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Gingerbread houses get a shaky reception

M&Ms shot across the room, candy canes tumbled over and mini marshmallows exploded into the air like popcorn kernels on a hot stovetop.

No, this wasn’t a failed attempt at making a commercial for a candy store. Instead, it was the lively scene on Wednesday at the second annual gingerbread house competition, which was held in the basement of the Snell Engineering Center and organized by the Northeastern student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The competition featured nine teams of engineering students, who were challenged to build two-story, all-edible gingerbread houses using a spread of candy and other ingredients provided by ASCE. The College of Engineering’s earthquake simulator, a shaker table that mimics seismic forces, then put the strength of the structures to the test.

The gingerbread houses were judged on aesthetics, creativity, structure and stability. Mishac Yegian, a Distinguished Professor of Engineering who runs the shaker-table lab, presided over the competition.

The crowd of approximately 50 people, mainly students, roared with excitement as the shaking intensified and gingerbread houses began to topple. Yegian donned a white hardhat and called the play-by-play action.

“There’s no room for residents in there,” Yegian yelled as he pointed to one structure built in the form of a silo. Another house, he joked, was “aesthetically beautiful, but it looks like it was made of adobe.”

A team of four judges comprising two students and two faculty members ultimately declared the winner to be a trio of freshmen: Josh Trowbridge, Nate Hewes and Adora Jackson.

After the victory, Trowbridge noted his team’s strategy of fortifying the house’s base with Fluff and its walls with candy canes and Twizzlers. “When I saw it standing, I was astounded,” he said. “I was like, ‘Wait, it works!’ It was really exciting.”

Sarah Casey, a senior and vice president of ASCE, noted that the competition gave students the opportunity to showcase their engineering skills in a fun and festive way.

Yegian marveled at the students’ ingenuity and credited all of the teams for their creativity and hard work. He chuckled when he declared that there might be a limit on much Fluff students could use to support their houses in next year’s competition.

Organizers said the stakes would be even higher next year, when gingerbread houses will be three stories high.