A Tour of the Hovse!

Although Blacker Hovse as an entity is really the moles themselves, the building does tend to reflect a bit about our identity. (That’s what happens when you can paint murals on the walls).

So when we found out PFE wouldn’t be happening, I filmed a tour of the hovse to show you all what its like! This is normally a thing we do in person, and true to that experience, many moles interrupted me, shared their own perspectives, and constantly said “wait did you make sure to film X”?
So the planned 5 minute, 2 person video, turned into a 25 minute, 9 person video instead. Regardless I hope you enjoy it, and see our murals, alleys, moles, and more. I can’t wait to meet you all in the fall when you can see it in person!

A Slightly Farther Taco Run

If you read Scru’s post about late night meals, you’ll know about our habitual visits to Arturo’s taco truck a few minute’s drive from campus.

One day a bunch of us taco regulars got together and decided that we wanted something more for a change. Something beyond what was just around the block. Something authentic. Something genuine.

So we got two cars and started driving south. We left around midnight, and stopped at a restaurant in San Diego for some food. But that wasn’t what we were after, so after wandering around the city for a bit, we kept going.

At about 8am, we crossed the Mexican border. After getting insurance and visiting a money exchange, we set about navigating the city of Tijuana. Eventually we found a good truck, and we had the most delicious tacos I’ve had in my life, accompanied by silky, rich horchata.

We got back to campus that afternoon exhausted, but satisfied, having spent a weekend night+day well.

Ranking Late Night Meals

Hi, I’m Sarah C., a current mole. My favorite Blacker “tradition” is our spontaneous trips to get late-night nourishment. Whether it is a short walk to Winchells on Lake at 5am to grab freshly baked doughnuts or driving across Los Angeles to Tommy’s Chili at lightning fast speeds on the day we gain an extra hour, outings are always fun and filled with adventure.

As a crusty Senior, I feel like I now have the power to tell you what are the objective* best late night eats at Caltech. Here is the definitive ranking of late-night restaurants and some fun stories to go along with them:

5.  Dupars: OK, while the pancakes here are amazingly fluffy and sweet, it’s just TOO FAR. Who wants to walk 10 whole minutes away from campus after midnight (yes, I know I contradict this sentiment later on. Just accept that a central tenant of late night eating culture in Blacker is based on the phrase “Dupars is too fars”). The food is also quite expensive for basically being a lesser version of Canter’s.

4.  Winchells: While donuts are great, especially after spending a night “studying” (aka hanging out with your friends while you have your set up on the computer), Winchells’s product isn’t that great. Krispy Kreme and Donut Man are better. Sidecar, if you get up to Orange County, is probably my favorite. That being said, I spent many nights here hanging out with my friends or taking underclassmen out to dessert as part of our “Frosh Dessert Night” program, where upperclassmen get to know the frosh in our hovse and the frosh get to ask us any question they have!

3.  Arturo’s Taco Truck: In terms of food quality, Arturo’s ranks 10/10. It’s an authentic Mexican taco truck open late night in Pasadena. Everything is super fresh. I know moles who come here almost every night (AKA Devin, an amazing frosh who I don’t think ever has said no to a trip in my memory. You should ask him about his Arturo’s stories). The theme of our interhovse was almost Arturo’s**. Now, if only we could get Arturo’s truck to park in Blacker courtyard…

2. Tommy’s Chili: Ok, while Tommy’s probably ranks the lowest in food quality (the ingredients in the chili are reported to be water, flour and yesterday’s Tommy’s Chili), it’s second to none in crazy stories. As I alluded to above, every November, moles pile into cars on the day we gain an extra hour. The point is to leave Blacker lounge, go to Tommy’s, eat a meal, and then get back to Blacker lounge “before you left,” which is possible because the clocks turn back. The Chili Czar, someone who was elected to do this and have weekly trips to Tommy’s at 4am on Thursdays, runs this event.  They have the power to award style points, which can outweigh the time points.  Two years ago, my group got style points for doing Tommy’s in style: we all dressed up in our fanciest clothes and had a candle lit dinner. This year, my group aimed only for style points: we decided to drive to Vegas and stop at every Tommy’s along the way (there are 3 in Vegas and about 5 total between here and there). We left at 1am, drove to the Original Tommy’s in Hollywood, ate a meal, and then began our trip to Vegas. We arrived at ~7 in the morning, wandered along the strip, bet the entirety of a house office’s budget on Black at a Casino, lost (don’t worry, the house budget was small), and then stopped at 4 more Tommy’s. We ate a meal at each one. I also wrote a yelp review at each one, which you can find here: https://www.yelp.com/user_details_reviews_self?userid=VoTe8-7niSKGBzXNqGasFw. You can see my sanity deteriorate as we stopped at more Tommy’s. I had never been so full in my entire life. Anyway, we ended up winning, so the 3.5 orders of cheese fries and 1 ice cream cone (I am vegetarian) in 17 hours was worth it.

  1. Canter’s has got to be the best late night restaurant option! I wouldn’t walk sixteen miles for just any restaurant. It’s open 24 hours all day and is the quintessential Jewish Deli with some important stables such as latkes, pastrami on rye, breakfast all day, malts, phosphates, milkshakes, and dill pickles. And yes, you did read the second line of this paragraph correctly. For the past two years, a group of moles has made a pilgrimage by foot to Canter’s, a 16 mile walk from Caltech. I was part of the first group who went. Our initial goal was to walk to Santa Monica, but we noticed Canter’s (and also Tommy’s) was en-route. We walked by Tommy’s, but we decided to stop at Canter’s. Once we did, we each ate a huge meal and decided not to go on anymore. The year after, another group set out with the goal of repeating our journey, which they did successfully. Walking is not the normal means of transport, though. Generally, around 12-1am, a group of people gets together and drives over. This past term, I went almost every week. In the last weeks of term, before LA closed down all of its restaurants and social gatherings were banned, a group of over 30 moles went together for what we’d later learn was our last time for the year. It was so bittersweet, but I will definitely go again when I visit!

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed my list. When you visit Caltech in person, you should definitely try each of these restaurants! Definitely ask other moles what their take is on the ranking; most people probably wouldn’t rank Tommy’s so high :P. Also, here are some pictures of the last run to Canter’s, me (I’m the short one) and my friends at Tommy’s in Henderson, NV, and a picture of the Original Tommy’s I took on my walk to Canter’s.

*nothing here is objective at all.

**RIP Blacker Interhovse :(. I believe some variation of this theme made a late round of voting somehow, but we actually do take our interhovse pretty seriously and usually have non-memey themes :).

LUGE!

Back in annals of Blacker history, there’s a short clip of Moles from the past soaring down an empty parking garage, riding the backs of majestic board-shaped wheeled vehicles.

More recently (this February), Oliver and I decided we wanted some of the glory of the past for ourselves. After hunting around for a while (Blacker is full of over-used and under-maintained storage spaces, all of which are teeming with things too valuable to throw away but not valuable enough to organize) we found the old luges.

On top of unearthing the two old luges, we also built two new luges.

After a couple test runs down the courtyard ramp, we took ’em out to ride down the real deal. See the video below, and trust me, when you’re lying on piece of plywood six inches above the concrete it feels a lot faster than it looks in the movies.

So very hard to go…

Due to the COVID-19 situation, Caltech decided to move all classes online 3rd term, and all undergraduates (except those who petition to stay for need-based reasons) must leave campus. And even though we know that’s the best choice right now, we’re all so sad to leave…

So much for 3rd term activities like building Interhovse (our big party… the theme was going to be Mad Max), and taking House portraits of each class, and of course Ditch Day, since it didn’t end up happening first or second term. But the saddest part is that we don’t get to say a proper goodbye to our seniors. Because of the House system, there are many friendships between classes. Seniors – we’re going to miss you guys!

As I was moving out of my room, I took a few last photos:

 

 

(It was such a great room! It was a single (Blacker has singles, doubles, and the triple). I could stare out the window and spy on the courtyard and everything…)

 

^ Why must packing be so tiring??

^ Goodbye whiteboard

(OK, I ran out of photos)

Goodbye friends…

But we’re making efforts to keep our community alive remotely. No, it’s not the same, but it’s something. We’re setting up a discord. Keeping up with emails. (The automatic “Rain tomorrow! Get your stuff out of the courtyard before it gets wet” emails are still being auto-sent.) This blog, I suppose. And of course, communicating via the the five zillion billion Messenger (and Telegram) chats we have: the spam chat with alums, the cute animal photos chat, the “Blacker Hackers” maker culture chat, the COVID memes for Quaranteens chat, the Nice chat, the fire alarm blame chat (OK, maybe not that one), the food spam chat (created when the food chat, for posting free food, was getting spammed with too much non-free-food-content), the orb chat (ORBS! yes, it’s just a chat about orbs. orbs are good.),  our class chats (e.g. I’m in the juniors chat), etc., etc…

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Blacker culture can be fairly nocturnal. When I was a frosh, I was not an exception. After working until around 5am, I decided I was tired and needed a break. Rather than do the sane thing and go to sleep, I went to the lounge. Blacker lounge can be a great social hub, especially at 5am. People have strange conversations, sleep on the couches and beanbags, and almost-concuss each other with sweat balls (irl these are apparently called pool balls). There is also a large whiteboard, which people use to collaborate on sets, record memes, etc. I thought it would be funny if I replaced every alphanumeric character on the whiteboard with an “A”. This was my main inspiration. It took me around 1-2 hours, but I did it. The image below was the final result.

Disclaimer: this blog post is not representative of Blacker culture. Moles do in fact know letters besides “A”.

DEAR PREFROSH: In light of the cancellation of PFE…

Dear prefrosh,

In light of the cancellation of PFE (and on-campus 3rd term) due to coronavirus precautions, we want to explore online modes of communicating what makes Caltech the place that it is. Because Tech is a unique experience with a unique culture, not just a prestigious name. Choosing the right college is also about finding the right cultural fit.

Although this blog is neglected sometimes (as you will notice if you scroll back in time) as we are too busy doing things to blog about them, in the coming weeks/months, we will not neglect it. Please read on, ask about what you see to current students, and check back in often!

We are Blacker Hovse, one of the eight undergraduate Houses at Caltech. And we’d like to share our culture with you.

Finals Week with Wagner

Who wouldn’t want to be abruptly awaken by loud music at 7 am during finals week?

Caltech has an honor code–“No member of the Caltech community shall take unfair advantage of any other member of the Caltech community”–and we take it very seriously. This allows us to collaborate with one another effectively and have take-home exams, understanding that we won’t look at barred resources or take extra time. These take-home exams are often roughly four-hour long exams that are due at noon (though it varies depending on the class).

To ensure that our fellow moles are awake to take their finals and turn them in on time, we blast the Ride of the Valkyries by Wagner on our courtyard speakers at 7 am–five hours before noon–allowing someone to wake up, take their exam, and turn it in before it’s due. People also congregate in the courtyard together to hear the music together during the stress of finals week.

Now, because the Ride plays during finals week, we associate it with the terror and stress of exam season, and really wouldn’t like to hear it any other time (while we’re varying degrees of relaxed). Though, us moles like to prank one another and this can easily be achieved by playing the Ride next to an unsuspecting mole–inducing an adrenaline peak. The penalty for playing the Ride outside of finals week is getting “showered,” meaning, people run at you to turn off the Ride, and gently carry you to the nearest shower (with your consent). There, you place your head under the water and get yourself wet.

If you hear some trills and all of the moles near you disappear, you can safely assume that someone played the Ride of the Valkyries when they shouldn’t have.