which would have been hard to see otherwise. The Astronomy Club’s big bang was really just two-player skee ball, but they tied it to Carnival’s overall theme by pointing out that the big bang was something very small that became something very large (the universe). The “Open House” booth from ALLIES was almost purely educational, but it was a refreshing take on the theme and on booths in general.

This year ended up seeing a fair amount of booth themes that overlapped, and many booth themes that strayed curiously far from the overarching theme for Carnival 2007. “People chose creative names for their themes to disguise what they were,” said Brier. Even so, the crowd this year was as big as it ever has been — possibly even larger than usual thanks to the good weather.