Scott Woods: The OSU Freshman Guide to Urban Legends
An Ohio State washout offers advice, tall tales and lessons learned for surviving life on campus.
For the past week, students have been moving into dormitories all over campus, and I wish each of them the best of luck. Freshman year is tough. They’ll need to fend off an incalculable number of distractions to cross the finish line of their first year, let alone make it to graduation.
If the purpose of higher education is to learn not just a trade, but what the world has to offer, this is probably a good time for those of us who have come before to share a few things they should know, or that will at least make them seem less green. This ain’t no Frommer’s guidebook, newbs. These are the legendary rituals, places, fables and extra game you need to survive freshman year at The Ohio State University.
The Golden Buckeye Tree of Knowledge: If you partake of one of the titular seeds from this singular tree, you will, in this order: 1) lose all of your teeth, 2) gain ultimate academic knowledge and pass all first-year courses except for 3) botany.
The Brutus Society: There is a secret society so clandestine that no one speaks of it in mixed company. Everyone who has ever worn the mantle of OSU mascot Brutus Buckeye holds membership in this special fraternity. You don’t know about it because no one is allowed to say they have been a Brutus. It is more power than one person should wield, and so the Brutes are all kept hidden from ravenous fans and Michigan kidnappers.
The Big Game Baptism Ritual: The pre-game ritual of jumping into Mirror Lake before the annual Ohio State-Michigan game has fallen out of favor in recent years. It’s unsanitary, dangerous, and occasionally drained of water to tamp down shenanigans. The rite of passage has morphed into an individual baptism of goodwill by sprinkling water on one’s head from the second-floor fountain at The Faculty Club. It’s not open to freshmen, so be prepared to do a little “Mission: Impossible” ceiling-dropping to get past their museum-grade laser beam security system.
The Radio Shack of Dreams: This is OSU’s textbook black market. You can score any new textbook digitally, for a price. Your ill-gotten gains will be slid under your dorm room door on a USB drive, and since most of your devices don't have USB drives, they’ll rent you a converter. Honestly, this one is a bit of a racket, so you’ve been warned.
An Actual Critical Race Theory Class: Universities are the only places where Critical Race Theory has ever actually been taught, so if you were wondering what all the hype is about, now's your chance.
The Catfish Biff’s Memorial: A long defunct tradition for generations of South Campus freshmen was getting a cheap slice at Catfish Biff’s Pizza and Subs on 11th Avenue, directly across from Steeb Hall. It was a proper joint, a holdover from Old Campus that kept generations of students alive at around $2 a slice. We lost Biff’s during the pandemic, but you can still pay your respects by purchasing a slice from some other trash chain and leaving it at the O.G.’s feet, aka the porch.
The Arne Slettebak Planetarium: Confession: This offering is actually true.
I attended OSU for a whopping two quarters before being promptly expelled. It was so long ago they weren’t even using semesters yet. I wasn’t at OSU long enough to even accumulate any debt to cancel. I came in with high hopes, but even higher levels of immaturity, and that was pretty much all she wrote. And by “all she wrote,” I mean the end of my mother signing tuition checks.
I tell you that to make way for the following piece of advice—advice I wish someone had given me. Pad out your experience with things that are not your classes. OSU is packed with interesting nooks and crannies, and the coolest of them all is the 30-foot dome planetarium hidden on the fifth floor of Smith Laboratory. I’m a nerd. If I had known OSU had a planetarium, I might have at least made it through my first year. And if you can make it through your first year, your chances of going all the way are exponentially greater.
Good luck freshmen, and Godspeed.
Scott Woods is a poet, cultural critic, essayist and founder of the arts nonprofit Streetlight Guild.