To future student skit directors, writers, and participants:
We thank you for undertaking one of the most laborious but one of the most cherished volunteer activities at the Allen School, namely, the writing, directing, and performing of the holiday party student skit--it is a lot of work, but it can truly be a collective joy. The initial version of this document was motivated by the fact we nearly lost the tradition completely during the coronavirus pandemic: the 2020 holiday party was canceled and it was not clear whether there would be a party in 2021 or whether skits would be permitted under the pandemic rules. Ultimately, to our delight, the 2021 holiday party did take place and there were both student and faculty skits, but we distinctly felt the “gap” in tribal knowledge due to the fact many past participants had graduated between 2019 and 2021 and many of the more junior graduate students had seen only one skit or none at all. Though all ended for the best as regards the student skit in 2021, the “close call” suggested it would be good to collect advice in a form other than the vague recollections of senior grad students.
Matthew Johnson, skit director 2018
Steven Lyubomirsky, skit director 2019
Galen Weld, skit director 2021
…and skit volunteers then and since, whose continuous updating of this living document provides valuable knowledge for years to come
Though this document is intended to compile “tribal knowledge” about the writing, directing, and production of student skits, it is not meant to serve as a set of instructions that must be strictly followed. We do not intend to ossify the forms of skits; indeed, the past scripts below have greatly varying structures. If anything, we welcome radical departures from past forms and bold exploration of the medium. Rather, this is meant to be a “living document” that contains examples of what worked and what didn’t to serve as advice--we encourage the addition of anecdotes and revision of old material. Additionally, another goal of this document is to make the task of creating the skit seem less daunting to those perhaps hesitant about participating: having text to draw on and specific stories may be helpful for allaying any doubts.
Scheduling and Organization
Approximate Suggested Timeline
- Two weeks before Thanksgiving: The skit director should send out an initial organizing email with the date and time for a first meeting. There could also be a link to a shared document for compiling ideas for the story, funny events from the preceding year to reference, and possible gags.
- One week before Thanksgiving: This is a good time for the first meeting. The first meeting should populate the shared document mentioned above and probably result in some consensus on a broad idea for the skit. This is also a good time to start a shared document for drafting the script.
- Week of Thanksgiving: The break might be a good time for volunteers to work on the script, if they’re not too sleepy after the meal.
- After Thanksgiving break: If the script is not yet finished, this may be a good time for another general meeting (which should be advertised on grad student mailing lists) to close major gaps in the script. The ideal outcome of that meeting should be to have a complete script or one that is very nearly so. This is likely also a good time to start filling major roles and figuring out any special requests for the production crew.
- Week of the holiday party: Earlier in the week would be a good time to do a table reading to probe for major problems in the script and make revisions if necessary. Casting should be a top priority by this point; if there are too many roles to fill quickly, it may be necessary to revise the script to reduce the number of roles. Any props that may be hard to find should be procured earlier rather than later.
- Day before the party: Roles should be filled and scripts should be printed for the performance. It may make sense to have a dress rehearsal with as much of the cast as possible, to figure out blocking and figure out other practical issues in the production. If there will be a slideshow projection for a background, this would be a good day to finish it.
- Day of the party: There is often another dress rehearsal on the afternoon before the performance. It is good for practice, since the stage will have been assembled and there will be a clear idea of what the real performing conditions will look like, but also useful because the production crew may be present and they could give opinions on what would work best with their equipment.
The matter of when to begin making arrangements for the skit in fall quarter is a bit awkward due to the fact that starting before Thanksgiving seems “too soon” to be thinking about the holiday party. However, the holiday party is usually two weeks after Thanksgiving, so starting afterwards probably does not leave enough time.
Starting before Thanksgiving is probably most sensible. For the 2021 skit, we had our first organizing meeting after Thanksgiving and that made for a very tight schedule; in other years, organizing meetings took place approximately the week before Thanksgiving and that left more time for writing and polishing the script. Additionally, there is less of a sense of time pressure before Thanksgiving, which may attract more participants.
The main task in the beginning is to attract participants and start generating ideas for how to structure the skit. Once some ideas have been floated, it’s usually much less difficult to start weaving through them and start inching towards a plot. Hence, the first task of the skit director is not actually so difficult: Simply arranging a meeting, reserving a room, and encouraging others to attend (probably via a mass email, but word of mouth could help too).
After an initial meeting to workshop ideas and hopefully settle on a general structure for the skit (an outline would be ideal), past skits (2018, 2019, and 2021) have proceeded by starting a Google doc for writing the script, to which the participants are free to contribute. A useful function of the first meeting is to start compiling funny incidents from the past year that should be commented upon in the skit; this may help generate ideas for the structure of the skit as well. The writing of the script can proceed offline between meetings. It may make sense to make a second appeal for volunteers once there is a good amount of text there, since it will seem less daunting than starting from a blank sheet.
It may make sense to have another writing meeting if the script is not complete when the party is approaching--this would allow for coming up with plans to deal with any remaining large gaps in the story or even filling in the script right there in the meeting to ensure it is finished.
When the script is entirely or even just mostly complete, it would also be reasonable to start recruiting students to take major roles; there are often more people willing to perform than to write. While the skits themselves are designed not to be huge commitments for the performers (hence people reading off scripts on stage), filling in roles earlier does make time for preparation and it can make for a better performance. Additionally, filling in roles reduces the uncertainty on the day of the performance--extras and small roles are likely easier to fill, but it might be a difficult sell for bigger roles.
Closer to the day of the performance, it is advisable to have a table reading before the script is “finalized” to determine how well the jokes land, gauge the timing (skits have been 20-30 minutes historically), and figure out if any lines seem awkward or too long on stage (two or three lines of text does not look very long on paper but it can be quite long for a line of dialogue). The table reading is likely to expose any issues remaining in the script and make it easier to settle on the “final” version that should be printed out.
On the day of the performance (2021) or perhaps the day before (2019), there can be a dress rehearsal to figure out the blocking and settle on any props or technical elements that are needed. It may not make sense to rehearse long before the performance because the specific construction of the stage can vary (e.g., the 2021 skit took place in the Amazon Auditorium) and things like blocking can depend on specific knowledge of the setup. Any lingering issues in the script can be revised after such a rehearsal. It is also a good chance to fill in any remaining roles.
As the above may suggest, there are many tasks that must be addressed to put on the skit: Recruiting participants (for both writing and acting), putting on meetings, writing the script, figuring out any technical elements of the performance (e.g., discussing sound amplification or other details with the CSE production crew), rehearsing, printing scripts, and performing. Fortunately, these do not all have to be the work of one person! Not everybody has to attend every meeting! Plenty of work involving the writing can be done asynchronously!
Even though the skit director is the only position officially listed in the GSC wiki, these different tasks can be delegated to multiple people to avoid putting too much of a strain on any one person. Additionally, delegating tasks might be helpful for recruiting other participants, since everyone will be able to approach their own research groups and generate excitement by word of mouth. Some people who are hesitant about volunteering because they aren’t sure of the time commitment may be more amenable to taking on a clearly defined responsibility. Chances are, the officially designated skit director will probably have a lot of work to do in terms of making sure everything gets done, but the more that others can be looped in, the less stressful it will be for any one person.
Plot and Structure
The skit is authored collectively, so a good approach is to decide on a plot and structure that allow for different people to work in more jokes and observations about their research groups and faculty. Several past skits have been based on big changes or events at the Allen School (2017: the renaming of the Department of CSE to the Allen School; 2018: the search for a new Allen School director; 2019: the transition of directors and the move into the Gates Center; 2021: the return to in-person activities after a year of remote work), so there may be some real event or circumstance that can make sense as a unifying element.
Even if there is a single unifying element, the plot should make room for looping in multiple subjects and multiple research groups, which helps include more people and more jokes. Hence, it can be helpful for the plot to build in excuses to change subjects. Less romantically, the plot can be said to be primarily a “platform for jokes.”
General structures of past skits:
- 2018: a game show format (parody of The Bachelor) that allowed for easily pivoting to different subjects in the guise of game show challenges for selecting a new Allen School director.
- 2019: Hank is giving Magda advice about being the Allen School director, visiting different parts of the department to show her the ropes (the built-in excuse for looping in different research groups, etc). A ghost haunting the Allen School interferes with the tour, revealing a horrible and very spooky secret
- 2021: The School Spirit has gone missing and a mysterious scroll reveals that three heroic trials must be undertaken to restore it. A classic structure, with the Spirit of CSE serving as a MacGuffin. The three trials give a reason to keep changing settings, etc.
For the 2019 and 2021 skits, the initial organizing meeting included an explicit appeal to come up with a plot structure and dramatic conflict and in both cases, the plot outlined above was settled in that first meeting. This allowed for quickly outlining a script and allowing participants to start generating ideas for how to fill in the different portions. For the 2021 skit, there was an asynchronous brainstorming phase featuring a public Google doc for writing out individual joke and plot ideas prior to the first meeting; this allowed the meeting to begin with some ideas already fleshed out.
Many faculty skits and some student skits have also adapted the plots of major movies (e.g., the 2017 student skit was a Lego Movie parody; the 2019 faculty skit was a Lion King parody). This can potentially be a viable approach and has the advantage that the original film serves as reference material. If the references are very well-known, that can allow for some good referential humor. However, it is important to ensure that the plot of the film will allow enough flexibility for incorporating different groups in the Allen School and delivering jokes.
Because recruiting performers has historically been difficult, it may be useful to avoid having too many distinct roles, especially having many roles that are demanding (appear in many scenes or have many lines). If characters can be combined to reduce the total number of necessary performers, that may be a good move.
Keep in mind the physicality of the performance. Frequent entrances and exits can be tedious if there is nothing going on in the meantime. “Dead air” on stage is boring and can arise if characters are waiting around while someone goes offstage or if characters are pantomiming walking between locations. It is probably best to write scenes in such a way that something is always going on--if one character has to leave the scene and come back, then there should be something else happening in the meantime, or perhaps the whole group should go to the same place together and avoid the issue. If the plot demands that someone fetch an object, it might look better and play off more seamlessly to have it hidden somewhere onstage and have the actor simply pick it up. Keep it moving!
One place where dead air can happen is scene transitions. There is usually no “curtain” that can drop and it would probably not be practical to use lighting effects. The 2021 and 2018 skits take the approach of just having scene transitions occur instantaneously via a change in the background projection. The 2019 skit features a film noir-like narration device for scene transitions, including title cards, wherein Magda addresses the audience (with all manner of puns) while other characters filter on and off the stage. Either way, since the goal of the skit is to be funny, the scene transitions should either be an opportunity for more jokes or be as quick as possible. What should be avoided are purely perfunctory actions.
Additionally, it is important to keep in mind who is on stage and at what time. If there are a lot of characters on stage, it may make sense to have something for characters who aren’t talking to have something to do (possibly an opportunity for some physical comedy). When writing out a conversation in dialogue format, it may not be obvious that some characters are standing around with nothing to do and it may not even be apparent from the table reading, although the dress rehearsal may make these cases more apparent.
(There are several instances of having characters onstage with nothing to do or poorly managed scene transitions from past performances, so learn from those mistakes.)
Another area where “physicality” can be important is in having a sense of the technical capabilities of the production. For instance, many performances have relied on projecting a background (as a Powerpoint or Google Slides presentation). Additionally, the sound crew may have some number of handheld or clip-on microphones and other equipment at their disposal; several faculty skits have relied on an offstage narrator giving a voiceover. Figuring out if any special setup is necessary is best to do well in advance, since it can be discussed with the production crew. For example, the narration gimmick in the 2019 skit featured a microphone on a stand in the middle of the stage; this was worked out well in advance and was not a problem for the sound crew.
Conversely, when it comes to props and physical humor, an important concern is legibility: will the audience know what is going on? The very short time window for rehearsing means that any such elements should be absolutely foolproof and obvious. Independently of any technical issues, even such things as a facial expression may not be obvious away from the stage, so physical gestures should be very well telegraphed.
On a related note, “Murphy’s Law” applies to any technical elements of the skit: because the actual stage will only be ready on the day of the performance, there is unlikely to be a chance to rehearse in real performing conditions and hence sound effects or other such gimmicks are quite prone to issues. For example, the 2019 skit featured some musical soundtracks that did not quite play perfectly (though thankfully they were not essential to the humor); the climax of the 2021 skit featured a video that also had a few sound issues, though these also thankfully did not turn out to be severe. Just be careful!
Every research group has its inside jokes; it’s probably reasonable to have some in the skit, but it would be advisable to have a sanity check to make sure these jokes will be intelligible to the broader audience. (Table-reading or even just putting in comments as the script is drafted can help for that.)
A tactic that has been used in several past skits (especially the 2018 skit) has been to quote directly from amusing or infamous emails or webpages and to include a screenshot of these as the background projection. This can help for jogging people’s memories about quirky occurrences in the department. In general, it may be good to avoid department references that may be too specific or rely on the audience’s remembering minor events; it is probably good to have some kind of reinforcement for those.
Also, keep in mind, what audience is better for ridiculous CS puns than a room full of CS PhDs and PhDs-to-be? Be bold!
These are probably overkill just for writing a holiday party skit, but they’re great works about writing and likely to be useful in other contexts too:
- The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri (1946), specifically about writing for the stage. Egri asserts that plot follows from characters.
- Screenplay by Syd Field (1979), a classic in screenwriting but a lot of advice will still apply for the stage.
- Hitchcock by François Truffaut (final ed. 1985), also known as Hitchcock/Truffaut, regarded as something of a bible for filmmaking--naturally, a lot of it is specific to film and indeed to Hitchcock’s films, but there is plenty of discussion of dramatic structure and writing. Hitchcock once said, “To make a great film you need three things: the script, the script and the script.” That quote was not from these interviews but the spirit of it is very much present.
- Story by Robert McKee (1998), which is centered around screenwriting but addresses the question of constructing stories independently of medium.
Filling roles may not always be easy. To ensure that concerns about high expectations will not be a reason for that, it should be emphasized in emails and other communications that acting skills are not a prerequisite, that actors are expected to read from a script, and that there will be a friendly audience. Linking to videos of past performances can be useful in multiple senses: showing that performing in the skit is not very demanding, encouraging students to be part of an established part of departmental culture, and daring people to be funnier than past students.
Nevertheless, having good comedic timing is a useful trait for those taking on major roles. Any way of attracting naturally funny people (perhaps by personal appeals) could be useful for the performance.
Sets and Production
As in the notes on keeping in mind the physicality of the performance while writing, it is most important to know of any major technical elements well in advance and communicate them to event organizers! The production crew has been receptive to requests in the past and enjoys helping with these performances, so making specific requests for the setup may be quite reasonable and welcome, but they should be figured out in advance.
Props and costumes should similarly be kept in mind well in advance. Faculty skits have often featured prominent props and costumes (the 2017 faculty skit featured an inflatable Luigi costume, no, really); this has led to the misperception that the faculty skits have a budget and student skits do not. This is not true! Student skits do have a budget, though they rarely make use of it. That is best to figure out with event organizers.
On the Performance
Even though there will probably be sound amplification, unless a performer will definitely have a microphone on or in front of them, it is probably best to assume that it will be necessary to project one’s voice.
Another dictum that has been handy for the performance has been for actors to speak towards the audience, not the other characters. That helps for projecting sound and can look better as well.
It is generally advisable for actors to speak slowly and pause if the audience is laughing or applauding--otherwise the audience may fail to hear more lines. There is unlikely to be a “hard” time limit and if people are laughing and having a good time, they are unlikely to be upset from having the skit go slightly overtime.
Past Scripts (As Examples)
If you compare the scripts to the performance recordings, you will notice some differences. Some of those are ad libs (a major part of the charm of student and faculty skits). Not all formatting is preserved, since these were originally Google docs run through a text-to-HTML converter.
Skit 2021 (An OdyCSE of Tasks and Masks)
(Backdrop: A conference room. We could use one from the Gates Center, but it might be funnier to use a boardroom that is much fancier than any really in CSE)
Magda: Paul, Ed, thank you for coming to this first post-lockdown CSE leadership summit.
Ed: I had a tough time cutting through the foliage on the way here.
Paul: I’m just glad there weren’t any wild animals scavenging through my office.
Magda: As I’m sure you’ve noticed, things haven’t been quite the same since we’ve all returned to the building.
Ed: Is it the lack of food?
Paul: How about the empty offices?
Magda: Both valid concerns. But the problem is even more fundamental…
Ed: More fundamental than food?
Magda: Yes, even more than that--our School Spirit is missing.
Paul: School spirit? Can’t we invite Dubs and give out swag and make everyone happy?
Ed: I think food will raise everybody’s spirits.
Paul: Ed, if you’re hungry, according to the Environmental Health & Safety regulations, you may eat and drink where there is natural or mechanical ventilation---
Ed: Thank you, Paul.
Paul: You must, of course, take care to physically distance from others where possible while indoors when actively--
Magda: Thank you, Paul.
Ed: Now, if we want to increase school spirit, our latest surveys have shown that installing a zipline between the two buildings would improve morale by 374% and--
Magda: No, we are not going to build a zipline! It would be too much fun and nobody would ever get any work done again.
Paul: Also, a zipline would violate numerous OSHA rules and provisions in the Washington State workplace safety code.
Magda: Oh right, safety, of course. Anyway, I don’t mean that we’re low on “school spirit.” I mean the School Spirit, the Spirit of CSE, is missing. Gone. Nowhere to be found. Has anyone seen the Spirit? (Everyone looks around) I can’t find it. Not even in Jaech.
Paul: What about the terrace?
Magda: No, I checked. Anyway, we need to bring the Spirit back, or else it might be the end of CSE as we know it.
Ed: If a zipline isn’t the answer, I’m totally lost. What else could we do?
Magda: That’s why I’ve called this extraordinary meeting.
(Karl Koscher enters, ideally dressed in an Indiana Jones-type outfit, holding a scroll)
Magda: I’ve tasked Karl Koscher, Keeper of all CSE Lore, with investigating the disappearance of the Spirit of CSE. He has some special findings to present.
Karl: Thank you, Magda. In collaboration with the Anthropology Department, I have carried out an investigation of the catacombs beneath Sieg Hall, home of the ancient precursors of today’s Allen School. We found this ancient scroll next to the ruins of the Steam-Powered Turing Machine. It bears the unmistakable mark of our ancestors, a prehistoric fish. (Holds up the scroll)
(The background shows a scroll with the old CSE “fish” logo)
Karl: While the typewriter font on this scroll is really hard to read, carbon dating shows that it dates to the 1970s and most likely describes rituals for rebuilding CSE in the event of nuclear war.
Ed: Those were the days.
Karl: The scroll details three heroic trials that must be undertaken in the event of the disappearance of the Spirit of CSE. To bring back the Spirit, the heroes must demonstrate that they are worthy of its presence. Accordingly, the trials symbolize the three things every hero needs--guts, brains, and a heart:
Number one, GUTS: No research can proceed without adequate nutrition. The heroes must scavenge for lunch.
Number two, BRAINS: The heroes must make a suitable intellectual contribution by setting up a collaborative research project.
Number three, HEART: It is easy to lose heart when doing research, so the heroes must entertain the community to keep up morale.
Only true heroes of the Allen School can possibly complete these trials. But if they fail… the spirit may be lost FOREVER.
Magda: Heroes, you say? Perhaps we of the leadership committee could set an example? (looks hopefully to the others)
Paul: Uhhhhhhhhhhmmmmm… I have a lot on my plate today.
Ed: (Looks at phone) Yeah, I think I have too many meetings to be a hero.
Magda: Hm, your arguments are very persuasive.
Ed: Can’t Zach do it?
Paul: He’s on sabbatical.
Ed: So? That hasn’t slowed him down so far. We could tell him that being the eternal hero who saved the Spirit of CSE will look really good on his CV.
Paul: He already has tenure, that’s not going to be an incentive.
Magda: Okay, okay, we’ll spare him this time.
Ed: This is hopeless. Who else is going to have time to restore the spirit?
Magda: Ed, you’ve been a faculty member for how long now?
Paul: Forty-four years, five months, twelve days, four hours, and eight minutes.
Magda: Thank you, Paul… Ed, you’ve been a faculty member for how long and you don’t know who we ask to do things?
Ed: The... grad students? (Paul and Magda cheer)
Karl: Oh yes, of course! The scroll says that the heroes must be pure of heart.
Ed: Right, nobody who’s written a grant could possibly be pure of heart.
Paul: I don’t know, this seems risky. Most of the grad students have only been in the building for a short time. Would they know the School Spirit if they saw it?
Magda: It’s a risk we’ll have to take. Call them in.
(Three hapless grad students enter)
Grad Student 1: Am I in the right place?
Grad Student 2: We’re still having trouble finding our way around the buildings.
Grad Student 3: (to one of the other grad students) Oh hey, I recognize you from your Slack avatar. You’re taller than I imagined.
Magda: Listen, I know you’re all new around here--
Grad Student 3: Hey, I’m a second-year!
Grad Student 2: I’m a third-year and I’ve still hardly spent any time in this building.
Grad Student 1: True.
Magda: Anyway, you may be new here and probably still have classes, but it turns out that we need you to complete three heroic trials in order to restore the Spirit of CSE. The trials will be extremely difficult, and will entail immeasurable risks to life and limb, but if you fail we will be plunged into eternal darkness and probably some other bad stuff will happen too.
Ed: It’s a big task, but I know you can all handle it.
Paul: This will count favorably towards your review of progress.
Grad Student 2: Uhh, I think my internet connection is getting spotty, I’ll rejoin this call later.
Grad Student 1: That trick doesn’t work in person.
Grad Student 3: Uh, can you ask my senior labmates to do this?
Ed: They all graduated last year.
Paul: So, what do you say? Are you ready to restore the Spirit of CSE and become Heroes of All Time?
(The grad students look at each other, not knowing what to say. Karl holds up the scroll in the meantime.)
Grad Student 1: Hm, maybe this is one of those fun events they were talking about at virtual visit days.
Grad Student 2: I guess I don’t have any other meetings today...
Grad Student 3 (obliviously): Oh, is that thing a fish?
Magda: Wonderful, we’re so glad you volunteered. Report back when you’ve saved CSE as we know it. We’ll be waiting. (Magda, Ed, and Paul leave. The grad students look at each other bemusedly)
(In one of the kitchens, either Gates or Allen)
Karl: We shall begin the first trial, THE TRIAL OF GUTS. In the maskless times, emissaries placed tributes to the Spirit of CSE on this altar, from which grad students were free to have their fill. There would be rice as far as the eye could see, mounds of wrapped sandwiches, a sea of curry, all free for the taking.
Student 1: What happened? Where has the bounty gone?
Karl: Blight has wiped out the daily lunch crops. Even the once-ubiquitous colloquium cookies have gone extinct. Now the altar stands bare.
Student 2: (Breaks down sobbing) How are we ever going to find lunch? This is hopeless! We’ll never be heroes!
Student 1: Perhaps we should try... paying for lunch? (The other students gasp.)
Student 2: Impossible! We’re doomed!
Student 1: Colleagues--being a hero isn’t easy. We knew that this process would entail sacrifices. We’re doing this to save the Allen School not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
Student 3: Oh, all right, we can pay for lunch.
Student 2: But where? In all my time at UW--
Student 3: What, like two months?
Student 2: In all my time at UW, I have never gotten a good lunch on campus!
Student 1: We could go to the HUB.
Student 2: That’s so far away!
Student 1: You’re not willing to walk two buildings over to be a hero? To be remembered for generations?
(Students 2 and 3 look at each other wearily and shrug)
Student 1: Well, what about the Microsoft Cafe? It’s practically right here.
Student 3: Ugh, my advisor might be in the line…
Karl: Well, I know of another place, built for precisely this purpose… but it might be risky
Student 1: O sage Karl, regale us with your wisdom!
Karl: You see, the ancient inhabitants of CSE created a cache of nonperishables in case the land were struck by famine. They called it the Benson Store, named for one of their ancient chieftains.
Student 3: Ben-son?
Student 2: Store?
(Students 2 and 3 look at each other confusedly)
Student 1: Surely its location has been lost to history. Will we have to complete a quest to find it?
Karl (assertively): No, it’s on the third floor.
(Background changes to the Benson Store)
Student 1: Wow, the ancients sure were prepared for lunch.
Karl: Step no further, young student! The Benson Store has powerful protective enchantments. Nobody can remove items from the store without leaving a suitable tribute.
Student 2: Do you mean cash? Can’t we use Venmo?
Karl: We haven’t set it up yet.
Student 3: It says here we can scan our card and leave it on our tab.
Student 1: You would dare go into debt in the eyes of the ancients?
Karl: Your fellow student is right. It is said that a powerful curse awaits those who do not pay their debts to the Benson Store. Perhaps this is what drove the Spirit of CSE away, I wonder…
Student 2: (sobbing) I’m scared! I don’t want to inflict a curse upon myself and my descendants!!!
Karl: Do not worry, for I have brought ancient currency to use for this purpose. (Hands coins to students.)
Student 2: But how are we to hold a lunch, even with this food? We are not allowed to remove our masks.
Student 1: We can take our masks off to eat in the atrium, right?
Student 2: But not if it’s an event.
Student 3: Who said this is an event?
Student 1: An epic banquet worthy of being called a heroic trial? Surely it is an event!
Student 3: Well... there isn’t a curse we’ll invoke if we just take our masks off, right?
Karl: No, it’s much worse than that…
(Ed bursts in, furious)
Ed: (in the manner of a drill sergeant) Masks protect others. Failure to wear one in an indoor setting where others are present is discourteous, dangerous, a violation of Allen School and UW policy, and grounds for loss of building access privileges.
(Ed storms out in a huff)
Karl: You don’t want to be on his shitlist, trust me.
Student 2: See, it’s hopeless. How could we possibly have lunch now?
Student 1: Perhaps we could eat it outside, in a tent.
Student 2: It’s too cold.
Student 3: Maybe we could use some of our spare GPUs to heat the tents? We could get it sponsored by NVidia…
Student 1: But it’s raining, I don’t think we can have the GPUs anywhere nearby…
Student 2: Oh well, we tried. Guess we’re not getting lunch after all.
Student 3: See you, folks. I’ll be working from home if you need me.
Student 1: “OH WELL, WE TRIED”? Would you want that for an epitaph? Don’t you want to be a hero?
Student 3: Can I get back to you on that?
Student 1: Surely, there must be a way…
Student 3: It’s undecidable.
(Student 2 starts sobbing. Paul rushes in)
Paul: Hold on, students, I heard someone say “undecidable,” and that got me thinking. You see, EH&S, in their infinite wisdom, provide for a ritual for an allowable dispensation for hydration. (solemnly) Remember, when you are taking a sip from your beverage, you may briefly lift your mask to do so and then replace it. Your mask should continue to cover your nose while you are taking a drink.
Student 3: But that’s for drinks, what about lunch?
Student 1: Look! (holds up a bottle of Soylent) Drinkable nourishment! Surely this qualifies as lunch.
Karl: Truly the ancients thought of everything.
Student 1: (holds up coins) O benevolent keepers of the Benson Store, please accept our humble tribute and allow us to fulfill this trial to restore the Spirit of CSE.
(The grad students deposit some coins and take a bottle of Soylent each.)
Student 1: Friends, if I don’t make it out of this alive… let my family know that I died a hero.
(They begin to imbibe, belching and making all manner of disgusting noises as they do so. Student 3 has his or her mask down instead of following the procedure)
Paul: Ahem, you should briefly lift up your mask to take a sip, and then replace it.
(Student 3 makes a sorry gesture and starts following the procedure. They continue to imbibe for a while, making disgusting noises)
Student 1: What…? We’re alive… we’ve conquered the trial!
Paul: According to the university procedures, you are still required to sanitize your hands.
Karl: Congratulations, heroes; you have completed the first trial! According to the scroll, this feast should have now imbued you with the power you need to complete the trials ahead.
(Paul leaves before the next scene.)
Trial 2: Do some Research! / Collaboration
Karl: Next is a trial central to the development of young researchers: the TRIAL OF BRAINS! In this trial, you must identify a research project to start your graduate career. In keeping with the Spirit of CSE, this should be an interdisciplinary project, with at least three research areas represented.
Student 2: Where are we ever going to find a research idea, let alone one that relates to three different areas?
Student 1: Wait, I know! Remember that email we got today, that CSE is holding its very own conference? It has a great name, too: “PoCSci” -- “potentially computer science.” What could be better for generating research ideas? Let’s go there and learn about the research going on at the Allen School!
(Students run offstage)
Karl (calling after them): Wait, I don’t think that’s what you… (to audience) Oh well, they’ll figure it out.
(Background changes, “Welcome to HotPoCSci, 2021”, students in audience, the MC is on the stage. The students run back in)
MC: Thank you all for attending this year’s HotPoCSci, where we showcase the latest research from CSE! (dripping with sarcasm) It’s so good to be back in person; it would be a terrible shame if we couldn’t find anyone to host these anymore. This year’s theme is “interdisciplinary research.”
Student 1 (stage whisper): This is it!
MC: Without further ado, I’d like to introduce our keynote speakers, professors Simon Peter and Vikram Iyer!
(Simon and Vikram take the stage)
Simon: Thank you for having us here at the esteemed PoCSci conference! I’m pleased to share an exciting new collaboration between myself and Vikram. In my research, I try to make data centers more energy efficient. One of the biggest challenges is managing air flow, and for that we need precise measurements of the temperature at various points in the data center.
Vikram: That’s where the interdisciplinary collaboration comes in! In my research, I attach small computers to insects, which can be used as sensors. Simon and I are teaming up to deploy insects in data centers to continuously monitor and tune the temperature.
Student 2: Do we really want to introduce bugs into data centers? Debugging distributed systems is hard enough as it is.
Vikram: Actually not all insects are bugs, or are not all bugs insects? Something like that.
MC: Thank you, Vikram and Simon.
(Vikram and Simon leave. Amy and David enter.)
MC: Up next we have Amy Zhang and David Kohlbrenner with an exciting new lens on game science!
Amy: Hi everyone, I’m Amy! Today I’ll be talking with you about our next generation collaboration system, CommunityCollab. I study how people can come together to do things as a community and be more inclusive and effective. I think the perfect next stage of this research is to apply it to collaborative games, and that’s why I’ve brought on my colleague David, who is an expert in capture the flag!
David: Hi, yes, hi. So a good capture the flag offense begins with a solid defense. Keeping your flag safe from others, while ruthlessly exploiting their weaknesses to the best of your ability with precision and speed.
Amy: Wait, “ruthlessly exploiting weaknesses”? Isn’t it a game about running around in a field?
David: I think we’re talking about different games here…
MC: And that’s all we have time for today folks! Thanks for joining us at HotPoCSci ‘21!
(MC and faculty leave)
Student 3: So what’s our project going to be?
Student 2: I don’t know, those presentations all sounded like jokes.
Student 1: But they had artifact badges and everything. I think you’re just being negative.
Student 3: How can we advance the state of the art in such hot research areas?
Student 1: I think we’re taking an overly narrow view of these research areas. Rather than incremental improvements, perhaps we can combine them: We can have insects in data centers collaborate to win distributed capture the flag competitions.
Student 2: Wait, why stop at four research areas? I bet there are other faculty who could add to this project. Maybe we could incorporate some comp bio to genetically engineer the bugs. We could ask Jeff Nivala, Shen Wang, Sara Mostafavi or Chris Thachuk.
Student 3: Or what about Simon Du, Leilani Battle, or Alex Ratner? You can add ML and data viz to any project!
Karl: Uhhhh, ummmm, that’s, err, brilliant! As long as you commit to making that the subject of your doctoral dissertation, that will fulfill the conditions of the trial.
Student 1: Well, I was hoping to do my PhD on…
Karl: THE SCHOOL DEPENDS ON YOU.
Student 1: Okay, fine, I’ll go find a GSR and write a proposal. (exits)
Student 3 (in the direction of Student 1): Remember to invite me to your defense!
Karl: To arms, students, for the second trial is complete! Now that you have fed your bodies and stimulated your minds, only the final trial remains! Onwards, heroes!
Trial 3: Organize a TGIF
(In the atrium. Student 1 returns)
Karl: The final Trial is the TRIAL OF THE HEART -- you must organize an event which brings the community together. Now, heroes, reach into your hearts and find a way to gather the people…
Student 3: I think the easiest way to a grad student’s heart is through their stomach… Meet and Eat, anybody?
Student 2: Ehhhh, we’ve already had an extremely nutritious lunch.
Student 1: Perhaps we could lead the people in the creation of a skit that lampoons the quirks of the Allen School? We’re all very self-deprecating, after all.
Student 3: Sounds like too much work. There’s no way we could get enough students to act!
Student 2: It’s hopeless! We’re out of ideas already! (sobs. Student 3 offers support)
Student 1: Truly, the final trial is the greatest challenge of all. Great sage Karl, have you any suggestion?
Karl (pensively): Despair not, heroes. There is a chamber containing artifacts once used in a ceremony for summoning the Spirit of CSE… the name of the ceremony has been lost to history; we today know only the acronym: TGIF.
Student 1: How mysterious. Where is this chamber? Does it require a special incantation to open? Do we have to slay some guardian creature?
Karl (dryly): No, it’s a closet. Here’s the key.
Student 1: Oh, okay… (heads offstage)
(brief pause, then Student 1 returns)
Student 1: I’m afraid I have terrible news -- there was nothing in the closet except some glue and pasta…
Student 2: It’s hopeless!!! (sobs)
Student 3: What could we possibly do with some pasta…
Karl: Wait! This must be a sign from the Spirit of CSE! Surely there is some use for these materials. Think, students!
(The students think really, really hard.)
Student 1: I’ve got it, we could make macaroni art!
Student 3: Really, what are we, 5?
Student 2: Why would anyone come to that?
Student 1: We’ll bring beer?
Student 3: Oh, all right, I’ll send the email. (exits)
(Background changes to the Atrium)
Student 1: Well, we’ve got everything set up - the atrium is cordoned off, we’ve got a signup sheet out, and our liquor permit is prominently displayed!
(Student 3 returns)
Student 2: It’s 4:30 but no one is here! If no one comes, we’re gonna fail this trial!
Student 3: Hang on - look how many offices are up there - let’s go round up some folks to come down here!
(Background changes to Allen Center hallway with the blinds closed)
Student 2: I don’t know if anyone’s actually here - it’s so hard to see into the offices with all the blinds closed!
Student 3: Yeah, it really doesn’t help make the Allen center look “open, welcoming, and bright!”
Student 1: Look here at this email! (gestures at phone) It says that the Washington Administrative Code section 478-118-290 strictly requires all blinds to be kept open at all times.
Student 3: What a bunch of delinquent rulebreakers! Let’s open the blinds.
(Background changes to an Allen Center hallway with the blinds open)
(Vampire Students (at least 2) come tumbling out of the “office” from off stage)
Vampire Students (in unison): The light!!! It burns!!!! (hissing)
Student 1: We need you to attend TGIF so we can rediscover the Spirit of CSE and save the department from a millennium of cursed existence!!
(Vampire students grumble, but do not seem violently opposed)
Student 1: Great! See you there!
(Background changes to the atrium. More extras [students] pour in)
Student 2: I didn’t think it would happen, but there’s actually a pretty good turnout!
Student 3: Yeah, even if there aren’t snacks, free booze doesn’t hurt attendance.
Student 2: Beer is a “spirit,” after all.
Student 1 (gathering the attendees and speaking loudly): Thanks so much to everyone for coming out. Our judges have looked at all your pasta art, and there were so many excellent research illustrations, but we do have a winner… drumroll please!
Student 1: The best pasta art-research illustration goes to… Ludwig Schmidt! Ludwig, will you please come up here and tell us about your art?
(image of Ludwig’s pasta art scatter plot is projected in the background)
Ludwig: Well, this here is a scatter plot which shows that ImageNet classifiers do, in fact, generalize to ImageNet. Each of these points here represents a different model, and… (rambles off into incoherency)
Karl: Excellent work Ludwig! It is our honor to award you the TGIF trophy; so long as you hold the trophy, it is your duty to serve as an example to the Allen School and guide us to excellence in, uh, pasta art.
Ludwig: (wiping away a tear) I never thought this day would come… this is the culmination of a lifetime’s work.
Karl: Yes, congratulations. As soon as you are awarded the trophy, the Trial will be complete!
Student 1 (giddy): Wow, we’ve almost finished the 3 trials!
Student 2: But wait, where is the trophy? Has anyone seen it?
Karl: (furious) THE TRIAL WILL NOT BE COMPLETE UNTIL THE TROPHY IS AWARDED. It was used by the ancients themselves to anoint their champions!
Student from Crowd: Did you check the TGIF closet?
Student 1: No, it’s not in there… (sad face)
(Someone runs on stage holding the TGIF trophy)
Student with Trophy: I found it!
Student 1: Where was it?
Student with Trophy: The HCI lab. They were all working from home and nobody noticed it was there.
Karl: (solemnly) It must have been there, neglected, for centuries… Only the Spirit of CSE could have guided us to find it now. We must be nearing the Spirit’s return…
(The crowd cheers. Student with Trophy hands it to Ludwig. Ludwig shouts in triumph)
Karl: Congratulations, heroes! The smiling masses reflected in the glittering trophy harken the spirit’s return! The three trials are complete!
(Background: The Allen Center atrium)
(Magda, Paul, and Ed enter.)
Magda: Well done, students. You’ve completed the three trials to restore the Spirit of CSE. You will have our eternal gratitude and your names will forever be celebrated within these halls.
Grad Student 2: Can we have a raise?
Magda: No, but we can send you each one item of Allen School swag of your choice.
Ed: Is something supposed to happen now?
Karl: According to the scroll, the spirit is supposed to reappear right here in the Atrium.
Ed: I dunno, looks the same to me.
Karl: We’ve followed the scroll to the letter.
Paul: Perhaps the Spirit of CSE was within us all along…
Magda: Look at the spirit all around us...
Ed: Oh god, don’t tell me this is one of those stupid endings...
Grad Student 1: You guys, I’ve learned so much about the culture of CSE today.
Grad Student 2: I’ve never been prouder to be part of CSE.
Magda: Is this not spirit, Ed?
Ed: Boo! Don’t give me any of that “it was the friends we made along the way” crap! I want to see the spirit!
Grad Student 3: I LOVE CSE.
Magda: Come on, Ed, not everything needs a big, flashy ending. Be grateful for the grad students’ enthusiasm.
(Ed groans exasperatedly)
Paul: So was any of this trial stuff really necessary?
Magda: I don’t know, but maybe it was worth it anyway.
Ed: Ugh, fine, okay, maybe you have a point...
(Suddenly the background changes to a video of the Spirit of CSE, clad in all the Allen School swag we could find. Everyone is shocked)
Spirit: Oh, hey guys, sorry I’m late, I was having Zoom trouble. For those I haven’t met before, uh, it’s me, your friend, the Spirit of CSE! (The faculty genuflect/make “we’re not worthy gestures.” The grad students are clueless) I’m working from home today, so thanks for making this a hybrid meeting. Anyway, if you wanted to see me, you could have just made an appointment. You really didn’t need to do all those trials, but you looked like you were having a lot of fun, so I played along. I think that scroll might have been an exam prompt by Hal or something.
Anyway, great job! I was really impressed with your commitment to the Allen School. You’re all heroes to me. Keep up the good work. Just remember that the real spirit of CSE is the one within all of you (Ed screams); it’s up to all of you to make the Allen School a good place to do research. By the way, if you’re ever in this situation again, the solution is obviously a zipline. I have another meeting, so bye for now!
(The slide background changes back to the Allen Center atrium. Everyone is stupefied, utterly clueless about what’s just happened. There is a long pause.)
Ed: Alright, everybody, that’s enough fun for a day. BACK TO WORK! (Everyone disperses)
Skit 2019 (It's a Hankless Job)
Scene 1: Double In-Director-Y
(Background: Storm clouds. Soft jazz plays. Magda is wearing a comically oversized trench coat and a fedora, looking like a 1940s private detective)
Magda (addressing audience): The day began innocently enough. I came into Hank's office for the first of our director transition summits, but it looked like he had other things on his mind.
(Music stops. Background of Sam Spade’s office from The Maltese Falcon fades in. It is an old-fashioned private detective’s office with papers strewn about.)
(Hank enters, wearing a lab coat, and paces back and forth furiously, muttering about some kind of plan. He should look worried about something. He does not look at Magda)
Magda (addressing audience): Hank was pacing with the efficiency of a spin lock and murmuring louder than an overclocked disk drive. I suppose a director's mind has to have many threads. I decided to send an interrupt. (turns to Hank) Hank?
Hank: (nearly trips over himself) Oh! Yes, Magda, our meeting. I, uh, had to write an important email first.
Magda: By walking back and forth?
Hank: Uh, yes, yes, of course! The director's email is a fine art, sculpted from immaculate Unicode. An errant comma could bring untold disaster upon the school. Nothing else you write will ever be so closely scrutinized. You must write each email a thousand times in your mind before attaining the poise to make a single keystroke.
Magda: What, really?
Hank: You will soon learn that for yourself. But that's not the purpose of our meeting today. Now that we’ve gotten the press out of the way, we can get down to the real demands of the job. (in an elevated voice) The questions nobody has an easy answer to, not even on Stack Exchange. The questions everyone looks to you to solve! The questions that rest on the shoulders of the director!
Magda (addressing audience): It sounded like Hank had a handle on everything except himself. Is this what being director does to you? (to Hank) What sort of questions are you referring to?
Hank: Ah, curiosity! A most welcome quality from a prospective sacrifice--I mean director. (Pause.) Anyway, you'll understand better if I show you. (heads offstage)
(Background fades back to storm clouds. Soft jazz starts playing)
Magda (addressing audience): If only I'd known then that Hank was about to take me into a mystery as deep as a recursive trace of the Ackermann function.
Scene 2: The Faculty Vanishes
Magda (addressing audience): The first clue came from someone who didn't come in himself. An absence can be most informative.
(Music cuts off. Background of a CSE2 hallway fades in. Hank and Student enter; Student looks deeply puzzled)
Student (muttering): I know they must be somewhere...
Hank: (pats Student on the shoulder) There, there, I'm sure we'll get this sorted out in no time.
Magda: What's the matter?
Hank: I found this first-year wandering the halls; apparently she still hasn't found her research advisors.
Magda (sagely): Ah, yes, finding the right advising relationship can be difficult, but that's why we make it so easy to add co-advisors. I'm sure you'll find your fit in no time.
Student: No, it's not that - I was assigned three co-advisors, but I've just never seen any of them on campus! (Hank and Magda gasp)
(The Ghost, offstage, laughs shrilly. Only Hank appears to hear it)
Magda: Well, what research area are you in? We can track them down!
Student: My work is at the intersection of robotics, computer vision, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and natural language processing.
Magda: Huh, I didn't know that intersection returned any rows. Well, let's see if we can track down your missing advisors. Look, I think I see some professors who might know the answer. Jamie! Byron!
(Jamie and Byron enter)
Jamie: What's up?
Magda: We have a student here whose three advisors have all gone missing! At least some of them are from ML and robotics; does either of you know what's going on?
Jamie: Ah, yes, I think what you have here is a classic case of misaligned incentives. You see, when designing an economic mechanism - say, an employment contract - it's important to consider the incentives that each party faces. In this case, the salary -
Hank: I know, I know, they've gone to industry. But the question is, how are we going to get them back?
Byron: My students have been working on autonomous cars that track racecourse boundaries - there's no reason we couldn't use them to track missing faculty, too!
Student: That sounds like a great idea! It will need a state-of-the-art vision system, and we'll have to design it to accept our natural language commands. Let's build it!
(Byron and Student leave stage)
Magda: Three missing advisors, though. Surely there has to be some lead.
Hank: (strokes chin) I can think of one thing...
Jamie: (unenthused) The leave of absence notes, right?
Hank: Yes, how'd you know?
Magda: You don't sound too enthused about them, Jamie.
Jamie: Well, some of them don't make too much sense. Not to name names, but… here’s one from someone with the initials… M.L. A.I. N.L.P.? Who is that anyway?
Hank (reminiscing): Oh, Marty! How is he doing? Haven’t seen him in years. I was at his wedding, you know.
(Message appears on the projector, much too long for anyone to read: I have taken a temporary appointment at Danforth and Blankenship Holdings, a leading organization in its field, to thoroughly analyze the challenges of leveraging state-of-the-art learning techniques in a compelling and evolving application area and rigorously develop a comprehensive program of interventions for our industrial collaborators in hopes of informing future research by the needs of sophisticated practitioners. I will not be present at the school but should be able to support all my present advising and departmental arrangements.)
Jamie: Well let’s see. (Reading skeptically and confusedly off her phone) Temporary appointment? Leveraging state-of-the-art learning techniques? Industrial collaborators? “I will not be present at the school but should be able to support all my present advising and departmental arrangements?”
Magda: What does it mean?
Jamie: I don't know, not even our most sophisticated language models could make any sense of it! Fortunately, I know who can figure it out.
(Rachel Lin and Stefano Tessaro enter)
Jamie: I've consulted our newly formed cryptography group. Rachel says she's cracked the code already.
Rachel: Well, Jamie, I don't think this one really needed our expertise. Whoever came up with this message is clearly using some kind of word substitution filter over a very basic cipher. I think this (shows phone to everyone) is a likely decryption.
(display on projector: 💸🎊🥂🏖🚢🥂🎊💸)
Rachel (struggling to read the emoji): Flying money? Confetti? Champagne glasses? Beach umbrella? Cruise ship?
Hank: Well that's even more mysterious.
Jamie (dryly): Totally abstruse.
Magda: Is that the only possible decryption?
Rachel: No, actually. Stefano has an alternate hypothesis.
Stefano: Yes, well, I was able to find the machine that was used to write that message. Thanks to the spectre bug--
Hank (suddenly, loudly, very worried): A SPECTRE? Don't be silly, ghosts aren't real!
(The ghost cackles from offstage. Only Hank reacts)
Rachel: Oh, Hank, what a rich sense of humor!
Stefano: No, no, not a GHOST; I said the Spectre BUUUUUG.
(Mike and Rene burst in running, flanking Stefano. Mike is staring)
Mike and Rene (in unison, perhaps repeating it): Did someone say “BUG”!?
Hank: Mike! Rene! Oh no, someone let our Software Engineering faculty loose!
Rene: What is its sample size of occurrence?
Mike: Is it statistically significant?
Rene: Is it reproducible?
Mike: Is it probabilistic?
Rene and Mike (staring): Are there muuuuuutants?
Hank: (pushing Rene and Mike offstage) Hey, how about you two go look for bugs in the Zillow Commons? I’ll give you special access to the 4th floor and make sure no one else can disturb you while you use our state-of-the-art facilities for AI—abstract interpretation, of course.
Stefano. Ehmmm… Yes, back to the Spectre bug. We were able to recover the original key used to encrypt the note and found this message instead (shows phone to Hank)
(New message: SOS. TRAPPED BETWEEN BUILDINGS. VENGEFUL GHOST. HELP)
Stefano (deadpan): SOS? Trapped between buildings? Vengeful ghost? Help?
(Hank looks utterly aghast but fakes a chuckle)
Stefano: What an elaborate prank! (pause) Hank, are you okay?
Hank: Yeah, sure, just a little surprised...
Rachel (on the verge of laughter): How did you know it would be about a ghost, Hank? Were you in on the joke?
Hank: Oh, uh, hm, yeah, NO, it was just the obvious joke to make. Clearly.
Jamie (unamused): Well, Halloween's long over anyway. And it still doesn't tell us when he'll be back.
Hank: Uh, yeah, looks like we'll never know. Huh, guess life can be like that, sometimes mysteries are meant to remain unsolved. Unknown unknowns, and all that.
(Hank looks around for support. Everyone except Magda nods sagely and makes noises of agreement. Magda is very puzzled)
Hank: Magda, we're running behind schedule.
(Hank leaves very quickly. Everyone else walks out more slowly, shrugging, except Magda; background fades to storm clouds. Soft jazz plays.)
Magda (addressing audience): Regardless of the lesson Hank had intended, it was only a taste of how convoluted this densely connected network of mysteries would become. Something was clearly eating at Hank, gnawing at him with the determination of a grad student hoping to avoid paying for lunch.
Scene 3: The Walls that Never Were
Magda (addressing audience): Next, I would learn that an academic building has a mind of its own.
(Music cuts off. Background of a large CSE2 grad office fades in.)
(Hank enters. Various grad students enter, taking seats on the other side of the stage and pecking at their laptops. They do not look at the visitors. Hank is not looking in the direction of the grad students either.)
Hank (sounding proud of himself): Magda, I want to show you a place I'm proud of, though one where faculty rarely tread: our grad student offices, a major focus when designing our new building. (Looks at the grad students in the office, suddenly becomes worried) Wait, something's wrong.
Magda: What? It looks like an ordinary office to me.
Student 1: Shhhhhhhhhhh
(Student 1 holds up a sign that says "Office Rules: Quiet")
Hank: No, that's just it -- there are so many people here. Where did all the walls go?
(The Ghost cackles from offstage.)
(Student 2 meekly approaches the visitors.)
Magda: Oh, don't let us keep you from working, we weren't going to be here long.
Student 2: No, directors, Your Eminences, I was curious myself -- you said something about walls?
Hank: Weren't there walls here?
Student 2: Oh no, never.
Hank: Are you sure?
Student 2 (proudly, confidently): Why would we want walls? Just a barrier to collaboration, that's what I always say.
Student 1: Shhhhhhhhhhhh
Student 2: Sorry.
Magda: Sewoong? I didn’t know faculty came into these offices.
Sewoong: Oh, I’m just here to pick up my student for our daily 3-hour meeting. By the way, Hank, great design; the lack of walls makes it so easy to find my students.
(a student goes to meet with Sewoong and they both leave)
Hank (thinking out loud): But there were supposed to be walls… I know it.
Student 2: But, Your Eminences, I wanted to ask you, have you come here about the electric problems in these offices?
Hank: Electric problems? Uh… Of course, that’s what we’re here about.
Student 2: What a relief! It's the strangest thing, my colleagues and I all need to run GPUs for our research, but the GPUs don’t seem to be working quite right. I mean, lately we've been getting images like this on our runs (shows phone).
(The projector shows a bizarre AI-generated image. It looks like a distorted picture of a baby.)
(The ghost cackles from offstage.)
Student 2: Cool, right? It was supposed to be a render of a teapot. Wish it were my code—but I’m pretty sure it’s just something wrong with the GPU.
Student 3 (calling out from the pack of students): Maybe it's the temperature!
Student 1 (harder, raising sign): Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Student 2: Oh yeah, it's always really hot in here. Somehow it's always 66.6 degrees in here, even during the summer.
(Tim Althoff bursts in, looking around)
Magda: Tim Althoff? Why are you here?
Tim: Did I hear someone say that this office was 66.6 degrees year round?
Student 2: Yeah….?
Tim: Ah, well, that’s fantastic. (Pats chest, snaps) You see, reef-building corals won’t survive in temperatures below 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Optimal temperature is between 73 and 84 degrees.
Magda: I didn’t realize you knew so much about oceanography!
Hank: That’s our amazing faculty! Oceans have very deep learning potential.
Tim: You see, coral reefs have been an inspiring force in my research….and life. In the Indonesian coral reef, there's a coral that grows in this particular pattern and shape.
(make some crazy hand gesture) And, when I took a step back, it made me realize that global activity inequality has that shape! (makes another hand gesture) Not all things are normally distributed (holds two hands up in a Gaussian), some are Coral Reef-ian.
Magda: What a great idea! You can expand your research from Data Science for Health and Well-being to Data Science for PLANETARY Health and Longevity.
Tim: Alrighty, gotta go dig the Data Mines in search for evolutionary coral fossils to inspire more distributional research (starts walking off) something something something….
(Tim leaves. Hank, Magda, and Student 2 stare dumbstruck.)
Student 2: Where were we?
Hank: You were saying that the office is 66.6 degrees. Who knew this environment could sustain such life? We did so well with CSE2. (Beams with pride)
Student 2: Yeah, 66.6 degrees… CELSIUS. (gasps from Hank and Magda)
Student 3 (calling out from the pack of students): It's cuz of your GPUs! Think of what we could save on central heating
(GPU boxes fly towards Hank from offstage, who cowers in fear)
(The Ghost cackles from offstage.)
Student 2: Weird, did someone leave the window open?
(Magda looks around)
Student 3: I guess Research Santa’s come early this year.
Student 2: I wish Research Santa could bring some snow to cool down this room.
(Paul Beame bursts in)
Magda: Paul, you too? Hank, I thought you said faculty don’t go to these offices.
Hank (defeated): I don’t know anything anymore.
(Student 1 stands up and points to the "Quiet" sign, pantomiming angry gestures)
Paul: (addressing audience) Oh, don't mind me; but I heard someone mention snow and couldn't help but be reminded me of a particularly cold winter night when - huddled in bed - I was considering burning some of the 12,000 pages of STOC proceedings on my nightstand to keep warm. At around 9:23pm, I was reading the 2002 volume to say my last goodbyes, and I came across an interesting result on page 374 of the proceedings. (Student 1 starts pushing Paul offstage) Boaz finally proved the criticality of the simulacra polynomial, which is a HUGE breakthrough. Then, while reading it, the window blew open, snow rushing in, and I saw -- well I should mention, as you probably remember Lake Washington's "snow shadow" loomed large in the early 2000s but recently it has been...
(everyone pauses, in awe of what has happened)
Hank (barely maintaining composure): Uh, don’t worry, we will follow up on these various issues with Facilities... later... much later (scurries offstage)
(Magda shrugs. Students leave. Background fades to storm clouds. Soft jazz plays.)
Magda (addressing audience): A building presents a director with lots of hard choices: With only a few tens of millions of dollars, you're never going to make everyone happy.
Scene 4: Requiem for a Colloquium
Magda (addressing audience): Much of a director's work happens behind closed doors, but colloquia offer an opportunity to appreciate school culture as it turns out in full force.
(Music cuts off. Background of the Amazon Auditorium, empty, fades in)
(Hank, Zach, and Distinguished Visitor enter)
Hank: Now for one of the most gratifying duties as a director: Ensuring that the school can warmly welcome a distinguished visitor who's come from afar to enlighten us with... (looks at the empty auditorium) Uh, wait?
Magda (addressing audience): The room was emptier than a leftover rice container at 2:30 on a Friday, and quieter than a seminar where no one had done the reading.
Distinguished Visitor: Hey, tough crowd, huh? (nervously laughs at own joke, clearly trying to lighten the mood. Everyone else stares at him) Does this mean we can skip the introduction?
Hank: Zach, didn't you send an email or two?
Zach: Of course, I did (looks at phone) ...didn't I? I can't see them here.
Hank: I know your inbox is always overflowing, Zach, but surely not your outbox too?
Zach: No, I remember for certain that I sent those emails. What a mystery!
Hank (very worried, looks at own phone): I don't see any emails either.
Magda: Are you sure there was supposed to be a colloquium today?
Zach: I could have sworn... This is very mysterious. Everybody knows that attending colloquia is an important part of our school's culture as well as a good way to hear about others' research.
Distinguished Visitor: I heard there were going to be cookies at the end, as if the talk itself weren't enough!
Zach: Well, I think we might not have any choice...
Distinguished Visitor: Another day, perhaps?
Hank (to himself): No, no… How could this be happening?
(The Ghost cackles from offstage.)
(A number of students march in mechanically and quietly and sit down. They open their laptops and start picking at them. Everyone else is completely silent and motionless as this happens)
Distinguished Visitor: Wow, that filled up fast.
Zach: Guess everyone was just running late. Talk about a treat especial!
(Magda looks very puzzled. Hank is terrified, practically on his knees)
Student 1: Huh, how’d I end up here?
Student 2 (to neighbor): Weren’t we on a coffee break? What room is this?
Student 3: I think it's… The auditorium? Is there a talk?
Student 2: We have an auditorium?
Student 1: We have talks? Whatever, guess I’ll just keep working. (turns back to keyboard)
Distinguished Visitor: What a wonderful audience!
Magda (addressing audience): We were spared embarrassment by a margin narrower than a transistor. But what was going on? I was worried I was missing the forest for the trees. So I decided... to union-find. (to Hank, fake whispering) I hate to say this, Hank, but is there something... strange going on today?
Hank: Yes, I think it's time you learn the truth. (leaves)
Distinguished Visitor: Off to steal cookies early?
(Background fades to storm clouds. Zach, the Distinguished Visitor, and the students leave. Soft jazz plays.)
Magda (addressing audience): Soon I would learn the cause of the strange occurrences that day, but I would rather the query… have come up UNSAT.
Scene 5: All About CSE
Magda (addressing audience): I thought determining where this mystery ended would be undecidable, but my concerns would soon be halted.
(Music stops. Background of the seemingly pointless hallway in the CSE2 basement fades in. Hank enters.)
Magda: Hank, now that there's no one else here, I really want to know: Has being director for all these years made you act so strangely and jump at shadows? Is the job going to do the same thing to me?
Hank (hamming it up massively): Magda, I have no doubt in my mind that you have the fortitude and will to be director, and I am sure you will be able to face up to everything that has given me grief so far. (pause) In fact, I am equally sure that I can trust you with the secret I am about to reveal--a secret every director must know!
Magda: A secret? Down here? I knew it! The rumors must be true: there's a tunnel between the two buildings!
Hank: If only. There was supposed to be a very convenient tunnel right behind this wall, which would have allowed people and lunch carts to very easily move between buildings (pause) Alas, while digging the tunnel, we found something else... (tone suddenly shifts to megalomaniacal) SOMETHING NO MORTAL WAS EVER MEANT TO KNOW!
Magda: No, it can't be...
Hank: Oh, but it is... the power that drives our entire school's culture...
Magda: A nuclear reactor?
Hank: No, that was just a cover-up. Behind this wall is...
(Background changes to a video of the Mandelbrot Fractal continuously zooming. Lightning sound plays during the transition.)
Hank: REALITY OVERFLOW, conveniently located inside the set of all sets that are not members of themselves, a place where P=NP and anything is possible!
Magda: Don't you mean the Schmidt-Bezos-Gates Interdimensional Research Foyer?
Hank (upbeat): Oh, thank you, they paid good money for those naming rights.
Ghost (as offstage voice, ominous): You've done well, Hank, simply outstanding. (Hank cowers in fear, Magda looks puzzled) Now the final stage of the director transition can commence.
Magda: What's going on?
Ghost (as offstage voice): Surely, you didn't think everything today just happened on its own? Now, BEHOLD – MY TRUE FORM!
(The ghost enters. It is a person wearing a white sheet with eye holes and a smiley face painted on. Hank and Magda make exaggerated reactions of terror.)
Ghost: You see... in order to harness the infinite power of this realm and bring success to the Allen SchooOOOooooOOOOoooool, every director must accept a curse...
Hank: I'm sorry, Magda... I wanted to leave... and do research... but the ghost started attacking!
Ghost: What did you think was going to happen? This is like the time you thought you could get rid of me by renaming the school.
Hank: That was worth a try!
Magda: (to Ghost) What is this curse?
Ghost: THE DIRECTOR’S CURSE: (Hank hangs his head in shame as the Ghost continues) One—the director can never leave. (Magda gasps) Two—the director can never do any research. (Magda gasps) And three—EVERYTHING will ALWAYS be the director’s fault (Magda gasps harder)
Hank: (to Magda) See what I had to deal with?
Ghost: So, Magda, do you accept the Terms of Service Agreement? Or shall Hank feel more of my ghastly wrath?
Magda: (heroically) For the sake of the school--I will undertake any burden!
Ghost (suddenly upbeat): That's the enthusiasm I crave. I think we'll have a good working relationship.
Hank: (to Magda) I'm glad you forgive me.
Magda: I didn't say that.
Hank: (to the ghost) But aren't you forgetting something?
Ghost (still upbeat): Oh, thanks for reminding me. (calling out) Marty! You're free to go!
(Marty enters, prancing in)
Marty: Oh, Hank, Magda, (shakes their hands) I'm so glad someone got my message! I didn’t think I had a GHOST of a chance. (laughs too hard at own joke, slaps knee) I'm SO glad to leave this place, AND you won't believe this: I've just gotten an INCREDIBLE offer from NOOGLE’S data MAGIC team! Tell my students I'll be just across town if they need me. (leaves with a spring in his step)
(everyone including the ghost shrugs)
Hank: Well, now that that's done... (throws off lab coat to reveal a Hawaiian shirt) I guess I'm off! (leaves in a hurry)
(The Ghost leaves and the background fades to storm clouds. Soft jazz plays)
Magda (to audience): So went the transaction. I couldn’t roll back my decision anymore, since that would bring Hank cascading back from sabbatical. No -- I was committed.
Coda: The Sweet Smell of Sabbatical
Magda (to audience): Within a few months, everything reached a fixpoint.
(Music cuts off. Background fades in: Split down the middle -- on one side is a CSE2 conference room, on the other is a tropical beach.)
(Hank enters with a folding beach chair and sets it up in the beach half. He sits down. Meanwhile Magda is pacing on the other half of the stage)
Hank (on the phone, boastfully): Ed? Yeah, I’m making great progress on my latest line of research – ON RELAXATION! I think I can finally get a PhD in that… after my nap… (Hank dozes off, snoring intermittently as the rest of the scene progresses)
(Ghost enters with some papers to show Magda in the other half of the stage)
Magda: Have you reviewed my CSE3 plans?
Ghost (upbeat): Yes, and I think it’s looking pretty good, but there are a few changes I might suggest.
Magda: Like what?
Ghost (upbeat): Well, you know, getting between three different buildings might make people late to meetings, so I think we can speed that up with some ziplines. And what about getting down stairs quickly? I think some fun slides are in order.
Magda (skeptically): I’m not sure that’ll be up to code.
Ghost: I can give the building inspectors a good scare.
(Magda and the Ghost fist-bump. The Ghost gives an evil cackle as the Ghost and Magda walk off. Hank continues sleeping in the folding chair. The words THE END fade in on the slide background)
Skit 2018 (The Director)
SCENE 1: Introduction
SLIDE - blank
[Ed walks on stage, typing on his phone]
Ed: Annnnd, send. [dramatic button press]
SLIDE - Ed email
Ed: Hello everyone and welcome to a new season of The Bachelor!
[Assistant runs on stage and whispers into Eds ear]
SLIDE - Bachelor backdrop - microsoft
Ed:[looks at a piece of paper more closely] Excuse me, The Director! Brought to you by our Platinum Tier Diamond Medallion Partner: Microsoft. Microsoft: For when you can’t have Google Apps.
I’m your host, Ed Lazowska. This season, we’ll be following the incredible journey of the Paul G. Allen School Spirit,
[Ed motions to the side, Spirit walks on stage, waving excitedly]
Ed: as they commence their search for a new Director. Our most strapping and eligible Director candidates will be arriving shortly in limos so let me ask: School Spirit, what are you most looking forward to this season?
Spirit: Well, as you know, I’ve been with Hank for many years now. We had a great time and he brought me two darling new buildings. But times are changing and let’s be honest, he’s not even a real doctor… I’m looking forward to this next chapter of my life. Also, I love travel, food, laughing, machine learning, ai, social ai, nlp, data science, and deep learning-- systems is so last decade.
Ed: Well, Spirit, we wish you the best of luck. Here comes the limo now!
SLIDE - Limo
[Director candidates enter the stage. Dan looks confident, others mostly look confused]
Ed: This season, you’ll be getting to know 6 wonderful professors, including Professor and Deputy Director Dan J. Grossman, who’s been on the faculty for quite a few years now and is looking to settle down with the leadership position of his dreams. I personally can’t get past all the punning, but you might decide that he’s the one for you.
Dan:[Very eagerly steps forward to give a handshake to Spirit] It is so nice to meet you. I don’t want to be too direct-or whatever, but I think you’ll find that my qualifications are not only necessary, but sufficient too, including a Bachelor’s degree in computer science.
Ed: Professor Adriana Schulz, also known as the Queen of Fabrication, and the Super Star of 3D Printing, fresh out of MIT.
Adrianna:[waves nervously] Uh…. I just started as here at CSE. Why am I here? Are we gonna talk about fabrication?
Ed: Professor Hannaneh Hajishirzi, who’s here to answer all the tough questions, because her research is in question answering.
Hannaneh:[waves, turns to Adrianna] I just started too. I don’t want to be director.
Ed: Professor Luis Ceze, who is an expert in Computer Archi--, I'm sorry, Programming La--, no, Sys... Machine... Molecules? Luis, what exactly do you do here again??
Luis:[Has a rack of eppendorf tubes and a pipette, and is moving liquid between them]. Sorry, I don’t think I can stay long, I think I have a meeting in a couple minutes. I’m just loading up my DNA calendar. [Continues pipetting]
Ed: Next we have, Professor Kevin Jamieson, First of his Name. You may know him by his other names: King of the 7 Beer Maps, Explorer of False Discoveries, Adaptor of Captions, and [dramatically...] the Bandit in Plaid.
Luis: [Turns to Kevin] See this little pink smudge? That’s my calendar!
Kevin:[Looking closely at the tube] Hm, you might want to adapt your sampling method...
Ed: and lastly, Professor Sidd Srinivasa, expert roboticist. And remember School Spirit, Sidd is a package deal, because he comes with robot co-director HERB!
Sidd: I’ve been training HERB, and he’s now at least as effective at directing as Hank. I think it’s time the school had a robot leader.
Ed: So welcome everyone! The Paul G. Allen School Spirit is absolutely thrilled that you are all here to see if you can win their heart and become the School’s next director.
Spirit: I’m very excited to see where our relationships go!
Luis: Yup, looks like I’ve got a flight to China! Better run! [Luis exits stage]
Ed: Now, candidates, you will be competing for the affections of the CSE School Spirit in 4 stages. After each stage, the Spirit will either award you a coveted mac adapter rose to advance, or will send you back to the office.
SCENE 2: First Impression Rose
SLIDE - Bachelor apple backdrop
Ed: So let’s get this show on the road, starting with…. an immediate elimination rose ceremony! This ceremony is brought to you our Silver Rank Contestant Prize Sponsor: Apple. Apple: removing useful ports from all your devices for you, so you don’t have to!
But before anyone gets eliminated, we want to give each candidate the opportunity to make a first impression on the School Spirit. You have 5 seconds each. Starting with Dan, ready, go!
Dan: I once read an operational semantics that ran out of Greek letters and let me assure you that this school is my alpha and my omega.
Sidd: [Picks up a phone call] Hello? Oh hi Herb...
Adriana: CSGs are meh, Breps are cool. But, no matter what, I love Allen School!
Kevin: [whispers] Did you say “burps”? What’s so cool about burps?
Adriana: Not burp, silly! It’s B-REP!!
Sidd: [On the phone] Herb! Listen, I’m trying to get you a job right now. If you’re out of oreos, just run out and get more.
Hannaneh: My system has determined that most first impressions are semantically empty, so I will not indulge this exercise.
Sidd: [On the phone] You know how much this pays? Think Bezos Bucks, Herb.
Kevin: Via ~*~deep learning~*~, my model has determined I am the optimal choice for director. The model isn’t interpretable, but it’s 98% accurate.
Sidd: [On the phone] If you don’t get your act together... Herb listen! I will send you to the warehouse. Yeah, it is that bad!. [Sighs and hangs up phone]
Ed: Alright Spirit, you’ve heard all their first impressions. Now you have to decide: who will be receiving a Mac Adapter and continue on this journey to find a new director.
[Assistant brings up mac adapters]
Spirit: Ed, this is a really tough decision, you’re all such great candidates. But I know what I must do. [Picks up first rose… dramatic pause...]. Adrianna. Will you accept this mac adapter?
Adrianna: I mean, I only just got here…and was kind of hoping to get started with my 3D pr...[interrupted by the Spirit]
Spirit: Great! [Interrupts, Gives rose] Kevin, will you accept this mac adapter?
Kevin: Sure? [Receives rose]
Spirit: Hannaneh, will you accept this mac adapter?
Hannaneh: Ok, I really, REALLY need to get back to doing research-- [Receives rose]
Ed: Ladies, gentleman, this is the final mac adapter tonight.
Spirit: [Dramatic pause, keeping eyes averted… Dan is clearly getting antsy… Sidd is looking at his phone...] Dan, will you accept this mac adapter?
Dan: [Big sigh of relief, walks up to receive mac adapter.] Absolutely, yes. Thank you. [Shakes schools hand]
Ed: Sorry, Sidd, unfortunately--
Sidd: [Receives another call]: Herb! No, no more X-Files cameos unless I'm invited too! [Storms off stage]
SCENE 3: Lunch with the Director
[Ed, school, and remaining professors are on stage]
Ed: Congratulations Dan, Hanna, Adriana, Kevin: you’ve advanced to the second round of The Director. Next, you’ll face the toughest challenge the Director has to tackle: Grad Lunch with the Director.
[Powerpoint flashes FLAMES]
[After a moment, switches to Zillow backdrop]
Lunch with the Director is brought to you by our valuable Bronze Level All-Star Corporate Affiliate Zillow. Remember, Zillow: for when you’re willing to spend extra money to not feel uncomfortable on Craigslist.
In this event, our students -- Come on up students! --
SLIDE - Gates Commons
[Throng of students enter, sit down on other side of stage, facing contestants]
Ed continued: … will relentlessly pepper you with questions which you forgot to prepare for, and have no satisfactory answers for. And plus, they didn't order enough food, so the rabble is already cranky! Are y'all ready for this?
Dan: [Rubs hands together, does few stretches] I have been practicing for this day since I was 9 years old.
Ed: Alright, let's get started. First: an anonymous question, for Dan. A student asked: Can we get double ply toilet paper in the bathrooms?
Dan: I'm glad you asked, anonymous student. I feel for your situation, and we're doing everything we can to address your concerns. But unfortunately, stocking the bathrooms is handled by facilities -
[All students start jeering]
Dan: (talking over jeers) - and… and we need to work with the UW administration - (cut off as jeering intensifies)
[Ed bangs gavel on podium, students fall silent]
Ed: Alright, settle down! I'm sorry Dan, but I think the students thought that was a pretty crappy answer! Let's move on to the next question. You there!
Student 1: Hi, this question is for Adriana. Given how *incredibly* important the espresso room is to our school culture, would you be *for* or *against* completely eliminating it?
Adriana: Oh, I didn't know we had an espresso room. [pauses, gets excited about an idea and says] Wait, wouldn’t it be great if we convert that into a workshop for wood-working and...
[Students erupt in jeers again]
Adriana: ok ok how about this: for every question you answer in my class, I will pay a dollar towards the espresso room? BLOCKS!?!
Students: (chanting) ESPRESSO ROOM! ESPRESSO ROOM! ESPRESSO ROOM!
Ed: Congratulations Adriana, you narrowly avoided being deposed by the angry mob! But unfortunately, your entire startup grant has now been diverted into maintaining the espresso machine. Let's take another question:
Student 2: Hi, I have a question for Kevin. Now that we will be split between two buildings, how specifically are you going to maintain the school's culture?
Kevin: Hmm, I think we should try rotating social events and gatherings between the buildings. For example, we could have the leftover lunch carts go to a different building each day -
[Loud booing from the students]
Students:(chanting) ZIPLINE! ZIPLINE! ZIPLINE!
Kevin: Alright, alright! I promise, in my first 100 days as director, I will install a zipline between the buildings.
[Students applaud and cheer]
Ed: An excellent recovery by Kevin, congratulations! As everyone knows, a zipline is the most optimal form of transportation between the upper floors of buildings, with worst-case complexity O(1/Z), where Z is the number of zip lines. Clearly it is the highest priority for the opening of CSE2. Isn’t that right, Hank? [Looks at Hank in the audience]
Let’s move on to another student question. You there, in the back:
Student 3: Yes, I have a question for Hanna. Imagine you’ve been given 50 million dollars for a new building. What would be the key features?
Hannaneh: [Pulls out phone and mimes reading off the website] Well, I would want a new building to (robotic monotone) “provide new instructional and collaborative spaces, expanded research labs, a 240-seat auditorium, and a flexible event space that will complement the existing Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Eng--”
Spirit (interrupting): I’m sorry Hannaneh, the answer I was really looking for was to make sure the building was designed with an upper bound on the number of broken elevators per week… And if that’s not your top priority, I just don’t think this relationship will work out...
Hannaneh:[Reads off phone again] Hmph, well you’ll be jealous when you see how *my* new building (robotic monotone) “provides the space to double our annual degree production, educating more of Washington's students for Washington's high-impact jobs” (Storms off)
SCENE 4: Meeting the family
SLIDE 7- Bachelor backdrop
Ed: Alright contestants, Adriana, Kevin, and Dan. Things are really starting to get serious. Now it’s time for an all important stage of any director to department, er, school, relationship, meeting the research family!
Meeting the family is brought to you by our favorite local sponsor and Cloud Overlord: Amazon. Amazon: you give us tax breaks, and we’ll build a huge set of balls in your city.
During your time as director, you’ll rely on your family for support, insight, and sanity during the trying times ahead, and it’s important that the department, er, school, gets a chance to see where you’ve come from.
Kevin, you’re up first
Kevin: Alright, so I know this is supposed to be an introduction, but to meet MY family, you are going to need to have an in depth knowledge of linear algebra, probability, statistics, and vector calculus.
Spirit: That sounds like a lot...
Kevin: I just want to be up front with you… the distribution of how well my family introductions go tends to be bimodal depending on if you actually have the necessary pre-reqs. Alright, come on out you all! The school spirit is here and wants to meet you! Today we have Luke, Yejin, Emily, Sham, Carlos, and Pedro!
[Parade of 6 people walk on stage and immediately off the other side of the stage]
Ed: Whoa whoa whoa! Kevin, where are all your ML-AI colleagues going??
Kevin:[Sheepishly] “Sorry, we’re about 20% of the way through the scene... their obligation here is over… I heard Facebook is having trapeze artists perform in their holiday skit tonight…
Ed: [Angrily]Facebook is *SO* on my shit list…[deep breath, recomposes himself] Alright, Adriana, you’re up next!
Adriana: Ummm, I’d like to introduce you to my fam of fab, the fab fam, I mean, we do fabrication!
Jen: Hi! I’m Jen, and I was the first member of the CSE fab fam. How do you know I was the first, you ask? I started the mailing list!
Jon: And I’m Jon. I let kids fab clothing, with circuits! I know this sounds like a bad idea when you say it like that, but really, you can watch the videos, it’s really cute.
Adriana: I 3D print everything. My bracelet? 3D printed. My hair tie? It’s just filament. My skirt: why, it’s made on a knitting machine! Yes that’s right! Fabrication is the future, y’all!
Adriana (to the audience): Now who all wants to be in the fab fam? [gets impatient, waves her hand and says] Come on guys, we don’t have all day, quick quick! Who’s in?
(hopefully some people raise hands)
Adriana: Great! Find me after this skit-- I need you to join my lab.
Ed: Thanks so much, Adriana! Dan, let’s get to know your folks.
Dan (grinning excessively, as if about to tell the best joke in the world): As we all know, I used to be the Department Assistant Director, otherwise known as the DAD of the group. But now I’m the School Assistant Director, otherwise known as SAD. (everyone onstage groans)
Dan (overly enthusiastic): First we have ZACH: Zero Answers to Communication Happenings. He is most famous for his booming voice and overflowing email inbox!
Zach: Howdy folks! I’m super stoked about proofs, running, TGIF, culture, and Rainier. Also numerical stability! I am very stable! not like your floating points. Later Gator!
Dan (overly enthusiastic): And EMINA: Evaluating Models with Incremental NP-hard Algorithms!
Emina: Hi everyone! I’m part of the UNCAT group! We use CAT solvers to verify stuff. I also love sats! I --
Dan (interrupting): Wait, guys, guys, let me tell you about Mike ERNST: Engineering Robust New Software Technologies!
Mike: My name’s Mike, and I like software engineering, progress reports, and eye contact.
Dan (uncontrollably enthusiastic): And I have to tell you about ALVIN, and ALAN, and RENE---
Ed (bewildered): I think that’s enough Dan, you’re being overenthusiastic here.
[Ed escorts Dan away]
Dan (fading as he’s pulled off screen): OVERENTHUSIASTIC: One Very Excited Researcher, Engineering New Tools, Helping Us Structure Ingenious Applications, Serving The International Community!
Spirit: Thank you all for introducing your---
Dan (off-stage, interrupting): Wait! I didn’t even get to tell you about RAS!
[Spirit pauses and starts over]
Spirit: Thank you all for introducing your... complex... families. I love you all, but Kevin, I’m sorry, I just don’t know if I can rely on ML to take loving care and pay attention to my precious students.
Kevin: Wait a minute, I’m literally at *every* TGIF!!
Spirit: Sorry Kevin, but you’re all in the same boat… literally: the ML schmooze cruise.
[Spirit takes Kevin’s mac adaptor, Kevin shuffles off stage]
[All other family members exit]
SCENE 5: CSE2 Fantasy Suite
Ed: Well! This is truly incredible! Dan and Adriana, we have something really exciting for you since you are the final 2 standing. As many viewers already know from past seasons, it is time... for the fantasy suite.
Tonight’s fantasy suite is brought to you by Netflix. Netflix: the best way to spend time in any relationship.
School, this for you [hands School an envelope]. I’ll let you take it from here. [Ed Leaves].
Adriana: Did Ed say… Fantasy Suite? Is that my new makerspace?
Spirit: right this way, we’re headed to the new building!
SLIDE 8- New Building
[Start walking over to new building. Run into Hank on the way.]
Spirit: oh hi there, Hank! What are you doing in the new building already?
Hank: Oh, I was just giving some students a tour of the new space!
Spirit: How’d it go?
Hank: Great! Yea, they didn’t want to leave.
Spirit: Really? Cuz with all those emails begging people to move there--
Hank: I said they DIDN’T WANT TO LEAVE. I SWEAR. THEY LOVE THE NEW SPACE AND 100% WANT TO BE THERE.
Spirit: okayyyy, see ya later.
[Slide change to new building… a mass of grad students shuffles on stages to form the workroom]
SLIDE 9- crammed Workroom
Spirit: Dan, Adrianna… I think I’m ready to take our relationship to the next level… to the Fantasy Suite.
Dan: And what does this entail...?
Spirit:[Opens note from Ed and reads it out] As per Bachelor--sorry, Director tradition, tonight you have the option to forego your individual office... and pull an all-nighter in the fantasy suite: a workroom with 24 other people! [Broadly gestures to the students]
Dan and Adriana: Wait, what??
Spirit: I know you may be skeptical about the fantasy office, but just think about how collaborative it will be! [Slide: Hank’s Email] Go ahead, take a risk, life is uncertain! It will be fun!
[Back to crammed office]
Adriana: You know, I think I’d really rather stick with my office in the Allen Center
Spirit: YOU *WILL* LIKE IT! IT IS NEW AND SHINY! [Speaks into wrist watch] Security! Paging security!
[Yoshi and Franzi enter from opposite sides of the stage, high-five and then stand shoulder to shoulder, arms crossed, looking intense.]
Yoshi: Hello! What seems to be the security breach here?
Spirit:[Points at Dan and Adriana] Lock them in!
Franzi: Yoshi, get out the blockchain!
[Yoshi and Franzi make a show of locking Dan and Adriana to the end of the table]
Dan: Yoshi, Franzi! You can’t do this!
Yoshi: Wow! Thank you, Dan!
Dan: I can’t run the school from here! I need space! Space to think!
Franzi: Here, try this secure augmented reality filter. It’ll make it look like all the extra people are just office plants. [momentarily puts sunglasses on Dan]
Adriana: is this even legal?
Franzi: Absolutely. Anything you’ve heard otherwise is just misinformation. [Takes sunglasses back]
[Yoshi and Franzi move off to the side]
Spirit: Dan, Adriana: this is your final test. Yoshi and Franzi have designed a single-use encrypted key that can be used to unlock only one of you... Whoever can socially engineer Yoshi and Franzi into unlocking them will advance to the final stage of the Director competition, while the other will remain in the fantasy suite workroom… [dramatical voice] for eternity… [bright and peppy voice] You have until morning [exits]
Dan: OK, Yoshi, Franzi: I can trade you our 3D printer with you if you unlock me.
[Yoshi and Franzi consider]
Adriana: Wait wait! Why take a 3D printer when I can give you 24 hour unlimited access to my entire makerspace for computational fabrication!
Yoshi: Mmmmm, interesting! Can we fabricate malicious stop signs?
Dan: WAIT! Wait. OK… Whenever the elevator breaks… I will give you exclusive rights to the new ski-lift I’ll be installing!
Yoshi/Franzi: Done! [Go unlock Dan]
Adriana: Nooooo, don’t make me stay in the the 120 million dollar brand new building with a view of lake Washington!! Anything but that!
[Throng of students floods off stage, dragging Adriana with them]
[Dan gets escorted by Yoshi and Franzi off the other side]
SCENE 6: The end - (feel free to adjust, overhaul, etc.)
SLIDE 10- Beach Altar
[Ed enters and joins Spirit on stage in front of the altar]
Ed: Ladies and gentlemen, the candles are lit and the stage is set. It looks like it’s going to be a romantic final evening on The Bachelor--
(Assistant runs onstage, whispers in Ed’s ear, and scurries off)
Ed: Are you kidding me? (Composes self) Well, folks, it looks like it’s going to be a, uh, perfectly cromulent final round of The Director, because we are about to find out who will be the next director of the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering!
Spirit: I know I can’t wait.
Ed: Yes, we’re down to the wire and I know your fragile constitutions can’t handle the suspense, so let’s bring out our remaining candidates… Dan, and… Dan. Just Dan. Come on in Dan. Please.
(Dan swaggers in)
Dan: Good evening Ed, always a pleasure. (shakes Ed’s hand very energetically) Ah, and Paul G. Allen School, you look spirited as ever (shakes School’s hand very energetically)
Spirit: Why thank you.
Ed: Thank you very much, Dan. Now, Dan, as you may have gathered, you are the last remaining candidate, so I suppose you very much want to know which of our candidates is going to be the next director.
Dan: You’re not setting this up to be one of those logic paradoxes, are you? Have you heard the one about the barber who shaves everybody who doesn’t shave himself?
Ed: You’ll have to tell me that one later. Anyway, let’s have the School Spirit give the final word:
Spirit: Well, Dan, these last few rounds have been truly extraordinary. You’ve really shown yourself to master the fine balance of charisma, diplomacy, and fairness that goes into being the director of a school such as myself and have proven yourself many times to be fully qualified for--
Dan: Oh thank you, Spirit! (Ed and Spirit look at each other) Of course, I would be honored to be the next Director! (takes out thick stack of papers) Why, I have so many people I want to thank. First, I would like to thank the humble lambda application, without which I would not be Turing complete; next--
Spirit (piping up): Dan, I really enjoyed spending so much time with you, but the Dean of the College of Engineering has informed us that we’re going to pick an external candidate. (Dan drops papers, looks aghast. The Spirit continues sweetly and condescendingly) At the same time, this contest has taught us so much about what it takes to direct this School, so we’d like to thank you for bearing with us! We had a lot of fun and hope you did too! Thank you!
Dan: (babbles confusedly) Do I get to keep the Mac adapter?
Ed: Thank you, Dan! It’s been a pleasure!
(Assistant starts trying to coax Dan off the stage)
Dan (as he’s being led off the stage): What about the Mac adapter? I need to give a talk later… I’m going to Reply All to Researchers about thiiiiiiis!!! (fades away)
Ed: Well there you have it, folks, another dramatic conclusion to The Director. Be sure to join us next time! We’ll find something to direct. I promise.