• Dancers form a conga line at last weekend's Odyssey Ball.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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  • An Aramark worker at the Odyssey Ball staffs the "candy bar" with hologram candy and an astronaut mannequin.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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Evening wear, space oddities spotted at Odyssey Ball


Check out Kresge Oval today. It doesn't look the same as it did Saturday night, when beneath a crescent moon and a very large white tent, 1,500 MIT community members (mostly students) gathered for the Odyssey Ball.

Those elegantly dressed individuals who dared to walk through the misty entrances on either end of the tent saw servers in some pretty dazzling costumes. One woman, dressed in black tights with a metal brassiere and girdle called her outfit "a space oddity." Other Aramark servers wore space suits and helmets or looked like they walked straight off the set of The Jetsons.

An 1,800-square-foot parquet dance floor filled the center portion of the rectangular tent, surrounded by a DJ, a live band and refreshment booths. Space images projected on the walls of the tent and roving spotlights helped keep the atmosphere space-like.

Thirteen-year-old Peter Sheppard and his 14-year-old friend Ben, dressed to the nines in black tux, top hats, white gloves and canes, were handily beat by the computer HAL in a chess game, but seemed undaunted as they headed off to their next encounter. The middle schoolers attended the ball with Peter's mother, Christine Wang (SB 1977, PhD), who works as a senior staff member in Lincoln Lab's Electro-Optical Materials and Devices group; his father, Norman Sheppard (SM 1978, PhD); his 16-year-old sister and her friend; and family friend David Bliss (SM 1981).

Ms. Wang said Peter insisted on renting the hat and cane along with his tuxedo. "At the ball we saw one student there with a monocle and Peter said, 'Next time we have to get the monocle, too.'"

Dawn Ash, a junior in linguistics, finally had the opportunity to wear her Star Trek: The Next Generation uniform. "I got this years ago at a convention," she said about the shirt, the characteristic black and red, color-blocked uniform worn by many of the officers on the TV show. She happily demonstrated the communicator badge attached to the left upper area of her uniform, which, when touched, played a tinny rendition of the musical tones used by crew members on the USS Enterprise to initiate remote communication. Ms. Ash had loaned a (silent) communicator badge to her friend, Alex Vasile, a junior in electrical engineering and computer science, who was dressed in more traditional attire.

Jewish Chaplain Miriam Rosenblum attended the ball with her husband, Sheldon Benjamin, and another couple. Ms. Rosenblum and Mr. Benjamin wore "deely boppers" on their heads from the 1982 Knoxville World's Fair. (Hers looked like antennae with red stars on the ends; his had purple orbs.) "These have been waiting in my closet for 20 years," she said. Their friends wore slightly intimidating but beautifully painted masks of red, gold and black purchased at a shop near Chinatown.

Jonathan Histon, a graduate student in aeronautics and astronautics, limped on crutches among the crowd. He had sprained his ankle the day before, but wouldn't let that stop him. "A very pretty lady promised me a dance earlier today. That's what got me here," he said. Another man on crutches hobbled by and yelled, "Hey, I like your accessories." When spotted later and asked about the promised dance, Mr. Histon said, "It was a swing dance. She swung and I stood there."

Spotted wearing a light blue NASA flight suit and carrying a stuffed white monkey, also in a flight suit with helmet, was Samidh Chakrabarti, a senior in electrical engineering and computer science. He received the flight suit at a week-long simulated flight training school for high schoolers in Huntsville, AL. The monkey, named Captain Cornelius, was a gift from his friend Amitha Jagannath, a senior in biology, who wore festive attire to the ball. When a button on the monkey's hand is touched, it demands: "Get me out of this monkey suit."

Mr. Chakrabarti, the past president of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, had some real zero-G experience in NASA's infamous KC-135 "vomit comet" airplane during his sophomore year.

Chef Peter Dumke was there in his own chef's hat; rather than costuming himself, he put his energy into creating spectacular desserts for the party-goers. His pi��ce de r�sistance -- a chocolate mountain discharging "smoke" (actually dry ice vapor) from its crown, inspired by the Devil's Tower in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- would have fueled even the most dedicated chocoholic for weeks. Mr. Dumke draped aluminum foil over a table and melted chocolate down the foil, then sprayed whitechocolate lines (as in a Jackson Pollock painting) to resemble quartz seams running through granite. He placed large blocks of half-inch-thick chocolate sprinkled with marshmallows and nuts at the base of the mountain.

That was just one of the refreshment tables. Freeze-dried ice cream was available, but most people headed toward the more appealing desserts, such as cake dipped in an exceptionally sweet fondue. A large "replicator" built by students from the Musical Theatre Guild and the Student Art Association offered a choice of three small desserts: lemon meringue pie, flying saucer tart or space cupcake. The guest would use a mouse to choose a dessert and a "space server" would then wave the guest to the next window, where the dessert would appear. When asked what she thought of this gig compared to other party gigs, the server replied, "complicated."

President Charles M. Vest and his wife Rebecca Vest attended in black tie. He stood under a spotlight on the crowded dance floor to say just a few words to the students. "I'll save the long speeches for graduation," he deadpanned.

Dr. Vest spent more time on the parquet dancing with a group of students, one of whom wore Spock ears. When told he might read in the campus newspaper that he had been spotted dancing beautifully among the students, Dr. Vest quipped: "I certainly hope not. I believe in adherence to the truth."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 2, 2001.


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