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Illustration: Ron Barrett

March 10, 2004: On the Campus

The chosen ones

By Lauren Turner ’04


It’s debatable who threw the first egg. It’s debatable who threw the last egg. And, considering the foul smell that lingered for days, it’s debatable if anyone actually won. But what’s certain is this: As sophomores streamed down Prospect Avenue the first day of bicker, members of Cap and Gown, Cottage, Ivy, and Tiger Inn hurled eggs at each other to christen the most bittersweet of Princeton traditions.

O, Bicker, how thou art loved and loathed.

Although the bicker process has evolved during the last 125 years, its legacy and commitment to confidentiality have made it mythical. Bicker continues to attract anxious sophomores, frustrate administrators, and allure newspaper reporters, hungry for contentious (and pretentious) stories.

What it doesn’t leave hungry are the bickerees, who in their hopes to join a selective club are put through a figurative food mill.

Many processes involving selective exclusion leave people without appetites, but bicker rituals flip the stomach in a different way. With the exception of Ivy, which chooses members based on one-on-one interviews, the clubs use games to assess how bickerees interact with members. Many of these games involve food. In one, Chubby Bunny, for example, bickerees have 30 seconds to stuff as many marshmallows as possible in their mouths.

“I don’t quite yet know what I’ll have the sophomores do,” says Cottage Club member Elizabeth Morse ’04 the day before bicker. Holding bananas, a bag of marshmallows, a can of whipped cream, some chocolate sauce, and a box of donuts, she adds, “I think I’ll just let the ingredients inspire the games.”

Although few bickerees encounter the full range of delicacies, it’s not rare for malt vinegar, olive oil, mustard, relish, Swedish fish, Tabasco sauce, steak sauce, Japanese wasabi, mayonnaise, milk, butter, eggs, Big Macs, hot dogs, dog food, cat food, worms, goldfish, Saltine crackers, ranch dressing, ice cream, sour cream, and cottage cheese to pass a bickeree’s lips in some eye-popping quantity or lumpy, bumpy combination.

“All those are O.K. as toppings,” says Evan Baehr ’05, an independent, “but mixed together they are disgusting.”

In the end, bicker cannot be reduced to games. People aren’t chosen for membership because they will swallow goldfish. There is no specific recipe for bicker success, but it’s impossible not to bond with strangers while drinking Thousand Island dressing from a plastic Dixie cup.



With high ceilings, 500 seats, and a second-floor balcony, McCosh 50 is one of Princeton’s largest and most impressive lecture halls. The first day of second semester, the tide of entering people never ebbed.

“I made a bet with one of my preceptors,” said history professor James McPherson later. “She claimed there would be standing room only at the first lecture. I had to buy her lunch.”

McPherson, who retires this year, was giving his last first lecture of HIS 376: Civil War and Reconstruction, a course that has for years captivated students, faculty, and community auditors.

HIS 376 — an interesting topic taught by a well-known professor — is not a tough sell. But choosing only four classes each semester from a course catalogue that offers hundreds is difficult. Not all courses are legendary. Not all involve retiring professors.

What’s a student to do? Shop.

“There’s so much out there,” says Jacqui Perlman ’05. “You’re really short-changing yourself by not shopping.”

Many students know that classes are not always as they appear on paper. During the first week, these students attend lectures and seminars planning to drop courses that don’t meet personal standards. Students have two weeks to change their schedules without being fined, and many do.

Such changes don’t surprise professors — or the registrar. During the first five days of spring term the office makes 1,450 course changes. By the end of the semester the total is 4,000.

“If I’m engaged for the full 50 minutes, hour, or hour and a half, then I’m sold,” says Perlman, who attended at least 10 classes during the first week.

Students tend to choose courses that meet requirements, satisfy intellectual curiosity, or balance their schedules.

Some students base choices on professor reputation and others on practicalities. McPherson believes, however, that few base choices on a professor’s in-class performance. “They aren’t necessarily looking for entertainment,” he says. “They can go to the movies or watch TV for that. I think they’re looking for solid substance.”

Lauren Turner ’04, an English major from Berwyn, Pennsylvania, is a member of Ivy.

On the Campus Online: Go to to read “Rock ’n’ roll, 2004,” by Andrew Romano ’04.



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