CEDAR FALLS — The classroom looks like a battlefield. Tables are overturned and chairs lay on their sides in what seems to be a haphazard fashion. Look closely, though. It’s actually a maze.

Unfortunately for her, Heather Wendel didn’t get to look.

Wearing a blindfold, Wendel took position at one end of the maze. On the other side of a room, her competition prepared their "tribute."

Review: ‘The Hunger Games’ unsatiating

Wendel, 20, was one of more than 100 University of Northern Iowa students and staff members to participate in UNI’s Hunger Game event on March 2. The late-night competition at Rod Library challenged 35 teams in 17 stations to survive the arena.

The event was organized in anticipation of Thursday’s "The Hunger Games" midnight movie release. In the popular young adult trilogy by Suzanne Collins that inspired the movie, the game is a battle for survival. Teenage tributes from the 12 districts of Panem fight to the death in an arena in a grim reality show televised each year for the entertainment of the Capitol.

At UNI, it was a fight for tickets to the movie.

"We thought we’d all just die right away and not actually get to the next level," says Samantha Eick, a UNI freshman from Oelwein.

Instead, the teams opened the event with training before rotating through the stations, each with a specific challenge.

In the Dark Room, Wendel crawls through the maze, following the instructions shouted to her by teammate Shelby Schreck. Balls of crumbled paper are thrown at Wendel as she pushes her way through chairs bound together by string, hoping to get to the end before her competition. The classroom lights are turned on and off sporadically, hindering Schreck’s ability to help her teammate.

"I’m having so much fun," Schreck laughs as she untangles Wendel from the string.

Down the hall, two other teams compete in Bounce Battle, with tributes swatting each other with swimming noodles as they balance on giant exercise balls.

In another room, teams watch a video of Michael Jackson’s "Thriller," then try to emulate the iconic dance.

Every task completed successfully results in life stamps from the "Capitol" leaders. Failure equals death stamps. The team with the greatest amount of life stamps would win.

Registration for the program closed days before the event due to unprecedented response from students.

Wendel, Schreck and Eick showed up to play in black T-shirts with "UNI Hunger Games" in fabric paint on the front.

"We love the books," says Wendel, a sophomore from Oelwein.

In a reference to the book, another team wore "Careers or Die" T-shirts, with characters’ names on the back. Another team wore Superman capes.

Enthusiasm for the event mirrors the excitement Hunger Games fans have had since the first book was released in September 2008.

Many have declared this franchise the next "Harry Potter" and "Twilight." Ticket sales will determine if this prediction is correct, but already Lionsgate announced that a film adaptation of the second novel, "Catching Fire," will be released in November 2013.

By Meredith Hines-Dochterman

Check out these pictures from the UNI event:

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Get in on your own 'Games'

  • The Cedar Rapids Public Library will hold a “Hunger Games” event from 5:40 to 7 p.m. Thursday. Students in sixth through 12th grade will compete in challenges with tickets to the movie as an ultimate prize. The library is located in the Westdale Mall. For more information, call (319) 398-5123.
  • Join the Hiawatha Public Library for a “Hunger Games” event from 4 to 6 p.m. today. The library is located at 150 W. Willman St. For more information, call (319) 393-1414.

Read what Roger Ebert thought about the movie. Do you agree? Will you see it?