Ming DeMers/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Students go sake bombing at Plum Tree, which fulfills item number 10 on the "161 Things Every Cornellian Should Do" list.

March 27, 2023

In Challenge to Complete ‘161 Things’ List, Students Explore Ithaca, Take Risks

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Flirting with a professor, driving up and down Libe Slope and having sex in the stacks were among the daring challenges that over 60 participants faced in the “161athon,” a challenge to complete all the items on The Sun’s “161 Things Every Cornellian Should Do” list, which began at 8 a.m. on Friday and ended at 8 a.m. on Saturday.

The competition was established by Cornell Students for Outdoor Unsupervised Playtime — an independent, informal collective that facilitates outdoor adventures. SOUP has organized similar competitions in the past, from scavenger hunts to zombie tag on the Arts Quad and even a 24-hour game of capture the flag. 

The “161 Things” list, on which the challenge was based, was first compiled by The Sun from a 2005 email survey to students. While the original list was framed as inspiration for Cornellians across their entire time on the Hill, SOUP challenged students to complete as many of these tasks as possible within a 24-hour period. 

Hannah Robins ’23, a 161athon organizer, described coming up with the idea after talking to a professor who had never heard of the 161 list. Robins explained that she is always brainstorming extreme SOUP activities and that the 161athon felt like an exciting but accomplishable event. Robins noted her satisfaction seeing students across campus participating in what started out as just a few students with an idea. 

But this growth was no accident. Coby Sontag ’24 recalls advertising through various online group chats and social media platforms. 

“On Sidechat, I would make posts tearing down the idea. So people would upvote it and be like, ‘Oh, what’s that?’” Sontag said.

Sontag noted that his reach wasn’t only digital — he also promoted the challenge at Saint Patrick’s Day parties, spreading the word to anyone who would listen.

Participants were split between 21 different teams, and the competition’s rules instituted a point system that offered bonus ‘synergy points’ for activities done by the entire team.

“​​We wanted to encourage people to do stuff together,” Sontag wrote in a statement to The Sun, explaining the point system.

Organizers modified the original list to make it feasible for a 24-hour competition. Organizer Isabel Dawson ’24 described having to decipher between the precise wording and the spirit of items on the original list. For instance, instead of challenge number 23 being to go to AppleFest, which occurs annually in the fall, competitors were challenged to eat an apple on the Commons. 

However, ethical and legal boundaries also influenced list modifications. For example, item number 146 on the original list, to prank call the Cornell IT Service Desk, was modified to instead leave a compliment on the Service Desk line.

“Liability was our number one [concern] because not everything on the 161 things list is necessarily a good decision to do. However, this is not a list that we created. It’s a list that already exists,” said Meghan Flack ’23, both an organizer and a competitor.

Flack elaborated on the changes, citing safety concerns as another reason to modify the list.

“We definitely were thinking, how are we going to make sure that everyone is safe?” Flack said. “And how are we going to make sure that no one gets in more trouble than they want to?”

Robins said that SOUP posted safety forms, disclaimers and notices in advance of the competition, instructing participants to stay firm with regard to the boundaries.

“Do not do anything you do not want to do for the sake of any list. Respect the boundaries of other participants,” stated a notice posted by Robins to the competition’s main GroupMe chat.

Cooper Couden ’26, a participant in the 161athon, first heard of the competition through a Seal and Serpent Society group chat and immediately began planning with his friends.  

“We sat down at dinner [the same day I first heard of the challenge] and started planning, because we looked at the list, and were like, ‘Oh, that’s gonna be easy. That’ll be good. We can do that here. All these are in the same area’ … and over the last week and a half, we’ve probably put in a solid ten hours of just sitting there [working] on an Excel sheet,” Couden said.

On the day of the competition, Couden began by working his shift at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He ordered a pizza to the building, fulfilling item number 123 on the modified list, which is to order pizza to an academic building.

“Ethically, there’s definitely some things in there that were questionable to begin with,” Couden said. “Hooking up with your TA. Interesting one, I don’t think anybody got a chance to. … It [also] says drink with your RA or TA.” 

However, this failed to stop Couden’s team from trying. 

“We asked RAs a couple days before if they’d be willing [to drink with us,] and they said ‘Oh, hell no. Absolutely not. We would get fired immediately,’” Couden said.

Couden also separated legality from ethics when it came to items on the list. 

“Legally, there are some things that might be, you know, a tad illegal, but maybe less morally unethical than some other ones,” Couden said. “For example, skinny dipping into Taughannock — there’s a lot of signs, a ton of signs that say ‘No Swimming.’ Quite a few of them say violators will be prosecuted. But we were like, it’s the spirit of the competition. … we’ve got to do it.”

While Couden praised the organizers for staying as true as they could to the original list, competitor Anabella Maria Galang ’23 felt that some of the changes to the 18-year-old list had gone too far.

“I think they were too liberal with the modifications,” Galang said. “They should have either removed things altogether, or just gone with the list itself.” 

Forms were also created to help solo competitors find teammates, in the hopes of forming new friendships and connections. Some participants even partnered with organizers to aid the competition, creating a form to pair competitors up for item number one — “make the library into your bedroom and have sex in the stacks” — though the form reportedly proved unfruitful, with creators of the form citing a gender imbalance.

Organizer Madeline Turner ’23, an Ithaca native, hoped the competition would help Cornellians explore all that Ithaca had to offer. 

“Cornell students do not leave campus — a lot of people are just super focused on work or super isolated into their little niche communities,” Turner said. “They don’t explore the area at all. And I want to make that more accessible to more people. … I just think there’s a lot of joy in doing things that are out of your routine and that are unexpected.”

While seniors appreciated the competition for breaking the monotony of everyday Cornell life, Couden noted that as a first-year, the event provided him with the cultural experiences of a true Cornellian.

Either way, the day was one of nonstop activity for competitors, who shared their progress and whereabouts through a competition-wide chat. SOUP recorded over 21 streakers, completing number seven on the list, “Streak across the Arts Quad. Bonus point for full send.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever done this many things in one day,” said Sophia Hertel ’24. “And it’s crazy to see how much you can fit into such a short timeframe.”

With 1,245 challenges completed cumulatively at the end of the 24-hour period, a few teams stood above the rest. Team ‘Sicko Psycho Sixty’ had completed the most challenges, with 132 of 161 challenges completed. However, as a result of the teamwork-oriented point system, ‘Ladies out to Lunch’ were crowned the winning team with 120 challenges completed. 

Galang enjoyed the competitive element of the challenge but also appreciated the youthful, free-spirited air it fostered amongst competitors.

“There’s definitely that degree of second childhood for sure,” Galang said. “It’s a lot of fun. And it was the kind of fun that you didn’t necessarily have to feel bad about having because there’s competition involved.”

As for the future of the 161athon, organizers and competitors alike shared their faith in the 161athon’s potential to become an annual tradition. Flack described SOUP’s mission to balance new ideas with popular existing activities.

“Really anything that has the momentum to do year after year, we try and do it that way,” Flack said. “But at the same time, we’re still trying to come up with new ideas for more crazy outdoor things that we could have and get people excited. New ideas are always fun.”

Competitors also endorsed holding the event annually.

“I love that something like this happened. I think the challenge is great. I could totally see it being repeated in the future,” Galang said. “I think it represents a movement that we’ll see come on more strongly in the future within Cornell social scenes … just collectives of people coming together and having organized chaos type of fun.”

Iskander Khan ’26 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].

Julia Senzon ’26 contributed reporting to this article.