Club Walks on the Wyld Side

It's 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night, and the hounds are out in Harvard Square.

The pack numbers about 15, clad in spandex and blue body paint. Traffic stops on JFK Street as they bound across, barking and snarling into the headlights. Then it's down Brattle Street, stopping once to catch their breath and bay at the moon.

The prey in this "Wyld Hunt" is a sprinting first-year with antlers strapped to her head. The "spectral hounds" following her are mostly hard science concentrators, all with an inhumanly high tolerance for silliness. They "slay" her on the steps of Memorial Church and carry her back to Quincy House inert.

For the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association (HRSFA), this spectacle isn't an embarrassing rite of initiation--it's one of their most popular annual traditions.

And it's not even the weirdest thing they've got planned for the night.

"Everybody's crazy," says the stag, Erin R. Leonard '02, as she paints herself before the hunt.

"But we're better at it than most people," says Tom H. Lotze '01.

With about 60 to 70 people involved in one or another of its Special Interest Groups (SIGs), HRSFA's umbrella falls over science fiction, fantasy, role-playing games and sometimes unadulterated bizarreness.

It serves mainly as a connection between these groups and a social outlet for those interested in fun with an unusually imaginative twist.

Like hunting each other through the streets of Cambridge. Or, later the same night, standing on the steps of Widener Library yelling "All Hail Chronos!" in honor of the end of daylight savings time.

It all really happened. We've got pictures.

Long, Long Ago....

HRSFA was founded in 1987 by a group of student Star Trek fans looking to organize in time for the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Fans of science fiction and role-playing games, frustrated by the College's refusal to grant them official status, soon joined the organization, and HRSFA acquired an office in Harvard Hall.

Over the years, the group has kept a strong interest in science fiction. A small-scale book swap in the early years has now grown to a 2,000 to 3,000-volume library in Pforzheimer House, complete with videos, comic books and games.

A weekly writer's workshop helps 5 to 10 HRSFA members hone their skills in science fiction and other genres. Many of their pieces end up in Fusion, the group's magazine--pub- lished sporadically--and a few have gone on tosucceed as authors.

In addition, a number of SIGs are dedicated towatching science fiction films or TV seriesestogether. If you are a Harvard student with ahankering for TRON or that elusive episode of "Dr.Who" or "Mystery Science Theater 3000," these arethe people who can help.

And there is gaming. This often obsessivepastime involves role-playing and strategygames--essentially any game where players say thewords "elf" or "battalion of nuclear death" morethan once. It's what attracted a lot of HRSFAmembers to the group.

"People who game will always find ways to game,they will find each other," says HRSFA TreasurerChris R. Hall '99. "Gaming brings a lot of peopletogether. About a quarter of [HRSFA members]game."

The group sponsors Gameathons in the ScienceCenter, multi-day affairs full of board, video andmind games. These events have lasted for 50 hoursstraight in the past. Most gaming, however, goeson in small groups loosely affiliated with HRSFA.

Beam Me Up

But a big part of HRSFA's activities promotenothing more than weirdness in its purest form.

This commitment to the strange begins at thetop. When things go wrong at club meetings, thereis an officially-selected "scapegoat" who cowersin the corner while members yell at the quiveringform.

Other unofficial officers in the past haveincluded "Minister of Death" and "Mr. Chips, Dips,Chains and Whips." In the group's constitution, itstates that any lightly-attended SIG "shall ceaseto exist as utterly and finally as didCzechoslovakia in 1939."

HRSFA brings bizarre to the outside world withevents like the Wyld Hunt in the fall, and theMyld Hunt--a leisurely stroll after a slow-movingfox, ending with tea and croquet at the Quad--inthe spring.

HRSFA members concentrating in Folklore andMythology dreamed up the Wyld Hunt early in the1990s and imbued it with a mix of Celtic andGermanic traditions. The blue paint is meant tosimulate woad--the hallucinogenic paint used byCeltic Warriors to induce a battle frenzy(remember Braveheart?).

According to Matthew B. Ender '93, a HRSFA alumon hand for the hunt, when he was anundergraduate, about half of the "hounds"decorated themselves with actual woad.

At Saturday's hunt, the blue-painted HRSFAhounds draw stares and honks from bystanders asthe pack winds its way through the Square area.

"Last year I was the stag, and I picturedpeople cursing at me walking down the street,"says Matthew G. Withers '01, one of the group'sco-chairs. "But people just look at us and say"That's really strange."

That mood changes drastically as the groupmoves on to its second event of the night--theComing of the Hour, an annual event held in honorof the end of daylight savings time.

Gathering at 2 a.m., a group of about 70Harvard and MIT students as well as othergroupies, dressed all in black, processes aroundthe Yard listening to speeches about thebenevolent god Chronos, who gave the earth itsextra hour.

Part of the MIT contingent comes clad as"Temporal Security Special Officers," equippedwith walkie-talkies, massive water guns andflashlights strapped to their heads.

They guard the procession until it is 2 a.m.again, when the group sacrifices a paper sundialto Chronos in thanks for the extra hour.

A similar ceremony is held for the Going of theHour in spring. Other ceremonies include theMasquerade Ball in spring and ushering at theIgNoble Awards, which HRSFA co-sponsors.

HRSFA scavenger hunts in the past have askedmembers to retrieve "the essence of night," "twothings that hate each other," and, for theautomatic win, Professor of Geology Stephen JayGould.

There is a Bizarreness SIG and a Milk andCookies SIG, where HRSFA members gather togetherand tell stories culled from a made-up Britishchildhood.

And there is always more of the same on theway. On the group's Web page,www.hcs.harvard.edu/~hrsfa, one alum of the grouprecommends that every meeting be ended with thedeclaration that "as for me, I believe Carthagemust be destroyed."

If any member points out that Carthage hadalready been destroyed, the speaker must thenretort that he means Carthage, N.Y., he suggests.

Signs of Intelligent Life?

Heather F. Rose '02 surveys the other membersof the crowd assembled for the Coming of theHour--which featured among the black-clad masses afew trench coats, an unlit medieval torch and oneman in a giant black cloak who refused to give hisname.

"This is exactly what you would expect ascience fiction club to be," Rose says.

And to some degree, she's right--many of themembers are hard science concentrators andDungeons and Dragons fans from way back.

But group members say there's more to the groupthan gaming and sci-fi. They say it's a socialgroup for people with a similar, if unusual, senseof what's fun.

"I don't think there's any way to generalize[the people in the group]," said HRSFA co-chairIgor Teper '00. "It's just people getting togetherto have fun in these weird and silly ways."

And those people keep coming back. Alums areoften active in HRSFA events, like Ender, who madea grand entrance Saturday night into the roomwhere the hounds were painting themselves. Enderstrode in shirtless, already intricately paintedand carrying an enormous homemade bow and arrow.

"I think [other HRSFA members] were some of thebest people I met at Harvard," Ender says. "You gothere and meet them and there it is."

And according to Jennifer K. Sunami '02, at aschool like Harvard, people in HRSFA aren't muchfurther out there than the average student.

"There are a lot of weird people at thisschool," Sunami says, half of her body a lightblue. "So why should [this group] scare me?"CrimsonMelissa K. CrockerIT'S THAT TIME AGAIN: Participants inthe Coming of the Hour ceremony assemble aroundthe sundial near Holden Chapel in the Yard.