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In the Caverns of MIT

A little over a week ago, I attended HMMT (Harvard-MIT Math Tournament), which is held alternately at Harvard and MIT. This year, it was at MIT. Now, some of you may know that I have a bit of a penchant for getting lost.

Just a bit.

And you may also know that MIT is, well, really freaking huge. It has about six hundred lobbies, four million rooms, ten gazillion twisty hallways, and on that particular Saturday, was crammed with mathletes from all over the world. (In the awards ceremony, the guy informed us, "We have participants from many foreign countries - China, South Korea, Japan, Kenya, and California.")

Before the team competition, I consulted my fancy little schedule thingie that told me to go to room 2-142. I squirmed through the torrents of people until I reached the wall of the hall I was in and examined the room: 5-136. About sixteen different elbows stabbed me in the back, so I flattened myself against the wall as much as I could and slowly slid my way to the left.

As I slid, I craned my neck to keep track of the numbers. They were getting smaller, so I figured that if I continued this way long enough, I would eventually reach the 2's.

Except when the numbers turned into 5-101, I was faced with another gigantic lobby with about three different branches. People bustled around, barely having room to squeeze between arms and bodies, and the noise was deafening. Some guys around me had a method of crouching down and wiggling, while others preferred to bend their necks and head-butt their way through the crowd.

I opted for letting the crowd carry me. If I just stood still, the force of so many people walking around me would gradually carry me in some random direction. I figured fate wouldn't steer me wrong.

I was wrong.

The crowd carried me to an emptier hallway (there were perhaps only six hundred people squeezing through it instead of the four thousand of earlier on), and I hurried through it. After all, I had to be in 2-142 by 11:30, and it was... 11:45. Lovely.

The numbers beside me all started with 3, so I decided I should be approaching 2-142. When the hallway ended, I was presented with stairs and a second hallway. I hesitated. On the one hand, it was more likely that 2-142 would be in the second hallway, but on the other, stairs are fun!

I chose the stairs.

I went down a floor, reveling in the fact that I was blissfully alone. No people stabbing me with elbows and knees, no calculators digging into my side, no giant purses slamming me in the head! Blissfully. Alone.

And then it occurred to me that there might be a reason I was blissfully alone.

The hallway I found myself in was dark. Very, very dark. And windowless. Display cases surrounded me, but when I peered in one, it was too dark to tell exactly what it contained. I could make out shapes, though, and many resembled this:

I swallowed and started walking faster. Not because I was scared or anything, of course, I just didn't want to be late. Or rather, later than I already was.

I kept a close eye on the rooms, but none of them had numbers, only labels. Like "Room 101" and "Agony". One of them said "Bathroom", and I figured it would probably be smart to pee before going to the team competition.

I went in, plopped my purse down on a nearby stool, and did what I had to do. After I washed my hands, I noticed there were no paper towels, and wiped my hands on my jeans as I shouldered my way out of the bathroom.

I walked on for a while. Like, a really, really long while. The end of the hallway never got any closer, no matter how quickly I walked, and the little hairs on my arms stood up. Or at least, I'm sure they were standing up, but it was just a teensy bit too dark to see.

Suddenly, a dark figure appeared out of nowhere. My heart pounded, but then I realized that it was just an ordinary man holding a mop and a bucket of water. A custodian, not a flesh-eating serial killer.

...Unless he was a flesh-eating serial killer custodian.

"Excuse me," I squeaked, "can you tell me where room 2-142 is?"

The custodian nodded. "Go up four floors and down to the right."

I thanked him and started to head back to the stairs, when he called after me, "Oh, and run."

"Run, and never come back."

I frowned. "Why?"

His eyes flashed. "The zombies."

I ran.

Following his directions, I was able to make it to room 2-142 safe and sound. The proctor told us to turn off our cell phones and place them in the front of the room, so I reached for my purse.

And realized it was still sitting on a stool in the bathroom of the zombie-infested hallway.

I couldn't just LEAVE it there. It had my periodic table of elements in it! I mean, yeah, it also had my cell phone, iPod, and cash, but MY PERIODIC TABLE. And a LIBRARY BOOK. You lose a library book, you lose a little piece of your integrity.

And that was how I found myself battling zombies with a calculator while in the deepest caverns of MIT.


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