As anybody who’s tried to snag a spot on a Cottage list can attest to, the Prospect 12 is difficult to coordinate. The prospective super-drunk needs a perfect storm of connections to pull it off. Typically, Princeton social circles are segregated enough by interest that only the most socially flexible on campus know members in every pass or list club they can badger for access. Combine that with the nerves (and stomach) of steel required to down twelve full beers in a night, and the pool of capable Prospect 12ers becomes very small indeed.
In the day, all pass and list discussion becomes irrelevant. There are no bouncers at the Ivy door at 10 AM on a Tuesday, largely because nonmembers have very little reason to go to Ivy at 10 AM. Save for Quad, all eating clubs are unlocked during school days, and if anybody were to “sneak into” a typically exclusive club between meals, nobody much would care. This isn’t typically something underclass folks realize—most frosh and sophomores I’ve invited to Tower (my own club) for meals have met me outside the door, waiting to be let in—but as upperclass students join eating clubs and go to friends’ eating clubs for meal exchanges, many suddenly realize how easy it is to enter unnoticed.
I’m a coffee aficionado, and have spent most of this semester trying to find the best free coffee available on campus. I’ve been compiling a list of the generally-available brewing machines for a few months—thus far, the best I’ve found is the Keurig in Campus Club—and every so often ask friends if they have any suggestions as to places I’m overlooking. One suggested her eating club (one of which I’m not a part), mentioning that nonmembers sometimes walk in unbidden for the coffee without issue.
At that point, I realized something: I’m able to walk into any eating club during the day without an issue. Every eating club has coffee machines. Why not try them all?
I ended up with what I’m calling the Alternative Prospect 12: In one day, anyone looking to complete the challenge must get coffee from every eating club. The general rules are as follows: The AP12er needs to get coffee from every eating club and drink each cup in the same eating club they got it. Getting coffee from a “safe zone” (your own eating club or a neutral campus location) and drinking some of it in every eating club isn’t allowed, nor is dashing into a club and drinking the coffee outside. The local flavor is essential to a well-done challenge.
Any sort of coffee or coffee-related beverage is allowed, so long as it’s hot. Critically, this allows for decaf, tea, and hot chocolate—12 cups of fully-caffeinated coffee is probably too much for most people, and being sent to the ER with eyes the size of golf balls isn’t the ideal end to the challenge.
There is no minimum amount of coffee necessary per club, but the AP12er needs to drink at least something in each. Campus Club out of K-Cups? All the Colonial brew gone? Too bad.
I began the AP12 at about 9 AM on a Tuesday and finished two and a half hours later. What follows is a chronicle of my journey.
Before the challenge: I wake up and remember that my only class was rescheduled to later in the day. Sweet. I’ve got the whole day to immerse myself in the glorious brown sludge. I pick out the most nondescript outfit I can find and head to breakfast.
1. Tower: The easy one—home base. I’ve decided to drink decaf whenever I can, since I’m not about to pump more than four or five cups’ worth of caffeine through my bloodstream. I snag a breakfast burrito alongside the coffee and listen to members of the debate team talk about animal cruelty. At 9:30, I pack up my things and get ready for the journey ahead.
2. Campus: The other easy one. The K-Cups have been refilled since the last time I was there, thankfully, and I pick a “medium roast.” Five minutes later, after burning my tongue a few times trying to drink it black, I give up and toss the quarter-drunk cup. I figure I’ll be drinking enough coffee in the next two hours that leaving some behind will probably be prudent.
3. Cannon: Unknown #1. The only time I’d been to Cannon before this was for Princetoween my freshman year, and not only do I not remember the club’s layout, I have no idea where the dining room is. I pause my music as I walk in but keep my headphones in my ears, hoping nobody will try to talk to me or recognize me. Fortunately, a girl walks out of a side door with a plate of food as I enter. I walk through the door she’s just left and find myself in the dining room. Score. Plus, they’ve got decaf. I sit at an empty table and realize that nobody cares whether or not I’m in the club.
4. Quad: Most of my non-Tower friends are in Quad, and I’m around enough that I think a few people assume I’m a member. Quad’s the only club on the street with a passcode on the door, but I’ve come in with enough members that I’ve “accidentally” memorized it. One of my friends says hi as I walk into the dining room and then does a double take—apparently I’m not supposed to be there. Who’d have guessed? I chat with her while I finish my third decaf and then take the first of my bathroom breaks—a dozen-odd ounces of diuretic works wonders.
5. Ivy: Unknown #2. I’d never been inside the club before, but a friend has told me where the dining room is. I walk towards the brewing machines and accidentally make eye contact with a Nass editor who knows I’m not supposed to be there. Shit. I give her an awkward smile and stare at the floor until I get to the coffee. I realize for the second time that morning that she—like the other five people there who are finishing breakfast at 10, like probably everyone else in the club—doesn’t care. Can I say “crisis averted” if the crisis doesn’t exist in the first place? I take a Snapchat of my drink and look for the Cottage geofilter until I realize where I am. Apparently, even five cups in, I’m still half-asleep.
6. Cottage: The final unknown. Like Ivy, I’d never set foot inside, and so I spend some time appreciating the club’s exorbitant architecture. The door is approximately twice as wide as every other door I’ve ever seen. I get lucky and find the dining room almost immediately, but can’t find the coffee machines. I’m about to give up when a member of the Cottage dining staff points out a section of the wall that opens up to a small kitchen area, and I grab some cappuccino. Score. I thank the staffer profusely and finish my coffee in the courtyard out back. Strangely enough, the Cottage geofilter appears this time around
7. Cap: Back on safe ground. I know people in this club. Hell yes. I break my coffee streak and get some hot chocolate to celebrate. A friend side-eyes me as I sit down, then rolls her eyes and gets back to work. Again: nobody cares. I’m not sure why this is still surprising.
8. Cloister: Shit. I have no idea where the dining room is, despite spending too much time here over three years’ worth of Frosh Weeks. An angel comes to me in the form of a rower walking up a flight of stairs with a bowl of Froot Loops. I walk downstairs and immediately find myself face to face with a futuristic-looking coffee machine. If the eating club coffee machines were Netflix originals, this one would definitely be Black Mirror. I feel like it’s going to log my choice and use it for targeted ads when I’m on Facebook later. They have no decaf, so I get a little bit of coffee and dilute it with a crap ton of milk.
9. Charter: I ended up with way too much coffee in Cloister, so I try to dispose of it down a bathroom sink after my second bathroom break of the day. I pour too quickly and waste valuable time cleaning up my mess. I do the same after trying and failing to properly add milk to my Charter brew. Fortunately, as breakfast has been over for an hour and lunch doesn’t start for about 45 minutes, the dining room is empty, and I don’t think anybody notices. I forget my backpack in the coatroom afterwards and have to head back later.
10. TI: The Glorious Tiger Inn doesn’t particularly live up to its name, as the Small World I was promised has mostly run out. I manage to get a few splashes into my mug and call it a success. At this point, I have stopped worrying that somebody will call me out on my shenanigans and am more concerned with finishing. I’m starting to feel fairly gross, and resolve to pour and finish my last two cups before I can second-guess myself. I’m thankful that I didn’t finish the Campus cup two hours ago.
11. Colonial: No decaf here either. At this point, I’ve probably downed about the equivalent of four cups of normally-caffeinated brew, and I’d really prefer to be able to sleep tonight. I grit my teeth and pour about an ounce of Small World’s “Rocket” blend, tamping it down with about three cups of milk. My good cheer has been gone for about half an hour.
12. Terrace: I’ve made it! Hallelujah! I celebrate by treating myself to whole milk with my coffee instead of the normal skim. I’m equally elated that I’m finally done and ready to collapse. I suddenly realize that lunch starts in ten minutes, and my stomach lurches.
Aftermath: Jesus, this was a bad idea. I’m incredibly dehydrated, and know that I’ll become even more so as the caffeine takes effect on my bloodstream over the rest of the day. Three hours later, I can still taste the coffee, even though I spent about twenty minutes brushing my teeth and went through five or six cups of mouthwash. My bowels feel like they’ve gone through a sausage grinder. I grimace through a plate of veggies at lunch as a friend blithely eats a greasy sandwich too close to my nose. I’m so glad my seminar got rescheduled. I lie down after lunch, obviously unable to sleep but also unable to move.
What lessons can we take from this? Are there lessons to be taken from this? Here are a few I can think of:
First, the spotlight effect is real. I spent most of my first hour concerned with how much I thought I stuck out—that people would notice me and take umbrage at my trespassing. However, as per usual, I thought a lot more about how I appeared than everyone else thought about how I appeared. After all, I went through this on a Tuesday morning—at that point, people have other things to be worried about than a non-member taking a single cup of coffee, like, say, schoolwork and job applications. I’m sure I’ve passed by nonmembers enjoying Tower breakfast and not given them a second thought dozens of times.
Second, if an idea sounds like it’s a bad one, it probably is. I went through the AP12 in part to see just how poorly about eighty fluid ounces of coffee would sit in my stomach, and it went about exactly as I’d expected. Funny how that works.
Third, fuck coffee. I’m probably going to drink more tomorrow morning, too. I can’t win.