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Attack of the Super Soakers

Squirt gun fights add a splash of fun using social media and the city's open spaces

Participants in the Banditos Misteriosos 4th Annual Water Gun Fight on the Esplanade. (Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe) Participants in the Banditos Misteriosos 4th Annual Water Gun Fight on the Esplanade.
By Jialu Chen
Globe Correspondent / July 16, 2011

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A few hundred people gathered on the Esplanade one hot day in June, bearing water bottles and squirt guns. One group, wearing green T-shirts and plants strewn across their bodies, arrived on the battlefield from the west. Another group, in brown T’s and paper Pilgrim hats, was already waiting for them.

The stage was set for the fourth annual Boston squirt gun fight organized by the Banditos Misteriosos, a group that calls itself “Boston’s mysterious playmate.’’ The Banditos organize events to encourage fun use of city spaces. The theme of the squirt gun fight? The Back Bay Swamp Creatures vs. the Revere Horse Men.

Another large-scale squirt gun fight is scheduled for this afternoon, on Boston Common, organized by Boston resident Scott Trano. Though Trano isn’t affiliated with the Banditos, the two mock battles do have something in common - word of the events has spread far and wide thanks to social media.

Much has been made of the serious political ramifications of Facebook and Twitter, from fomenting revolutions to revealing the misdeeds of elected officials. But the Banditos and Trano are using social media for a far more lighthearted purpose this summer - to organize squirt gun fights to help residents cool off on hot summer days.

The goal of the Banditos is “to encourage organized fun, community building, and use of public space,’’ according to Banditos spokesman Matt, who declined to give his last name. This is one of the strategies the group uses to maintain an aura of mystique, which Matt explains, “is part of the fun.’’

The Banditos publicized their battle through their few thousand strong e-mail list and their Facebook group, which boasts more than 3,100 members. The Banditos also organize a yearly pillow fight in April, as part of World Pillow Fight Day. Their most recent pillow fight drew more than 1,300 people.

Trano, 23, is a professional event planner who also organizes Zombie March Boston in May in which participants dress up as ghoulish zombies and stagger around the city.

“During the summer I do random things like this, where we can all have a good time and nobody has to spend any money,’’ Trano says. “Nowadays when people think, what can we do for fun? they say, ‘Let’s go to the bar,’ or ‘Let’s go to the club.’ There are no large gatherings of people anymore. It’s kind of sad and that’s why I organized all this.’’

He chose an unusually hands-off approach to publicizing this squirt gun fight.

“Usually I berate people to invite their friends,’’ Trano says. But this time “one of my stipulations was seeing if I could beat [the Banditos] hands down, without promoting it at all.’’ So he created a Face book event, invited all 1,700 or so of his Facebook friends, and waited.

Those friends invited their friends and the invitation list skyrocketed. Though he originally hoped for 400 to 500 people to take part, Trano says his squirt gun fest has almost 12,000 invitees on Facebook. At last check, more than 3,500 people had RSVP’d.

Trano’s event doesn’t have a theme, just pure water-based fun. But if the Banditos event is any indication, the fight could devolve into utter chaos. Within minutes of the charge, led by the Swamp Creatures at 2:26 p.m., many participants were soaked as people reveled in squirting and being squirted.

Most carried store-bought Super Soakers and Super Soaker knockoffs. Others came with handfuls of tiny, one-shot squirters. Others, like Josh Bevan, rigged impressive DIY water-delivery systems. Bevan, 24, a senior mechanical engineering major at UMass Lowell, wore a 5-gallon water jug on his back that he’d pressured with CO2, so that water squirted out of a hose when he pressed a trigger, like a dentist’s water jet.

Others chose to win the battle for most humorous-looking squirter. To this end, one person armed himself with a squirt bottle, another with a watering can.

The Banditos advised bringing 2-liter bottles of water for refills. Ronny Contreras, 22, was able to avoid water pit stops by making a backpack of five long PVC pipes as thick as champagne bottles, which held a total of 6 gallons. He’d been preparing for a while.

“Last year I made the gun but I couldn’t go because I had to work. I came ready,’’ he says. He plans to unleash it again at today’s squirt gun fight.

Darby Smotherman, 40, of Roslindale, brought her whole family, who stopped by Wal-Mart that morning to purchase squirt guns for the Banditos event.

“I’m much cooler now, and it was great for all ages, which I look for now. We were comfortable bringing him,’’ she gestures to her son, “and he’s nine. No one was creaming anybody in the face.’’ She plans to bring her family to today’s event as well.

To her disappointment, a state trooper broke up the Banditos event less than 20 minutes after the first stream was fired, citing noise complaints and lack of a permit. For a moment the battle paused, and the battlers responded by squirting their guns in the air and shouting, “Water is illegal.’’ Eventually, the crowd dispersed.

Trano hasn’t applied for a permit for today’s event either, so it’s unclear how long the squirting will last. Both the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees the Esplanade, and the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, which manages Boston Common, require a simple two- to three-page application for a free permit. But both require that applicants secure a minimum of $1 million in insurance, quite a hurdle for anyone who wants to organize a large event of spontaneously congregated strangers.

Applying for a permit would force Trano to charge for the event. “It really wouldn’t be worth it,’’ he says, “for people to pay for something they should be able to do for free.’’

Jialu Chen can be reached at jchen@globe.com