Linguini bridge contest puts pasta to the test
When it comes time to design the new Lagoon Pond drawbridge, engineers should look for inspiration from Loren Gibson and Alexia Schroeder, winners of the 10th Linguini Bridge Contest at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) on Monday.
The two freshmen's mighty miniature, made from Prince linguini and Elmer's glue, withstood 1,605 pounds of weight without breaking anything but last year's record of 1,015 pounds, set by two-time champion Kelly Silvia.
Appropriately named "Victory," the bridge stood in intact triumph, surrounded by the fractured strands of its competitors on the Performing Arts Center's stage.
Alexia Schroeder, left, and Loren Gibson use teamwork to place the next 45-pound weight on their bridge. Photo by Ralph Stewart
The third team to compete in the final round, Loren and Alexia hoped to beat the first two teams' records of 765 and 540 pounds. The suspense grew as they carefully added 45- and then 25-pound weights on top of their bridge one by one, overcoming their trepidation to place the last weight with gentle precision and balance that pushed them over 1,600 pounds.
"I was surprised it held that much. It was kind of scary," Alexia said afterwards.
Although the contest rules called for adding weights to the bridge until it broke, the girls had to stop with their bridge still intact. They ran out of weights when the stack reached as high as Alexia's head.
"We've never had a bridge survive before!" marveled Ken DeBettencourt, the mathematics and technology teacher who founded and continues to organize the competition. Although the winning bridge survived, its two designers said they still would like to take it to its limit, with a solo grand finale sometime in the next few weeks.
Although theirs was a hard act to follow, Zach Waller took second place with his bridge,"Tiny Tim," which held 1,255 pounds, and Tony Grillo took third with "Ramssquache," which held 1,035 pounds. Both Zach and Tony are sophomores.
Elimination rounds using 200 pounds of weight or less took place on small folding tables, two teams at a time. It took patience and skill to add and remove the round barbell-type weights, which were balanced on a lightweight block of wood placed on top of the bridges. Eleven bridges qualified for the final round, where they were set on the floor surrounded by protective mats because of the heavier weights used.
Sometimes an ominous crackling would warn of a bridge's imminent collapse, like the sound of ice breaking in a spring thaw. Others shattered in an unexpected explosion of spaghetti confetti, weights crashing to the padded floor.
The competition was open to all students, who could enter the competition individually or in pairs. Each bridge builder received three pages of guidelines in February. The bridges were due last Friday and weighed by Mr. DeBettencourt over the weekend; 41 bridges qualified for entry.
The contest's three main rules sound deceptively simple: bridges must be constructed using only Prince-brand linguini, weigh less than one pound, and be able to support a minimum of 25 pounds.
Loren and Alexia said they started constructing their bridge about two weeks ago and spent about three to five hours on it, using about two boxes of linguini. Their design featured densely woven pillars with an inverted v-shaped truss supporting the bridge's deck.
The contest rules state "each team may get help from teachers, parents, carpenters, architects, engineers, Italian chefs, priests, rabbis, etc." Loren's dad, Jeff Gibson, offered his pasta project expertise, honed from working with her older brother Tyler who won the contest several years ago with a record of 495 pounds. Mr. Gibson and Loren's mom, Pam Foster, proudly witnessed the continuation of their family's linguini legacy on Monday.
Each year the bridges get stronger and the designs better, Mr. DeBettencourt said. "When I first started this project 10 years ago, I never believed that less than one pound of pasta and glue could hold the amazing weights that we have held over the years," he recalled. "The first year's record was 115 pounds, and we were so excited we broke 100."
Since then, students have fine-tuned their bridge-building techniques, creating stronger structures by improving on winning designs from previous contests.
In the meantime, Loren and Alexia said they will be back next year. So will freshman Mike Sellitti, who said he and his partner Zack Rabin "are going to start working on one now for next year."
Students who turn in a bridge that follows the rules earn a test score of 85 percent, and more points depending on how much weight their bridge holds. However, looking at their faces as they watched and competed in the Linguini Bridge Contest, it is obvious the project also pays off in some high-carb enjoyment, minus the calories.