Pretzel challenge

Published 11:05 pm Friday, July 15, 2011

A steady hand was needed as retangular pretzel pieces are used to build a portion of coaster track.

WILLIAMSBURG—It might be a year before Courtland’s Justin Heiser eats another pretzel.

James Williams, left and Justin Heiser pose for a photo with the repliuca Loch Ness Monster roller coaster they built in three hours on Thursday.

That’s because Justin and his friend James Williams on Thursday competed to build a replica of Busch Garden’s oldest roller coasters with the salty, baked snack.

“I’m pretty tired of pretzels,” Justin said after the competition in Williamsburg. “I’m kind of sick of pretzels.”

The 13-year-olds were among six teams of finalists in the event hosted by the theme park and Snyder’s of Hanover. They were given three hours to build a replica of the Loch Ness Monster roller coaster with various types of pretzels and hot-glue guns.

“We selected Loch Ness Monster because it’s the world’s first and only interlocking, double-looping steel roller coaster,” said Paula Pritchard, promotions manager at Busch Gardens. “It’s complicated because it goes through a tunnel and has loops and hills. We thought it would be a challenge for the competitors.”

James and Justin didn’t finish the structure in the allotted time. The team spent too much time on individual pieces of the replica, instead of building larger sections, James said.

“It was a pretty big task to accomplish,” he said. “I think I could’ve finished it, but we needed a little bit more than three hours.”

Justin said he had a great time and the two boys are already planning to enter the competition again next year.

“We picked up some strategies, so we’ll do better next year,” Justin said.

The team was chosen as finalists after Jane Stephenson, a gifted teacher at Southampton Middle School, entered the boys’ design for a dream coaster, dubbed the Mauna Loa, into the contest as part of a class project.

“We studied roller-coaster physics, and when I saw this competition, I had the seventh-graders build roller coasters,” Stephenson said.

She said the build-off was perfectly suited for James and Justin.

“These guys are so mechanical and mathematical; I knew this would be right up their alley,” Stephenson said. “They work so well as a team.”

The boys rode the coaster Wednesday night and Thursday morning to get a feel for the design. They also studied the structure from the ground and drew it to help with the design.

“A lot of thought went into it,” said Justin’s mother, Megan Heiser. “There was a lot of planning. It’s been fun to watch.”

Bob Gould, marketing manager for Synder’s of Hanover, said the competition drew finalists from a 10-state area along the East Coast. Finalists came from as far as North Carolina and New York. Teams were given 35 to 40 bags of pretzels from which to design their replicas.

The winner of the third annual competition was defending champion Jennifer Westcott from Wayne, N.J.

Westcott will receive a year’s supply of pretzels and a four pack of two-year, two-park passes to Busch Gardens and Water Country USA.