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October 25, 2000:

Playing the Parking Game at Princeton takes strategy, cunning, and wiles

By Anne Ruderman '01

Exactly 17 hours after arriving on campus this fall, I made a large, unexpected, potentially dangerous and completely impulsive purchase. I bought a car. My first - a veritable beater, with a good deal of rust, the remains of a fender bender (or three) and an engine that sounds like a chainsaw when it ignites. Not to mention the fact that I am a terrible driver.

But having a car on campus and the "freedom" that provides has introduced me to one of the best, most strategic and altogether lowdown undergraduate gambling games around. It's called The Princeton University Parking Game.

The Parking Game pits some 4,600 undergraduates against 40 public safety officials in a winner-take-all game of cat-and-mouse that is already threatening to consume the better part of my On the Campus salary. It was designed in the joint interest of maintaining a "pedestrian campus" and giving the public safety officials something to do.

For students, the Parking Game has two main objectives: 1.) Getting on campus and 2.) Staying there.

These objectives arise from the fact that most students have been assigned to "overflow lot," which is conveniently located in West Windsor. So getting out of Princeton in anything less than an hour requires a little bit of planning and a whole lot of stealth.

In order for a student to bring a car onto campus in the first place, he or she must have a valid reason for wanting to do so. Convenience does not count as a valid reason.

For the better part of September, I relied exclusively upon a standard, unimaginative and altogether weak excuse to get my car on campus. "I need to move some books to my room," I would plead. But one day I realized I had probably "moved" enough books to relocate the better part of Firestone. So I decided to see what other concoctions could get me through Princeton's gates.

Here's what I found:

"Taking a shower" gets you onto campus for a half an hour. Parking to "turn in a paper" does not. Neither do "going to class" or"bringing a keg up to your room." "Moving computer equipment" is okay and "calling your mother" earns another half an hour. The idea that I had to go "take my puppy for a walk" raised some alarm, however. But Public Safety did allow me on campus for a fabricated lunch date with Hal. Next time, I was told, I would need to make "special parking arrangements."

Getting on campus is only half the game, however. Of the two objectives, "Staying there" is actually the harder and more risky part of the job. The parking police, I mean public safety officials, take their job of enforcing a pedestrian campus seriously. Last year alone they doled out 504 boots, 207 tows, and $133,020 dollars worth in fines.

Extending parking passes by way of numerical reconfiguration becomes key, if an undergraduate is ever to have a prayer at winning the Parking Game. In this pursuit, a little skillful manipulation can turn 1's into 7's and 7's into 9's. 2's can become 3's and 3's, 8's. Likewise for dates. October 21 can become October 22 can become October 23 all in one week. It helps if you were a once-upon-a-time expert in forging junior high hall passes. Fortunately I was.

So that's the game. Roll the dice and start your engines. But now that I've given it up, I might as well give up myself. I'm the 2001 black BMW convertible, bought on 17 hours notice, of course.