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The subtitle for this entry is "Or how I spent part of Sunday". There have been a few harmless cube decorations happening at work over the past couple of months. Some of this has been a result of stress (layoffs and uncertainty about funding), holiday giddiness, and just good natured fun. It started one Friday with a cube getting adorned with Ruckus posters and other promotional material. A week later Santa visited my cube in the form of a bean bag chair hung from the ceiling above it. In between there was also some innocent tape placed over a LED mouse sensor. Then a cube was boxed in by filling in the missing wall with a borrowed cube segment. Another cube was decorated in celebration of a coworker's birthday. Just before NYE a cube was decorated with tons of junk collected from the office. This included a hundred business cards, a half dozen empty wine bottles, an old laser printer, about 50 CDs, 30 floppy disks, and other random crap.

I will freely admit to helping with the cube wall placement, especially since it was part of my cube that was commissioned for the event. I also decked out the cube with all of the business cards and helped move some of the others items like the laser printer. Besides that my involvement in all of this was mostly passive. That is until I had an idea, well a variation on an idea. The idea of filling a cube with stuff like balloons or ping pong balls is commonly mentioned. The problem I've always found with either of those ideas is that takes many more balloons and balloon blowing then people realize or that ping pong balls are very small and expensive. A quick back of the envelope calculation says that a typical cube is 8' x 6' x 6' (apx. 497,000 cubic inches). If you figure a ping pong ball takes up 1 cubic inch, that's about half a million ping pong balls. Balloons on the other hand do blow up nicely to fill a lot of space given their initial size, but you need either a machine to help blow them up, or many volunteers. I had neither.

On my way to get my morning cup of tea I spotted the plastic 16 oz. cups next to the water cooler. Those don't take up that much space when packed tightly, but if stacked just right can consume a bunch of volume. Another quick back of the envelope calculation put a 2 x 2 lattice of cups at about 8" x 8" x 5". That means you would only need a little more than 5000 cups to fill a cube. This of course assumes a complete fill. When stacking you will have some wasted cups since you can't stack in a straight vertical line. Additionally, for the space that you can't see (ala under the desk) you probably don't need to fill it to get the same effect. A revised estimate put it around 4300 cups. Not completely out of the question.

I ran the idea by some friends and figuring if it took about 15 seconds for every 4 cups (working off of the original 2 x 2 lattice structure) it would take just under 5 hours. Again, not completely out of the question. The big issue was stability. Cups don't weigh enough to be resilient to taps and jarring. The simple thought was to use tape to secure each 2 x 2 lattice and have that be the basic building block. 2" sections of tape and 4 pieces of tape per 2 x 2 lattice would require about 716' of tape. Still not out of the question.

The victim was the last critical problem. Actually my choice was pretty easy. Given that the primary cube wall culprit was found out, I thought it plausible that I could use that to cover my tracks. Timing then was the last variable. We are moving out of the office by the end of the month and if that's the case things get really crazy starting in another week or two. My victim was scheduled for vacation next week so it was this past weekend or not at all. It was basically going to come down to how hung-over I felt on Sunday morning. Turns out I felt pretty good.

Where to easily acquire 4000 cups and 700' of tape? Well BJ's of course! The weather gave me a little scare with the snow, since my car in its current configuration can't handle more than an inch. Thankfully the roads were clear enough and I was feeling determined enough to risk a little tank slapper driving. Once at BJ's I had my first change of plans. They didn't have the good cheap 16 oz plastic cups. They only had the more expensive cups with grips. All the paper cups were for hot liquids and also way over priced. Thankfully they did have wax cold drinks cups. A little narrower at the top then the originally planned for cups but they made up for that by being a little taller (still holding 16oz). I figured I could make it work. Sold in bags of 144 made the math easy. I only needed 30 bags.

After stacking 30 bags of cups into the cart I proceeded to look for tape. A package deal of tape included 10 rolls at 36 yards each. More than enough for my purposes. The problem with stacking a cart with 30 bags of cups is cashiers, even at a place like BJ's look at you funny. "Big party!" became the excuse to use. Thankfully people didn't do the quick math to figure out that I'm carting out 4,320 cups. 15 bags in the trunk of my car and 15 more in the passengers seat and I was ready to head into work.

I naively thought it being just after noon on Sunday I'd be able to find a spot right in front of work. No dice. Instead I joined the half dozen other cars double parked on the street. I grabbed my book bag and two bags of cups and headed into the building. After signing in I let the security guard know I had some more stuff to bring in and wanted to prop the doors open. Not a problem, in fact she even held the outside door open since I didn't have a door prop for that one. 4 trips of 7 bags and I had all of my supplies inside the office. I now need to voice my first pang of regret. My camera's battery is flaky and hadn't been charged in awhile. As a result I didn't get pictures of the 30 bags of cups in my car or the pile on the floor before I started construction.

After parking on a side street I grabbed some lunch and headed back in. Time check 1pm. Not too bad, only and hour to find, buy, transport, and drop off all the cups. Worst case I'd be done by 6pm, still time to grab dinner and get some of the stuff I really should have been doing on Sunday done. Problem number two. A 2 x 2 lattice was too small to work with. I ended up making a couple of 2 x 7 lattices instead. Problem number three. Unlike the original plan of plastic cups I now had wax coated cups instead. Tape doesn't stick to wax that well. Also, the cups weren't made to the most exacting standards and small variations made getting the lattice flat and stable very hard. After about 10 minutes (so much for my 15 seconds per 2 x 2 lattice) I decided that free stacking the cups was going to be my best bet.

I started with the most difficult space first which was the area in front of and around the chair. I figured burying the chair amongst the cups would be cool (it was). At this point I was still honing my cup stacking chops and had a small collapse on the left side of the chair. Nothing too serious and after a few minutes it was repaired. Listening to tunes on my mp3 player and stacking cups turned out to be a mostly soothing experience, especially once I got out from under the desk. After about an hour the entire chair area had been done and I took a break to eat the lunch I had bought.

Since the minor variations of the cups height when trying to tape them together proved very unstable I thought it best to clear off the desk as much as possible before filling in the main area. Once that was done, building out the desk stacks went very quickly. A couple more hours and both the left and right sides were completely done. That left the last bit which was to fill in the front entry way. By this point I was getting a little tired and almost lost parts of the stacks a couple of times, but overall managed to keep my hands steady enough to complete the process with only one more accident. Total cup building time about 3h 15m.

I finished off by taking a few pictures and filling in some other areas with cups from the last bag I opened. I over estimated quite a bit and ended up only using 23 bags or 3,312 cups. Overall, I'm very happy with how it all turned out. I've already got some ideas for what to do next time, should such an occasion present itself. This story took a little longer to type up than I thought, so I'll have to save the aftermath for another day along with posting what pictures I do have.

P.S. Please excuse all the messed up tenses, I'm still trying to get better with that.

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