It is okay to walk across the Sunken Garden diagonally


Adam Jutt ’25 is planning on majoring in who knows what (maybe public policy and economics). Aside from being an opinions editor, he is a member of Club Tennis and involved with InterVarsity. Feel free to email Adam at 

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.

As an opinions editor of The Flat Hat, I like to think I have my finger on the pulse of campus. I read somewhere between two and five opinion articles every week. When you consider that I’ve been doing that for nearly three full weeks now — and on a couple of occasions last semester, I read articles simply out of interest — I think it becomes fair to assert that we would need a math professor to calculate just how many pieces I have perused over my time here.

With that in mind, the statement that I am uniquely attuned to the views of the student body becomes indisputable. As a result, I have developed some insights about the most common opinions held here. Not to sound pompous, but these insights are not the sorts of things someone would be able to glean without my aforementioned expertise. I will share here the three most popular, all of which may surprise you: a lot of people had strong feelings about this past Charter Day, a lot of people are less than thrilled with the housing situation on campus, and a lot of people aren’t too fond of the dining hall food here.

I’m sure you’re less than shocked by the contents of that list. What you should be shocked by, however, is an issue that is not on it. An issue that has never once been the subject of a Flat Hat article, despite its daily effect on thousands of students here. An issue of stigma, tradition, inefficiency and peer pressure. An issue that I wholeheartedly believe must be addressed before we can in good conscience focus on ways to improve the housing situation, food situation or anything else people care about (class registration, mask policies, you name it).

I am referring, of course, to the fact that the vast majority of people here refuse to cross the Sunken Garden diagonally and instead elect to stay on the brick paths, even when doing so lengthens their commute. 

I would argue that, in at least 80% of cases, there is a diagonal path across the Sunken Garden that would get you to your destination faster than taking one of the formalized paths. In fact, the only instance where there is not a more efficient diagonal path is a situation where your nearest entry point into the Sunken Garden corresponds to the exit point that is closest to your destination. In other words, if you enter the Sunken Garden from somewhere that was not the entry point nearest the place you are leaving, or if you exit the Sunken Garden and end up crossing a different exit point, you will have wasted time. 

I first caught wind of the strange obsession with the straight paths one night last fall when I was crossing the Sunken Garden to get to my dorm. I was taking a diagonal route because — as tends to be true — it was the quickest. All of a sudden a voice rang out, “Adam?” I turned, and standing on one of the paths was a friend of mine. Or so I thought. I approached him to say hello, but before I could greet him he proceeded to berate me for a good four minutes over my decision to cross diagonally. He asked if I was a crazy person. He asked if I thought my time was so valuable that I couldn’t spare ten seconds using the brick paths. He asked if I used to cut through neighbors’ backyards and swim through their pools when walking home from the school bus stop. 

He was laughing as he said those things, but I could see fear behind his eyes. He was terrified that I had questioned the status quo.

You might be unconvinced that this stigma really exists. “Couldn’t this ‘friend’ of yours just have a weird thing against diagonal lines?” you might ask. Or, more to the point, “What evidence do you have that people systematically, irrationally choose the straight paths over the efficient paths?”

Firstly, observation. I sat in a chair in the Sunken Garden for twenty minutes Saturday, March 5, doing nothing but watching people cross. I saw at least a hundred people walk from one side to the other, and no one took a diagonal path. I think it is reasonable to assume that, for most, their “to” and “from” locations did not correspond to diametrically opposed entry and exit points. Secondly, experience. Whenever I have walked with a group across the Sunken Garden, the line leader has 99 times out of 100 taken us along the brick paths, even when diagonally would have saved time. 

In fairness, efficiency is not the only relevant concern. If the grass is wet, I completely understand sacrificing a few seconds to keep your feet dry. If it is beautiful out and you are in no rush, I also understand the desire to soak in as much outdoors time as possible. But in many cases, neither of those standards are met. I have been part of groups that have stuck to the paths even under the scorching August sun and the cruel January wind.

People love to make jokes about how school teaches us things we’ll never need to know in the real world. “The Pythagorean theorem can’t help me file my taxes” is a common quip, for example. While it’s true that triangle side lengths aren’t important considerations on tax forms, the Pythagorean theorem is not fully useless. For one, it could help our student body avoid looking foolish as we systematically choose to walk across the Sunken Garden and then alongside it instead of walking boldly along our route’s hypotenuse.




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