Dateline: Sunday, July 22, 2001

`Cootie' Captures Coveted Creative Craft Contest

By Bill (reporting as he imagines it might have happened)

New! See the race as it happened!

Click on a format to download a movie of the race. Warning, these are large files!

In a crushing defeat for their fellow participants in the 2001 Minneapolis Milk Carton Boat Race, the Cootie craft as piloted by Brenda, Heidi, Karland, Lynda, Russ and Sara captured the prestigous and historically significant "Creative Boat" first prize and all but assured their lofty position in the history and annals of milk carton racing worldwide.

The Cootie team: Lynda, Heidi, Russ, Karland, Brenda and Sara.

"This is the big leagues." is how Russ described the event, adding "When you win the event at Lake Calhoun, people notice. Nobody races milk carton boats like Minnesotans." Russ, who spent the months leading up the event charting the weather and astronomical conditions to help optimize the boats aerodynamics and reaction to cosmogical events, knows of what he speaks. Most of the team are veterans of earlier milk carton boat races, having narrowly missed winning awards in the previous years. "With Mars this close to Antares this year," Russ concluded, "we knew we had a very good chance."

Getting the boat in the water is often the hardest part of the entire event.

The race got off to an inauspicious start for the intrepid Cootie team. The appearance of calm organization that had encased their camp in the hours leading up to the race evaporated as they attempted to actually get the damn thing in the water. "Who knew a cootie could be so big" Lynda was heard muttering to herself as the boat threatened to come apart into its constituent head, body, thorax, antennae and legs, "and what IS a cootie, anyway?" she finished, exasperated. In a desperate bid to keep things under control before their dreams were shattered in a sodden wreck of disconnected floating milk cartons, the team enlisted the help of several bystanders. "I guess we've ALL got cooties now!" one of the helpers joked. Nobody was amused. With lifeguards poised to rescue anyone caught by the cootie should it decide its lowest energy state was the lake bottom instead of the surface, the boat was finally sent splashing into the relatively calm waters of Lake Calhoun.

Ready at the starting line ...

This race was not going to be easy, however, and nobody was fooling themselves about their chances of success. Up against the Poop Deck, they knew their work was cut out for themselves. Lining up for the race, the team was focused and alert for the starting signal. Communication was limited to only essential questions and last minute checks: "Anybody seen my paddle?" queried Sara, suddenly alarmed. "Grab a leg and get ready to row!" yelled Brenda, memories of the teams close, stinging defeat in the 1998 race ramping up her determination to not let it happen again. "Man, that other boat reminds me, I gotta go" mentioned Karland; but his statement fell on mute ears as the starting gun sounded.

Cootie flushing the Poop Deck.

With the faster (but lamer) boats shooting out into the lead, the team knew their chances of winning this heat were not good. But there was still a challenge to be met: send the Poop Deck home dejected, defeated, and just plain tacky. "Tacky, check." thought Heidi, a sentiment shared by most of the crowd. "Now lets make them dejected and defeated." With expert strokes, the cootie pulled out in front of their one remaining opponent, lengthening their lead as they neared the finish line. The roar from the crowd was clearly intended to push on team Cootie, the crowd favorite, and as they crossed the finish line in front of the Poop Deck, Karland was clearly heard to exclaim: "OK guys, no fooling, now I REALLY gotta go."

Karland and Russ demonstrate the finer points of rowing a Cootie. Articulated legs attached to the oars powered internal navigation and GPS electrons in the Cootie posterior.

Actually racing the boat turned out to be only the appetizer in this aquatic feast, however. To chants of "cootie, cootie" from the crowd, the judges had no choice but to award first prize in the Creative category to the coot-sters. "Well, of COURSE our boat is the most creative!" exclaimed Heidi in a burst of pride. "We worked YEARS on this boat. How come nobody wants to ride in it?"

Years, indeed. The milk carton cootie is a marvel of engineering. Fitted with multi-post support pillars, articulated cootie legs, redundant self-destruct and crew ejection mechanisms and over 8.6 TB of online storage (courtesy of Seagate), on the lake it can go from 0 to 60 MPH in under two days (assuming the lake experiences 60 MPH winds sometime within those two days). Taking over eight years to design and build, it justifyably has earned the distinctive title of "the worlds largest cootie ever built in Minnesota with milk cartons painted orange, pink, blue in yellow".

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