Linguini Bridge contestants go for broke
Contestants at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School reduced their carbohydrate footprints last Friday, going for broke in the 12th Annual Linguini Bridge Contest. Freshmen Evan Hall and Bennet Schwab celebrated a crushing victory, taking first place with their bridge "Indian in the Cupboard," which held 1,080 pounds before shattering with a snap, crackle, pop.
Julie Pringle and Bri Buchanan took second place with their bridge, "The Denominator," which held 1,035 pounds. Hayley Pierce and two teams including Olivia Higham and Dani Cleary, and Heather White and Jillian Sedlier, shared third place for bridges that held 900 pounds.
Evan and Bennet, both freshmen, said they were very surprised to win their first time around. "I thought our bridge might hold a couple of hundred pounds and not more than seven hundred," said Evan, who broke into dance moves on the Performing Arts Center stage after the bridge outperformed his expectations.
He and Bennet have been friends since sixth grade, through thick and thin - or, in pasta terms, lasagna and vermicelli. Evan said they looked for bridge design ideas on the Internet, but decided to go with their instincts. "We designed the legs to be the strongest part and stacked the linguini close together," Bennet explained.
Both students take an honors math class taught by math and technology teacher Ken DeBettencourt. Students in his classes who turn in bridges constructed according to the rules receive test score credits, as well as extra points based on the amount of weight held.
Mr. DeBettencourt founded the linguini bridge contest 12 years ago, and he has continued to organize and run it. Although a large number of the 72 contestants were from his classes, the contest was open to all students. They could enter individually or in teams of no more than three.
Mr. DeBettencourt said each bridge builder received three pages of guidelines, including specific dimensions for each component, at the beginning of March. The bridges were due last Thursday and weighed by Mr. DeBettencourt that night; 46 bridges qualified for entry.
The basic rules sound deceptively simple: bridges must be constructed using only Prince-brand linguini and Elmer's glue, weigh less than one pound, and be able to support a minimum of 25 pounds.
The contest rules also allow students "to get help from teachers, parents, carpenters, architects, engineers, Italian chefs, priests, rabbis, etc." Luckily, Bennet paid no attention when his older brother, who participated in the contest several years ago, told him his design was no good. In contrast, freshman contestant Doug Fraser said he received some valuable advice from his dad, Jim, who is an engineer. Students' bridge-building times varied from 2 hours to 100, and the amount of linguini used from partial to whole boxes.
Starting at 7:45 am last Friday, Mr. DeBettencourt kept the contest cooking along until it ended around 12:30 pm. It ran longer than usual this year, because so many bridges, 43 of them, held 25 pounds and made it into round one. Of those, 32 had the starch to hold 50 pounds and make it to round two.
Photos by Ralph Stewart
To test a bridge, free weights were placed on the roadbed until the bridge failed. Brad Hill of Vineyard Fitness Center supplied some round barbell-type weights. It took patience, skill, and strength for the students to add and remove the weights, which were balanced on a lightweight block of wood placed on top of the bridge. Some female contestants enlisted the aid of their male friends to do the heavy work for them.
The element of uncertainty provided the contest with one suspenseful moment after another. Some bridges crackled with a sound like ice in a spring thaw or glaciers calving, which sometimes signaled a collapse - or not. Others survived a crushing load, and then unexpectedly disintegrated when the weights were pulled off. One bridge completely lost its roadbed, yet its two pillars continued to support the weights.
After four rounds, 11 bridges that survived 400 pounds of weight remained. In the final round, the weights were upped from 25 to 45 pounds at a time. When it got down to the last bridge in round five, "Attempted Arch" by Doug Fraser and Mitch Lowe, Mr. DeBettencourt moved the competition outside for safety reasons. Since Evan and Bennet would push their bridge to the limit as the grand finale, he was concerned the weights might be stacked dangerously high if they went past their 1,080-pound record.
Before the drizzling rain could turn the linguini limp, "Attempted Arch" held 540 pounds. Perhaps weakened by previous rounds and the dampness, "Indian in the Cupboard" collapsed without coming near its earlier weight record.
Mr. DeBettencourt said he hopes that the linguini bridge contest will get students more excited about learning the importance of mathematics and its use in real-life situations. The project allows students to use their imagination and skills learned in geometry class, he added.
Weight records have swelled from 115 pounds in the first contest to 2,115 pounds last year held by a bridge built by Alexia Schroeder and Loren Gibson.
"I would never have thought that a bridge built with less than one pound of linguini could hold over a ton of weight," Mr. DeBettencourt said. "As we later discovered over the years, different designs work better than others and there were many different geometry skills involved in winning this competition." One common design has been to make a bridge's legs very strong, he added, while another popular design uses triangles as the main method of support.
Whatever the design, the end result is the same. Surrounded by shattered pasta during last week's contest, Mr. DeBettencourt joked, "We'll reuse the linguini at lunch today in Culinary Arts."