Science in the Arctic: Pirates, assassins and other altered states

September 30, 2011 

The Marcus G. Langseth research vessel

U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY PHOTO

What do you do when you're off-duty aboard a U.S. Arctic research vessel on which there's no alcohol and you've run out of DVD movies to watch? If you and your scientific colleagues haven't already gone "bushy" -- a sort of high-functioning cabin fever -- you might find yourself hunting one another with balled-up socks and spoons, writes Bernard Coakley, a University of Alaska Fairbanks marine geologist, in The New York Times.

So far this cruise, we have had one round of the "assassin" game. This involved most of the junior crew members, all of the protected species observers (here to make sure the sounds we generate do not unduly affect the marine mammals) and all of the science party except for myself. There are rules, even for assassination.

You are assigned a target. Your weapon is a balled-up sock or a spoon. You must be alone with your target to attempt a "kill." This is accomplished by throwing your sock or touching them with your spoon. At this moment, they can also kill you. The successful assassin finds his or her kill target and moves on -- a single-elimination tournament of sorts.

This game and the scheming and intrigue it inspired occupied the attention of the ship for about four days. After most of the players were eliminated, the three-person endgame did not capture as much interest. It was fun while it lasted and served to bring down some of the social barriers among the different subsets of people on board.

Read more from Coakley in the Scientist at Work series at The New York Times.

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