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November 19, 2003: On the Campus

Freud and games

By Jessica Jacobson GS

Illustration by Ron Barrett

In the fall of 1999, Samantha Cooper ’05, then a high school senior, arrived on campus, her mind racing with college application worries, but without a thought of applying to Princeton. As president of her school’s Shakespeare Club, she had been selected by her guidance counselor to participate in a new program called the Princeton Humanities Symposium. Created by former dean of admission Fred Hargadon; Michael Jennings, professor of Germanic languages and literatures; and Anthony Grafton, professor of history, the symposium was designed to expose promising high school seniors to Princeton’s many riches in the humanities.

At the symposium, which had the Weimar Republic as its theme, Cooper met others who shared her interests. “It was a reinvigorating experience because my mind and my love for talking about great literature and art were sort of dulled by the stresses of senior year of high school,” Cooper says.

The program had its intended effect on Cooper. “I met my dad after that weekend, and I said, ‘Dad, I have to apply to Princeton.’ ” Though she’d already prepared applications for other schools, Cooper went home and applied early decision to Princeton.

This year, 82 high school seniors attended the October 3—5 symposium, titled “New York in the 1960s.” Events included a lecture on pop icon Andy Warhol, a screening of the classic film Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), precepts, workshops in the creative and performing arts, a discussion with seniors pursuing creative work at Princeton, and dinner with abstract artist Frank Stella ’58.

This is the second year history professor Liz Lunbeck has participated in the program. Her cultural history precept was one of eight offered. Opening a discussion of Lionel Trilling’s Freud and the Crisis of Our Culture (1955), Lunbeck asked her students, “How can culture be new when we are talking about Greek culture?”

The students, five males and four females, began the 9 a.m. discussion hesitantly, but soon joined in enthusiastically, talking animatedly about Freud, the unconscious and the superego, beatniks, the 1950s, Jews in Vienna, and an individual’s place outside culture.

This year Cooper helped as a student coordinator at the symposium. “I’m so happy to be a part of it,” she said. “I want many, many more students to experience it and to be exposed to the humanistic treasures that Princeton has.”

On a rain-soaked weekend in September, 90 graduate students scurried across campus clutching maps, following a trail of clues to try to be the first to finish an annual graduate student rite called The Game.

The Game, a scavenger-hunt-like race made up of nine mind-benders, was brought from Stanford in 1996 by Steven Phelps *00, a Stanford grad and physics doctoral student at Princeton. At Stanford, The Game was called the Bay Area Race Fantastique (BARF); in that version players covered 350 miles in 30 hours. Phelps’s adaptation is much shorter.

Cynthia Rudin, a Ph.D. candidate in applied mathematics, first played in 1999 and this year helped design the competition. “Clue ideas really need to be fine-tuned,” says Rudin. “They have to be solvable by a middle-schooler, require little to no cultural knowledge, yet have to take a group of graduate students up to an hour and a half to solve each one.”

This year’s students dug up and deciphered coded wooden blocks from the Graduate College volleyball pits, bounced balls painted to look like eyes to figure out a phone number, and used flags strung above Fine Hall to coordinate the next destination.

Rudin enjoyed painting the eyes on hundreds of balls. “When I first tested it, I thought there was no way it could be robust enough to work, but it was lovely,” she said. “Bouncing eyeballs to spell out a phone number, how cool!”

While open to all graduate students, the mathematically inclined predominated. Mathematicians, chemists, and engineers made up the design team, and an archaeology student was the only nonscientist on the winning team, which was captained by Eric Dahl, a second-year physics student. Dahl led his six-member group through the nine clues in six hours; after that the game ended. The most difficult part of the competition for Dahl was the lack of brain food. “Fortunately, one of the clues contained a hard-boiled egg, which I ate after we solved the clue,” he said.

Jessica Jacobson is an M.P.A. candidate in international development at the Woodrow Wilson School.

On the Campus Online: Click here to read “Up Close and Personal: The Artist Chuck, the Ethicist Randy Cohen, and Alien Life,” by Kate Swearengen ’04.



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