Williams College math class misses LEGOS goal, but learns from experience


WILLIAMSTOWN -- Three starships later, it turned out the 10-minute time barrier was too much for the scrappy Williams College crew of math students.

On the other hand, there may have been a couple of records set: They built a LEGOS Star Wars Super Star Destroyer, with all 3,152 pieces, in 10 minutes and 21 seconds. They also built three full star destroyers in about an hour.

This wasn't just a bunch of college kids playing around with toys for an easy grade.

The 10-minute goal was the final test of a winter study math class entitled "The Mathematics of LEGO Bricks," taught by associate professor Steven Miller.

So when the class, their friends, and folks who just wanted to watch had gathered at Paresky Center Friday afternoon, the stress was obvious. There was also somewhat of a carnival atmosphere, with about 300 spectators surrounding the assembly area and looking down from balconies above.

First came a practice run, during which they built the destroyer in 11:07.

Before beginning the real trial, Miller said the team was ready.

"We know what we have to do, and we're going to work hard and fast," he said. "May the force be with us."

Then came the real test. A brand new box was ripped open after the countdown. The bags of parts were handed out and they got down to work.

Miller said the class shows the students how applied mathematics can work in an organizational and engineering environment, and how logistics and creativity can play a major role in any project.

In each box of the $400 kit are seven bags with pieces for seven separate sections of the ship. The class was split into seven groups. Each group had been practicing on their assigned bags for about two weeks, trying to find ways to optimize their efficiencies to cut down on their time.

There was an organizational structure as well, with seven bag captains, seven human relations managers, one second-in-command and one third-in-command.

Feverishly pressing their LEGO bricks together, the ship took shape, and finally came together, at just under 10 minutes.

High fives were thrown, but there was a problem. One of the parts was built backwards. The error was rectified, but that put them over the mark by 21 seconds.

Disappointed but not beaten, the team decided to try again. They broke out a brand new box and started over. But in the end, they went beyond 11 minutes.

Miller said the effort was hard work, but worthwhile and fun.

"It's been stressful, but really enjoyable," said Williams College student and team member Cole Meisenhelder. "I've always loved to play with LEGOS, but I've never done it quite like this before. In the end, it's sad we didn't make it, but still a lot of fun to try."


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