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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Steampunk-themed tea party


    Courtesy of Edward Stramler

    Members of Tucson Steampunk Society have their picture taken at the first annual Dickens’ Tea Party, where members participate in costume contests, face off in tea dueling and listen to live music. This year, the Borderline Celts will serenade the party on Saturday from 2-6 p.m.

    Polly, put the kettle on — the Tucson Steampunk Society is having tea. On Saturday, the TSS will host displays of creative costumes, the coveted annual tea duel and the Gaelic tunes of the Borderline Celts, while sipping away the end of the year during the third annual Dickens Tea Party at First United Methodist Church.

    TSS has been active since 2011 and has hosted its Dickens Tea Parties since December 2012. The group participates in local maker community collaboration Maketopolis and the Tucson Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention at Old Tucson Studios.

    The group also hosts a book club at Antigone Books on the second Sunday of every month for lovers of steampunk science fiction, reading classic authors such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and more contemporary writers such as Cherie Priest and Gail Carriger.

    The Dickens Tea Party costume contest will host three different categories for contenders: Dickens-themed, steampunk-themed and children’s steampunk. Each category’s winner will be judged on the basis of the costume’s creativity, the functionality of the steampunk- or Dickens-related concept and the execution of the costume, which Jocelynne Weathers, TSS organizing committee board member, said is crucial.

    The event will also host a peculiar, hilarious activity called tea dueling.

    “Tea dueling is best witnessed in person,” Weathers said before explaining the game. Weathers said tea dueling begins with the selection of two opponents who sit down at a table, termed by TSS members as the “tea field,” and choose a particular type of tea.

    The opponents are then presented with a tray of biscuits. Weathers said that TSS scrupulously decided on Pepperidge Farm’s Chessmen Biscuits in order to ensure a standard quality of biscuit for the duel’s main function.

    Procuring the biscuits in a two-finger pinching hold, the tea duelers brace themselves for the game’s beginning.

    “On the count of dunk,” Weathers said, “they dunk their biscuits for 5 seconds, and once they bring [them] up, the duel has begun.”

    Weathers detailed the psychological tension of tea dueling.

    “They have a soggy biscuit in their hand,” Weathers said, “and they are trying to balance their biscuit, predict when it is going to crumble, and encourage their opponent either to laugh so hard that their hand starts shaking and their biscuit crumbles, or make their opponent think that their biscuit is going to crumble.”

    The only way to win the tea duel is to resist the other biscuit wielder’s mind games and secure the position of last dueler to eat 90 percent of the soggy biscuit in one bite.

    The winner, who, despite the odds, manages to get the biscuit into their mouth, receives the grand prize of one teacup.

    Tea Dueling is a popular sport among other steampunk groups, such as The Foundry, a group based out of Sierra Vista. TSS competed with The Foundry in tea dueling at a recent “Alice in Wonderland” event in Fort Huachuca.

    “It’s [almost] turned [into] a lifestyle,” said John Floyd, member of The Foundry. Floyd defines steampunk as “alternative history,” a creative exploration of old-fashioned customs and styles typically from the Victorian era. Floyd first discovered steampunk culture at the Phoenix Comicon in 2010 and has been engineering costumes and gadgets ever since.

    Floyd is gaining some popularity for his Gentleman Robot character he’s been showcasing at various conventions. Dressed in an armored suit of rustic metal and nostalgic top hat, Floyd’s character is a conglomeration of science fiction and history.

    If the eclectic endeavors of steampunk life pique any interest, tickets for the TSS’ Dickens Tea Party are available online at


    Follow Ian Martella on Twitter.

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