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IRVINE : A Week for the Cutups on Campus

It took Tuan Trinh and Amit Dhadwal 12 hours to construct their award-winning bridge. It took Matt Masuda five seconds to construct his award-winning airplane.

“Make that 30 seconds,” Masuda said, upon reassessment of his original estimate.

UC Irvine’s 18th annual Engineering Week opened Monday with a bridge-building contest, followed by the less-imposing paper airplane rivalry. Other events slated this week include a calculator toss, a trivia bowl and--traditionally the most popular competition of the week--a nerd contest.

The festivities give the 1,400 engineering students on campus a whimsical break from their serious-minded studies. Events range from somewhat structured to absolutely spontaneous.

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Buddies Trinh and Dhadwal devoted a long Saturday night and 400 Popsicle sticks to their foot-high bridge, which beat out four other bridges in the week’s debut contest. The deceptively sturdy contraption, welded together with Elmer’s Glue, could withstand 1,000 pounds of pressure--200 more pounds than the runner-up.

Before about 30 onlookers, the five entries were tested in a machine that looked like something out of the mad scientist’s lab in “Back to the Future.”

“Our bridge’s strength is due to its truss,” allowed Trinh, pointing out the mass of Popsicle sticks supporting its arch.

Last year’s winner, Denis Bilodeau, found fault with the bridge, magnificent truss and all. “You guys used too many sticks,” complained the 22-year-old civil-engineering major. “My bridge also took 1,000 pounds, but I used half as many sticks.” Furthermore, the upstart bridge’s sticks were of inferior quality, he added: “I got mine from a mail order catalogue. They were all perfect, with no knots in the wood.”

Everybody’s a critic.

Whatever its flaws, the bridge won Trinh and Dhadwal $125. “I’ll use my half to buy books,” said Dhadwal, 20, a mechanical-engineering major. Sure, only a nerd would think first of splurging on books. “But I don’t mind being a nerd--I kind of like it,” Dhadwal shrugged.

Dhadwal and Trinh planned to take their bridge home and display it like a trophy. “Can we enter it again next year?” joked Trinh, 19, also a mechanical-engineering student.

The day’s next contest required a little less preparation. About 20 students, many of whom simply had happened by at the right moment, tossed paper airplanes from the second-floor balcony of the Engineering Building. Whichever plane stayed aloft the longest would be declared the winner.

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Before the big event, last-minute competitors frantically folded engineering paper into flying objects. “Can I use the rules sheet?” one student asked.

Yes, he could, said Pete Lengsfeld, 23, president of the Society of Automotive Engineers--the UCI club sponsoring the sail-off. Almost anything went--as long as it didn’t overstep the four-staple limit.

“I won last year with a plain piece of paper that I didn’t even fold,” boasted Nimesh Desai, a senior engineering student. So why mess with success? This time around he launched a bright green newsletter, again unfolded.

It performed better than most of the traditional paper airplanes, fluttering to the ground in 9.62 seconds. But Matt Masuda’s multi-pleated entry drifted for 18.19 seconds before touching down.

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The grand prize was a flight with the UCI Flying Club. Where? “Up,” Lengsfeld responded.

Masuda, a 21-year-old civil-engineering major, didn’t much care where the all-expense-paid trip would take him. After all, he had invested only 30 seconds--give or take 25 seconds--into his aviation wonder.

“I didn’t have anything better to do on my lunch hour,” he said.


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