We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
See, Hogwarts, I was born without a sense of direction. To me you’re an impossible maze, a death trap. J.K. Rowling, your lead architect, must have found inspiration in Escher’s Relativity. Except while Escher defies physics (three sources of gravity), Rowling defies biology (three heads on a dog called Fluffy).
So I’ve decided to go elsewhere: glorious, physically sound, eminently navigable MIT.
Alas, the joke is on me: MIT is so much worse.
Let me break it down. Ten interconnected buildings smashed into each other make up campus proper. These are labeled Building 1 through Building 10 (sensibly), except there’s no Building 9 (baffling). You might find yourself in a tiny knob off Building 3 by mistake—that’s Building 11 (we think) and there’s no way out.
MIT’s main entrance is actually Building 7, which connects to neither Building 6 nor 8. If you make it to Building 8 (somehow), you’ll come upon a row of buildings that all start with 3. They’re not in numerical order: From west to east, we have 35, 37, 39, 38, 34, 36, and 32. Identifying the pattern must keep MIT’s math department occupied to this day: “If there were a building connected to 32, what would it be?” (Just kidding, the solution already exists. It’s called Building 57.)
I took a class last semester that required I navigate from Building 32 to 2. I made this journey at least 20 times in total and did it differently each and every time. Someone in Building 32 recently asked me, “How do you get to Building 2?” My answer was perseverance, creativity, and prayer. And bring snacks.
But wait, there’s more. The interconnectedness of the buildings runs deep—literally. There’s an MIT underground, a set of twisted, crooked hallways. I once found myself here by mistake. Armed with nothing but a dream I might one day surface, I trudged on. Flickering lights provided illumination. Distant mechanical explosions provided a soundtrack. Cockroaches reposed in dank corners as small runaway robots fluttered between my legs. (Someone told me I could get to the Kendall T Station from here. What?!) There’s a student handbook called How to Get Around MIT, which devotes 4 pages of microscopic font to explain the so-called system. Frankly, it’s useless. It remains unclear how I got out.
Then there’s Stata Center, that modern fortress of labyrinthine complexity, a parody of the MIT infrastructure. (Stata houses a campus gym with the refreshingly non-numerical but distressingly inelegant name of Alumni/Wang Center. Maybe they should stick with the numbers.) Stata’s architecture makes no sense by design. It’s our very own Triwizard Maze. Turn up at the wrong office and you’re forced to solve a professor’s sinister riddle.
I’ve spent the better part of my time at MIT lost in my very own tangle of Hogwartian staircases. But there’s a light at the end of this mystifying, tortuous tunnel, and it’s the people that roam it alongside me.
They’re the witches and wizards that brought us the Internet, e-mail, air conditioning, and PET scans. MIT Buildings reflect these people—bewildering, disorienting, complex, ingenious, beautiful. What an honor to get lost in the MIT maze, to take a wrong turn and stumble upon CRISPR genome editing, mind-reading helmets, virtual reality, and computers that learn.
Here I am, two years into my PhD at a real School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, my nightmare-turned-dream. Let’s take this staircase, shall we? I think it goes to a new dimension. Or how about that one? I think it goes to the future.