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All of the non-winning teams head to the leaderboard and wait while the schools' names are placed in order of their ranking, from top to bottom. After watching seven names go up that aren't University of Colorado, Lewis walks away. After nine, Rude walks away. CU finally scores tenth in architecture. The designers are devastated.

Before he heads back to Colorado, Sofield sits for a while on a bench on the Mall, where he has a clear view of the CU house. The shipping-container core is painted a bright orange and its envelope a complementary shade of green. There's a sloped roof made up of sleek black solar panels, with the loft just underneath, above the bedroom. Unlike many of the houses that look like a single box, the CU floor plan has distinct rooms: a bedroom off the back, a spacious bathroom, a kitchen separated from the living room by a bar area and the copper-pipe heat exchangers framing the corner. Those exchangers, the hot and cold tanks, mechanical closet and fat wall are all integrated into the design.

Looking at the house, Sofield sees the qualities he values in a living space, the qualities he's encouraged the students to emphasize: "livability and composition and not modesty, but a kind of quietness." He wonders if the jury appreciates those same qualities. "I think they were focused on shiny things," he says. "The German house is exquisite — not the spatial experience, which is not that nice, but the detail. I want to get the team together and explain this, that it doesn't mean we should have done things that we didn't do. I want them to understand that the glossy, shiny stuff is not the important part to being an architect."

The architecture judging is over, but there's more work to be done. Tours are still coming through the house. They can finally make hot water, but McNeill doesn't trust the mechanical system, and he keeps adding water every time he tries to use it, in an attempt to get the air out. (Later, he will realize that the separators he thinks are releasing air from the pipes are actually sucking air in.)

That evening, a small group huddles over their laptops on the house's back deck, lit by the glow of the Mall and its temporary solar village. They look at the day's spreadsheets and graphs and strategize such tactics as how much power they should use or store. Zeke Yewdall, a member of the 2002 team, is on hand to help. "I spent twenty hours a week checking spreadsheets during the past two decathlons, even when I was not involved," he says. "That's what geeks do."

When the spreadsheets are updated to include the day's driving — a category in which CU has always excelled, because the team drives non-stop to gain the most miles possible — the school's overall rank jumps to fifth. They go back to the hotel feeling good about their standings.

But Tuesday gets off to a bad start. Cruz, still sour over the architecture awards, is waiting for the award in communications, the only individual contest that CU won in both previous decathlons. "Look, there was a huge crowd for architecture and like three nerds for communications," he says. He's nervous about the number of teams with nice signage and audio tours and podcasts, and as it turns out, he's right to worry. CU doesn't place in the top three, and its rank on the leaderboard drops to eighth.

McNeill, who woke up late, has gone straight to the house convinced that something isn't right. The hot water tank is overflowing, and that familiar crackling sound has McNeill and Spencer worried that the evaporator is frozen again. Previtali calls everyone outside. "We were just delivered a large blow," he says. "Eighteenth in communications."

McNeill walks back inside, takes hold of a pipe and rests his head in the curve of his arm. "I'm worried about everything," he says.

They fail their hot-water tests that morning, and the inverters that charge the batteries with solar power shut down during the sunniest parts of the day. It's a problem that's come up before, but the team thought it had been fixed.

By Wednesday, when CU is snubbed at yet another ceremony, this one for lighting, Previtali's usually upbeat countenance has turned down. "Everybody should read Lord of the Flies before being on one of these teams," he says. Although he designed the power system, he feels left out of the troubleshooting. No one told him that the inverters were shutting off, and he thinks he could have fixed the problem sooner. He doesn't agree with the decision to forgo an electric hot-water heater, since the team's lost points there. And he's still smarting over the poor showing in communications — an area he considers one of his strengths. "The complexity of the house and the nature of the organization has caused us to spend less time on ancillary requirements, like websites and tours," he says. "It's one of those things we almost took for granted that we would do well on. I think the moral of the story is the competition has become a lot more competitive, and you can't rely on a small band of people who may or may not take the project seriously."

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Jessica Centers