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Cupcake addicts feed their sweet tooth at 'camp'

SAN FRANCISCO — There's no hiking, canoeing or singing by a fire. But there might be marshmallows.

At CupcakeCamp, the focus is on sweet eats.

Devotees of the classic — and oh-so-hip — dessert have found a new way to congregate and consume dozens of cupcakes. The gist? Get lots of people and cupcakes together in one spot. Do a bit of swapping and a lot of eating. That's as complicated as it gets.

Ariel Waldman, a San Francisco digital anthropologist, first tossed around the idea as a joke. She and her friends love cupcakes and love enjoying them together. So, why not get organized about it?

That was in 2008, when Waldman and a few friends launched the first CupcakeCamp in rented office space. The only rules — bring cupcakes, share cupcakes, eat cupcakes. All for free. They expected about 40 people.

About 300 showed up.

A camp they held six months later was even more packed.

"Everyone reached in and grabbed them before they touched the table," said Mia Armas, who was attending her second camp in San Francisco. "We pictured it as the Black Friday of cupcakes. We were kind of scared."

Since then, CupcakeCamp has taken on a life of its own. Last year, there were 15 camps held everywhere from Philadelphia and Seattle to Sydney and Montreal, and future events are planned for Seattle and London.

"I think it's a very San Francisco-Silicon-Valley thing to constantly be coming up with crazy, random ideas," Waldman said.

Waldman and her friends quickly learned that the events are only as good as the organization behind them. Now, participants must detail in advance the quantity and flavor of cupcakes they will bring, as well as whether they will be homemade or store-bought.

This way, organizers can come up with a schedule and bring out a batch at a time. They've also added a bake-off element, with best in show type contests.

When people started asking Waldman how to organize their own camp, she and her friends launched a how-to Web site at Group members, all of whom have other jobs, hope to keep CupcakeCamp going as long there's demand.

"I love going through photos of CupcakeCamps around the world and seeing everyone smile and enjoy themselves," Waldman said.

Waldman's last camp was in October along San Francisco's Embarcadero waterfront. The gathering hit an all time high with 730 people devouring 3,000 cupcakes in three hours.

To control the swarming crowds, Waldman and other organizers set up six stations and handed out tickets worth five cupcakes each.

The huge attendance also brought out the experimental side of amateur bakers. S'mores, mole poblano and coconut with lavender were among the flavors that had cupcake connoisseurs torn about where to stand in line.

David Rajan, a software engineer, and his friend, Jennifer Ng, a Web designer, held taste tests for friends before settling on mojito cupcakes. Her second time attending, Ng decided she'd feel better contributing something this time.

"Last time I think we ate a lot of cupcakes. So, we wanted to kind of off-load that guilt," said Ng, while setting up her cupcakes.

At Waldman's camps, most attendees are 20- and 30-something professionals. And many of them are men.

"My friends don't know I'm here," said Sam Yoo, while waiting in line with his girlfriend at the San Francisco camp. "I would lose a lot of man points if they knew I was going to a 'CupcakeCamp.'"