Force is with them: Williams students build LEGO Super Star Destroyer in record time

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WILLIAMSTOWN - Even Darth Vader would have been impressed.

A team of 59 Williams College math students and about 10 Williamstown Elementary School students managed to assemble a 3,152-piece LEGO Star Wars model — the Super Star Destroyer — in 9 minutes and 31 seconds.

They were hoping to beat the 10-minute mark, and the Force was with them this time.

Last year, not so much; the team of about 50 college students came up long by just a few seconds.

The Wednesday afternoon event, at the '62 Center for Theatre and Dance, was the culmination of a winter study math class titled "The Mathematics of LEGO Bricks," taught by associate professor Steven Miller.

The three-week course introduces students to the mathematics of organization and efficiency. They spent much of the past two weeks together practicing the assembly process, finding ways to cut down on time and increase efficiencies.

Before the test began, Miller noted that in order to succeed, the team would have to assemble five LEGO pieces per second. There were seven teams — one per bag of pieces. Each team was responsible for a section of the ship. When the separate pieces were assembled, the final team had to put them all together, while the elementary school students — team No. 8 — was tasked with assembling the Super Star Destroyer's LEGO crew members.

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"This is a challenging organizational proposition," Miller said, "because you have the known unknowns, but as the process unfolds, you also come across the unknown unknowns — and you have to compensate for that and still reach the goal."

With a couple of hundred people watching from the audience seating, the students set up their tables on stage. When the timer started, they opened the box and handed each bag to one of the seven teams.

It was compressed pandemonium. In the center of each table there seemed to be a spinning tumbleweed of a dozen hands slapping small plastic bricks together again and again.

After 9 minutes, 31 seconds, the universe's most dangerous Imperial battle cruiser was intact and ready for flight.

Williams College freshman Kent Blaeser, of Boxford, said he heard about last year's attempt before he had even applied to Williams, and it helped attract him to the school.

"It's a college where they do cool stuff and projects like this are a prime example," he said. "I'm glad I go to be part of this, and that we got to break the record this year."

"And who doesn't want to break a world record," added Williams freshman Jack Lee, of Larchmont, N.Y.

Miller's idea for the Mathematics of LEGOS course was an attempt to demonstrate practical, real world applications of math.

"I want to try to reach as many people in as many ways as possible," Miller said. "And part of it was about finding out how you analyze a complicated problem and break it down into smaller pieces."

Contact Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301.


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