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Published July 19 2012

Benshoof: Go bury your head in the sand, literally

If you want something to do this weekend but aren’t up for being baked alive downtown at the Fargo Street Fair, go bury your head in the sand.

Literally, that is.

A sandcastle contest, scheduled on Saturday afternoon as part of the Northwest Water Carnival in Detroit Lakes, Minn., offers a perfect opportunity to take to the beach and escape the heat for a day.

Jon Olson, a co-Admiral of this year’s carnival, says 10 to 15 participants are expected for the contest, ranging from returning champions to families just out for a good time.

Personally, all of my own past experiences with sandcastles haven’t turned out well. Everything that I’ve made has ended up looking about as architecturally inspiring as a parking lot.

But, for amateurs like myself, there’s good news: Apparently there’s a secret to making the perfect sandcastle.

According to the Nature Physics journal, in 2008 a team of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology performed tests on different water and sand mixes to try and establish the most stable mixture.

Making measurements in rotating drums filled partially with wet sand, the scientists discovered that a blend of eight parts dry sand to one part water would create the most architecturally sound castle.

Easy, right?

But, even the most architecturally sound sandcastle won’t last forever – sand, after all, isn’t the best material for building structures.

However, says Mike Christenson, an assistant professor of architecture at North Dakota State University, that doesn’t stop people from going all out.

“Everyone understands that it could disappear in an instant, yet people spend a lot of time and energy and even planning on it,” Christenson says.

And because of their fragility, he says, sandcastles force people – whether young or old, architects or not – to think about their own limitations in terms of what they’re able to accomplish.

“In that sense, I think sand can be a tool in architecture, even if it’s not about the physics or the formula,” he says. “I think it can be about opening up one’s imagination.”

So, if you do go to Detroit Lakes this weekend, let your imagination run wild. Take time to savor a summer day on the beach as you create something that won’t be around forever.

Because as the saying goes, castles made of sand fall into the sea eventually.

Unless you’ve somehow managed to better the results of the MIT test. Then anything’s possible.

If you go

What: 77th annual Northwest Water Carnival sandcastle contest

When: 3 p.m. Saturday

Where: Detroit Lakes, Minn., city beach, near the pavilion

Info: Participation is free with a Northwest Water Carnival button. Registration starts at 3 p.m., judging starts at 4 p.m. Contact Christine Herzog at (218) 849-1291 for more info.

Online: www.dljaycees.com/watercarnival.html

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535